On 24th January 2006 at 19:03 Dave LMS wrote...
I really enjoyed reading this interview!
Red Stars Parade: a refreshingly piquant slice dropped into Leeds' musical soft drink
Yes, yes, we all know Leeds has a brilliant music scene. But before we send ourselves into ever greater aneurysms of self-congratulation over the latest use of a Kaiser Chiefs song to accompany a Sky Sports 'Goal of the Month' competition , let's spare a thought for bands like Red Stars Parade. Their music - a weighty blend of blistering metal and ambient post rock - might not match 'I Predict A Riot' as a soundtrack to Thierry Henry dancing smugly around a corner flag, but it still deserves your attention. Disko, their recently-released debut album, is a superlative exercise in stylish, forward-thinking heavy rock - if you're looking for evidence to support Leeds' claim to be a hotbed of new musical ideas, Red Stars Parade are it. Yet despite acclaim for Disko from the 'big four' British rock mags (Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Terrorizer, and Rock Sound), they remain barely acknowledged in their own city.
Not that they seem bothered, mind. Sifting through the subsequent transcript of our 'interview' - it was more like a matey pre-Christmas knees-up, only with microphones - it became apparent just how little they care for the codes and cliches of rock and roll: no greasy self-hype; no talk of their desire to change the world; and, Kev's hilarious rock aphorisms aside, absolutely no soundbites. Indeed, it was often hard to get them to comment on their own music at all. Inbetween jokes about mugging Mexicans for cigarettes and praising various local bands, however, conversation did occasionally turn to Red Stars Parade themselves. Here's what they had to say...
The most striking thing about Disko is how euphoric it sounds, despite its obvious heaviness. Songs like 'El Retardo' and 'Kids of Disko' are very joyous, in 'metal' terms at least. Is that something you were trying to achieve?
Matthew (Newsome, bass): We don't try to do anything, really.
Kev (Reid, drums): That joyous feeling just comes from us loving what we're doing. We just do what sounds good to us no matter what it is, rather than feeling obliged to put in something that sounds demonic for its own sake.
The album strikes a balance between sounding underground and quite accessible. The song structures are very complex, but the production sounds very clean, especially compared to your live sound.
Matthew: Yeah, we were quite surprised it ended up sounding like that. But maybe if we'd had it all our own way in the studio it might not have sounded so good anyway.
Charlie [Pritchard, guitar]: Dave [Chang, producer] did a good job, but sometimes it felt a bit like we were knocking our heads together about how it should turn out. It might have been easier if he'd seen us live.
Kev: That would have been ideal. You can never sound the same on record as you do live, but it'd be great if you could replicate a bit of the performance in the studio.
The difference is most noticeable in the snare sound, I think
Kev: Yeah well that was my fault, coz I forgot to take my snare! I had to buy another one which ended up not being as good. Despite all this though, Dave was really good at getting the best performance out of us. In terms of the actual recording process he was great, telling us exactly what we need to improve and where we were going wrong.
Would you say that you have a Leeds sound in that you're influenced by other local bands? Would you sound different if you lived elsewhere?
Matt [Dixon, vocals]: It's not like there's one Leeds sound that we've been assimilated into, but when you see a great band and they happen to live near you and appear on the same bills, something's bound to rub off.
Charlie: When you hear a good band it makes you so much more optimistic about the possibilities for your own music. When I first heard Humanfly, for instance, it made me totally excited about what's possible. Our earlier stuff is totally influenced by them.
I guess you can see the same thing happening with Humanfly too. Their songs are getting much longer and groovier...
Matthew: I think they'd freely admit to ripping us off [laughter]
People think of you as being a very serious band.
Charlie: We don't think of it like that. We just seem serious because bands who want to be metal these days tend to make sure they do it in a funny and ironic way because they don't want to be seen as uncool.
I think people often do the ironic thing so that they haven't got to commit to what they're producing, either emotionally or artistically. They're scared to be criticised, so they dismiss any negative reactions by saying they weren't being serious anyway.
Charlie: Yeah. A lot of what's supposed to be great in rock music these days is just bullshit 80's pastiche with some unnecessary melody thrown in. There's nothing wrong with melody, just that a lot of those bands are no good at it. They show themselves up when they do try to do it. Their idea of being melodic is just to throw in a load of cheese [all laugh]. They go 'chugga chugga chugga' for ages, then they go [adopts corny falsetto voice] 'aa-haaa'.
