Interview with Chris Aylett and Sam Nicholls of Scholars

The end of February saw the release of a single which with an eagerness and energy most bands flounder for immediately installed its creators as a band to swiftly check out and as ones to watch very closely. The band in question was UK rock band Scholars and their single Bad For Business a song which mesmerises whilst firing up the instinct to have fun and express oneself.  We had the pleasure to find out more about the band and their music withy the chance to talk to bassist Chris Aylett and vocalist Sam Nicholls.

Hi gentlemen and welcome to The Ringmaster Review.

For many you have just burst into view so could you please introduce and give a history to the band and its members?

Chris: In a nutshell we’re a 5 piece rock band from Hemel Hempstead. We’ve been together for about 5 years now. Myself and Mike (drums) have always played in the same bands, since we were 11 years old – incidentally our first band was fronted by Frank Carter of Gallows and now Pure Love fame. Tom and Sam knew each other from school and both played in bands of good local repute. We were a 4 piece until last February, when the second guitarist we’d been searching for years finally appeared, in the form of Mr Cal Owen. We’ve recorded and released a lot of demos and we’ve just now reached the point where we’re happy we’ve got enough quality material to record our first album. How would you describe your sound again for newcomers to the band?

How would you describe your sound again for newcomers to the band?

Sam: I think we probably span a couple of different genres and we do try to blend a bit of everything that we enjoy. It’s mainly an alt rock basis but the songs are structured like pop and they’re high energy and often a little pissed off like punk rock. It’s a bit of a frankensound.

What are the influences which have shaped your sound inside and outside of music?

Chris: Musically, our starting point has always been balls-out rock and emo, bands like At The Drive In, Hundred Reasons and Million Dead. You can add to that your classic ‘indie’ bands like The Smiths, The Cure and Tears For Fears – really strong songwriting which pushed the envelope lyrically and musically. You don’t seem to get many bands these days that manage to combine mainstream appeal with genuine musical innovation. More recently we’ve started getting into more electronic music – LFO, Aphex Twin, Flying Lotus – which is starting to have a bit of an effect on our sound.

Where does the band name come from and does it reflect you as musicians?

Chris: I wish there was an interesting story behind the name but there really isn’t. When we started out we had a different singer and me and him threw a few names around based on what we liked the sound of. Scholars stuck. Does it reflect us as musicians? Loosely at best I think!

Hemel Hempstead is your home town, is it a big inspiration for you and does it have a healthy music scene for a relatively small place compared to a city?

Sam: There used to be a really healthy music scene in our town when I was a teenager. I used to go to our local arts centre every weekend to watch local bands. But now they’ve closed down almost all the decent places to play, it’s harder for kids to get into rock music in our town. We’ve actually put on some of our own shows in the past and we hope to do so in the future. They’re always a bit success because everyone is crying out for live music in our town.

Having recently reviewed your fantastic new single Bad For Business, we reflected that though unique you are in the similar high energy and infectious camp alongside the likes of Max Raptor, Innercity Pirates and Baddies, is this comparison you can see yourselves?

Sam: Well having played with and been blown away by both Max Raptor and Baddies, I couldn’t be more flattered by that! They’re very different bands but we certainly do have some overlap with them. Even if it’s just how much we love ‘going off’ properly onstage.

Your first single Tornadoes and Fractures was another great track. How do you feel you have evolved as songwriters from the bands beginnings to the new release though it is actually a relatively short time?

Chris: We’ve definitely refined the process. We used to spend hours upon hours tweaking one song only to realise after several weeks that what we had to start with wasn’t great and we were effectively polishing a turd. We listen back to demos of old and realise how overcomplicated they were – we’d throw in every good idea we had. I think we’ve finally learned that less is more. A shout out must go to our manager Mark who helped show us the way; you can’t overestimate the value of an informed outside perspective.

How does the songwriting process happen within Scholars?

