One of the most interesting Rock ‘n’ Roll acts in the UK over the last few years is visiting Madrid for the first time. That would be good enough, but the best thing is that they’re swapping huge arenas for a cozy venue of 300 people called Moby Dick, which by the way, is one of the coolest music venues of the spanish capital.
It’s made out of wood and the acoustic is as good as it can get. And that’s hard to find around here. These marvellous mancunians are presenting their third album called Anna, and they’re about to blow up the venue just with the soundcheck. We’re talking about The Courteeners.
We had a really great chat with Liam Fray (vocals / guitar) and Michael Campbell (drums / vocalist) in a coffee chain nearby and talk about music business, live shows, BBC Radio 1, managers, Pete Doherty or Morrissey.
Not many bands manage to get 3 out of 3 in the Top Ten albums in UK. Is it somehow scary? Do you feel some pressure whenever you’re about to release an album or you just got used?
LIAM FRAY: Honestly, the pressure should have been in the second album, but we didn’t really feel it. We’ve never really felt pressure writing our songs. We put extreme pressure on ourselves trying to be the best we can be. But the pressure from labels, management or whatever, it comes when you’ve done the record and there’s nothing you can do. It’s not by chance it’s about surviving. If you sell 5 copies you won’t survive. You just have to write the songs and hope the people will like it. I think the songs are open and honest.
MICHAEL CAMPBELL: I think about the achievements of what we’ve done with our 3 albums in the UK, with the relative kind of media support that we have. That achievement for us doesn’t bring any pressure or anything else, because we know what we have achieved.
“We’ve built up great expectations of what a band should be.”
You didn’t make a St. Jude 2nd part, with Falcon, and the same happens now with Anna. What do you have in mind for your next record?
LF: Maybe yeah! I think that’s one of the thing’s we’re most proud of. The albums sound very, very different. The common thread is honesty and without sounding self-involved or whatever, it’s quite unusual for a male singer-songwriter to be that open I reckon. I take big influence from Guy Gurvey from Elbow, to a certain degree Pete Doherty is quite an honest songwriter, you know, he has mellow moments. But you know, sometimes the songs can be quite mellow but then sometimes, we’ve got such a good understanding now together musically that we feel we should really, not necessarily experiment, but go in different directions. People that stick by bands rather than sticking by a hit song, they know that we are writing for songs. It’s just what song they take from here on it. The world is our oyster.
How was working with Joe Cross in this album? Is it that important the role of the producer?
LF: I think so. We get to work with Stephen Street and Ed Buller and they’re both incredible. The good thing about Joe was that he is our age, we were more relax around him, in the studio and outside the studio. We were going for meals, a couple of drinks, and he became a real friend. There’s a great understanding between producers and musicians, well, if you can call us musicians. Guys, guys in a band. (laughs).
“People have such short attention spans. You can’t put out the same album year after year after year.”
You got to play with Morrissey and even Lou Reed in his very own club, how is it like to play with such a music icons?? How are them in the short distances?
LF: Just ask them. (laughs) At the time, it just felt like bizarre. They are, contrary to popular belief, quite normal. We’ve built up great expectations of what this band should be. We just tried to enjoy it.
Morrissey himself is incredible. Watching him play every night for like, 70 nights was just amazing.
Did he give you any advice?
LF: No, no he didn’t. We wouldn’t have taken it. He didn’t know anything. What does he know? (laughs). Don’t put that! That’s the kind of thing that they’re asking you for good reason. They wouldn’t ask you if they didn’t think you were good. And that’s good enough for us. If they think we’re great, or think we’re alright, that’s fantastic.
You have a very powerful show, Should a band put more attention to the live shows or is it more important record itself?
LF: If the album is good, it doesn’t really matter. If the album is strong enough the people will buy tickets for the show. If you have a reputation as a live band, let’s say, album 8th is not as good as the first seven, people still come to watch you, because you’re a great band.
“We don’t write songs for the magazines”
How do you think has changed in the band since you’re started playing? What do you think you’ve gain with the time and, what have you lost if there’s anything you miss?
LF: Well we can nearly play our instruments… I don’t know really, probably not a lot. Not much. We are still the same guys, still do the same things, same jokes, still annoy each other just as much as we did 10 years ago. We are definitely a lot more open minded music playing, collectively, as a group. If one person’s got a vision and one person doesn’t want to go there, that can be quite an issue. But we had to come together collectively as a group. They put a lot of trust in me. If you bring something to the table and they’re not keen on it, then where do we go?
People have such short attention spans. You can’t put out the same album year after year after year. Some people do. I don’t want to play that. Bands make a record that sounds just like their last record. There are so many bands that do that, and it sells as well and people buy it. But why are they buying the same record?
How is the mainstream music media in the UK? Are they fair with all what they do?
LF: With twitter and online, there are so many different outlets now. It’s not as important as it was 10 years ago. It can be a great thing and it can really help bands. But we’ve never really taken much notice to one thing. The NME has been really good to us as a magazine. They’re great; they were there at the beginning. It’s great to have a magazine like that support you. But you don’t write songs for the magazines, you write them for yourselves and your fans.
“It comes down to one person in the UK to get on Radio 1. It seems like a crazy system but that’s the way it is.”
Whose advice should a band listen to? The record label, producer, friends, critic, fans, or none of the above?
LF: I think the band and producer are the most important. The friends get to hear the songs first, but to be honest I wouldn’t take their advice. We’ve got a very tight group of friends. But I think we’ve got such a high threshold and quality control that a bad song wouldn’t get past the band and the producer. After that, it’s up to the public really. If it gets on the radio… it comes down to one person in the UK to get on Radio 1, and if he says no that means only a small section of people get to hear your music. It seems like a crazy system when you think about it but that’s the way it is.
What was the last thing you did as a band that you shouldn’t have done?
Probably starting a band! (laughs)
Are you happy?
LF: Yeah, I think so.
MC: We’re in Madrid for the first time and we’re very glad.
LF: I say as a group the happiest we’ve been since we started.