Interview: The Reads Tell Their Story
One of the most pleasurable things about hunting down new music to write about is when the planets align and a band comes into focus who literally take your breath away and remind you of the reason why you put yourself through it. It was one of those rare occurrences that brought The Reads into my periphery. Their debut album Stories from the Border has reignited a faith in what was starting to look like a stagnant music scene. Its pastoral feel mixed with heartfelt vocals and experimental flourishes is a brave one in a climate where immediacy is paramount. I wondered if there was a story to tell (pun intended) about their journey so far.
How did you start, where are you based?
We straddle the border of England and Wales, four of us in Flintshire and two in Chester. Jamie and Marcy (lead guitar and keys) have been writing music together since they were teenagers at school, Clare and Stuart met whilst working at HMV in Chester and Stu put some of Clare’s poetry to music with his trusty acoustic guitar. A mutual friend of Jamie and Stu’s decided as they were musically minded they needed to meet so he dropped Stu off at Jamie’s caravan in the middle of the night with his guitar and that was the start of The Reads. Our first few songs were actually written without all of us ever having been in the same room at the same time! A few years later Clare met and married Chris Goddard who was in a band with his brother Matty. Their band split up and so they were both welcomed into The Reads fold.
What are your influences.. musically, culturally… how does this affect the music you write?
The usual suspects really such as Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Bob Dylan along with Brian Eno, Boards of Canada, Tangerine Dream, Doves, Stone Roses, Super Furries, The Bluetones, Elbow, Miles Davies, Fleet Foxes, Radiohead etc. We’re big fans of comedy music too; Tony Ferrino, Flight of the Conchords, Cassette Boy…. they’ve inspired quite a few comedy Reads tunes!
These influences betray a healthy respect of music past and present with some more than others being immediately spotted on Stories from the Border. It is also re-assuring to see a strong Jazz influence pervading their work. This is maybe what sets them apart from your run of the mill bands and provides an esoteric journey for the more discerning listener. This doesn’t mean that they make the sort of music which is unapproachable for the more mainstream punter. Perversely it makes them more so. The Reads are still grounded in reality.
Was the process a long one to reach the songs on your debut album. Tell me about some early songs you wrote.
We’ve been together for over a decade and in that time we’ve managed to amass quite a body of music. We spent several weeks (with the help of our Producer Jim Spencer) short listing 15 tracks to take into the studio with us. This was then cut down to the final twelve which made it onto the album. The tricky bit was actually deciding on the running order for the album, not picking the tracks!! There was a lot of heavy discussion over numerous pints of beer to try and establish the running order….. which we’d probably still change it if we could!
What will the new album sound like… will it be more of the same or are you looking to expand. What new influences will affect your writing?
The next album will incorporate a mix of some old reworked stuff as well as some brand new tracks, a few of which are already well on the way to completion. We get together every Sunday and have
done almost religiously for the last 10 years and we’re constantly writing new stuff so we’ve got plenty of music to choose from for the follow up! We’re hoping to be back in the studio very soon.
2011 turned out to be a year which will remain in the collective memory of The Reads for a long time. After years of writing and playing the circuit it now seems that the pay-off is approaching. I ask The Reads to look back over the last year and give us a clue as to where they are heading next.
Over the last year or so what have been the bands greatest achievements?
Supporting Evan Dando, a childhood hero of Clare’s at the Tiv in Buckley which is where Jamie, Marcy and Stu spent a great deal of their formative years, headbanging in a darkened corner to many a band! Getting played by Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2 was also pretty amazing, in fact all the radio airplay we had last year was fantastic. We were driving home in convoy from Cardiff after doing a live session for BBC Radio Wales when we got a phone call to say Good Omens was being played on Radio 2. We pulled over, cranked the volume up and did a little Carlton dance by the side of the road…. that was pretty special!
How will these achievements affect you… have you noticed a difference in audience size or album sales?
When we launched the album at Telford’s Warehouse last March the place was full of familiar faces, all of whom have shown us unwavering support throughout our musical journey, wind the clock forward to our most recent gig there in September and we were playing to a sea of unfamiliar faces who were all singing along to the words! We were blown away….. I think Jeremy Vine may have had
a little something to do with that!
What do you hope to achieve in 2012?
To give up the day jobs and focus on the music full time. A nice sunny summer full of festival gigs is also on the Jim’ll Fix It list. Our big ambition is for Good Omens to be the soundtrack for a Sky Sports goal montage… or the 2012 Olympic theme tune!! Oh and roadies, we need roadies…
As we can see, humour is never far from The Reads. The idea of them all doing the Carlton dance at the side of the road shows the joy they are taking from these successes. It is no small thing either when considering the geographical origins of the band. By straddling the border they are situated between two vibrant music scenes which may sound ideal but in reality can be something of a bug bear. Taking into account the English/Welsh divide it is refreshing to see that there is no animosity and that they are open-minded enough to see past any patriotic rubbish that can encumber bands. Maybe they have the best of both worlds, that’s for The Reads to decide.
What do think of the music scene in both Wrexham and Chester. Which bands stand out for you. Is there any you don’t like?
There is an abundance of great musicians in North Wales; Gintis, JKLMNO, Heal the Last Stand, Andy Hickie, Sundance, I Am Austin, The Revolutionary Spirit and Chester and Wrexham provide great outlets for them all as there isn’t much in the way of live music venues along the rest of the North Wales coast. The music scene in Wrexham seems pretty lively, unfortunately (through no fault of our own) we’ve sort of been on the periphery of this for last few years, something we hope to change this year. We’ve got a gig at Wrexham Lager Club on 28th January and will be playing at Central Station as part of Focus Wales in April. How does Chester compare to Wrexham. Is it a different crowd… I’d imagine that the Chester crowd would know you (personally sometimes) where-as Wrexham may not.
When we play at Telford’s Warehouse we see it as a homecoming gig really, perhaps because The Reads first ever appearance was at one of their Sunday open mic nights. We always look forward to playing there and seem to draw a fairly good crowd. Last time we played in Wrexham it was the same night as Wrexham FC had a home game in the play offs… needless to say the venue was pretty empty! Bryn Law (Sky Sports Reporter) left the match early and came to see us though, which was nice!
It is a shame to see a band of this calibre playing to empty venues but then this is something that needs more work putting into by other people. For The Reads, they will continue what they are doing and I have no doubt that 2012 will bring them further success. With a gig in Wrexham Lager Club and a prestigious slot for Focus Wales maybe The Reads can become a cross-border sensation. Once this has happened then who knows…maybe the story will expand. I ask for some final words, an epilogue of you like…
Finally… give us some rock n roll wisdom!
(Courtesy of Jamie) Never trust a stage manager with eyes like saucers and a very runny nose…
You can listen to The Reads Stories from the Border here:
Andrew is an editor and writer for wrexhammusic.co.uk and promotes the wrexhammusic.co.uk nights.