Fleeing New York: "We could have a rock opera if we're not too careful."
- Fleeing New York »
I’m sat in an immaculately clean kitchen in one of Southampton’s scuffed concrete suburbs, sat opposite two-thirds of local powerhouse Fleeing New York. The remaining third, drummer Matt, is out on his day-job pulling pints. Russell and Emma, who share vocal duties but deal with guitar and bass respectively, say that this precise location pinpoints the group’s exact epicentre. “This is the centre-point of the band, this table,” enthuses Russell. “We write all our songs sat around this table, we signed all of our contracts on this table, so yeah, this is where the centre is.” In the garden, obscured by trees, stands the shed where they recorded their debut mini-album ‘AOK’. They’ve been in recently writing and recording B-sides for tracks off of a new album, which they promise will be “a bit more grown up, a bit darker and a bit louder.” For all their DIY ethic, FNY say they have been taking themselves seriously over the past year, in a band that spawned itself over half a decade ago…
Emma: I met Russell at college and Russell already knew Matt for a long time.
Russell: I knew Matt because he was a friend of our family and he had a drumkit, which qualified him to start a band in his house. This other kid said “I’ll play guitar and you play bass” but I had another guitar and just twanged away on that. After that me and Matt were like the White Stripes and then we got Emma when we were doing our A levels.
DiS: Does that seem like a long time ago?
Emma: When you look back it does because we’ve just been mates for so long and we’ve always been off doing our own thing outside of the band, but the band has always been a constant thing for five years, and no-one’s stopped doing it.
Russell: I don’t think we could now. It’s gone too far now. We’d really freak out if the band wasn’t here.
Emma: We’ve all slowly given up stuff and left Uni and moved back in with the parents and got a little job just to fund whatever. Now we’re just concentrating on Fleeing New York which is brilliant.
Russell: Makes you go crazy sometimes that people are asking us about our band.
Emma: It’s an insane lifestyle.
Russell: It’s like, “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m in a band.”
Emma: People don’t really get it, do they?
DiS: Can you make a living being Fleeing New York, then?
Russell: I don’t think you can really make a living in a band. Well, I think a lot of bands don’t…
Emma: The only way you can survive is if you get a big chunk of money handed to you or you make an amazing record really cheaply – like the White Stripes – and it sells shitloads, around-the-world sort of fame.
Russell: It’s not like we’re rich, but we do get looked after. It’s made sure that we get our dinner.
Emma: I think we’re on a level now. We get a few beers and we get food. That’s our payment.
DiS: Are you pleased where you are now though? Would you have liked to have gone further by this point?
Russell: It’s hard to tell, I mean obviously it would have been great if we’d been like one of those bands who form and six weeks later the record’s ready. But we kind of think “Great, you’ve got that, but we’ve got this other thing which is the amount of time we’ve spent together.” Hopefully we’ve written all of our bad songs already, know what I mean? We’re like an established band that no-one’s heard of yet, rather than a brand new band. And it does kind of depend on where your levels are. I tend to try and have smaller goals because it makes them easier to achieve! Rather than say “I want to be rich AND famous.” You can’t do it like that. We just try and have smaller aims, which keeps us…
Russell: And remember what we’re doing it for in the first place, which is not to get the number one ringtone or something. There’s a level to how much you can compromise as well. We could make a lot of money in some ways but we’d be really unhappy.
DiS: What would have to happen for you to be able to think, “we’ve made it now”?
Emma: I don’t think there is a point really. There’s no point where we’d say “let’s stop now, we’re happy”.
Russell: The ultimate point is stopping, because you know you’ve done what you set out to do, whatever it is. We’ve certainly got a bee in our bonnet about what we want to achieve, but I’m not quite sure how high that is. We don’t know, we might think after one or two albums that that’s enough, you never know how you’re going to feel. We feel like we want to put out another record at the moment so we’re going to do that. If we don’t afterwards we probably won’t.
Emma: You can always keep going.
Russell: I used to think that Later with Jools Holland was it! At first I just wanted to make a record that would get put to the public that people could look up when we’re dead, that just showed that we’d made a little chip into something, that we’d left something behind really…without wanting it to sound shit! I said that once in an interview and failed, because it sounded so cheesy, but that’s what my ambition was. But we’ve done that now so we’re just going to give ourselves little goals, we’re not going to go for anything huge. Now I know you only get on that show if your plugger takes out Mrs Producer and it’s all been worked out because if they have you, then can have Razorlight next week because they’re on the same label. You can’t achieve that, it’s just luck. I think your ambitions become smaller like ‘write a better song’ or ‘write a shorter song’. It’s not like they see you and say “oh you’re a great band! Let’s put you on!” The cameraman’s favourite band does not get on Later With Jools Holland.
