The backwaters of Stockton-on-Tees and Middlesbrough would be about as unconventional as it gets when discussing prospective musical scenes. Yet, in the case of locally based five-piece The Chapman Family, they've pretty much single-handedly ensured the North East's contribution to refreshingly creative music extends beyond the more renowned gritty terrains of Newcastle.
Having initially formed as a four-piece in 2006, their early demos and intense live performances quickly brought them to the attention of (firstly) Leeds imprint Dance To The Radio, and then the harsher confines of the capital's notoriously fickle music press. Built up, knocked down and spat out at various intervals, it's been a consistent struggle for The Chapman Family, but one that finally paid dividends earlier this year with the release of excellent long player Burn Your Town.
Nevertheless, turbulence is never far away from their door, and after having played rapturous sets at this summer's Camden Crawl and Bestival among others, the departure of founder members Phil (drums) and Paul (guitars - they don't do surnames other than Chapman) left fellow original frontman and songwriter-in-chief Kingsley (guitars) and bass player Pop with a bit of a dilemma. Now, with the former guitarist moving to keyboards and the one-time bassist assuming the mantle of lead guitarist, additional members Kevin (guitar), Scott (drums) and Owen (bass) make up the current five-piece Chapman Family.
With a band in place, November saw them embark on their biggest headline tour for nearly two years. They decided to cut out the agents and tour managers too, choosing instead to do everything themselves, including choosing to play venues outside of the normal circuit (and in some cases far off the beaten track...). DiS found itself sat in the car park with Kingsley and Pop at one of these aforementioned shows at The Greyhound in the Nottingham suburb of Beeston, where later they'll play arguably the most ferocious half hour's worth of music its regular clientele has ever witnessed.
Smalltalk out of the way, let the conversation begin...
DiS: The last time I saw you guys was on the bandstand at Bestival. I remember thinking at the time it seemed a strange stage for The Chapman Family to be playing, particularly in relation to the rest of the line-up?
Kingsley: I don't remember too much about that show as I was collapsed at the back of the stage afterwards!
Pop: It was a weird stage. When we got asked to do it I pitched it to the rest of the band because I'd read on the Bestival website about the "legendary bandstand". I imagined it being quite small but still like a normal stage. I had no idea it would be this weird, circular-shaped, eclectic outdoor stage.
DiS: When I saw the rest of the bill on the day you played, I said to the people I was with that the promoters obviously hadn't heard your music and had just seen the name "The Chapman Family" and assumed you were a Mumford & Sons type band as the rest of the line-up seemed to consist of acoustic folk acts!
Kingsley: That's happened to us a few times before anyway! People have genuinely booked us thinking we were Chapel Club, which is nice because they give us quite a lot of money, only to realise as soon as we turn up that we aren't fucking Chapel Club! Then there was this festival we played at - Beach Breaks in South Wales - and we were dumped on at 1pm on a Sunday afternoon straight after a local battle of the bands winner who was doing acoustic folk and before some guy whose name escapes me playing Seasick Steve style Americana!
Pop: Considering the day before was all indie and rock bands like White Lies and We Are Scientists then we got put on a day when the headliner was Newton Faulkner tells you all you need to know!
Kingsley: You do wonder whether promoters even bother to read the band's biog let alone actually listen to our music!
DiS: So much for promoters who just book package deals through one agent.
Kingsley: It is pretty shit to be honest...
Kingsley: ...but unfortunately that's how these things seem to work. As they say on The League Of Gentlemen, it's a shit business.
DiS: 2011 seems to have been a bit of a rollercoaster year for the band so far.
Pop: It's been very up and down to be honest. It's been quite a weird year if anything. At the start of 2011 we finally released our album, and then we did a couple of support tours with O Children and The Joy Formidable plus a few festivals, so this is actually our first set of nationwide headline dates since 2009. Because we've arranged this whole tour on our own, it's kind of surreal to be back on the toilet circuit doing these small shows. You'd think by now after what we'd achieved in 2009 that we would be playing bigger venues, yet for some reason, as with other aspects of our career, touring seems to have been left by the wayside. Me and Kingsley have been especially annoyed about that, because touring is the main reason this band started in the first place. It's where we get to play and meet new people. It's what we're best at and what the band's meant to be.
