Birmingham’s Envy & Other Sins are a four-year-old four-piece toying with the most straightforward and immediate pop in ways their mothers probably wouldn’t wholly approve of – twisting it to fit their own uniquely styled mould, a little jangling, a little rocking, a lot of knowingly quirksome fun. It’s weirdo-beardo pop for fashionable reprobates craving a tune above tempestuous cacophony, but still demanding that much-needed edge. Their debut album, We Leave At Dawn, was released on Monday (March 31).
All ten of the album’s tracks represent the culmination of a strange period in the progression of the band, made up of Ali Forbes (vocals, guitar), Mark Lees (bass, vocals), Jim Macaulay (drums) and Jarvey Moss (keys, vocals). Last year they entered a televised Channel 4 talent contest, mobileAct Unsigned (read our DiScussion from November), assuming it’d come to nothing. It didn’t – the quartet won the show, a record deal with A&M and £60,000 advance, pipping the almost aptly-named Revenue in the final. So, fame and fortune beckons, surely? Perhaps not.
But before we get into what’s happened between band and label – or hasn’t – since Envy & Other Sins won mobileAct Unsigned, the album. Of it Jarvey, when DiS meets him and drummer Jim in a London wine bar (we’re drinking coffee and juice – it’s only just after 10 in the morning), says: “Some of the songs had been around a while, but then again we’ve been a band for almost exactly four years. Sounds like a relationship, doesn’t it? We were planning to do our own stuff this year – we had a single out at the end of 2005 (‘Prodigal Son’, review).
"We wouldn’t usually be so star struck,
but it WAS Mick Jagger."
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“We live in a little railway arch in Birmingham, and we’re set up there to record everything ourselves. So when it came to doing all this stuff (the album), we went and did it all again. We went to the Townhouse in Shepherd’s Bush – it’s quite posh, but quite appropriately our sessions heralded the death knell of the studio, as ours is the last album to be made there. The property’s been sold, and I think it’s to be converted into a church. It’s a real shame, as the studio’s history is amazing – they’ve had Led Zep and Queen there. When we were there, the most excited we got was when we saw The Rolling Stones were in, mixing that film they’ve done (Shine a Light - Ed). We saw Mick Jagger, but we didn’t speak to him.”
Jim: “It was Jarv’s birthday when we were in there, so we were egging him on to say hello – ‘He’s probably a really nice guy’. But then he’d walk in the room and we’d all put our heads down.”
Jarvey: “We wouldn’t usually be so star struck, but it WAS Mick Jagger.”
Encounters with leathery rockers summarised, to business. Jarvey leans in, closer to the Dictaphone: “It might be a good idea if we have a rant at you about some of this stuff.” And here was me dancing around the issue, the proverbial elephant in the room. Turns out seeing an elephant in the room would be as likely as the band seeing their own A&R man at A&M. Onwards.
(You might want to make a cuppa before reading - when Jarvey says he's gonna rant, he rants - Ed)
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Jarvey: We see DrownedinSound as quite important to the two of us – we’re regulars on the site – so in a funny way this is the interview we didn’t think we’d get to do. We thought that because we’d been on the telly, DrownedinSound wouldn’t touch us with a bargepole. But the way it’s all panned out, if I wasn’t involved in the process I’d be really interested to know how things went on. So there’s a loads of stuff I want to tell you, and you can decide what you want to include, if anything.
Jim: It sounds like you’re about to make some dramatic apology for your errant ways!
Jarvey: Well, yeah. I dunno… I just think it’s… Well, not that many people saw every episode, but they still leap to conclusions. A girl yesterday asked us if Channel 4 changed our sound!? Some people don’t understand, and think we’ve been put together like Hear’Say.
Jim: Even some people in the industry think that. We just did a tour with a band with session musicians, and they asked us who we’d been working with before, and if we’d been session musicians long! I was like, “Can you not see we’re rubbish?”
Jarvey: We couldn’t be session musicians even if we wanted to… It’s quite interesting that, the differences in perception and the skewed reality. It’s not unexpected, but it’s still quite frustrating. A lot of people haven’t seen the TV show, but they know we won it, so they assume a lot of things off the back of that.
So how, exactly, did you come to be on the show in the first place?
Jarvey: We got into the show by accident – one of our friends saw an advert and thought we should go for it, and all we had to do was make a little profile for ourselves. We’d forgotten about it, but then out of the blue a researcher from the show rang up and asked if we could come be in their final 50. We’d already got our plans for a self-released single, so we thought it was great – we might get on the telly, play the single, and that’ll be a great help.
Jim: We thought it might help it sell 30 copies rather than 20.