Chris: It’s varied over the years. We used to jam together and see what happened, and although that yielded some good results they were a long time coming. These days we each bring semi-formed ideas to the table and ruthlessly go through them, picking out the choicest morsels to develop. In honesty, we now find that if the bulk of a song hasn’t come together within one rehearsal, it’s not likely to happen. Bad For Business came from one riff and was written in about 20 minutes at the end of a rehearsal, for example.

There seems to be a definite thought given to the visual content of Scholars as well as the music it seems, as with the sleeve design for Tornadoes and Fractures and I believe I read you co-ordinate but vary the colours you wear on stage? Is this just extra fun for you or does it have a deeper importance to the band?

Sam: I think it all comes from a desire to be a little unusual and it just has to feel right to us rather than having any specific significance. We used to actually dress ‘colour coded’ onstage but it felt a bit Power Rangers so it’s more subtle now. The whole team have input on how everything looks and it was actually guitarist Tom who came up with the idea for the origami sleeve for Tornadoes. He brought a prototype to rehearsal and it was just clearly the way to go.

What does a Scholars show offer fans, are they as high energy as your singles so far have suggested?

Chris: High energy is pretty accurate, we’ve always gone for it live. We quite like people to think that we’re slightly unhinged and that anything could happen. I think some bands forget that when they play a show, the audience are also watching what they’re doing and that’s 50% of the entertainment. It’s actually a bit arrogant to think that your music is so special and mind blowing that you just need to stand around performing it and that’s enough for 30 minutes. Basically, people are overwhelmed with entertainment options these days and unless you’re Sigur Ros you’ve got to do something a bit special to stop people playing Angry Birds while you’re on stage.

More and more bands seem to want to recreate a live sound close to their recordings rather than the other way round these days but I get the impression you guys just go for it in your gigs, it is about having and giving a fun time and show primarily for you?.

Sam: I don’t know exactly how it started but we discovered somewhere along the line that putting everything into your live show just feels really good and I’ve honestly never felt more right with the world than when we’re playing live and really nailing it. It just feels like that’s what I was born to do. So there would really be no point in us meticulously crafting and polishing songs on record and then struggling to play them exactly the same note-for-note live. It’d lose all its appeal for me. I’d rather go the other way around and try to bottle the sound of the live show when we record. It’s a challenge though!

You have shared stages with the likes of Hundred Reasons, The Computers, The Xcerts, Don Brocco and Gay For Johnny Depp, any gigs that have stood out or been a highlight so far?

Sam: Certainly the last night of HR in Nottingham for me, but mainly because I got to do guest vocals on ‘If I Could’ (my teenage self would never have believed you if you’d told him that was going to happen). The whole Don Broco tour was a huge laugh. Shows with the Gays and The Computers are always great but also hard work because they’re ferociously good live bands. We have to seriously step it up so as to not be eclipsed by their madness.

And any you would rather were lost from the memory?

Chris: Yep! We’ve had a handful of absolute shitstorms. We did a round trip of nearly 10 hours in a hired van to do a festival only to have the event shut down seconds before we were about to start playing – we’d set up and were ready to go. On another occasion we had a row with a pissed up soundman whose wife threatened to knock Sam’s block off. In a way the terrible experiences strengthen the bond between you and make the good shows all the better so we tend to laugh them off.

Do you have a focused direction for Scholars in music and sound ahead or do you just let things evolve organically?

Sam: It would be difficult to try and have a solid plan for our sound I think. We’re always trying new things so it’s always changing but we’re also quite good at reining it in, I don’t think we’ll accidentally end up as a funk band or anything.

Is there an album on the horizon, or more singles first?

Chris: There is indeed an album on the way – we’ll be in the studio in April. We’ve got plans for a few singles leading up to it too.

As still a young and upcoming band how hard do you find it to get strong gigs that will elevate your stature compared to those that are great but at a level you have played for a while?

Sam: Well we’re really grateful for all the help and support and great opportunities we receive at the moment. Shows are rarely disappointing for us even if they aren’t necessarily stadium support tours and main stage festival slots. The big break for us would be to get out on tour in support of someone awesome. I’d just like to let Biffy Clyro know that if they’re ever short of an opening act… well y’know.

