For those who aren't aware, can you tell me a bit about Our Time Down Here?
Our Time Down Here started five years ago in Southampton, UK where we played floorshows for ages and ages. We then recorded an EP with Pete Miles, released on the now-defunct Banquet Records, and started touring with bands like The Steal. Then we did an album with Pete Miles called Live, Love, Let Go and toured that for a little bit. Then Ian joined and we put out a record called Last Light, and started touring more and more, and now we're just about to release our new album Midnight Mass.
You finished recording Midnight Mass in February 2011, why did it take so long to be released?
When we just did the Last Light record, Banquet Records had just stopped putting out records, so didn't know who to put it out with. I sent it to loads of different labels and people were interested, but it would have taken them six months to put it out and at that point, I was so desperate to play new material. With punk and hardcore, I think you sort of just burn yourself out. Like most bands only seem to last three records, because it's intense kind of music and I was burned out on our other records, the songs just didn't mean as much as when we first wrote them. I couldn't wait six months, so we put it out ourselves with Bandcamp. Then we recorded Midnight Mass, hoping to find a label and we did. We never had a contract with Banquet or anyone before, and we got sent a contract, but knew nothing about business or anything like that, so we panicked. Our band is so dear to us and such an important part of our lives that we panicked, so we sent it to a couple of people we knew who do law and got them to read through it for us. It just took ages, we sent it back and forth, then the date got pushed back to November then this year. It's been eating me up inside for like a whole year.
When you first sent me Midnight Mass, you said, "If Green Day created a 'punk rock opera' then I guess I'd hope this album would translate as a 'punk rock school play'." What do you mean by that?
I've always wanted to do a really theatrical record, like in terms of the old AFI records, and one of my favorite records as a kid was The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars by David Bowie, where it had an intro track like Five Years and a climatic song, Rock 'n' Roll Suicide. In the same way The Art of Drowning does where it has that intro track and ends with Morningstar, I've always wanted to do a record like that. It's a big story; it's hard to say it's a concept record, because every time someone says their record is a concept record, you think it's pretentious, but I guess it kind of is. I counted how many people were involved in the record and it was about 15 different people, whereas before it was just the four of us. We had loads of kids come in to sing choir parts, but it wasn't as if we had all these resources at our hand. We made the choir out of Greg's niece and all of her school friends. We had our friend Thom Denson who came to sing. We had Neil playing keys and stuff, and Steve the engineer did a poem for us. It was a massive group effort. It'd be really wrong to think that the album is just the five of us; it was like a community in Southampton coming together.
Your debut album Live, Love, Let Go seemed really positive and comparable in style to Kid Dynamite/Shook Ones/Lifetime. Whereas, the following Last Light EP took a completely different turn, sounding more like Alkaline Trio and AFI, and a lot more melancholy. What mindset were you in with Midnight Mass?
I think that the Live, Love, Let Go record was about recovery, because at the time, I was really sad when I wrote it and I thought the best way to channel that powerless feeling was to try to put a positive approach on it and try to look at things in a positive light. I'm really glad we did that and I'm really proud of what we did, but that record ended with a really angry song, which was the first song we wrote for the record. Then when we came to Last Light, I wanted to write songs that were more cathartic and that meant the most to me. I think David Bowie said once that, "Trying to find conviction every night is the most important thing about playing live." I found it difficult singing songs that were so sad about trying to power through and get on with things. I wouldn't say Last Light is a record that's more dwelling, but it's more retrospective and a diary of a few months. Whereas, the lyrics in Live, Love, Let Go focused more on stuff happening now and overcoming them now. I try to do everything that we do now as like a project, it's more than bashing some songs out. Like, when you're in school and you do an art project, I did Fine Art at college, and one of the coolest things I liked was when you worked as a team and came up with different stuff. I can totally see that it's sad and Midnight Mass is quite sad as well, but in the same way that people ask me about the sound change, I say it'd be boring doing the same thing twice. I kind of feel the same way with that as well. I'm not miserable, I'm really happy. I always say we're probably the happiest goth kids and Cure fans you're likely to meet. We're stoked on stuff, but there's that other side. It's like the Lemuria lyric, "Every funny guy has a serious side." I kind of feel that's really, really true and I love that lyric, it's one of my favorite Lemuria songs. That's what I kind of feel like, instead of being miserable all of the time, I channel it into half-an-hour every night and then I move on.
What I appreciate is that you really do wear your influences on your sleeve.
