‘British Invasion played with a Punk Rock attitude’. It has been done many many times before. Still, if done right it is irresistible. More Kicks, a trio (Sulli – vox/guitar; Kris – drums; Paolo – bass/vox) from London, does it right. 11 short songs and an intro, what more do you want? Nothing! Whatever may happen, at least listen immediately to You Left a Stain on Me, She’s a Reaction and the superior Ain’t That Just the Way.
How did this record come together?
More Kicks had been a band for just over a year when we went into the studio. We started off as a three, briefly became four, then back to three again. I think musicians have a romantic view of being a trio. A ‘power trio’, people will say to me. But then very few bands actually do it because it turns out to be pretty fucking hard to pull off. I would recommend it though. There is always more legroom in the van, fewer plane tickets to buy, plus you only have to split the £50 London gig fee three ways, instead of four.
Anyway, we knew we wanted to capture the band as a live proposition, and also that the best way to do that was on tape. Gizzard Recording in London is all-analog and run by a great guy called Ed. He worked at Toe Rag Studios before setting up his own place. It’s incredible – anyone with even a small gear fetish will go in there and leave as a fully-blown analog pervert.
We only had four days for everything (recording and mixing) so we made the conscious decision to trust our instincts. If it felt good, we just move on – don’t need to waste time listening back. It was probably the most tiring but easiest recording session I ever took part in. It sounds completely natural and I’m proud of every second of it.
When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?
Pretty quickly. What usually happens is I write a song in my flat in North London. I demo it immediately – making the demo is part of the writing, really. I have a little home set up which actually grew after recording the album. As I mentioned, the studio we went to turned me into a slight analog pervert – so after recording there I bought a small Studiomaster mixing desk and a few bits of outboard gear, notably a tape delay.
After I’ve finished the demo, I go out to the shop or to the pub down the road, listening to it on my headphones. That’s my test to see how it sounds out in the real world – rather than in my claustrophobic demo-headspace in the flat. If it still feels good then I email it to Paolo (bass) and Kris (drums) to get their opinions.
The response is usually ‘Sounds cool! Let’s try it!’ or ‘Hmm I’m not sure. But let’s try it!” so then we start to knock it around in rehearsal. I like to think my/our quality control is quite high. There are quite a few demos that I’ve finished but never sent to them and there aren’t too many More Kicks songs that we drop or decide are too shit to play. But then again, I suppose most bands think that.
With every song you write, are you still learning to become an even better songwriter?
I am always worried that I will never write another good song but the evidence suggests I still have some time left. The new songs we have for album #2 sound fantastic. All of the More Kicks album (except Young Enough, which I wrote years ago and resurrected for More Kicks – at Kris’ insistence) was written in about 12 months. So that cliche about ‘You have your whole life to write the debut album, then only 12 months to write the second record’ doesn’t apply for us.
The interesting point we’re at now is that some of the obvious places to go in my head have been used for the debut record. I have to dig a little deeper. So I’m finding that songs are taking a little longer to write. Something like ‘I’m On The Brink’, ‘It’s A Drag’ or ‘Your Vibration’ seriously took about 10 minutes to write from start to finish. Now I have to work a little harder to find new areas.
As a band, we’ve grown a lot – there are so many deceptively complicated rhythmic bits and pieces in the newer songs, even if the song still ends up being ostensibly a three-minute pop single.
As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?
I suppose musically, it feels completely comfortable to stand on a stage playing music. Kris, Paolo and I have all been playing music since we were teenagers. It’s totally natural for me to be up there, playing and singing. I don’t feel shy about that at all because nothing will be scarier than playing a Muse song on a nylon-string acoustic guitar in front of the whole school when I was 14. (Don’t ask…)
Lyrically is probably more complicated because I wasn’t the main songwriter in a band until More Kicks. (I play in another band called Suspect Parts where I share vocals and writing with my brother-in-arms Justin Maurer). But again, I trust my instincts on what feels good and write very quickly and unconsciously.
Also, I’m not writing 100% autobiographical songs. Some songs are about me, some of them I don’t know exactly what they’re about, some are about friends or people I meet, some change their perspective during the song. It’s not an entirely self-obsessed endeavor.
Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?
Yes probably. Well, it’s definitely easy to record something – although it’s also easier than ever to record something that sounds shit. Recording something that sounds good is as easy/hard as it ever was. Getting it heard is tricky, yep. It seems to me that unless you have a heavy-lifting music industry behind you, the best bet is still to just be active as a band. Tour as much as you can, release new music regularly, try to be in control of as much stuff as you can. It’s not rocket science, in that respect. A lot of bands are really good at posting regularly on social media, appearing to be professional to the outside world. I find that pretty transparent and unconvincing personally, but then what do I know?
In the end, we’re all just doing our best with whatever tools we have. I will say that my experience with complete creative freedom (independent one-person record labels, friends doing the artwork, making our own videos, self-booking and driving tours) has been more satisfying than the experience I’ve had with major labels. This suggests that just getting on with things rather than moaning about the changing face of music/the music industry is a much better idea.
Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?
It’s my favorite thing to do. I am not a nostalgic person but I am a ritualistic person. I love tumbling out of the van and changing from van shoes to gig shoes. Loading heavy stuff into an empty venue that smells of beer or bleach or both. Finding a safe place for my wallet that I won’t forget later. Saying hello to the sound engineer and finding the prospect of soundcheck insufferable even though it’s the first thing I’ve have done that day and it literally takes me three minutes to set up my stuff. Drinking one beer and one water from the backstage fridge. Shaving in the venue bathroom to feel more awake – finding a gap in the mirror between all the band stickers. Walking around the neighborhood to see if there’s somewhere fun for a coffee or beer near the venue. Walking back to the venue and praying for a good number of people to be there. Looking for an old gig poster that I can use to write the setlist on. Asking six people for a pen and then complaining about having to write the names of 10-15 songs. Monitoring how long it takes the support band to clear their stuff from the stage and if it will affect how long we can play for. Deciding to just play the normal set anyway because ‘fuck it’. Setting up my stuff and putting a beer and water next to the setlist at my feet (I will not drink a single drop from either bottle throughout the gig). Looking up to see if I’m the first to be ready. Paolo is always ready before me, Kris always takes longer. Raising my eyebrows at my two friends as if to say ‘Ok, here we go then’. Then 30-40 minutes which go by in a flash. Those little moments where things almost fly out of control but we’re able to catch them. More Kicks gigs are pretty breathless. Literally – the songs are quite fast and there are a lot of words.