What were the aims of the band when you were starting out?
James: Angi studied Textiles at Nottingham Trent and I did English Literature. We both did music before, but on a very minimal scale. We just wanted to create something, make our own culture.
Angi: I don’t think it was a conscious decision to make music, we just did it.
J: For years and year we just did music, we didn’t have a name.
A: For a long time I didn’t say...Well, I still don’t say that I am a musician. I said that I do music. I found that really irritating, when people say they “do music”. For me, it’s quite hard to say that I’m a musician.
J: It is quite literally a lifestyle choice. It’s just something that you do.
A: When you think about people who you admire like Mozart. He’s a musician. I just don’t see myself like that.
J: In terms of making our own culture, we were aware that people like the Damn You! guys were doing stuff and we were like “this is amazing”. So we started to do our own thing and we started promoting, but always in the background we were making music.
Why did you start promoting?
J: First and foremost we wanted to to be inclusive in the local scene. We did a residency at The Social for a year. We originally started off at Junktion 7. It was called Supernight and we did it with the people who now run Hello Thor.
How did Supernight then turn in to you doing Fists?
J: We were always making music. We met Theresa through her brother Joe. Joe and Theresa lived in this massive student house, and they had this totally set-up music space and I thought it was mind-blowing. We were going for years. Not as an actual band but just making music. It was probably about 6 years before we did a gig.
Why did it take so long? Were you scared to play?
J: I used to do stuff as a student and that is how I met Angi. I don’t know why we didn’t play. Maybe it was fear.
A: We never thought that anyone would want to hear us.
J: We just assumed that no one would like it. Through the promoting we decided to do a set. We would only play for 15 minutes at the very beginning of the evening. It was a really galvanizing experience as people actually seemed to like us.
What’s it like putting yourself out there on stage?
J: It’s like being in the eye of a hurricane. I do a thing where I will never look at the crowd at any point. You have to get in to your ‘mode’. It’s like a mental thing. I don’t have any faith, but at the same time have absolute total conviction and faith. Why do it if you don’t have any faith?
A: I get quite scared, but the only way for me to deal with it is to get in to the mode of the song. If you step out of that then things can fall apart mentally and musically.
You always get called ‘ramshackle’, but you actually aren’t...
J: As a DIY band you tend to do all of your own press. When there’s a gig someone will often ask for a promotional blurb. You write that yourself. So I used the word ‘ramshackle’ in a description about ourselves, because at the time we were totally ramshackle. We were doing 15 minute sets and it was weird skiffle stuff that was all over the shop. And that description has just stuck with us.
A: I think that it’s quite a nice description of the feel of the music.
J: The thing is, is that we aren’t. We’ve got the tightest rhythm section in Nottingham. Maybe not in all of Nottingham, but in the indie-rock world, Tez and Biggs are totally locked-down. I think we are as tight-as-fuck.
It must be an amazing feeling to know that you can fill a room with people wanting to see your band?
J: Literally, even if only two people came to the gig, we wouldn’t question whether we were doing something wrong. We were always surprised when anyone turned up to our gigs. We were surprised when Joey Chickenskin turned up to our gigs.
Has promoting gigs helped you with managing the band?
J: Absolutely. You see both sides, you get a 360 perspective of the whole shebang.
A: It really teaches you how to do it. If you are a new band or people don’t know you, you learn to put on a gig and you rally people to come and see it, and you can put on whatever you want. People like the fact that you do that, they are galvanized by it. That’s the root of the whole DIY ethic. You just give it a go.
Do you consciously sit-down to write song or do songs just come to you?
A: I can be quite scatty and if I’m in the mood for writing a song then I have to do it and get on with it. When that happens I can’t control when I’m in the mood. On the other hand, sometimes you do have to just sit down and do it. When I wrote Cockatoo I remember saying that I can’t do it and thinking that it was shit. I was told to stop moaning and to get upstairs and just do it. So I went upstairs and made the effort.
What are you looking for when you write a song?
A: I’m not looking for anything, I just mess around. I think it helps not to force yourself or to put restrictions on what you are doing. Just have a go and see what happens. You will go through a lot of shit before you find something that you like. I like drawing and with drawing you draw about 5 pictures before you get anything good. So you might write a lot of shit, but you don’t need to play that for anybody.
What’s your favourite song that you have written?
