Male Bonding, Interview
Interview with Male Bonding
London noise-rock trio Male Bonding may have set up camp in the uber-trendy suburb of Dalston, but that is the only similarity they share with the modern day Nathan Barleys wandering around their neighbourhood.
Instead, the threesome of John Webb (guitars/vocals), Kevin Hendrick (bass/vocals) and Robin Christian (drums/vocals) conjure up one of the most ferocious explosion of sounds the capital has heard in many a year. So much so in fact that after just a handful of low-key seven-inch singles, legendary Seattle imprint Sub Pop has signed them up.
With debut album 'Nothing Hurts' just unleashed on the general public and a handful of live shows planned up and down the country inbetween the odd festival appearance or two, now seemed the ideal time for a catch up, and drummer/mouthpiece Robin Christian was only too happy to oblige.
Are you surprised at the acclaim your band has received in such a short space of time?
Seriously, we just started the band for fun. We've all known each other a long time and been really good friends for years, and we ended up working together in a record shop too. It was one of those things where we went out one evening after work, got drunk and someone suggested we should form a band. John and Kevin used to be in this band called Crave that I really liked, and I was living with John at the time anyway so we finally got round to forming our own band. When we first started it was so fun, and we enjoyed it that much we thought it best to make more time for the band and see how far we could go with it. At first, no one wanted to put our records out, so we came up with the idea of putting tapes out because it was cheaper and easier to do. There didn't seem much point in waiting around either to be honest.
I think it's fair to say that Male Bonding have built up most of their following by way of internet blogs and word of mouth, almost in the same way as the C86 scene did with fanzines twenty-five years ago.
Definitely. We come from a DIY punk background, more in the sense that we're the kind of people who want to make things happen for ourselves rather than just wait for someone else to. Our first release was a split single between ourselves and our friends, Pens and Graffiti Island. We all started our bands at similar times and had played together pretty much from day one, so it made sense for us to do our first release together and we found a load of cassettes, recorded our tracks and sold it at gigs. To our surprise it sold out really quickly, so we thought then that maybe other people were slowly getting what we were about too.
There seems to be a healthy underground scene at the moment with bands such as yourselves and the ones you've mentioned along with the likes of Spectrals, Fair Ohs and Cold Pumas among others.
I'd say so for sure. I mean, they're all our friends and I guess it almost feels like a real movement, sort of like a strength-in-numbers kind of thing. One of the things about all those bands is that instead of waiting around for other people to offer them a show or put a record out, they're more inclined to do it for themselves, and I have to say its much more fun than relying on someone else too.
It must have been surreal to go from being a band no one wanted on their label to being one of the few British artists to ever sign a deal with Sub Pop. How did that come about?
Me, John and Kevin run a label together called Paradise Vendors, and one of the records we put out was a split seven-inch between us, Graffiti Island and two American bands - Cold Blood and Rapid Youth. This woman who worked at Sub Pop, Sue Busch, was buying our records anyway and we started corresponding with each other and eventually she invited us to the office in Seattle. It was quite amazing when they offered us a deal to put the album out. I literally grew up listening to Sub Pop Records so to actually be on that label was something of a dream come true. We were in the car on the way up to Leeds yesterday and Ryan from the label was talking about The Vaselines and how we're on the same label as them, which again brings it all home to me as they're one of my favourite bands of all time.
Are there any expectations from the label in terms of sales or commercial success?
I don't think so. They've signed quite a few new bands over the past year along with us. Happy Birthday, Avi Buffalo and Dum Dum Girls are all recent signings with debut albums out as well, so I wouldn't have thought there'd be any major expectations in terms of achieving commercial success, not at this stage anyway. I think they're more expectant of funding the label by way of re-issuing and re-mastering some of the records from their back catalogue. We just consider ourselves lucky to be associated with such an amazing label. They're a lovely bunch of people too.
Musically there are some American influences within your sound, but at the same time there is a distinctive Englishness that comes across too.
I'm glad you said that! I think a lot of people do accuse us of trying to be American yet although we love a lot of those bands, I think the one artist that links all three of Male Bonding together would have to be the Buzzcocks. We talked about this band an awful lot before we started and I guess there was a concept we had in our minds from the outset. It has changed quite a lot since then in that we're all influenced by noise but at the same time we're kind of trying to create pop music as well.
