"We don't want people at our shows who are more interested in checking each other's shoes out": DiS
Flats have been making an incendiary racket across London for the past twelve months with their back-to-basics approach to punk rock. Formed barely a year ago, the four-piece of Dan Devine (vocals), Craig Pierce (bass), Luke Tristram (guitars) and Samir Eskanda (drums) may not have played more than a handful of shows outside the capital, yet they've already divided opinion on whether they're a refreshing alternative to corporate 21st Century punk or a bunch of well connected chancers looking for a leg-up into the music industry.
Having witnessed the band a couple of times last year, not to mention being the proud owner of their two extremely limited seven inch singles, this writer errs on the side of the former. Now, with a deal freshly inked to One Little Indian Records and another single due out this month ('Never Again'), Flats are currently coming towards the end of their first headline tour of the UK.
DiS is sat in the beer garden of Nottingham's Bodega post-soundcheck with singer Dan Devine and drummer Samir Eskanda, and for a band still in its infancy, there's no holding back from the opinionated duo.
DiS: Tonight is your second visit to Nottingham after you played here on the NME Radar tour last September. Unfortunately you were on stage far too early that evening.
Dan: It was a bit weird to be honest. All the other bands on that tour are good bands, especially Chapel Club. We like them a lot, funny boys! As far as the tour went I think it's fair to say most people weren't there to see us.
Samir: I think we won a few people over at most of the shows.
Dan: We did get people coming up to us at the end of our set saying they really liked what we were doing. The big problem for us was that some of the bands wanted long soundchecks which meant we didn't get one at most of the shows and had to go on at a ridiculously early time.
DiS: This is your first national headline tour. How have the shows been so far and do you think people in the provinces outside London will be as receptive to your music as they are when you play in the capital?
Samir: We hope so. There are no real expectations from us but it would be nice to see people getting into it and jumping all over the place.
Dan: You never know what's going to happen.
Samir: It would be nice to be able to put some kind of disclaimer on the door that people can't come in unless they're going to get involved in the show in some way. We've got quite a loyal following in London which I guess is to be expected having played most of our shows there, but it is good when you're up on stage seeing people pushing to the front and generally moshing around to the music.
Dan: We don't want people at our shows who are more interested in checking each other's shoes out.
Samir: Yeah, people who don't want to get sweaty in case it ruins their clothes.
DiS: It's beeen quite apparent from the previous times I've seen the band. Your show at Offset saw a lot of audience participation whereas the one at In The City a couple of months later, although the performance was excellent, didn't seem to be as well received.
Dan: I don't know if it's a north versus south thing. I just think the type of music we're making will only suit a certain type of person. The music we make will never be described as being music for the masses. I never have any intention of making music for the masses. I don't consider myself part of the masses and I'm not about to start catering for them. The people who are into it are who I'm writing the songs for. I don't give a shit about everyone else, just those that have the same influences and inspirations as me.
DiS: You've been compared to a lot of bands from the early 1980s UK squat punk scene, people like Crass, Discharge and Amebix. Were these very influential in the formation of Flats?
Dan: Yeah, definitely. Amebix especially are one of my favourite bands of all time. I think they were one of the first bands to cross punk and metal successfully, and I think that's where we're coming from. We're not trying to do it in the same way they did. I think there's was more about punk and thrash, whereas we're influenced by all different types of metal.
DiS: A lot of those bands were also quite politically motivated. Do you see yourselves heading in a similar direction?
Dan: Not really. I don't want this band to be about politics. I think back then the idea of fusing political statements with extreme music was more relevant, whereas nowadays I think bands that use politics in their music are being quite cynical in marketing their music to a wider demographic. Coldplay for example.
Samir: Coldplay's motivation appears to be hate racism, love everyone else especially us! Does a band need the lyrics to be political for other people to perceive that they have a political message within their music? Surely if you hear a band like us compared to everything else that's on the radio then it doesn't take much interpretation to understand we're not really coming from the same place as all those other bands? We're not directly political and probably never will be but I think what we're saying and how we communicate it is more relevant now than it would have been maybe five or ten years ago.
Dan: Lyrically I write about my personal angers. I guess a lot of that could be because of all the shit that's happening around me, so there is a kind of political motivation to what we do, but...
