“Once in a corridor in Memphis / Was a singer took a breath
And wrote the birth of the teenager / Now we come to write his death”
– ‘The Last Significant Statement To Be Made In Rock ‘N’ Roll’
PIFL has been here before. Ever since we bought our first cassettes from Our Price we’ve been bombarded by scribes in print and verse telling us that pop is dead. At the same time, we’ve seen a barrage of magazine front covers pledging its rude health, usually while hailing some fourth-generation facsimiles of rock ‘n’ roll as our new favourite band.
What’s unusual about The Indelicates is while their lyrics proclaim the first view, their records have nevertheless reawakened our faith in modern rock music. After a few sharp single releases, their bitter, witty and rather fantastic début LP, American Demo, came out in April.
“I’m alright about the album now,” says Simon – guitarist, singer and songwriter. “I was really unhappy about it the week before it came out, I just felt really exposed. Like I’d walked out on stage at the school play without knowing any lines. Now it’s actually come out I’ve stopped worrying about it.”
Listening to the album, you can understand why its release could make its authors feel a little bit vulnerable. While the lyrics of most of the big guitar albums this year have been so banal they may as well be replaced by humming, American Demo presents a pretty personal take on love, life, drugs, politics and rock ‘n’ roll itself.
“I’m the most right-wing person I know, by a clear margin,” Simon claims. It’s a bold statement – and not one usually heard from the lips of musicians under 30. He’s responding to a review of the album on a weblog which denounced the band as rabid left-wing feminists. It also suggested Julia – pianist, singer, songwriter and also Simon’s partner – would be best served embarking on a solo career, leaving him to write for Mojo. He doesn’t seem too enamoured with that idea.
“It really upset me,” he confesses, “It really did bug me to the point where I had to talk about it in interviews and on stage.”
“It’s really offensive to me because I’m not stupid,” Julia adds. “I’m not just a female singer and when someone says that what they mean is: ‘You’ve got a great voice I didn’t listen to a word of what you were saying’. I mean fuck off! Seriously, what gives you the right to say that to me?
“It’s always men of a certain age – it’s always ‘industry professionals’. They’re maybe late thirties or whatever, they’re just trying to pull is what it is. They’re trying to be your friend and you’re thinking, ‘I’m not going to be your friend if you’re not going to be polite!'”
The other members of the band don’t get much of a look in, outside the music. But on stage in Manchester a few hours after this interview, drummer Ed van Beinum, bassist Kate Newberry and guitarist Al Clayton come into their own. As a group they take the songs up a level, giving them a harder-edged, glammier sound than on the records.
Al especially bounces around the venue like a dosed-up Gummy Bear, offering the crowd more than just the frontpeople as a focus. Do the other members feel deprived of a voice as well as a place on the front cover of their own album?
“No, because they hate talking to people, so that’s the price,” Simon jokes. “They don’t mind,” Julia reckons. “I think they like being the rhythm section – they all joined up because of that, so they don’t want to be in the ‘public eye’ as such, though they do on stage.” Simon explains their absence from this interview simply. “They’re our words, so it’s up to us to take responsibility for what we said.”
“‘Cause if we can’t have a better world / Then at least can we be right?”
– ‘The British Left In Wartime’
Back to the politics. Simon may describe himself as right wing, but he doesn’t talk like Nick Griffin and The Indelicates aren’t exactly Skrewdriver. In fact, the band recently donated a track to REPEAT fanzine’s “fuck the BNP right off” compilation.
Along with Julia’s timely swipe at post-feminism that is ‘Our Daughters Will Never Be Free’, the album contains a couple more out-and-out political moments. ‘Better to Know’ is unashamedly pro-liberal, pro-awareness, while ‘America’ hacks at the unthinking antiAmericanism that has consumed much of the British left. We wonder if songs like that make the band feel set apart from other musicians.
“Yeah,” says Simon, “But I’d probably be embarrassed to do it if I didn’t feel a bit out on a limb. ‘America’ especially is something especially that I care about really. You do get this constant stupidity from the left which is really disappointing and irritating – which really does bug me. It’d be very easy to write songs about how I don’t like George Bush, because of course, no-one likes George Bush. Just as it’s very easy to shock the Daily Mail, but it’s kind of pointless. That’s what they’re for – the Daily Mail – to be shocked.
“Anything that kind of runs against the grain of what the people you’re talking to believe on the whole it seems a lot more worthwhile, so if you’re having a go at the people directly in front of you, at least you’re not just talking to the choir.”
At PIFL, we don’t want bands to echo our politics, that isn’t the point. We want them to either leave all to one side, or actually show some evidence of thinking for themselves before shooting their mouths off. At the very least, we want them to recognise the contradictions inherent in their preaching to their post-teen fanbase. The Clash used to talk about equality, but they also tried to live it. Most guitar bands in Britain seem focused on three things: their careers, deflowering teenage girls and drugs.
“The popstars who write operas / And make fatuous remarks
The theory quoting upstarts/ Who snort fairtrade coke in parks”
“Coke is the least ethically produced crop in the world,” Simon claims. “People’s feet can get burned off when they have to tread it in acid otherwise they get shot. People won’t go to McDonald’s but they’ll buy coke.”
If another major rock band said something about drugs, groupies or politics that betrayed a single bit of independent thinking, then maybe they’d become worth listening to.
