The Hot Puppies

Bill Cummings 19/12/2006

My relationship with the Aberystwyth five piece the Hot Puppies stretches back to their performance as a visually striking new band on The Pop Factory television programme around 2003. The following year I caught them live at Cardiff's Ladyfest, and the widescreen boy/girl four piece possessed a post punk iron fist slipped into a new wave Hammond dappled velvet glove. Becky Newman's vocals were often jazzy, sultry and intelligent, but also spiky and abrasive: above all exciting. Pitching themselves somewhere between Spector's girl groups, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Parallel Lines era Blondie, the Hot puppies songs, about love gone wrong, the dawn of man, silent movie stars, and drowsing nymph's, were a jolting stiletto heel into the heart of the Welsh music scene dominated at the time by Emo and poor commercialised rock.

Fast-forward to April 2005 and they headlined Cardiff Gspot to a rousing reception and followed that up with a support slot with Art Brut in the summer, a tour that would expose them to many more people in the heart land of England. After a series of single releases(Green Eyeliner, Terry) on indie labels, they were picked up by Club Fandango, an offshoot of Fierce Panda, which culminated in the release of their debut album “'under the crooked moon'” which has received great press from many quarters.

GIITTV caught up with the two couples in the band, Morrissey look alike, Luke (Guitarist, Lyrics) and Beth (Keys) Bert (drums) and front lady Becky (Singer) only an hour or so before they delivered perhaps the most polished “pop” Puppies performance I've witnessed. To a Welsh crowd at Cardiff's Chapter, for excellent promoters of fine female fronted music, Peppermint Patti.

How have you found your recent headline tour?
Becky: “It's been good, it's nearly finished now, and we've only got a few dates left now. We've been playing at club NME a few times; it's mostly been good apart from a few dodgy promoters.”

So when's your next single out?
Becky: “How Come you don't hold me No More” is out at the end of January.”

Is that the last one from your album?
Luke: “Yeah then we're going into the studio again to start recording."

Are you happy with the way your debut album 'under the crooked moon' turned out?
Luke: “We're reasonably happy, it's done alright, we made it really cheap, for the next one we want more time and we want more money, which hopefully we'll get. The album was just a collect in of songs we've written over that period, all sort of cobbled together. The second album's going to be almost like a first album proper all the album's songs going to be written at the same time. Sometimes you see bands and they milk everything they've done, we like to try and keep writing.”

So you're trying to build upon a good foundation then?
Luke: “We do have a very slow trajectory but it is upwards, even if it is slow, it depends what you want out of it if your ambition is to be an NME cover star, then that's one thing, but if its just to make music, play festivals then its another. The next album we do is going to be the most do the most focussed thing we do. The last album was made for 1400 pounds, that's a ridiculous amount of money to make an album on; more money just gives you more time. At the moment we're in a good position to do that.”

Do you think moving to Cardiff from Aberystwyth helped you take that next step up?

Luke: “It just made life easier, we never really socialised with the Cardiff scene. I don't think any scene anywhere is worth being part of because it's competitive. The few times I have conversations with other bands I like, it ends up getting competitive. It's better to be out there in the big wide world.”
Beth: “I don't think any of us have wanted to be at the head of the town scene or the city scene at the moment, we moved to Cardiff just because it was easier to get to play gigs here.”

Scenes are funny things you don't even have to be from the location. You did a gig earlier this year in London supporting the rather good Los Campesinos didn't you? They're being called a Cardiff band but they're actually English students studying in Wales…

Beth: “Yeah, they say Becky's got a sultry welsh drawl and she's from Bath!”

What do you listen to in your tour van?
Luke: “Modernaire, and The Moulettes who have been supporting us on tour.”
Bert: “We've only got a narrow selection of tapes.”
Luke: “David Bowie, Kate Bush, Velvet Underground, Digital Underground and Neil Young.”

The Guardian recently called you the New Pulp, and another articled claimed you were a band with a heavy Smiths influence, what do you make of these kinds of comparisons?

Luke: “There's no new Pulp, there's just Pulp and The Hot Puppies. The thing is we like everything; our influences are as much from books and films as they are from other bands. This nice journalist who interviewed us from the Guardian asked us who we liked and we said Pulp. Luckily we like The Smiths and we like Pulp. We do like Blondie. But we could just have said the Inkspots, or Bruce Springsteen. The press needs a simple comparison. Jarvis Cocker said recently, when you write about music you're trying to vocalise something that's almost impossible to write about.”

Your songs seem to tell little escapist stories?

Luke: “Some of them are, I wrote one which was just the story line to “Vertigo”, I'm not a fan of rock lyrics that sound good but don't go anywhere, I'd rather absurd nonsense, that your going listen to a few times, or that has a second meaning and you'll get more out of. I don't think there are many British musicians that write good lyrics at the moment.”

Is playing live important part in communicating your songs?
Beth: “It's a great feeling playing live, it's the main reason you do it really."
Luke: “Its nice seeing people at the front singing, who have our album, it feels like an achievement it's not Arctic Monkey's levels of success but it's something, It's nice to talk to fans, its nice to see what kind of people like your band. It would have been interesting to see how Bob Dylan would or Led Zepplin would have communicated with their fans on that level.”

Do you think Myspace has revolutionised the way people hear about bands?
Beth: “Yeah it's changed things in a way. People who've never really heard of you before can get into your music. When you go to a town you've never heard of and people are singing your songs.”

I agree it can help promote you, but I guess it places more emphasis on the single track and less on the album as a piece of work?
Luke: “Yeah which is a bad thing, we like the album as a piece. So many albums have a few good songs on them and then filler; it's a shame that a lot of album tracks have become failed singles rather than tracks where you can experiment a bit."
Beth:"Some people still do that like Sufjan Stevens. We really like making artwork for our records etc.”

I guess the industry is so geared towards that one hit, and bands like your selves would benefit immeasurably profile wise from finding a crossover hit that everything's focussed towards single tracks?

Luke: “You can't chase that one song though. You end up with the Seahorses, or All around the world by Oasis, It's probably how the Kaiser Chiefs approach all of their songs. Which is why this second album , all the songs will be written at the same time at different points, its going to be more like a symphony, whereas before it was lets get our best songs on one record. This ones going to be different, hopefully we'll make something we really like, and other people will too.”

What are your future plans?
Becky: “The only thing we've got booked is South by South West”

Do you like playing Peppermint Patti?
Luke: “Yeah it's cool. The last time we played (Peppermint Patti) was this time last year. We're in the position were we could be playing to 1500 people and the next day we could be playing to 40.”

Why do you think sometimes people focus solely upon the fact that you're a female fronted act? Do you think there's a bit of sexism in the industry still?

Luke: “Well we are so you can't get away from it. But I do think music industry is fundamentally written about by men and played by men; I think acts with women involved are more interesting. Bands like Razorlight are a lot about Posture; it's about trying to give off an air of attractiveness. Female fronted bands get a shorter leash, we get compared to Catatonia, mainly because they were Welsh too, but we don't sound much like them, we also get No doubt or the Long Blondes. But all this sort of stuff is not worth thinking about, a lot of men who write for magazines seem to hate women in the core of their hearts probably because they don't get to sleep with enough of them! But it's like you don't want to talk about because you'll get compared to Germaine Greer or something!”

More info:

Check out the latest Hot Puppies Video for forthcoming single How Come You Don't Hold Me No More? (Out early next year) Directed By Stuart Ekers.