DiS-Obituary #1: The Chapman Family
Some of you may not be aware but Stockton's finest artrock noise band The Chapman Family called it a day last month. Having spent the past seven years playing some of the most incendiary and frenetic live shows we've witnessed from a UK band in recent years, not to mention releasing a clutch of excellent singles and EPs along with 2011's vastly underrated long player Burn This Town, they finally decided to call it quits in July. Announcing their final show was to be in their hometown's Georgian Theatre on Friday 26th July (recorded in full here), it felt like the end of an era for a band whose recorded output seemed to reach new heights with every subsequent release.
Having formed in May 2006, they put out their first single 'You Are Not Me/You Think You're Funny' eighteen months later. However, it was their memorable and often chaotic live performances that enhanced their reputation. "An A&R bloke once touted us and Mumford & Sons to Sony fairly early on - possibly 2007 or 2008 - and they told him we were both shite," recalls Kingsley. "He lost his job soon after." NME shows with the likes of Le Roux and Everything Everything soon followed; the band even bizarrely being classified as nu-rave for a short while to a remix of 'Kids' being featured on an Artrocker compilation; "I think they ripped it from our MySpace page" said singer Kingsley Chapman last week. Their career path seemed to be on a never ending upward trajectory until the release of their album was delayed for the best part of a year.
Initially scheduled to come out in the middle of 2010, it didn't see the light of day until March of the following year, and in numerous commentators and critics eyes, their time had passed. The album's release also heralded several line-up changes, with only Kingsley and long-serving bass player-cum-guitarist Pop Chapman (they were all called Chapman, see, hence the name "The Chapman Family) remaining from the band responsible for that first seven-inch back in the autumn of 2007.
Nevertheless, their best work was still to come in the shape of last year's Cruel Britannia EP, five pieces of brutal, noise-infused guitar pop that poured scorn all over Her Majesty's diamond jubilee celebrations and some. Two more singles followed suit earlier this year in the shape of The Wedding Present-esque 'A.D.U.L.T.' and romantic (by their standards) 'This One's For Love'. We waited patiently for album number two, initially planned for release sometime this year. And then, on 15th July, the band announced their show eleven days later would be their last. On the morning of the show, the band released their single 'We Stick Together' via their bandcamp page as a parting gift. By midnight they were no more.
So why do we care? After all, in the words of Scroobius Pip, they're "just a band". And yet, in this era where 360 degree deals and mercenary bookers dictate a band's career, The Chapman Family really did epitomise the DIY philosophy. Booking their own gigs and tours, playing shows in uncharacteristic venues off the beaten track (their 2011 show at Beeston's Greyhound will live long in the memory). Ultimately, they cared, perhaps too much. In the words of arguably their finest three minutes and thirteen seconds, "And they say your best isn't good enough." To these ears it was. Better than most of the competition in fact. It goes without saying they'll be sorely missed.
Here, Kingsley Chapman tells DiS why the band are splitting up...
DiS: What made you call it a day?
Kingsley: We always wanted to take the band as far as it could go and I think we'd arguably reached that point. It seemed fitting to go out on a high in the town where we played our first gig and where we were all born so we made an attempt to put on the best show we possibly could. I've never been prouder of being in the band than last Friday night, it was magical.
DiS: Was any part of your decision dictated by finances? It must be difficult now for bands to go out on tour or release records without any financial backing whatsoever?
Kingsley: Not really. This band has never ever been motivated by money. People never believe me when I say that but it's true. We've not earned a penny during all of this. No album advance, no big signing fees, nothing. Every bit of money we "made" or were allotted went to making the music, the videos, the merchandise or went into touring or paying PR people - when it wasn't paid for by the band or management themselves. Over the years the only "payments" we ever received apart from PRS payments were a Samsung phone each after the NME Radar Tour (which was promptly sold to Cash Converters in Middlesbrough), some Converse from the Underage Festival in 2009, a pair of Ray-Bans after playing on the Ray-Ban bus at Camden Crawl and whatever money we might have made from selling homemade CDRs of unreleased material at our last gig on Friday - which we split five ways. Nothing has ever gone into my bank account in the form of income from being in this band. When we had arguments or discussions with record companies or whoever about financial matters they could never understand our stance of being non-money motivated. You could never pay me the equivalent in pounds and pence what that feeling of going on stage at Leeds Festival gave me. I'd been going to that festival as a spectator for about ten years so to actually get to play was insane. Like it or not, with us it was "all about the music" - it had to be, as we weren't getting paid.
