Harry Bedford sat down with Whiskas to talk Honour Before Glory and more...
When you can put 'toured the world with a successful band,' 'started a record label' and 'university lecturer' on your CV, you know you're doing a pretty good job.
Nevertheless, Whiskas keeps on looking to the future, developing his skills as a producer and working with his new band Honour Before Glory.
With the approaching releases of Honour Before Glory's new single and album, I went to the House of Mook recording studio to have a chat with him.
Let's start off talking about the upcoming releases, first the single Maison, which comes out:
On Monday [6th February].
And the album, This is Broken Lines:
12th of March.
Obviously the music is a lot different from ˇForward Russia!, it seems to go even deeper and I would say a lot of that has to do with the production, is it all self-produced?
It's all self-produced and mostly all self-played as well. Simon from I Like Trains plays drums on it and there's quite a few different people who have sung backing but a track like Maison is all from me really. But yeah it's a completely different beast to ˇForward Russia!, it's just not collaborative, it's just me and the seeing through of ideas and that's quite a big difference in terms of the songwriting and the formation of sounds as much as anything else.
There are Honour Before Glory tracks that use the same sonic palette as ˇForward Russia!'s tracks, but then it goes a lot bigger than that because there are no confines of four individuals to restrict it. That is kind of the point, to have a limitless thing but then the challenge was to try and drag it all in and put it together. The other big difference with ˇForward Russia! is that this was never conceived as a live entity, whereas first and foremost ˇForward Russia! always was. Especially at the beginning the main reason for writing songs was to get people jumping up and down, whereas that has never crossed my mind with Honour Before Glory, it's kind of the opposite. The aim of Honour Before Glory tracks is to make people go, 'hmmm.'
I've described Maison as a record with deep lyrical content and a haunting sound, whereas Maisonette is a much more pop structured record, do you agree?
They both have the same structure [but] what I would say is that Maisonette sounds more like what people would expect a band to sound like whereas Maison doesn't. The reason I wanted to do the EP in that way is a point that a lot of people seemed to have missed, because Honour Before Glory started life with a lot of acoustic songs and ideas and it took a while to work out how the sound would be defined, so I essentially just wrote a rocked-up version.
Then I started to look at ways to play with it because I thought it was a bit too throw-away - not in a bad way, I just didn't see it fitting on an album in that form so that's where Maison came in. When I put Maison out online, a lot more people seemed to identify with it because it's a little more in with the current.
One thing I found amazing about the project is the fact that one person did everything, from the lyrics to the entire production. Does that come from years of being in studios and working in bands?
I guess so but that is the whole essence of Honour Before Glory, that's the challenge, to try and see through every idea to its fullest possible conclusion. Because when you're in a band like ˇForward Russia! or any band, you give your ideas over to a collective and there's a point where sometimes I would wonder what would happen if I saw through ideas more fully myself.
Is producing a big part of that?
You need to know how to produce as well. That was always the idea when I started Honour Before Glory, I had to start learning how to use the studio. That was a key part of me being able to realise what I wanted from Honour Before Glory. The way Maison changes from Maisonette is a perfect example of it; if I didn't know how to produce I wouldn't be able to write the song in that way.
Working with a band is a lot easier, taking on such a huge project by yourself must have taken a lot of time and effort. Were there any moments when you were struggling for inspiration?
No, not struggling for inspiration, just a constant sense of determination really to get it done. I just relentlessly kept working on ideas and there were points where I wasn't sure how I saw it being an album, [however] the way in which the album and the concept of Honour Before Glory has been presented has failed. ˇForward Russia! were a very coherent band and brand, but with Honour Before Glory I have failed to get anyone overly interested in it from that point of view, because I've been so focused on the music.
Do you have a manager helping you out?
Various people have helped with it. We had a manager and he had a heart attack which hindered the first planned release of the album. We were trying to build momentum and do the usual band thing, but we lost momentum. We were putting together a distribution deal, we were going to set up a new label and things like that and it kind of went away a little bit. So it feels like we've been a bit unlucky with that part of it and it feels like we've had a few missed opportunities.
So is it being released to a label or is it just you?