Samir: ...but you're not going to get a song about Vince Cable from us either!
DiS: A song like your new single 'Never Again' for example. Aside from sharing a title with one of Discharge's best known songs, what was the motivation behind the lyrics?
Dan: 'Never Again' I can't really say what it's about otherwise someone may get pretty upset...it definitely is about something that happened, let's just leave it at that!
DiS: You've made no secret of your disdain for bands in thrall to post-punk as well as the likes of Paul Weller and Pete Townshend. Do you see Flats as being about trying to reclaim the true spirit of punk rather than the marketable version?
Dan: Yeah, I sincerely hope so. I've had a lot of people tell us that we come across as being quite genuine in our interpretation of punk. I care more about things like that than getting played on Radio One. The fact you've got forty-year-old blokes who were there the first time around coming to our shows saying they can feel it's genuine justifies to me why I'm in this band. I started Flats because what I was interested in wasn't being catered for. The type of music I wanted I just wasn't hearing. The intent of that music as well wasn't being conveyed by any current band I can think of.
DiS: Do you think there is a lack of integrity in a lot of modern day music?
Dan: Yeah without a doubt. I don't see any other bands around at this moment in time that exist for any other purpose than to just be in a band and play the whole industry game. Twenty years ago there were a whole heap of bands that refused to be part of the game, conform for radio or speak to the press or anything.
Samir: They still managed to build careers in a way. Take the whole Anarcho scene for example. It was very insular yet those bands could travel to pretty much any city in the UK and sell out shows in 250-500 capacity venues via word of mouth without any publicity whatsoever.
Dan: It's true. You see a lot of bands currently getting hyped in publications like the NME yet when they go on tour they're actually playing to no more than thirty people every night. Yet these bands who probably released no more than two seven-inch singles over a three year career could play to ten times that amount every night for a month or whatever.
DiS: Do you see Flats as having a long term career in the music business, if that's right turn of phrase?
Dan: Yeah, I mean it is a career at the end of the day.
Samir: The word "careerist" is something people always turn their noses up at. Having spent a lot of time around other bands and musicians, it really grates on me when people start saying things like "Just wait until you hear what we've got planned for the second album" before they've even released the first. It's like, what if no one wants to hear your songs? I believe you should wait for the opportunity to come along if you're fortunate enough to get one.
Dan: It's true. It's like when people use the phrase "selling out". We're just trying to sell records, and if anyone wants our songs why shouldn't we let them have it? We don't get paid for what we do.
Samir: Musicians and artists in general are so badly rewarded for what they do. If there weren't so many unpaid musicians a lot of genuinely creative music wouldn't exist. I've always been a big believer that bands should be rewarded for what they do, but in the real world there also needs to be some kind of demand, and that's why we have no expectations.
DiS: It's almost turned full circle now though with Steve Ignorant touring Crass songs with a bunch of session musicians in venues like the 02 Academy in Shepherd's Bush. Do you think that devalues what the band were all about, bearing in mind the other members of Crass refusing to be involved in and publicly denouncing such a project?
Dan: When I heard about that I wasn't particularly impressed, and then I saw videos of it on You Tube I was totally unimpressed.
Samir: It wasn't as bad as Peter Hook doing Joy Division with Rowetta on vocals.
Dan: They were playing a different venue at the same time as us during last year's 1-2-3-4 Festival and I remember thinking "Shit, no one's gonna bother watching us" and then about five minutes into our set people started pouring into the room.
Samir: Basically, we spoke to a few of them after and they said they'd watched the first couple of songs, realised how bad it was and left!
DiS: Most of your earlier songs clock in at under two minutes, some not even hitting the sixty second mark, whereas your new single breaks the two and a half minute mark. Was it your intention to announce yourselves via short sharp musical shocks such as 'Flats Waltz' and 'Rat Trap' or is it purely about the band's development as songwriters?
Samir: The b-side 'Isolation Chamber' is actually three and a half minutes long!
Dan: We're definitely improving as songwriters. For the album, we could have easily wrote twenty songs that are about a minute and a half long, but then what's the point? They'd only sound the same with the one riff being repeated and variated over twenty songs.
