Middleman - Interview
You might not know much of Middleman, their name is one that's been growing in the underbelly of the Leeds music scene & has now gained somewhat of a reputation for itself. Their live shows are something that need to be experienced, full of power, energy & fun, they have the ability to enrapture an audience and get everyone enjoying the gig. Middleman are a band who have no false pretences. They're not the latest indie band, in fact, they couldn't be further from, they're a pop band creating tunes that make you want to get up and dance.
They're not a band that's easily defined by genre & that suits me just fine. Lyrically Andy Craven -Griffiths, lead vocalist, tells stories of life, love, trials & tribulations without being ego-centric. Whilst the rest of the band, Krish, Lee & Slurpy play a mixture of hip hop beats, luscious grooves and dirty riffs, which I challenge anyone not to enjoy.
Contactmusic.com caught up with the quartet last weekend in their favourite bar, Doctor Wu's to talk about the past present & future of a truly interesting pop group. The whole bar was power depraved due to a huge power cut that most of central Leeds was experiencing. This wasn't really a problem, the dark atmosphere actually aided our fragile states of mind after a heavy weekend of gigging, drinking & Nitrous oxide.
[Contactmusic.com] Let's start at the beginning, how did Middleman come about?
[Lee] Slurpy and I grew up together in the midlands, Krish and I met up here at uni and Slurpy moved up here shortly after. We knew we wanted to work together, whatever direction our music was going to take, it was always going to include us as a team. We started jamming together after we all played in a called Greenbeats, we needed to add another level to the music, we needed vocals.
[Slurpy] One night we went Subdub & ran into one of our mates who's a break-dancer, we asked him if he knew anyone who'd be a good front person for this band we were starting, he gave us the number for Andy's brother. We called him up asking if he'd be interested but he wasn't available so he passed on his brother's number, Andy's number.
[Andy] I had a call from Lee, asking if I wanted to be in a band, I said, yea of course! ... But what kind of band? Lee started telling me about their ideas of starting a type of hip hop band without all the stereotypical 'mi bitches & gangsta' talk, we started chatting about everything we wanted from the band and it felt like we we're on the same wavelength. Lee picked me up from my house, took me out to dinner, and romanced me a little and we got off on the right foot! This is good because, I'm actually better than my brother!!?
[Lee] Yea, basically us three started playing together and it was wicked, it just felt right, we knew we wanted to do another project together.
[Entourage] Yea, it just felt really nice.
[Lee] Ha, yea, it just felt oh so natural, so we invited Andy along to play with us too.
[Andy] When we were all playing with each and other, together, sparks did fly; all sorts of things flew actually.
[Krish] I'd never played with three other men and not felt guilty about it. It felt great, I went home and told my girlfriend how good it was and she was totally happy for me to play with these guys. She was actually crying out of.....love!!
[Contactmusic.com] Was it always going to be based around hip hop?
[Krish] Not really! We hadn't really played music like we do in Middleman before the band.
[Lee] One thing that we always had set was, we didn't want to play guitar based rock. To be honest, we didn't want to play anything that you could pigeonhole and automatically say 'oh they play 'that' kind of music' you know? This is why the phone call with Andy was so interesting, we knew we were looking for a kind of rapper to front the band but we didn't want to play hip hop as it's typically known. The way we write music, it's all about not being pretentious, cocky or even precious about it.
[Contactmusic.com] And that's what makes great pop music, don't get me wrong, there are total fucking arses who can write brilliant songs but usually they write alone & that's not pop music, it's cock music.
[Andy] Have you got something on your mind Jo!? You love cock......music don't you Jo?
[Contactmusic.com] enough picking on the interviewer!!
[Contactmusic.com] You're one of the least pretentious bands I've seen, when you play, don't you ever feel like getting pissed off with one and other?
[Lee] Our only aim when we play is to go out and have fun. We don't want to seem like a bunch of egotistical twats because it's really not about that. When we all get together and start thinking creatively, we spend most of the time laughing, playing live is just a continuation of that really.
[Contactmusic.com] When you first practiced together with Andy, was it clear he was the vocalist for you?
[Andy] The first time I went to practice with these guys, I went over to Lee's, him and Slurpy created a piece of music and they asked me to write something to go along to it. It was the craziest bit of music, I think it was to a 14/8 time signature.
[Lee] We wouldn't normally do that but we had this riff and I fitted really nicely and it was the first real idea we had, I suppose. We basically had the thinking that if Andy could do something to that he could pretty much do anything we could throw at him. We spent about three hours sitting down and playing music with him and by the end Andy had written two pages of A4, it was the first time Slurpy and I had worked with someone and really felt impressed in such a short amount of time. It was just instant.
[Andy] Above all of that, it was just a laugh, everything from the drive over to Wakey, it was just immediately evident that we would have a great time whatever we were going to be doing. I'd never been in a band before; Middleman's the first band I've been involved with. Ha, I don't know. The next band I'm in might be a bit better, yea. I'm just testing the water at the minute!! Nah, I'd wanted to do something in music for a while before I received the call from Lee but I hadn't. It just fitted straight away. Because I hadn't been in a band before, I had a different context to the rest of the guys, I had a different angle on the whole scenario. None of us see there are any rules in how we go about making music but coming from the poetry background rather than a musical one it just gave me a different angle.