It's just me, I've created a new imprint for it but I don't think the imprint will do anything else. It's there to release Honour Before Glory stuff.
Has releasing digitally made things easier, through methods such as Spotify, Sound Cloud and iTunes?
Yeah, there was a point when I wasn't sure how the album was going to fit together or, more to the point, it could have fit together in a few different ways and I was looking to garner opinion about it. Then I just finished the album and was like 'this is it, let's get it mastered.' Then I didn't know what to do with it and thought, 'I've been working on this for three and a half years, I'm going to put it online.'
You've also had Maison played on Radio 1...
[Steve] Lamacq played it on 6 [BBC Radio 6 Music] and Huw [Stephens] has played it on Radio 1 a few times.
So it's certainly getting out there...
Yeah but with the nature of it, it has been kind of sporadic as well, which is frustrating within the context of it.
Steve Lamacq spend his Sundays listening to piles and piles of CDs that he gets sent, the ones he likes obviously go on his radio show, is that how ˇForward Russia! got started?
That's exactly how ˇForward Russia! got started, we sent him a CD, he listened to it and liked it and we kept sending him stuff. He helped us a lot and through us he also helped the Pigeon Detectives quite a lot.
Yeah because that's how the Pigeon Detectives became popular through DJs like
Steve Lamacq, was that through you giving their music directly to him?
Yeah that was me giving it to Steve and he got ˇForward Russia! a radio plugger who was very good. We were all part of the same gang so we played it to the radio plugger and he liked [the Pigeon Detectives' music] and pushed it as well.
The Pigeon Detectives gained international success on a the record label you started, Dance to the Radio. Can you tell us about how that came to be?
We tried to talk about the good Leeds bands in a national framework, giving them a 'cool' record label, whereas before that it was like, 'this is a cool band releasing on their own label from Leeds' and we were like, 'that's not the way to get people's attention in London.' I started Dance to The Radio, not because I wanted to run a record label, [but] I started it because Leeds needed that kind of thing at the time. There was an opportunity to do something and we did. We released five records, out of my bedroom basically, the first compilation, The ˇForward Russia! and This Et Al split single, I Like Trains single, Napoleon IIIrd single and The Lodger single. Then someone offered to help us expend the record company and I said, 'no point, we're done, that's it.' Most of the bands off the first compilation we did got some kind of record deal and the other four bands found a record label to release their next single as well. There wasn't anything left to do, then ˇForward Russia! got themselves into a situation where we needed a facilitator to release records and so we got involved and expanded the record label to do that, which meant the next release was Twelve by ˇForward Russia! that got into the top 40 and at that point with the expanded operation, we were able to look at, and work more with, other bands, which at the time was Yes Boss, The Pigeon Detectives and Shut Your Eyes and You'll Burst Into Flames, and later on people like Grammatics.
So after the upcoming releases, what's next for Honour Before Glory?
Not a lot, I don't think. For Honour Before Glory it's relatively to bed time. Having said that, I have got plans to record some more stuff but it's kind of on the back burner.
You are very busy with many other things, not to mention lecturing at Leeds Met,
what's next in the forthcoming months?
The next big thing on the calendar is Live at Leeds because with the Unconference, I curate it, invite the guests with other people but it's my baby. The educational forum at Live at Leeds has existed since the first year but the format has changed every year up until two years ago, so this is the third what we have called the Unconference and after the Honour Before Glory stuff, that's the next big thing to get our heads around.
Can you tell us a little more about the Unconference?
It's the Friday of Live at Leeds, it's going to be at a place called Monroe House this year which has been set up as a new social enterprise place. But yeah it's all slightly formative at the minute and we are approaching a few guests and starting to put a program together. And my idea is to hopefully tap into online stuff, like press and distribution; all sorts of stuff like how the world's changing. We are hopefully trying to put a different edge to it, so it's less sitting down in front of people talking all day, but it's all about getting a balance.
So just to finish off, what's your ambition for the album?
Well essentially it's already been fulfilled, it's what I hoped it would be. It feels like the most complete work that I could do and it's great, I like it. I have always thought that with Honour Before Glory that people would really like it, so I want to get it out there. I think it's very likable, a little off-kilter, but it would be nice for people to listen to it and enjoy.