The Copperpot Journals have been plying their trade for the last three or so years, in which time they've released one EP, a mini-album, and a full length album (current release 'Pilots'), all to mass critical acclaim, supported Britrock heavyweights Hundred Reasons and Hell Is For Heroes on their respective UK tours, and secured a deal to release their record throughout the rest of Europe (through Germany's Defiance label). Not bad for a band who, according to some, are still relatively unknown. DiS met singer/guitarist Gareth Owen and drummer Euan Rodger at the tail end of their UK tour with Hell Is For Heroes.
Having met at the tender age of
eleven, Gareth and Stuart Turner (guitar) had been playing in various
bands together in and around Leicester,
before meeting Lee Dodson (bass) through playing shows with each other's
respective bands. After seeing Euan playing shows around town with his own band
("We always wished he'd be in our band", says Gareth), their
respective bands fell apart, leading to the first proper practice of the Copperpot
Journals in November 1999.
Shortly after releasing their first, self-titled EP through Blind Bear Recordings, the band joined the burgeoning Firefly Recordings label (also home to Kidsnearwater and Jerry-Built, amongst others), to release their first 'proper' record, 2002's mini-album, 'Plotting To Kill Your Friends'.
"It's not really a deal we have, as such", explains Gareth. "More of an agreement", assures Euan, "When we did 'Plotting...' it worked really well, and Chris (Firefly head honcho) looked after us really well, so it made sense to do the next one through them as well." Gareth continues, "it's kind of like how Factory Records worked in the early 90's; on a no-contract basis. It's more based around trust."
So will it continue as a case of you producing records, regardless of whether you have a label or not, and them then releasing it, or do they ask you for the goods?
"I think we're all quite ready to take the next logical step, and Chris wants us to do that too, which doesn't mean it would necessarily be out on Firefly. Unless we didn't get any offers of course, by which I mean a major label or large independent deal. Chris has done more than I thought was possible within the resources, but I think we're teetering on the edge, where bands like Hell Is For Heroes are asking us to come out on these big rock tours, but there's not been that much press coverage. We did have a PR company, but to be honest I don't know what we were paying them for. If they read that, they'll probably be thinking 'you fucking bastards'. They're nice people and everything, but I don't see what they actually did. Apart from the NME review (of 'Pilots'), I don't see what they achieved that Chris at Firefly didn't with the release before ('Plotting...'), in terms of reviews. Our (new) album's been reviewed in Kerrang, Metal Hammer, Rock Sound, NME, The Fly...."
It certainly is getting some good press coverage this time around.
"Yeah it is. Because we're on a small independent as well....I mean, maybe I'm just paranoid that a lot of people don't know us out there. I think hopefully we might get a second wind with it when Defiance Records release it in Europe around March."
Will that be with the slightly different cover (the Firefly release is an elaborate affair tinted with burgundy, whereas the Defiance release will be blue)?
"The sleeve won't actually be the same now. It's going to look the same, but it won't be as expensive as the Firefly one. We chipped in for the (Firefly) sleeve ourselves, because we wanted it exactly as we'd imagined. Chris has a budget for all the bands on Firefly. That's what's so great (with Firefly), everything is fair, the same for each band. So we had a budget, but we went over because of the shiny surfaces, and paid the extra ourselves. But Defiance aren't doing that. In fact, I don't think it'll even have a lyric booklet. It'll be a threefold sleeve."
One particular thing that makes the Copperpot Journals stand out above an otherwise-average UK rock crowd is the lyrics; all of which are written by Gareth. It's not often that a UK rock band can make you pay attention to what they're actually singing, but the Copperpots do it with some amount of style and verve. In the past, Gareth described some of his musings as "sarcastic". Were there any particular themes or influences running through the written words of 'Pilots'?
"You always have your pretensions when talking about your own lyrics. When I read the review of our album on Drowned In Sound, it mentioned us singing about girls, but there's not one single song where we sing about girls. The only one I can think it might have been was 'Ornament', but that's not about girls either. It went on about "well-meaning gibberish", which doesn't even make sense. The whole point of it being gibberish is that it doesn't..."
Euan finishes, "have any meaning at all, let alone any well-meaning."
"So that guy doesn't know what he's talking about...." Gareth, being the affable man he is, is quick to make sure he isn't offending anyone unintentionally, "...in terms of literary correctness, anyway. One line it talked about was "I'd imagine in a plane crash/the most cynical of non-believers pray", from 'The Future Is A Dare', and that...."
Again, Euan concludes the sentence, "You couldn't really get any more literal than that."
Gareth continues "There's no hidden metaphors in that, it's an observation, or a thought. It's not trying to be poncey."
To a fan
of the band, one interesting point about the new record is how subdued it is
in places, when compared to 'Plotting To Kill Your Friends', yet at the
same time how infinitely more complex and intricate it is. A conscious move?
Or something that evolved through the band writing together?
"The latter, definitely. You hear albums where every single song is heavy, or every single song has the amp turned to ten, like a wall of distortion. By the time you get halfway through.....you're almost immune to it," says Gareth, "It's like Slayer, you become immune to the heaviness after a while." Again, he's quick to apologise, "Nothing against Slayer, of course. I mean, I've never been a fan of metal, but if I was to listen to an entire Slayer record, I'd find the riffing ineffective after a while. That's why we put.....um...well, it's kind of weird - our favourite bands aren't like the bands people associate us with."
