Fractured of riff and rickety of melody, punk-hued quartet Sailors are one of four playing this Saturday’s DiScover Club. Ahead of that show – our first free-entry bash of the year down at the Notting Hill Arts Club – DiS catches up with the Ledds/Newcastle/elsewhere-based outfit to talk their recent EP, influences and tinnitus.
Sailors is: Nick (front), Sophie (back), Hugues (left), Jon (right). So says their MySpace. Check it out here and read the DiS verdict on their Gringo-released self-titled EP here. It’s one sweet-as seven-inch.
You’ve a slew of self-released material beneath your belts – what led you to working with Gringo for the self-titled seven-inch? Are you fans of the label’s roster?
Nick: We’re a group that was pre-destined to set our sights on making a seven-inch, as a primary goal for ourselves. It’s in our genetic codification. In the same way that we put out those few other releases ourselves, we would have put out our own seven-inch. So, when Gringo got in touch about being interested in doing something with us, it was greatly appreciated. Chris Summerlin from Lords has sung our praises from the off, and insists that it was he who insisted Matt at Gringo work with us, so I guess Matt was compliant.
Gringo have some groups I enjoy. But, I think of the label as having made sense for us mostly for it being like a big-wig satellite for bands of the LS6* pedigree to work with, although based in Nottingham. And Joe and Emlyn from Bilge Pump are regular drinking buddies of ours, so I guess that’s what qualifies as ‘pedigree’ rather than any prestigious talent on our part, so it always made sense in that way.
*For the sake of non-elitism, I guess I should make clear to those who don’t know that LS6 is the wastoid enclave of Leeds where students, eternal students, vile peaceniks, dog-on-string types and veritable Peter Pans live in perfect post-university harmony.
Jon: Asian people live there too, Nick. I was into Gringo bands for a while, perhaps more so than the others. At different times, Hirameka HiFi, Kill Yourself, Bilge Pump and Wolves of Greece were all favourites of mine. There was certainly no plan to work with Matt though; in fact, me and Nick (well, me) fairly disgraced ourselves the first time we ever met him, by puking and passing out in his house. Then one day all was forgiven and he asked us if we wanted to put a record out. We recorded some songs in October 2006 and the EP was released summer 2007.
You seem quite fractured, location wise, with members spread out over the place. How does this effect the band’s ability to do things – simple things – like rehearse? Must cost a lot in train tickets – is Matt refunding such things?
N: It makes it really, really hard, and that explains why we are such a low-activity group, above all else. Luckily, we seem to have a good chemistry between us, because it feels the same running through the set even if we haven’t seen each other for five months. But, it’s been like that since within six months of us forming, so the fact that we’ve managed to maintain the group even this long is a testament to the strength of desire we’ve had to do it.
J: It has always been a little like this, but was easier until summer 2007 when myself and Nick left Leeds. Before that there were three of us in Leeds and Sophie in Newcastle. Now, there’s me and Sophie in Newcastle, Hugues in Leeds and Nick all over the place. At the moment we basically practise before every gig, and that’s generally the only time we’ve all seen each other since the last gig. So it’s great, the songs always seem fresh to us and I always try to play some of them a little bit differently each time. But it makes things hard in terms of writing new songs.
Hugues: It costs more in gallons of petrol I’d have to say. Unfortunately we're not so good at keeping our refuelling receipts, so they've never made it to Gringo Towers. But that's okay; we're (almost) all young professionals, so we can take care of ourselves.
Do you want to run us through the Melvins/hearing thing? Now that is a story upon which to hang the beginnings of a band’s career…
H: Nick's hearing problem probably has more to do with a tendency he had to stand next to the PA speakers at gigs, or something. But as far as the his connection with The Melvins goes, I’m stoked as I hold some of their records - Bullhead and Lysol particularly - as some of the most inspiring I’ve heard. Not that much of it has transpired into the way we sound, but there you go. I even got to hang out with them (Buzz and Dale, not just their records), so double whammy I guess.
N: The Melvins are in no way responsible for my hearing problems, so the two strands of interest are entirely unrelated.
I’ve had tinnitus for ten years now, but I went through a particular period at the end of last year when it was becoming distressingly exacerbated by live music and clubs. It’s not that the tinnitus was getting worse… I can live with that just fine after this long. But I was having problems understanding what people were saying. I’m now of the opinion that it might have been related to the large room I was spending my weekdays in during that period. But alas, I had a mental meltdown and swore off any ‘live band’ activity altogether for all of a month or two. But, I got some specially molded earplugs made and got my ears tested by a specialist who told me to - and I quote -“Rock on!” He said that the damage to my ears was slight in one ear, but that my hearing was well within the realms of normality, and just to get them tested annually. So, speaking of which, it’s just about that time of year to halt all band activity for a couple of months again…
The Melvins is an entirely different story. I befriended them when I interviewed them for The Illustrated Ape in 2001. They took a shine to me, and I went on tour with them in the US the day after I left school, and wrote a ‘zine about it, and they ran part of it in their book Neither Here, Nor There. They’re one of my favorite bands and Buzz and Dale and their clan have been really good to me.
Every act gets compared to others, particularly in their early stages – what acts are you frequently compared to, and which do you feel are apt? Can you hear any of these acts in your material, and who would you say is a direct influence on Sailors?
N: Well, any band that forms in the day and age and doesn’t live under a rock bears the burden of the entire history of the Grand Tradition of Rock ‘n’ Roll and music in it’s entirety on their shoulders. Fortunately, we managed to make a good band by never discussing influences and finding our own sound very naturally within the course of about one practise.
