Tired of the Strokes? Bored of Oasis? Fed up to the back teeth with Linkin Park?
May I suggest you carry on reading because Nottingham based four piece Sufferkiss may just be the antidote you’re looking for.
Formed on Valentine’s Day 2001, Sufferkiss have rapidly attracted a burgeoning fan base due in no small way to their adrenalin-fuelled live shows, whilst the 3-track demo they recorded last year has had one or two record labels in a spin.
I met up with singing guitarist Martyn and bass player Mark to discover, amongst other things, just what sets Sufferkiss apart from all the other bands in Nottingham...
Martyn: We’re not part of the local scene where everyone in a band is mates with everyone in the next band and the next one after that. We’re on the outskirts of everything, really. We never really tried to fit into any kind of scene. We just ended up doing what we wanted and if it’s not considered cool enough by other bands so be it. We do actually get on well with some of the other Nottingham bands.
Mark: It’s been the same when we’ve toured around the country. We’ve played with bands who we thought we’d get on with and sometimes they’ve been complete arseholes! I think the main thing is that no one’s ever grouped us together with any other band. The only time that happened was when people tried to group us together with Miss Black America and Antihero, which was more to do with the fact we’re all young-ish lads with guitars making loud fast songs rather than sounding or looking the same. In a way it’s a bad thing because while other bands are being grouped together on the back of someone else’s success it gets them noticed but it’s also a good thing because you don’t feel pigeonholed by what’s expected of a scene and therefore you get to maintain your integrity.
Do you see yourselves having to break away from Nottingham to get more attention?
Mark: There’s nothing special about Nottingham, really.
Martyn: It’s a nice place to live but there’s no reason why I’d spend my whole life here.
Mark: I’d move somewhere else if it was more exciting, not just because there was a record deal waiting there.
Was there any significance in forming the band on Valentine’s Day?
Martyn: No. We just didn’t have anything better to do on Valentine’s Day, other than form a band.
Mark: That’s how we celebrate Valentine’s Day now – it’s a band thing, instead of being some soppy commercialised event. It’s just like a birthday party where we come together and play our guitars.
What made you wake up that morning and decide "I want to form a band"?
Martyn: Just loving music from as early as I can remember. I always wanted to do it. There was never a specific planned time where I was going to form a band...
Mark: I’ve just always thought that guitars were the coolest things in the world and I just grew into the idea of being in a band through that.
So when you were growing up, who was "cool" that made you want to be in a band?
Mark: The first band I heard that really made me think there’s more to music than just people singing songs on the radio were the Rolling Stones. Most of their songs had really good guitar solos and my parents were big fans and that’s how I got into them. I guess most of the bands I liked after that were ones who sounded similar to the Stones. I liked bands that looked a bit different and sounded different to what was considered the norm, so for me people like the Manics, the Pixies...
Martyn: When I first heard the Pixies it sounded like a musical explosion really, plus when you actually see pictures of them you realise that you don’t even have to look cool to make such fantastic music.
Do you try and emulate Frank Black when you’re writing your own songs?
Mark: I don’t think we really emulate anyone.
Martyn: We don’t just sit down and say I’m gonna write a song that sounds like the Pixies. We just write and I suppose there comes a point where our influences might sound obvious, but in the same way if we deliberately set out to write a Pixies-style song it probably wouldn’t sound anything like them.
Mark: ...and the weird thing is that all four members of the band have different influences so we can never agree on one particular favourite that we might sound like. Everybody contributes their own part, so the overall piece ends up sounding totally different to how you imagined it sounding when you had it in your head.
Martyn: Most of our songs normally start with a riff and then it builds and builds and then one day someone will decide that’s a new song.
What inspires your lyrics?
Martyn: The main influence behind our lyrics is just everyday life, experiences, what you see around you.
So where would a song like ‘My Disguise’ off the 3-track demo fit in with your experiences?
Martyn: ‘My Disguise’ is our love song in the way that it’s actually an anti-love song. It’s not saying that love is a bad thing, but it’s also saying that love isn’t like they say it is in ‘Friends’ or any other cheesy American sitcom either.
