I'm not going to lie to you. The narrative that runs through this interview, formed in the words written below, is in some way rehearsed; the results of a second meeting between myself and xx Teens. It's not how I would've done it had I had the choice, but when technology combines with idiocy and you record over the original results with your journey into work the next morning - argument with the ticket inspectors n' all - you'll take the second choice, and the second meeting. I'm not going to lie to you. I might lie to you.
Meeting I - at the Teens' single launch for 'Darlin' at the T Bar on Kingsland Road, E1. Two people are playing ping-pong in the middle of the room. We take a corner with drink and talk either side of a sound check about the usual stuff, running amok - "a mosque?" - and their recent signing to Mute. 'Xerox' became 'xx' after an angry missive from the printing company. Pings-pong stage-front through the noise of the sound-check.
Meeting II - after the dictaphone debacle we bound down to Pure Groove on Holloway Road, N19. We take an Irish pub, first, then a gastro bar and talk either side of an instore. We talk about this; first in the Irish pub; Will 'Uber', Rich 'Nuvo', Tom King and I in attendance.
Re-introductions, Black Plague and finding Maddy
My tape-cassette dictaphone boasts some start-of-the-art features - DOUBLE RECORDING TIME! VOICE ACTIVATED RECORDING SYSTEM! - but when I lay it down between the pints on the table it is cruelly, but - yes - necessarily, mocked...
Uber: You still steadfastly refusing to come up to speed?
It’s the digital age…
Nuvo: It’s definitely time for either going into the future by embracing…
(Puts his pint down in front of the recorder)
You’re cutting the sound quality down by 50 per cent!
N: Or maybe going back into the past and learning shorthand. Pen and paper might be the way forward.
It may well be. How’s your recording going?
N: We haven’t started it yet – we’re just practising, making up endings.
Oh yeah, you said that the last time.
N: It’s true. The intros have always been very sharp, but the endings have always been… ridiculous.
U: You said that as well! I’ve been in this interview before!
N: Groundhog interview. (Hacks) I’ve developed a horrible cough since our last interview as well, that’s what happened – I’ve been in bed for a week. It’s been ‘orrible, ever since that single launch.
What happened there then, to… cause that?
N: I think I might have caught the flu off your dictaphone.
You probably caught black plague off it, it’s old enough.
N: I got the pox off it.
N: (Coughs) Oh dear.
OK, why don’t we just get on to the real questions…
U: Real questions?
N: Oh dear, you’re worrying me a bit here…alright, go on then.
U: We don’t know nothing, guvnor!
Is she… in one of your songs?
U: If you play it backwards maybe…
N: That etching on ‘Darlin’ isn’t really an etching - it’s the answer!
I just imagine her to be trapped somewhere in ‘B54’. In that swamp…
U: Oh yeah, she could’ve easily been trapped in there…
N: She could definitely be in there.
Vidi! Louden up…
That was, if you haven't been following up to this point, the video for 'B-54'; released on a split with 'Onkawara' earlier this year. Haven’t been following? Jumped in haphazard? No shame in that - xx Teens make cut 'n' paste, comic-strip punk; belt-engine loops carrying madness like blue-rubies on a warm caffeine surf; nonsense breaking in slaps and waves against your forehead. Or so I thought. Turns out there's more, and a consciousness, no matter how sub-, buried in this flood of ideas...
So, the video launch – and I should probably ask this again – where do you get all your ideas? It seems like someone just wakes up from a dream and has all these random, stupid ideas. Not stupid as in, y’know, but...
N: I think that 50 per cent of the imagery is probably from Rich’s lyrics and 50 per cent is just what Simon or the director reads into it, they get intermingled.
U: If you look at Rich’s lyrics and read ‘em, a lot of the time it gets bandied around that it’s just nonsense that he just spurts out. But as you pointed out before, it's not really – obviously it’s not always easy to hear because there’s a lot going on, but there is an actual narrative - a surreal narrative - but it is still narrative.
It must be helpful to have a director you can trust with these ideas and who can just take it, run with it and they are on the same wavelength…
U: It goes a long way to helping produce those images do you know what I mean? And also I think if you read them - if you hear it, listen to it - then you’re not imagining normal scenarios, you’re imagining quite odd things anyway and Simon Green just took it and then eventually just produced the images.
