The Chapman Family, Interview
Interview with Kingsley of The Chapman Family at Bristol Thekla - February 2011
A band soon to release their swaggering debut album, The Chapman Family are destined for bigger things with their confident, anxious-rock blend. We caught up with front man Kingsley from the band at the Thekla, Bristol, ahead of the second night of their UK tour with The Joy Formidable.
CM: It was the first night of your tour with The Joy Formidable last night, how did it go?
K: Well we were in Bournemouth and really it couldn't have been a worse place to start because obviously being from the complete opposite end of the country, to get down there was just a rigmarole in itself so it took us like nine hours to get to Bournemouth in our s**t heap of a van that we've rented. It's just uncomfortable really, you know when you hear horrible stories about tour vans and you think naa that's not true, surely they must have like a decent van? And you know it's not as squalid and disgusting as they make out? Our van just lives up to the stereotype of being a sh***y tour van covered in crap. It's done five hundred thousand miles on the clock which, we worked out when we were driving, is enough miles to get to the moon and back. That kind of shows that it's quite durable I think; even though it looks and feels like it's falling apart, it's managed to stay on the road and I don't think it's probably going to conk out at five hundred and fifty thousand miles.
It's going to do you proud?
Yeah, hopefully we'll get it to a million!
Where are you off to next? A million miles? That's got to be a record?!
Yeah, just this horrible grotty tour van that goes a million miles! I don't know where is it? Its Birmingham tomorrow, I think it's at the Academy so that should be fun. A lot of these places we hardly ever play... we've never been to Bournemouth before 'cause of geography reasons; because we're from the north of England, it's just difficult to get all the way down so it was a bit of an eye opener for us. I had this preconception of Bournemouth being this old peoples' home... and in a way, it was; the crowd were a bit... I don't know... standoff-ish should we say. It's alright, there was a few people that really enjoyed it, I was happy that there was actually people there watching us to be honest so that kind of was a plus.
From Bournemouth to Bristol, have you met the local legend that is Big Jeff?
Yes I have met Big Jeff on previous occasions. We've been to Bristol quite a few times actually, there's a lad called Sam who runs gigs at Start The Bus; he's put us on I think three times, we've played the Thekla with La Roux on the NME tour and we played at Dot To Dot last year as well which was great so I actually quite like coming to Bristol. Every time I drive in it reminds me of home a bit 'cause it's a bit miserable but it's just like a posher version of my home town.
So you touched briefly on the NME tour, the La Roux tour. What have you been doing since then? It's a long time... that was 2009 and you're just putting your album out so fill the gaps...
Yeah I know, we were a bit... hard working, we were just very... oh I don't know. I mean the La Roux thing, certainly in the Thekla, was good fun, but I think the doors opened at 6:45 and we were on at 6:50 and literally the only person that was in the room at the time, even though it was a sold out gig, was your lad Big Jeff like right at the front bobbing his head to everything that was thrown at him. Gradually, as we played through our little twenty minute set, people started to come in. It was fun but... yeah.
So in the meantime you've been working hard on your album which comes out on March 7th 2011...
We've been... yeah... working hard trying to get things right. I think when it was around the time of the NME Tour, we had like a single out and we were getting moderately popular on things like NME and MTV, getting people actually coming to watch us and things like that, but we never really had anything to follow up what we were doing. We had to take quite a lot of time out anyway just to get what we wanted to do right 'cause, as I've said in a couple of interviews before, you don't get the chance to do a debut album again so we wanted to make sure it was as close to what we wanted to put out there as possible. I'm not saying we've got like 100% exactly as we wanted it to be 'cause it's not, but we had to take time and be a bit pedantic about certain things to get what we wanted on the record. Once labels, management and whatever get involved with their time, investment and love, certain aspects get taken out of your control but you know they know what they're doing and a lot of advice is good; but if we're strongly passionate about certain things we can get a united front and hopefully attempt to get our own way; I mean I've had friends in bands who've done pretty well and I've had friends in bands who haven't done that well and I've seen how sometimes the likes of an impresario type figure can take control and take out what they genuinely believe in just because they think that they will sell that product easier. We've always been honest with ourselves... when we started we did two years of gigs pretty much off our own back and doing our own tours, playing little venues wherever we can across the country, so we've worked like genuinely pretty hard to get to the stage of recording an album in the first place so we wanted the results to be as good as they possibly could be and not just do something half arsed 'cause that's not how we've been, we've operated in the past.