Jarvey: So we went along to the Leadmill in Sheffield, and got there to realise it was all quite big – lots of lights and cameras. We didn’t realise, quite, what we were getting into. But we were actually the first band to play, on the first day of auditions, although when they showed it they’d chopped us around a bit. So ironically we were the first band to play, and the last I guess. Anyway, there was the judging panel (Radio 1's Jo Whiley, ex-Blur bassist Alex James and A&M’s Simon Gavin), all glowing praise after we’d played – Calvin Harris was a nice chap. I’ve actually a bit of time for the man, as he’s got good opinions, but obviously Lily Allen took the column inches when she was the celebrity judge. Just for being Lily Allen.
Video: Lily Allen ticks judge Jo Whiley off on mobileAct…
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Jarvey: We then went down to London – the next two rounds were filmed in one go. There was one day, stay over, and then the second day. The first day, we did an acoustic performance – that was okay for us, but it was a bit unfair on the electronic bands. The next day we had to spend the whole time at this house, where we were all given contracts to sign and this sort of stuff. This is where it all started getting a bit funny.
They had a ‘beauty parade’ of music lawyers, pitching their services – you didn’t get to choose who was to represent you, and obviously labels would normally pay the cost of having a lawyer but that was the first thing where we were like, “Hang on, don’t we get to choose our lawyer?” We’ve been a band for four years and have our own lawyer – the only people you can get held of in this business is lawyers, as they don’t have to do anything most of the time and when they do they make money, so it’s actually pretty easy to get a lawyer. So we got some retard woman… she’s not a retard because she’s a woman, but she’d come straight from polo, wearing a polo shirt saying “It’ll all be fine, don’t worry, I’ll sort it out”. This other guy had never been asked to negotiate 19 contracts in one day, with nobody having seen it – he said the whole thing seemed pretty unrealistic, so we thought he knew what he was on about. But when it came down to it the woman was chosen. The next day we had two hours to go over the contracts, and we found a load of stuff and went to the lawyer with our concerns. “What about this, what about this?” And this was the record deal! Nineteen bands, at this stage, had to sign this deal, and then the label had the option to activate them – it prevented other labels coming in, yeah. That’s why we couldn’t release our own single for a certain amount of time, three months. That said, we’ve not been given a new contract.
Jim: If there’s a Behind the Music on our band in the future, this’ll be the bit where the narrator says: “This is where they really fucked up.”
Jarvey: They gave everyone this contracts. Everyone signed them – (fellow mobileAct band) Hijack Oscar were dubious, but eventually they signed it, but we wouldn’t sign ours as there were many things we were unhappy with. Like, they wanted the winners to record a version of the show’s theme tune, to be a b-side. We flat-out didn’t want to do that – we’d not heard it at that stage, but you knew it’d be awful. The lawyer turned her phone off, so we couldn’t get hold of her on the day that 19 of her bands had to sign this contract. So we sat in this place, and they did some incredibly dubious stuff. The makers said they wouldn’t film until the bands sign – they put all the bands that did sign in the house and gave them lunch, while we were left outside, in the cold. We were phoning Universal’s lawyers saying what we weren’t happy with; their advice was to use a pencil and cross out the bits we didn’t like, and then sign it. We did that…
Jim: And that’s the second point on Behind the Music…
Jarvey: But as far as we thought, we weren’t going to win, but we wanted the publicity to be able to do our own things. So we didn’t want the three months with no release thing, but we took it. We signed with reservations, but now that is our deal, not that we’ve seen it since. Although we think we signed our names in the wrong places, so it’s probably not legally binding. After we’d done all of that shit we had to go have an interview with the judges, and now you can understand why they thought we were disinterested.
Jim: Everyone else had fallen out with us because we were the twats who wouldn’t sign the contract!
"I’m going to have to come out (on the DiS boards) I suppose – I’ve never mentioned I’m in this band. I like coming on for a chat and an argue, without them saying, 'You’re in Envy & Other Sins, so what do you know?'"
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Jarvey: Things weren’t great. The judges asked us some questions, and we weren’t scintillating. But as you can tell, we’re not that scintillating at the best of times! So they kicked us out – we didn’t seem committed – and we thought fair enough. So that was that, done and dusted. We were a bit pissed off as we’d done our acoustic slot but when they broadcast it a few weeks later they didn’t show any of it at all. They made a follow-up show and a researcher called up and told me our acoustic performance was really good! But they didn’t use it at the time. So we were pissed off for being booted out, but it was slightly justified. A bit later on there was this vote-back stuff – I don’t think the makers knew what the format was meant to be, and we certainly didn’t know.
Jim: I think they were re-jigging the programme as they went along as they were concerned people were not connecting with it. They needed to pull people in, and encourage more people to visit their website.