What is next for the band over the coming weeks?

Chris: We’re filming another video in the next couple of weeks…we’ve got a crazy idea for it and it should be a mental couple of days. Otherwise we’re going to be getting our heads down finishing off songs for the album and starting pre-production.

Many thanks for taking time to chat with us, good luck with your excellent single.

Would you like to end with words for the world?

Sam: Thanks very much. As a wise man once said… Do, or do not. There is no ‘try’.

Oh and lastly how about a dark shameful secret about another band member?

Chris: I’ve been racking my brains for about half an hour and I can’t really think of anything. We’ve all listened to some dodgy bands and had dodgy haircuts in our time but that’s all par for the course. I can give you an interesting fact – Tom (our guitarist, also responsible for recording many of our demos) works for Jeff Wayne of ‘War of the Worlds’ fame and has in his time recorded artists as diverse as Dani Filth and Rhydian off X Factor.

The RingMaster Review 05/03/2012

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Demented Are Go: Welcome Back To Insanity Hall

Be afraid; be very afraid for the asylum borne mayhem that is Demented Are Go is back. Their long awaited and permanently desired return comes in the size of the malevolent new album Welcome Back To Insanity Hall. They have not just re-emerged to stalk nightmares once more but burst in on us again with an intensity and dark villainy that sees them back to their very evil best.

When psychobilly was at its height in the eighties with the likes of Meteors, Guana Batz, and King Kurt leaving wreckage wherever they stomped with their infectious sounds, Demented Are Go was the one band that stood out and fired up these senses more than most. From the moment their debut album In Sickness And In Health put its nasty twisted fingers around the heart with slices of evil in the shape of tracks like Pervy In The Park and Rubber Love, devotion was inevitable so that even the mention of their name was inspiration for a deep malignant glow within.

Sparky

The years and lives of Demented Are Go and especially of band original and vocalist Sparky (Mark Phillips) have been turbulent and unsettling to say the least but throughout the band has fought back to rile up music and their fans with notable releases such as Kicked Out Of Hell of 1988 and Hellbilly Storm in 2005. Times have been rocky for Sparky and testing for a band that has seen many changes over the years but nothing could stop them for long. For all the great releases it can be said that the band has not always lived up to those early days even if they out shone most other pretenders throughout but with the new album they have once more taken their place at the head of the genre with a mighty declaration.

Just to prove that the world of Demented Are Go is never straight forward the album was touched by tragedy in the death of engineer/producer Tim Buktu with whom the band also worked when he remixed their earlier Hellucifernation in the late nineties. Aged only 53 he died from a heart attack having already mixed the new release and it hit the band hard as one can imagine. Eventually with the determination and strength that has always been a hallmark of Demented Are Go, the album was finished by late 2011.

From the opening madness of the intro a feeling brews that this will be an unforgettable hellish ride, the opening title track bringing the confirmation and so much more. Rampaging through the ear the song litters the senses with unbridled tumbling riffs, insatiable beats and Sparky ripping up things with his gravelled venom dripping vocals. It has been seven years since their last album but Welcome Back To Insanity Hall makes it feel like they have never been away, something all the subsequent tracks endorse with a vengeance. What emerges is an album which might just be the most complete and consistent ever from the band and certainly one of the very best.

Earlier albums gave us classics like Human Slug, Transvestite Blues, and Pickled And Preserved to name just a trio that scarred the heart for blissfully ever. The new album adds to the list with the mighty black wickedness of Devil Says Kill, the menacing Heads On A Pole with rhythms that see walls crumble and enemies run in fright, and the outstanding Lucky Charm, a song that plunders the senses with punchy rhythms and riffs which command and taunt. With the best song on the album The Life I Live adding to the deep quality and fun this is an album that Demented Are Go were always destined to make. Like the album, The Life I Live has a swagger to it, a mischievous glint in the eye and satanic grin that is addictive from the moment the opening intermittent guitar strikes beckon with their steely fingers. It has a reflective feel, a personal heart, and a defiance that says this is how it is just deal with it.