N: I think the reaction to the video has been quite interesting as well, because it’s been blogged on the internet and stuff, and it’s all “it’s completely wild and mental and crazy”... I see it as being totally illustrative, actually, of the story behind the lyrics to the songs…
U: ... also you have heard it 900 times…
N: ...no, but in essence it is kind of illustrative of the narrative even if there are a few mental touches…
I might be completely wrong but I can see one narrative – which is the seagull; which is maybe a girl that’s flown the nest or whatever…
N: No, it is actually about a seagull.
U: I dunno if we should we be divulging this…
N: No the seagull is not any kind of symbol, it’s not a metaphor, it is about a seagull.
U: It’s a very, very, very nice – you’ve got to understand that Rich is a very romantic person at heart – it’s a very nice story but it’s so nice and it’s so personal that you need to get him drunk and ask him. He might cry though he’s more of a raconteur than me.
How old was he when it happened?
U: A few years ago so – 16?
Did he ever work in a bird sanctuary?
N: No, you’re just fishing now; you’re just fishing.
U: Private bird sanctuary in his house...
Was he a pigeon fancier?
N: He’s not a pervert! No, let’s keep a bit of mystery.
Which, despite the job description, is fine by me.
It’s bit of a conflict though sometimes as a ‘music journalist’ not wanting to destroy that mystery but get to the truth.
N: A destroyer of truths. There’s a bit of that conflict with us as well…
U: Trying to make money.
N: No, trying to constantly guard the mystery and not come across like complete arseholes.
U: Well that’s the plan yeah, but we’ve failed on numerous attempts.
N: I think these days we don’t do interviews when we’re completely and utterly twatted. Which helps I think.
U: We decided to split it up, ‘cause five of us together just descends into nonsense after about two seconds… pure nonsense.
What’s the strongest example of that?
U: Someone asking questions over the phone and us playing a Winston Churchill speech.
N: Ha ha, yeah, that was actually a good one, we should do that again. One of our finer moments.
But if an interview is to gauge the personality of a band, which is obviously really important, then surely that can only be illustrative?
N: Mmm, err, yes and no, because if the personality of the band comes across as five drunken idiots…
What’s wrong with that?
U: Shane McGowan made a career out of it.
Most of the people in the country are drunken idiots.
U: …Or idiots when they’re drunk.
U: See, that’s deep shit.
That is deep shit.
N: That’s deep shit.
(Thrusting dictaphone forward to Uber) Have you ever been in love?
U: Well not ‘til now.
U: That was meant to be a seductive…
N: Uber winks into the dictaphone…
It was meant to reflect off my contact lens and hit Tom.
I’m not wearing contact lenses.
U: Ah, you got me again!
N: Stop winking everyone!
Not seen the new video yet? We talked more on it, and the other videos, at 'Darlin'’s launch the first time round - they are as fun to make as they look. There are moments when they can't help cracking up at the absurdity of the whole thing; though the presence of a six-legged green and yellow sea creature helps the human v-sign and the blunderbuss toting safari hunter keep a straight face. And you know that big bald bloke with the yellow slacks? Yeah, they found him working as a security guard in a Sheffield branch of Spar.
A few months ago, I can’t remember exactly when, xx Teens were still Xerox Teens and they invited a select band of performing artists to appear at a warehouse show in South West London. They're also in that video, above.
Richard Curtis’ K9 Freestyle Dog Dancing Display Team
What’s this dog dancing team about?
N: That was a thing we put on a while back now. It was just something we did because we thought it’d be interesting. It was the brainchild of Danny Fancy and Rich Cash’s. They sort of orchestrated it.
U: They contacted Richard Curtis…
N: …this world famous dog trainer…
U: …he won something at Crufts...
N: …they contacted him and proposed that instead of the dogs doing their thing to a backing track they did it to us playing really cheesy covers.
What, actual dogs? Not men in outfits?
U: Yeah actual dogs.
And what, they’d do this dancing to ‘Darlin’ or something?
U: No, no, no, we played, er…’D.I.S.C.O’, ‘Upside Down’, ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’, ‘Cotton Eyed Joe’…
…what did the dogs do?
U: There was a dog on a skateboard…
N: …dog on a skateboard…
U: …dogs going into boxes, that kind of thing.
Dogs doing what you want dogs to do.
N: We dressed up as ringleaders and played on a stage made of bales of hay which was quite kinda precarious.
Will you ever do this again?
N: I’m sure we’ll do something similar.
Will you let me know?
U: Oh yeah, course, course, course.
N: I mean yeah, as a thing it was great, I thought.
U: It was totally ridiculous and really silly, but yeah it was good. I was kinda like “Oh my god what are we doing” and we had to play really quietly and when the dogs didn’t do something right, the compere’d blame us for playing too loud – be like “sorry, yeah sorry, usually the dogs don’t do this to such loud music.”