Kingsley: When we started the band it was primarily to go on tour. I've always wanted to do gigs, so I can't quite understand not doing gigs, because it's the best way of getting people to hear our music. When I dreamed of this as a kid all I wanted to do was play live, and then make records, and ultimately, play bigger and better gigs, y'know? Yet in reality it doesn't always work like that. It's just a minefield of contractual obligations and red tape.
Pop: I think our management have always had our best interests at heart, yet because of the way the music industry has changed over the past three or four years no one really knows the best way to get a band out there. Is it to do loads of gigs or is it to not do any at all so that the demand is so great for when they do play that loads of people turn up and all the press go mental for it? No one seems to really know which way to go about it and I think we've ended up being trapped in the middle where they've tried both approaches without ever really settling for one thing, so I think finally now me and Kingsley have started being a bit more hands on with our management and taking some of the control back like we used to have.
Kingsley: We used to do everything ourselves. I used to do the MySpace page, Pop helps out on Facebook. We would be the ones getting in touch with promoters and venues, and when you're a new band 99 times out of 100 people would knock you back or in some cases, not bother getting in touch at all, but you've got to keep plugging away and trying. Eventually something comes through, someone will believe in you. This tour we've set up ourselves without any agents....
Pop: ...Via Twitter and Facebook. We just wanted to play for people who are friends or who've wanted to put us on in the past but then tried to go through the agent and maybe not been successful. This has just allowed us to be hands on and pick the gigs we wanted to do.
Kingsley: At the end of the day we just want to be pro-active. We had the album out when we were doing those support tours, but I wanted us to be out there constantly because it feels like you're actually in a band whereas being sat at home on the computer makes us feel more like a marketing machine.
Pop: We've always admired bands like Pulled Apart By Horses because they seem to be constantly on the road touring. They've a full-on DIY aesthetic and played to everyone, and just never stopped. The recordings and business side of things seems to be a secondary thought to them. Their whole ethos is just about gigging and that's what we've always wanted to do. Unfortunately, I think we've been a little bit naive in passing a lot of the control over to our managers assuming that they would be able to move us on from where we were. Because of the way the industry is going it's not worked out for the best, so now we've asked them to ease off a little bit so we can have more responsibility over our live shows, more responsibility over our recordings, and just really get back on track to where we used to be. So far I think it's working quite well in terms of the live shows because a lot of the promoters we're playing for on this tour are people we've built good relationships with in the past. It just allows us to go out there and enjoy it. We're driving ourselves around. We haven't got any drivers or soundmen or tour managers telling us what to do; we're just doing it all ourselves and it almost feels like when I first joined the band in that it's an exciting pastime again rather than a drudging job.
DiS: How would you describe the relationship between you and your management?
Kingsley: It's good, it really is. We don't want to give out the impression we're slagging them off because we're not.
Pop: There have been little arguments here and there as with any other relationship, but we get on really well with our management in general. I think we've been quite lucky in that with our managers, it was a case of them coming to us rather than the other way round. They saw us at a gig in London and originally the plan was for them to just put a single out for us on their label (Electric Toaster), but after 'Virgins' came out they asked if they could manage us as well, so it sort of went from them being fans of the band to eventually being our managers, which is a really good relationship to be in. I'd rather have a manager who has already bought into the band and genuinely enjoys us than someone that just sees us as a business opportunity.
DiS: How are you managing to fund the tour? Tonight's show for example is one of many that is free admission to the public.
Kingsley: If the van's paid for and the petrol's paid for then the next step is to make enough money to pay for a single Travelodge room! Have you ever tried sleeping five people in a single room? If you book a Travelodge room far enough in advance you can get them for half price or less so I've had some for as little as £15.
Pop: The rooms have resembled something like a refugee camp some mornings! Five blokes fighting for floorspace in a tiny room, it's almost like a Victorian one-up, one-down. Us lot just scattered around the room under duvets and stuff!