DiS: You seem very wary of labels yourself, through keeping on your own imprint, Stuck-Up Music.
Russell: We’ve been through that label thing though and didn’t think we were ready for it and we don’t think the people there were ready for us. We needed lots of love and attention and we’ve managed to get that now. I think we’re a bit more hard-nosed.
Emma: There’s something about turning down [a label] because at the back of your mind you are thinking about what could have happened…but in the end I think it is the right decision, definitely. We feel a bit more, like, (strikes defiant pose) “come on!” When we do achieve stuff we know we’ve done this all by ourselves, management and band and that’s it.
Russell: It’s really great. We’ve taken our risks.
DiS: Do you feel they’re paying off?
Emma: Slowly are, yeah. More things are happening and we’re getting more respect from people. We’re being taken seriously. Because I think people used to think we were some stupid little three-piece pop band that didn’t have a clue, and maybe a little bit of that was true, but then we said “we are really serious about doing this because we love it”, and we stuck at. I think a lot of people were surprised that we didn’t fail.
Russell: A gauntlet was set for us to fail. People saying “oh, you’re being awkward, go die in the gutter”.
Emma: I remember being laughed at when I said to someone “we’re doing it on our own”, and them saying “oh, right, okay”. And we’re, like, “alright, see you later! See you next year when we’ve got a record out.”
Russell: And we did. We’ve also got to the point that people are actually turning up to see us! We don’t know everyone now, and that’s the best thing we can hope for, for the live stuff. Because hopefully the people who are there and say “I love that” will be at the next gig, and gradually it builds like that, and it’s the best thing. It happens more and more now and it makes that worthwhile. When people say they’re going to change their plans to see those kids in that room, it’s great.
DiS: Well it seems you’ve grafted for it.
Emma: We’re still grateful for a crowd though. A crowd that likes it. I do feel sometimes that I want to thank everyone for coming! Just work our way around the room.
Russell: But it’s good to have built up a reputation like that, rather than be a flash-in-the-pan thing. I want to be like one of those books, those word-of-mouth books that goes crazy, they only made a thousand copies but they need to make more and more and three years later it’s huge. I love that kind of stuff, there’s movies like that too, smaller movies. To be the band equivalent of something like ‘Amelie’, they’re not there initially but they slow-burn into the charts.
DiS: So like Love or Velvet Underground or something? So now you couldn’t get arrested but people will say they were highly influenced by you…
Emma: Exactly. Everyone claims to have been into them from the beginning, but they couldn’t have had a proper career until they split up.
Russell: That’s probably how it will happen, we’ll split up, make solo albums with all the nice people that we’ve met over the years, and then our back catalogue will become well trendy!
DiS: Would you like hundreds of people to claim they saw you in Lennons in 2002 or something then?
Emma: That would be hilarious, yeah! I’d want that more for comedy value than any serious musical reason.
DiS: Is there currently a downside to writing and recording here on your own, though?
Russell:: Well yeah, you can get a bit too comfortable, and make the wrong decisions because you think everything’s fine.
Emma: It’s quite easy going quite a lot of the time. When we do go up there and write we do kind of shut ourselves in and give ourselves a certain amount of time, we don’t fuck about.
Russell: It’s a bit isolated sometimes, you can get really confused sometimes when you’re writing because we usually bring people in and say “What do you think of this song?”, but we can loose track of what other people think.
Emma: Outside our unit of three.
Russell: We’ve got a few referees, to check our final song and make sure it’s not a piece of shit.
DiS: You must spend a lot of time together as a band then. Do you not get fed up of each other?
Russell: Well I think we always have sometimes because we’ve been friends but we just accept we have to, like you have to hang out with your brothers and sisters sometimes.
Emma: We all have different ways of dealing with it though.
Russell: We do tell each other to fuck off now and then. We try and have time apart. It’s a very weird thing.
Emma: It’s just a very weird lifestyle choice.
Russell: If bands weren’t a normal thing it would be like some sort of cult. It’s like your gang from school becoming well known. It’s brilliant really! Your gang gets famous. I don’t know what that does to us. We’re very selective! I think we’ve just worked out how much time we need apart and how much we need together. So after two hours Matt would say “I’m going to go and sleep” and I’ll go do something else, and Emma would go and do something else…just so we can be pleased to see each other.
Emma: Yeah, you can go onstage grinning at each other, knowing you’re up for a good time. Instead of think “shit, we’ve spent far too much time together this week”.