Our gig fees paid for the van hire and the diesel and the rest paid for the ever mounting debt we accrued as well as agents fees and such. Generally, bands piss money away and even though we always did things on the cheap it was only in the last couple of years that we came up with ways to stop haemorrhaging money. The band would share driving duties so there was no need for a driver, we'd always use the in-house sound engineer and man our own merch stand for instance. We'd also fit up to six people in a single Travelodge room and developed many skills in getting past the nightwatchman to do so. Even when we were supposedly at our "peak" with all the NME coverage and were swimming in all the glamour that that entails we'd still be turning up to gigs parking next to huge tourbuses in two cars jam packed full of equipment and band members. We'd always be asked "where's your manager?" to which we'd respond (as long as the gig wasn't in London) "not here". Then they'd ask "who's your tour manager?" and we'd reply that we didn't have one. You need to understand that we weren't really that savvy to the position we found ourselves in. We'd went from doing gigs in pub back rooms to these hyper organised semi corporate high profile set pieces pretty much overnight. We were still unsigned and totally naive. We either did everything ourselves as we always had in the past or people took pity on us and helped us out. On the NME Tour one of the reps from the magazine ended up having to try and look after us as we were so disorganised and ramshackle. Pop got left in Brighton, I got left in Glasgow, we were pretty unstable. We were fucking good mind.
DiS: Would you advise bands to think twice before using managers, agents and PRs? Hookworms for example have previously commented they refuse to pay anyone to do that kind of work when they can do it equally as well if not better themselves.
Kingsley: I think that's the key - if you think you can do it equally as well if not better yourself, then go for it, or at least give it a go. We were a bit schizophrenic in that respect. We needed a team around us as we were complete novices to all of this - we were very much learning on the job. I can't deny that our management kicked down a lot of doors for us - they certainly had expertise in that respect. The band will be forever indebted to all the managers and agents we had who tried valiantly to steer the ship. They saw something in us and occasionally understood what it was we were trying to do. We were pretty uncontrollable at times but will be eternally grateful that they tried their hardest with us and gave us a chance. They certainly protected us from a load of shit when times were bad. I think, unless you're really clued up, self managing can only get you so far. Without management assistance we'd have no doubt hit a wall after playing the BBC Introducing Stage at Glastonbury in 2008. We still retained a certain amount of independence though and despite having some really helpful booking agents along the way we still booked a hell of a lot of shows ourselves as we'd built up a load of contacts previously to having any form of management or guidance - we'd done over 200 gigs in the UK and Germany before we'd even met a prospective manager. From the artwork down to the wording of the mailout we were always more hands on than hands off. The fact that we were so controlling and argumentative at times probably contributed a bit to our downfall and our reputation within certain industry circles. We were far too honest and belligerent for our own good. Plus we had a canny knack in smelling bullshit. I've met bands that don't even run their own Twitter or Facebook accounts and to me it's just bizarre. As much as I've moaned about being chained to a keyboard for a lot of my band life I can't fathom how other bands can so easily relinquish control. I must have trust issues. I find PR to be the weirdest of the lot - certain magazines won't talk to certain PRs as they have bands from a certain record label so certain bands won't get featured in certain magazines or on certain websites or get played on certain radio stations because of that. It's absolute lunacy and has fuck all to do with music. It's as if there's a group of about 50 people in London congratulatory slow wanking themselves into oblivion as they decide what you'll put on your iPod next week. Gigs aren't about having fans at them anymore they're about having a gaggle of buzzy PR people present all deciding what sort of angle and strategy to use with you. You could do a brilliant gig to 500 people in a provincial town and feel like you've finally made a difference in some fan's lives or do one in a shit North London pub to a couple of PR reps and the soundman and get told you were amazing even though you played shite - but that's ok because there's a buzz about you... We were referred to at times as "a project" in meetings with industry types - even when we were present - and I couldn't really take it. I never started a band to be involved in a "project" - this thing was my whole existence and had taken over life for years before they got involved and it sometimes felt like the bands opinion on "the project" meant nothing. I still maintain the old fashioned view that a band is like the Musketeers in that they're a gang and even though they piss each other off sometimes they stick together and they fight for what they believe in. To be in a band isn't to be in a project, it's your fucking life. I know the inevitable comeback is that "it's a business at the end of the day" which is of course true but it doesn't mean people have to be fed watered down bullshit. I always found it ironic that the very last people to get a say so on whether a song was deemed marketable or good enough for the fans were the band themselves - the very same fans that the band had taken a couple of years to amass and nurture themselves. PR would get their say so, the record company, the management, record pluggers, fucking "tastemakers" (whatever the fuck they are) would all get their opinion aired and discussed as standard suggestions on "when the chorus should kick in" would be made (it's just before the first minute marker by the way) and we would be the last to chip in. Still, what did we know, we weren't "industry". We were weird northerners from a backwater town that no one south of York had heard of. After we were discarded by one record company and were looking for another some people we approached backed off as they'd heard that we were too "mad" and intense to work with. As far as I was concerned we were the only sane people in the whole industry.
