Russell Hughes met a band who are extremely grateful to be on the touring circuit, describe Jacknife Lee as ‘being on another planet’, and who write 83 songs for a 13 song album…
rushonrock: I’m A UFO In This City got great reviews from the British music press – do you anticipate it having the same critical reception in the US?
Mark Gibson: Yeah that’s actually really interesting because everything that’s come about for our band has come through because of American people. Like a lot of American bands have taken us on tour – bands such as My Chemical Romance and Paramore. We’ve made a lot of friends in the industry over there so I’m really intrigued to see how it goes down. Of course, they might say we are rubbish! I think rock is a lot bigger in America than it is in the UK and I’m hoping people will get the whole British rock thing.
Alan Williamson: I’d love to do a massive, full-on tour of America. That would be great. It would be a real test as well.
rushonrock: What was it like working with people like Jacknife Lee, Gerard Way and Greg Wells?
MG: Yeah it’s a real eye opener into why these people are so successful.
AM: Jacknife Lee is a machine. He’s just on another planet. It’s an amazing planet.
MG: It’s a good experience, these people just bring the best out of you. That’s why they are who they are, that’s why they do these big albums because they can make you feel so good as a band.
rushonrock: Your new album seems to have a lot of different themes in it – like Vesuvius seems a bit Roman and there is a lot of religion thrown in there as well. Or are we reading into that too much?
MG: No, definitely, there is a lot of that going on. I mean, Steve [Battelle], who is the songwriter, will be able to tell you more but he’s into a lot of that kidna stuff. A lot of religion and he loves Rome – we’ve been loads.
AM: He just generally loves his history – he’s got a massive thirst for knowledge which I think comes across.
MG: There are a lot of metaphors in the album.
AM: And I guess the most obvious in terms of religion is Do You Get What You Pray For. It’s not a religious song as such, but questioning it.
rushonrock: The album is fairly varied in terms of sound, what were your main influences behind it?
MG: I think because he tackled it a song at a time, a lot of the time you’ll track drums for like five tracks, then do the guitar for five, but this time it was one song at a time.
AM: Yeah, we started fresh every day.
MG: So that meant that we weren’t afraid of using loads of different instruments, different guitar sounds for each track. And even when I listen to it, I think they sound really varied, but I hope it comes together as a cohesive album. I think it all sounds like one band – we just like to explore different sounds and paces of songs.
AM: Yeah, like Steve’s inspiration isn’t just music, it comes from – well, he can just go out for a nice walk in the park, and that’s where he gets his inspiration. Don’t get me wrong, he loves his music and he’s a massive hardcore Queen fan so that kinda shows as well. But yeah, he’s influenced by a lot of other stuff.
rushonrock: So is that the Queen influence coming through on The Downside Of Heaven Is The Upside Of Hell?
MG: Well, I suppose we’ve always had that idea. Steve’s always liked the idea of an English choir, and we recorded that in Derby, in the Cathedral there. We tried it in LA, where we recorded the album, and they got a lad in….
AM: It wasn’t a bad sound, it just wasn’t what we were looking for. I mean, I don’t want to say too much about the kid, but we had the song with the snowman in our mind (Walking In The Air) and we just couldn’t achieve that. So we came straight into Derby cathedral and within a few minutes we had exactly what we wanted.
rushonrock: How much does it help you as a band when someone like Zane Lowe picks up on one of your tracks?
MG: Getting play on radio builds momentum, because Your Love Is A Lie got played on day time. Fern Cotton played it and then all the other DJs played it, so it is big for bands, especially rock bands. If Radio 1 feels that they are accessible enough to play them then it’s a big deal in this country, because it’s like the one radio station that everyone listens to. So, we did get a lot of people stand up and take notice. And it’s like: “oh, I heard you on Radio 1” but it’s like the songs are still the same and they’re like, “you’re obviously good, because you’re on Radio 1.” Which isn’t the case, but it does help the band a lot.
rushonrock: Do you think it can be a bit difficult for a rock band to break into the mainstream?
MG: It depends what the band wants…
AM: Yeah, you should never try and write a song to be on the radio, but if it happens…
MG: But there are loads of bands who have been massively successful that have never been played on Radio 1, but I just thinks that we’re probably lucky in the way that the songs are accessible, but that’s not us trying to be like that.
AM: We just love every genre of music, we love great melodies and even some pop songs as well as some really heavy stuff.
rushonrock: We read somewhere that you had about 40 demos to choose from for your second album, is that correct?
AM: Actually it was more like 83.
MG: It’s the same with every album, with UFO and this new one that we’re doing, a lot of them we can play fully as a band and we work on them that way. But we never want songs that we argue about. If all three of us go ‘Yep’ straight away then we put it in.
AM: We’ve probably got about five songs like that, where we are a billion percent on.
MG: We don’t want to be in the situation where we are putting songs in just to boost the ego of someone, we don’t want to put on in just to make Al feel better for example. We want the band to be on totally the same page, because we all talk about an album that we can be proud of, so we don’t want anything on there that some of us aren’t 100% behind.