[Interview] New Rhodes: "We can't afford Class-A drugs"
Added on 12th November 2004
New Rhodes, a four-piece band from Bristol, is perhaps not the best known band on the scene today. These four tender lads look as if they've just finished their GCSEs, let alone formed a proper, recording band! However, their debut single "I Wish I Was You" made it into the charts, and from there on life has been that little sweeter for New Rhodes.
Catching up with them in Lincoln's glorious Delph Bar on a rainy day in October, before they played a ravishing gig in a venue rather full of drunken students, I had a nice chat to three of the boys.
"We've been kinda quiet lately", says guitarist Joe Gascoigne "We've been doing the odd gig..." Soft-spoken and articulate vocalist James Williams adds "Well, our tour starts tonight, and then we'll be playing everywhere."
The latter statement is very true as New Rhodes joined forces with fellow London band, Bloc Party, for a long tour of Britain's more charming places. Like Middlesborough. "We've played with them a couple times before, and it seemed to work well musically. We've been speaking to Kele (Okereke, vocalist of Bloc Party) quite a lot. Then their manager came to one of our gigs and it just went from there."
Although the tour is long and the road hard, New Rhodes isn't a band to slip into Spinal Tap-esque binges of hedonism. "We've all got chastity belts on" says James "But we do know how to party" assures bassist Jack Ashdown. "But we try to steer clear of all the clichés". "You don't have to do all the clichés to be rock n roll. I think everyone always believes you have to act as a twat and do as many drugs as possible to be a rock band..." James adds, "Smashing hotel rooms to bits is just so 80s". "We can't do all that fighting and stuff" Joe shoots in, "we're too pussy!" "Besides", James says thoughtfully, "we can't afford Class-A drugs".
New Rhodes moved to London quite recently, having spent their early years in Bristol. Shortly after their move they were "hotly tipped" by, let's call them, certain influential media magazines.
So, New Rhodes must, in some way, be a part of the "famous" 'Thames-scene' then?
James puts on a face that is more "Shut up!" than "I think you're joking" "Well, no, we're from Bristol. It's not really much of a scene - half the bands hate each other. There are a few who like to go around in a group, but a lot of the bands don't like each other. It's just a load of gigs..."
Some would say that this "scene" is created by the media, surely?
After a moment of pondering, Jack quirps "It's quickly becoming a cliché in itself. Once they start labelling scenes, that's when it starts to go downhill..." To which James adds "A lot of the people in London admit that there isn't really a scene; they just want to be a part of this glorified image of one."
So, there it is; the dirt on the London "scene". However, one of New Rhodes' goals by moving to London was to get more attention, and more attention they got. As previously mentioned, they released their debut single "I wish I was you" earlier this year, on Moshi Moshi records. Moshi Moshi, as you may have gathered, is not the biggest label in the world.
Guitarist Joe explains the choice of label as following "Nobody else wanted us! (laugh)"
James explains it "They gave us the freedom we wanted, we're able to do just one single. They gave us an equal say in the how and when. And it's nice to find your feet on a smaller label, and if any major labels want to buy into what you have then they can, but if you get on a major label right from the start they'll try to put you out as something else." There is a brief pause before he continues, looking at his hands like a murderer in a thriller. "It's all on our terms, really. We release it how we want to. They have the knowledge because they work in the industry, but it was up to us how we did it, when we did it. It was nice to just have the freedom and ability to do that."
Are you happy with the choice of label?
Jack is quick to answer "Yeah, they're lovely guys. It helps us get a footing in everything and make way for the future releases and stuff. We'll have more bargaining power, and if we do get in touch with a major we can sell ourselves, basically. If we've built everything ourselves, then we can dictate to them how we want to do it." "The response to "I wish I was you" has been really good too." James adds "Getting number 63 for a technically unsigned band is... Getting in the Top 75 I think is quite an achievement. We didn't have that many copies. Whenever we play it live it gets a very good response. It went a lot better than we hoped it would do."
"I Wish I Was You" received rave reviews across a wide spectrum of the music press. Considering the good response the single got, would you say you're a band that can inspire cult followings? If you have a brief look at your website you'd think many of your fans are potential stalkers...