"We just felt we wanted to explore different things with this, it was a natural progression. Some of the songs on the last record were almost three years old, almost as old as the band were, and a lot of them could've been released on the first EP. The songwriting just seemed very natural."
So are some of the songs on the new record fairly old as well? I seem to remember you playing a few of them on the 2002 Hundred Reasons tour, and 'Coronary' was on a Fierce Panda compilation too.
"That (Coronary) was one of the first things we did after 'Plotting...'. We always knew that the song would be on the new record, even before we did that Fierce Panda record. We did a better version of it (a newly recorded version of the song is on the album), slowed it down a little, and took out some annoying guitar parts that were on it."
Concept albums have had something of a bad reputation over the last musical
decade or so. Things, however, have slightly changed in recent times, with some
of the finest rock records of the last few years (Garrison's 'Be A
Criminal', The Mars Volta's 'De-Loused In The Comatorium')
being concept albums. 'Pilots' is a record that can be added to that
"Because I did the lyrics....this is probably gonna sound a little pretentious, it's my leanings towards prog rock, ha ha. I was really thinking thematically, and about how each song is meant to be in that order. I had an idea when we were putting it together about what would go where, and before we recorded it I deliberately held back on committing myself to some of the lyrics. I wanted to make sure it was one long... thing. A whole journey, in a way; that's why 'We Are A Black Box Recorders' is at the end, that is the end of that particular journey."
"It was a conscious effort to do it in that way. We went through three different draughts of the running order, it's very clear, in order," Euan adds.
"It's a concept album, but I don't think people necessarily realise it's that. We weren't consciously trying to write a concept album, it's not like we sat down and thought we'd do an album by prog bands like Spock's Beard or anything," continues Gareth, "We didn't ever set out to write it like that, at the start. Once we put the lyrics together and knew what we wanted for the artwork - that's why the artwork looks like it does, we asked my cousin to draw that illustration - and the reason the lyrics are the way they are is because we tried to fit them into an order. They aren't random song titles either; it sounds pretentious - in fact, I won't keep making apologies for it - but they are like 11 chapters in a book."
For a band who have been receiving glistening reviews in major music
press for their efforts, perhaps the strangest thing about the Copperpot
Journals is that they don't have a manager - Gareth does it himself.
"I'd like to think that's the reason that we're getting held back from the next step. But realistically, I work for the production music department at a major music label, and I speak to people in the industry, and they're saying that the thing holding us back is that we haven't got a manager. It's quite a tricky business."
"There's only so much you can do yourself," adds Euan.
"If I said to A&R that we were managing ourselves, they'd be like "see ya", but if, say, Sanctuary management said 'we've got this band, the Copperpot Journals', y'know, it'd be different. With bands like Iron Maiden and what not, management like that holds a lot of clout."
So are you waiting for someone to approach you, or have you been actively seeking management?
"People have asked us before, but nothing we've ever felt...we might cut our nose off to spite our face but...no-one we've ever trusted. I think as soon as we finish this tour, next year, we'll start looking for one. We've got a few leads through this tour, so....."
Would the band have any qualms about signing to a major label? The pair let
out a resounding "No."
Gareth: "There's no difference between them and big independents. In fact, you can get more fucked on big independents sometimes. Some independents can really fuck you up, because they work on the same contract basis (as major labels), but they're not part of 'the big five', and that's what a lot of people think about, 'the big five'. Their contracts are exactly the same, if not worse sometimes. Maybe I'm saying this because of who I work for, but a major label's interest is to run a business, and to a large degree they don't give a fuck about music. I think the label I work for prove that they don't really give a fuck. I mean, they do and can," he says, quick to make sure he's not putting out the wrong message, "but you just have to look at some of the artists they've signed, or the fact that they put out novelty records. Shit, I'll probably get sacked if they read this."
So, you mentioned the evolution of the songwriting within the band, what's
the next stop for the Copperpot Journals?
Euan: "It'll be a progression from 'Pilots', I think. As a band, creatively we've barely scratched the surface. We've got so many diverse influences as musicians."
Gareth: "I hate it when bands do an album, and think "we've got it, we'll ride with this, we've got to make it with this album". You kind of think, well, they've not really got faith in themselves as writers, as musicians, as a band, to think that's the best they could ever do."
So the band are constantly pushing themselves onwards personally and music-wise?
"As musicians, everyone pushes themselves. As a band, if we thought for a minute that we'd be standing still, it wouldn't be right. The next thing we do will be a progression from what we've done. I'm hoping it won't be a sidestep, as it were," explains Euan.
Gareth reminisces, "I remember when we finished 'Pilots', our mates were asking what it sounds like, and I remember saying "I'm so proud we've got this record out, and if the band ended tomorrow, I'd be happy", in the sense that after we did 'Plotting...' I knew we could do another record, and if we'd finished there I would have been gutted. Looking back on it now, I'm back there. I'd listened to it for the first time in a while for rehearsal purposes, and I was thinking "Christ, I know we've got so much more we can do", even though I'm so proud of it. I'd be letting myself down if I was to say I'd be happy leaving it at that. There's no way I'd leave it now."