Top ten records, Glastonbury main stage, and cover of the NME. Birmingham band The Twang burst out into the mid-noughties public conscience with huge singles ‘Wide Awake’ and ‘Either Way’, record labels queuing up to sign them and a reputation for raucous gigs. Seven years on, the five-piece have had to endure negative media coverage, declining album sales and being forced to sack their drummer after he stole £10,000 worth of equipment. Still, last year’s critically-acclaimed album 10:20 went some way to silencing the doubters, and with a new record on the horizon, things may be looking up. The Ripple caught up with lead singer Phil Etheridge to make sense of it all.
You arrived on the music scene in 2006 on a huge wave of press hype. Would you rather have released your debut album under less pressure?
‘We signed to the same label as the f**king Kaiser Chiefs and The Automatic, I don’t know what we were thinking. They offered us a lot of money, but looking back, we could have signed to some really cool labels. But still, we made a record, it sold 250k copies, we had a top 10 single, sold out Brixton…I’m not complaining, ‘cause it was an amazing year.’
‘But that hype does mean that once that’s happened, the press want to get you. If you’re not a proper smackhead, you’re not as interesting. I think if I’d suddenly got arrested with a bag of whatever, or started f**king Sienna Miller, that would have been nice…’
‘Everyone thought we were the next Arctic Monkeys, but they would have rehearsed 4 times a week, they weren’t as crazy as everyone thought. People running around being ‘proper rock stars’, like Pete Doherty, look what happened with him! F**king baghead. I love Pete Doherty, but he’s probably going to kill himself. It did become more about him being a crazy f**ker.
Arguably, your best work has come with last year’s 10:20 and new song ‘The Wobble’. Do you feel you have been unfairly ignored by the music press since your debut?
‘On the second one, most definitely, we were treated unfairly. But, our fans really like us, and that’s why we’re still going. They do keep coming to the shows. That’s testament to the fact that we’re a great live band.’
‘I mean the record we’ve just made, is our best by a long way. If you’re not making a better record each time, then you’ve got to knock it on the head, haven’t you? The reason that we’re still bothering, is the fans are there and we can go to places and sell a thousand tickets. Not many bands can go to London and do 1500. In a way, that’s our ‘f**k you’ to the press. There’s bands that they class as a lot bigger and cooler than us, that don’t do f**k all.’
‘I think the press were just a bit confused. I think they thought we was like the Enemy, dressed in Adidas. We were nothing like those bands, Reverend and that. We did everything we could to get away from it all. Maybe it was a stupid move, ‘cause they all went on to be bigger than us. I felt we were more like the Coral or the Housemartins. You wouldn’t hear Kasabian blaring out of our tour bus.’
‘But that’s not being derogatory to any of them bands. If you can name one band that’ve done it, it’s Kasabian. They f**king nailed it, didn’t they? I take my hat off to them.’
With songs diminishing from your setlist and a hostile press reaction, have you lost taste for your second album, Jewellery Quarter?
‘I wanted to step back a bit, I didn’t want to make a ‘fight-fight’ record, it not what we’re about. But we’ve always played songs like that, listen to our B-sides. For every ‘The Neighbour’ there was an ‘Either Way’, for every ‘Don’t Wait Up’, there was a ‘Two Lovers’. I deliberately set that album out like that. Listen to [last year’s 3rd album] 10:20, there’s lots of moments of wondering.’
‘We always play ‘Barney Rubble’. It’s probably our biggest live tune, and if we were to play a 5-song setlist, we would play it.’
Could you explain the story behind 10:20’s album title?
‘As soon as we got any money, we built a studio. Round the back of the studio, they converted the warehouse into a block of apartments, without telling anyone there was studios behind them. So, we were bashing out 15-song sets every night, rehearsing. They weren’t too happy and this woman put her hand through the letterbox and stuck a note on the inside. So I took a photo of it, I thought ‘our fans will think this is funny’, but then that night my mate text me, who does our artwork, and he was like, ‘that’s your album cover’.
Looking to the future, what’s the next album going to sound like?
Due to certain circumstances, i.e. our drummer being a dirty little f**k, we started writing with processed drums a lot. We had to start writing differently, because the band wasn’t functioning like before. We wanted the new album to be quite sparse and introspective in places. We wanted to change what we’re writing about, but I guess I’ll always write about relationships.’
‘We went in with Rory [Attwell, producer], who’s worked with Palma Violets and Yuck and that, and we’re fans of what he does. He works very quickly, it feels free, and it’s probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a studio. 10:20 was too painful for my soul to record, so it needed to happen quicker.’
Birmingham is experiencing a wave of new indie bands coming to the fore, such as Peace, Swim Deep, JAWS and Superfood. What do you think to them?
‘Well, every one of them’s supported us. We gave Peace and Swim Deep probably their biggest show at that time. I thought Peace wouldn’t do the gig, actually, ‘cause they’re cool kids in leather jackets. They played with us in front of 3000 at Birmingham Academy.’
‘Superfood use our studio at the moment, and I think JAWS are a great band. As for Swim Deep, I think ‘King City’, and I don’t say this lightly, that’s one of my favourite tunes of the last couple of years. They’re really cool – they’re into their clothes, they’re into their tunes, and they’re nice kids.’
Speaking of Birmingham, you’re due to play a Christmas double-header at the Rainbow Warehouse. How much does your hometown mean to you as a band?
‘I always used to find hometown gigs really hard; it had to be the pinnacle of our tour and I wound myself up about it. I didn’t enjoy them. But now, I’ve realised that they’re there because they’re fans. I love doing them now. ‘
Your show there sold out quickly and you’ve added another date.
‘Secretly, we hoped it would. We haven’t put anything out this year, bar ‘The Wobble’, so it’s good to know people still want to know, we’re buzzing. And it’s got a good line up as well. Wide Eyed and Rory’s band Warm Brains are playing, as well as JAWS. It’s gonna be a good couple of nights.’
‘In fact, Wide Eyed’s guitarist is playing with us at the moment. We’re thinking of getting an extra guitarist in, the new record would benefit from it. It’s more members, the better, but we can’t afford to travel round with an orchestra.’
Finally, what’s your favourite album of 2013?
‘I think The National, Trouble Will Find Me. I love the Money record as well, The Shadow Of Love. The National are probably my favourite band, ‘cause they make consistently perfect sad songs, which is what I’m into. Their arrangements, and odd time signatures, are so clever, it’s not just a sad plodding song.’
10:20 is out now via Jump The Cat Records.