As we all know, backstage is the coolest place in the world. Once there you can mingle with stars, groupies, roadies and of course help yourself to utterly excessive amounts of free alcohol from the seemingly bottomless depths of portable fridges. Backstage is rock utopia. It is also disorganized chaos - all in the space normally consumed by a moderately sized disabled toilet..
..Or at least it is here at the Highbury Garage where I am to meet the four ridiculously young members of the ‘Llama Farmers’ for a pre-gig chat about hopes and dreams and PVC pants. At first, Bernie (lead singer and songwriter) appears to have vanished, disappeared somewhere between tour bus and venue and so our interview is postponed until all four members can be assembled. Unfortunately, as time moves on and further florescent plastic pint glasses full of free alcohol are consumed, the likelihood of talking to the band as a whole proves increasingly difficult to accomplish, and so after an astounding set from ‘Biffy Clyro’ (releasing their debut album on Beggars Banquet in the late Summer) I settle for a solid talk with Will Briggs (guitar) and Jenni Simpson (bass guitar, backing vocals).
The atmosphere backstage is electric and everyone seems totally hyped about tonight’s performances. As I literally squeeze into a random ‘country cottage kitchen chair’ and my sound recording accomplice Jim settles between a forest of Biffy Clyro’s legs and a friendly but empty looking fridge, we move straight into the all important deeply probing questions.
The Llamas formed in 1996, at a time when grunge was either burning out or fading slowing away and Britpop ruled everything from the charts to fashion. Collectively the Llamas didn’t want to be a part of ‘that’ scene, choosing to evolve from it and produce something better than all the depressive shoe-gazer pulp of the time. ‘I’d always wanted to be in a band since I was 7 or 8, but I wanted to be in a queen covers band’ recounts ultra chilled Will. ‘I moved away from music at first and played a lot of football but it was when I was 13 that I really decided to play music seriously. We got some blokes together at school, went through a few changes in line up and started playing as a band’. ‘I had absolutely nothing else to do!’ smirks bassist Jenni whilst adjusting her makeup minutes before she is set to go on stage. ‘School wasn’t really working out and so we decided to try the band thing and really enjoyed it – so we decided we’d rather do that than school really! We never had an aim or anything, it wasn’t based on a master plan or something like that, we just go along with whatever happens. It wasn’t like we’re gonna do this, then we’re gonna do that, it all just sort of happened really.’
Despite two moderately successful albums and a string of singles and e.p’s to their name, the Llama Farmers have never really hit the highest ranks of the U.K. rock nobility. Still playing the smaller side of U.K venues rather than packing out Astoria’s or Academy’s which help pay for those Rock Star excesses, I asked the Llama Farmers if they would consider themselves as Rock Stars in the traditional sense…NO! Not really – with the traditional sense being rich and famous? No! [laughs like a girl scout who’s eaten way too many hash fudge] So you’ve never worn PVC pants on stage then? – No, not really – NO!.NO! [laughs]. I’ve heard some stories about alcohol crazed golf at two in the morning with the band ‘TWIST’ who you toured with last year, care to elaborate?.. ‘Well we got back from Glasgow – we’d played a gig at King Tut’s and it was really crap, there was like 50 people there and they just stood in the doorway and there were two nutters, really pissed, just fighting each other in the main pit – it was one of those gigs where everything goes wrong, we played crap, sounded crap and so we just decided to go get hammered afterwards! We went back to the hotel and found that in one of the hallways there was this huge golf thing – I can’t remember who it was but someone just picked up this golf club and fucking cracked a golf ball and it just went flying!! Nothing REALLY crazy happened, a bloke came down and told us to stop and we just were like “O.K.” - So much for crazy rock antics! – So what then is the Llama’s most extravagant and bizarre tour tale?.. ‘I can’t remember half the parties’, reveals Jenni, ‘Jens pretty much made a goldfish’ (?!?!?) exclaims Will, ‘once we’ve left the place it’s pretty much gone’! So no TV’s out of windows then?.. ‘No, well we’re lucky if we ever have a TV in our hotel room usually so we’re just quite glad to sort of keep them there! At least until we go home! No there’s nothing REALLY bizarre or extravagant, I wish something like that could happen. Usually it’s just getting hammered after a show and making a complete arse out of yourself, that’s pretty bizarre and fun.