A: I’m not too sure. It’s important to say that I might come up with ideas, and some of those ideas become songs or are songs and some just stay ideas. I’m not taking credit for the songs, they are by Fists. I like Roll Back My Eyes. Stag is probably my favourite song. I like one of the new ones, but I don’t want to say it, because it doesn’t have a name. If I didn’t like any of my songs, I wouldn’t dare let anyone hear them.
J: When you are listening to a song, what makes it a good song? You often seem very sure.
A: All of the bits have to have a place, they all have to be in the song for a reason. If you have fluff, get rid of it. All of the bits of a song have to have a purpose and if they don’t, kick it to the kerb.
How do you name the songs?
J: Literally as it is about to be pressed on to vinyl.
Are you surprised about how much you have achieved doing everything yourself?
J: We are absolutely mortified and shocked all of the time. Comparing ourselves to similar bands we have done loads. We have played a lot of festivals and we were really embraced by 6Music. It’s just shock that people paid an interest in us.
A: As a band we all believe in what we are doing.
J: We might not be doing well financially, but we are doing well in terms of getting shows and festivals and chatting to other bands. Chatting to them you realise that they are exactly the same as us. More importantly, the fact that most people in bands are just normal people. It’s easy to glamorise it. You see these people who are legends and then you just realise that they are normal guys feeling the same way as us.
Do you think bands, like yourselves, who have this DIY ethic find it hard to get beyond a certain level?
J: What we have to discuss here is what do you mean by the whole notion of ‘DIY’? What DIY means is people not getting a massive pay cheque from a major label. So essentially most people are DIY. The thing with Fists is that it’s all internal and the only concern is developing a formula that allows us to write consistently. Develop a system where we can churn out music. It would be nice if it was funded and we didn’t have to pay a single penny. The other thing is getting a network of people together that would be willing to put out our record. Just being able to have a couple of songs that we really like and getting them out there, just constant 7”s or whatever. Obviously there is no money in the music industry, no one will just under-write a band who puts out 7”s every now and again. But ultimately, we just want to consistently be able to put out records.
Is it still important to you to have the physical release?
J: Absolutely. It’s the most enduring format, the physical product. Rather than a file on a computer, an actual physical thing in someone’s hand.
Will there ever be a Fists album?
J: The reason why we’ve not done an album, is that I feel that you just have to get in to a studio and spend two weeks and it has to be a really intense flurry of activity. You have a bunch of songs and you just get them down. The only reason why we haven’t done that yet is due to logistical reasons. Every member of the band will have to have time off work and you have to pay for it.
A: We could record an album. But the way we want to do it in a studio will require some funds.
J: We are looking in to doing it in little bits. We’ve written 7 or 8 songs for it. The idea was to have the album done before the US tour, but it costs loads of fucking money so we’ve not done it.
The Guardian published an article last year on the Nottingham music scene that you weren't mentioned in. Did that bother you?
J: No not at all. I felt that the article was mostly concerned with Nottingham’s lack of commercial success and whether a few local artists, some of whom have recently signed to major labels might be able to break the dry spell. We don’t really consider ourselves a pop band in that way and we don’t really have much interest in trying to achieve those sorts of things, so I don’t think we would have been appropriate for the feature. I enjoyed reading it though. It was nice to see some of our friends getting a bit of shine.
Has anyone every approached the band to manage or sign you?
J: We don’t need a manager. We did get a few emails from people, but I think that they were aware that we know what we are doing. And we do know what we are doing. We don’t know how to monetise what we are doing and turn it in to a profit. But we do know how to push forward and make contacts.
How does it feel when you get a song played on the radio?
J: It’s a bit weird. This may sound horribly arrogant; but when we first started and we were doing those 15 minute sets, we had a song called 6 5 Special that got played on a segment on 6Music about Nottingham music. I think Dean Jackson sorted it out. That was the first time and that was a really intense moment, like, “Fucking hell, we are on the radio”. But we have always done alright in terms of getting radio play. When we get radio play it’s always off our own backs.
A: When Cerys Mathews played us she commented on the song.
J: She was really in to it. She thought it sounded weird, she noticed a dropped beat and thought it was imperfect sounding. She said that it was really refreshing, because everything is usually really pristine sounding. That was amazing. I think she’s really sexy as well.
