‘Tits & Guns’ – The Crookes @ SXSW 2014

The Crookes @ the Live4ever Media Lounge sponsored by Ei8htball

The Crookes @ the Live4ever Media Lounge sponsored by Ei8htball

When it comes to having a strong work ethic, there are few bands who can match The Crookes, the South Yorkshire quartet who, in the last four years, have played everywhere from Accrington to Austin.>

Live4ever caught up with the band at the end of a hectic week of shows during SXSW, during which they talked to us about the recording of third album ‘Soapbox‘, half naked women and machine gun-toting locals…

Last year you said every year you’ve played here has been a success. Different bands approach it in different ways, every year you’re trying to have a successful trip, so how did that play out in your minds this time?

“It’s been amazing. We’ve had an absolute blast. Every time we come over here we’re astounded by the scale of it. We went to Dallas first this time, which was amazing, very friendly people. and coming to SXSW – like you said we were here last year – it just gets bigger and bigger and more chaotic. There’s more bands, and it’s louder, it’s been like an assault on the senses, but we’ve tried to take it in and we’ve loved the shows we’ve played, plus we’ve met a ton of crazy people. We met some Texan gun enthusiasts at the crossroads today on 6th; we were walking and there was a woman with her tits out, so naturally we thought, ‘What’s going on there?’, and then before we knew it we were surrounded by guys carrying AK-47s, protesting against the banning of semi-automatic weapons in Texas.”

That’s SXSW for you there!

“Tits and guns!”

So you’ve played new songs here. Out of the set, how many were from the new album?

“We’ve played about half and half in these sets. It’s a bit of a leap of faith whenever you do anything like that. After rehearsing for a month in our freezing cold rehearsal space in Sheffield the first we played some of these songs was by a pool in this incredible hotel in Dallas. There’s palm trees and women in bikinis swimming whilst you’re playing the songs so that was kind of surreal, but it’s great fun to be playing them.”

And how are they going over?

“It’s always interesting to hear what the crowd pick up on the most and it’s always the ones you don’t expect them to, but that’s great because it just gives you a massive amount of confidence for when the album comes out. This record’s louder, so we get to make a bit more noise and shout a bit.”

Your focus on leaving SXSW last year was the new material, so can you tell us more about that?

“We had basically all last year to write the new record, which is a long time to work on just one thing – we all went a little bit mad. Towards the end we all went away to Italy; some friends of ours, a band called the Charlestons from Udine, very kindly offered to let us have their house in the mountains and a church that one of their grandfathers had built. We just holed up there, it was just us four and our producer Matt Peel – it was just complete isolation.”

Watch below as the band describes the traitorous mountain roads their van had to navigate every day and what recording in the alpine church was like:

“We’re quite a young band, people don’t realise we’re on our third record and there is maybe a certain staleness that can creep in when you go through the same process, so that was the main feeling that we had when we approaching the recording. We wanted to just get out and let the environment influence the way we recorded the songs. There’s a song called ‘Howl’ – which wasn’t even going to be on it – that when we got there, just because of the way it was going and where we were, then felt like the right one to choose. The environment you’re in inevitably influences what you write about. Being in this church, literally in the clouds, was dark in a good way.”

So you’re happy with the finished product?

“Yes – we’re really excited to hear what people think of it. You go through massive mood swings when you’re halfway through an album, down to even thinking, ‘This might just be shit!’, but then you come out of it and you go back into it and by the end we were really proud of what we’d achieved, but it’s the people that listen to it who matter.”

So you’ve debuted the songs here first then?

“Yeah, the first time we’ve played the album tracks has been over here. YouTube will be littered with really poorly made recordings of them – a modern problem. We played 5 or 6 shows and there are people who came to every show who were singing all the new songs. 99% of the time when a band plays a new song people are like, ‘C’mon play the next one’, but we’re really chuffed with the reaction the new material’s been getting.”

We talked today with a blues band from the Lebanon – we spoke about when unexpected things happen on stage like when you break a string and how a music fan here appreciates that you’re going to battle through your set. The band is probably more upset than the fan, but the fan really appreciates it and says, ‘I know you had issues but that was really great’.

“That’s just SXSW all over. You’re playing with the worst equipment on a tiny stage, but for us that’s what we thrive off. People don’t want to see a perfect rendition of songs from the record, but the whole thing’s like an explosion of energy, just delivering that to the crowd. If you break a string, or smack someone in the face with a guitar then it can go wrong, but it’s all about delivering that emotion.”

After several years touring and a couple of albums there’s clearly a professionalism being portrayed that you maybe aren’t even aware of.

“We’ve got a lot of battle scars; we’ve played a lot of gigs in places that we’d maybe not go back to, but that sets you up. You can always tell a band who’s toured rigorously and one that hasn’t. We’re massively proud, for us to have done what we’ve done in terms of touring is a badge of honour. We wouldn’t be able to take things in our stride like we do now – we wouldn’t be here now – if it wasn’t for those rainy Tuesdays in Accrington. It’s funny to think about that and now you look out on Austin. That’s the platform, that’s how you do it.

We talked to a few bands recently about guitar music, how fervent they were about using the instrument. You’re doing it – what do you feel the scene is now for this kind of music, especially given that this new album is harder?

We’re quite independent of scenes. You hear bands making proclamations that they’re going to bring guitar music back and it’s just bollocks really. It’s been said so may times before. We just make the music we like. Whether it’s in fashion or not, that’s the way we make it. There’s been a lot of false dawns in the last few years, there’s been a few bands who’ve managed to do it. The Vaccines are a good example of that, but people ask us all the time why we don’t get played on the radio, why can’t I see you on the TV, but we don’t have the answers – people like what they like.”

“Two or three years before we started the band, that was the biggest time for guitar music in our memory. It’s not the case at the moment but we can’t do anything about that, we can just keep making records and biding our time. We know we may not ever get to the point where we’re like U2, but we’re just waiting for the tide to shift in our favour. And it will happen.”

Streaming and fans watching music on YouTube is important now – and you’ve got a new album you’re trying to sell when fans watch content for free. How does that sit with you?

“You can moan about that as much as you want, but that’s the position we’re in. It won’t change it. Illegal downloading and streaming happen whether you like it or not – and as a band maybe you do dislike it – but you’ve just got to embrace it. We’re going to stream the album for free on YouTube so people can listen to it. We’re putting our record out there, you’ve just got to have faith that people will like it and buy it. Record sales aren’t really a reflection of your success – kid coming to gigs and knowing every word to your songs is just as much.”

Why not just do singles? Why work on an album when no-one’s buying albums?

“An album isn’t just a bunch of singles, it’s a whole different work. There is merit in doing something that’s greater than the sum of its parts. There were bands like The Smiths who were an incredible singles band, but to do an album, there’s a heritage there. You couldn’t take a song off Lou Reed’s ‘Transformer’ and see it stand up as much as ‘Perfect Day’.”

SXSW veterans, standard bearers for indie rock in what must feel like its darkest hour, The Crookes continue to thrive, proving that a lack of daytime radio airplay doesn’t necessarily mean success is out of the question.
They tour Europe this month, and there’s a chance for you to catch up with them on the 31st, as they play the iconic Leadmill in their home town of Sheffield.
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