N: Richard Curtis was a bit of a pervert to be honest with you.
U: Oh don’t put that in…
N: …he loves dogs quite a lot.
U: He was a lovely man and very friendly with the canine…species.
Mute, Southend and Gang Mentality
It’s not all fancy dress and croissants though – for all the triumphant showmanship there must be a wedge of hard-knuckle; practice room sweat and toil. Plus they’re signed to Mute now, so they’re…
U: Just trying to get tighter, better.
N: ‘Cause we’re pros now.
How have Mute been treating you? Well?
N: I reckon I’ve gotta say yes, really.
U: They don’t really speak to us too often.
A frosty atmosphere?
N: They probably hold Depeche Mode in higher regard than us, I assume.
Well, ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ is a great tune.
N: All of Depeche Mode’s tunes are good tunes. And obviously they’re from Basildon, which is classic place.
You from Basildon, then?
I’m going down to Southend tomorrow – how many of you are from Essex?
N: I’m from Essex. Where are you going?
That Experimental Circle Club at the Royal Hotel.
N: Yeah, it’s nice in there.
Yeah it’s where I saw you first, at the Junk Club weekender last May.
N: Yeah that was good.
U: We get included with the Southend scene. It’s only him and two others out of a band of five. Sixty per cent of us are from Essex.
That’s a good ratio.
N: The same ratio as The Horrors, I think.
U: Only you admit it…
N: Yeah, but they’re figureheads and young and good looking and we’re old.
Is there any reason why people have kinda gravitated towards it? A lot of the best bands in the last two years have clumped together in Southend…
N: There’s always been a history of bands coming from boring suburban places, the Home Counties….
…the best stuff tends to come out of that isolation and that position of looking in on London…
N: …especially seaside towns, ‘cause they’re damn depressing.
U: People very obviously divide in groups.
N: I grew up in Essex, obviously there is a very strict kinda gang mentality which you don’t have in London. You don’t get hassled in London if you look a little bit odd, and in Essex you would all the time, it depends on what sort of person you are but in my youth I kinda embraced that. And pushed it as far as possible.
U: In a roundabout way he’s trying to say you’re a thug.
N: No, no, no I wasn’t a thug, I was the transvestite…
A transvestite thug?
U: You were just a wannabe you couldn’t see it through.
N: I dunno about the whole Southend scene if it was ever…
U: It spawned some good bands - These New Puritans, who we all like…
N: It wasn’t bands from Southend that played; it was bands from London that had some vague thing with Southend in their past. Neils Children are from fucking Hertfordshire, know what I mean? It wasn’t some kind of indigenous explosion – which makes you more suspicious about it perhaps.
Mind talking again about how you got started and the manifesto you said you had?
N: We were trying to react against that kind of Libertines-y, “our mates are in the crowd” thing. I think we were reacting against that back in the day when we started out - we wanted to create a spectacle really…
U: …to put on a show.
N: Yeah, we didn’t want to speak to the audience. Not in a pretentious, up our own arses way – that wasn’t really the idea. I think it was trying to distance ourselves from what was going on at the time.
Why was that – just 'cause it kind of got pretentious after a while?
N: Yeah, I just thought it was wank.
U: I suppose it was just intentionally ramshackle - kinda like, “We just got out of bed, we’ve been in the pub all day, cool, let’s put on a show!”
N: …but then again we were hypocritical in a lot of ways because we were always really, really pissed and ramshackle.
But there’s a difference – you shouldn’t try to make it into a gimmick…
U: Well, like we said we didn’t do it intentionally - we never said let’s get really pissed before we go onstage and make it a thing. It was just culturally - you just spend your life in the pub don’t you?
N: It kind of became cliquey in a way – in one way your mates are involved but if you weren’t hanging around at the Libertines flat… know what I mean? That whole overriding thing was breaking down barriers between performance and audience; but as meet the crowd, you get a clique and it becomes the exact opposite of what you set out to do.
N: I suppose we did come across as being a bit arrogant, po-faced to start off with…
Well that’s the best way to be…
N: Yeah I don’t think I ever liked a band that talked to the audience between songs…
N: Joey Ramone going “wuhmuhmuhmuhmuhmuh” between songs isn’t technically speaking to the crowd.
One! Two! Tree! Fo!
N: It was a reaction against the shitty bands we played with as well, the ones that’d be like, “This one’s for John…”
Oh right, John, yeah… Where were you playing when you started out?