DiS: Do you have the same attitude towards your songs? Do you have enough faith in your songs to not get tired of them?
Emma: Yeah, I think we do actually. Although we’ve gradually started moving some of them out of the set, it’s the older ones that we still play.
Russell: They’ve also evolved since we’ve started playing them, which is strange because you kind of think it will be like when I go and see a band and think “don’t play it like that! Play it like the version I’ve got that you recorded ten years ago!” but we can see why they do it now. Which is rubbish because I never wanted to feel like that, but now we’re throwing in jazz or something.
DiS: It must be like having kids or something.
Russell: You do feel a sort of responsibility, like you have to pay their child benefit. It’s nice to have a body of work now – it’s not like we’ve got ten songs and that’s our record, we’ve got hundreds of songs, and stuff we never used can become b-sides like we have today. It’s like we’ve got all these broken-up songs. We just break them up and put them back together, that’s how we make them. Like we’ve got this massive bag of unused bits.
Emma: All our songwriting was that we all had a separate piece and we got together after not really seeing each other every day of the week and saying “I know let’s bolt this bit on here and attach this bit and smooth that bit over…”
Russell: We could have a rock opera if we’re not too careful.
DiS: I hear you’re planning to re-release ‘Hollywood Bowl’. Do you think it’s representative enough of your song oeuvre?
Russell: In a way it is. We still like what we’ve done so far and it hasn’t got the coverage, it’s almost like that is the song you have to hear before you get into the band, it’s a good introduction. It’s very instant. It’s like you can find one song that will make people tell what we’re like. Then once people have got that there’s another layer underneath that where we’ve grown up a bit, and we really take care of our lyrical context. You just don’t know what’s going to go down well or what you’re going to regret until you do it, so it gets a bit cynical in the end. But we’ve been writing today and I just love it, I love having a new thing, I have to keep playing it so I don’t forget it but I love that feeling, that’s the only reason why I keep doing it. It’s worth it for that, walking home knowing you’ve got this thing that no-one’s ever heard. You can go show all your friends – “listen to this”! But then we get writer’s block and it’s horrible.
Emma: But then you get angry about it and it funds the next month or two’s worth of being able to write, so…
Russell: When we argue seems to be when we write the most, where we’re trying to shape each other, bending these ideas. Like saying “I’ll give you that middle eight, that rubbish bit which you think is great, if I can have something I want to do in the chorus.” It is like a competition of who can get the most of their influence in. Really gently, though, not violently, not like “THIS is the way it’s got to be!” but just suggesting it. But I’ve sung these songs so long that I gradual forget who wrote what part. And if I’ve written a part that Emma sings it’s a really good feeling, almost like somebody covering one of your songs. Emma singing one of my lyrics is a whole other thing and I think it’s the same with me singing her lyrics. It’s bizarre.
Emma: It brings new meaning to it.
Russell: You put the words into my mouth kind of thing. We realise what we’ve got here and we’re having fun with it because we realise it’s quite a unique…thing. Three writers in a three piece band, it’s quite intense.
DiS: There seems potential for a lot of tension.
Russell: Yeah we just get it out. Emma’s been trying to make things really loud recently and I’ve been saying “No! This is my little pop song! This is my Brian Wilson moment!”
Emma: Whereas I’m trying to turn up all the distortion and shout all over it.
Russell: It used to just be that she’d go and write a song and we’d say “that’s good that, yeah” and then we’d turn it up to the loudest we ever got, get the dirtiest sounds we could get our hands on, but now we’re doing slide-guitar country!
Emma: Just you wait…
Russell: It is like we’ve got all this stuff we want to get out but the band is just the…
Russell: Yeah, like a gallery for all of our stuff. We’ve got so much different stuff but we’ve all got to agree what’s shown.
DiS: That’s strange that, because I’ve heard a few people refer to you as an ‘art’ band or as ‘art-rock’, what do you feel about that?
Russell: I thought we were like that before I knew what that really meant I thought it was saying that we’re the kids who did art at school. But then I realised what that was referring to and I realised that we’re not that at all, because those bands are like a concept, like an art school project, and we’re not.
DiS: You seem like a rock band but still understand how important the visual aspect of it is.
Russell: Well yeah because we got taught it. We never really got taught music. That’s probably more experimental than what we know about the visual stuff.
Emma: I think everyone in the band has an eye for that sort of thing, and we get people who help us out on the visual side of stuff, so it gets pretty creative when we’re talking around the table. We can’t really stop it.
DiS: To say something is ‘art-rock’ now seems kind of vague though, almost like saying something is ‘jazz’.