DiS: If you had the benefit of hindsight, would you do anything differently and if so, what?
Kingsley: I'm not a big fan of hindsight or what if's. If we did the wrong thing from time to time or didn't capitalise on certain situations it's alright, I'm actually OK with that, let's just chalk it all down to experience. The way I figure it is that regardless as to whether we're perceived as a failure by some or not I think we were very very lucky. We wrote songs in my Grandad's back room and as a result of that a couple of years down the line we got to play in Tokyo and didn't have to pay for the airfare. I've been to places I would never have dreamed of going to in the last few years at home and abroad because of all of our apparent failures - previous to my experiences in The Chapman Family I'd been on one holiday abroad in fifteen years. My eyes have been properly opened up by this experience and I wouldn't change a single thing. I've made some great friends and met some awesome people that would never have given me the time of day if they'd realised I was a pretty shy and dull call centre worker from Teesside.
DiS: You've recently made most of your back catalogue available on soundcloud along with lots of unreleased demos and sessions. Are there any plans to release a posthumous anthology or such like?
Kingsley: No. The great thing about the internet is that it's fairly easy for people with a vague interest in a band to piece together their own anthologies. I'm going to try and put as much up there as possible - from demos that were roundly rejected by all concerned to more polished offerings - so people can get some sort of idea of the full story. I would like people to think of us as more than just "that band that did the 'Kids' song" and smashed everything up but I know it'll take a lot of convincing. The only posthumous offering we have is the single 'We Stick Together', which we released on the day we split up.
DiS: What advice would you give to new bands starting out? Is there anything you'd wholeheartedly warn them about?
Kingsley: The only advice I would ever give anyone in a band is to just believe in what you're doing. If you don't have any faith in what you're doing just give up now as no one will believe a word you say further down the line. I want to see people sweating blood on the stage and playing from the heart. Make my mind explode. It sounds obvious but basically act like you give a shit and you'll be alright. Polarise people - make them either really like you or really fucking hate you - and never settle for the middle ground.
DiS: What are your plans for the future? Will you and the other guys continue to make music? Are there any other projects in the pipeline?
Kingsley: I have no plans for the future. I'm physically and mentally worn out and I need to get away from it all for the foreseeable future. I hope the others continue writing and playing music in some form - it'd be a travesty if Pop didn't go on for instance as his musical brain and willingness to experiment with sonics is incredible. I'm sure there'll be other bands spawned from this and if in years to come The Chapman Family is seen as the starting point for much greater other things from Pop, Scott, Owen or Kevin then I'll be pretty proud of what we did.
I had lofty ideas when we first started and I dreamed of seeing a brand new musical landscape where all the bland corporate mid 00s V-Fest drivel had been silenced by clanging anger. I thought that the whole country was on the verge of an explosion of noise and passion - not just from us but from all of the other brilliant bands that were springing up at the same time seemingly in retaliation to the horrors of X Factor wannabes or relics of the 90s that were reforming for one more bite of money pie. In truth we never even chinked their armour. Our dynamite fizzled out at the fuse and despite a 3 out of 5 review in The fucking Sun we never really made it past a few people who might have accidentally read about us in NME or Artrocker whilst searching for articles on the Foo Fighters. The anger and passion is still there though and as every lame festival line up fills itself to the rafters with uplifting quasi folk shite, a Britpop corpse or a deluge of TV talent show failures it will remain. We're numb and apathetic - I can't remember a time in my life when the nation seemingly en masse has just sluggishly meandered along both culturally and politically accepting whatever toss is presented in front of them - Britain needs to find its rage.
The Chapman Family have made the majority of their back catalogue available to download for free along with various radio sessions, demo versions and previously unreleased tracks here.