The Hoosiers talk unsigned band opportunities and industry tips
English pop-rock band The Hoosiers, consisting of Irwin Sparkes (vocals and guitar), Martin Skarendahl (bass and rhythm guitar) and Alphonso Sharland (drums), shot to fame in 2007 when their debut single Worried About Ray reached number five in the UK singles chart.
Shortly after, the band received greater success when their debut album The Trick to Life (2007) reached number one in the UK album chart, meaning The Hoosiers had made their mark on the pop music world. Successful albums The Illusion of Safety (2010) and Bumpy Ride (2011) soon followed and also achieved chart success. The Hoosiers are definitely ones to watch at this year's Live Fest and promise to put on a storming show.
What's it like being the drummer in a successful band?
Alphonso: "It's good! We tried to do it for 12 years before we got picked up. It was a long slog. It's great to get there it justifies all the hard work and the travelling for band practice we used to put in."
As a drummer, do you enjoy being out of the limelight? Does that suit you?
"Yes in the sense that the frontman always gets girls and the attention! It's always been more about songwriting for me. That was always what I wanted to do. When you're playing live it's nice to be at the back where the pressure is off."
What was it like when The Hoosiers first single Worried About Ray shot into the top five in the charts?
"It's hard to put in words. I had to pinch myself. It all happened at once and you didn't have time to take it all in. It was brilliant. Once we were signed we thought all the hard work had been done. Then you find that actually the hard work starts here! You don't want to hear that when you've just been signed but that's the reality!"
Your first album then got to number one in the charts, did that bring with it added pressure and expectation?
"Yeah it did. It massively impacted on the way we went about our writing. It's the old cliché of the difficult second album. A hit only comes about now and again so we're happy we've had them in the past and if it happens again that's great. You need a bit of luck along the way though."
As a drummer, who's your idol and is there anyone who made you want to be a drummer?
"Not really. I more just wanted to be in a band and involved in that feeling. If I had to pick a couple though, I'd say Phil Collins and Mick Fleetwood."
The charts are dominated by an urban sound at the moment, does that make it harder for you?
"Yes it does. It's really difficult. It goes in cycles though so hopefully bands will get more of a look in again soon. It's not healthy when there's barely a band in the charts at the moment."
Has the industry improved or declined in the time you've been in the business?
"From our perspective and style of music it's declined. To give an overview, music isn't in a healthy place. The power belongs to a few major radio stations. Major labels are struggling because of downloads and they're struggling to get bands on the radio. Something needs to change to bring back live music to the charts."
Downloads and social networking sites have made it hard to predict where the industry is heading. Have you any idea?
"Yeah I'd agree it is hard to predict. Everyone wants people to pay for music again but when you've got a generation of people under 20 who have never bought music it's hard to see how that'll change. I don't want to sound all doom and gloom but someone needs to think of a new idea that gets money back into the industry. Bands are still making records so it's not all bad."
Has social networking made it easier or harder to get your stuff out there and be successful?
"When we were trying to make it back in the day there was no way of getting songs out there online. Now the platform is there but once you get the fanbase online you need to convert it into the next stage."
What was your big break?
"We just used to get our demos out to labels then eventually we got spotted live by Toby Smith the keyboard player in Jamiroquai. He was a friend of a friend and came to see us play. Then we met up with a manager and started recording to make our album the finished article."
How should acts get their name out there?
"It varies from band to band. For a band like us in the pop scene it's less about live performance and more about demos. We concentrated on writing to hone our art. If your songs aren't good enough it doesn't matter how good you are live. So for us it was a case of us polishing our writing."
What do you think makes an act stand out?
"Presence on stage is important when it comes to performing live. Do something original and be creative. Don't just go through the motions. Flaming Lips are a good example they're awesome live and do different things every time."
Where should acts perform to get recognised?
"There are loads of good venues to gig at. Make sure they've got a good sound system before you play there because you can get lost if the sound isn't good. There's always places to play you've just got to find them."
What successful ingredient do you see in acts that make it?
"Songwriting and a strong vocal are primarily important. If you've got that then the rest can follow. Personality isn't that important if you've got great songs and they're well performed."
How important are competitions like Live and Unsigned?
"It's brilliant. There's the motivation that you'll be playing in front of industry people and that focuses you and improves you. Whether you win the competition or not it should help bands get themselves together and it pushes you to keep going if you get good feedback."
You've played some amazing gigs and festivals down the years. Who's the best act you've shared a stage with?
"I'd say Vampire Weekend who we played with at Glastonbury. They're brilliant. We played between Vampire Weekend and Ben Folds who's another one of my heroes."
What's the best festival you've played at?
"Latitude – Because it's a beautiful place and so chilled out. The atmosphere there is brilliant."
And the best gig you've ever been to?
"I saw the Flaming Lips at a festival in Holland. It was spectacular."
Who's your favourite band at the moment?
"I've just got the secondFleet Foxes album. It's unbelievable. The songwriting on there is brilliant."
Are there any up-and-coming acts that you are tipping for success?
"Panning for Gold who are in the Live and Unsigned Grand Final are very promising. They're from Hertfordshire too and combine indie and rap. It's very effective!"
Don't miss The Hoosiers at Live Fest, London's biggest indoor festival on 23 July. Buy tickets here www.livefest.co.uk
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