I recently interviewed Brighton ska band The Meow Meows for the cover feature for the relaunch of Brighton Unsigned magazine. I’ll post the feature up on here at some point, but for now, here’s the full interview:
For people who aren’t aware, who are The Meow Meows and what do you all do in the band?
Ellis (Saxophone): The Meow Meows are a South Coast Ska’n’Soul super group, who originally formed through a mutual love of music, drinking and a good old fashioned knees up, but have since blossomed into the fabulously feisty festival favourites they are today. The band’s sound is a fresh and happy muddle of sixties garage and dirty pop with a belly-rumbling rocksteady rhythm, blistering hot horns and heart-thumping keyboards, topped off by two all-dancing, all-harmonising female singers armed with tongue-in-cheek lyrics and killer stage presence.
We are blessed to have dual lead singers, Danny Girl and Hanna, representing us at the front of the stage. In addition to their captivating performance skills, they write all their own hard hitting lyrics. Most recent subjects include reflection on life in Coalition Britain, expressing solidarity for incarcerated Russian fem-punks Pussy Riot as well as picking apart doomed relationships. Asides from that, the brilliant band artwork comes from the talented hands of Danny Girl. Check out our latest album insert for some cracking examples! Hanna is our chief organiser, without her there is no way we would have made it back alive from our two week tour of Germany. More recently, she coordinated our extremely successful ‘Pledge Music’ campaign, from which we funded our second album ‘Somehow We Met’, with the support of our fans.
Our superbly solid rhythm section consists of Alex on keys, Danny Boy on guitar and Ian on bass. These guys are the driving force behind our storming live shows. They are also the key element in our compositional process, constantly bringing fresh new ideas into the family. Ian is an entity in himself, anyone who has had the pleasure of meeting him will know what I mean.
Our first-class horn section comprises of Emma and Ellis on sax with Matt on trumpet. They are the icing on the cake and the cherry on top, assisting in establishing the bands uniqueness and adding plenty of eccentricity.
You guys released your second full-length in July. Was it a fun album to write? Was it more difficult than the first?
Danny Girl (Vocals): We are a band who most definitely know how to enjoy ourselves. But writing and making this album “Somehow We Met”, was some of the best fun ever. Every part of it.
The first album “Songs From The Fridge” is very special to us, recorded with lost friends and a lot of love. It took years to finish with changing line ups and the talented (and very patient) producer Paul Pascoe beating and hammering drunken performances out of every one of us.
For “Somehow We Met”, The Meow Meows second album, we helped to raise the money through crowd sourcing so we could afford to bang it all out in a couple of weeks. In selling our band and our future album to trusting fans, we began to sell the idea to ourselves. That plus our confidence in the new songs meant by the time we were ready to go in the studio we were practically giddy.
We met with the legendary Prince Fatty who found us very peculiar and a bit wild, but he liked us anyway and locked us up in his smoky studio ‘til history was made. The vocals were finished with the Great Win of Black Wookie with lashings of honey and wine.
We celebrated by filming a promo for our Pussy Riot tribute song Siberian Soup (um… by the way FREE PUSSY RIOT www.freepussyriot.org) in which our friend Dave Thomas miraculous captured the silliness of our band and the fun of the whole affair. The launch party was incredible, crowd surfing, table dancing, grown men crying and we nearly broke the whole damn floor.
As for the writing of it, it gets easier and easier. We are lucky enough to all actually (mostly) love hanging out, falling over, getting into scrapes and even playing the occasional gig. We just can’t wait to make album number 3!
Alex (Keyboard): It actually was a bit more difficult, but that’s because we were consciously striving to make it a whole lot better. For the first album the songs mostly came from drunken jamming in our tiny basement rehearsal room when we weren’t taking it very seriously at all. We definitely spent a bit more time and attention on the writing process this time around.
We’re still very much a ska band, but we wanted to throw in elements from all different kinds of genres to expand our boundaries and make it a bit more interesting, if only for ourselves. There’s funk, dub, soul, disco and balls (and tits?) out rock n’ roll on this album, which makes for a more varied listen and a more interesting live show.
With there being so many of you in the band, can it be difficult during the writing process? Do you all come up with ideas and build each track together or does somebody generally lead the way?
Alex (Keyboard): Everyone contributes. Usually Danny Boy or myself come up with a riff, verse and a chorus and then we all work on the structures together, with everyone honing their own parts. Hanna and Danny Girl write their lyrics once we’re pretty much done, the horns write and arrange their parts into something far better than we could have thought of, and Ian will ignore suggestions for a bassline and play what he always does anyway.
Then over the course of a few months of playing songs live, some kind of alchemy will occur and we’ll naturally fall into what works best for the song. I listened to the original home demo I did for Siberian Soup and the finished song is at least three hundred times better after everyone else kicked it into shape. Yay, democracy.
How do you feel about the Brighton music scene theses days? What bands should we keep an eye on, and who are your favourite venues & promoters?
Alex (Keyboard): I love The Beautiful Word, they’re another independent twin-front-women band from Brighton who take a great joy in what they do.
Yumi And The Weather are destined for greatness, that’s our friend Ruby Taylor who used to play in ska bands like Tin Roots who we used to share stages with.
