Contact Music recently spent a weekend at the Camden Crawl music festival. In between drinking buckets of free beer and watching the occasional band, we also found time to chat with some of the artists performing at London's long established trekfest.
One of those was Hockey, a four-piece from Portland, Oregon in the US of A. Their debut UK single 'Too Fake' received rave reviews upon its release in March of this year, and with the much-anticipated long player 'Mind Chaos' set to follow later this summer, 2009 looks like it could be a prosperous year indeed.
Singer Ben Grubin and guitarist Brian White are sat in the polite confines of Camden's Lock 17 above the venue better known as Dingwalls. They seem particularly buoyant, and rightly so as they're just hours away from their biggest show on these shores to date.
This is your first Camden Crawl. What are your expectations from the Festival?
Ben Grubin: To be honest, I don't even know where we are or what this is!
Brian White: It's like South-By-Southwest isn't it but on a much smaller level?
Ben Grubin: Ah right.I kinda get it now.
Brian White: I think these kind of events are good as revealing situations. There are so many new bands playing that it would be nigh on impossible not to leave here without discovering something exciting and original that you probably wouldn't have had the chance to previously.
I guess that could be said for your band too. Because of the reception 'Too Fake' has had over here, there's a lot of expectation around the rest of Hockey's set.
Ben Grubin: I guess you could say that 'Too Fake' is pretty representative of what we do as a band. A lot of the tracks on the album were created in a similar way to 'Too Fake'. We do like to experiment a lot though with electronics and drum machines too so I think people will be a little surprised at a lot of what they hear when the record gets out.
Musically you remind me of an English band, Late Of The Pier. Are you aware of them and if so, do you feel a kinship with them in terms of the way you both approach making music?
Ben Grubin: Well, we had finished 'Mind Chaos' before we knew who they were, and then somebody turned us onto them so I can see where the comparisons come from. I love their music, but I consider us to be a more conventional pop outfit whereas I'd class them as being slightly more experimental. I mean, if you listen to our record you can kind of figure out where the songs were structured from, whereas Late Of The Pier don't really use structures in that way. We've always been about structures, and I think it shows in the way we communicate with audiences.
Your sound certainly crosses many genre boundaries. Do you deliberately try to avoid possible pigeonholed stereotypes whilst writing songs?
Ben Grubin: I see the band as being totally sceneless, for sure.
Brian White: Its not they we're trying hard not to fit into a scene, its more a case of the fact that none of us have ever really been involved with scenes as people, so we've a wide range of influences that we can bring to our music that maybe on the outside wouldn't normally be classed as being connected.
Ben Grubin: I think that's pretty much how we are. We have friends in other bands and stuff but I'd say they're more like people we hang out with from the same neighbourhood rather than any kind of musical similarities.
There's quite a big buzz over here in the UK at the minute for Hockey. Where did you see that emanating from?
Ben Grubin: I think it mainly came about via radio, certainly in the States anyhow. Its really important for any new bands to get playlisted on one of the central radio stations back home or else obtaining any kind of recognition is nigh on impossible. Here I would say the likes of Zane Lowe definitely helped. Obviously the press have been kind to us so far as well.
Do you see your music as being more accessible to UK audiences than back home in the States?
Ben Grubin: I don't know.it would be hard to say if I'm being honest. I mean, there are a lot of states that don't really have underground or mainstream music scenes as such so are generally quite eclectic and open about what they listen to, while you've got some parts of the country that really do tend to be stuck in their ways and only really embrace one kind of music so.I'd like to think that because our sound isn't exclusive to one era or genre, we're capable of captivating audiences pretty much anywhere.
Brian White: I do think English audiences seem a little more unified in their opinions. I've never experienced so many people at one time who really care about their music as much as in the UK.
Were you given any advice by your record label on what to expect from UK audiences before you came over?
Ben Grubin: Not really no, but they seemed to think people would really like us over here, and also quicker than they might in America. It seems to happen quite a lot with bands nowadays to be honest. If you look at people like The Killers or Kings Of Leon they became much bigger in Europe than back home.
Are you under any pressure from your label in terms of achieving commercial success?
Ben Grubin: We are, for sure! I mean, we were fortunate that we'd already made the album before we got signed and put it out ourselves first on iTunes, which is where Virgin became interested in the first place. I'm sure if we don't succeed though they will have no qualms about dropping us from their roster.
Brian White: I think that kind of pressure exists anyway regardless of what label you're on. There's the pressure around whether people will like what we're doing for starters.
Which other bands are you listening to and enjoying at the minute?
Ben Grubin: Well, I'm not sure if this is a popular choice over in the UK at the minute but I'm a really big fan of the new Babyshambles record. To me it's kinda exotic and cool at the same time. I'm a big sucker for Bat For Lashes too. It sounds really really complex yet has a simplistic quality about it also.
Brian White: There's a band back home called The Soft Pack who are worth checking out. I don't know if they're big over here yet?
Ben Grubin: Blind Pilot from our hometown of Portland are cool too. Very mellow, acoustic based but unique and very sincere also.
Are you playing any other UK Festivals this summer?
Brian White: We're scheduled to play T In The Park and The Great Escape. There are one or two others in the pipeline as well which we're waiting to confirm.
The single 'Learn To Lose' is out in June, followed by the album 'Mind Chaos' in August, both on Virgin Records.