Tuesday 25 February 2014

Puppet Rebellion - Interview

There's a huge buzz in Manchester around Puppet Rebellion.  On the eve of the release of their second EP No Means Yes, we met with frontman Simon Monaghan and guitarist Craig Gibson to talk about the EP, how they got together, their precise songwriting process and their support for domestic abuse charities. 

No Means Yes is a bold statement from Puppet Rebellion.  Whilst most bands drip feed out a track at a time, the EP features four new songs plus a fan competition winning remix of first EP track Chemical Friends.  It's the product of a band that's found its feet and developed a sound that's uniquely theirs. The four songs are unmistakably them, but also distinctive enough not to sound the same.  And that sound is big.  They've set their targets high, from lead track Pirouette and Green Eyed Monster, bitter rants at game-playing and jealous girls to the EDL-taunting Loner In Disguise and Cupboards Painted Red, the emotive story of domestic abuse witnessed by Simon as a child.  Even the remix, pretty much always a bad idea, of Chemical Friends is a huge success. 

They presented the EP with a sold-out in advance launch at Gullivers in Manchester, their first self-promoted show and sign that they're already building a substantial loyal audience.  To see a crowd singing along to a band that can count its gigs on both hands is a sign of greater and bigger things to come.  They engage with their audience, some of who finish the gig on stage whilst Craig takes to the speakers and then the venue floor.  Whilst still developing as a live band, they're already creating a phenomenal sound and stage presence that already needs a bigger stage, literally and metaphorically. We spoke to Simon and Craig in the build-up to the gig to find out a little bit more about them. 

A lot our readers won’t know who you are, can you tell me about the band and how you got together?

Simon : As you know, I was in another band and I wasn’t writing the music and that frustrated me as well as the direction the music was going in.  So, as a result, I fell out with the management as I wanted to be more involved in the writing.  I decided to leave and form a new band and that’s where the name Puppet Rebellion came from, because of that. Chris, who was drumming with Turrentine Jones at the time, had just had a brain aneurysm while I was deciding to do this and we’d talked before that about doing something together as he was feeling a bit disillusioned too.  The aneurysm put that to bed for a while. I thought I’d look for other members and hopefully by the time he was ready again I’d have a band.  So I put out adverts on places like Gumtree, Joinmyband.  Craig replied and that was that. 

We talked over the phone and then I went to his house and met up.  With Craig and me, we were very much the driving force in making things happen in our bands. 

Craig : We met up and got on, Simon told me he was relieved I was good-looking enough to be in his band.  We put some more adverts out, auditioned some new members, guitarists and bassists.  We met some people who were with us for a week or two but didn’t work out and then Paul and Jim came along at very similar times really.  The commitment and motivation thing we were adamant about and it was why some people didn’t work, things like being late for rehearsals. 

Simon : Everyone wants to want the same thing.  A band is only as strong as its weakest link and if someone wasn’t showing the commitment they’d be out. 

I think you have to be like that.  As you build and grow the demands will become more and people have to be prepared for that and you have to commit more. 

Craig : There’s so many good bands at the moment, you can’t just rely on looking good and having good tunes, you have to put the time in.  Small things, particularly when you have no management, like meeting people and turning up to things. You can almost tell immediately whether people have that work ethic you need.  Paul and Jim had that mindset and were prepared to put the hours in. 

Simon : Chris had some recovery time and last January we really started things and it kicked off and we started writing as a band. 

Do you write together? 

Craig : It’s a collaborative thing really. Every song is different and different people have inputs on each song. 

Simon : Most of the ideas come from our two guitarists, Craig and Paul, but we’ve had ideas from Jim too.  They get the first idea and flesh it out as much as they can and they bring it into the room.  They get their parts and then we get vocal melodies. 

Craig : We get the skeleton of the melody and chord progressions and then the lyrics and full arrangements come next.  With this EP, we finished writing them and then went through a five weeks process of pre-production, basically recording a demo of each song.  We then did significant edits of them, varying from quite drastic changes to just changing guitar parts.  After five weeks, the songs sounded very different. We want every second to sound right and the songs to be as strong as they can be. 

This is your second EP. It’s an unusual strategy these days. Bands tend to release a song, then another song a few months later.  You’ve released seven songs since last July over the two EPs.  What’s the thinking behind that? 

Craig : Last year wasn’t as productive as we’d like to have been.  We ironed out some creases in terms of being efficient with time. 