A lot of bands do seem to rush the writing/recording process
I think we could've easily knocked something out on the back of the NME tour and on the back of getting NME and MTV style 'success', but it would've been s**t and it would've been like one song essentially repeated ten times in order to sell an album. I've seen and met bands who have the attitude of 'get rich quick regardless of the consequences' or are in it for the wrong reasons and maybe they see being in a band or being a little indie pop star as some sort of stepping stone to something else. I just think that's nonsense; I just love being in a band and that's all I want to do; I don't want to be a f***ing TV presenter!
So how about positive influences on the album... cliche question, influences? Musical influences and other.
I mean there's all sorts of stuff really, it's things like... Its going back to that honesty thing again; I don't think that you can deny your upbringing or where you're from or the people that you sort of identify with at that specific time of writing that specific song or recording that song as well, so an influence really for me is the people I'm with and the town I'm from and the situation of the country if you want in the bigger picture of that particular time. In easier terms, I can just say David Bowie or Nine Inch Nails or something. It's all sorts of stuff and especially with us 'cause we all have our own tastes. Again it's like a clich' as when you interview bands, they always says 'everyone's individual and everyone likes different stuff'...
How do you write? Do you write as a band or does one person do it?
Originally, when we first started, it was only me and Paul [guitar] like messing about in his house and staying up until daft o'clock in the morning writing silly songs on a keyboard. That was essentially how we did it and I'd go home and copy everything into a workstation and essentially do a digital demo and then we'd learn it from that, but, this is the thing if we released something like that back then it would have been quite robotic and formulaic because regardless of how good or bad you are at writing a song, you get used to writing a certain way sometimes and you get lazy. We operate a little differently now; Paul came up with certain parts of the album, certain riffs and stuff and Pop [bass] has generated sort of life onto other songs and written some songs himself; he essentially wrote the whole of 'Anxiety' on guitar and within about five minutes, Phil put the drums over it and I leafed through one of my little lyric books that I write when I'm at work and I immediately sort of found something that would fit essentially it was done in about half an hour!
You keep down your day job as well then?
Yeah, Phil still works full time, Paul works full time and I work when I can at an Art Gallery in Middlesbrough, not doing anything pretentious and arty even though I am from that pretentious and arty background myself as I studied Fine Art in Sheffield, but most bands I know ...again, another cliche... most bands, from John Lennon to Maximo Park, they're all art students.
So how would you describe your sound? You know how music critics pigeon hole, if you were to say, 'I don't want to listen to all that, this is how we sound'?
Yeah. I don't know. I know we're quite noisy and we can be quite boisterous and immature as you said before but I'm alright with that, that's fine but... I think we sometimes can be quite romantic underneath everything. I know that people probably have this impression that we're horrible big dark scary northern monsters that are going to come down and eat children and things like that. Or wrap microphones round our heads and smash guitars in people's faces 'cause that's what we do... It's a bit too easy to do that because I think there's a bit more there... as I said, something romantic there at points. I mean, Pop, when we were demoing one song, this song called 'All Fall', it was the first single off the album, that we released last year; when we were demoing, we wanted to write just a short, fast song, like an energetic song that didn't really have any thought to it or we didn't want any nuances or intricacies, it was just meat and potatoes sound rock song similar to a big shout-y song like 'Kids'; but, we did a few versions of it and one was where I was kind of trying to croon a bit more than shout; certain things clicked together that made sense in my head as how we should progress. I love bands like The Smiths, Frank Sinatra and things like that. I like good singing; David Bowie, you know, huge voice. Once we were described as if Metallica were covering The Smiths and I kind of like that. I like the idea of having like a normal pop, croon-y voice over the top of something that's quite brutal and quite aggressive and in your face.
It's the romantic under the edgy?
Yeah, we're trying to find some sort of in-between point of that.
Have you got a preference as a band between gigging and recording?
