DiScover: The Motorettes
As the more tranquil escape route from Whitley Bay’s haven of stag nights and hen parties, Tynemouth doesn’t have much else going for it. Situated about 15 miles from Newcastle, it's one of those sleepy villages that can call itself 'By The Sea' to try and increase its status (and trade). But you won’t exactly find holiday makers flocking there. In fact, most of the UK probably isn’t aware of its existence.
The Motorettes certainly are. Having spent the last six years honing their sound both as previous incarnation Mos Eisley and their current, more prosthetic moniker, things are starting to get a little heady for the rockingly poptastic trio.
If debut single ‘Super Heartbeats’ – think Idlewild getting locked in Toys 'R' Us – got the new year off to a bang, then follow-up ‘You Gotta Look The Parts’ set their stall out quite nicely, not to mention giving many a club night up and down the land a new midnight war cry. Death on the radio indeed. Having just finished a mammoth tour with the equally ace (and Geordie) Kubichek!, the band are gearing up to release their first long player, simply titled The Motorettes, on August 14.
The trio is comprised of singing guitarist Robin Howe and the Laidlaw brothers – Jed, the drummer, and Jack, who combines bass duties with Spector-esque harmonies that add the snap and crackle to The Motorettes’ already wonderful pop.
DiS caught up with Robin and Jack and found that, lo and behold, the real inspiration behind their radio-friendly ditties about girls, cars, girls and... is none other than The Boss and 2Unlimited. "What?" you say? Read on…
You seem to have been on tour for the best part of 2006. Has homesickness kicked in yet?
Robin: No, definitely not. I think with us it was more a case of before we were signed we’d be bored just playing the same four or five local venues all the time, so going out and playing to different crowds in different towns each night gives us a buzz.
Jack: It’s all we’ve really wanted to do for years, so now it’s become reality we’re not about to get sick of it.
It must make you pig sick, then, when you hear other bands whinge about the so-called pressures of being famous.
Jack: Not really. I mean, if other people want to complain, let ‘em. It doesn’t affect us at all. As long as we’re out and about progressing and having a good time I couldn’t care less what anyone else thinks.
Robin: I don’t know. I think some of those artists just whinge for the sake of getting noticed. To me, if you don’t like doing something then just stop – no one is forcing you to carry on.
Having heard the forthcoming album would it be fair to say that you are quite an upbeat band, certainly a million miles away from said whingers, which probably explains why you find it difficult to identify or empathise with them?
Robin: Our music is all positive shit!
Jack: We’re definitely interested in having a good time, hopefully band and audience. I think we’re quite joyous and celebratory. There’s certainly nothing arty about us, that’s for sure.
Robin: There’s a place for all ideas and moods in music but, we’re from a lovely little town on the coast and when the sun comes out it can inspire us to write a song more than any thoughts about being depressed or what have you.
Jack: I think we’re a breath of fresh air to be honest, amongst all the po-faced bands who take themselves too seriously.
Robin: So many of those bands are 'too cool for school'. You almost get the feeling that some of them look down on us because we’re actually having a good time!
"Someone asked us if we could be in any other band past or present, who would it be, and I answered “None”, because at the moment nothing could be more perfect for me than The Motorettes."
Are you satisfied with the finished product of the album?
Jack: I only heard it all the way through for the first time the other day but it sounds PROPER...!
Robin: I love it. It’s quite funny because we were in an interview with another magazine a few days ago and someone asked us if we could be in any other band past or present, who would it be, and I answered “None”, because at the moment nothing could be more perfect for me than The Motorettes. There’s no other band that can write all the perfect songs for me other than my own.
Of the twelve tracks on the record, at least nine could be potential singles. Did you consciously set out to be a singles band or is it just another example of the way your songs evolve?
Robin: I think ‘I Hate To See You Cry’, the album’s only ballad, is our Jo Whiley number!
Jack: The sad thing is that unless you’re already established Radio One won’t playlist you in the daytime, so you have to release your strongest choice of singles early on to get that first bit of recognition and then re-release them again to a wider audience afterwards, which I guess could be seen as defeating the object in the first place.
Robin: It’s ridiculous. Some of the people at the record company (Kitchenware) told us to hold the best songs back, but to me they’re all great.
Your previous single ‘You Gotta Look The Parts’ is well known for its “Death on the R-A-D-I-O!” punchline. Who or what are you referring to?
Robin: Every single style-over-substance band who changes their sound just to get on the radio. It’s like they’ve caved in and killed their own integrity. That’s why the title is ‘...Parts’ and not ‘...Part’, because they’ve taken bits from every so-called fashionable avenue to create their own hybrid monster.
You’ve been together, first as Mos Eisley and now as The Motorettes, for six years: have you always stayed true to the belief that music should be about having a good time or have you gradually changed direction?