Simon : Besides those seven, we’ve written another three or four we’ve got quite far into.  We’ve made a pact not to put out, or even play, songs if they’re not as good as what we’ve already got.   We sacked off one straight away and then another three later.   We have one of them with some strong ideas that we might come back to, but we want to focus on the new things and we do have a lot of ideas. 
When you play live, you (Simon) are out the front, but the focus isn’t all on you. You have to watch the rest of the band as well, which is unusual as the front man is often the sole focus. 

Simon : When we played live in Sheffield recently, the promoter said there’s nothing like us in Sheffield, bands just stand there on the spot. 

Tell me a little more about the EP, starting with the lead track Pirouette. 

Simon : There’s two real lead tracks, Pirouette and Cupboards Painted Red.  A lot of my lyrics are quite bitter and reflect my view on the world.  Pirouette was about a girl I met on a stag do in Poland. Nothing happened but we got on really well and we started talking as friends for a year.  I split up with my ex and she suddenly let it slip so we talked on that basis.  She had a boyfriend so I never pursued it, but she’d send me drunk messages saying she was coming to England.  I was semi-excited, the next day she was “my boyfriend this, my boyfriend that” so I stopped talking to her and wrote a song about it.  She’s gutted. 

Craig : The song changed a lot, particularly the chorus.  It wasn’t as good as the verses, so we jammed another one which we loved.  It was difficult fitting it together though as the rhymical pattern of the chorus is completely different to the verse so it was difficult to fit it together.  The pre-chorus was the interlude section originally. 

Simon : One of my ideas 

Do you play an instrument? 

Simon : No (They both laugh) There is a song though we’re writing called I’m In Control.  I was at work in my day job and I started humming this tune which was really catchy and I didn’t know why and it wasn’t an existing song so I recorded it on my phone and sent it to Paul and he wrote a whole song around it.   We’re working on that at the moment.  Riffmouth was its working title. 

Cupboards Painted Red was about my mum when I was growing up. My little sister’s Dad, who wasn’t my Dad, used to knock her about it and it’s about watching domestic abuse through a child’s eyes.  It was difficult to write about, but also quite therapeutic as well. Now we’ve got that song, we’re getting a video and we’re already talking to Women’s Aid and End The Fear, a Manchester-based domestic violence charity.  For me, I know it’s only a song and it won’t change the world, but if a woman, or a man, who’s suffering that sort of abuse can see that a child does see it and remembers it, even twenty years later, and listens to that song  is moved to do something about it and to get out of that situation. That’s why I wanted to write that song, to raise a bit of awareness and to do a bit of good.  That’s the only song that’s not too bitter. 

We got Loner In Disguise from when I was in Sheffield and there was an EDL march and it inspired me. It’s about people and their mentality, people who join the EDL or BNP.  They’re actually a loner and want to fit in and this movement allows them to feel like they belong somewhere and some people are stupid enough to do that. Green Eyed Monster is about jealous ex-girlfriends, who’ve tried to control me in the past. I’m not really for controlling.

The EP is out on the 24th February and you’re doing a launch gig at Gullivers on the 22nd.  What are your plans after that? 

Craig : We’re trying to get gradually bigger gigs in other key cities. 

Simon : We’re playing Tramlines in July. Everything we do in Manchester is our own or bigger support slots.  Manchester will be scarcity, playing every 2-3 months and trying to make every gig an event.   There’s a few bands who play every couple of weeks and they might be a great band but it’s saturating and people won’t come every time. 

Craig : We’re going to continue to promote ourselves through social media. 

Simon : It’s been a big plus for us.  The official Puppet Rebellion Twitter has 20,000 followers and Soundcloud has 25,000 plays which is fairly substantial and bigger than a lot of bands our size around Manchester.  But we want to build it more 

Craig : We know it has to build, because unless you get lucky, you have to grow. We hope it’ll be more exponential this year. 

Simon : We hope the EP when it comes out will help us.  All the reviews we’ve had so far have been excellent and that’ll help build and get people to listen to us. We looked back at our first EP and think we could have got another 20/30 % out of the tracks.  Greatest Lie Ever Told and Chemical Friends will probably end up on the album because we know we can do more with them. We were talking about what songs off the EPs would end up on the album. We were thinking two songs off each EPs, but Craig was thinking just two off the first EP and none of the second. 

Craig : I’d rather have more new things on there. 

Simon : That’s next.  We want to record an album the end of the year and into next year and hopefully have something out this time next year, but no timeframes on it. 

Puppet Rebellion's official website can be found here.  They are also on Twitter and Facebook.

The EP can be bought from their online store (CD) or download (iTunes) 

They are playing the following gigs : 

June 21st - Manchester Deaf Institute 

June 22nd - Headlander Festival, Stockport RUFC 

July 27th - Tramlines Festival, Sheffield 

September 6th - Carpe Diem, Leeds

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