What’s it like for a young band flying the flag for guitar music? To find out, we talk to Milk Teeth and Fangclub, two of our favourite upcoming alt rock bands...
Guitar-driven music is in a strange place; it’s never been easier to find your sound and get your music into people’s ears. But at the same time, large parts of the media seem to have given up on promoting new guitar bands and giving them a platform to grow.
Not us, because we know how much talent there is waiting to step up to become tomorrow’s festival headliners. With that in mind we couldn’t resist using Milk Teeth’s UK tour with Fangclub as an excuse to get their guitarists and bass players in a room to talk about how they got their bands off the ground, and the challenges they’re facing right now.
How did you go about building a fanbase when you started out?
Chris Webb (guitar, Milk Teeth): “People will ask us what they need to do to start a band and we say, ‘Play any show.’ I remember going to Manchester for a fiver once.”
Becky Blomfield (bass and vocals, Milk Teeth): “It didn’t even cover the petrol but we wanted to play it. We had this EP that we put up on Bandcamp and a few people took notice.”
Steven King (vocals and guitar, Fangclub): “It’s the days of sleeping in a van, maybe staying on someone’s floor. Playing every show you can and playing for 10 people so they come back with 10 more people.”
That’s a good point; some bands might feel that playing to a small crowd is a waste of their time.
Chris: “That’s why we try to do shows with as many different bands as possible. Because if you bring one person over, it snowballs.”
Billy Hutton (guitar and vocals, Milk Teeth): “Expect to put a lot in and not get much back for a while.”
Kevin Keane (bass, Fangclub): “We played to a dog before and it left.”
Steven: “He didn’t like it at all!”
Becky: “We played to a guy throwing up out of a window.” [everyone laughs]
Steven: “We’re still doing shows in places we’ve never been before and there’s 10, 15 people. It doesn’t matter, we still do the same show.”
Billy: “If people really love you, there’s no need for you to play less of a show just because there are less people there.”
Steven: “We did a tour with the Cribs and they were telling us about the early days with Biffy Clyro, and how they would play in front of four people. And that was really cool to hear. They were saying, ‘Keep doing it, you’re at this stage now but you have to just keep going.”
Chris: “Talking of Biffy Clyro, there’s a venue near us called the Frog & Fiddle and they have a Reading poster from years ago. And Biffy Clyro are in the tiniest font on the last line. And they headlined it a few years ago.”
Steven: “They’re an inspiring band.”
Kevin: “They’re a good career band because they started in 2000/2001 and they’re still massive. Just through the years, to see how they’ve grown as well. Because even for the first three or four years they were releasing an album a year and building and building, then they released Puzzle and went from there. They’re a cool band to look at.”
Do you think it’s important as a new artist to get some recorded music online as soon as possible?
Chris: “We recorded our demo, people call it an EP but to us it’s a demo, and we had it on Bandcamp and that’s how our manager found us on there. I think we were the number one ‘grunge’ [release] on Bandcamp for a while when it first came out. We were stoked because we weren’t playing many shows. It definitely helps.”
Billy: “I don’t think Spotify was as accessible then. You can get anything on Spotify now, it’s kind of taken over I think.”
Becky: “You just need somewhere where people can go and hear what you’re doing.”
Chris: “We gave our music away for free for a long time. With Spotify, you don’t get any money from that anyway. Give music away.”
Steven: “We got spotted on Bandcamp as well with our demos. It was kind of the go-to back then.”
Are you able to do music full-time?
Becky: “No, that’s another thing. When people see us in a magazine… [they don’t realise] I still go to work.”
Chris: “Oh, you’re on a major label? You must be minted. Where’s your Ferrari? I live with my mum. That’s the thing, music is more accessible and it’s easier to steal, so it’s not the rockstar lifestyle. I wouldn’t want that anyway.”
Billy: “Speak for yourself. I want a Ferrari!”
Chris: “It’s definitely not the same world that it was 30 or 40 years ago. The only way you could hear a band then was to go to a concert or buy the record. I don’t think there’s going to be another rockstar generation with bands. Unless you’re going for a long time. We talked about this recently, but The Darkness blew up. I loved that record, but there’s not any bands coming out of nowhere like that. It doesn’t happen any more.”
Passing the baton
Matt Bellamy from Muse recently said in an interview that he thought the guitar was becoming more of a textural instrument, do you think he’s just referring to rock’s place in the mainstream?
Becky: “He said a few things recently that have kind of annoyed me. He basically said that rock was dead…”
Chris: “I feel like guitar music is what you make it. You hear bands now and you never know who’s going to be the next big thing. I think it was Code Orange who said they can’t just have the same festival headliners forever. And it’s going to be them because they’re sick.”
Becky: “Plus everyone is dying off. Ozzy hasn’t got long left!”
Chris: “What’s that film? Get Him To The Greek when they say Ozzy is going to outlive Miley Cyrus. I can see that.”
Becky: “All the big, big headline bands like Sabbath, there’s only so much time before they all stop. But as you said Chris, the industry has changed. It’s hard to have a career for 20 years.”
Chris: “We did a tour with Enter Shikari recently and they’ve been a band for 15 years. But I’ve seen them as a big band for a long time, but there was a point that they weren’t. I see a lot of bands that were probably in a lesser position than I’m in now.”
