March sees the release of the Trouble City EP, another rousing and provocative slice of punk infused rock ‘n’ roll from UK band Yorkshire Rats. The successor to last year’s outstanding debut album, Sea of Souls, the new three-track release is further confirmation of a band with anthemic punk ‘n’ roll flowing through their creative veins and a hunger to push themselves and their creative adventure with every song and release. Ahead of the EP’s unveiling; we gratefully took some of band founder Don Mercy’s time to dig into the origins, history, and new phase of the Yorkshire Rats increasing impact on the British rock scene.
Hi Don and thanks for sharing your time to talk with us.
You formed the band back in 2004; what was the spark bringing Yorkshire Rats to life and was there a particular idea for the band?
No problem! Fuck! 12 years ago, I must say I didn’t think we’d be back rolling around, not after we pulled the plug in 2007, I think it was.
Originally it was me and a good friend of mine called Sean Brewin who came up with the idea for the band. We used to hang out together, go skateboarding drink cider, the usual teenage shit. I’d played in various bands before with friends from school but wanted to do something a bit different. I was massively into the punk rock thing but not many of the guys in my school were. Sean was from another school local to me and there were loads of guys who we grew up with that we’re big Fat Wreck, Green Day, Rancid fans. I think we were around 17 when we started the Rats. There was an old pub in our home town of Pontefract called the Counting House. All the local alternative folks used to go in there and they had live bands on every Tuesday night. We’d been drinking in there from the age of 14 and we ended up meeting a few other musicians who were into our idea to start a band. I’d write the songs and we’d kind of share lead vocals. We learnt a few covers and got into a practice room.
I think we wrote our first EP in about a month, recorded it and sold DIY copies to our pals. We played our first shows in the Counting House and they were always great. A lot of people really liked what the band was about, we sang about miners and the working class’ history of struggle in the area.
There wasn’t any big plan involved, we just wanted to have fun and play some music, cliché I know…
You had previously played in Abrasive Wheels and Billy No Mates; how did those experiences impact on how you wanted Yorkshire Rats to be, sound like, and differ?
I actually only did one tour with Billy No Mates, I wasn’t a permanent member, I just filled in for one of their guitarists. We had the same manager at the time and they had a European tour booked.
I was 18 and had never been to Germany or Italy. I got a call from our manager, then a call from Duncan. I had a week to get a passport and learn 18 songs; we never even had a rehearsal, we just went straight to Berlin and played a show. It was amazing! It was my first real tour and I learnt so much about how it all works. To be honest I don’t think I would have progressed any further without doing that tour, there’s only so many times you can read about it before you have to grab it by the balls and get out there. I seized that chance and will be forever grateful for that opportunity.
I’m not sure how much it influenced my band’s sound…..
I was in Abrasive wheels for a couple of years; this was before I started the rats back up. It was ok; I was playing with some really great musicians in that band so it definitely raised my standards in terms of what kind of musicians I would want to have in the new incarnation of the rats. I wouldn’t be happy with just anyone now. I’ve always been a big fan of the early 80s UK punk thing so playing with them was fun for a while. They just didn’t tour enough for me and they all had 20 plus years on me ha-ha
The members of Yorkshire Rats were all known to each other before the band was formed; before and post break?
This is a completely new line up from the original. Me and our other guitarist Matty went to school together from the very beginning, good Catholic boys, well once upon a time anyways.
We had to get a new drummer and bass player since we released Sea of Souls because the other guys couldn’t commit to serious touring. So we got Chris on drums and then Josh on bass. We found both of those guys just before German tours. I’d suggest that anyone stuck for band members, book a German tour! You’ll find whoever you need…. eventually.
It was a strong couple of years first time around seeing a well-received single and EP released and the supporting of Rancid live amongst numerous successful shows. Then the band went on a hiatus. What primarily brought that about?
I think we all had different agendas; it went from being fun to being a drug fuelled mess. We’d had various line-up changes because people couldn’t commit and it just seemed no matter what I did, we just kept going round in circles. We were young, maybe we thought that because we had management, a label, and had done some higher profile shows that things were just going to fall into place on their own. I now know that’s not how it works, getting higher profile shows means the band is moving forward and that’s precisely the time to put extra pressure on.
And the biggest spark to the return of the band?
Obviously Brewins isn’t here on lead vocals, but the plan was for him to be the singer again when we reformed. He’d joined the Army after the band split and I hadn’t seen him for a while, but we met up at a Bad Religion show in Manchester. It seemed just like the old days so we agreed to give it another shot with a new line up of people we could trust to help us do it right. His Army career was supposed to be winding down so we set to work on new songs and rehearsing but it turned out that it wasn’t going to work out so we agreed that I would take over all the vocal duties.
Was it easier in many ways to return to a keenly waiting and expectant fan base than when starting out originally or vice versa?
I didn’t really give it much thought to be honest. I knew that I wanted to keep some key parts of the old band, anthemic songs, big guitars etc., but I also knew that I wanted to bring everything up to date and move forward. There’s always going to be people that say you’re doing things wrong but I usually don’t pay much attention to those guys.
