Interview: Exit Calm – ‘Something Massive Is Going On’

Last summer Exit Calm released their epic debut ‘Hearts and Minds‘, which has had many tongues wagging as to how big they will be, in fact it’s been a repeated claim recently with the band finding themselves being asked the same questions regarding their sound, the comparisons to one band in particular keeps cropping up (and they start with a “V”). The truth is it could be seen as a travesty if we don’t soon see Exit Calm as contenders for the UK’s next big band. Exit Calm’s sound is big, bold and takes you on a journey partnered with a voice that drives it all along, it’s music you can totally feel.

Exit Calm’s frontman Nicky Smith recently spoke to freelance writer Carl Stanley, giving his take on the many views and reviews of the band, playing the Pretty Green gig last year, getting the thumbs up from Liam Gallagher, training as a croupier and fixing TV sets in his sleep.

CS: Nine months or so on from the release of ‘Hearts and Minds’ are you lads happy with the way it’s gone?

NS: Our glasses are half full, always! But if I’m completely honest I expected more. Not top of the charts or owt, I’m not daft. Just got told a lot of bullshit about being on tour constantly and in the end when our album came out I was sat at home. There comes a moment when after hearing for the 50th time that ‘you should be massive’ from someone you meet who knows about the band, you start to believe it yourself, not that I ever doubted it in the self assured sense. I look at the other three in rehearsal, pointing mentally and think ‘well he is the best guitarist around by far…he is the best drummer…and he is the best bass player…’ So why shouldn’t I think we will be a big band? From the minute I walked into the very first rehearsal I knew that something massive was going on and that it was just a matter of time for people to catch up.

CS: Straight away you got the ‘Verve tag’. Do you feel you’re leaving that behind now?

NS: I’m bored shitless of the Verve thing now. It’s the epitome of lazy journalism and it’s narrow minded. Did they get compared to The Chameleons? Did they sound like The Autumns? Ride? The Roses?…(I know you’re not being lazy when you say it here and they were an influence…) Yeah, we loved them – they were great! Like we did a lot of bands.I sound like I am protesting too much here, but it’s not that. It’s the way it gets mentioned with us that winds me up. I have an NME where they review our single ‘Higher Learning’ and slate us for ripping off the early Verve sound. Then ten pages later they worship some band for sounding like ‘early Verve’, it’s just bollocks. That will fade with the next album. Once they realise we haven’t got a big ‘Mind Games’ rip off for a single and we’re going our own way, then they will have to think of another box to put us in. Until eventually Exit Calm is its own box.

CS: As a fairly new band, what’s it like trying to survive as a new act today, you feel you’re getting the backing of the record company in these hard times?

NS: I imagine it’s the same for any band starting out. We’re not a one-sided, sugar-coated pop band. So it will take a little longer for people’s taste buds to adjust. I was never deluded about that kind of thing anyway, I remember years ago seeing Jamiroquai saying he had to borrow the bus fair to get to Top of the Pops to perform his number one. No doubt it was probably an exaggeration, but I got the jist.

Club AC30 are sound, they have always been on the level with us. They give us complete artistic control and back us all the way, they believed in us from the start and were putting out records before we signed with them. The signing was only done for legal reasons much later on.

CS: How do Exit Calm go about putting the songs together? Is it a collective process, or do you all bring what you have to the table separately?

NS: There are always a lot of ideas floating around. I don’t think it ever stops when you are in a band, but when we get into it and they are flowing well, when we are just concentrating on writing, that is when we are at our best creatively. I think we are in this place now again. It is good to have that feeling again that we have something in our back pockets that no one knows about. Like when I knew no one had heard ‘Reference’.

We write as a group, but we write in different ways, there is no set formula. Although saying that this time it has felt a lot easier. With the first album we were finding our identity as a band. This time we know, so it’s quicker because we all know where we are heading. What I meant by no set formula is that they come from different places. ‘You’ve Got it All Wrong’ came from a bass line originally, ‘We’re On Our Own’ from guitar chords, some choruses have come from a melody, some tunes have been based around beats. The initial spark can come from anywhere, then we all add our own bits and build on it to arrange it together. But as I said, this time around we are on the same page more because Exit Calm is more tangible. So the arrangement is happening more naturally.

CS: It could be said there’s a type of void at the moment, there’s no one band getting people excited really. Exit Calm have the tunes, your live shows are fantastic, and you all look great, so would it be fair to say you could be the band we’re all waiting for?