So you're not worried about the potential criticism you might face by not having the safety net of irony or self-conscious humour?
Kev: I'd rather we were cussed for writing serious but good music, than not get cussed and pleasing everyone with shit music.
Matt: Yeah, what's the point of doing something you don't entirely want to do, just to avoid being cussed?
Charlie: There are just too many people with too many different opinions to make it worth worrying about.
Leeds is supposedly this happening and progressive city, musically speaking, but there seems to be a very prescriptive idea of what's cool. Reports on metal bands - a genre which certainly don't fit this description - are often slyly condescending and dismissive, like it's not really a valid form of music. Do you feel that way?
Matthew: To an extent. A lot of people like to big up Leeds bands, but aren't the slightest bit interested in us. But then again there's not much we can do about it, so who cares?
Charlie: If your music and style doesn't fit in with what's fashionable, in whatever scene or genre, you're not going to get a look in.
But it's always been like that.
Charlie: Yeah, but over the past year or so that mentality has taken over. The kind of music that's fashionable now isn't new, it's been going on for a few years, but it's only now that it's deemed to be cool that people pay it any attention. We've never been cool, and even now that we've got an album out we're still not cool. We can't even headline a bill-
Matt: - you can't rely on us to fill a room! Mind you that's not surprising - it's not like we've had a new tune for ages [laughter]
Charlie: But that's okay because at least the people who like us are genuinely into it. If people come to our gigs it's because they've got the album and like our tunes, not because we've got 9000 MySpace friends.
Kev: And if less people like us because the music's intense and complex, that's fine too. I wouldn't want to sit behind a kit playing boring music, getting bored in a room packed full of people. What's the point of that? You've got to rock out and sweat a bit, you know? You're not rocking 'til you're sweating! [all laugh].
Is that one of yours??
Kev: Yeah, man.
Matt: Kev sweats from making a cup of tea.
Matthew: In Lancaster he was steaming! We'd understand if it was in a cold room, but even in really hot rooms you can see the steam rising off him [laughter].
What's the nature of your record deal?
Charlie: We only agreed to do one album with Dry Run, but Raffi [label owner] would like to put out the second one too, and we think that's fair. We'll then have a choice of either going somewhere else, or staying with him and being a bit more committed to the label from there on in.
Matt: He's put a lot of his own money into us for the first album, so it makes sense for him to want us to stick with him for now, because he's got a lots of costs to cover. But we're okay with that cos he's totally safe.
Charlie: He's treated us really well. He took a big risk by offering to put our album out, especially considering that he didn't even know us at the time.
Matthew: We're lucky to have such a good label. We know bands who have been on relatively big labels who have had to pay for their own recordings and have ended up in debt. They've been treated like shit.
So is your ultra-indie, pro-DIY approach a reaction to the cynicism of the record industry these days?
Matthew: Being DIY isn't a reaction to anything, it's just the best way to do stuff. We couldn't do any of the things we've done if it weren't for the DIY ethic. We got to play with Converge in Manchester - Marius, who promoted the gig, would never have offered us the slot if we were some shitty sign-us-quick band.
Matt: It's so much less cynical up here than in London though, where the promoters pretend to have the bands' interests in mind but then make them do all the promotion and keep all the profits. Leeds might be quite pretentious in many ways, but people in the music scene take care of each other, and that's good.
Matthew: It's just better when there's none of that cynicism. We played a show in Lincoln, where there's no music scene of any kind. The gig was full of these trendy kids, but they approached it with no pretensions whatsoever, and it was brilliant. All these fashionable kids ended up together in a human pyramid!
Do you have any new material lined up?
Kev: We've got a few things going on, but it's difficult at the moment because we have to keep stopping to go on little tours. Then we end up coming back and going "fuck it, let's start again".
That must get frustrating.
Charlie: Yeah but it's our own fault. Kev will ring us up and say "come round for a jam", then when we turn up he's asleep.
Matt: The new stuff does sound quite different. It's a lot faster than what's on the album, but it's still got the breakdowns and so on. But the best thing about writing new songs, I find, is that it invigorates the older material.
Kev: Yeah. It's like getting getting a glass of coke - if you add a little twist of lemon it's like a whole new drink [laughter]
And that's probably a fair analogy for the band as a whole. Red Stars Parade, then: a refreshingly piquant slice dropped into Leeds' musical soft drink.