It is unfair to pick out some songs over others as the whole release is of such a high standard. From Sparky growling and back as the frontman of psychobilly to the flesh searing slices of deviltry from guitarist Holger and the bone shaking stomps of drummer Criss Damage the band tears a wide one in all it makes contact with. The trio excel everywhere to make every song deeply impressive but things are taken to an even greater height by the double bass sorcery of Grischa. He prowls and pounces on the nerves through each song like a ravenous beast and in this disciple resurrects the long burning desire to get ones hand on a slapper…. the instrument obviously.

The album is wonderfully unpredictable, eagerly diverse, and a marauding storm of rock n roll from beyond the grave. Sparky and co sold their souls to the devil a long time back and now they want yours. Welcome Back To Insanity Hall shows there is no resistance strong enough to avoid the inevitable.

RingMaster 04/03/2012

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De Keefmen – Me Keefmen, You Jane (part 2)

De Keefmen are one of those bands that will hit the spot instantly or linger and request acceptance but never quite make that bridge into the heart, whatever the reaction to their distinctive and unpolished sound they are a band which defies a dismissal of their songs. The band and their music is seeded in the Dutch sixties Nederbiet sound, influencing a style which leaves the ear at times shell shocked, blistered but always happy. De Keefmen unleash rough and coarse tunes which reverberate and scrape around the senses, their melodies are caustic and vocals verging on desperate in tone but wrapped together with infectious rhythms and frantic energy conspire to make songs which excite and inspire.

Their new EP Me Keefmen, You Jane (part 2), a three track intensive plead on the ear, continues on from Be That Guy/Jane, the two songs which made up previous single Me Keefmen, You Jane (part 1). Released on vinyl via Kuriosa and digitally through Dirty Water Records, the new EP is an intense and emotively powerful trio of tracks which stir up a reaction every time they twist up the senses. The garage rock essence to the music is raw and at times feels like an aural scouring with the harsh delivery, but it is equally constantly mesmeric.

De Keefmen formed in 2008 out of the ashes of The Miracle Men who broke up the previous year. Inspired by the sixties, the line-up of vocalist/guitarist Henri Sulmann, bassist Peter Kroes, and drummer Dennis De Lange released their first single Cryin’ At My Door in their first year. To gathering acclaim further enhanced by the release of their self titled debut album, the band shifted releases between Vinyl Junkie Rekkids and Kuriosa Records, and for their following Mirror Of Time album Dirty Water Records of 2010. Following on from Part 1 from last year, Me Keefmen, You Jane (part 2) once more grabs attention with a dynamic and consuming sound which is as intense as it is hypnotic.

The songs on Part 2 take a different sideways step to the preceding release. Part 1 contained two songs offering forceful rock music with a dirty Rocket From The Crypt like sound and aggression but on this new release there is a drop in the intensity to explore an even more emotional level to their music. Opening song Wrong Kinda Place sweeps through the ear with jangling guitars and slightly more reserved vocals from Sulmann. He still drips feeling and heart from each word and phrase but the urgency is more restrained than usual though we are soon back to his full on sense of despair and anxiety on the second song Don’t Ask Me. The song is irresistible and the best on the release. It is assertive and eager, the music highly intense and enthused in bringing the vocals pleas forth with the strongest effect.

The song is completed by Anything, a track which argues its case with anxious dirty guitars and firm commanding rhythms. As with all of the songs the vocals take centre stage with the passion and emotion Sulmann musters deep from within but one should never underestimate the power and equally expressive sounds beneath his delivery as shown on this excellent song.