N: The first ever gig was in The Verge in Kentish Town.
U: The Bullet Bar is it called now?
N: The Bullet Bar, yeah.
How did that go?
N: It was very empty, loads of really shit pop bands playing with us – Ex-rental, Luxembourg…
Oh, Luxembourg are shit, absolutely awful…
When was that?
N: Yeah there were loads of shit synth-pop bands in ‘84 it was rubbish. Nah, must’ve been 2004.
Did you ever come into direct conflict with any of those bands?
N: We were always too cool to talk to them really, I suppose.
U: Ha ha ha.
N: I think it’s not really worth starting a band unless you hate everything, all the other bands that are around at the time – I think that’s the only impetus you need to do something…
N: Exactly, rather than those bands who are like, “We like The Libertines, let’s be in a band that’s just like them”. Like The View and the fucking…
The View or Fratellis?
N: Ah, they’re the worst. Oh what, who’s better? Oh The View definitely. I much prefer The View.
Fratellis are like Butlins rock or something, aren’t they…
N: …disgusting, horrible band.
N: We saw The View ages ago at the Metro before they were signed. They were pretty unremarkable…
U: …beautiful girl just gone into the toilets…
…Call her over…
U: …I’m famous don’t ya know…
N: …so why are you sitting alone in the corner?
Could you kill a shark?
N: Right now?
N: Bare hands? I don’t think you’d be able to kill it. Catfish I might be able to manage…
U: …get it in a headlock.
Do you like The Fall?
U: Do I like the Fall? Fuck off.
N: Very well put.
Well, that’s all we need.
N: Who else do we like – Primal Scream…
How did that Andy Weatherall thing come about? ‘Cause he did some of Primal Scream’s best stuff didn’t he – like ’Shoot Speed/Kill Light’…
N: …and Screamadelica for the older members.
U: He saw us years ago at White Heat when we played with The Horrors…
N: …‘Cause we knew someone who worked at Rough Trade and he came in to buy ’Round’ apparently, raving on about it. The brilliant people at Mute Irregulars being his mates helped as well…
U: …but yeah, Andy Weatherall is obviously a legend.
In terms of influences, what would you say - Primal Scream stuff?
N: I think XTRMNTR was a massive influence on my life never mind the band I was in. That is one hell of an album.
I can see that in the basslines – the rolling basslines.
N: Mani is my hero to be honest. Plus XTRMNTR was such a massive appeal to me; it was ridiculous. I went to the Leeds festival – Reading had sold out – in 2000. It had pissed down all weekend, and Primal Scream were on the XTRMNTR tour and they were playing on the Sunday. When they came on the clouds broke and it stopped raining for the first time all weekend and I’d missed a million bands ‘cause I’d stayed in my tent being pathetic…
N: Crying, yeah. No just taking…yeah and the clouds parted and they started playing ‘Higher Than The Sun’…and I remember that was probably the best moment of my life. (Laughs)
U: He has two children also but they come much lower down…
…do you have two children?
N: Not that I know of…
…do they have comedy names?
N: Yes, Ecclesiasticus and Euclides. I went through a Greek period.
U: Yeah I mean only thing I can think of is Primal Scream.
N: Ramones they’re pretty good. All five of us are influenced by the same things, though.
It's almost over, I promise. We haven't heard xx Teens’ debut record yet - it won't be out for ages - but you should buy it when it does in January next year. 'Til then, go to shows, buy 'Darlin' - it's out now on Mute's Irregular subdivision. They're one of a few bands worth caring about, if ‘caring’'s the right word.
The Fat Lady
That desire to create a spectacle you talked about earlier - is that to push people away or to force them to work harder to get in?
N: I don’t think we’re the sort of band who consciously aim to push people away, not at all – I think, like I said – I’d like to think of us kinda like the indie Moulin Rouge.
U: You been thinking that one up…
…yeah he’s been laying awake in bed at night…
U: “if someone asked me to explain myself how would I go about it?”
U: I don’t know why we plan all this, I just think it’s more interesting for everyone. You can go to a hundred gigs and see five blokes in shirts playing away.
N: If you’re gonna be in a band you’ve gotta do something to differentiate yourself ‘cause there’s a trillion fucking bad bands…
…there are so many bands that need to be culled, basically. There are so many unnecessary bands. I think about 99 per cent... probably more.
U: You need more so they can support you for very little money – basically time fillers.
I mean I think there’s less than about 20 bands that I like in the whole world, y’know? Including, y’know, solo artists…
U: …overkill, overkill.
xx Teens photographed by Heardism