There’s sometimes a snobbishness surrounding covers and tribute bands — the cliche of the could-have-been musician who wipes down the leather jacket and dons a mullet wig at the weekend while delivering their best facsimile of our rock heroes.
But that’s just one take on playing other peoples’ music. Another is that of enthusiastically reimagined cover versions that put you in front of packed-out audiences on stages that many original bands aspire to play, all while getting to play the genre of music you love, and (no, seriously)…earning money.
That’s the path South Wales band Punk Rock Factory has taken. Having built a huge online following thanks to indulging a punk tradition of unlikely cover versions (retro cartoon themes, musical theater, Disney songs and more) merged with up-tempo, pop-punk, PRF’s live shows hit the sweet spot of appealing to multiple generations simultaneously. It’s both the introduction to rock that your kid will know, while the sweet-toothed melodies are presented in the style of the bands you grew up on.
With their latest album, It’s Just A Stage We’re Going Through, PRF are reaching new heights, propelling themselves to festival and tour dates across the globe. At the time of writing, the band has amassed over 600,000 followers on TikTok and tens-of-millions of views across their social media channels, all from self-produced content in the band’s ‘Sausage Factory’ studio. We caught up with drummer Andrew ‘Kob’ Robinson to find out how they did it.
You formed Punk Rock Factory in 2014, how did the band come together?
We had all been in bands of varying success years prior to the formation of PRF. Some we were in together and some where we were just friends in the local scene.
We all had the desire to do something together again so the idea of PRF was born. Initially, it was just one night a week at a friend's dinky studio in Newport, where the toilet was battered and broke and there was always a sludge metal band playing upstairs. But it was a great escape for us to just enjoy making music together.
There’s a strong tradition of covers and humour in pop-punk, what was the initial concept behind the covers and direction you chose?
Initially, we were just choosing songs that were big at the time and having fun putting them together. We never intended to be “funny”, but we really didn’t (and still don’t) take ourselves seriously at all.
Considering how much time we spend working in the studio, I would say about 75% of the time is making each other laugh, so that comes across a lot in what we put out.
How does a PRF cover start from your perspective behind the kit? Is there a lot of freedom to write/rewrite drum parts?
We always try to stick to the original structure and vibe of the song as much as we can. Either myself or Benj (bass) will warp the original song in time to a click to start, then I’ll build it all entirely in MIDI, reworking sections, timings, adding parts and just making it our own then I send it to Stead to put guitars down. Then we go into the studio and I’ll record the live drums adding in any new ideas based on Stead’s guitars.
Your repertoire takes in everything from retro kids’ TV themes to musicals and classic/ contemporary TV themes. What goes down the best online and at your live shows?
Without a doubt, the Disney stuff is the most popular both live and online. However, songs like Power Rangers and Pokémon go down an absolute storm live, and become huge singalongs in their own right.
You’ll Be Back from our latest album is also a great track to play live, because we have this big call and response part in the middle where we get the entire crowd singing with us. It’s always so difficult for us to choose a set though, every tour/festival we want to keep everyone happy and play the big hitters, but when you’ve got a back catalogue of around 110+ songs, it gets quite hard to choose!
PRF appeals to multiple age groups - what’s the average audience at a PRF gig?Honestly, the age range varies so much. We’ve seen people as young as 3 or 4 dressed as Elsa from Frozen, to people in their 60s and older who just love the nostalgia of it all. It’s amazing!
Social media has played a huge part in raising PRF’s profile. What was the cover where you first realised that you were really onto something with the band?
So “I Just Can’t Wait to be King” from The Lion King was the one that really initially popped for us on TikTok, and got us started on the Disney train, and from that we decided there's something in doing more Disney tracks. But it was when we posted a clip of “How Far I’ll Go” from Moana that things really went wild for us. We watched it get millions of views in such a short space of time (like half a day). After seeing that we realised we had something really special on our hands and started putting focus into a lot more Disney and making a lot of short form content.