Samir: I don't think we've ever repeated ourselves so far and we've put out a surprising amount of songs in such a short space of time. We've only released two EPs yet already that's ten original compositions across both of them, plus the 'Mucky Pup' cover.
Dan: For the album we've got ten songs ready and then ten more in the pipeline. We're aiming for a fifteen-sixteen track album plus maybe another couple of EPs in the meantime.
DiS: Will any of the single or EP tracks be on the album?
Dan: No, definitely not. We don't want to re-release anything. I hate bands that do that.
DiS: When are you hoping to release the album?
Dan: Hopefully September.
DiS: You've recently signed to One Little Indian, which is run by Derek Birkett, the former bass player from Flux Of Pink Indians, another of the bands linked to the original squat punk scene. Are you fans of the band and did that have any influence on your decision to sign with the label?
Dan: That was a major sway for us. We needed someone to master our last EP and we called him up and asked him. He couldn't do it so put us onto another guy that recorded some of the Crass stuff, but then he came back to us afterwards and asked if we wanted to do an album with him instead.
Samir: I remember getting the email about it from Dan. When I saw that One Little Indian wanted to put an album out I thought Dan was playing a practical joke or something!
Dan: He's also a really genuine person. You get a lot of these major record executives and even guys that run independent labels and they'll turn up to the show giving it the big one and ordering champagne whereas Derek will just turn up, stand at the back in a cheap hoodie and trainers, came up at the end and say hello then just fucks off! I've far more respect for that than people that pretend to be something they're not.
Samir: He's obviously good at his job otherwise the label wouldn't have been around for as long as it has or gained such a high level of respect either.
Dan: He's just a massive music fan and so are we. Before I had any contact with them I remember buying the Dan Sartain album when I was sixteen.
Samir: He released Benjamin Zephaniah as well.
Dan: I saw him when I was about fifteen! I remember it was on my birthday, because me and my friends brought in loads of hash cookies for this school trip.
DiS: You all met through putting on various gigs and club nights in and around London. Do you see the band as kind of like an extension of what you were doing back then?
Samir: I suppose it could be. We were all involved in grass roots promotion for a long time. I'd been in another band (Blue On Blue) and we'd just moved into this studio on Cambridge Street. I'd never met Dan Devine before or heard him DJ. I remember the first time I met him thinking he only looked about fifteen!
Dan: That's a compliment. Most people think I look about fucking ten!
Samir: I was the same really. I think my previous band were coming to the end of their time so it seemed the right thing to get involved with, and I haven't looked back since.
Dan: The funny thing is, everyone says I've aged about four years since I started Flats, so I don't know what that says about the lifestyle of this band!
Samir: Looking back I remember watching the cricket down the pub one day with Craig (Pierce) and he turned round to me and said Dan thinks we should give the band a serious go so I'm giving my job up at the BBC and I replied "Let's do it!"
Dan: It took us about six weeks to get anywhere in terms of writing our first song but luckily with Samir still having that practice room on Cambridge Street it gave us the time to get the band off the ground.
Samir: I can't underestimate how important that free rehearsal space was to the formation of this band. We were all skint at the time and the fact that was available meant we could go and practice whenever we wanted. I think if that hadn't been there this band may not be what it is today.
Dan: We're still skint to be honest. We might have money from the label but I think I'm more broke now than what I was DJing and putting nights on. At least then I was signing on and getting my rent paid by the council.
DiS: You've just been confirmed as one of the main supports alongside Brother on the forthcoming Morrissey tour. How did that come about?
Dan: I love it! We're all massive Smiths fans. We're in two minds about how it will go down. I'm pretty sure everyone's going to hate us. From the look of it we're playing seated arenas so that could also be quite entertaining!
Samir: At least we're playing remote parts of Scotland where people may not have seen anything like us before so they might start going mental and ripping the seats out...
Dan:...then Brother will come on and everyone will fuck off!
DiS: Your first EP and early live shows featured a cover of Puncture's 'Mucky Pup', perhaps better known courtesy of The Exploited's version on 1981's Punk's Not Dead album. Which version do you prefer and why?
