At the turn of 2006, DiS walks into a live music night in the commuter town of Reading where the band are looking mostly at the floor, thrust onstage at more or less the very second that the doors opened, playing in a light far too bright since no-one at the venue has remembered to turn the house ones off and the band are either too polite to ask or they just plain haven’t noticed.
Fast-forward to the tail end of 2007 where the same band are in attendance at the same venue’s indie disco as a girl excitedly pushes through the sweaty melee towards her friends at the bar, where she excitedly announces in the same tone that young rock fans use when they describe their idol, Dave Grohl, that she’s just spoken to Pete, of Pete and the Pirates.
“To be honest, I used to get that before I was in a band,” quips bassist Pete Cattermoul dryly, one of the two bespectacled Petes amongst the Reading quintet’s ranks, before offering up a slightly more serious, “it’s flattering but it’s also a bit silly.”
Of course, she could have been talking about today’s second Pete – Pete Hefferan, the small-framed guitarist and, alongside Cattermoul, the second of the band’s three vocalists, is also present with his own tale of semi-fame. “Not long ago I was out dancing at the front of a gig just with some friends, and I just noticed these short girls standing near me. They were just looking up at me, and then they started talking to me and wanted my picture and…” He pauses before bravely soldiering on, “I had to run away.”
“It’s a bit surreal, but in a good way.” That’s floppy-haired guitarist Dave Thorpe, today’s third and final Pirate and not even a Pete. “We played a gig down in Brighton lately and a load of young girls stormed the backstage area so they could meet us, and afterwards one of them sent us a message on MySpace and her picture was actually her standing with us like we were some big band. That felt a bit weird.”
By now it should be clear that Pete and the Pirates are someone your mum would term ‘nice boys’ - modest, amicable, collectively possessing a good sense of humour and right now even willing to let DiS gatecrash one of their few days off after returning to Reading as the hottest new musical property, albeit in a town which has little to shout about musically with the recent closure of its one proper touring venue, although it's boosted by the recent successes of Does It Offend You, Yeah? and Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip.
“Reading's biggest problem is London” – Pete Cattermoul springs to the defence – “and that's why there aren't any decent venues. It's a sad fact that big bands won't come to play in Reading because it's too close to London. That's my theory anyway. In a way it's liberating to know that it's not any fault of Reading itself, it's just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Today finds us sat in the reception of a rather ragged rehearsal studio where the quintet have bought the small BBC news crew following them around to round off filming for a three-minute short documenting the places the Pirates used to go before people went a bit bonkers for them. It’s almost like it’s not really a day off at all.
“We’ve been massively busy,” reports Thorpe, “and soon we’re going to Italy to play some gigs - which is something you can’t really complain about, going somewhere nice like Italy to play a gig – and then after that, to France. When you’re going to new and interesting places it makes it slightly easier to not miss being at home.”
Reaching out to pastures new, 2008 looks promising for this oddly-monikered act after a constant stream of gigs in 2007 (including a support slot on the Young Knives tour) and three increasingly successful singles prior to the recent release of their increasingly-acclaimed debut album (read how they charmed their way into Billy Hamilton’s brain on the DiS review here). It’s a victory that becomes all the more sweet when you consider that the partnership between the band and their label Stolen Recordings is decidedly DIY, with almost everything being done in-house right down to the band creating the artwork and directing the videos.
“It was really just a case of making the best of what you have,” offers Cattermoul. “Jonny, our drummer, directed most of what we have done and all the editing was done at home – it means we get a bit closer to the final product, and people can get a better idea of what we are like as a group, as all the videos have been homemade, bar one. I guess Stolen just have a keen sense for business, and above all, finding good bands.”
“It’s an absolute pleasure to work with them,” comes the agreement from Thorpe, reclining in/hogging the corner of the sleazy red sofa all to himself. “It’s not so much like a business, you know? They want the best for us and we want the best for them – they respect us, and we respect them.”
That, children, is the sound of a band happy with their record label, though Hefferan is quick to mention that they have no knowledge of what life is like on the other side of the music industry – you know, the side where EMI recently lumbered along like a decaying giant, eating up undercooked acts and pooping redundant workers for a while.
“Being with Stolen is very healthy and enjoyable – they’re our friends, really, though if we were on a massive label it would be probably be alright as long as we had the same relationship. We have no experience with major labels, but I wouldn’t automatically assume that it would be terrible in comparison to how things are at the moment – the most important thing of all is having a good relationship and the freedom to make the right choices.”