"I don't know, but I'd like that. I mean, a band like Super Furry Animals inspires cult followings, but I don't know, I think we appeal more to a mainstream market." James says. "I think a lot of our fans spend all their time on our website, but that's good!" "They're all really nice on there", Joe adds. "It's a really good atmosphere on there, to the extent you can feel that online. We do have a good connection with our fans." James claims "We always try to talk to them at our gigs and stuff like that," Jack follows "We try and get to know everyone on the sidelines and everything."
Just how obsessive some of New Rhodes' fans can be is probably best described by guitarist Jack's story of two such people. "We thought of having this 'tape fund' thing going after our cd-shuffler was stolen from our van. So, we went on our website and just went "Ah, it's been stolen! We have no music!" and two weeks later we got this huge box of cassettes from these three girls off our site. They just made us all these compilations and bought us all these clothes and stuff!" James continues "People always presume that we're arrogant or pretentious because we're quite quiet and shy, but one of the biggest things we do is meet people. You can go around the country or the world and you meet new people, and if they want to come to our house, they can. There shouldn't be any kind of level of "superstar". We're normal people, everyone's normal people. Even Michael Jackson is normal... Well, maybe not Michael Jackson."
In the past you have been likened to bands like The Strokes, pretty much like every other band out there. How do you feel about that?
"It bothered us about 2 years ago," James says "but if people want to think that they can. Everyone has their own opinion. For every person who says we sound like The Strokes there could be four people saying we sound like something else. It's their opinion. I mean, I can see why some would think that we sound like The Strokes, but to say that we're just a Strokes-copy... That's just low." Jack continues "I think it was something that got labelled with us quite early on. There were two reviews, and from then on it just stuck." James says "It's funny though, how many people who actually copy the reviews they see. One reviewer says something, then others come along and just copy and pastes what they read in the first review. I think that's why a lot of these things have stuck. People might read that and think "Ooh, they've put bloody Franz Ferdinand in there, and now we'll put it in our review as well" One person starts it off, even though no one even had a clue, it never crossed their minds."
"We were compared to the Stereophonics once, which was pretty harsh." adds Joe, before Jack shouts "And the Levellers! The fucking Levellers! Someone will read that and just pass it on!" "'Kitchens of Distinction' was the best one. I've never even heard of them, I thought it was just Ikea or something." James laughs.
Surely that must mean that you, as people, aren't too happy about a few other bands?
"We like everyone..." James says (if slightly unconvincing). Joe picks up the thread by saying
"I'm not sure I can say it, but there's one band that fucks me off so much. We were listening to them on the radio earlier. They've just got these massive gigs and it just fucks me RIGHT OF." "We won't say their name," James says, "but they rip off Primal Scream and the Stone Roses completely. Well, I can't really say that 'cause I'm complaining that people are pigeon-holing us, and now I'm pigeon-holing someone else, but as a critic I'm saying they rip off Primal Scream." Jack adds "A lot bands you end up hating and get this thing that if you're ever verbal about it, it'll come back to haunt you. We recently were slagging off a band on our website, and then they came on our website. They just went "Hey! We're nice people!" "Thing is though," James adds, "at the end of they day they're probably really nice people, and in the same way as people are doing it to us I'm doing it to them in saying that I think they're really fucking shit. It's just my opinion. It's my opinion along with all the other billions of opinions."
I suppose it's easier to just put a band down after you've heard some songs on the radio or whatever.
"Yeah, totally," Jack agrees. "You become quite cynical when you're in a band, I don't quite know what happened. Before I was in a band I used to really enjoy gigs, but now I find myself thinking "Hmm, that's a good drum beat" or "That stuff on the guitar, he could have done that better". You just turn into this critic in your head, and you just think "Shut up! I want to enjoy the gig!" You just ruin the gig for yourself. But you know, there are some bands that we really do like and really admire. It's quite nice to see bands rise though, I mean, we've played with some bands when they were smaller, and you just see them now and it's great."
"It's quite strange" James muses, "because we played with Razorlight ages ago, and to see where they are now is fucking crazy. The whole tour sells out in minutes and they play Brixton Academy or whatever" Jack finishes "In the same way , we were playing with Bloc Party in this really dingy little... room in Reading, basically, and now we're playing with them on their national tour. It's strange how it develops like that. I mean, The Killers supported us at The Metro in London and now look at them. Bands like that are great because you know them before it happened, and that's really good."
So there it is. New Rhodes is a group of hard-working young men that you'll no doubt hear more from in the future, and they'll most likely come to your home town some time soon.
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