Russell: I don’t really know what category we fit into.
Emma: I have no idea. A few people say we’re between rock and pop, but then we’ve got funk and a touch of garage-ness about it, there’s a lot of different bits because I think we all have extremely different music tastes, all bringing these different bits together.
Russell: It’s like we’re all solo artists but we have this rock band to play all of our stuff through. We’re not styling it on a rock band thing, that’s just what we got. If we’d all met at a piano in a pub I’d sure that’s what we’d all still be playing.
Emma: Like three Rufus Wainwrights. There’s definitely a commercial side to our band, we do write pop-orientated stuff.
Russell: I think that’s the Fleeing New York bit actually. I think it’s making all of our favourite stuff palatable. It’s like vacuum-packing all of these separate balls of influence.
Emma: That’s so true actually.
Russell: Fleeing New York is just like this box we put it out in. We chuck all our parts in the Fleeing New York bag and it comes out a bit shinier, a bit powered up, and there it is. I don’t know many bands who do a bit of thrash metal, a bit of country, funk, some good old fashioned rock n’ roll, and can still bring it down to a lower level. Because I like quiet music.
Emma: And I like loud music. And Matt likes the funky side of things, the happy stuff.
Russell: Matt likes the sort of music where you have to rip the keyboard in half. He’s got this great sensibility of what we’re trying to put across. He’s the more musical, he’s the musician. If he says it’s shit it probably is shit. We’ve been self-taught properly. Shooting from the hip, all gun-ho. It’s a great combination, it works really well.
Emma: It’s all about the three-piece unit.
Russell: It’s like with a friend of ours who’s in a five-piece band called People In Planes where it’s all quite technical and they play one big sound, whereas some bands just don’t have that.
Emma: Like there’s a lead guitarist and loads of other people looking in the other direction, and the drummer doing his own beats.
Russell: You can see with some young bands that they having got to that point where they’re gelling together.
DiS: Do you feel like you are part of a scene?
Emma: Just recently over the past year with bands like Dead! Dead! Dead! and Xavier [Floyd Firebird] and so on is weird because we used to hide out here, I’d be going back to Uni and Russell was in Winchester and Matt would be working and stuff so we’d do the band here and then we’d go away and socialise with other people. Now we socialise more in Southampton as a band and play more locally.
Russell: That’s because we have to get well known locally, you have to take an interest in where you are.
Emma: It’s intriguing when you talk to other bands from around here because we’ve rarely met other bands from Southampton…
Russell: Only in the past year.
Emma: But we’re not discussing, like, y’know, the pros and cons of certain writing techniques or anything.
Russell: But we’re not competitive like that either. We just see that we’re in a band, that’s how we see it. Our band’s been here for what seems like forever so we didn’t form it to join a scene. There is something going on around here though. The only reason we’re lumped in with them is that our postcodes are similar. We’d like to make our own little scene one day. I’d love to start a franchise. It would be great to start a scene by bringing bands through the same process as we have, trailblazing our own little project. It would be great to have some other bands on the [Stuck-Up] stable, that’s a little dream really. To nurture some bands. We’ve learnt how it’s been done with us and if we can do it with other people then it would be a great achievement I think.
DiS: I remember the Delays saying to some newspaper that Southampton is like a blank canvas, that’s why there’s no scene because people end up sounding different, there’s no influence from where you are.
Emma: Exactly, it’s not like Manchester or Sheffield or something, there hasn’t been anything massive to follow on. Which is good in a way, you don’t get tainted by the brush of the city.
Russell: Because it seems every Manchester band, for instance, gets given those connotations of The Smiths or Oasis or whatever. As does any band from somewhere where a band has been massive. It’s going to happen. I’m glad we haven’t got the scene thing because I think it limits people, people are scared to break out of it if they’re already beginning to come up to something. It is like fashion, going to a school where the fashion never changes. In my school, right, you were only allowed to wear you rucksack over one side of your shoulder. If you wore it over the other one it meant you were gay, and if you wore both you got your head kicked in. You sort of think, “why is that?” But you’ve got to do it, you’ve got to conform. That’s what it’s like.
And with that, the rock rolled onwards.
- SPILL does shows...
- Fleeing New York - Hollywood Bowl
- Fleeing New York - Hollywood Bowl
- Fleeing New York: "We could have a rock opera if we're not too careful."
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- Fleeing New York, Young Knives at Islington Academy, Islington, Thu 21 Jul
- Fleeing New York - Up Up Up Up/At Night
- Fleeing New York - Up Up Up Up/At Night