January may be a time for slow hangovers and quick sales, but it also represents the time of the year where the music industry announces its great white hopes for the ensuing twelve months. One of the bands who’ve been catapulted into the limelight this year is Glasvegas, a four-piece from the east end of Glasgow who, in their own words, make “experimental surf pop”.
Raised on a diet of ‘50s rock and roll, ‘60s wall-of-sound pop, spittle-fused punk and home-grown lo-fi noise, their sound is like a sugar-coated bus collision of Presleyian and Mary Chain guitars with Phil Spector holding court in the control room.
Initially the band came to most people’s attention courtesy of a blog on legendary Creation Records guru Alan McGee’s MySpace page, where he proclaimed them as being “the most important band of the last 20 years”. Since then it’s been something of a magic carpet ride for the four Glasvegans, with not only established music publications gushing forth about their admittedly impressive low-budget home recordings but also the tabloid press talking about them in the same pages as Britney and Amy.
Surreal, or what? You’re not kidding, so when DiS meets the band in a small but cosy dressing room in Sheffield we’re unsure whether we should be pinching ourselves first before delving into the fairytale.
All dressed in black and looking like extras from Rebel Without A Cause, we find bass player Paul Donoghue carefully replying to fans messages on the band’s website. Drummer Caroline McKay is sat in the corner talking on her mobile while cousins Rab (guitarist, roadie and bartender for the next hour) and James (singer, guitarist and undisputed mouthpiece of the band as well as recently being voted number 30 in The Daily Record's Top 100 most eligible Scottish bachelors) Allan are having a discussion with their tour manager about football: “We can’t watch it together as two of us are Rangers and three, including our manager, are Celtic.” It’s big in Glasgow, you know…
How does all this recent attention have you feeling?
James: It makes us feel limitless, to be honest. I think it’s made us realise that the possibilities could be endless for the band. We’ve never really paid that much attention to what people have been saying about us, but there seem to be so many mad things happening along the way that it’s getting impossible to ignore it now. Even the fact we’ve actually got people coming to gigs now, singing the words to our songs and stuff, y’know… even the ones that haven’t been made available yet.
What do you see as being the catalyst for this sudden surge of attention?
J: I’d like to think it’s purely down to people’s love of hearing good music, but I guess there must be more to it than that. From our point of view I think we’ve definitely improved as a band, so the recognition in my opinion is deserved. I think we inspire each other now to write better songs, and I think anyone who maybe saw us play a year ago and then came to us now would agree with that. It probably sounds clichéd to a point, but I don’t see any one thing as a catalyst other than the fact we’ve become more inspired.
Although you’re a new band to most people, I believe you have been playing together for a while…
J: It depends what you mean by playing together for a while. Obviously me and Rab have played together since both of us learned how to pick up a guitar, but we have all been friends for a long time. At the outset Caroline didn’t know how to play drums so on our earliest recordings we had a drum machine. She started playing the one drum and now she’s progressed onto two – give it ten years and she’ll be using a kit of Whitesnake or Crue proportions! We all grew up together from the same part of town, but we certainly didn’t grow up playing musical instruments! I think one thing about Glasvegas is the fact that we made sure we were competent at playing our instruments before we started playing gigs, so from that point of view the time between the band actually forming and playing live could be seen as being longer than average compared with other bands.
Now you’re out and about playing gigs, do you see that as being where the band’s natural progression will take place, rather than in the studio or a rehearsal room?
J: I don’t know really. I don’t think you can differentiate between the two that much as we need our own space to write and develop the songs but at the same time playing live is more of a confidence issue, so I suppose the two go hand in hand. I think there’s always room for improvement – there’d be no point in doing it if we didn’t think we could write better songs and play better shows – but my philosophy has always been if you can get from A to B without too much trouble then you must be doing something right.
One of your earliest recordings, ‘Daddy’s Gone’, was undoubtedly the song that cemented your name in the hearts and minds of both critics and punters alike. The subject of the song is obviously quite personal, almost too personal to be about a third party perhaps?
J: What I want to clarify is that I had a pretty stable upbringing, so if people want to assume it’s written about my father than that’s fine, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. There are things in the song that come from a personal perspective, but the main gist of the song comes from observing things that were happening to friends, or even people living three doors down the road from me. Our friends know who the song’s about, but at the end of the day it’s a pop song, and I guess different people will interpret or relate to it in their own way.