Then there’s Chas Palmer-Williams, ex-Lightyear and Derby-to-Brighton transplant. Lyrical genius and highly entertaining onstage mad-bastardry.
Ian (Bass): The Brighton music scene is thriving thanks to the hard work of local promoters, most of which do it out of love with little monetary reward.
Personally, ska-wise I think Johnson And The Believers are good. The Garage scene has loads going on, in particular I Like The Gogo, The Querelles and The Spitshake Sisters.
Promoters Stay Sick and Teen Creeps both put on really good nights in Brighton. We love playing for the Playgroup guys who put on great gigs at the Blind Tiger Club, and their summer festival just out of Brighton. We also enjoy supporting the bigger 80’s two tone bands at Concorde 2 such as The Beat and The Selecter. In the past year we also supported Reel Big Fish and The Temptations at Concorde 2 which were both great experiences.
Ska had a big revival about 10 years back and there was a huge amount of ska and ska-punk bands in both the UK and US, but it doesn’t seem as big a scene these days. Would you agree with that? How have you seen the ska scene change over the years and how do you feel about it?
Hanna (Vocals): It might not be what you hear on the radio all the time, but ska isn’t a flash in the pan genre as it has been around in so many guises since its beginnings in the 1950s.
Some of the band are lucky enough to have been around during the 80s ska revival (Ghost Town was at number one when I was born. Technically I wasn’t aware of it, but I like to think that it was a sign of things to come) and also grew up through the 90s/00s ska scene right here in Brighton. It was such an exciting time with established bands from the US such as Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris, The Slackers and Less Than Jake coming over and playing shows at Concorde 2 all the time, and on the other hand UK talent springing up such as Capdown, Random Hand and Lightyear. Back then, there was a definite buzz, especially in Brighton as it was a DIY scene with all these young whippersnappers putting on shows all over the place. Some of us were in bands from around that era: Hanna’s band Muttly’s Dastardly Skam, Danny Girl/Ian’s band Ska Gal And The Hands of Ra, Danny Boy’s band Out of Luck, Ellis’ and Matt’s band Go Tokyo and Emma’s band Fisticuffs. But, like any scene that suddenly blows up, it is inevitably going to change and fizzle out.
Brighton in particular has a rich history of ska with loads of local bands having created brilliant scenes in several waves (earlier: The Hotknives and Too Many Crooks, later: Los Albertos and King Porter Stomp). The Meow Meows were never a part of any scene because we formed in 2005 – kind of in no man’s land. We just started doing it because we all liked ska and wanted to be in a band. At the beginning we played some completely dreadful shows in front of ten people, wondering what on earth had happened to all the people who liked ska. What were they doing now? Ska-punk in particular was a pretty puerile genre anyway, but it may be that as those fans grew up, their tastes matured as well.
Although we’ve had fun and success to differing degrees, things started shifting in a more positive direction from about 2010 onward for us. Firstly, we toured with King Blues, Mouthwash and Moral Dilemma. In every town we played it was a packed show to hundreds of kids who were into ska. It was an awesome experience and probably the first time we felt like a proper band. Secondly, bands like The Beat and The Selecter started reforming and playing tours. We were lucky enough support some of those bigger 80s ska bands. This won us a slightly older audience who liked our lairy, girly version of their favourite music and also gave our a gig CV a bit more integrity. It also showed that the ska scene, particularly in Brighton, had never really gone away. Also around this time we noticed that due to the economic downturn, festivals had became THE holiday destination for Brits. Whilst this country has a long and rich history of music festivals, suddenly there was an explosion of smaller ‘boutique’ festivals that we could market ourselves towards.
I think it’s fair to say that festivals have been key to our more recent success. We love dressing up, getting pissed, playing to a crowd who are there to have fun and dance. We draw attention to ourselves through just generally being a bit chaotic and silly, and for some reason we keep getting accepted onto festivals we ask. Essentially, a festival is a microcosm of a scene, and it’s the best fun to play to a bunch of people who are totally up for it. With festivals such as Boomtown (which we played in 2012), you would find it difficult to believe that ska had ever been away. Old and new bands rub shoulders: Reel Big Fish, Asian Dub Foundation, The Skints, Sonic Boom Six, The Skatalites, King Prawn etc and the audience greet each band with the same level of enthusiasm. It’s telling that those bands popular ten years ago are still playing festivals and selling out shows. It’s exciting to be a part of because it’s underground but also not exclusive and cliquey like some other scenes.
In terms of how we feel about how ‘the scene’ has changed, we just choose our gigs a bit more carefully now to make sure it will be a good night for us. We’re definitely a band that feeds off of the audience reaction, so we don’t tend to do shows with bands from completely incompatible genres. Venues such as The Blind Tiger are really getting it right – they kind of have that ‘festival in a pub’ feel we like, and always have a complimentary mix of musical styles. We try to limit playing loads of gigs in Brighton and focus on doing well-promoted, strategically placed shows only (such as the one for Brighton Unsigned at The Hope in January) and focus on playing festivals and supporting bigger acts. Although it might not be the same as ten years ago, we are lucky enough to live and play in a city where people love going out dancing and are receptive to hearing new music, irrespective of the genre. And that’s all you can ask for from a scene, really!