I guess I kind of see the new record as a throwback, like in the early 2000s, AFI and Alkaline Trio were producing the best material, in my opinion, and I've always liked that darker sound. If you look at Live, Love, Let Go, you can see parts of that as well. We try to make all of the records relate to each other, like Live, Love, Let Go ends with a piano and Midnight Mass starts with a piano. It's supposed to have continuity, but those bands, Alkaline Trio and AFI, I'd say Good Mourning and The Art of Drowning were the records we drew from the most, we definitely wear our influences on our sleeve. For ages, I was waiting for a band to come along that sounded like AFI and Alkaline Trio, because I was so stoked on those bands back in the day, then I found Energy, and I thought they were really, really good. Then for a while, when I was at a creative low point, I was just like, "Fuck it!" and wanted to see if we could write songs that are dark, but still us. I like to see it as paying tribute to those bands. Our band is an absolute Alkaline Trio/AFI worship, that's how I recommend it to people, but we kind of sing about different things as well.
I see that continuity, even though Midnight Mass kind of picks up where Last Light left off, the final track is very reminiscent of your old style.
Originally, that song was going to be in the record somewhere and when we were writing it and putting it together, I started to panic and realize it didn't fit in at all, but it revisits our older material and brings the whole thing back together. It ends in the way it begins, in a way. Like the bird calls at the end of I'm A Hex, we played a show once and I was in a really bad way, I drunk two bottles of this white cider and everyone was really angry with me, because I ruined the show. I couldn't walk and forgot the words to my own songs. Anyway, we drove back that night and I woke up in Ian's house about 4 in the morning, and the door opened and heard all of these birds, and I realized I had to stop drinking so much and take things seriously. Like Bright Grey by The Steal, I had a conversation with Mark Pavey once where he was saying there was loads of hidden stuff in the tracks and that first song, it was a reference to Welcome Break, the service stations you stop by on tour. Just things like that I thought was so cool, making every facet of your record have a relation to something else. So, we don't do anything randomly.
I read on your Tumblr a while ago about you finding old love letters and incorporating them into the lyrics.
Not many people know this, but the story of the record is about how last year, we were back from tour, in between Last Light and recording this record, and my step-mum asked me to clear out her brother's place, because he had a stroke. He was a hoarder and had loads of stuff, so she wanted me to go over and put stuff in little piles - like an eBay pile, a bin pile and a keep pile. I was going through all of his stuff and amongst it all, I found an envelope and in the envelope, there were these letters from the eighties that his wife had written him when he was abroad, and they were the most endearing love letters you could imagine. Without thinking, I stole them and put them in my jacket, I got in and read through all these love letters. She was so in love with him, like more than you can imagine; it was insane. I was like, "I wonder why he's living on his own?". So, I asked my step-mum what happened to his wife, I didn't mention the letters - obviously, but she said when he had his first stroke he turned violent, so she couldn't stay with him anymore. I thought it was so heartbreaking. These days, you don't read things like that, like love letters that in-depth. Then we went on tour and I didn't really think about it again, and I got a phone call from my dad while we were in Belgium and he said the guy who's house it was had collapsed on the floor and died. I remembered I had the letters in my room, I was going to put them back at some point, and it took a week for it to sink in. I went to his funeral and met his ex-wife and kids, and it was really horrible, because I knew how in love they were and how they were pulled apart. Being in a relationship where you're so in love with someone, like more than you can imagine, to all of a sudden, at a snap of a finger, he was living on his own. He was still quite young, hoarding these letters and he died on his own in his apartment. I thought that was a really good sentiment, that that love shouldn't go unappreciated and something that we don't have in our generation as much, with divorce rates are the highest they've ever been, like my dad had an affair when I was younger. So, I don't think you have that anymore and I tried to pay tribute to those letters. The whole first song is lyrics from the letters; most of the lyrics aren't even mine, they're lines from the letters. It all kind of tells a story about that and about my own life as well with that theme. It's a concept record to me, in the sense that I write about real things. It's not like I write about zombies or something crazy, it's real things, about that disposable love.
It seems like you're placing a lot of importance on this record, regarding it as "the ever-approaching end" online.
I see it as the record I wanted to write as a kid, I always wanted to write a record like this, so it's just a long culmination of my life that probably began when I first started playing bands when I was 15. That lyric is kind of from the story before, it all relates. We're planning some tracks for a split at the end of the year and one of our biggest habits is recording something and not doing anything with it for ages with touring, so we're hoping to do some tracks for a split and possibly put it out by the end of the year. In a way, it's an end of working with Chris, who recorded drums on this, but left the band last year. It's the end of a lot of things for us and a new start as well. Everyone's been telling me to write more songs like those Last Light songs, but I don't see the point in doing that. If you're a musician and creative, you should have so many ideas. I just want to progress and keep doing new things. I've been looking at old blues music recently and thinking of how we can try to have gospel choirs in the background and stuff, just new ideas. Obviously, we haven't got any money, but we always end up managing on a budget.
