Meet Paul Resende, singer (“I’m still filling in – we will never find a true vocalist for this band!”) for seminal art punks Ikara Colt. Their caustic approach to songwriting coupled with a batch of infamously raucous live performances has seen them grow rapidly from the underground to potential mainstream stardom, and with the likes of Bloc Party and Art Brut following in their wake, have found themselves cast as forefathers to the latest scene dominated by up and coming have-a-go heroes.
Currently out on the road to promote new album ‘Modern Apprentice’, Resende admits to being delighted with the results. “I see it as a progression of what we did with ‘Chat And Business’ (Ikara Colt’s 1st album). It’s a lot different to what we were expecting when we started it. I think ‘Modern Apprentice’ is the sound of a band taking what we’d already got and then sharpening it some way. I’m quite proud of the fact that it doesn’t sound like a replica of the first album. There are so many bands who release amazing debut albums and then the next three or four after just sound like that first record with a few words and chords changed.”
Certainly there have been a number of changes within the band since 2002’s ‘Chat And Business’ saw the light of day, the most significant being the introduction of Tracy Bellaries in place of original bass player Jon Ball.
“I think the introduction of Tracy has heralded a more tuneful approach to how we create our songs. The thing about this band is that we’re al pro-individual and we’re four entities doing our own thing but under the same roof as it were”.
Although the dynamics in the band have changed dramatically over the past two years, Resende is still proud of his band’s first long player. “A great debut album”, he enthuses, “the sound of four young naïve people entering a studio not really knowing what was going to happen next and yet the results were astounding. I think we managed to make our mark with that album before any of the record industry bullshit started to kick in.”
‘Modern Apprentice’ has a more complex feel about it than ‘Chat And Business’, in that with the first album the influences were a lot easier to translate, whereas now the songs seem to vary a lot more, the Blondie-esque ‘Modern Feeling’ and robokraut anthem ‘Motorway’ being obvious examples.
“I think ‘Modern Apprentice’ is more considered. It works as a whole so much better than the first. It’s more in tune with how we expect our music to sound, whereas the first time I heard ‘Chat…’ I was left scratching my head as I didn’t realise some of the songs would come out that way in a studio. I think we’re more in control of our own destiny now,” insists the excitable frontman.
So far, both singles plucked from the new record (‘Wanna Be That Way’ and ‘Wake In The City’) have brushed the edges of the Top 40. Was it a conscious decision by the band to put those records out first or was there some form of input from the record label who might have felt they were the most commercially viable releases?
“No, there was no pressure at all from the record company,” Resende assures me. “We’re lucky in our situation that we’ve got complete control over everything we do, even down to small things like if the record label want to issue a badge or a promotional poster with our name on it, we’ve got to OK it first. There’s no A&R guy telling us that ‘Wanna Be That Way’ is the most radio friendly song off our album so it must come out as a single. We wouldn’t stand for that and I don’t think our record company would allow it either. We chose the singles, we chose what ended up on the album and what went out as b-sides, the artwork, everything.”
It must be strange though that some people are now seeing Ikara Colt as being this brand new commercial entity rather than just four friends making the music they enjoy.
“I don’t know really. I mean, we’re just doing what we want to do. We’ve never been one of those bands who’ve got a set gameplan for commercial success, you know, let’s crack America and all that. At the same time, we’ve never set out to deliberately alienate ourselves from the rest of the world. If we’re considered to be too commercial for the underground at any point then so be it”, says the straight talking front man, matter-of-factly. “We’re not a band who think about selling X amounts of singles and albums but if it happens, it happens.”
When it comes to the American music scene, Paul Resende is not one to mince his words lightly.
“I’d always give my time more to a British band sooner than an American band because I’m from the UK not America, so I can relate more to what they’re about. What really disappoints me is that too many British bands want to be American. It’s all to do with the Americanisation of Britain as a whole, from the 60s and the 70s onwards that’s embedded itself as part of the everyday British psyche, and I think so many artists’ music is a direct reflection of that. There are laws to stop the mass consumption of Americanisation, such as banning the bastardisation of the French language. It’s illegal to have Le Big Mac. They’re protecting their culture from Americanisation.”
Since the conception of Ikara Colt, they’ve maintained a favourable relationship with both the printed and online music press, with ‘Chat And Business’ being nominated in many an end of year best album poll and ‘Modern Apprentice’ currently receiving widespread acclaim as the band’s “coming of age” record. When I ask Paul Resende whether the band pays any attention to reviews, he gives it to me straight on a plate, as it were.
“Give us 0/10 or give us 10/10! Just don’t dare give us anything in between. The worst thing in life is to just be OK. It’s like those people who claim its great to be a “Jack Of All Trades”, and yet the saying goes “Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None”. People are afraid of failing and yet I don’t see anything wrong with failing.”