Kingsley: I think that's what surprised our management. They weren't expecting us to be able to book anything, but as I said before, we'd already been doing this kind of thing for the first two years of the band's existence.
DiS: It must be difficult to break even though, especially with so many overheads to cover?
Kingsley: Believe it or not we're actually in profit, albeit by a very small amount of money. We've lowered our fees quite a lot because we're not paying bookers or agents, but before we started we worked out the bottom line of what the tour would cost us, and then approached several promoters honestly by telling them it was a DIY tour, told them what the minimal lowest fee we could accept would be and basically asked them to be honest with us if there was no way they felt they could match it. Fortunately, everyone we've worked with on this tour so far has been excellent, better than a lot of those at some of the bigger, more established venues we've played at even.
Pop: There's been a couple of shows where we've taken a bit less, because the costs have balanced out or the promoter has been a fan and put on a DIY gig themselves just to have us play their town. It's happened a couple of times where they've just given us whatever they've made on the door. To be honest, we're just glad to be playing for people that want to see us. I think me and Kingsley would have been quite happy to put in a couple of hundred quid each ourselves. I'd rather be out playing places like this to people who care than going on tour with another Joy Formidable, which was brilliant for us, but at the same time difficult because ultimately it wasn't our crowd. It's better to play a small gig to people who know and like the band rather than a big show to a thousand people that don't.
Kingsley: I don't want us to be sat on our arses all the time. Over the summer it felt like we were doing nothing a lot of the time, and as I've said earlier, I don't think being in a band should be about that, especially in this current social and economic climate. It's just wrong.
DiS: In the current climate with regards to the music industry it's imperative for bands to be out touring as much as possible, surely?
Kingsley: Even the bigger bands aren't selling as many records or making as much money as they were a few years ago, and that's why a lot of these old 1990s bands are getting back together. Greatest Hits albums aren't selling like they used to because people are illegally downloading them, so they're not receiving any royalty payments so what are they going to do? Simple, they're going to have to patch up their differences and pretend they didn't fall out or shag one another's wives...
Pop: ...and hire four separate tour buses in the hope that no one notices!
Kingsley: But they'll still be playing every single festival next year for a million pounds a time. It's a joke because it means new bands don't get a chance. What that also means is that even fewer artists will receive record deals because Sony would rather sink another £15 million or whatever into another Stone Roses compilation with maybe one new track that they'll laud as a new single instead of signing a thousand new bands with a tiny advance each to see what they can do with them. Yet again, it's another kick in the nuts for struggling artists scraping by from day to day just to be able to exist.
DiS: It is quite depressing that the NME and other publications seem to be heralding the Stone Roses reunion as the greatest thing to happen to British music this century.
Pop: Well it's going to be pretty symbiotic for the NME because no one buys their magazine any more. They don't know their arse from their elbow; they just keep plucking out the new Arctic Monkeys or the new Libertines every other week. Repeat cover stories of the Stone Roses reforming might sell them an extra ten copies in each region, which I guess will be deemed as a success to them but...
Kingsley: There's bands cropping up all over the place now. Everyone wants to be in a band. They're not all good and by the same token not all bad either, but there's some really extreme things happening that most people will never get the chance to listen to because they aren't selling 10,000 records or a band from twenty years ago who've happened to reform because they're skint.
Pop: We've played with some genius bands on this tour. We played in Bristol the other day with a band called The Naturals who are unbelievable. They're Bristol's best kept secret.
Kingsley: They've got these great big swooning My Bloody Valentine style guitar sounds, loads of effects pedals. Yet at the same time they've got these sweet little Drums-y type vocals over the top, which I suppose you could call a little retro, yet they're putting a new spin on it.
Pop: The scary thing is they've been together since 2004, yet no one outside of their hometown seems to have heard of them. How they haven't been picked up and put on a small label is just completely mental, and again, indicative of the way the industry has ended up.
