We Used to Make Things are an 8-piece, self-proclaimed indie soul party, who have been wowing audiences on the pub scene for the last few years. However with their new material earning rave reviews all that slogging on the toilet circuit might be about to pay off. SubSiren caught up with Ben from the band, hung him from a bridge over the Thames and demanded he answered the following questions….
Your new track is called ‘We’re All Fucked Up’ so what’s the story behind such a bold and striking title?
That is becoming quite a frequent question, normally followed by “didn’t you want to get on the radio?”. The thing is, it really stems from what we believe. We don’t mean it in a derogatory way, just an honest opinion. We all live in London. We watch the news, we see how people act in the street, how people treat one another. It just seemed a fair assessment. We are big advocates for the beauty of the human race but I guess like most people we are spurred on to create things when something effects us emotionally, normally negatively. It’s not supposed to be a negative view – more an honest, facing up to the facts, view. There’s nothing weak about accepting that everyone has issues, it’s better to talk about them and deal with them and embrace them and just accept the fact. Its just human. Its like an anti bottling up song. A celebration that we all have weaknesses and doubts and worries and failures and we are not lesser people for that. I think once one realises how strange the world is one can begin to enjoy the peculiarity of it all. Almost like looking in on a really bizarre piece of theatre. I mean what really is the point of any single person dying because of a border that only exists on a map. A pencil line is worth more than human life? Ridiculous yet that is accepted all around the world. Craziness.
The song also came about at a time of some very extreme personal experiences – It was written shortly after my father passed away, and Matthew who wrote most of the lyrics had been through that whole slightly surreal experience to so it came from quite an emotional place. We just though, if you are going to say something, say it. And Matthew did get stuck in a lift.
The video for ‘WAFU’ is below, was making it a fun experience or a bloody nightmare?
It was soooo much fun to make! It was three very long days but anyone with the idea that miming to a song 100 times in 30 different places could be anything other than hilarious really needs to work in an office for a week or two! We cant wait to make the next one which should be happening quite soon. its quite a different style of song and thus will be a slightly less frenetic experience, more relaxing. We loved it though. Having said that, submerging a freezing cold pond at 8.30 in the morning is only really enjoyable in retrospect!
I believe the track was made with the same producer who made a star out of Rumer, so what was it like to work with him?
Absolutely brilliant – for many reasons. He is an absolute gem of a man, full of ideas, enthusiasm and always a bowl of snickers. He shares a love of very similar music, a lot of sixties pop, anything with walls of harmonies and because of his television work (Harry Hill, Spitting Image, the Wonky Donkey theme from SMTV) he has a very similar sense of fun while making music. It’s to be enjoyed!
He also really likes a cup of tea and a lengthy chat and they are basically our steadfast requirements for getting on with someone. Its lovely to record somewhere where it’s relaxed and private (no big studio frills) and just a space where you can be artistic and experiment. Without trying to sound really sickening it’s just an ideal situation with an ideal person. Although we do feel obliged to replace all the Snickers we eat, so it isn’t all love. There’s a fear there too!
Drowned in Sound described We Used to Make Things as a ‘nostalgic pop combo’ while Gig Junkie said you’re a ‘breath of fresh air in today’s modern pop scene’. Would it be fair to describe your sound as a fight between the old and the new?
Yes absolutely, thats a very interesting question, yes. I think that is definitely a very astute observation – maybe its the fact that we span from 20 to 40 years old in the band. As you get older nostalgia does start to creep in, you find yourself saying terrible things you vowed you would never say, “things were better in my day” and all of that. But also being so excited by the way the world is now, wonderful things happening (once you accept the crazy bits) like gay marriage, equality, dustup, Konnie Huq etc The present is a wonderful place but the past has that glossy filmic sheen of memory. I guess that discrepancy filters into the music. I think our influences are so broad that one can’t help being magpie like and taking inspiration from all ages.
Some bands struggle to function with 3-4 members let alone the eight bodies that make up We Used to Make Things. What are the pros and cons of having such a vast line-up?
The pro’s are that it always feels like a bit of a party being together because surely its enough people to technically merit that term! Four people in a room is just a small gathering, I think eight could be a party!? It’s like a family function! Its very enjoyable the problem is just the sheer organisation it takes to get 8 people in a room. We have become much more efficient at it, mainly because we have had to!
And how did everyone meet? In chronological order if possible
Ok, here is a very abridged version –
Ben (drummer/songwriter) met Matthew (Singer/Songwriter) through a mutual acquaintance. Decided to form a band. Matthew and Ben bumped into Marv (guitar/songwriter) at the World Music Awards and coerced Marv (who had been in Matthew’s previous Bridlington based bands photographer) to play with us. Coersion worked. Ben had known Jan-ai (Singer) since she was fifteen, that is not as weird as it sounds, and asked if she wanted to try adding some harmonies. Met at Marv’s flat in Stoke Newington and it worked really well straight away. Mr Cus (Keyboards) was a friend of a friend of both Marv and Matthew. Crispy (bass) was the bass player in the band that Matthew was in and Mary had photographed in Bridlington. Yusef (trombone) was acquired via the internet and Chatty (trumpet) is Yusef’s housemate at Guildhall where they both study. Ta Da!
The Rolling Stones recently celebrate 50 years in music. Do you think many new artists will stand the test of time like the rock n roll granddads have? Will we still be talking about Emeli Sandé or Alt-J in 20 years time?
Oh gosh, I don’t know. I was reading about the Q awards the other week and it seems there are more bands standing the test of time (or at least reforming) than ever. Blur, Pulp, Johnny Marr still holding court. But on the other side of things its harder now for a band to break because the market is so over saturated and illegal downloads and streaming music really do cripple bands. One angle to answering your question might be to suggest that the Rolling Stones have had tremendous longevity because they earned so much money because of the era they began in that they have never had to do anything else but write and play songs. Very few people have that opportunity now and I think after time if you don’t earn great commercial success (critical success does not pay your bills) you just cannot afford to give the amount of time necessary to have a long career in music. It’s not a very romantic answer but I think its an honest one. Recording, touring, writing takes time, its a vocation I think but as people now want what may have taken a year to create for free, its not a very practical one. Its very, very fun of course but tough to do for 50 years on top of a day job!
Finally, 2013 looks like it could be an exciting year for We Used to Make Things, so what are the band’s New Year’s resolutions?
Hopefully it will be very exciting. We have to work hard and make sure we are proud of everything we do. Hopefully there will be a new video or two, some recording, lots of gigs and all sorts of very good stuff. A new years resolution though? I think we need to finally bite the bullet and accept that twitter is important and interesting and you can articulate all you need in 124 characters but I tell you, it wasn’t like that in my day…