Would you say that anything specifically changed within you for the band through that period away? In sound, the drive of personal etc.?
I think the sound of the band has definitely progressed. We pulled back on the hi gain guitars and it’s all about the rhythm section. I just try to write good songs. I think a good song will always win. I guess in terms of sound we have a classic rock n roll type sound; I don’t think we’re really that stylised. My songs always start on an acoustic guitar then we beef them up in the rehearsal room.
I never write a song with a particular sound or genre in mind. I don’t know whether that’s a curse right now. It’s almost like if you don’t sound like Nirvana no one cares. But then again when we first started unless you sounded like Arctic Monkeys no one cared ha-ha
Debut album, Sea of Souls marked your return in potent style with its acclaimed release in 2015. Fair to say it poked stronger and broader spotlights your way?
I think it made people take us seriously for sure. I’m not one for doing what everyone else is doing, maybe having a different sound made the album stand out.
It’s still a hard slog and we do as much of the work as we can on our own. Getting the CJ Ramone tour was a big deal for us, and now he’s a fan of ours which is really surreal. I’m a huge Ramones fan so to have someone like that telling us that we’re doing something right is a real boost. We’re hoping to play some more shows together in the near future but nothing is confirmed yet, we’ll have to wait and see.
Now you are poised to uncage its successor in the shape of the Trouble City EP this March. How would you say the two differ in their punk ‘n’ roll sounds and how you approached each in the writing and recording?
I guess both Sea of Souls and Trouble City had the same approach in terms of writing and recording. Sea of Souls has some old revamped songs from back in the day that never came out.
A lot of the songs for the rats seem to write themselves. I dick about with a guitar for a while and sing some nonsense and things seem to come together pretty quickly. That being said I don’t let any old shit through, if a song isn’t working I just throw it away and move on. I think the sound has become more mature since Sea of Souls. It’s the same kind of vibe but it feels and sounds like a band that’s been playing consistently together for a good few tours.
I believe the Trouble City EP was recorded in Berlin late last year whilst you were on tour in Germany? Was that always the aim to record the tracks over there or more making use of opportunities?
That’s right. It wasn’t part of the plan to start with, but we had a couple of shows that fell through on our last German run so had 4 days off in Berlin. A good friend of mine suggested a great studio; it was an old telecom building or something, every wall in the live room was filled with patch bays. You can just imagine loads of German phone operators flying round on their office chairs transferring calls backwards and forwards. A pretty cool vibe and the place sounded great, we plan to finish the second album there. We’ll just add some more studio time onto the back end of a German tour or something.
Give us some idea to the inspiration to the EP’s tracks and character.
We wanted to lay down some balls to the wall, riff driven tracks. I guess you can hear some Social D, Stiff Little Fingers, Ramones, Springsteen. Me, and our other guitarist Matty are really dynamic players so I wanted to enhance that on these recordings. We don’t have super hi gain amps, they’re relatively clean in all honesty, it sounds great but it makes you have to play better and play with a bit more thought into chord voicing etc.. Anything that makes us better is a good idea in my eyes.
What things and situations spark your lyrics more than most?
90% of my lyrics are true to life. Usually come from people I meet, or conversations I overhear. Trouble City is the start of a story about a prostitute called Amy that I met on tour once. We sat and drank some beers and talked shit for a while, you couldn’t make up most of the stuff she was telling me so that seemed like a good place to start with Trouble City.
Tell about the new video for the EP’s title track which you made with one of the UK’s best and brightest film makers, Chalkman Video.
Carl’s a great guy and he did a great job on the new vid. We didn’t have much time with it so we just got into our rehearsal space, he set up some lights and off we went.
Looks pretty cool I think. We spent 4 hours or so filming it then he had it finished 3 days later, he doesn’t mess around.
The EP is going to be the spark for another hectic year, live wise?
I hope so, we’re working on loads of UK dates throughout the year and heading back to Germany in October, there’s a couple of other things in the works that I can’t mention yet but yeah, we’re trying to keep as busy as we can.
What has the band already got in place as 2016 evolves in other news?
We managed to nail down a show with Snuff which should be fun, I haven’t seen Duncan for a while….
We’ve also confirmed a show with The Dictators.
More releases in the pipeline?
Of course! But probably not this year. Who knows.
Once again many thanks for chatting with us Don. Any last thoughts you would like to share?
No problem, I guess if people could just keep supporting us like they did last year that would be awesome, we really appreciate it.
And finally, give us an insight into the records and artists which could be claimed to have most inspired your own life and creativity.
Ramones – Pleasant Dreams, Stiff Little Fingers – Guitar and Drum, Green Day – Nimrod, Drag the River – You Can’t Live This Way, Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker.
I love all these records; you can probably hear these influences in the rat’s songs. I guess my songs start as simple folk songs then turn into anthems when the band gets hold of ‘em.
Read our review of the Trouble City EP @ https://ringmasterreviewintroduces.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/yorkshire-rats-trouble-city-ep/
RingMaster Review 19/02/2016
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