If this is the sound of the suburbs then maybe Hertfordshire does have something going for it after all. Neils Children – John Linger (guitar & vocals), James Hair (bass & vocals), Brandon Jacobs (drums) - arrived on the London scene little over two years ago and have slowly built up a loyal following thanks to their distinctive demeanour and energetic live performances.
Having already released two singles (‘Come Down’ and ‘I Hate Models’) and a mini-album (‘Change/Return/Success’) to a modicum of critical acclaim, big things are expected of their next 45 ‘Always The Same’, which, along with the accompanying ‘Stupid Band’ (“That was going to be the a-side when we first recorded the single, but we wanted to move away from the one-chord sequence make-up of ‘I Hate Models’" – John Linger), closes the chapter on the first stage of Neils Children’s psyche-punk mayhem ride, whilst the other bonus tracks on the record ‘Run Before You Can Walk’ and ‘The Virgin Sleep’ suggest the band maybe heading for more melodic territory.
John: “We’ve had really good feedback about the new single, which is strange because we only gave it to two DJs in the London area.”
Brandon: “We’re still quite low-key in that we’d rather let the music speak for itself.”
John: “I think as well that if you hype something up too much and then people hear it and it’s shit… many bands never recover from that.”
James: “It gives us more leeway then for the next single.”
John: “I still don’t think this one will be the one that crosses over to the mainstream though, not in a big way. If you like our old stuff then you’ll probably like ‘Always The Same’. If not, well who knows?”
Despite being prominent faces about town in the capital since their earliest days together, its fair to say that Neils Children aren’t exactly enamoured with the notion of being part of any saturated media centric London scene.
John: “Most of the bands within that “scene” we don’t have a great deal of time for. I mean, most of those bands – ourselves included – don’t actually originate from London. There’s too much hype about the wrong things, everything bar the music it seems, and I don’t think many of them are capable of pulling it off. That’s why we want to keep our distance from it. We don’t have that much in common with any of those bands anyway…”
Nevertheless, despite their reluctance to play the media game, Neils Children have seen their music receive mostly positive reports (“except on Drowned In Sound!”) throughout the various sections of the music press. Not that they’re ones to take everything that’s written about them THAT seriously.
John: “Sometimes we pay attention to it and sometimes we don’t. It all depends on what they’re writing about. If it comes across that they’re slating or praising us for being/not being the flavour of that particular month, then…? It’s pointless really."
Brandon: “It can be all very shallow. They’re as much about shifting units as the bands and the record companies are."
John: “Its swings and roundabouts really. One week we might get a bad review; the next week it’s someone else’s turn. I think that’s why it’s difficult for us to take it too seriously. The NME is just a comic basically. I think that’s why the Internet is really important now because it’s a good way of communicating with so many more people who may have given up on the printed press ages ago. I don’t think the “physical” press is that important any more.”
Brandon: “A lot of bands who we like have been slagged off in the press, but it doesn’t make me change my mind about any of them. I still think they’re great bands…”
One thing that ensures Neils Children stand out from the majority of the bands out there at the moment is their distinctively recognisable image, as the jet-black uniform from hair-to-toe of all three members, not to mention the fact drummer Brandon Jacobs is a dead ringer for a certain ex-Sex Pistol. However, despite the possibility that some people may see them predominantly as a “fashionable haircut” band, Neils Children aren’t too fussed.
John: “How can you be renowned for looking like this?”
Brandon: “When we first started we did get one or two strange looks…”
John: “Well, yeah, I think image can be as important as the music, and sometimes you’ll watch a band with no image playing in a boring t-shirt and a pair of jeans, and no matter how great they are, you just think it’s so bad because they don’t look like they’ve made an effort. Our idea is to try and smarten things up a little bit. I think it’s a direct descendent of how we sound as a band. When we recorded ‘Come Down’, the music was raw and a little bit punk, and I think that’s how we looked. I think now that our music’s becoming a bit more focused and reigned in, our image maybe needs to reflect that a bit more.”
With various influences from the past three and a half decades, its always going to be difficult to really pigeonhole Neils Children into any specific genre – all good – so where do the band see themselves in the current scheme of things?
