Featuring Amy (live bass), Bod (recorded bass), Chris (guitars), Dave (drums) and James (vocals), the members of Grey Hairs all play in other Nottingham bands including Fonda 500, Fists, Kogumaza and Bus Stop Madonnas. Initially formed partly to scratch an itch that their other bands just weren’t reaching, and partly as an excuse to pop to the pub.
Do you still feel like a ‘mid-life crisis’ band?
James: When the band first started, that was the joke. Now I’m actually in the mid-life crisis, the mid-life crisis is the reality.
Dave: The band kickstarted the mid-life crisis.
James: Since we started the band I’ve got balder, fat, and I now have a baby.
Did the album take a while because Gringo Records refused to release the first set of songs?
Chris: Matt [Newnham, Gringo Records Chief] did reject the 7” that we gave him a couple of years back and he made us do it again, but this time it’s because of bullshitty Record Store Day. It used to be that you would be able to say, “Right, here’s the record and three months from this date is when the record comes out.” Now you can’t predict it. It came back earlier than they told us it would so we are left sitting on 500 copies until the 'proper' release date is sorted. We actually finished it on the twentieth anniversary of the murder of Kurt Cobain – 5 April 2014. It only took two weekends, and then a lot of fucking about afterwards, but it's not like we have a release schedule to meet or a world tour coming up.
The album sounds like a reaction to the mundanity of the Monday to Friday existence. Is that a fair assessment?
Dave: It’s about the Friday night batter, isn’t it?
Chris: It’s not just about drinking. No band is good that sings about drinking, apart from Hard Skin. It’s about that sort of desperation to get to the pub on a Friday because you’ve had a really bad week at work.
Why have you given the two sides of the LP the names - Man Gulps and Little Fingers - instead of titling them A and B?
James: They both come from Dave Biggs who has a highly evolved sense of masculinity.
Dave: When you come straight from a nine-to-five warehouse job on a Friday, straight to the pub, you pick up that first pint and basically drain the top third with the first mouthful. Then about three, four (or maybe six) hours later when you are stood up, you need to have your little finger under your pint for safety otherwise you are definitely going to drop it.
Chris: We wanted to call it that as an album. Then we realised it was a bit too celebrating of boozing and we were conscious of not being one of those bands that pretends to do things that they don’t do. But it's a metaphorical pub, with metaphorical pints. I like how on the second side all of the songs are the wrong speed and it feels like we aren’t totally on top of it. It definitely needs Little Fingers.
James: We like to think of the two sides as two EPs.
Chris: If we could have put the album out as two 10”s we would have done, but you can only push Matt Gringo so far.
My Mum saw the track listing and was confused by the song titles. Is my my Mum right to be confused?
Chris: (incredulous) Bullet With Butterfly Wings!? [Smashing Pumpkins song beloved of interviewer] - Handpisser is a much better song title than that! Fatberg too.
James: (factually) Fatberg is about a fatberg and Handpisser is about hand pissing.
photo: Thom Stone
Let’s be clear, you are saying ‘fatberg’ and not ‘fat bird’…
James: Fatbergs are a real thing. I like that one because they found the biggest one that they had ever found in history in Kingston-Upon-Thames where Bod is from. We like to think that Bod contributed to that fatberg.
Chris: There’s a really good fatberg exhibition at by Severn Trent at Carsington Water where you can see the things that make a fatberg. Nappies, false teeth, wet wipes…
The album feels different to your live stuff, it feels more considered…
James: That’s because Chris has put about 46 guitars on each track.
Chris: I'm not sure I agree it's that different. The songs are the same, you can just maybe hear things better. When we play live it’s a different thing - we can write something in a couple of hours and then James can sing what he wants over it because you can’t really hear it because of the volume of a live gig. But then you are stuck with the question: do you do that on the recording? If you come up with one hook for a song that’s really good then you have to come up with hooks for the rest of them. We'd ultimately like people to listen to the record and enjoy it somehow. We wanted to make every song good. It’s not perfectionism at all because if you listen to it it’s messy as fuck - none of those songs are the best we have ever played them, but it doesn’t really matter. But they do have hooks, it's just normally it's too loud to hear them.
