It was the bravest decision I ever made, getting off the carousel.
My Dad tells me there was once a time when footballers didn’t respond to every question posed to them by expressing how happy they were to “repay the manager’s faith” having slated them in the press a week earlier. He also says there was a time when politicians didn’t start every sentence with “Look” and that being honest didn’t require people to say “let’s be honest.” Then again, he also thought Bon Jovi’s hair was cool and regularly complains about any music produced after 1980. But the world didn’t end after Bruce Springsteen produced The River and even though Noel Gallagher feeds NME the headline that he “can’t live in a world” where Ed Sheeran headlines Wembley, Little Comets frontman Rob Coles and guitarist Matthew Hall prove that there is scope for originality in the music industry, even if it comes at the expense of a major record label and a spot on the Radio 1 playlist…
ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
Q) You were signed up by Colombia in 2008 and by 2010 you were in danger of losing your first album. What went wrong?
Rob Coles: To their credit Colombia never actually said that we couldn’t have the album back. It was always very amicable. It was very hard though; we’d gone from people telling us they loved our music to within two weeks being out; we didn’t have an inkling of it.
Q) But there was a fateful meeting between Colombia and Radio 1?
R: Yeah – the precursor for it was when the guy from Colombia went for a meeting with the head of Radio 1 and they had been told that Radio 1 weren’t planning on playing any guitar bands that year. So he went back to the label and pretty much dropped every guitar band they had. Labels like Colombia will have lots of little investments but as long as they have a Susan Boyle or a Robbie Williams each year, everything else is easily expendable. To have that phone call was a real kick in the teeth. We hadn’t seen it coming. It was really out of the blue.
Q) Was it especially hard considering you had such a good first album?
R: Not at all, we didn’t really think like that. The only song we thought would be cracking on radio was One Night in October. Micky said that’d do damage at radio. But with that one, right…
Matthew Hall: This is how ridiculous the music industry is…
R: …Radio 1 wanted to playlist and Colombia said ‘Don’t, it’s too early’. We didn’t find out until after we’d been dropped.
Q) Wasn’t that heartbreaking?
R: Like, all stuff like that, we’d never have got to the point we are now if that hadn’t happened. We wouldn’t have got dropped, if we hadn’t got dropped we’d have released the album, probably not have sold that many copies and been dropped anyway. But when we got dropped we got a bit of a pay-off so we were able to set ourselves up for the next album. But had we gone through the rigmarole of releasing an album and it not doing well and then getting dropped – we’d have been left with nothing. In a way, being spat out by the machine before becoming completely dejected by it helped to reinvigorate us.
Q) How did you feel about Radio 1 not playing guitar bands?
R: If you think about the sentiment of ‘we’re not going to play any guitar bands this year’ – because firstly, what is a guitar band? To put music in a box because I play guitar on stage is pretty ignorant really. And on top of that, the idea that if I hear the most amazing song by a guitar band and cant play it, what’s the cut off point if you hear a great song on December 31st and can’t play it the day after? If that’s the game and that’s how it works then you’ve just got to take yourself out of it.
Q) Where do you think your inspiration comes from?
R: When Micky and I used to write songs when we were 12 and 13 it was because my Dad used to write songs. He wasn’t in a band, it’s just what he liked doing. In the same way some people have a favourite television programme he would just play his guitar, so there wasn’t any goal with it, we’d just express ourselves. The songs were crazy – the structure was all over the place.
Q) One of my favourite songs is A Little Opus – but do you hate private school boys?
R: No, but I would abolish private education and private healthcare. I think it’s wrong you should be able to buy a better education or better healthcare, or just a better standard of life. There are grey areas, though...It’s an assault on the institution. It’s so self-serving; a lot of people in power don’t realise they’re just serving their institutions. Take changes to the electoral system; I don’t see how anyone other than those obsessed with clinging onto power could say that First Past The Post is a fair system. I cannot understand any argument for it. Stuff like that drives us insane. This is another reason why I write songs, when I talk I quickly become…like…I don’t make my point how I want to. I get to the conversation and realise that I haven’t quite expressed what I want to say. But with a song I have a certain number of lines to pack it in and it has to be right.