So, there are a million and one bands in the back of my mind when practicing, but it’s only sensibilities that come through influentially, rather than piecing carefully studied parts of other groups I enjoy to help us get to a song. But! I’ll quit being a dry fucker and say the one single band that got referenced in relation to us early on that I really enjoy and did think of early on are Born Against (although I’m just as much of a Men’s Recovery Project and Wrangler Brutes fan).
We all like Gang of Four and The Fall, who people had said we sounded like early on. And my personal favorite groups that I’d never thought of that have been we’ve been referred to as sounding like at times are Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and Head of David.
H: We tend to be compared to bands I like, which is pleasing. To prove my above point, I’ll stress that The Melvins have never cropped up though. My favourite one is probably early The Ex, as I have a lot of affection for that band - particularly their early stuff incidentally. Whether or not we actually sound like them isn't important as far as I’m concerned. I like the fact that we remind people of a lot of bands - mostly old ones - rather than having everyone say that we sound like one in particular. It must mean that we have that something that struck them as being good in these bands at the time, yet that we're original enough not to be a carbon copy of anyone past or present. But maybe I’m kidding myself.
I can't think of one band that would really have been a direct influence on us, but I did try to lift Barry (of Paper Cut Out)'s bass sound. I'll get there, eventually.
J: I actually met Hugues and Sophie for the first time at an Ex concert, so it’s appropriate that we might sound (a little) like them. Other comparisons I’ve heard have included The Birthday Party (kind of), Uzeda (I wish), The Jesus Lizard (I wish x 1000!), Unwound (great band but can’t hear it myself), and Circus Lupus (ditto, except maybe Nick’s voice). There are particular moments in some of our songs when I’m consciously ripping off certain songs but I’m not going to say which songs or who by, because I don’t want to get sued by friends or Australians.
Live shows currently look a little few and far between – are you looking, actively, to play live, or do other things – work, family, whatever – take up the time you could be using to drive about in a Transit van from A to B, and back?
H: Family may be stretching it a bit, but other commitments of similar nature are certainly taking up some of that precious driving time you're talking about. I personally still find myself spending a lot of times in rehearsal rooms though, but that's still okay with me. It would be cool if it could be with Sailors more often, but that's just not possible and that's not the end of the world either. We enjoy it that much more when it happens.
N: We hope to play at least five or six more shows this year, and we all have other things going on.
I’ve been ping-ponging between Leeds, Liverpool and Buckinghamshire. Hugues and I are in another band named Broken Arm which is a garage, post-punk overtly rockist group, with Guy from Woman and Tom from Like A Kind of Matador, who are planning to do a tour of house parties lasting throughout the entire summer. In my spare time I have been collecting whatever bits of vinyl I can with the two pennies I am currently rubbing together, as well as writing articles for various low-prestige publications.
J: We’re playing your gig, and then playing with Lovvers in Leeds in March. We hope to put together a tour at some point this year if it doesn’t get in the way of Broken Arm’s world domination exercise. We all do other things of course; me and Sophie put on gigs in Newcastle, and we’re hoping to start a Newcastle-based band. The only criterion for that band is that it ‘must be better than Broken Arm’. I work full-time for a charity in North Tyneside but it’s fairly flexible in terms of holidays, and as the only Sailor with no relationship-style commitments (sob sob, et cetera) I sometimes feel as though I should be doing more, music-wise. But then there’s always other stuff to do, too: football, pub quizzes, friends, family, the countryside, so music is far from the be-all and end-all.
What’s forthcoming, release wise? Are you in a position to begin thinking about releasing an album? Will you continue to work with Gringo? I take it you’re not tied to the label, as such?
N: We’ve been approached about recording a song for a tribute album to the Ethiopiques series (info). We hear that those records are pretty hip, so we’re going to get around to checking them out to see if we actually want to contribute. We’ve been talking about writing songs for an album, which we plan to release on the same day as Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy, so as to go head-to-head with Axl and show him that the young bucks are able to steal his thunder no matter how long he spends honing his heinously Slash-free bogus Roses.
H: I think we'd all be more than happy to work with Gringo again, that said thinking of an album is wildly unrealistic at the moment. Maybe later, when teleportation is available and has made its market entry in the world of low-cost, Ryanair style. Without the appalling luggage excess fees, that wouldn't cut it with the gear.
Looking forward to the January 26 show? Had a chance to check out any of the other acts?
H: Definitely, I haven't heard any of the bands yet but I’ll try and rectify that before then.
J: I’m looking forward to it. We’ve got a lot of friends in London and playing there is always a good chance to catch up. No doubt I’ll give the other bands a spin on MySpace before we go… though I’m more likely to check out their music if I enjoy them live, if you see what I mean. Looks like a quite varied line-up though. It should be good.
N: Yeah, I am totally looking forward to it. I don’t know about the other acts, but I do have one question… Do we get free beer?
Catch Sailors at the Notting Hill Arts Club (link) this Saturday, alongside Johnny Foreigner, Yeborobo and Super Tennis, playing live and enjoying at least one free beer per person. We don’t make the rules, we just stick to them. The first DiScover Club of 2007 will be followed by the second in no time at all – check out the details below. All are free-entry events, from 4pm until 8pm, and strictly open to over-18s only. All DiScover Clubs are presented in association with RoTa/Rough Trade Shops (link).
January 26 (details)
Johnny Foreigner, Sailors, Yeborobo, Super Tennis
February 2 (details)
Munch Munch, Elle S’Appelle, One More Grain
March 29 (details)
Beestung Lips, Lakes, Who Owns Death TV
April 5 (details)
Broken Records, Vessels, The Monroe Transfer
May 24 (details)
Sky Larkin, Dinosaur Pile-Up, one TBA
June 7 (details)
An Emergency, two TBA