The choices so far seem to be the right ones, certainly, from their early work being picked up by Steve Lamacq, who would again pledge his support for them after a storming South By Southwest set one year ago, right through to opting to head back into the studio after the album was supposedly completed in order to re-work ‘Mr Understanding’, the song which would later be chosen as the lead single and ultimately bring them some much-deserved attention from both press and radio. And so we turn our attention to Little Death, thirteen pop gems handcrafted and nurtured to completion over their past five years as a band, the debut full-length sounding like art-rock with the jagged edges sanded smooth and recorded in a fortnight or so at London’s Fortress Studios with Gareth Parton (The Go! Team, Foals, Futureheads).
Video: 'Mr Understanding'
Cue glee from Dave Thorpe: “I’m massively excited about it – it’s been such a while since we started recording it. I’m really excited to see what people make of it and what happens now.”
“I listened to the album today for the first time properly,” chips in Pete H. “They sent us a test pressing of the vinyl so I got my dad’s player out, and I came away thinking it was a good album. Personally, I’m very happy with ‘Song For Today’ – we never play it live but it sounds really good on record, though I think if you asked everyone in the band what their favourite song is you’d get different answers from each of them because it’s quite a diverse record…”
“…Saying that,” Thorpe continues, “and, well, almost going in the opposite direction, I think it’s a really cohesive album considering that it’s different people writing different songs. We don’t write as a band, but we come up with our own ideas to the songs and add our own little touches.”
“Essentially,” Hefferan summarizes, “it’s a bunch of songs from the last, well, five years or so that we still like. And even these songs are still changing – if we went in and re-recorded the album again today it’d turn out different, it’s more like a snapshot of how we were at the time.”
Of course, the past few months haven’t all been plain sailing, not least after they celebrated their triumphant set at the Reading leg of the Carling Weekend and some attention from _NME_ by breaking down on the motorway on their way to Leeds.
“It’s a shame, because it’s always good to play in play in Leeds – we played there for a leg of the Wireless Festival and it was really great – and we had such a great reception at Reading,” recounts Hefferan. “We were practically due to go on at about the same time as the arena opened, and just before we went on it was totally empty, but by the time we got onstage it was packed and everyone was cheering.”
“It was one of the biggest highlights so far, for me,” offers Thorpe. “I was so into Reading right from when I started going when I was about 12, so it meant a lot; it was like a big fourteen-hour party. With the Leeds thing, I think we were quite naïve. Up until that point we’d been doing all of our touring in a 15-year-old Nissan Micra, and somewhere around Leicester the clutch fell off on the motorway. We tried to get it towed but there was no chance we could make it – we’d have gotten there an hour after our stage time.”
“It was my birthday,” mourns Cattermoul, though given the band’s collective tour highlights – most notably playing Brixton Academy in support of Maximo Park and The Maccabees – there’s more than enough good times to negate any downsides.
“Actually,” recalls Hefferan of the venue/converted squat he used to live above, “one of my highlights was the SixNationState launch party where we played in pyjamas at the [Reading] Rising Sun Arts Centre. It’s just such a great music venue because if you play well, you sound good and if you play badly there, it’ll sound bad. The sound in general there means that no matter how good the sound man is, he can’t use any wizardry to magically give you a good sound. It’s boiling in there in the summer and it’s frozen in the winter – it’s the ultimate test of a band.”
“To be honest, I think maybe Brixton Academy was as much a feat as it was a highlight,” muses Thorpe, “but my personal highlight was the launch party for ‘Knots’ at Camden Barfly, probably almost the opposite end of the spectrum to the Academy in terms of venue size, but it was totally packed and we had our friends supporting us, Hot Silk Pockets and Let’s Wrestle, and that was as much a highlight as the Academy I think.”
And so, amidst the reminiscing, we bid farewell to the Pirates, seeing as we can’t kidnap them and keep them here forever, but not before Pete Cattermoul has a few final words to impart on their new-found lives of semi-stardom.
“I feel… [dramatic pause] …bigger somehow. Oh, and I've grown an extra toe. On the downside, none of my shoes fit me anymore.”
Little Death is in shops now, released through Stolen Recordings (review). Pete and the Pirates would also like to recommend that you also listen to the Stolen-endorsed, London-based trio Let’s Wrestle, which you can do by clicking here.Find P&TP on MySpace here. Tour dates:
21 – 23 Italian tour
25 London Astoria
28 London Puregroove in-store
15 – 20 French tour with The Kills and The Gossip
24 – 27 Dutch tour
5 Winchester Blissfields
18 + 19 Barcelona and Madrid Summercase