Jack: No, we’ve always had the same attitudes, same influences. I suppose you could call it an ever-evolving progression but the end results have always been the same, distinctly us. I mean, we haven’t got a plan where we have to adopt a certain sound or image. It’s bizarre really as we’ve been practising in the same rehearsal rooms for years alongside mostly the same bands and it’s quite funny because every so many months they’ll come back with a new look and sound based on whatever trend is fashionable that day. At the moment a lot of bands from our neck of the woods sound like the Arctic Monkeys, whereas six months ago it was Kasabian and last year it was The Killers. We’ve always gone in and done our own thing without trying to fit into any scene, as we’re only too aware that once a scene dies down you drop down with it.
So are the majority of your songs carried over from the band’s Mos Eisley days?
Robin: Well we still play ‘We Are Solution’, which was our last single as Mos Eisley and then ‘Vs The Mountain’, which is about four years old, was also a regular part of our live set back then.
Jack: There are probably one or two others as well – or certainly parts of them – which people who knew us back then may recognise.
A question for Robin: how does it feel being in a band with two brothers? Do you always get outvoted when a decision has to be made?
Robin: It’s surprisingly sweet to be honest. I think I’m more of a pain in their arse than anything else!
Jack: I think me and Jed are like the unbrotherliest brothers in a band ever. We don’t argue or anything like that. If there’s a disagreement we’re more likely just to not speak to each other.
Robin: I think the fact there are only three of us helps the decision making process to be honest, because if two have one idea and the other is unsure, then their job is to try and persuade the other one why they’re of the other opinion.
There seems to be a growing number of excellent bands coming from the North-East at the minute. What’s even more interesting is that none of them are linked – in sound, image or otherwise – by anything other than geography. Has it always been this vibrant, or is it just that people are tending to look away from London now and actually noticing that something as equally exciting is happening elsewhere?
Jack: I don’t really know to be honest. I do think that the age-old concept of moving to London just to get signed has died a death though. It’s just so outdated.
Robin: We were always questioning things like this from the start. Things like, “Where do you get signed up?”, “How do you get signed up?”, “Do you have to ring up record labels?”. The more people in bands we spoke to, the more who said the same thing, and that was basically that if you’re any good people will find out about you, simple as that. I think Newcastle has always had good bands, but it just needed one to break through. Once that happens it just kind of inspires the rest to really go for it as well.
"The press is obsessed with image, particularly if it’s something new. Sometimes this means they aren’t concentrating on what they’re supposed to be writing about, which is the music."
Do you feel that it is important to strike up a rapport with certain sections of the music press, though? I mean, you’ve had good reviews from pretty much everywhere but would you start to think differently if things started to turn sour?
Jack: I don’t know really. I mean, our biggest concern is also one of our strong points if you know what I mean, and that’s the band’s image, or lack of it. A lot of the press seem to be obsessed with image, and particularly if it’s something new. There’s always this feeling that they’ve got to be one step ahead, and sometimes this means they aren’t concentrating on what they’re supposed to be writing about, which is the music.
Robin: I think what really irritates me is when music magazines decide which older band is in vogue now, and then tries to find some way of linking them with as many current artists as possible. At the moment we’re seeing it with The Smiths and how all these emo bands are supposedly influenced by them. It’s just ridiculous. People are now just buying into it and saying they like The Smiths because their favourite band may have referenced them in an article. It’s like that interview with The Killers recently, where they’ve started mentioning Bruce Springsteen, because apparently it’s cool to like him, and you just think to yourself “Why didn’t you like him before when you actually heard his songs?”. I mean, we’ve liked Springsteen for years, before any of us were in a band.
Talking of Bruce Springsteen, one of the highlights of both your live set and the album is your version of The Boss’ ‘I’m On Fire’. How long have you been playing this tune?
Jack: Again it goes back to the days of Mos Eisley. We first recorded it for a laugh on a John Peel session because we’d heard he really hated Springsteen. But apparently he liked our version, so I guess it just stuck from there. We were joking about it the other day, that if it all goes tits up we could become a cruise ship band because people have often said when we cover someone else’s song it’s better than the original!
Robin: ‘I’m On Fire’ is going to be the next single.
So what do Kubichek! make of your interpretation of ‘Stutter’, on your current split single with them?
Robin: I think they like it...
Jack: ...well they’ve changed their version of it to suit ours!
Robin: We took a verse out because we thought it contained one too many and they started doing the same.
So, apart from Bruce Springsteen, who else made you want to be in a band?
Jack: Well, the first record I ever bought was the 2Unlimited album with ‘No Limits’ on it...
Robin: …mine was Make It Big by Wham! – unashamed pop music. I mean I love it when Mogwai do their 20-minute wig-outs but at the same time you can’t beat ‘Be My Baby’ by The Ronettes. That is absolute pop music perfection.
Jack: At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you want to categorise – there’s only two types of music to me and that’s good and bad.
The Motorettes' The Motorettes is released through Kitchenware on August 14; their split single with Kubicheck is out now, click here for DiS's review.