The School Interview
They say school days are the best days of your life. If I'd only been at the same school as the genuinely too cool for school The School I might have made something of my life. Oh Lord, why have you curs'd me so? In the past couple of years these Welsh wonders have made some of the best pop singles in the biz called 'show'. Don't believe me? Just listen to the kaldeidoscopic glitter rockets Let It Slip or I Want You Back. Four minute warnings of utterly glamorous pant swingin' genius. Maybe it's not too late, maybe I can charm The School into letting me join them. Oh if only I hadn't forgot my gym kit I wouldn't have had to do the whole interview in my pants!! Sorry about that Liz and Ryan...
Greetings The School. For people new to the party, what's The School's manifesto in a nutshell?
Liz: Hello! We’re here to make you dance and cry at the same time.
You've proudly classed your sound as Indiepop and boast a love for '60s girl groups and The Beach Boys. In such terrible economic times, can romantic, joyous pop still be our saviour? Shouldn't we all be listening to Billy Bragg, wearing berets and tossing Molotovs through the windows of the Houses of Parliament (or something)?
Liz: Yes it can, because that kind of music is usually about something depressing even though it sounds happy and upbeat. Love and girlfriends and boyfriends. People always want to dance and forget the bad times so we couldn’t have come along at a better moment.
Ryan: I think that music is also the best type of escapism there is. I’m not always looking for what I am listening to to reflect how I’m feeling. If it’s a rainy day and I’m not feeling great, something like Sunflower can always bring a smile to my face.
Most pop stars look like plumbers these days. It's tragic. You seem to put a bit more thought into the presentation - the clothes, the artwork, the 'event' gigs. The cover of Let It Slip also has Liz lying lost in music, drunk on scattered vinyl from Joan Jet, Television, Big Star and Jimi Hendrix. In the age of Twitter and Myspace, do you think music has lost some of its magical mystery?
Liz: Yes I think it’s important to care about presentation, we found that some people bought the EP based on the cover, and several reviewers said it stood out in their huge piles of demos as something to listen to. Artwork should capture exactly what the band is about so people know what they’re getting. I often buy records based on the cover, although those tend to be '60s garage bands. I think the internet kills a lot of this aspect, but I still live in the hope that people are downloading to see if they like a band first, then they’ll buy the album from their local record shop. It’s a big hope...
In the '80s you could write to a popstar, join their fan club and get back an autograph that someone in their office did. You don’t get that any more now (at least I haven’t tried for several years), you can MySpace them instead! It’s all very good for discovering music, new bands, keeping up to date with ‘real’ people, but it’s certainly not as much fun. We’ve actually been asked by someone if they can set up an 80’s-style fan club for us, obviously we agreed.
Ryan: I don’t think demystifying artists is necessarily a bad thing. I spend an exorbitant amount of my time reading blogs and checking the ‘tweets’ of bands that I like because I think it’s fascinating to hear about the things that inspire them. I am happy to sacrifice the fantasy of artists as other-worldly beings, for something more relatable.
At what point did you 'get' the call from the Gods of Music? For me it was discovering Prince's Purple Rain album and realising you could be a freak and still get the McLovin' as long as you could tickle a mean guitar and do a fancy pirouette on top of a piano.
Liz: I had a few calls – singing along to my personal cassette player doing all the backing vocals to Duran Duran, Queen and David Bowie without realising at age 6, my brother noticed and told my mum. Also when I was 9 my primary school teacher said that me and my friend were allowed to be on Top of the Pops, and I may have attempted to write in. Then when my careers adviser at high school told me that with an A* in GCSE Music I should definitely become an English teacher. I also get calls at various stages of the day at work.
I'm glad to see you're taking well to the life of the International Jetset Popstars, touring across Spain and Italy, including the fabulously titled Mono Spazio club. What's the reaction been like overseas?
Liz: Amazing. We really are treated like international jetsetting popstars, you have to sign autographs and have your picture taken and everything! They are very good at being fans. Not that we don’t get a good reaction from people in the UK, I guess it’s just a little more over the top abroad, and in the UK it’s in smaller amounts, so it’s more of a challenge, but then the people who do like you make you feel very special over here. It’s usually the case that indiepop bands are much bigger in Europe than in the UK, including press coverage, so we were expecting it...
The first I heard of The School was from a friend who saw you at Latitude '08 and was quite 'taken', shall we say, with Liz? Is the record industry still riddled with Uncle Disgustings, tubby bottom- pinching letches and sexist, patronising journos? Are we going to hear a That's Not My Name-style smackdown anytime soon?
Liz: ‘Taken’?! Give me their number! Wow that’s a rarity. I haven’t found any yet, but I think keeping away from big labels and scary people like that probably means we won’t have to deal with any of that nonsense hopefully.
Your song Valentine has been used in a Japanese fridge commercial – With record companies becoming increasingly cut throat and so few bands making actual money out of records these days, how difficult is it for a new band to survive financially?
Liz: Most bands I know of also have real jobs. I get very depressed each time I discover another ‘famous’ band I love actually have day jobs too. I don’t think people like that should have to spend a third of their entire lives in a depressing dead-end job when it holds them back from doing what they’re supposed to do. I can’t blame anyone for considering using their music on a commercial or film.
There’s more money in live music at the moment apparently, but for a 7-piece band with 3 mortgages it’s a little tricky to just give up work and tour for a living. To get big enough to make enough money to survive we’d need to take loads of time off work for promoting ourselves, so it’s a really bad circle that I doubt we’ll ever get out of.
