Bill Cummings 14/02/2006
I first heard the sound of The Boyfriends, on the legendary Rip Off Your Labels compilation of a couple of years ago, the same compilation that also featured the likes of Art Brut, Luxembourg, Long Blondes and the Violets. The cut on that album, “No Tomorrow”, was one of the first recorded fruits of their work together as a band. It bore all the hallmarks of something special, the Mary Chain guitars, the throbbing bass of Joy Division and Martin's lugubrious Morrissey-esque heart-on-his-sleeve croon. Yeah, the Smiths was a easy comparison to make, but they were something more than that, something special, they were a living and breathing, passionate antidote to the fashions, fads and mundanity that seemed to pervade the UK music scene at that point.
Fast forward to February 2006, and The Boyfriends riding high on the crest of a sudden wave of media interest, the NME and even The Sun are beginning to warm to these London Dandies. I caught up with the band's bassist David Barnett for a chat about his band, their new single “I Love You” (craftily released by Boobytrap just in time for St Valentines day), and how the Boyfriends will seek to win your heart in the coming months.
How did you meet?
“I used to live in a flat, there was four of us, it was like living in the Young Ones. Martin (singer) was the quiet one who lived in the attic, and I remember at the time him saying he was starting to write these songs with a guy called Richard (guitarist) who used to be in this band called Jack. I thought it was quite odd that Martin who was really young was writing with this proper musician. Then quite a long time later he called me up once and said 'You play the bass, don't you?' and I said yes, that would be quite fun. There were actually five of us when we started out, there's a secret fifth member who's also in a band, he's actually famous in his own right now. He was great, he was kind of doing keyboards and a second guitar, but he was too busy with his other bands, and once he left it all fell into place. Up until then it was kind of like the Martin Wallace Experience and one day he came in and went, 'right, we're called The Boyfriends!'”
What were you doing at the time?
”I was working for a music management company, the band was kind of a hobby at the time but then it kind of got a bit more serious. It was great, getting a name gave us an identity and a focus. I think we had a gig coming up so we needed one.”
What were the first songs you wrote together?
“I remember ages ago Martin gave me a tape that had 'Humour Me' on it. We haven't played it in a while, but it had a really good riff, I remember trying to learn the bass part. 'No Tomorrow' was pretty early on, at the time it was called 'Joy Division Song'. Yeah it was called 'Joy Division'. It was just the guitar at that point, me and Paddy probably could have made it less Joy Division at that point but we thought wouldn't it be funny if we did a Joy Division rip off / tribute and that's how that song came about. Angular put it on that album; it was weird because it really was just a demo. We'd done the drums in a rehearsal studio. I think we did the rest in Richard's kitchen. Some friends of ours were working on an album so we decided to offer it to them.”
Didn't you end up working for them?
“Yeah they asked me to help them out. It was great because I was basically plugging my own band. Art Brut were recording 'Top Of The Pops', we met a load of other people in bands: we met the Long Blondes who are great friends of ours now. After that, Andrew (Filthy Little Angels) wanted to put 'No Tomorrow' out as a single. We thought, well rather than actually do what every band does and send it out to every record company, we thought we'd have a demo single. It wasn't really a single for us because you couldn't get it in shops and stuff. It was good because it was the strongest partnership out of the lot of them. We didn't send it out to any labels.”
They probably all heard it though…
“Yeah, we sent it to Xfm and Steve Lamacq, who both played it and that was really good because it was still happening quite fast.”
Is that why you had a break afterwards?
“We didn't want to do the same thing again; we didn't want to release another demo really. We could have done it ourselves, but we wanted to wait until they came to us. They took a long time; we weren't really hustling that hard. We we're disillusioned with the London scene, because we'd be in the NME or get John Peel single of the week or something, and all these labels and venues would be like “send us some stuff!” We'd send them stuff and they wouldn't get back to us. We'd get another review then the same people would be like, 'send us some stuff!' again, and we'd be like, 'well just make up your mind, you either like it or not, don't wait to see if everyone else likes it!' They'd give us odd advice, change your hair, and sing about this and we we're like, 'this is our band'.”
So how did you get signed to Boobytrap?
“They came to London to see us, it was just a little gig, and then they offered us something. It was really nice because they went into a lot of details about what they liked about our songs, which was good. We were really excited because we could go to see all the locations for Doctor Who.”
Does that annoy you being labelled with something?
“I really hate it when bands say we don't really sound anything like this, because their obviously lying, It's like Bloc Party saying they don't sound like Bloc Party: of course you do! Some of us like The Smiths some of us don't. I don't mind people saying we sound like them, that's fine, but I don't like it when people say we're trying to sound like them because we're trying not to sound like them. I mean, Martin's got a distinctive lugubrious singing style. I think the thing is it doesn't sound like anything around now, it's not like they're going you sound like XTC, or Gang Of Four, that a lot of bands try and sound like now. If people we're saying that everyone was trying to sound like The Smiths then it would be like we were trying to cash in. But obviously the fact that we're the only ones they're saying that about is quite a compliment. Anyway our next one is actually ripped off of Prince. So hopefully people will start saying we sound like him next. My girlfriend's our harshest critic and she's been singing it, which is always a good sign.”
Lyrically, what's your new single “I Love You” about?
It's really obvious what its about, I think a lot of bands are trying really hard to be clever and funny and this is actually a love song like the Beatles used to sing. It's “I love you”. People are a bit frightened to be honest about their emotions, which is quite a sad thing. Look at Simon Hughes for example: if he'd been honest about how he feels rather than bottling it all up he wouldn't be in the mess he is now. It's considered really feminine to be open about your emotions but it's actually a very brave thing to do, I think it's different from how a lot of the bands would write about love now. Although most bands now, seem to be singing about having fights and going down the pub. I guess it's a return to that 1960s innocence with a more modern noise. There's a hint of something sinister as well, if you are that quite obsessed with somebody. There's a line where it starts to get a little bit dangerous, which I think, is expressed in the beautiful synchronisation of guitar, bass and drums. It's weird with this single because it feels like it's already been out. It's a good introduction to our sound. I've heard that Jonathan Ross is a fan and he's going to play it. John Kennedy was really good, he was the first person to play it.”
How was it playing the John Peel stage?
“It was great, it was really surreal. The weather was really bad so we left and I went to see Luxembourg at the Dublin Castle, and they were like, 'aw wow, it's David from TV's The Boyfriends!”
Are you planning to release an album after the singles?
“The way that Boobytrap works is that they have to make some money out of us first. We are planning to release the next single in April. The plan is if all goes well we will release an album. But if Richard Branson's reading we're open to offers…. Although V2 was a bit of a disaster wasn't it, the Rakes are on it now but for a man who discovered the Sex Pistols, it's quite sad that the only band he's got on there is the Stereophonics. The way some bands go wrong is trying to go straight for the big stuff like the Daily Mirror, its much better to go for all the proper music lovers first.”
How would you describe the Boyfriends live experience?
“Well it's a bit noisier, the recordings we've done so far haven't been overly produced, so it's pretty close to how we sound live.”
You've been playing quite a few gigs recently…
“The Queens of Noize one was crap, it was one of these things when it started late and there wasn't many people there. The Klaxons played, they were really good. We bounced back with Stay Beautiful, which was brilliant, which was reviewed in the NME. It used to be the NME was your only reference, you'd read a review and buy a record off the strength of what they said, you were relying on the opinion of a journalist. Whereas now you can go and listen for yourself.”