“The bands of this generation are a lot less radical than those of their parent’s generation,” Simon adds. “And that in itself suggests a reversal of something which was once interesting and made changes in society as a voice for youth. It stopped being that when Kurt Cobain shot himself and became just a method of selling pieces of plastic to teenagers.”
He adds that it doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be said while setting words to music – The Indelicates would be pretty neutered if that were the case. But he thinks the notion of rock ‘n’ roll as a force of rebellion has run its course. There is no longer any evidence of it.
Julia takes up the thread. “I think indie music’s dead too. Anything indie scene as it was – as in independent, an independent scene. With the alternative scene in America the difference is phenomenal. The alternative scene in America consists of a vast number of different things but they’re really supportive. There’s all sorts of labels that are basically small businesses that will come and support that, whereas in England ours died.
“Ours died and possibly became pop music which is fine – that’s what happens – but people forget there was a reason it was indie music. That it was independent – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”
She adds that people have often told her and the band they will go far, but she doesn’t want to be forced to take that path. “I should be allowed to be independent,” she sums up. After a short stint on Sad Gnome records, the band signed to indie label Weekender, and we wonder if this was always part of the strategy, to allow the band to maintain their freedom.
Apparently not. Simon admits, “we always wanted to release it on a massive label”. Julia agrees. “In terms of sound, it’s not not-commercial, though maybe it is in terms of lyrics. But I don’t really have a problem with many people being able to buy your music. The more people that hear about it the better really.
“It doesn’t bother me being on an indie, because you have a lot more control over what happens, but generally I think if a big label ever wanted to sign us up we’d definitely say yes. And we’d say yes having thought it through. We’re not dumb, so we think about it.”
“When they pin me to the wall, I’ll say
I’m with America / With godless America”
The band headed to the States earlier this year to play at the South by Southwest festival. While the event itself was something of a dull industry get-together (Simon: “No different from the Tory party conference, just lots of men in suits walking around with badges on, talking about fringe meetings and how excited they are about everything.”) the surroundings were something else.
“I really liked being in America,” Julia says. Her dad worked for an airline and she was born in Saudi Arabia, living her early years on compounds way out in the desert, much like army camps.
“I’m really used to vast amounts of space and, when we went to Texas there’ was a part of me that was like… it’s so nice,” she continues. “So nice to look to the horizon and it’s just immense, it’s such a good feeling. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be able to do that because if you live in a city all the time, you don’t get that.
“It’s really really freeing and it also makes you feel like you could survive it, if you’re a positive person – which I am, generally. You think ‘I could do this, I could walk through this desert and I’d be fine, and I could work it out, I’d be able to stand alone’.
“I think there’s a lot of that about America, despite it having loads and loads of problems. There’s something about that, about you feeling able to do something.”
“The dark days ahead / And the blood on the bed
And the cover of the NME
They gave us a cheque/ And took us by our necks
And swore undying loyalty”
– ‘New Art For The People’
Back to Blighty. Does being on the front cover of Britain’s oldest surviving pop weekly mean anything anymore? Simon thinks yes, Julia disagrees. “To be fair, I never read the NME and I was never into indie music,” she admits. “I was into dance music and classical music.”
“But I didn’t grow up somewhere cool!” Simon responds. “Where I grew up, the NME was like a lifeline and I find it really difficult to slag it off because it meant loads to me as a kid.”
“I just don’t like the NME because I don’t like music writing,” Julia counters. “I find the NME to be particularly bad, but I don’t find Plan B that different. They’ll be like; sounds a bit like this band, and this band and this band. It’s not that I have a problem with it as such, it’s just that it doesn’t make any sense to me.
“That’s what I mean about it not meaning anything. Maybe it means something to some people, but I think it means more in terms of business than anything else. The Wombats are on the cover, therefore they’re going get big for the next six months. And then they’re going to get shot down in flames and I think part of me feels a bit sorry for them because quite a lot of them are just kids.”
There are still some bands out there that impress The Indelicates; among them The Flesh Happening (Simon: “They’re amazing. It feels like watching Bowie, but with this more aggressively queer, really disgusting edge, a really proper edge, something that really is quite shocking.”) and former Sad Gnome labelmate Lily Rae. But despite the obvious musical allusions and reference points, when you get to the lyrics, The Indelicates sound like nothing else in British pop right now.
“I’m bitter and twisted/ Unaddressed and unlisted
And all of our plans came to nothing, it seems”
– ‘Point Me To The West’
“I try not to lie with everything we do and I think we succeed in “I try not to lie with everything we do and I think we succeed in that,” Simon says. “I mean, I don’t necessarily think I’m a particularly good singer, and I’m an alright guitarist – I’ve been practising long enough. I don’t think there’s anything we say that isn’t something we’ve thought through properly. It’s intended honestly, I think if we could be financially stable whilst not lying to people, that’d be good enough really.”
The cover of American Demo features Simon and Julia behind a freshly-painted white line, bucket and brush in hand. It’s a bold cover, and like much the band does, it makes bold statement.
“Being out on a limb – the cover of the album is mainly designed with that in mind – because I take responsibility for everything I said,” Simon explains. “It goes into why the week before releasing the album I felt terrible, just terrified and unpleasantly naked. But, I wanted to be on the cover, and to have Julia on the cover as well, going ‘Yeah, it was us’.”