London four-piece Crows - James Cox (vocals), Steve Goddard (guitar), Jith Amarasinghe (bass) and Sam Lister (drums) - have been making an unholy racket since the early part of the decade. Formed in 2012, they put out a couple of excellent singles and EPs culminating in 2016's Unwelcome Light, then seemingly vanished for three years.
Last Friday (22nd March), they returned with a vengeance in the shape of Silver Tongues, their long awaited debut LP. Released on Idles' Joe Talbot's label Balley Records, it's a visceral, intense and at times disturbing record that more than justifies the wait.
This week saw the band embark on a short UK tour supporting Idles before their own run of headline shows begins towards the end of April. DiS caught up with affable frontman Cox prior to the band's soundcheck at Sheffield's Leadmill on Tuesday.
DiS: It's going to be a very busy few weeks for the band, having released your debut album on Friday. Then embarking on a tour with Idles before headlining a bunch of dates yourselves in April and May. How do you prepare for a headline tour compared to one where you're the support act?
James Cox: We've done big support slots in the past. We supported Wolf Alice and Slaves which were pretty much the same sized venues as we're doing on this tour. The difference is we were on first at those gigs with another support band after us, so we only ended up playing to about 10% of the crowd, especially on the Wolf Alice tour. Which is fine. We don't mind how many people we play to, and we still ended up with a lot of dedicated fans who first saw us on that tour. Slaves was pretty similar, except a lot of their fans didn't like us because we don't sound like Slaves. I think this tour will be different because Idles fans are so accepting and open to new music. We did an in-store signing session at Rough Trade last night, and several people came up to us afterwards saying they couldn't wait to see us on this tour. Hopefully, after we've done these shows it will mean our headline tour is even better because we've been a band for quite a while now.
The first time I saw you was at an all-dayer in Sheffield a couple of years ago but then you seemed to disappear for a while. What caused you to be away for so long?
JC: There are a few reasons I guess. First of all our old drummer (Laurence Rushworth) left. He moved to America to have a family which is amazing. He's having the best time. So then we had to go through the process of finding someone to replace him. That was really hard as well as we're such a tight group, so we had to find the right person to fit the band as well as be able to play like Laurence did, albeit in their own style. So it was quite hard. We found Sam (Lister), who fitted in straight away, so then we decided to make the album with the intention to put it out as soon as it was finished. We thought everyone wanted to release it as we had lots of offers coming in. But the offers were also pretty shit and we thought we've not worked this hard for this long for it to be number six on a list of importance behind other artists so that literally no one gave a fuck. That took a long time, and then when we finally got a label to release it they turned out to be time wasters. It was very foolish on our part but we had a long conversation with the guy from the label who promised us a load of stuff. We had a handshake agreement and everything, but then by the time we'd gone back through contracts with them - we ended up going back and forth with three or four different contracts - it ended up being a completely different contract to what we'd initially agreed. They'd gone back on everything they promised to us and our lawyers warned us it would probably end the band if we signed the contract.
Was there ever a point where you thought about finishing the band?
JC: Yeah, loads! That was only because we were getting so frustrated. What kept me going and thinking we should continue was because we gig all the time and they're always amazing. We have the most loyal fanbase who always come to see us and always go crazy. Always travel to come and see us as well, so gigging the whole time was what kept the band going. We had to make an album. So many bands I've loved from the past have gone so far but never got around to making an album, and I didn't want that to be us as well so the least we had to do was make this record and put it out. That's when Joe (Talbot) came along and offered to put out the album.
How did you become involved with Joe and Balley Records?
JC: I work a street food truck as my day job. In the winter we do markets and the summer we do festivals. So I was working at Latitude where Idles were playing and we all loved Brutalism. This was just before the second album came out and I'd never seen them play live before. I'd always missed them whenever they played in London. They were playing the stage literally opposite the pitch of our van, so I persuaded my boss to come and watch them with me. That's when I realised just what an incredible live band they were, so I sent Joe a fan message. Basically telling him what his band were doing for music - especially bands like us - was so important, because it's opening up heavier music for a mainstream crowd. They've helped bands like us who play loud and abrasive music get a wider audience, so I just wanted to say thank you and keep doing it.
Joe messaged back almost instantaneously and said he was a huge Crows fan. He saw us play in the Louisiana when he worked there, and then we met each other outside a Metz gig at the 100 Club and he said he really liked a lyric to one of the songs we played in Bristol. I remember that exact conversation which was about three years ago, but I had no idea who Joe was at the time. He repeated this one line to me over and over again, which I distinctly remember because no one knows the lyrics to any of our songs! So we were messaging each other for a while then got onto the subject of how much of a nightmare we were having with the label situation, and Joe replied that while they're not a huge label, they'd put everything they possibly can into the album. Which was exactly what we wanted to hear. That we'd be the number one priority rather than pushed to the bottom of the barrel.
With the political climate all around us, the rise of the right and Brexit imminent, is now the right time for bands like Idles and Crows? Both bands have been around for a while, but it's only now that you're connecting with a wider audience. Which goes back to the argument about social inequality and austerity inspiring great art.