John: “When we first started out we were all listening to a lot of 60s freakbeat and psyche stuff, early Cure, the Buzzcocks and The Jam, and I think that came through in the music. With our newer songs we’ve explored our melodic, intricate side, which I think may surprise a few people who’d maybe written us off in the past.”
Brandon: “I think that with The Cure, the Buzzcocks and The Jam the one thing they have in common is that they’re all great singles bands, and we always try to write every song as though its going to come out as a single.”
John: “I think that’s why we haven’t done a proper album yet, because it takes a lot of focus to make a really good, definitive record that would stand the test of time. I think we’re gonna have to work really hard for that to happen but no matter what people think, I can sing and play guitar at the same time, Brandon can play the drums without smashing his kit up and James can play and write melodic bass lines."
Although their recorded output is brimming with a zest that rightly puts most of their contemporaries into the land of Nod, it’s as a live band where Neils Children really stand out from the crowd. Band members’ crowd surfing, stage invasions, improvised mutations of Public Image Ltd and Pink Floyd covers, their show’s got the lot.
John: “We love taking the songs live, but one thing that really excites me is making great sounding records and using great sounding instruments. The whole recording process is amazing and not something you get to do all of the time.”
Brandon: “One thing which I think you need as a good live band – and I think we have to some extent – is a kind of division between the band and the audience…”
John: “…I know it’s not very cool to say that, and I love people coming on stage and dancing during the set, but at the same time I think you need that space to be able to get on and do what you do. I mean, you wouldn’t expect the passengers on a bus to go and grab the wheel off the driver would you!”
But do you think that your records have really been able to capture the excitement of a live Neils Children show?
John: “I think the earlier stuff such as the two singles and mini-album did, because they represented some of our first studio recordings and we didn’t use any overdubs so it was in effect a live situation. I mean, some of those tracks on the mini-album we don’t like as much now, but as a document of its time I think it stands up quite well.”
Brandon: “I think that’s the difference between the newer recordings and our old stuff. With what we’re doing now it’s all about making a really good record rather than trying to capture our live sound.”
John: “Sometimes you need that separation between your live sound and recorded sounds…”
Neils Children certainly have a number of as-yet unreleased songs that have formed a prominent part of their live show for some time now, although the band have been spending most of their time in the studio honing these to perfection…
Brandon: “I think the fact we’ve been playing most of these songs live for so long has made them sound more complete, and for us it’s added a tightness to the band, which came out when we demoed most of the newer material at the start of the year. I think the main thing we’re trying to do now is actually make our songs sound more accessible than in the past, without losing any of their edge of course…”
John: “We want to make a really great album. We’ve put so much into this band but we feel at times that we’ve never really got anything back.”
And on the subject of whether the band actually do hate models or not, all three of the band members seem quite reluctant to let the other one speak first on the subject.
John: “Basically, ‘I Hate Models’ wasn’t about models in the sense of the word, but more about the fashionista type of person. Mainly around East London, you get a lot of these people and we tend to know some of them and they spend their whole lives talking rubbish and trying to prove they’re better than you because they do something you don’t do or…”
Brandon: “It was more of an in-joke because we knew what it was all about but one or two people seemed to take it quite literally and made it seem like we were saying “Burn your bras” and stuff!”
John: “They always say that the best song you can write is something that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. It’s a song that people can associate with I think. You can almost replace the word “models” with anything you like. The funniest thing I’ve read about that song was a review in the NME. Some fool wrote, “They probably wrote this song because they’re so ugly!” I mean, without meaning to sound arrogant, I don’t think we’re the worst looking band on the planet by a long way.”
When it comes to the issue of longevity, Neils Children aren’t ones to start gazing into a crystal ball and calling up Nostradamus, but at the same time they know that they’ll be around for a while yet, and possibly outstay most of the competition.
John: “I just don’t see too many of those other bands lasting the distance. I’ve got my ideas who will stay the pace and who won’t, but we’ll still be here."
So what would you all do if you decide one day to call time on Neils Children?
John: “I don’t think we can answer until if and when that time comes. Things are going well at the moment, we just want to make them go better…”
Photo by Chito Kuroda at www.minihorsegallery.co.uk