NS: I guess for some people we are already and for others we never will be. I personally don’t buy into all that really. It’s only a media thing. I don’t really believe music has ever been really bad, just people’s focus has. That’s the only thing that ebbs and flows – people’s attention, which is highly fuelled by the circus of media.

You could say that music is in a bad state at the moment, but then you could say that there are hundreds of really good quality bands out there that just aren’t getting heard. because the media’s focus has been on shit for ages. It’s like everyone has been staring at the same television for years and they haven’t noticed the colours fading. Then a band comes a long and reminds you what it’s like to see vivid luminescent colour again. I want us to be that band.

CS: Do you reckon you and the band could handle the way major bands and artists are covered today, media in general?

NS: Easy.

CS: How did the Pretty Green gig go? I’ve seen an interview with Paul Gallagher getting behind you saying some positive things: ‘big tunes’, ‘great live’.

NS: It was amazing. Everyone we know said it was job done. I felt like the eyes were on me that night, it was weird, usually I don’t feel like that. I feel like the eyes are on us. But that night was different, was probably just in my head and I put too much pressure on myself. It was only a brief spell anyway. We’re on our own for a second and after that the set sailed away from me. I can’t remember it, ‘Recovery’ was good.

To be part of that night, to be asked to do the first one, was a massive deal for us. Proper cool thing I reckon. Liam came back and had a few words with us after which he didn’t have to do. Said he watched us all, even though it was a bit hard with loads of cameras and heads in his face. But he was into it and he was even cooler than I thought he would be as well. Proper sound and proceeded to sing me and Sime ‘Four Letter Word’ in our ears. I just remember thinking ‘ya don’t have to sell yourself to us mate’. Yeah Paul is a proper sound guy, you can see where the other two get it from. He champions us quite often and it’s good to have someone like him in our corner. Good DJ too but he is crap at making milk-shakes!

CS: What about before the band – who did what? Any grave diggers or toilet cleaners amongst you, or maybe University?

NS: We’ve all done loads of jobs up until this point. I worked in a factory that made burgers for Burger King and a few other companies. By telling one story from that job I have turned a few people into vegetarians. I trained as a croupier once, that was a bit different, getting paid to gamble all day. Yorkshire Bank once hired me to find and remove all derogatory comments from some of their old files regarding members of staff. A law had been passed to do with Data Protection so they got twelve temps to sit and read through hundreds of old files from job interviews etc. Some of the stuff they used to say was mental, like ‘I do not feel it is appropriate to employ this brown girl’. We have all done all sorts of jobs. I think as a band we don’t live to work, we work to live.

CS: The live shows the band put on are awesome, but what do you all get up to in between gigs when on tour?

NS: Touring is what we love, that’s the best bit. Sometimes it’s boring and there is a lot of waiting around, but different strokes for different folks. I love it! Meeting different people, travelling, I like the freedom and obviously getting to play every night to different audiences. When we stay in hotels we get two rooms, so we pair up. Scott and Rob always end up together. Sime reckons he caught me sleepwalking trying to fix the telly one night but he was probably dreaming. Beats chucking it out the window though.

CS: As a northern band, do you see that need like lots of bands still do today to make the move down south and establish yourself in the capital?

NS: I have lived in London before, so has Rob, so it has never been something that we said we would never do. If we absolutely needed to then maybe we would consider it, but I don’t see why we would. I think those times are becoming more and more a thing of the past. London is only three hours away, if it’s that important then it will have to wait three hours. If some people who live in London spend two hours getting to work travelling across it, then it cannot matter us living three hours away. Elbow seemed to have managed fine. These days with technology getting better and better we are in the loop anyway. If you mean the Hoxton fashion loop, then no, not interested.

CS: Are you a band who wear your football team on your sleeves. Being Yorkshire lads, I assume you’re all big Barnsley fans?

NS: I’m not a Barnsley fan, I am from Hull, who I believe are currently higher than Barnsley! Simon is the Barnsley fan, but to be fair none of us are over the top football fans. We will have a kick about, but we’re not proper football geeks like a lot of lads stuck for something to say are.

CS: What plans for this year? Where are you playing and anything in particular you’re looking forward to?

NS: We have a gig on the 21st of April supporting Puressence at the Ritz in Manchester. Puressence have always been good to us, in fact Manchester has always been good to us! They are releasing their new album and Lowline are on before us so it will be a great night! Got some new stuff to play and really liked that venue when we played there with the Bunnymen, it’s old and got a really good vibe to it. Other than that we are just going to carry on writing because it’s all sounding really good at the minute. We are talking about maybe doing a gig in London before the summer, remind the capital how it’s done.

(Carl Stanley)

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