Taking the Long Road: An Interview with The Music

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By Jon Garrett

While the British music press has been busy plugging every skinny-tie-wearing garage band they can dig up, the arrival of The Music—the best and brightest hope from The Isles in some time—has gone relatively unheralded. Deemed out of step by UK journalists for their sprawling, psychedelically-inclined songs and lead singer Robert Harvey’s high-pitched wailing, the prodigious youngsters have been forced to win fans the old-fashioned way: through electrifying gigs and word-of-mouth. It also hasn’t hurt that the band has stellar collection of EPs to go with their just-completed debut album.

Although many have already picked up on the band’s most obvious reference points, namely the Stone Roses and the early ‘90s Manchester movement, the Music’s songs showcase a diverse range of influences, from Led Zeppelin to U2 to more obscure indie gems like Mogwai. Yet unlike your typical indie act, The Music seem determined to infiltrate the mainstream, having been snapped up by reputable label hut (Smashing Pumpkins, the Verve) in the UK and signed worldwide to Capitol. On their recent and first club tour of the States, Harvey discussed the band’s resolve and their initial impressions of American audiences.

PopMatters:

How long were you all playing together before you got noticed?

Robert Harvey:

We’ve been playing together for around four years.

PM:

But you’re all quite young now, right?

RH:

Yeah, Phil, the drummer is 20 and the rest of us are 19.

PM:

I guess it’s partly because of your age that every article I read about The Music has the word “potential” in it. How do you feel about that descriptor?

RH:

I’m not really sure. I guess I’d like to know the point when you reach your potential. I don’t think we’re potentially good because of our age.

PM:

But that seems to be what they’re driving at…

RH:

It’s not something we care too much about though.

PM:

It seems that the British press is totally immersed in this new garage stuff going on at the moment, and that sort of leaves The Music as the odd man out. Do you feel at times like the press over there doesn’t know what to do with you?

RH:

I think we’ve been quite lucky really because we haven’t been over-hyped. What we’re doing is totally different. We respect what [those artists] are doing, but it’s not our thing.

PM:

[The lack of coverage] might pay off in the long-term maybe.

RH:

Yeah, definitely.

PM:

A lot of British bands in the past ten years have cited the Stone Roses as an influence, and I don’t think The Music is an exception in that regard. I can especially hear the Roses on your debut single, “Take the Long Road and Walk It.” But while a lot of bands, like Oasis and the big guitar groups over the years, picked up on the Roses’ choruses and sense of melody, I feel like many of them missed the dance element of their sound. And that’s what I think is really unique about your band. You’re expanding on an aspect of their sound that most bands rejected as unfashionable maybe or simply forgot about. Was that something that you consciously latched onto, that you wanted to explore?

RH:

I think a lot of it comes from Phil, our drummer. He’s always really been into dance music. It just comes out of him. He’s been listening to it for a long while.

PM:

You know, I just feel that a lot of those bands that worshipped at the Roses’ altar learned all the wrong lessons.

RH:

What do you mean?

PM:

Well, what made the Roses special in my mind was those bands’ sense of rhythm. A lot of the groups that came after them sort of overlooked that.

RH:

It’s the groove, right? And it wasn’t just the Roses. I mean, we like The Happy Mondays just as much as we like the Stone Roses. So maybe that has something to do with the difference [you’re hearing].

PM:

I have to say that I really think that dance element adds an important dimension-especially to the live show. I mean, people were really moving and getting into it at the Chicago show I saw. And as sad as it is for me to say, crowd participation is an all too rare occurrence these days.

RH:

Well, thanks.

PM:

So how did the rest of the tour go following that night? How did it compare to England?

RH:

Actually, most of the other nights weren’t like that one. It was kind of like our first tour of England. Not many people moving. It was just people standing there with their arms folded, saying, “come on, impress us.”

PM:

Well, that was probably due to the thin audience more than anything else. The energy level tends to go up the more people you have packed in. But I have to say, you didn’t seem to let the attendance figures bother you. You guys gave it everything. You could have been performing in a sold-out arena.

RH:

Even if people aren’t getting into it, you can always go into your own world. You know what I mean?

PM:

Do you feel you perform the same regardless of how many people are in the room?

RH:

Yeah, I think it’s a little better when people are getting into it, like you said. But when they aren’t, you get a little boost too I suppose-from frustration. You wind up trying a bit harder maybe. As long as we get to show people what we can do, we can’t complain really.

PM:

I have to say that I was a bit surprised when I heard that Capitol Records signed you, if only because a lot of your songs don’t seem particularly well-suited to American radio. While touring across America, I don’t know if you’ve tuned into modern rock radio at all, but there’s not a hell of a lot of variety on those stations. And I don’t know how well your songs will mesh with the format. Given that, do you have any specific plans for breaking the States?

RH:

Well, touring. We are a live band.

PM:

Capitol did sign Doves. And they’re in a similar situation radio-wise. So I see a sort of parallel there.

RH:

As long as we get the singles out there and promote the album, I think we’ll be alright.

PM:

I’m a big fan of your b-sides. In fact, I’d say of all the bands in recent memory, you have the strongest b-sides. Your EPs are truly incredible.

RH:

Thank you.

PM:

Yeah, well, I was a bit shocked that some of those songs didn’t make it onto the actual album. Were there a lot of close calls when you were putting it together?

RH:

Yeah, definitely.

PM:

How about the instrumentals? I thought those were particularly amazing. Was it a tough choice to leave those off?

RH:

There is an instrumental on the album. It’s a hidden track.

PM:

Really? See, I have a promo copy and it’s not on there. I’ll have to check it out.

RH:

It’s before the first track.

PM:

Do you think instrumentals will appear more frequently on your recorded output in the future?

RH:

Yeah. Actually, we’re having a meeting with a film director in France. We want to work on film music, which of course is mostly instrumental.

PM:

So like a soundtrack? I can definitely see that. It would be a good fit.

RH:

As long as it’s got soul and done for the right reasons, we’ll be proud of it.

PM:

You said that you’re drummer contributes a lot to the songs. Is your songwriting process fairly democratic?

RH:

Yeah, it is. It’s a jam.

PM:

Have you had time to jam at all since the album’s release? Written any new songs yet?

RH:

We’re trying. We’ve been touring so much though. When the time does come to write new things, I think it’ll be very interesting because we’ve learned so much about each other in terms of musicianship. We’ll just sort of get in a room and start jamming, and if it feels good, we’ll record it.

PM:

Your singing voice is quite high-pitched and I imagine that it must be a strain to use it night in and night out. Do you ever worry about being able to preserve your voice over the long-term?

RH:

I get asked this quite a lot. I think it’s a difficult question for anyone who’s got something unique like that.

PM:

Well, it’s a great voice. I’m just wondering if you get sore throats frequently.

RH:

It comes and goes. It depends on your metabolism-how much talking or shouting you’ve been doing. Sometimes if I start to fade [at a show], I’ll reserve it because you don’t always last. But you know, nothing lasts, man. Whenever you’ve got it, you might as well use it to its best [effect].

PM:

I agree. I think it’s something that really sets you apart from other bands today. It’s very distinctive.

RH:

Anyway, a lot of people have been asking about though. I know it won’t last, but I’m not going to sit around thinking about the day it’s going to go. You’ve just got to go for it as long as you can. The Music’s debut self-titled album will be released in the States on February 25. They will also open for Coldplay on their February/March tour of the States.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/music-030129/