It’s been busy at the imaginary Cowbell HQ, as you can probably tell from our relative silence over the past two weeks. But that’s not to say we haven’t been working our imaginary socks off to bring you, our fabulous followers, something to quench your Cowbell thirst. I have the overwhelming pleasure of being able to announce that we have another exclusive interview, with none other than the charming Affairs. I sat down with the lead singer, James Robinson, and the guitarist, Liam Grindell, to chew the proverbial fat and talk about what’s moving and shaking.
The interview was conducted in the back room of The Victoria Dalston, an impressively hipster pub in East London. Affairs were playing alongside peers from their new label, Fierce Panda, and had travelled 200 miles in a “sweaty” van from their digs in Manchester. The move was recent, as the band met in Hull. In my view, Hull is an unlikely place to form an edgy band, that have garnered such comparisons as The Smiths, Joy Division and Interpol. But as with many things in life, I am gravely mistaken.
Apparently Hull is great for fostering new talent and Affairs were no exception. “Hull’s like it’s own little thing when it comes to the music community there. I’ve seen it in other cities but I don’t think it’s as close knit,” Liam says earnestly. So, folks, this video wasn’t lying when it said people have underestimated the coolness of Hull. But a new start beckoned in the vast and vibrant city of Manchester. The boys left their legendary 5 man “Shed” (a converted coach house that sounded like the ultimate party barn) in September 2014 to embark on big city life.
“Moving from Hull, it was kind of a new horizon,” Liam says. “We wanted to go somewhere bigger and more vibrant. Somewhere where something was going on every night.” And Manchester has worked out swimmingly in that regard. James raves about the fact that despite the relatively small city centre, there are loads of gig venues that seem to have bands playing all the time. “A lot of that is local talent as well. People still dig it down. There’s still a very proud musical heritage up there. ”
The band have been playing together for a long time, and have a lot to show for it. They’ve released multiple singles and an EP (Stained Gold), through their management company Yellowbrick Music. But this night was all about Fierce Panda, their new label, who recently released their single Life of Leisure. (No, they don’t all wear scary panda costumes…I checked). They were “discovered”, so to speak, at a gig at The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch, and things have shot off from there.
Now, Life of Leisure, a true and Cowbell certified banger. The song was apparently recorded at a Frank-style retreat on the East Coast of Yorkshire, with a new producer, James Kenosha (who has worked with the likes of Dry The River, Rhodes and Pulled Apart By Horses). “It’s always a bit awkward when everyone’s got a bit of a mancrush on the producer,” James confesses with a laugh. Kenosha apparently gave them a fresh take on the song, which changed a lot as time went on. “It was really nice being isolated from city life for a bit. We completely gutted the track and reworked it.”
“Each producer had a slightly different approach on how to get the best out of us and with this song we focused a lot more on tonality,” Liam says.“Writing it felt very natural but we wanted to record it and try and capture it at the source. Maybe in the past we got a bit too bogged down in computer trickery.” Computer trickery or none, the band have brought out some really interesting material in the past. With 80s synths, epic guitars and pounding drums, Affairs have managed to forge a completely new sound for themselves.
When you listen to the tracks, one thing ties them all together, and that’s James Robinson’s unbelievable vocals. “Instrumentally, we never worry about whether or not this sounds like an Affairs track because as soon as James’ voice comes in it becomes an Affairs track,” Liam explains. Upon listening to Affairs for the first time, I thought I was listening to Morrisey and Ian Curtis’ strange lovechild. But, alas, “I don’t just wanna be a poor man’s Joy Division,” James states fairly. “Since my voice broke at the age of six, this is really how it’s has been.” This is something I can level with, seeing as my voice has been about 14 octaves lower than most males since I can remember.
Affairs are gigging as much as they can at the moment, with regular shows in both Manchester and London. “There’s a difference between this is the record and this is what we do live,” Liam says. “When we’re on stage we might get lost in the moment and have a little flair and do something different rather than trying to stick purely to the record.” And this happens frequently, especially with James’ unique and avant-garde performance style (he was a student of the dramatic arts). I asked them if they would ever step up the pyrotechnics at their shows. “I think we draw the line at giant robots,” Liam answers but James seems more up for it. “I really want to do a duet with a hologram of TuPac,” he states brazenly.
So, regular shows and a new single and EP next year, but the strange and mysterious word must be uttered: The Album. “My ethos is that there’s a hell of a lot of time and money and experiences that go into an album, so we don’t really wanna waste it. We want to make sure that enough people are listening and that enough people give a shit,” states Liam maturely. They’re taking their time or “doing their own thing” as Liam says, and by golly do I respect them for that.
I’ll leave you with Liam’s brutally simple key to riding the wave of the music industry: “If enough people like it then I guess that’s alright.”