Kingsley: If they were from London they'd have been signed up ages ago, probably playing VICE gigs at the Old Blue Last. We used to get asked all the time about whether we'd move to London, yet I think if we had been from London and doing the same thing; not that I think anyone from London would be able to do what we do because it's a northern mentality; but if we'd have been doing a similar thing to what other London bands were doing at the time, I'm certain we'd have been on easy street.
Pop: By the same token we'd have been forgotten about in six months time.
Kingsley: It's nice being a fair distance away from London because you don't fall into the trap.
Pop: And we've never become complacent either, which I think happens to so many London-based bands.
DiS: It's interesting how many London-based buzz bands don't tend to play many shows north of Watford.
Pop: S.C.U.M. are one that immediately springs to mind. I tried to book them back in the day.
Kingsley: It's largely because they know no one will come to the shows. I've seen a lot of these so-called London buzz bands play up in the North East, and frankly no one gives a shit.
DiS: It's fair to say that outside of Newcastle, the north east doesn't really get that much recognition for its musical talent.
Kingsley: We're from the same town as that Amelia Lily girl on X Factor. I know her brother. Who else do I know? When I was at University I once went out with the "Pop!" girl in the Rice Crispies "Snap, Crackle & Pop!" advert!
DiS: There have been several line-up changes this year, most notably the departure of founder members Phil and Paul along with the band subsequently becoming a five-piece. How did these come about?
Pop: It's out of necessity more than anything. It isn't like we've suddenly decided we don't get along with everyone. Our old drummer (Phil) already worked for the BBC, and because the band weren't making any money he made the decision to leave the band and move away to the other side of the country...
Kingsley: ...yeah, Carlisle! To be honest I think he'd had enough of being in a band anyway. Our old guitarist Paul was in a similar situation financially. Again, he'd been with the band from the start and we used to practice in his loft in the early days but he can't afford to take three week blocks off from his job on a regular basis either.
Pop: He's our silent sixth member because although he's not playing with the band, he's still writing and helping us out in any way he can. He just can't physically do the gigs any more otherwise I think he'd be homeless.
Kingsley: We've had a bit of a shift around. Pop's moved up to play the guitar, and we've got another lad who used to be our driver, Owen, to play bass.
Pop: I found our new drummer, Scott, playing in another local band.
Kingsley: Kevin, who's joined us on second guitar, is an old mate of mine I used to watch football with. It's been quite a natural thing in many ways as we knew all three before they joined the band.
DiS: Do the rest of the band have day jobs?
Pop: I'm unemployed. I got sacked from my last job because they got fed up of me coming in every other day asking for time off to go to London. "Why?" Because our manager said so...
Kingsley: I work in an art gallery, telling people not to touch things. It sounds very impressive, very bourgeois, but it's not. It's a council job and I sit in a room and tell people not to touch paintings covered in elephant shit!
DiS: Looking back on Burn Your Town, are you satisfied with how everything turned out?
Kingsley: In terms of the record itself and the songs? Absolutely. But not in terms of how long it took for the album to get out there, no.
Pop: Or the way it's been promoted since either. See, this is what we were saying about going out on tour. The record has been out for most of this year yet we've done nothing on our own to promote it.
Kingsley: But it should have been out long before it was finally released anyhow. We'd planned to release it last year but were told to keep putting it back.
DiS: I remember being sent the five-track sampler well over a year ago actually.
Kingsley: Exactly, and eventually I said to our management let's release it on St Valentine's Day this year.
Pop: And it still didn't come out until March!
DiS: In the set you played at Bestival there was a lot of new material. Is the follow-up ready to go and if so, do you have a projected release date?
Kingsley: Well that's the thing. Nearly all of the songs on Burn Your Town were written before and up to the end of 2009, so technically, a lot of those unreleased songs aren't really that new. We've got about thirteen or fourteen songs ready to go, and hopefully there'll be an EP out in the early part of 2012.
Pop: At the end of the day, we just want people to hear our music. That's all we've ever wanted really.
The Chapman Family's final three shows of 2011 are as follows:-
9 Darlington Seen
17 Newcastle Cluny 2
30 Stockton-On-Tees Ku Bar
For more information on the band visit their official website.