And then there’s The Webb Brothers – Justin, Christiaan and the baby of the clan James, the latest recruit to their world of liars, barstool melodramas and olde Englishe eccentrics. Having recently released their eponymously titled third album, the Webbs have suddenly found themselves cast as an integral part of one of the most eagerly awaited tours of this century – The Darkness’ ‘Permission To Land’ jaunt across the UK – and so far all seems to going pretty swell. James takes up the story so far:-
“It’s been great, really good. I’d say this is probably the best tour we’ve ever been on. The Darkness are really nice people and their audience have been so friendly towards us. I mean, if you’re a supporting act and you can still get people to do the hand –clappin-above-the-head routine it’s got to be good, right?”
“Everyone seems to be open minded”, adds Christiaan. “We always like to come out front into the audience after we’ve played and there’s been loads of people asking us for our records and stuff at these gigs.”
“We’ve also had fans coming up to us saying “We love the new stuff more than ‘Maroon’ and things like that, which makes it all worthwhile”, chirps the tired looking Justin.
While we’re on the subject of the band’s “new stuff” – and this latest album appears to have taken an eternity to complete – the brothers have spent most of that time experimenting with a whole array of sounds and techniques that augment their current opus in such a way it sounds like their most accomplished work to date.
“We had so much control over the process” says Christiaan.
“It was all done at our friend Neil’s studio in Chicago”, adds James.
“It was slightly different to how we worked with ‘Beyond The Biosphere’ and ‘Maroon’ in that we invited a few of our friends to play on it and also because we were experimenting with a lot of new sounds and ideas. It’s also the first album that’s featured James as a full time member, and that adds another voice, or songwriting dimension even, to what we’re about”, summarises Justin with the intent of a man who believes, nee KNOWS he’s just made his best record to date.
“…and it gave us time to hang out in Dave Fridmann’s studio, which was a real buzz to us because we love what he’s done on the Flaming Lips’ recent records” quips Christiaan.
Whilst it has always been difficult to pigeonhole to any particular scene or genre, it’s probably fair to say that for an American band a lot of their music is steeped in quintessentially English pop, such as the recent single ‘Ms. Moriarty’, which owes as much to people like the Kinks and the Animals as it does any of their stateside compatriots. Justin gives us an insight into how the song came about:-
“I was reading ‘On The Road’ and I just liked a lot of the broken English in it. I just started thinking about it and it dawned on me that everyone must have had an experience with some sick, wayward girl who’s taken you by the hand and led you into all sorts of trouble…”
“A bad girl that can take you away for days and days…” opines Christiaan.
“I think it’s a compliment that people think we sound like the Kinks”, shrieks a delighted James.
“Ray Davies is a highly accomplished songwriter, definitely one of the biggest influences on how I try and write. Also Colin Blunstone of the Zombies, which I guess is where our fascination with this period of time, y’know like swinging 1960s London comes from” adds Justin in a matter of fact way.
Christiaan adeptly sums up their philosophy on the sixties influence that dominates music today:-
“I think the 1960s were like the catalyst for all great music that’s happened since. I mean we like all kinds of music but everything can be traced back to that era. I think we’re quite schizophrenic in that we sometimes tend to see ourselves as an early incarnation of our favourite sixties bands.”
And it’s this genre-crossing affinity that makes the Webb Brothers such an enticing prospect both live and on record. The wistful melodies, the storybook lyricism and the downright eclecticism that no doubt makes them a marketing manager’s nightmare but an exciting, somewhat challenging prospect for anyone wishing to (re?)discover what once made even their own parents fashionable, albeit a long time ago.
“Well, that’s what’s so great about this tour. Both ourselves and The Darkness don’t fit into any one category. It’s like when they do their cover of ‘Street Spirit’. I think what they’re saying is “hey! look. We’re actually into all kinds of music so don’t put us into this soft rock/heavy rock genre!” I think it’s really dangerous when artists just comfortably fall into the same areas, record after record after record” states a very serious looking Christiaan.
“We have the philosophy that if you start off with the basis of a good song, it should be up to you where you want to go with it and what you end up doing to it. If the song is good enough you should be able to plug it into any toaster, be it ska, metal, pop, dance, whatever, and the results will still taste great!” adds James. “It’s your job as a musician to make sure you choose the right path for each song.”
“The same toaster but just different types of bread…” declares Christiaan, “although you can make the settings higher or lower if you feel you need to.”
If there’s one other area which the Webb Brothers have in common with their tourmates it has to be that neither band is afraid of actually putting on a show, something which is all too rare on the live circuit these days. Christiaan agrees:-
“I think if people have only heard our records they’d be quite surprised if they saw us playing live. We actually like to entertain and we try to have a smile on our face and we aim to transcend that onto the audience.”
“We could easily put together a show of slit-your-wrists, melancholic depressing tunes. You know, we could go like “and here’s the one we wrote in 1992. It’s called ‘Standing On The Ledge Of The Empire State Building With An Anvil Wrapped Around My Neck’…” I mean, when I see people behaving like that on stage I tend to wish somebody had pushed them before they wrote it!” despairs Justin.
Although The Webb Brothers’ roots are in Chicago, their hearts firmly lie in the UK.
“It’s like a home away from home” states James.
“We were signed here” adds Justin.
“You have the whole festival culture in this country that you just don’t get anywhere else in the world. In Britain, people actually dance to rock music! In America you tend to have either one of two extremes – the slamdancing jocks who make concert going a nightmare for civilised human beings or those whose aim is to pose.” Says Christiaan, in a manner which makes me proud (for once) to be English.
“It’s like when you play venues such as Brixton Academy, which then stays open until 6 in the morning. In America that venue would end up being closed down because of the noise, never mind the closing times.”
Not that The Webb Brothers have always been closet Anglophiles, as Christiaan reveals when they first came over to Blighty.
“When Britpop went down, we were one of the first American bands to come over to the UK, and at the time Oasis was all the rage and nobody here was very open to American music of any kind, and then when pop started being taken seriously again, we sent a dagger into the heart of it and got signed up over here as a result of it, ironically before we got signed back home.”
So how do the Webb Brothers see themselves today, amongst the movers and (mullet)shakers currently setting the trends in this country?
“We don’t”, insists Christiaan. “We just want to create our own culture. The Flaming Lips have done it, the Super Furries have done it and now it’s our turn. Ten years from now I’d like to think we’ll be scoring our own film music…”
Several hours later, the Webb Brothers go down a storm to a packed Nottingham Rock City that contained quite possibly the biggest cross section of clothes and haircuts I’ve ever seen, from Top Shop emblazoned teenage girls to skinhead Burberry touting lager “lads”, give or take the odd archetypal indie kid here and hoary old rocker complete with Saxon 1982 world tour t-shirt there, striking an almighty blow against the style capitalists who insist on segmenting every form of popular culture into it’s own individual demi-haven.