For those who arenít 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 weíre 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 didnít 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 itís intense kind of music and I was burned out on our other records, the songs just didnít mean as much as when we first wrote them. I couldnít 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. Itís been eating me up inside for like a whole year.
When you first sent me Midnight Mass, you said, ďIf Green Day created a Ďpunk rock operaí then I guess Iíd hope this album would translate as a Ďpunk rock school playí.Ē What do you mean by that?
Iíve 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 Ďní Roll Suicide. In the same way The Art of Drowning does where it has that intro track and ends with Morningstar, Iíve always wanted to do a record like that. Itís a big story; itís hard to say itís a concept record, because every time someone says their record is a concept record, you think itís 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 wasnít as if we had all these resources at our hand. We made the choir out of Gregís 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. Itíd 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. Iím really glad we did that and Iím 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, ďTrying to find conviction every night is the most important thing about playing live.Ē I found it difficult singing songs that were so sad about trying to power through and get on with things. I wouldnít say Last Light is a record thatís more dwelling, but itís 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, itís more than bashing some songs out. Like, when youíre 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 itís sad and Midnight Mass is quite sad as well, but in the same way that people ask me about the sound change, I say itíd be boring doing the same thing twice. I kind of feel the same way with that as well. Iím not miserable, Iím really happy. I always say weíre probably the happiest goth kids and Cure fans youíre likely to meet. Weíre stoked on stuff, but thereís that other side. Itís like the Lemuria lyric, ďEvery funny guy has a serious side.Ē I kind of feel thatís really, really true and I love that lyric, itís one of my favorite Lemuria songs. Thatís 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 Iíve 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. Itís supposed to have continuity, but those bands, Alkaline Trio and AFI, Iíd 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, ďFuck it!Ē 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, thatís 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 didnít 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 Iím 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 couldnít walk and forgot the words to my own songs. Anyway, we drove back that night and I woke up in Ianís 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 donít 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 brotherís 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 Ė 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, ďI wonder why heís living on his own?Ē. So, I asked my step-mum what happened to his wife, I didnít mention the letters Ė obviously, but she said when he had his first stroke he turned violent, so she couldnít stay with him anymore. I thought it was so heartbreaking. These days, you donít read things like that, like love letters that in-depth. Then we went on tour and I didnít really think about it again, and I got a phone call from my dad while we were in Belgium and he said the guy whoís 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 youíre 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 shouldnít go unappreciated and something that we donít have in our generation as much, with divorce rates are the highest theyíve ever been, like my dad had an affair when I was younger. So, I donít 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 arenít even mine, theyíre lines from the letters. It all kind of tells a story about that and about my own life as well with that theme. Itís a concept record to me, in the sense that I write about real things. Itís not like I write about zombies or something crazy, itís real things, about that disposable love.
It seems like youíre placing a lot of importance on this record, regarding it as ďthe ever-approaching endĒ online.
I see it as the record I wanted to write as a kid, I always wanted to write a record like this, so itís 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. Weíre 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 weíre hoping to do some tracks for a split and possibly put it out by the end of the year. In a way, itís an end of working with Chris, who recorded drums on this, but left the band last year. Itís the end of a lot of things for us and a new start as well. Everyoneís been telling me to write more songs like those Last Light songs, but I donít see the point in doing that. If youíre a musician and creative, you should have so many ideas. I just want to progress and keep doing new things. Iíve 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 havenít got any money, but we always end up managing on a budget.
Youíve 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 Iíd love to have a conversation with somebody who says those things, because itís just ridiculous. When we were on tour for six months, we lost £5,000, like people said they couldnít give us the money for a show and I was like, ďOk, if you canít pay itÖĒ 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 donít 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 youíre worth? To you, it means everything, but some people might think weíre awful. Itís 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. Weíve got back on our feet again. Weíre not just doing this to make a career out of it - of course, Iíd love that. I Ďd love to make a living off music, thatíd be the best thing ever. Itís just hard to hear people talk shit on you, especially bands you like. If you think what weíre doing is really that ethically wrong, just come and say, ĎThose photos look really stupid.í 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.
Itís always really weird. I donít think weíre ever going to find a match. Our blessing is our curse at the same time. Weíre really lucky, because of the people who take chances on us and help us out, but we donít 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 wouldnít, because everythingís so cliquey and segregated that people canít see past their own two feet. People let genres define them as a person. Iím into hardcore and itís one of the main things Iím into, but it doesnít define me as a person. I think Iím 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 thereís 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 theyíre really into it. Itís really cool that people get that stoked on stuff, like we play shows and the kids know the words better than I do, and itís the best thing ever. Itís 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 itís one of the most heart-warming things ever.
When I last interviewed you in 2010 for another website, I remember you telling me you didnít have a bedroom, how are things now?
Iím still in the same situation; Iím sofa surfing and staying at my friend Andyís house since we got back from tour for a few days. Itís just a nightmare. Thereís nothing that gives me more of a laugh than when people give you shit like, ďOh, look at those guys doing photo shootsÖĒ when Iím just trying my best to play the music I want to play and sleeping on a sofa. I donít 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. Itís the one thing that really does upset me.
After the release of Midnight Mass, whatís next?
The album comes out on March 5th and in March, weíre going to do a couple of shows here and there. Iíve realized that my aspirations are lot different to most bands; we donít have agenda and want to get big. I just want to play Midnight Mass songs to anyone who wants to hear them. Itíd be cool if people want to help us out, but really, if someone gives a shit then I want to play to them. Thereís some kids in Italy I really want to play to and some kids in America Iíd love to play the songs to, because if they want to hear it, I feel like we should play the songs to them. Thatís my goal this year, I guess.
Are there any UK bands youíd like to spread the word about?
Thereís a great band called Hounds from up north, theyíre really good. Thereís a great band called Grader from Glasgow, thereís not many hardcore bands these days I think are amazing, but they really are. Then thereís 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, thereís a disillusion about the opportunities other bands get given and bands like The Living Daylights keep going and donít really get those opportunities, and I feel bad, because I think some of the things that we get offered, we donít deserve as much as they do, because that band are so good. When you see them play, theyíre so tight and good at what they do, itís 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.