The bass is noticeably heavy too…
Chris: Normal recording wisdom says, “You should use a smaller amp and have it a lower volume because it will record better”, and that's probably right. But with this one everything is as loud as it could possibly be through as many amps as possible. Just because the point of it is that it should always be totally stupid. We’ll never get the chance to do it again, so when Bod did the bass lines there was four amps in the room all on full and there’s about eight tracks of bass, just because it would be really funny to do that. And it was.
James: Then we got the mastering guy to bulb it. Make it bulbous at the bottom.
Are the lyrics thought-out or is it a case of what pops in to your heard five minutes before you have to sing the song for the first time?
James: Traditionally that was often the case, but with this record a lot more consideration has gone in to the words. I can tell you what the songs are about.
Chris, are you worried about running out of riffs? Nirvana didn’t release that many records…
Chris: There aren’t any Nirvana rip-offs on this one! I can tell you where they are all ripped off from, but none are from Nirvana. You often don’t realise when you write and record the song, it’s only after you listen to them a year later that you realise where you’ve stolen them from. Honest.
photo: Thom Stone
You released the Harry Nilsson tribute Grey Hairs Schmey Hairs last year – where does your admiration for him come from?
James: I like the underdog, he was one of those guys who thought he was going to be much bigger than he was, but he wasn’t. It was Chris’s idea to cover him. Chris came around to my house, I put Jump In To The Fire on and he said that it was fucking amazing...
Chris: It is! It sounds like when you’ve got fifty things to juggle, you are pissing sweat, you are straining, and you are tired – that is what doing a band is like when you’ve all got other commitments. I like the glorious failure of Nilsson.
Dave: The song featured on a TV advert about a month after our version was played on 6 Music.
Chris: Hmm... it was just enough time for someone to be at the midnight deadline for their presentation to an agency in the morning and hear it on 6 Music and go, “That will do me, can’t use the Grey Hairs one because it’s minging, but I like the bass riff.”
James: It’s our only song that’s had any proper radio play and Harry Nilsson’s estate get the money. The response from the Harry Nilsson estates was, “Anything that keeps the Nilsson name alive is fine by us.”
Chris: They blatantly didn’t listen to it.
The NME once thought Dave was in Fat White Family…
Dave: As usual going to a Rock City gig, we top-loaded elsewhere that was cheaper to buy pints – i.e., not £16 for a four-pack. I talked to the singer of Fat White Family after their set and he crashed me a rollie. We went back in to watch Cerebral Balzy and they were as terrible, as expected. I was fully battered by then so lobbed my can in protest – not really much of a protest – at the singer and he started mouthing off at me. Fuck knows what he was saying, I can’t remember. Then a week later, an NME review talked about how dangerous Fat White Family were on the NME tour, throwing cans at Cerebral Balzy.
How close have you come to splitting up?
Dave: It’s like Trigger’s brush, we’ll never split up but we’ll have fourteen different drummers, guitarists, bass players, singers…
Chris: In seriousness, it is really hard to do and fit around everyone at work. It’s really tough when you don’t get to play very often. It seems that we play a gig or something comes out at exactly the lowest point of the band, and it reminds you that it was really easy and good to do, so you keep doing it.
Are you too modest?
Chris: Maybe. I think us not pushing the band, or not pushing an image, has definitely influenced the way people talk about it. I mean, if we had an image it would be the saddest fucking thing in the world. We are all late thirties, it would be terrible to be decked out in the leathers at the weekend or something. The band isn’t pre-decided, there's no plan: it's just four people and it clashes and it doesn’t always work out. But it’s more interesting like that.
Thanks to King William IV in Sneinton, who were mint enough to let us use their boozer for photographs.
Colossal Downer is out sometime in February on Gringo Records. The band play Stuck On A Name on Saturday 21 February and Friday 13 March 2015.