I love the fact you're championing vinyl and releasing limited edition EPs on special 'bubblegum pink' vinyl. You can't beat the magical wonder of 'em. Am I being foolishly nostalgic or should we toss our MP3 players overboard and put the needle on it?
Liz: Vinyl has survived longer than the cassette and will probably outlive the CD too. I think people will always want to own something physical and build on their collections rather than how many songs they’ve downloaded. Luckily we’re on a label who feels the same way about vinyl as we do...
Ryan: I don’t see why anyone should have to choose just one format. I love the sound and feel of vinyl and the convenience of MP3. I think that Vinyl with downloads is the way forward.
To the kids, y'know in actual schools, reading this - Are you encouraging the responsible “Be cool, stay at school” Mr T. mentality or walking The Smiths line of “throw your homework onto the fire and go out and find the one that you love and who loves you”?
Liz: Hmm, I’d say a combination of both. Stay at school but keep away from everyone. Apart from the geeky looking kid in the corner obviously.
My brother teaches in secondary schools and he describes it like '67 Vietnam. Knives, blood, fire, Napalm, etc. Worst thing I ever saw in my youth was a kid getting someone to break his arm with a plank of wood so he could get a month off school. How rough were your schools?
Liz: Like The Warriors meets Clueless. I’ll keep it brief but my time at school was probably the most depressing and life-fucking-up experience of my entire life. I guess it’s shaped me into the person I am today but seriously was all that really necessary?!
When I was at school, one of my mates wagged it to buy a record 'the morning it was released' and was nearly suspended. Being a good boy, I obviously bought my copy on the way home. What was the craziest thing you've done for rock 'n' roll?
Liz: Dyed my hair a stupid colour (see current), cut my own fringe badly (see current), spent £75 on a Brian Wilson doll, lost an awful lot of money putting on The Zombies in Cardiff at 10 days’ notice, that’s probably about it, nothing too crazy yet I’m afraid..
You host a club night in Cardiff called Loose – All DJ's have one Secret Weapon tune. Y'know when the crowds just not feeling it and you press the big red button and unleash the Face Melter, the Can't Fail floor filler, the bulletproof assassin. What's yours?
Liz: People don’t usually dance at our nights that much, but I’d probably say Hefner.
Loose has also seen legends like Neko Case, Richmond Fontaine and Daniel Johnston play as well as newer bands like Vivian Girls and The Boy Least Likely To – Who's been most memorable?
Liz: Daniel Johnston was just incredible, seeing 400 people all moved so much at one of the best gigs of their lives (and ours). Of Montreal’s insane stage show, Darren & Jack playing Hefner songs with 200 people singing all the words louder than them.
Ryan: Recently I thought Parenthetical Girls were pretty fantastic. Zac Pennington walking around a venue hitting things with a drum stick is something I recommend for everyone.We have Marnie Stern coming up soon which I am pretty excited about.
You're on the bill for the Derby Indie Tracks festival which has the admirably bonkers aim to “combine heritage trains with indiepop music” with bands playing in carriages and that. If you could organise your own imaginary festival in a similar wacky vein what would be your fusion?
Liz: Indiepop and boats! I’d like to do an indiepop disco on a boat in Cardiff soon, it’s proving too expensive at the moment but I’m sure I’ll find someone willing to take us on eventually...
I remember the grim pre-Manics days when the only Welsh popstars were Shakey 'n' Bonnie. Now it's a bubbling hotbed of glamour, global shakers and hip-cats. What's the next hot thing from the Valleys our readers should be looking out for?
Liz: Fredrick Stanley Star (lush experimental folk type stuff), Silence at Sea (delicate folk indiepop), Little My (cram as many members onto the stage as possible twee/indiepop extravaganza), we don’t have enough indiepop bands here at the moment in my opinion.
So far you've released several E.P.s, and frankly Let It Slip and I Want You Back should've been enormo hits, but c'mon surely we're due a proper album soon? It's like Chinese Democracy all over again!!
Liz: We’ve been really delayed due to me taking ages to finish writing the album. I guess I’m just being really fussy, I don’t want any fillers! So we’re just starting to record the rest of the album and it should be out towards the end of the year.
We’ll have a single out in the meantime though don’t worry, and even sooner we’ll be releasing our cover of And Suddenly by the Left Banke, which is a special one-off release on Slumberland Records, split with Jonny X from Kenickie’s new project.
As you've been responsible for some deliciously shiny pop, I thought I'd finish with some suitably colourful pop questions Smash Hits stylee....
…Firstly, most fanciable person in pop?
Liz: Kylie. I have to say that because I go out with RyanSchool so can’t say any boys and Kylie is probably someone I will never get to meet.
...Is there anything more annoying than changing a duvet?
Liz: When both your kittens get inside the duvet as you’re changing it. Then I shout to RyanSchool and he comes and changes the duvet instead.
...What's the most annoying sound in the world?
Liz: The horns that kids have on the streets of Cardiff during a rugby or football match.
...Most embarrasing place you've been sick?
Liz: Out the door of a moving car pulling out of Sainsbury’s petrol station at midday, the day after our friends’ wedding which was probably the drunkest I’ve ever been, I didn’t spill it anywhere though I was very tidy!
Ryan: Mine was also out of the window of a moving car. The only problem was that the person sat behind me had their window open as well...
Outstanding! Bravo and thankyou, The School. I will see you on Top of The Pops!!
Both: See you there!
For more on The School visit them on MySpace. The School release And Suddenly next month via Slumberland Records and play at The Indietracks Festival in July.
All Latitude 2008 photos by kind permission of MTScanlon.