[Lee] Andy's made a really good point there, because he hadn't been in a band before, and we'd already been in a few and had experience working with loads of people who had been around for so long, sometimes people get a bit a bit of an ego. Because Andy was new to it all I think it made us remember why we were doing it and not form that pretentiousness. Because it was brand new to him, he was really excited about it and it was making us excited about it too, like how it used to be when we all first got in a band.
[Contactmusic.com] How long have you guys been together?
[Andy] Officially, we got together in April last year. I didn't actually meet Krish for a month though. We first played together as a band in mid May. I then went away to Spain at the beginning of September for 10 months and came back in July this year and we started again from there. It was a huge gap for us.
[Lee] Even when Andy was away, something was brewing underneath. I mean, I guess we had 4 months together as a proper band & within those four months we wrote over 11 songs and recorded all of them and about 35 gigs. We'd wrote the 11 song set plus a load of other songs that we'd decided to leave out of the set.
Andy has now been back for 2 months and we've now got about 16 songs, of which we play about 9 in our live set. We've kept it to 8 or 9 because it fits really nicely together at the moment.
[Contactmusic.com] So your other stuff, is it of a similar vibe?
[Lee] It's quite dark actually! It doesn't seem to work as well live because we've got such a bouncy set at the moment it just doesn't fit as well, obviously, it depends where you play it as well. We've been so excited at all our gigs recently that it just hasn't felt right playing anything that isn't up-tempo. We've got about other 5 tracks we're really proud of and happy with but they just don't fit in the Live set as well as the rest.
[Krish] We decided we really wanted to make an impact on the crowd from start to finish. Ultimately, we are a band about having a good time.
[Lee] When we wrote the set, I looked back on it and remembered thinking that every single one of the songs made me smile.
[Krish] The first time we played all the upbeat songs together, we were in London at an industry gig doing the support slot, for a really poppy band who are doing ok in London, they're almost edging on boy band poppy and we got offered the gig at the last minute, we'd played a rubbish gig the night before and we were all feeling quite low, we decided we were going to go for it. It was a crazy gig, there were about 25 people on the industry list and it was quite intimidating but all that went out the window once we started playing.
[Andy] Up until that point, if we'd played a gig and there was a guy from a record label coming or if we had some kind of pressure thinking 'oh we have to play well', for me, that was the gig when I stopped thinking about if people were coming to see us. I came to the conclusion that we couldn't play like it was an audition, I just thought, whoever's in the room will see us play how we play.
[Lee] That's true, I think we all learnt a really big lesson, the lesson being, I'm going to go and really fucking enjoy myself, whether anyone likes it or they don't I know that I have. We all had the same opinion.
[Contactmusic.com] When it comes to writing, how does it work?
[Lee] It's all shared. The writing is why we're doing this; we always have so much fun. The excitement when you know something sounds right is amazing! If I write something, and think it's good, if everyone or someone isn't so sure about it, they'll tell me it's not sounding right. Even Andy who hasn't been in a band before has never been afraid of putting his ideas forward and saying 'well, why don't you try this....' someone has changed one tiny thing in every aspect of our music, we just take one and other advice and just work as a team to make the song complete. When it comes to samples and things we make all of them on old Casio keyboards, we don't use any expensive gear at all, it's a car boot delight. Me and Krish bought a violin for Â£15 and we make sample sounds from that, we're really into that way of doing things.
[Andy] We know, if we have to ask ourselves if something is right then we know to keep on working at it because, inevitably it will be wrong. When it's right we're all jumping up and down laughing, we just know it's the sound. When we've finished altering a song, the person who had the idea at the beginning is always 10 times happier after we've all had our input if something does need changing.
[Slurpy] There are some parts where a persons written a riff it's come to practice, it's been changed and then that person has taken it back again and changed it again. However it happens, there's always this point where we all go 'yeah! That's it!'
[Lee] Right at the start, Andy said something that always stuck with me, we were in a rehearsal room and we'd just written Blah Blah Blah and Andy said 'that's the one' we all knew that was it because we all work as one and others bullshit filters. We knew that was the right way about going writing material.
[Andy] That's actually not one of our favourite songs, but it was the right direction for us.
[Contactmusic.com] You do play in London quite frequently, but don't often get to play the rest of the UK.
[Lee] We do bits and bobs but we've just got a couple more friends in London so we know we have somewhere to stay.
[Andy] We'd play all over the place but petrol costs so much and because you don't get paid much it's really hard.
[Krish] There's so many local bands that will play for free and might not be really good but are willing to do that gig for free just to play & get the experience.
[Lee] The thing I really respect about the rest of the band is, we could all be doing full time Jobs in our own fields but there's something about this thing we're doing together that means we put all our money and time in to this and we don't give a shit, we're totally dedicated.
[Contactmusic.com] As dedicated as you are, I don't feel that you're really rushing to get a record deal, a lot of bands seem to be in a real haste to get a deal, you guys just seem to be taking everything in your stride. Is this the case or have I got the wrong end of the stick?
