Talking Bollocks

An Interview with Test Icicles

by Robert Collins

The British rockers don't rehearse, have never cut a demo, and cite nu-metal as an influence. So how exactly does this work?

He may be a front man in one of 2005’s hippest and most talked about new bands, but we’ve heard a rumour that Dev Hynes is a massive Slipknot fan. That’s why, to make sure we get on his good side, we’ve brought a copy of October 2004’s Playmusic, which just happens to have Slipknot’s Corey Taylor on the cover, as a present. As soon as he spots the mag, Dev loses all semblance of art rock cool and reverts into a rabid metal fan, just like any other 19-year-old guitar wiz.

“Oh my god!” barks Dev as Corey’s gnarled mask emerges when we meet before the band’s headline show in an unsuspecting Bristol venue. “Can I keep this? Really? Thanks a lot, man. When you think about it now it seems like nothing, but I was fourteen when the first major Slipknot album came out. I’d been listening to Smashing Pumpkins and pop punk bands and then I got given a CD with this wild music on it. The musicianship was insane! And then you’d see what the faces behind the music were. I went to the famous Astoria show where the DJ jumped off the speaker stack. It was only a week after I first heard them. It blew me away. I loved Korn, too. Their structuring was fucked up. And they had great guitar sounds and creativity. We use the same pedals as Korn. If you listen to the album there are some real nu-metal bits. In twenty years time kids are going to be going to clubs in Korn shirts in the way they wear Smiths shirts now. They’re going to be wearing Korn and Limp Bizkit shirts.”

Cynics say that everything in music is cyclical, but if Test Icicles are the band that brings nu-metal back into the realms of the fashionable, they’re disguising it well. Their debut album, For Screening Purposes Only, is a 100-mph cacophony of musical idea that on more than one occasion sounds not dissimilar to the contents of a rehearsal room falling down a flight of stairs. The band is rightfully proud of their achievement but still can’t quite believe that anyone managed to listen to the entire album in one sitting.

“How did you do that?” asks Dev as we reveal that we stuck their CD in our car stereo on our way down to Bristol.

“I wouldn’t drive with that on,” tuts transplanted American Sam Mehran, who insists on spending the entire interview noodling on the guitar. “I can’t believe you listened to our album all the way through.”

“After about six songs it becomes too intense,” agrees Dev. “I’ve only listened to it twice.”

If a band refusing to believe that anyone actually listened to their album from start to finish sounds a tad odd, that’s just the beginning. From their line-up (three guitarist/vocalists with live percussion provided by pre-recorded backing tracks on an iPod) to their creative process to their approach to succeeding in the music business, Test Icicles have looked at the accepted methodology and said, if you’ll pardon the pun, bollocks to it.

“Me and Sam were doing something else and Dev was a friend who we asked if he wanted to join in,” explains third member Rory Atwell. “All three of us knocked out four songs because we had a gig in a week. I made some beats on a drum machine, two of us would play guitars and whoever was left would do the vocals. That’s how the whole switching thing came about.”

“We didn’t hand out demos to anyone. Ever,” shrugs Dev as we enquire about they came to be label-mates with Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys at Domino. “We just played songs and put them online so our friends could hear them. We were playing live every few weeks if friends asked us to. About a year ago people started getting interested. We were talking to other labels but none of them seemed sensible enough. But with Domino Laurence Bell, who owns it, he came and spoke to us. He wanted to put it out, where everyone else was into the hype, saying this band could be this or that. We only had four songs at that stage and Lawrence had only heard two of them when we signed to Domino. We wrote the album after that.”

Strange as it sounds, the three members of Test Icicles went their separate ways in the studio, bringing demo’d songs to each other only when they were finished. So when the time came to figure out to play these studio-generated multi-track ideas live, the band chose to tackle the problem head on. By ignoring it entirely.

“We practice once before a long string of gigs,” smiles Dev. “One rehearsal where we’ll work out who does what. We should probably practice more.”

“We’ve practiced about ten times ever,” says Sam, looking up from his guitar for a brief moment. “There’s no need for us to practice though. Unless you’re brushing up on getting tight the best thing to practice is writing new material and sorting out the tweaks on each song. Like a band should. We don’t, because it was all written and recorded individually. The songs have a lot of bumps and that’s why.”

“After this tour we’re going straight to New York,” continues Dev. “The last time we were there it was at the end of a long touring cycle and we played sooooo badly. This time we have a rehearsal booked as soon as we get there. Although we’re probably playing the best we’ve ever played consistently on this tour. Usually we’re either really good or the worst thing you’ve ever heard.”

“We’re not really a live band,” offers Rory.

“It’s more like an experiment,” nods Sam.

“It’s not recreating how we did it in the studio, where we recorded everything separately,” continues Rory. “We’re not a traditional band. I mean, we play with an iPod!”

Of course, with this haphazard approach to making music, a very silly name, and a sound like a bar fight between Slipknot and the combined forces of Sonic Youth and the Rapture, there are plenty of people out there who don’t just hate Test Icicles, but are happy to let the band know about it. Although according to the boys, the haters are getting fewer and further between.

“It doesn’t bother us,” reckons Dev. “We’re only worried about people that like us. When we first started, a lot of gigs were confrontational. But now there’s hype, a lot of people who would have been confrontational have convinced themselves that they like it. I don’t miss it. We get enough shit in the street. We don’t need it on stage.”

Which leads us neatly to the now infamous MTV2 Gonzo show in Liverpool with the Arctic Monkeys where, by all accounts, Test Icicles were booed off. That is, if you believe everything you read and hear.

“It’s been really twisted up,” snaps Dev. “We were driving for ten hours from London to get there and only arrived ten minutes before we were meant to go on. No soundcheck. We went on, played really badly for three songs, said we were gonna leave because there was no point. We sucked. And then they booed. And then we left. There were quite a lot of people there to see us who were enjoying it. If we had had a soundcheck it would have just been a normal gig. The Arctic Monkeys are good though.”

Buying a ticket for a Test Icicles live show, it would seem, is something of a lottery. After all, you’re paying for a band that rehearses about as frequently as Victoria Beckham supersizes her Big Mac. On the other hand, you could quite likely find yourself in the middle of a room bouncing along to no-holds-barred, punk rock chaos. There’s just no way of telling.

“We need enthusiasm rather than people standing there looking at us,” explains Rory. “We always do what we do, so if people are just standing there we just don’t want to do it so much. If you want to come on stage and yell random shit into the mic, go for it.”

“Sunderland was good,” adds Sam. “Some guy came on stage and decided to introduce every song with some random, drunken drool. If each show we played had someone like that we’d have nothing to worry about.”

No drummer, no rehearsals, no sign of new songs on the horizon and the only thing Test Icicles are worried about is finding more drunken lunatics to liven up the shows with impromptu stage invasions. Life’s pretty weird for Test Icicles right now, but at least Dev has a Slipknot interview to keep him happy.

[Editor’s note: After this interview took place, Test Icicles announced their plans to disband. They’ve cancelled their US shows, but will tour the UK in April and release one more single from For Screening Purposes Only before officially splitting.]

An earlier version of this feature originally appeared in British music magazine Playmusic.

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