Jarvey: You’d have thought, since it was sponsored by two mobile phone companies (Sony Ericsson and Orange), that it’d have been a text vote… although that might have been because of the vote-rigging stuff that was happening at the time. The voting all got very complicated though – we didn’t wholly understand it – but they’d worked one out for eight bands who’d been kicked out to play again for the judges, four of the bands. We told all our MySpace friends that was happening, and we had to come back to London. We did wonder whether it was worth bothering, as we’d have to take time off work and lose money to be there, although they did refund the expenses. But we came down, and were sitting there thinking we hadn’t bothered.
Jim: Sitting on a sofa with a camera on your face, about to be told you’re shit… again. I love TV, me.
Jarvey: But we did get to play, and we played the single we were going to release, ‘Man Bites God’.
Jim: We got the chance to play our single two weeks before it was meant to be released, so that was really good.
Jarvey: So we played it, and the judges were really good and wondered why they’d kicked us out in the first place! We got reinstated, and then we had to play a cover. So by this point we’d played two of our songs, and nobody had seen the first episode anyway. Basically nobody had a clue who we were. We chose a cover, even though it’s meant to be about playing your own song – we did ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, and now The Feeling have done it. Great band, I love The Feeling. There’s definitely a need for them in the music industry.
Video: Envy & Other Sins’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’
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Wait a minute… you toured with The Hoosiers! I can’t have you badmouthing The Feeling when you’re on the road with The Hoosiers…
Jarvey: Yes, we did do some dates with The Hoosiers, but cynically speaking, when we were talking about who it would be good for us to tour with, playing with them meant we played to thousands of 14 year olds, and that was great for us. But that band are lovely, and they’re better than The Feeling. It’s not as if dissing bands on DrownedinSound doesn’t happen, anyway! Although I’m pretty diplomatic myself. I’m going to have to come out (on the DiS boards) I suppose – I’ve never mentioned I’m in this band. I like coming on for a chat and an argue, without them saying, “You’re in Envy & Other Sins, so what do you know?” Where did we get to? Can’t remember.
You won the show.
Jarvey: We won, anyway, and that was very surprising, but since then it’s been really interesting. We’re pretty cynical anyway, and pretty much all of our cynicism has been rewarded with reality that matches it.
Jarvey: The TV show said a one million pound deal, and a 60 grand advance, which is what we’ve got. The advance. Although we’ve not actually had it all. But when there’re four of you and a manager, that’s not very much – it’s a pay rise for me, but with so many costs it’s not a lot of money. And in theory it needs to be paid back, but only if you’re selling records, which at the moment isn’t looking likely. We’re okay with that though.
At the end of January we went into pre-production with Danton Supple, who did Coldplay’s last album. He really got where we were coming from. He’s got some great stories, too. We spent a week with him, playing through the album – we knew what songs we wanted on it, and we’d recorded lots already. Which was lucky for A&M, really, as they’d not planned anything. They’d scheduled the album to come out on March 3, but for the recording to finish on February 29. So that’s four days to produce it and manufacture it, and get it to shops.
Jim: It was amazing.
"We’re being crucified for being on the show, and now we’re not able to get the press that might salvage that."
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Jarvey: We don’t know a lot, but we know how long these things take to make! So Danton went in and had a meeting, asking for the release date to go back. And it has, but only to the end of March (it’s out now – Ed) because of some Sony Ericsson thing… I told you I was going to rant! So we went in with everything done, five weeks to record, mix and master – we finished mastering and drove to Leicester for a gig. But it’s all done, and we’re really pleased with it. But we were beginning to get a bit worried about a few things – we’d never seen Simon Gavin, our A&R man who was on the show, without cameras being there, and we still haven’t. We’ve made an album, but they didn’t know what songs were going on it. In a way that’s a good thing – we were left to ourselves, despite being on a major label. We thought there would be interference, but they didn’t bother us at all. In a way that was really good, but there were intonations from that – perhaps we should be worrying about things.
We worked our arses off, but there was no involvement at all from our label, and the way we’re spinning this is that we’re still D.I.Y. but they’ve given us money to get out of our day jobs. Which is good – we’re quite anal, and we probably would have disagreed with the things they might have done; the couple of things they did do, they did wrong. It wasn’t the end of the world, but now it’s coming out and there’s no press.
Jim: The way they’ve scheduled the release, despite the fact we were on schedule for everything, we’ve missed the press deadlines.
Jarvey: So we won’t get any press.
Jim: They can’t even say it’s shit.