Video: 'Daddy's Gone'
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In my opinion it’s probably not your best song. From the half dozen or so that I’ve heard every one of them could be a single. Do you see yourselves as a singles band?
J: No, not really. I see us as a band that just writes songs. I mean, every band on the planet probably has enough songs for an album. The main thing comes down to quality control, and if we’re not happy with certain elements of a song then we’re conscious of letting other people outside of the group hear them, too. I guess at the end of the day it shouldn’t just be down to us to decide whether a song’s good or bad.
Are you concerned about bad reviews, or not getting the critical acclaim you feel the band deserve?
J: No I don’t think it’s about that. I think we’re way beyond that point now anyway. We’re already at a place where people are starting to expect a certain type of song, and I guess being prolific at what we’re doing comes into it, too. I don’t feel any pressure from anyone outside of the band though. I mean, we all put pressure on each other to deliver the goods in terms of what we add to the band, so if the other three weren’t happy with something I wrote then I’d expect them to tell me about it and the same with any other member of the band. I don’t think being given a bad review is that important to be honest, because if you’re being sincere with your music and someone else doesn’t like it, then who’s being dishonest? I mean, you can’t please everybody.
It must be strange, though, that everyone seems to have an opinion on your band and your songs yet, astonishingly, you are still contractually unsigned?
J: Well, we have actually agreed terms with a label although we haven’t signed the deal yet. I think everything will be done and dusted by the time we finish this tour. It’s been a longwinded process to be honest. Signing a record deal isn’t as cut and dried as we thought it would be, you know. There are so many terms and conditions in there; to be honest a lot of the legal jargon sends me to sleep. From our point of view all we care about is getting the songs out to people.
Up ‘til now though, prior to any deal, you’ve got two managers and an agent working on your behalf. Does it not bother you that they may not always be acting in the band’s best interests?
J: What, do you mean do we trust the people working with us? Totally man, we have no reason not to. As the song says, “We can’t go on together, with suspicious minds”.
Will the band be re-locating once you’ve signed, or will you be staying put in Glasgow?
J: No… no, definitely not. We’re staying in Glasgow. Why would we need to uproot and leave?
Exactly. With all the new talent seemingly bursting out of the city at the moment, Glasgow must be one hell of an exciting place to be.
J: I would like to think there’s always been a fairly healthy music scene in Glasgow, but maybe I don’t know as much about a lot of the other bands as I should?
Having spoken to a few other bands from Glasgow recently, they certainly seem to know about you!
Paul: I think that’s because we’re pretty impossible to avoid at the minute.
J: It’s sad, in some ways, that you’re telling us about bands on our own doorstep who we don’t know about, but I don’t think Glasvegas have ever tried to be part of a scene. We’ve always existed on our own terms and the bands who we know are pretty much the same. My favourite two Glaswegian bands at the minute are Madskull and The Hussys, and I don’t really see either of those fitting into any scene.
Or maybe there’s just a bit of jealousy creeping in from other bands who’re slightly envious of the impending success that looks to be coming your way?
J: It’s all a bit of a daze at the minute. There seems to be a massive buzz in England. Our last show in London just before Christmas completely sold out. The first night of the tour in Northampton (last night) sold out, tonight’s a sell out…
Rab: Aye, I can see it getting to the stage where if a show hasn’t sold out we’ll be wanting to know why…
J: There you go, we’ve given you a headline for the piece: Glasvegas demand to know why they haven’t sold out!
The single ’It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’ is out on February 14 through Sane Man Records.
In the meantime, Glasvegas can be seen at the following venues over the next few weeks:
29 Manchester Night And Day Café
30 Liverpool Korova
31 Nottingham Bodega Social
1 Middlesbrough The Knights
2 York The Junction
4 Leeds The Faversham
5 Carlisle TC's (Club NME)
6 Hull The Lamp
7 Luton UBSU (Club NME)
8 London Barfly (Year Zero w/ Exit Calm)
9 Exeter Hub (Club NME)
11 Canterbury UCCA (Club NME)
12 Oxford Jericho Tavern
13 Cambridge Barfly
14 Gloucester Guildhall
15 London Koko (Club NME)
16 Wakefield Escobar
17 Castleford The Loft
18 Newcastle The Cluny
21 Glasgow Barrowlands (NME Awards show)
22 Manchester Academy (NME Awards show)
23 Stoke Sugarmill
24 Guildford Boileroom
25 London Shepherd's Bush Empire (NME Awards show)
For more information on Glasvegas visit their MySpace.