Probably not. We were so naive and very inexperienced when we started; the first single that we did was the first time we'd ever been to a studio with a proper producer and all that sort of stuff so before the album we hadn't really been in studios that often, it was all about playing live for me 'cause I love it; I just like seeing people's reactions, that was really why we started the band. Me and Paul... used to go to this venue called the Ku bar, every Friday and Saturday we'd either go there or other various venues in the Stockton to watch bands because I love watching bands, that's just my whole purpose, but I was just getting so bored with what I was hearing, sort of nonsense. I've met loads of people you know, loads of my friends, we go to festivals religiously; we go to Leeds festival every year and you watch them and you're just going 'I could do better than that rubbish'.
So you have
Yeah, and essentially it was just getting the feeling that, you know, give it a go - if you think you can do that why don't you give it a go. I would've just sat back and regretted it otherwise; sat back in me call centre day job that I had at the time and just do nothing and tell grannies that they couldn't have their o20 late payment fee back, which is essentially what I was doing.
Are there any bands you think we should watch out for? Or any up in the North East that you think are kind of hidden gems?
They're not hidden anymore; bands like Frankie and The Heartstrings who like aren't hidden, you know, they're fine and I hope they do really well. What do you think of the UK music scene?
It's just iffy isn't it? It's just nothing really grabbing you. When you get those lists, those BBC lists, they're just half arsed and it's just like there's nothing that grabs your attention, everything's so safe and you think yeah 'course, that'll sell a load of records 'cause that's what middle aged women do; they want to buy like Ellie Goulding and you know, as good as she is, and she is very good, it just bores the sh*t out of me... like Mumford & Sons. When I open my horrible little door in Teesside, in Redcar, and you know, I've got the North Sea bellowing against me f***ing front door, I don't hear seven middle class private school blokes wandering down the street with an accordion and an acoustic guitar singing lovely folk rock; It doesn't make any sense to me. Equally, all the sort of new guitar bands that're coming out just don't do it for me; it doesn't have that thrill.
If you had the opportunity to work with one musician dead or alive, would it be Bowie I suppose?
Yeah before he dies. He doesn't seem very well; he hasn't done anything for ages so I'm a bit worried about him, a bit concerned. But if you could go back and get him from the Labyrinth-era and he's wearing the wig.
Dance Magic Dance
Dance Magic Dance and he's doing that thing with the balls telling Sarah to turn back. If you could collaborate with, cover, well duet on 'Magic Dance' with some Muppets; I think you get to a point where any song is improved by adding Muppets, and I think 'Dance Magic Dance' in Labyrinth personifies that.
So what's next for you guys? Headline tour? You've got the album coming out so...?
I mean we're doing this tour with The Joy Formidable, who are a good English guitar band, sorry, British guitar band... They're really good actually, their new album is awesome. They were brilliant last night, but no, after that we're doing a tour with a band called O Children who are from London. They played in this room actually, on that stage, during Dot To Dot. They've got this great big 6' 7", I think, singer and he just bellows this marvellous baritone voice that sounds like f***ing thunder or like God or something like that, it's huge! It links up nicely with them because they get portrayed in a way that everyone thinks they're dark and doomy and 'Oh God, what a load of miserable bastards', you know; but in reality, if you actually bother to listen to it instead of having a preconception 'cause someone might happen to wear like a long black coat, they're a lot more enlightening than that so it should be fun. I think it'll be party time; as much of a party time as four miserable northerners and five miserable Londoners can have.
Are you doing any festivals this year? Hopefully continuing that annual Leeds festival trip?
F**k knows. I hope so, be a bit of a waste of time if we don't. Hopefully we'll be doing Leeds, we've been going every year since 2000 or something, watching Guns & Roses and The Strokes and things like that, it was just amazing; but when we actually got to play last year on the third stage, the old Carling stage, it's kind of like having all your dreams and your preconceptions dashed because, I think I built it up too much. I wanted to please all my friends that were there and make everything like 'oh it's amazing' but in the end, I hated it, I just hated every single second of being there and I couldn't get out fast enough. By the time we reached Reading we felt we didn't really have any pressure on us 'cause no one really knew us down there and we hadn't really played much in the south so we just relaxed and had a great time. If we do get the chance to do these things again I think we'll be more relaxed and just try a bit harder for ourselves to enjoy it.
Thanks so much for your time, Kingsley.