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On the cusp of the US tour, I got the chance to spend a few minutes chatting with drummer Ben Johnston who has been slaying it for the sixteen years that the band has been a band. We talked about the new album, advice for British bands first starting to tour America and the songwriting process behind the latest record. Read on for our exclusive and catch the boys in a city near you!
So a very soft one to start. Obviously there is so much going on right now but the three things that you must bring while you go on tour?
The three things I must bring while I go on tour! Suitcase, pretty important. To put all my shit in. A clear head and a sack full of passion.
Those were good ones!
You like that? I was just going off the cuff.
Then I know the last album "Opposites" dropped in March. Obviously you've been doing a lot of stuff in Europe. How do you think it's been going over so far?
It's been really good. Really promising. A lot of people have said that these couple albums is career suicide and stuff like that but we didn't listen to them and we did it anyway. It's been very well received everywhere and tours have been great and its' every pleasure to be able to play the new songs and thats what gets the best reaction. Normally its' when you play the older tunes and the new ones are just getting in the way. There are a lot of bands that that happens to. At least in the UK, we're six albums in and for our most recent material to be pertinent to these kids. I couldn't be happier.
Then you guys have been a band for a very long time. Does the songwriting process change at all for this album or have you kind of gotten into a steady rhythm?
Yeah the songwriting process doesn't really change and It hasn't really changed for god sixteen years. You know we have our kind of singer-songwriter in the band. It's Simon, plays guitar. Sings the songs. Naturally, he writes the stuff and he's bloody good at it. He's prolific. He just writes so much. I think for that last album, we had a batch of forty five songs to choose from and it was really difficult to whittle it down to twenty. We ended up with an album. That's a really good problem to have as a band. For a band to have too many songs. I'm not lying with you but all of those forty five songs were great and could fill many albums. A lot of it was on a unamplified guitar at home and he would work with them for a few days until he was happy with them. He then brings them into the room and we mess around with them til we all think that we're all happy with them. When we're all cool. That's about it, you know! There's no like magic touch to it. Some songs happen really fast and some songs, quite often the more simple ones, take months or maybe years to perfect. So it's a weird kind of fix. It's been working fairly well so far but hopefully the seventh album won't be much trouble and maybe it will become more collaborative in the writing. Maybe go away from the same ways and give Simon a bit of a break.
Then you're obviously about to go on your first US headlining tour for this album with fellow Brits in Morning Parade. Maybe what are you most looking forward to on this tour? Doing smaller rooms compared to what you're playing right now in the UK.
I'm just looking forward to playing good little clubs again. I get such a buzz off playing these small shows and getting sweated on. Making eye contact with kids. Having a connection. Can't really do that with these shows we've been playing, like headlining the Reading & Leeds festivals in the UK. It's come so far as I can't even really make eye contact with even the front row. It's crazy. These tours in America are just like where we started in the UK . It's really great for a band to kind of experience that again. It's going to be cool to do a little small one again. Remember that you're just a band and you've just got your tunes and you've still got to be awesome. There's no pyrotechnics, there's no lighting guy rigging it. There's just a band on stage. You're able to prove yourself more. I'm just excited to be getting back there and proving not only to America but to ourselves that we're still the band that we want to be.
Then like you said, you've been a band for years upon years and clearly just coming off headlining Reading & Leeds and everything, what advice would you give to British bands just starting to tour here?
Don't give up, you know. I would also say take it as several countries. Don't leave it as one because I don't think music always crosses over state lines all the time. It's great to be big in New York and LA but back in Rhode Island or Salt Lake City, it doesn't just spread around like that the way it does in Britain. You can be really solid Austria, Switzerland and other places but not so much the case in America. So don't give up and you're in for a fight if you think it's going to happen quickly. It's a tough country to crack. You know Biffy has done it a lot. We've done a lot of great support slots. You know, we're not about to give up. We're still with out a label but we're so happy that we get to come to America. To get to play to anyone is a blessing. It's amazing. It will be nice to have a little more then a few considering the album and the rest to follow but it's great. Yeah, I would just say to any young band, just stick at it and remember how big America really is.
Then do you remember the first CD or cassette you ever bought as a kid? Then the first concert you ever went to?
Let me see, the first thing I bought with my own money was a 7 inch of a track of a James Bond movie and the first concert that I went to. I'll go for the first concert I went to as a teenager. As opposed to one my parents took me to because it's not as cool. The first gig I went to was a band called Helmet that was from America. It was a hardcore gig and it was unbelievable. That was really what lit the fire for me and it was my first proper hardcore gig. I loved it. Absolutely amazing.
Do you think those influenced you at all? Like you as a person, what you're doing in music today? Like how you approach it?
Definitely, definitely. I mean, going to a hardcore gig and falling to the floor in a pit and someone helping me get back up. Showing how exciting kids can get for this stuff. It's weird because in Britain, they call them beat heads. The ones who listen to dance music and stuff. In Britain someone who likes hard core music is really caring and thoughtful and not just head banging morons so yeah it influenced me massively going to these gigs. Finding out about the hardcore scene and it's influenced the direction of our band too. I think after a mad grunge phase, we went straight into a post-hardcore phase so it was a big influence, that gig and all those bands.
Then maybe to end it off, like I said you just finished a summer of festivals, you're about to come to the US for tour but what is going to be coming up after the tour here?
Well we're doing the east coast run then we come back and we head out in Europe. Got some really cool gigs and some interesting countries that we've never been to before. Then comes Christmas and then go to Australia, South Africa. I think we even got some summer festivals planned for next year. So it's just tour, tour, tour this album until the world is sick of it and then we'll just record another one.