What would you consider to be a failure?
“Well it’s like if you want to be an actor and you’ve trained to be an actor but it turns out you weren’t actually that good an actor so you move on and do something else, I’ve got respect for that person because at least they put everything into it. With the band, we’ve tried lots of different kinds of styles and some have been awful, but I’m not too bothered about that because at least we’re not afraid to admit to our mistakes and do something new. We’ll never stick to any one formula, and that’s why when we say we’re progressing as a band we genuinely mean it.”
Lyrically Ikara Colt have always been decidedly obtuse, from the awkward strains of early single ‘Rudd’ to the t-shirt slogan-cum-two minute acerbic rant ‘I’m With Stupid’ on the new album.
“I’ve always been asked about the lyrics, and yet for me it’s great that people might not understand them and yet in a round about way still know what I mean. I’m not one for printed lyric sheets with records. I find it all a bit worthy, you know, aren’t I a great poet and all that. I remember reading a book about Lou Reed and they printed all his lyrics and it just didn’t work. You needed Lou Reed to be saying it to music for it to make any sense whatsoever. Another classic one is ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ by the Stone Roses, and I read something where the reviewer totally misinterpreted what it was about and thought Ian Brown was saying “I want to be a Door!” I’ve always said that if you don’t know what I’m saying but you kind of know what I mean, then I’m happy with that, “ declares Resende.
Having been compared to people like the Fall and Gang Of Four long before it became fashionable to be mentioned in the same breath as these post-punk icons, Ikara Colt may actually be in danger of…wait for it…becoming trendsetters. The animated singer naturally takes a lighthearted view of things: -
“If I was being light hearted about it, then I would probably say that being compared to people like Mark E Smith and The Fall was a compliment because they are a good band. Its if people started comparing us to a bad band that I wouldn’t be happy!”
And your ultimate bad band is….
“Well, take a track like ‘Rudd’. If people said it sounded like The Saints, then I’d be over the moon, but if someone said it reminded them of Ash I’d be totally mortified!”
Now you mention it, ‘Rudd’ does share a number of similarities with The Saints’ ‘Erotic Neurotic’, particularly the chugging three-chord bassline.
“Yeah, that was a little bit of an accident. We’re big fans of The Saints but I didn’t actually write that riff. I’m really flattered that people think we remind them of some of the bands you’ve mentioned because they really were great bands, pivotal in some cases. I mean punk rock was all about nihilism really but the post-punk movement introduced a number of different styles and was sort of saying “How far are we going to push this?””
Which then brings me nicely onto the subject of contemporaries and heroes, something Paul Resende is quick to dispel.
“I know it sounds clichéd in a John Lydon kind of way but I really don’t feel I have any musical heroes. The thing is, if you spend your whole life looking up to someone one day they’re bound to let you down. I have people I respect, but I wouldn’t necessarily call them heroes. I mean, take some of the Russian writers from the 1920s and 1930s. They were creating literature which eventually resulted in their death, but they still did it because they believed in it. I think they’re more deserving of icon status than some piffling little indie band.”
Ever since their appearance at 2002’s Reading Festival, Ikara Colt have built up a reputation as one of the UK’s most ferocious live acts. Therefore, it must be difficult trying to recreate that energy in the toned down environment of a studio. Paul Resende takes up the story:-
“I do prefer playing live to being in the studio, simply because you’ve got an audience to project on whereas in the studio it feels like you’re performing into the ether. It’s almost like you’ve got to have two different hats on, because live it is possible to be sloppy and get away with it, but at the same time the performance and the emotion that goes into it is difficult to replicate in a studio. I hate bands who are exact replicas live of their sound in the studio. You get bands who will actually admit to trying to reproduce their records live and I think, “Why bother??” Instead of spending all that money carting loads of equipment round they’d might as well mime with a tennis racquet!”
“I’m also proud of the fact we’re not consistent at all, and that’s a reflection of our own passion and belief in what we’re doing,” adds the diminutive singer. “It’s like when you get two classic rock bands, say Led Zeppelin and The Who. I mean, which one would you rather go and see? Led Zeppelin, the soulless machine that just recreates the entire album song by song, or The Who with Pete Townshend doing these extraordinary things onstage with his guitar and generally fucking up. Who are the most passionate? Which is the most exciting? Townshend doesn’t care about technique. He’s more interested in putting on a show, giving the audience something spectacular. You can train a chimp to have a good technique. Technique is moving your fingers up and down. You can’t teach people to have spirit. You either have it or you don’t, and that’s what I feel we’re all about. None of us are great technicians.”