I like your BBC 6Music Roundtable story...
J: We heard from the production team that we were going to be discussed on the Roundtable. And Dog Is Dead were going to be on the same show. So I was live Tweeting Dog Is Dead going “Fucking hell, two Notts band, this is great”. They got played, but Fists got dropped from the show. Typical.
You have reached a privileged level in Nottingham where you can pick and choose your shows...
A: I think we have always done that. When we have been asked to play we haven’t always just done any old gig.
J: Actually we have, we have done loads. We’ve played all sorts of shit. The reason why we now pick and choose gigs is because we’ve put on shows. We know what works and how it’s done well and how it’s done bad. For example, this guy has offered us £10 and there are these bands playing and you just know that it’s not going to work. We are going to have a horrible time doing that and we aren’t going to get paid any money. If you just accept anything that is offered to you because it is offered to you, that’s desperation. You don’t have to be like that. You can chose a local pub that has a licence to put on live music and put on your own show.
A: When bands complain that no one ever shows up or that they never get asked to play. It’s like, how many bands have you shown support to? How many shows have you put on? Actually, it’s those people who don’t go and watch bands and then they wonder why no one ever goes to see them.
J: The whole LeftLion ethos is to integrate yourself in to the local community and basically reflect them. Be a mirror of that community, write about the culture. It’s exactly the same for us. We were a tiny bedroom band and we wanted to be a part of the local community of musicians. We had stuff that we aspired to like Damn You!, and we just went out and did it. We booked a tiny venue and did our own crude posters. It’s not even a big deal. All you have to do is under-write a certain amount of money.
A: And if nobody comes, think about why they didn’t come. Don’t feel sorry for yourself.
Do you think bands can oversaturate themselves if they play too much in the city?
J: I think that people are always totally saturated by Fists all of the time.
A: We say that because you are at risk if you play a lot in your own city. But we haven’t played a lot recently. Right now I don’t think we can say that.
Is it important for you to play out of the city?
J: Yes, but the only reason why is because it’s just fucking fun. Obviously we live in Nottingham and we have done loads of shows here and the crowds are great. But what about going to Sheffield or somewhere and doing a gig there, and meeting a totally different group of people who are doing the same thing? It’s really interesting to do that. You meet other bands and you are creating a spiderweb of connectivity.
You’ve just come back from supporting Obits on a tour of the East Coast of America. How was it?
J: People seemed to take to us from the off. I don’t know if it was because we are English and a bit of a novelty, or because they recognised all the Breeders songs that we’ve ripped off, but they totally got it. They bought lots of our merch too!
What was it like playing to audiences who had no idea who you were?
J: I reckon we still mostly play to audiences who have no idea who we are unless it’s Nottingham. Playing to US audiences was peculiar. The US is obviously similar to the UK in lots of ways, but they do everything just differently enough for it to still feel a bit alien. At shows in the UK audiences that are new to us tend to be a bit more self conscious and likely to skulk in the shadows leaving that massive depressing gap at the front of the stage, whilst they figure out whether they like us or not. In the US they were a lot more comfortable coming straight to the front at the start of the show to see if we could entertain them. They were more willing to engage with us too which was cool. It works both ways though and I had to learn how to engage back a bit more and just generally be less apologetic and British about being onstage. It was a good experience for me.
How has the band come away from the experience?
J: We found out that we’re not necessarily going to hate each other if we cram into a minivan and drive thousands of miles together on a few hours sleep. That we need to eat vegetables regularly. That the world is massive but in it there is an audience for our music and that it can be a shit load of fun trying to work out the best way to get it to people. That we want to tour again asap, preferably with Obits who we adore as people and as a band. That we really need to finish our record.
Any plans to do anything else with Obits?
J: We’re hoping to do a ‘thing’ together but we can’t really say anymore than that at the moment in case it falls through! You will obviously be the first to know if we pull it off.
What other Notts music do you like?
J: Kogumaza without a doubt. Not just in Nottingham, but that album is just one of my favourite albums of 2011. A total slayer of a record.
A: I like Hot Horizons.
J: Kagoule. There are loads of options here. We could big up loads of people for various reasons, but we want to be as honest as possible about what we actually like. I like Kirk Spencer.
J: Can you put in early-Bonsai Projects?
A: Sleaford Mods.
J: Can we stop this now?