Jarvey: Well, they probably can. We knew this TV show was going to fuck us up a bit in reviews. The NME reviewed the single, ‘Highness’, and they didn’t mention the song at all – not that it’s a particularly NME song, we’re not The Ting Tings – but they did this woefully inaccurate review saying something like: “Did you see Envy & Other Sins on the TV, begging for a record deal?” So now the 15 people that read the NME are going to think that’s how it happened. We’re being crucified for being on the show, and now we’re not able to get the press that might salvage that. Danton went into the label and told them he didn’t think they understood what they’d signed – they could have a big band on their hands with us. The problem is that they never chose us, so there’s nobody fighting our corner.
Jim: We’re not a million miles away, profile wise, from where we were six months ago. The only thing that has changed is that we’re doing this full time, which is brilliant. A lot of the terrible things that have happened were sort of inevitable. You get involved with something with that many corporate sponsors, or a size, you know you’re going to get a bit of trouble.
Get any free phones though?
Jim: My free phones are going on eBay next week.
Jarvey: I got five in the end, ‘cause most didn’t work.
Video: ‘Highness’, from We Leave At Dawn
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Jarvey: This sort of thing is going to happen more. For DrownedinSound’ers who are in bands doing what we’ve been doing, they’re probably now where we were three months ago. There will be more things along these lines, albeit without a record deal as a prize probably. I’m surprised more labels don’t use them, battle of the bands on varying scales, as they can save them a lot of hassle. It’s relevant to unsigned bands who are quite well organised – it doesn’t matter if you’re that good, but if you can motivate a fanbase to vote you will progress over bands who might be better than you. I suppose it’s always been a bit like that, if you get off your arses more will happen for you, but it’s more direct now. And this corporate involvement – we ended up doing the b-side, even though we deleted it on the contract we’ve not seen since we signed it. It doesn’t matter – we’re completely hogtied because the label can say, “Let’s go to court”. But we haven’t the money to do that – we might win, after a year in court, and get our costs back. But what have we been doing in that year? Not touring.
So you have to bend over and take it, you don’t have a choice. I see loads of stuff on DrownedinSound saying “Stick it to the man”, but you just can’t. This was a really big deal to us – we didn’t want to record the b-side – but if we didn’t there would be no single, and no album.
We weren’t surprised because we’ve been expecting a lot of this, but we’re still disappointed. We’ve sat here and hardly talked about music at all, but the music’s there to listen to and hopefully you’ll like it – we’re really passionate about it. But if you’re not aware of this other stuff you will get fucked over. Other bands need to be aware of that. The show is our story still, and we accept that’s the first thing people know about us, but we need to transcend that. It’s frustrating for us, because if it doesn’t work, which is possible because we’ve very limited promotion, there will be all sorts of gloating if we get dropped from this major label. But it isn’t quite that simple.
"Think what you think about how we’ve gone about it – we’ve sucked a lot of corporate cock – but at the end of the day we’ve got our album out."
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Jim: Because of how it’s all working out we’ve had a meeting between us. The label doesn’t seem interested so we’re looking to push forward, and get to people we respect who might actually listen to it. Think what you think about how we’ve gone about it – we’ve sucked a lot of corporate cock – but at the end of the day we’ve got our album out. If you still don’t like it, fine.
Jarvey: We always knew that, but we thought the reviews would bury the TV show thing, that it’s about the music. But because of the corporate side of it that won’t present itself, so we’re fucked already. We’re trying to keep the small amount of money we’ve got as long as possible so we can tour as long as possible and play to as many people as possible. We’re basically doing an indie release, but the perception is that it’s a major one, which makes things much harder for us. We’re immediately on the back foot. I’ve been indier-than-thou on the DiS boards, but I would challenge anyone to have done this any differently. When you are unsigned it’s about how you tour properly, and find the time to do the music. We didn’t have a life with work and the band, but we couldn’t take the next step to having enough money to do it full time. You have to be business like whatever your approach to the art – if you can’t do that you can’t do the art. The majors won’t die because they buy your time for you – they buy you out of your job and let you concentrate on the music. There’s no other way to do that, still. You have to go that way.
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Dead end reached, time’s called on our conversation and DiS bids the duo a fond farewell, a personable pair indeed. Judge Envy & Other Sins’ success on a musical level for yourself by either investing in We Leave At Dawn – review to run next week on DiS – or clicking through to the band’s MySpace. They tour this month:
4 Oxford Academy
6 Shrewsbury B-Side @ The Albert
7 Hitchin Club 85
8 Southampton Joiners
9 Tunbridge Wells The Forum
10 Wolverhampton Little Civic
12 Cardiff Barfly
13 Nottingham Bodega
14 Cambridge Barfly
15 London Bush Hall
16 Brighton Barfly
18 Stoke Sugarmill
19 Wrexham Central Station
21 York Fibbers
23 Newcastle Cluny
24 Aberdeen Moshulu
26 Edinburgh The Hive
27 Leeds Cockpit
28 Liverpool Academy
29 Birmingham Barfly