Q) How do you feel your education has impacted your career?
R: I got stuck in the whole GCSE, A Levels, University, and career path. It was all done in a very logical way. I got to the end of my degree and I think I just didn’t have any connection with what I was doing. It was the first time I questioned what I was doing in my life. Do I want to get a career that I don’t have any passion for other than the financial, just because it’s the logical thing to do? I don’t know why but after university I put a stop to it and said I was going to do music. But the mistake Micky and I made after university was to approach music with the same career mentality. What were we doing music for? The answer was to be successful. We were still quite free with our music but it became about being in a band so the music became tailored towards verse and big chorus. We needed backing and that led us to Colombia. In our heads that was when it reached the zenith point that it felt a bit like a job. People invested in us and wanted a return and when somebody got a piece of us we thought we were heading in the same direction as everyone else. The last two albums have just been about Micky and me sitting in a room and writing songs.
Q) Did you not have any inkling at university that your music could end up being your career? You did gate-crash lectures…
R: I wouldn’t say so. When I went to university I did feel burnt out from my A-Levels. I’d sit down to write an essay and didn’t worry that I couldn’t connect with the topic, because I thought I’ll just have a break, because I worked so hard at my A-levels. The first two years at university I was just enjoying being away from home and then when it got to third year and I needed to sort myself out, it hit me that I can’t still be burnt out three years later, can I…? There must be another reason why I don’t want to read this book. In fact, I did a Masters at Warwick after university – I packed it in after four weeks. But I would sit down in the library to read a book and something in my head would just say ‘Stop it – stop trying to take in this information I don’t want’… I think it was the bravest decision I ever made, getting off the carousel.
Q) How do you find playing at Fibbers?
MH: The staffs here are great, but the venue used to have a real reputation for live music that I don’t think it’s living up to anymore. You can’t have a go at them because they’re just doing their job. It’s a real shame because Fibbers had such a good name for new music and I just think that every time its been changed it’s lost a bit every time.
R: I think if you’re going to set up a music venue you need to have your priorities right. If you look at the state of the bar, it’s perfect, clean and well stocked. You go to the mixing desk and it’s filthy. The dressing room has no power in it; no sockets to plug in a guitar tuner or a laptop. The people who work here, the promoters and the staffs, they’re lovely…but the people who own it, I don’t think they care. Our soundman used to work for the same people at THINK TANK? In Newcastle, he was doing gigs there for £50 a night, which in itself isn’t much. The job is graft as well. They told him they would only pay £30 a night and he couldn’t do that so he sacked them.
MH: It’s such a shame that Tokyo Industries are trading off that Fibbers name because it would be like me buying a metal band and telling them to write pop tunes. I was talking to a lad who’d never been to the old Fibbers and it used to be a cool venue. Dark and dingy but the venue itself was cracking and the PA had a punch in the face. We had some class gigs there and all of a sudden it changed and became sterile.
RECORD TO TAKE TO A DESERT ISLAND
MH: Greeny’s YouTube Mega Mix!
R: One album? I think it would change every day. I think today I would take Bookends by Simon & Garfunkel.
MH: Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Every time I listen to it I hear something different, whether that’s the state of mind I’m in or if I’m listening to it on someone else’s stereo, or if I’m in a different room, or if one of my speakers is unplugged. One of the things I had to do at college was dissect an album so I’d like to think I know a lot about it. I had this whole section I did on where the instruments had been panned in it so I would unplug one speaker and listen to the whole album and then unplug the other and repeat. I just went to town on it, drawing diagrams; the lecturer probably thought I was mad.
ON FUTURE PLANS
R: Crack on, I think.
Interviewer: George Dabby
Photo by Laura Cook