Mark: I think ‘My Disguise’ is quite bitter but then it’s good to be bitter in some ways. Most songs you hear on the radio are so cleaned over, almost sugar coated in the sense that everything is meant to be good and you're expected to believe that everything is good yet it’s just a complete lie, and that’s what a lot of songs tend to be like these days. ‘My Disguise’ is about what you feel when you see people on the telly or in magazines being portrayed in this perfect light, yet you know that in reality nobody can live like that.
Martyn: It’s like if you move to New York without realising that you’ll never end up as one of the cast in ‘Friends’ and then suddenly you get mugged as soon as you get off the bus and end up in hospital on the first night...
You’ve been cited as being quite an articulate and political band in a similar vein to that of Miss Black America. Would you say that’s a fair comment?
Mark: I don’t know. We don’t have a sign that says "Buy us! We’re a political band!"
Martyn: We don’t want to be known as a band who tells people what they should think. We want to be seen as a band that tells them what we think. There’s nothing more insulting than someone like Bono standing on a stage telling people what they should do and how they should live...
Mark: That takes away the whole point of rebellion, especially as someone like Bono is very rich. I quite like what Miss Black America do but at the same time I think because they’re so outspoken in their views it can take away some of the depth musically. On the other hand we’re not like Coldplay or Travis either, who seem to have no opinions whatsoever. All music is political in a way and if you’re in a band like Travis who try not to be you can end up sounding reactionary.
Martyn: It’s just background music for adverts, and Coldplay’s market seems to be predominantly bored housewives.
Mark: Sufferkiss are more about questioning things rather than saying "Think this!"
Would you ever compromise your lyrics or the band’s sound if you could increase your sales potential?
Martyn: No, not at all. I think that’s one of the few things we all agree on.
Mark: I’d hate to get to 40 and look back and think what a waste. I’d honestly prefer to sell no records. I want to sell lots of records but not because our song was used on a car advert or whatever, because nobody likes the band that did that song from that advert or film. I mean, look at Wheatus now. They’re playing 200 capacity venues in small towns like Mansfield now...
Martyn: Oh dear! It’s all gone a bit wrong there...
Mark: It’s even more blatant now that the quicker you go up the quicker you come back down. You can sell out but it’s not really a career move. It’s more of a quick fix cash injection, like a short-term bank loan. The difference is that if you have good songs you’ll stay around a lot longer as well.
Would you ever let one of your songs be used for an advert?
Martyn: I don’t think I would because there’s a chance you’ll always be known as that advert band. If you’re an established band and then you licence one of your songs for an advert it becomes a completely different story.
Mark: I think I’d be more wary about the product our song was trying to sell. I wouldn’t like to think we were helping to promote the latest Ford or Big Macs or anything that involved testing with animals, which is basically all stuff that I wouldn’t go out and buy myself.
What about if you were asked to perform a cover version?
Martyn: We mess around with them all the time.
Mark: ...but we’re just not very good at them!
Martyn: We have this inability to be able to play anybody else’s songs well.
Mark: I’d quite like to do one of Kylie’s songs. I’d love to see the moshpit just moving up and down to the sound of ‘The Locomotion’.
Martyn: I think we’d have to do something that was instantly recognisable and catchy so that no matter what you did to it the song would still remain for people to latch onto and know straight away what it was.
You’ve had some favourable reviews. Do you think the music press are important where breaking new bands are concerned?
Martyn: I think the music press and their new rock revolution is a load of crap! Ever since Kurt Cobain blew his head off there’s been a big hole in the music industry with no one to fill it. I don’t mean to sound insensitive but what Kurt did was probably the best career move in the world! You’ll see 11 year olds walking around in Nirvana t-shirts and you want to run up to them and scream "...but he shot himself before you were born!"
Mark: We saw this email that had apparently been leaked from the NME and it was from the editor to his staff writers urging them to stop using the phrase new rock revolution because it’s served its purpose. You look at the NME today and you can guarantee there will be Karen ‘O’ on three pages, Craig Nicholls on four pages, Oasis dominating every other issue, the Strokes omnipresent throughout... Melody Maker’s sales decreased until it folded after they started including glossy colour posters of supposedly glamorous alternative pop stars and now the NME’s going exactly the same way. So what next? Does the NME fold or become a poster packed, once a month glossy magazine?