[Slurpy] We're in no rush, we're really happy with the material we've come up with so far but we've got plenty more ideas that we are writing. I don't think it's healthy to be get ahead of ourselves.
[Andy] Maybe it's just because I haven't been in a band before, but I'm totally happy doing what we're doing at the moment. People who have been in 5 or 6 bands before always seem to want that instant success, they all seem so desperate that this one will be 'the one' and they want to sign a deal tomorrow off the back of one track. We're not really complying with that thought.
[Lee] If it happens, wicked! We'll be really happy, if not, we've had the most amazing time already, and I wouldn't want to have not done any of this. We've played some ridiculous gigs and you could never imagine they way people reacting the way they do.
[Contactmusic.com] Since the return of Andy, this summer has been fucking amazing for you guys, this summer has been the real start to Middleman. It's been non-stop gig after gig and the response has been awesome! Moor Music Festival for one!
[Lee] Ha! That was our first gig back!! It was really emotional for us. It'd been a tough start to the year for us. I'd been in an accident and I couldn't play the bass for 6 months and we'd also got worried about Andy going away for such a long time and how it would be when he came back. We were so happy with him being in the band, we didn't just want it to fizzle out. ..... And it didn't!
[Andy] You're right about it being the beginning, before I went away, we'd written such a lot of material in really short amount of time but more than importantly, we were still learning how to be in a band with each and other and also learning each and other as people. When I came back it was awesome, I came back to live with Lee and Slurpy...... not Krish, we didn't want to live with him... no, I came back to my best mates. It's just incredible. it's very cohesive.
[Krish] Even though we had a lot of time off, by the time Andy came home, it was so right, we're just a lot more settled.
[Contactmusic.com] You've got so many more gigs coming up.
[Lee] It's going to be brilliant!
[Slurpy] That's another difference, last summer, we were calling up every venue asking them to put us on, basically for gig practice, now we have everyone calling us up and wanting to put us on, we've no had to try so hard. to see other people getting excited about our music is just brilliant.
[Contactmusic.com] It's growing boys!!
[Lee] Yea, hopefully there's a monster in there somewhere!! We haven't played a bad gig this year, the emptiest was just the other day when we played Blackpool. We'd never been before, we didn't know what to expect, there was only 20 or so people at the gig but by the end of it every single one of those people were dancing! One of the main reasons why we're in a band like this and playing this music, that seems to have come out of nowhere, is because we love dancing! We love the idea of people just letting go! There's so many bands where people just stand around nodding their heads, it doesn't make sense to me.
[Contactmusic.com] Are you writing at the moment?
[Andy] There's a good 8 or 9 songs we have germinating but we haven't given them much time. We're gonna get stuck in to that really soon.
[Lee] We've just been so damn busy; we have a few days this week so we're going to get on to it. Even between the busyness, we've all brought ideas to the table and been trying them out, when we eventually get chance to get in to a room together, that's when things start to work.
[Contactmusic.com] What's next for middleman?
[Slurpy] We're gaining a new member to Middleman! Our friend Jon is also going to be joining, he's going to be doing all the samples live when we play. at the moment we have to use a computer, we want to get rid of it.
[Lee] Basically, we're going to unleash the beast on drums! Jon is one of the best keyboardists, samplers that we know. We got together last week and started putting together some of the sounds from scratch, we went through the entire set with all the band and bullshit detected all the problems together.
[Slurpy] The way it's sounding with Jon playing the riffs instead of a computer is totally amazing; it's much crispier and much more real.
[Lee] I think it's that human input that he will create that will really complete things.
[Contactmusic.com] You're in the final of a very important competition, what can you tell me about it?
[Andy] Yea! We're in the final 10 unsigned acts of 2006 for the Digital Music Awards! It's been really exciting just to getting nominated.
[Lee] When we got the e mail telling us we'd been nominated we were all so happy!
[Contactmusic.com] Personally, I think you ought to win, you've got something going no other band really does.
[Lee] More importantly for us, we feel that Middleman is still just a baby, we've only just started and we know we have so much more to do. We've only just got rolling!!
[Krish] We're only Middlechild at the moment, god help us when puberty kicks in!!
[Contactmusic.com] Middleman, Thank you for speaking to NoTiTLE, Let's go and play some games!!!
[Lee] yea! Let's play Buckaroo!
There you have it, a wee insight in to the beast known as Middleman. A band who doesn't comply with a modern day notion of being cool, they just have fun! Music needs bands like Middleman to keep things in balance.
A huge shout out to all the lovely staff at the fully refurbished Doctor Wu's for putting up with us filling the establishment with an array of kids games!! .....Limbo Mania is now available on demand.
Contactmusic.com asked Napoleon IIIrd why he likes Middleman, his response was short but we think it perfectly sums them up.
Good people make good music,
They are the life and soul of any party,
They are the moment that you fall in love for the first time.
"So do you like the first love of my life?"
I am not a good liar.
I am in fact a stubborn musical fascist and when my friends form a band I pray,
Prayer works in mysterious ways,
Prayer gives us Middleman,
Middleman are good people.
Photo credit goes to Mr Bob Taylor.