You’ve collaborated with a number of celebrities/well known musicians too, which was the most surprising/exciting for you?
Honestly, we’re always blown away when someone agrees to sing or play on a track! But the one that surprised us the most was probably Jessica Darrow who actually voiced Luisa in Disney’s Encanto. She did a duet with us on Surface Pressure for TikTok which went down a storm.
Then on our most recent EP we brought in Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy who sang “Part Of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. She did such a great job and ended up singing the entire song and all harmonies. When she sent her parts over to us, we were completely blown away!
There are so many great drummers in punk, who are some of your main influences (please elaborate on why)
Erik Sandin from NOFX, Travis Barker from Blink-182, Tre Cool from Green Day, Jordan Burns from Strung Out... There are so many amazing punk drummers that I have been influenced by over the years. Ever since I learnt to do a punk rock back beat as a young kid, I never looked back. Punk drumming has always been the ultimate form of expression of just pure energy that speaks volumes to me. Putting everything into playing wild and including flare and stick tricks and making it not just about the playing, but the expression of it all.
What about drummers from outside of the genre?
So many that have influenced me over the years like Tommy Lee, Stewart Copeland, Glen Sobel, Neil Peart and more. More recently though, II from Sleep Token. That guy melts my brain and makes me think in ways I haven't done until now. Incorporating incredible gospel chops into metal and just doing things so out of the box, I really think he’s one of the best drummers out there today.
What gear are you using?
I use a custom SJC drums kit, 22” kick. 13” and 16” toms and currently using a super sweet HHG 13x7 snare. I play Zildjian, mostly A Custom series cymbals: 14” Hi-hats, 17” Crash, 20” Crash, 20” Medium Thin Crash, 20” Ping ride. Then I use a K series 17” China. All of my hardware is DW, I use a DW 9000 double pedal and have a signature 5A stick with Wincent drumsticks.
Do you use electronics/click tracks live?
Until now, no. However more recently we have been rehearsing to click and some extra audio FX that we intend on using live just to add some extra spice to the shows for lighting cues mainly.
You record everything yourself in the Sausage Factory studio. Has it been a learning curve getting to grips with recording your drums?
Drums are always the thing that can take a lot more work with so much going on, and we definitely struggled in the early days. Now we’ve got the studio working in the ideal way with treatment, soundproofing, mic placement as well as upgrading our mics, I definitely think we’re in a much better place. Plus Benj’s mixing has got so much better through every record. So we’ve been lucky that instead of relying on outside producers, we learn on every recording so we consistently improve each time.
There are plenty of great software solutions that help with rock/punk/metal drum sounds on recordings now, do you get into sound replacement when recording your kit? It’s often a misunderstood process, yet very common and appropriate within the genre you’re playing in.
It’s definitely a kind of unspoken thing that some people tend to turn their nose up at in terms of sample replacement. I will always play every single song front to back for our recordings. However, we do use sample replacement blended with the original hits. This is a taste/flavour choice that we consciously make just to make the drums sound bigger, and works for the genre.
A happy accident from this is that it also saves us time mixing, which is great when you work as fast as we do! We don’t have the luxury of most bands spending a month on an album and days on drums. We tend to work so fast that before we’ve finished this recording, we’re already talking about the next thing!
Do you work on music outside of PRF, or is it your full-time gig?
PRF is 100% full-time for all of us now, which is a dream come true. We also co-manage the band, are our own agents, promote our own tours, run all our own socials, so as great as it is, it’s a lot of work!
PRF are playing much bigger venues than the average covers band. Have you got to meet any of your drum heroes yet?
Getting to meet Erik from NOFX at Slam Dunk was awesome, he was super cool and definitely a bit of hero for me.
Punk Rock Factory, It’s Just A Stage We’re Going Through is out now. PRF is on tour throughout 2023, for a full list of dates click here.