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!
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