There is a discontent to the sound of De Keefmen and at times a crudity from the lo-fi recordings which strikes home wonderfully bringing a roughness and attitude to influences that seem to range from the likes of Otis Redding and The Sonics to The Byrds and MC5. Me Keefmen, You Jane (part 2) uses this to ruffle the senses and provoke reaction ensuring it is an EP that cannot be passed off as just another release but one that needs your attention and more.

RingMaster 05/03/2012

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The Static Jacks – If You’re Young

Reviewing Into The Sun, the single from New Jersey indie rock band The Static Jacks which came out a few months back, we commented that “the single is a joyous duo of rich and exciting sounds and though the songs may not have your jaw dropping in awe at something brand new but they certainly will excite ears and enthuse hearts”. Well with those words also apply to the new album from the band with an amendment. If You’re Young does stop one in their tracks with the awe not so apparent in the single, sweeping one up in songs and sounds which stroll along their own unique and adventurous path. Good though the single was it gave no real indication as to how impressive this album was going to be. If You’re Young is immense, a master class in creative songwriting, melodic manipulation, and the breeding place for an infection as potent as any virus.

From New Jersey and formed in 2009, the quartet of vocalist Ian Devaney, guitarists Henry Kaye and Michael Sue-Poi, and drummer Nick Brennan have already made a distinct mark with debut EP Laces in 2009 and numerous shows and tours with the likes of Futureheads, Biffy Clyro, Young the Giant, and We Were Promised Jetpacks. Their sound is single minded and full of determination to do things their way which results in a confidence and surety which oozes out of every note, chord and song. The band sit somewhere between pop punk and an alternative indie sound, bringing the best and uniqueness of both into their own majestic creations.

The album erupts into an instant tremendous pleasing of the senses from the very start with Defend Rosie meeting the ear with firm beats, enthused hand claps and a persistent riff that smacks of mischief. Enthusiastic and urgent, the punk toned song sets their stall out from the off, exciting with feisty rhythms, guitars and basslines which carry as much defiant attitude as Devaney and his lyrics, and big hearted melodies as sassy as the girl of your dreams. From a tremendous start the band simply accelerate things with the wicked sweet tease that is Girl Parts. With an excellent additional female vocal to the inspired and emotive tones off Devaney the song is gorgeous, and confirmation of the fact The Static Jacks have an expertise at writing pop songs that few rival.

The level across the album never wavers with Into The Sun with its Pete Shelley like melodic hook and the likes of the anthemic Blood Pressure, a song which rounds up the senses into a triumphant ball of emotional rebellion, and the soaring melodic grace of Relief, all lifting up the heart and soul with sounds that warm and energise the day. The third of these songs ripples with light sparkling melodies, glittering guitars, and a passion which fills every pore from every line and reflection.

As good as any album is there are always moments that strike the most effectively and alongside the opening duo of songs it is within the mighty outbursts of My Parents Lied and Walls (We Can’t Work It Out) that The Static Jacks show they are creating music that will take them to heady heights. The first begins with a subdued voice and guitar welcome before giant beats join the fray, yet still the song holds back evolving into a canter at most whilst its crystalline melodies radiate. Subtly the intensity increases to match the angst in the vocals of Devaney. Slowly it expands into waves of crashing guitars coaxed by incisive yet reserved melodies, all blending into a fine and inspired union.

Walls (We Can’t Work It Out) is the best song on the album, dare one say the perfect song. It has everything from stunning harmonious vocals, melodies which push away any dark and rhythms that are born of primal instinct, evolution, and an insistence that cannot be denied. It is tumultuous with riffs which muscle their way into the ear alongside the consuming drums, a bass which has more belligerence than a teen asked to clean their room, and energy as potent as nature herself. The only complaint is that it is so damn short.

The album ends on Drano-Ears, where the band takes a dip into the eighties. With a soulful sound and heartfelt emotive feel which reminds of the likes of The Bluebells and House of Love, the song is a galloping flow of soft and caressing melodies and stately elegance. It completes what is a delicious collection of well crafted and completely enjoyable excitable music. The Static Jacks are coming for your heart, are you ready?

Ringmaster 05/03/2012