Martyn: The FH-NME!
What about bad press? Do you pay much attention to negative reviews?
Martyn: Music’s all based on opinion of which neither is right or wrong, so you’re not going to be to everybody’s taste, and if someone doesn’t like you there’s no point getting hung up about it.
Mark: I think a lot of the bad reviews we’ve had have been personal. All I’d say to someone who gives us a bad review is come along and see us...
Martyn: I think it would be worse if we were more well known, because the bigger you get the more people want to knock you down.
Mark: They say there’s no such thing as bad publicity, don’t they?
Do you think the future of the music press lies with websites such as Drowned In Sound?
Mark: I hope so. There is a danger that even with internet sites it could get just as bad as the NME. Even with sites like Drowned In Sound, there tends to be a cliquey thing going on where certain bands are regularly flavour of the month and others are continually slated, but I suppose anything is going to have its favourites. The other extreme would be some site or magazine with no opinions at all which would be even worse. As long as there isn’t just one webzine that runs the show, as long as there are several different ones expressing their own opinions such as in the early punk era where fanzines were popping up on a regular basis, which would be great for music, and with the internet it could happen on an even wider scale.
Martyn: I think the most worrying aspect is that there are literally hundreds of great bands out there desperate to be heard and most of them will never make it...
Mark:And none of them will ever be in the NME.
What about the growing trend of piracy on the internet. How would you feel if people were downloading your songs rather than buying the records?
Martyn: Personally, I’d feel happy if people were downloading our stuff to listen to. I think the main issue here is when people download stuff just for the purpose of selling it on.
Mark: Yeah, like with the Radiohead tickets on ebay.
Martyn: If someone wants to hear our music so much that they’re prepared to download it, then who are we to argue? At the end of the day, the artist comes out with very little money anyway...
Mark:It’s true, if you make an album that sells really well yet you end up owing thousands of pounds to the record company.
Martyn: The only people that make any money out of record sales are the companies themselves.
Mark: It makes me sick when I hear people like Eminem moaning on about people downloading his music. I mean the guy must be worth millions anyway, so it’s no big deal to him what his fans do. He should be flattered if anything. The thing is, if people like a song they hear on the internet by a new band or artist, the next thing they’ll want to do is go and see them live. If the internet means that more people get to hear about you, then surely that’s got to be a good thing.
Would you say that playing live brings out the best in Sufferkiss?
Martyn: Definitely. We love working in the studio but there’s nothing that can match doing it live. It’s weird, because when you go and see a band you hear a live version of a song, whereas the recorded version is the "proper" version, yet when you’re actually in a band, the recorded version is just something that happened on one day during one week, while the live version that you play night after night is the one that’s the most fresh.
Mark: With a recording, you’ve got a producer wanting to make it sound one way, then the record company wanting to add their bit, and before you know it the song sounds nothing like the band intended it to in the first place, which is why playing live is better because it’s just you and your band playing the song how it was meant to be.
Martyn: A record should just be a memento of the live show.
Mark: I think we’re definitely going to get an unknown producer in to do our first album otherwise you’re running the risk of being made to sound like somebody else. I mean people credit Ross Robinson with inventing nu metal, and as good as At The Drive-In were, he definitely steered them in that direction...
Martyn: ...and then there’s John Leckie and Muse. Here’s a bloke whose niche is to make albums that sound like ‘The Bends’, and then along come Muse, Leckie goes to work on them, and ‘Showbiz’ ends up sounding like ‘The Bends’.
At this moment in time Sufferkiss are unsigned. Has it been difficult finding the right label to work with?
Martyn: I think it’s us that are really lazy in that aspect. We tend to leave a lot of the business type things to our manager. The biggest problem with it is that the process takes so long. You end up getting one or two A & R men to listen to the demo and then you’ve got to persuade them to come and see you play but unless you’re playing in a certain town on a certain day at a certain time that suits them they won’t bother.
Mark: The thing with us is that we’re far more interested in making good music than changing our sound to fit in with a certain record company. We won’t kiss arse for anyone.