JC: It's like that age-old question about whether you think guitar music is going to die. That question constantly comes up every year yet as long as people are pissed off about something there'll always be heavy, angry music. It's like a release in many ways.
Do you feel Crows are part of a growing nationwide counterculture of like-minded artists and bands?
JC: Definitely. That's the beauty of touring when you're a DIY punk band because you end up playing these small spaces with like-minded acts. So when we played Chunk in Leeds - which is a small rehearsal space where they also put on gigs with a capacity of 50 - it felt like we were part of a community. Sheffield is like that as well. I know a lot of musicians who moved up here from London because it's cheaper to live and rent creative spaces. So it's great touring around different cities and seeing all these pockets of scenes doing their own thing. The Netherlands is very similar. We tour a lot over there. It's more rife than ever. People come to our gigs and they talk about what they're doing and I think to myself, I'd like to move here but then I also like living in London. I've lived there for ten years since I was eighteen. It is a slog, especially trying to be creative. You can do it. You've just got to be prepared to work non-stop.
The irony of being based in London is it's so expensive to live there, and as you said, so draining. Yet there are supposedly lots of opportunities there as well. Do those opportunities exist?
JC: To an extent they do. But there's also a lot of nepotism there, especially within the music business. If you hang out in the right pubs and make the right friends then you'll get given opportunities. There are bands I know - without mentioning any names - who have achieved quite a lot for how good they are. I don't like saying its undeserved, but there really are a number of shit bands who've got the right breaks just by being friends with the right people. It's always happened, and it probably isn't just confined to London, but then there's the other side to it as well. Lots of incredible bands that probably never get outside of London. They become huge in London but they've never played anywhere else so no one really knows about them. That was a huge mistake we made at the beginning - just playing in London and hardly anywhere outside of the city. Eventually we realised it wasn't very productive and started playing elsewhere.
When I listen back to your early singles and EPs it's almost as if you were ahead of the game, especially 2016's Unwelcome Light. Do you think that's one of the reasons people weren't connecting as much then with your music as they are now? The zeitgeist had to come to you?
JC: That's a good point. We still play those songs in our live set. The fact I'm not sick of them means we must have done something right. We're very picky about writing and what we put out, which is another reason why it took us so long to create an album. The reason we re-recorded 'Crawling' and 'Hang Me High' for the album was because we didn't like the earlier recordings. If you listen to the earlier recording of 'Hang Me High' it speeds up a lot. Mainly because we did the whole EP live in one take, so the timing's all over the place. So we recorded it again, only this time with a click which we're really happy with. We've always been huge fans of that whole psych scene, even though it's probably not as thriving now as it was three or four years ago. We weren't playing that kind of music at all, but we were really obsessed with that scene. We wanted to be in that scene so much and Liverpool Psych Fest was our dream festival to play, so when we got offered it we were really excited. We probably didn't belong there compared to a lot of traditional psych bands but everyone who saw us play said we were incredible.
Were there any other songs written around the time you were making Silver Tongues that didn't make it onto the album? If so, will they be revisited in the future?
JC: The album was going to be eleven tracks then we dropped one. Mainly because for us it didn't fit. We couldn't find the right place for it. That's one thing we've always focused on with our EPs as well as the album, the flow of the songs we put out. How do we phase one song into the next one? That kind of thing. I'm really happy with Silver Tongues. I don't think we could have made it any better. The song we left out was really different to the rest of the album. I guess it would have been quite interesting to hear, but it's probably going to be one of those songs we just write, play for a little bit then end up shelving for a long time. 'Chain Of Being' was an idea we had a long time ago but we hated playing it, so we stopped. Then we revisited it before the album and changed it quite a bit to what it is now.
Will there be any more singles off the album?
JC: Not a single as such but we're releasing a video for 'Wednesday's Child'. We were originally going to put it out before the video for 'Silver Tongues', but then it became a short film instead.
What are your plans for the rest of 2019? Are you playing any festivals this year
JC: The annoying thing about that is most festivals get booked up at the end of the previous year, so with Silver Tongues only coming out last week we were a bit too late for that. We are doing a few. Dot To Dot, Handmade, Latitude, a few European ones. Hopefully, we'll do more next year. Festivals are always a weird one because again, a lot of the bookings are quite political depending on which agent you're signed with.
What advice would you give to a new band just starting out?
JC: Something people told me a lot, and I ignored, was write as much as you can. Write, write, write. Have as much material as you possibly can. Even if it's shit, keep it all because you can revisit it later. That's a big fault we have. Writing it, then hating it, then not doing it anymore. Be passionate about what you're doing. Love playing live because if you don't like touring you're going to be fucked! Always give it your all even if there are only 10 people in the room - those 10 people are here to see you. Just believe in your product and be yourselves. Stick to your guns and don't let anyone try and change you.
Are there any other new bands or artists out there you'd recommend for Drowned In Sound and its readers to check out?
JC: There are so many good bands! My personal favourites are a band called Lumer from Hull. They're really underrated. We wanted to take them on our headline tour but it wasn't possible this time round so we're taking Treeboy & Arc. Squid are great. They're a London band. Crush Puppies are another London band who are great. Yowl are great too. He is one of the lyricists I'm insanely jealous of.