Steven: “All the young bands sticking together is really cool to see, to be able to exist, but the older bands need to be taking these bands out on tour. Not just the big ticket sellers. That needs to exist because it’s going to go back underground again and the music industry will suffer.”
Becky: “With regards to what Matt Bellamy said about the guitar being more textural, I’m all for people adding different sounds and playing around with stuff on records. Because you don’t want to make the same record all over again. It’s boring for you and it’s boring for fans, but there are so many bands that write amazing music just as a straight band; two guitars, bass, drums… It just seems quite an ignorant comment when there are bands that aren’t adding in other elements but are doing great. The next generation.”
Billy: “There are so many bands we know who don’t even have pedalboards. They plug straight into the amp.”
Do you have a lot of young musicians in your fanbases who seem to be inspired to do what you’re doing?
Chris: “Someone on the Enter Shikari tour asked us what tuning we were using mid-song [everyone laughs]. I was like, ‘Do you want to know this now?!’ I don’t know if we attract a lot of gearheads or whatever but people ask, ‘What’s that on your pedalboard?’”
Becky: “My favourite thing is seeing people do guitar covers on YouTube because I did that when I was learning guitar with all my favourite bands.”
Chris: “I see bands cover us and I think, ‘That’s way better than the way I’m playing it!’”
Steven: “There’s a young teenage band in Ireland that cover one of our songs and they do it far better than us [everybody laughs]. I watched it and thought, ‘That is such a good song. But not the way we do it…’ They’re good.”
Who inspired you to play?
Chris: “When I first started playing guitar I wanted to be Slash. When I found out that was really hard it was Billie Joe Armstrong. I wanted to be a shredder when I started out but then as I grew up I just wanted to write songs, they didn’t have to be complicated. So for me it was people like Kurt Cobain and Billie Joe Armstrong…”
Becky: “Kurt Cobain always said how much he admired The Beatles because of the simplicity. I don’t think a song has to show off your technical musicianship to be a good song.”
Chris: “Then Bill joined the band and now we’ve got tapping parts!”
Billy: “It’s one dual guitar solo - what’s wrong with that?!”
Steven: “The first concert I went to was The Offspring in Dublin and that changed my life. I was watching that and thinking, ‘I think I could do that. I want to do that.’ That was it.”
Kevin: “Fat Mike from NOFX was a big influence on me, and Kim Deal from the Pixies too.”
Chris: “NOFX have really hard parts, you don’t really think about it until you try to play them…”
Kevin: “Then you’re like, ‘Damn!’”
Do you still feel there’s still an appetite for guitar-driven music based on what you’re seeing out there?
Chris: “I keep talking about the internet but I think it really does help. I keep seeing people who are younger than I was when I started getting into music. We’ve got a varying age of fanbase. We’ve seen dads and children come to shows together because they both like it, which is awesome.”
Steven: “To have, for example, the kid who is coming to the show who has just discovered Nirvana, then you have the dad who saw Nirvana. You have both those generations there and it’s a really cool crossover to have.
“In Ireland, the rock scene was never huge but we can sell out shows there now, and that never really happened in Ireland before. You had to be a celebrity band in Ireland to really do good shows.”
Kevin: “It is tougher in Ireland though because a lot of the venues are over 18s but here there’s over 16 and over 14 shows. It’s tough because there are a lot of young fans there.”
Billy: “An over-18 show always seems so stupid to me.”
What else would you like to see changed that could not just help your bands but future generations of guitar bands?
Chris: “I think I’d like to see the major radio stations get behind a few bands. Royal Blood are blowing up and I hear them every day but why are they getting behind just one band? It’s like a gimmick, ‘Rock music - here you are.’
Steven: “‘Tick the box, cool we’ve got the rock band.’”
Becky: “It’s almost become a niche. You’ve got the Daniel P Carter show on Radio 1 but even that’s at 7 o’ clock at night on a Sunday. It’s not necessarily easy access.”
Chris: “And I don’t think it’s going to frighten anybody. It’s not like that anymore.”
Billy: “I’m thinking Coldplay are the hardest band they put on now.”
Pop in disguise
Kevin: “A lot of our songs are pop songs in essence, just with heavy guitars on them. I don’t see why they can’t be played more on mainstream radio. If they listened, there are big melodies.”
Chris: “We always try to write to a pop format. I see people singing our songs just from soundcheck. It’s not scary. I think there’s one song we’ve got a swear word in.”
Becky: “Radio stations only seem to play rock bands that play arenas. And then they wonder why small venues are closing down. Well, you’re not supporting that cluster of the growth period. You’re only playing the stuff on the top selling out [gigs to] 20,000 people. If the bottom bit gets ignored, how is it supposed to keep passing down a generation?”
Chris: “The Foo Fighters aren’t going to last forever. They can’t just play them.”
So what would be your advice to a band that’s just formed?
Becky: “Play all the shows. Don’t have any arrogance about it.”
Kevin: “Write good songs.”
Steven: “Just focus on the music. It’s all about the music at the end of the day. If it’s shit music it’s not going to transcend anything, it’s not going to go anywhere.”
Becky: “I feel like you should aspire to work for it.”
Steven: “It’s really, really fun if you focus on the important things; the music and gigging.”
Chris: “Not trying to be a rockstar.”
Becky: “I didn’t even know much about bass pedals until I met Chris. Everything progresses and the important thing is you’re writing and you’re enjoying it.”
Billy: “When the fun stops, you stop.”