Live4ever Interview: How Crows battled through the pandemic to emerge with defiant new album Beware Believers

Crows by Jono White

Crows by Jono White

Given the perilous situation of the music industry since the pandemic began it would have been no surprise to see a deluge of acts throw in the towel and retire from the industry.

As is now common knowledge, musicians primarily make their money from touring and, seeing as that wasn’t an option for 18 months, the compulsion to concede against such overwhelming odds must have been nearly overwhelming. Hearteningly, it’s largely been the opposite, artists’ love for making music overcoming the insurmountable odds.

Four-piece rock band Crows are no exception. The band all have full-time jobs which offset their musical careers, a situation which obviously has its difficulties.

“We just make it work really,” tells Live4ever. “The only money we make is when we tour. You don’t make much for records, you earn a bit back. We’re a self-funded band, we’ve never been signed to a label so we’ve never had an advance.”

“It’s a labour of love and when we’re able to we pay ourselves a little bit of money, but it’s quite rare that happens to most bands unless you tour 10 months out of the year.”

Yet during the pandemic Crows had one advantage. Their forthcoming album, Beware Believers, was near completion in early 2020, as Cox explains:

“We started recording it in January 2020. We did all the tracking, got all the drums, bass and guitars down and we were starting to do overdubs. Then, obviously, the pandemic hit. I got to do some of my vocals but not all of them.”

“We just had to sit on it for 3-4 months before we could get back into the studio when everyone was used to COVID. Then we managed to finish everything off and then there was another lockdown and no-one knew when would be the best time to release it. Also, we had no fucking money because we hadn’t toured! We couldn’t afford to get if mixed or mastered…there was just all these roadblocks.”

Yet, as friends of the government can attest to, with crisis comes opportunity: “In retrospect it was a good thing because it meant we could sit for a long time and wait for the right person to mix it and master it, etc.”

“You don’t normally get that much time to listen to an album or have that much room to step back. I think it sounded more like a representation of (previous album) Silver Tongues. As much as I like that, this is way better. We had such a long time to work on it, and I think that shows on this record.”

The luxury of time also gave the band the opportunity to try some new things, including incorporating an element which still clearly astonishes Cox: “We added strings on it, which we never thought we’d do on a Crows record.”

“We’ve got violins and cello on it which work really well. Guitar stuff, like different dubs and amps. I had a bit more time to sit down and work on melodies that I wasn’t 100% happy with after listening to it for a bit.”

“We got to sit in the studio and work things out, which I’d never done before. It was always: write it, set it in stone, bang it out recording it, then release it. It was nice to sit in the studio and play with it.”

Although the instrumentation on the album has benefited from the time afforded to it, Cox felt little need to adjust the lyrical content. As bad as the state of the world is now, things weren’t much better in 2019.

“Even though I wrote it a while ago, it’s still relevant now. Some of the lyrics could easily be translated to post-pandemic life, or what it was like during the pandemic. You can adapt them to mean the same thing with the stuff that’s going on now.”

Going into specifics, Garden Of England broadly covers the ongoing mess that is Brexit; “It’s essentially just a straight Brexit song, but it’s focusing on the people who were listening to things that Nigel Farage was saying, or across in America to what Trump was saying.”

“That dog-whistle-style politics that is so easy for people to latch on and just created division really easily. People just regurgitate what they hear and never truly stop to think, ‘Is that what I believe in? Is that what I agree with?’, and, ‘I haven’t heard a counter-point to it’.

Meanwhile, Slowly Separate focuses on the cost of living in a major city, an area in which Cox has experience; “I’m from rural mid-Wales originally but I’ve lived here (London) for 13 years. We all met at university and started playing music which eventually became Crows.”

“I didn’t want to move back to Wales after university so we stayed in London, and slowly started to realise how expensive London is to live in, especially if you want to be creative or be in music.”

“You have to have a side-hustle or have a full-time job. It’s based on when I was working in pub or kitchen jobs. They are shit but the people are the best thing about those jobs.”

“I’ve made some life-long friends in those jobs, but it’s that slog of doing a 14-hour shift on a hangover. Then you get your pay-cheque at the end of every month and it’s basically already gone out because of rent and bills. Everyone’s got that, everyone know how it feels to not be flush.”

Lastly, Closer Still focuses on the actions of the UK government pre-Boris Johnson. “It was written when people were deemed fit to work by the DWP when they obviously couldn’t work,” Cox explains.

“Everything went out on a computer and you can’t judge a person’s situation by them entering stuff on a computer, especially when people need to do all that shit through a computer. Some of them aren’t computer-competent or able to do that, so it riled me a bit.”

At this point in our conversation, guitarist Steve Goddard joins the Zoom call, his work responsibilities having delayed him, as if to demonstrate the earlier point. Goddard takes up the mantle of explaining how Crows devise their songs:

“James usually has a lot of stuff written down in different notebooks, different ideas and he’ll find songs he can fit that to. With that song (Closer Still), Sam came up with the drum bit first which is probably why it opens with the drum part!”

“Most of the time one of us will have an idea of verse or chorus, and then we all sit together and flesh it out. I don’t think we’ve ever really done it the other way and written specifically for a theme. It’s more that James has his themes in his lyrics ready to go, and we’ll find a song it best fits to musically.”

During 2020, Crows were vocal in their support for the wider music industry, retweeting WeMakeEvents and independent venues while the group themselves largely remained silent.

Two years on, even with life approaching normality Goddard is still aware of the precarious situation venues continue to occupy; “It’s sad to see certain places haven’t really recovered from everything that’s been going on for the last couple of years.”

“By doing this band we have a lot of friends who are promoters dotted around the country, and it was interesting during the main lockdowns seeing people’s reactions to it and if people were getting enough support via aids and grants, or not at all.”

“I remember seeing friends put shows on in Birmingham and places like that and, from what I could gather, it seemed like they weren’t getting enough support. This whole thing’s not over, it could flip any second, as Omicron and the panic that ensued with that proved.”

“If there’s another variant like that…there’s this sense of safety at the minute that everything’s going to be fine, but it could flip at any time. I don’t think there’s going to be any support after all this time. Even with Omicron and the toying with shutting down again, I don’t think they’re necessarily going to be prepared to give out money again. So that’s quite worrying.”

Cox picks up on his bandmate’s train of thought: “I think that’s why they’re not wanting to shut down again. They know they’ll lose a lot of support and votes if they do another lockdown because people would be so unhappy.”

“It’s people’s livelihoods, those that work at the venues. They know if they shut down all the bars and everywhere that relies on live music and touring to sustain a business – sound tech, lighting engineers, bartenders – it’s a massive group of people who didn’t receive proper help and were expected to just sit there and take it, and try to be convinced that they were doing the right thing but also didn’t receive any help.

Uncertain or not, there will always be a future (at the time of writing), and Crows are planning for it. Coming next on the slate is an April tour to support the new album, and looking further ahead Goddard confirms:

“We’ve got things coming through all the time. We’ve started writing the next record now, and we’ll probably be looking to tour again at the tail end of the summer, and then have this next one recorded at the same sort of time.”

“Then look again to next year. The last couple of years have been really annoying for us because we were, for once, on top of things! We’re not going to sell thousands of records and it felt like a bit of a waste to put something out and not be able to tour. Our turnover comes from playing live and we wanted to do this record justice, including touring.”

As you’ll soon come to hear, Beware Believers is a rampaging monster of an album which is well worth the wait, but needs to be experienced live to do it justice.

We’re excited, and you should be too.

Crows release Beware Believers on April 1st. Their UK tour is on sale now.

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