The band I can hear in your sound more than any would be an English band from the early-to-mid 1990s called Midway Still.
Sure, we really like a lot of shoegaze bands as well. Ride and My Bloody Valentine are two of my all-time favourites as well, and its kind of strange when you think just how many bands around today are directly influenced by those.
Its quite interesting that a lot of those bands didn't receive the critical acclaim at the time from either the music press or their peers, yet are now held up in esteem as a kind of benchmark as it were.
I guess so, yeah. I mean, I wouldn't say we've ever been influenced by the press or hype in any way. We just like who and what we like regardless of any scene. I think whether it be ten years previous or ten years from now, or ideals behind this band would still be the same.
You're based in Dalston which is currently being hyped as "the new Shoreditch" by certain sections of the media. Does that kind of association worry you in any way?
I really like Dalston because you can't really be gentrified. It has enough independent shops there to be able to exist on its own without any media intrusion, and it is a really fun place to live. There's quite a vibrant community there and within two minutes of our house most of our friends live. A lot of people seem to be commenting about "the Dalston scene" yet I have to say that in all my time living there I've never really noticed it. We started this band when we lived in Archway, then moved to Dalston soon after, long before any media attention. Our main aim is for kids to see us and then go away and form a band that's better than Male Bonding. If I could leave a lasting legacy that would be it.
In terms of the album, 'Nothing Hurts', quite a few tracks off the early singles didn't make the record. How did you arrive at your final tracklisting?
We kept rehearsing all the time, even playing loads of covers as well, so we probably had about twenty-five songs in total. It wasn't so much a case of not putting something on the album because it had already come out, but more about deciding which we felt were our best songs to date. We actually spent a lot of time putting the record together, as we didn't see it as an iTunes kind of thing but more as a vinyl concept. I'd rather people buy the vinyl then use the download code after if they have to.
All of the reviews for 'Nothing Hurts' so far have been very positive. Were you expecting this to happen or has it come as a bit of a surprise?
In many ways it has because I honestly thought a lot of people would slate it. We just wanted to make a record that we were happy with and if other people liked it then great, but for us it's like a document of a period in our lives. We're looking forward to moving onto something else now, the next record even.
Are you in the process of writing new material at present?
We've just come back from touring America for seven weeks and we were playing three or four new songs every night while we were there. We've been playing several covers as well, which is always fun.
What covers do you play?
We've just done a four-track EP of covers which we sold on the American tour. We do 'Advert' by Blur, 'You Hate Me And I Hate You' by GG Allin, 'Dino' by Baby Gecko then a couple of songs by Flipper and Mission Of Burma.
In terms of the future, where do you see Male Bonding's sound heading next?
I don't know really. I think we're becoming a lot more poppy, and we've been doing a lot of radio stuff in America where they expect you to just turn up and play acoustic, which was kind of a new experience to us. We were touring with the Vivian Girls at the time and they'd come into the studio with us and just sing backing vocals on our songs as well or play percussion, and we'd repay the favour for them, usually really badly! We've been practicing the new songs in my bedroom which means we've had to play them quietly as we live in a terraced house, so that's one thing that's changed for certain. We don't tend to think about things too much other than if we really don't like a song regardless of whether its loud, quiet, fast or slow we'll just drop it anyway.
Finally, what are Male Bonding's plans for the remainder of 2010?
We're going to tour really hard. It's the only way really, just keep playing as many shows as possible. Most bands only have a short lifespan so I think you should seize the opportunity where possible to play as many places in that time. Thanks to the internet we've made lots of friends all around the world, like-minded people who've put us up at their houses and in some cases vice versa when they've come to London, so again just to keep building this social network is something else we aspire to as well.
Do you ever see Male Bonding becoming a full-time career?
I dunno. I've got friends in bands who make a living out of their band but its really hard work and I don't think we could ever commit ourselves to this that much. There isn't really any money in music at the level we're at. We've already achieved so much more than ever thought possible so our main aim now is to just be able to keep on doing it.
The album 'Nothing Hurts' is out now on Sub Pop Records.