You've always been very DIY, but now you have a booking agent, how has that changed things?
Some people give us shit for the decisions we make and I'd love to have a conversation with somebody who says those things, because it's just ridiculous. When we were on tour for six months, we lost £5,000, like people said they couldn't give us the money for a show and I was like, "Ok, if you can't pay it…" and it all just added up and we were five grand in debt. Then we had our van broke in and had no merch, so we had to come back and work. So, now with Ian from Hidden Talent Booking, we don't have to worry about money or anything, because he sorts it out for us without me having to be awkward. Like how can you judge how much you're worth? To you, it means everything, but some people might think we're awful. It's useful to have someone else on the outside to sort it. It has helped and I think touring this year will be a lot easier. We've got back on our feet again. We're not just doing this to make a career out of it - of course, I'd love that. I 'd love to make a living off music, that'd be the best thing ever. It's just hard to hear people talk shit on you, especially bands you like. If you think what we're doing is really that ethically wrong, just come and say, 'Those photos look really stupid.' or something. At the end of the day, all of those bands who they grew up on Bouncing Souls, Alkaline Trio, NOFX, they all do that same shit.
Whatever the line-up, you always seem like the black sheep.
It's always really weird. I don't think we're ever going to find a match. Our blessing is our curse at the same time. We're really lucky, because of the people who take chances on us and help us out, but we don't fit on those bills, like you said. Where would a band like Alkaline Trio or AFI or The Damned fit on a bill these days? They wouldn't, because everything's so cliquey and segregated that people can't see past their own two feet. People let genres define them as a person. I'm into hardcore and it's one of the main things I'm into, but it doesn't define me as a person. I think I'm more of pro-wrestling kid than anything. [laughs]
Does that make it hard for you to build a solid fanbase?
Something really cool has happened within the last couple of years, people who liked our band, and there's not a huge amount, but most of the people who like our band message me all the time on Facebook and send me cool messages and stuff, and they're really into it. It's really cool that people get that stoked on stuff, like we play shows and the kids know the words better than I do, and it's the best thing ever. It's so cool, because I think the reason you start to play music or do anything in the first place, is because when you were a kid, it had an impact on you. Like when I first started going to shows when I was 15-years-old, it made me want to start a punk band. You just have a hunger for art and some of the kids that come to our shows are those sorts of people, and it's one of the most heart-warming things ever.
When I last interviewed you in 2010 for another website, I remember you telling me you didn't have a bedroom, how are things now?
I'm still in the same situation; I'm sofa surfing and staying at my friend Andy's house since we got back from tour for a few days. It's just a nightmare. There's nothing that gives me more of a laugh than when people give you shit like, "Oh, look at those guys doing photo shoots…" when I'm just trying my best to play the music I want to play and sleeping on a sofa. I don't moan about it, but it does frustrate me when people think we changed our sound to cater to a different audience, that really, really annoys me. It's the one thing that really does upset me.
After the release of Midnight Mass, what's next?
The album comes out on March 5th and in March, we're going to do a couple of shows here and there. I've realized that my aspirations are lot different to most bands; we don't have agenda and want to get big. I just want to play Midnight Mass songs to anyone who wants to hear them. It'd be cool if people want to help us out, but really, if someone gives a shit then I want to play to them. There's some kids in Italy I really want to play to and some kids in America I'd love to play the songs to, because if they want to hear it, I feel like we should play the songs to them. That's my goal this year, I guess.
Are there any UK bands you'd like to spread the word about?
There's a great band called Hounds from up north, they're really good. There's a great band called Grader from Glasgow, there's not many hardcore bands these days I think are amazing, but they really are. Then there's Kerouac from down south. The Living Daylights are incredible and one of the hardest working bands in the UK punk rock scene. Again, like I was saying before, there's a disillusion about the opportunities other bands get given and bands like The Living Daylights keep going and don't really get those opportunities, and I feel bad, because I think some of the things that we get offered, we don't deserve as much as they do, because that band are so good. When you see them play, they're so tight and good at what they do, it's just heart breaking. There are so many good bands from Southampton right now; we have Kerouac, Witch Cult and The Long Haul, the kings of the castle in the UK punk scene, in my opinion. I saw a really good band called Veils the other day as well.
Do you have any final words before we wrap up?
Midnight Mass comes out on March 5th, go check it out. If you like Alkaline Trio or AFI or old school 90s punk rock, then you might like it. I hope you like it.