As we prod further into the Farmer’s depths I ask them whether they ever played for bands, other than their current four-piece. ‘Nobody apart from Bern. He was in a band with a couple of other geezers before us. I guess we all messed around in school covers bands basically, just doing Nirvana songs and that was it really’. So where does the band name come from?.. ‘All of this is related to school sadly! There was a mate of ours who was a Chilean kid called Rodrigo and his nickname was the ‘Llama Farmer. Our first gig was the school rock night and when we got on they were like, what’s your name? We hadn’t got one but we knew Rod was out there so we said the Llama Farmers just to piss him off! Basically we just didn’t come up with anything else! Brooke came up with the name ‘Forecourt’ from a tennis term or something I feel, I don’t know quite what he was up to then’! What’s the relevance of all the Spanish song titles?.. ‘They don’t really have any meanings the songs; we just like the sound of them really! Silly because they sound quite good’!
At the start you were a very young band, was it hard touring and studying simultaneously?.. ‘Well that’s the problem really, just not studying at all! No…well, we weren’t really doing proper touring until we’d finished school, well I’d been kicked out and they’d finished. Me and the drummer both got kicked out pretty much at the same time and then about a month later we were signed and doing it properly so there wasn’t any kind of studying involved – but there would’ve been. Bern was the only one who was studying and doing this at the same time and he seemed to manage all right’.
What would you be doing if you weren’t in the Llama Farmers?.. ‘That’s something I think about sometimes, I dunno, I’d probably just be at uni or something boring like that. The thing is you can always go back and do that later on so you might as well do this while you can and just make your way back and go to uni later on really. Yea – probably uni, or MacDonald’s! No regrets then?.. No not at all. I mean we’re not huge but I still don’t regret leaving school still because I know that I’ll always be able to go back and do that and I just didn’t want to follow a normal path really’.
As with so many bands, after receiving massive interest from the music press in their early carrier and being built up as the ‘next big thing’, the Llama’s have received some slating for their recent efforts as the traditional lazy journalism ethic of ‘what goes up must come crashing down’ has been put into practise. How do the Llama’s feel when they are snubbed by magazines too thoughtless to appreciate and too ready to criticise?.. When you first start getting hype and stuff, even if your playing bad shows you get a brilliant review. We never used to be that good live back then really and they [the press] were going ‘best live band in the world’ and stuff and you’d just read it and go, “what”? So its just stupid really as it would be much more beneficial to have that sort of thing now when we’re actually quite good, whereas back then we were never really that good. I don’t have any views on any of the magazines particularly, that’s just what happens isn’t it? That’s what they do with a lot of bands. If they say your going to be huge and then your not they just say, ‘ohh we didn’t have anything to do with them’ they just say, “They were shit after all” and stuff like that. After taking a long break from answering questions to powder her nose, although still keeping her ear on the conversation, Jenni now adds ‘You can’t please everyone’ to which Will replies, ‘No – sadly. Well we’re still going and we’ve been snubbed for the last two years so..
Having just recorded their second album a couple of months prior to our interview, I was interested to find out how much influence each member of the band has over the song production process, especially when almost all the songs are written by front man Bern. “Everyone can say what they want really. No one will be scared to say how they want the drums in case they upset the drummer, or anything like that. It does cause arguments but you always come to a compromise anyway. Or the producer just won’t listen and just do what he wants if your having too much of an argument!” So after your songs have been recorded and produced what effect do you hope to have on people listening to your music? “I’d just like people to be able to listen to our album as a whole really, I don’t like albums where you have to skip around a lot. I’d like people to go through moods and just sit there and listen to it really. Its not one of those albums that makes people go out and do something, its thought provoking and just nice to listen to I suppose. I just hope everyone enjoys it.” Quite different from the Rage Against The Machine ethic then, but not every band on the earth can be politically active or fight to change the world. Maybe not every group of individuals has that inbuilt fire, that flame to succeed at flooding people’s minds with alternative perspectives, building an army from the smouldering youth crying out for direction amongst the blandness of daily life in Centaury 21. Perhaps some bands set out to be the leaders, some set out to be lead.
Beneath the surface the Llama Farmer’s message may be shallow, it’s certainly nothing to sink your teeth into, by using song titles “because they sound nice” rather than because they bear any relationship to the songs tells us this band have little to say - but then they never set out to inform, educate or evoke people’s fantasies in the first place. The Llama’s simply “hope everyone enjoys it” and everyone at the London Garage tonight seems to be having a great time singing and dancing to the tunes that have seen them through the last few years of their lives. Tonight it is the music that conquers everything, sure it won’t provoke seizures or give you a reason for living but hey, its great to dance to. Sometimes just enjoying music for music’s sake is purpose enough. The Llama Farmers create beautiful songs; we should thank them for this.
The Llama’s hope to play at an unconfirmed selection of summer festivals and then see what their future brings. The band as a whole love how the new album has turned out compared to their irritation at the first offering not reaching their expectations (Will listens to it all the time). Promotion for the current L.P will continue for as long as it can before the group return to the studio for a probable third album.