Dan: Puncture's, definitely. I do like The Exploited's music although I don't like a lot of what they stood for. I don't like what they represent. They became poster boys for what people thought punk was all about. Pink mohicans and studded leather jackets and bondage trousers on seaside postcards. I mean, I've got a jacket with loads of badges and patches on but that's because I think it looks good not because it's meant to be part of the punk uniform. Whenever I go into Camden and see punks there you can tell they were living the dream when they were fifteen and probably watched The Exploited back then, got into cheap speed and mindless violence and pissing off their parents, then started drinking Special Brew and moved down to Camden and stayed there ever since. That's not what punk's about to me.
DiS: It's the same with the modern day American version of punk though surely, which is perceived to be all about Green Day, Blink 182 and a million and one bad copyists.
Dan: We have absolutely nothing in common with any of that, and the minute anyone links us to anything like that I'll split the band.
DiS: It's been well documented that you're fairly well connected in the music business, with Alan McGee being Dan's father and Klaxons' Jamie Reynolds producing the first EP. Do you think it's important for any band starting out to have connections in order to get themselves recognised?
Dan: If Jamie hadn't helped us from the start we wouldn't be where we are today. Jamie's been a good friend for a long time, way before we started the band. Alan has nothing to do with me. I spent about eighteen months of my life with him from when I was seventeen. We haven't spoken in years.
Samir: The only time we really talk about him is when we get asked about it in interviews.
Dan: I've got no problem with people asking about him but what I don't like is when people ignore what I say and then put that we're best friends in the article. That's not how it is. I'm not going to pretend that we have this great father-son relationship. We don't have a relationship. We don't speak. He's never heard the band as far as I'm aware.
Samir: Someone told me that they read an interview with him recently where he was asked about Flats and his reply was that he knew nothing about the band.
Dan: To be honest, his taste in music has no influence on me whatsoever and I think if he was into it we'd be doing something wrong.
Samir: As far as making connections is concerned, I'd advise any aspiring musician to get your face out there as much as possible, and make people know who you are. It's alright sitting in your room crafting this incredible music thinking someone will hear it one day when the stark reality is that by doing such a thing you won't ever get anywhere.
Dan: While punk in its truest sense supposedly wants to cut through the bullshit and bypass the whole business sense of making music, the fact is that none of those bands from the first wave and beyond would have got where they are if they hadn't made connections, and I guess we're no different. Loog Records put out our first single, and I got to know them two years earlier by having a job interview with them as a scout. I'm not going to pretend that if that hadn't happened they'd have put our record out anyway, because they quite possibly wouldn't have done.
DiS: So, are there any other bands you'd recommend that are making a similar kind of music you can relate to at the minute?
Dan: No, not really.
Samir: There's a band called Sunsmasher that came to our show in Glasgow and we got chatting afterwards, checked them out online and they sound quite interesting.
Dan: They're nice guys actually. We've got them a slot at the Friends Of Mine Festival which we're playing at. I think they're the only band on that bill who we're suited to.
Samir: We are music fans, and there are lots of bands in London that we do like. A lot of them probably have nothing in common with us whatsoever. People like Trash Kit who I really love, Bo Ningen as well. Electricity In Our Homes we really like too.
Dan: Chapter Sweetheart as well. Musically they sound nothing like us. The last time I saw them they reminded me of The Make-Up or Nation Of Ulysses, but what's great is that every time I see them they sound as if they've just gone out and bought an entire new record collection. I was speaking to their guitarist the other day and I think we both agreed that as great as that is, it will probably go against them in terms of media coverage because they're literally impossible to pigeonhole into any one scene or genre.
DiS: How many other festivals are you doing this year?
Dan: If anyone wants to book us get in touch via our MySpace!
Samir: Camden Crawl is confirmed. We'd love to play in Europe, although I don't think we'll be able to afford a European tour this year. We were booked to play New York as well but had to pull out for various reasons.
Dan: Visas and money basically.
Samir: It's incredibly expensive for a band to fly out to the States. I'm not sure whether anyone can justify dropping several thousands of pounds on a five day excursion for us to be honest. As soon as you sign a deal, the more in debt you are and the harder you have to work as a result.
For more information on Flats visit their MySpace.