Write My Name In Blood: the Cheap Girls interview
"Have you ever been to a show in Germany?"
Ian Graham, vocalist and bass player with Michigan power pop trio Cheap Girls is musing upon his band's recent European dates. "They just stand there with their arms crossed and kind of stare you down. They clap for a really long time and are very polite but they don't move very much. We're not the world's most active band on stage but it makes it a little ..." He hesitates. Intense? "Yeah, in a weird, subtle way." Together with his brother Ben (drums and vocals) and guitarist Adam Aymor, they are coming to the end of a tour with fellow countrymen Joyce Manor and our own Great Cynics, promoting this year's Famous Graves album. Adam thinks it's down to a "different etiquette, I guess."
"This is the first time we've been here at this time of the year. It gets dark early, and we've had some long drives so we've done less sight-seeing than we'd hoped," says Ben. With a family name like Graham, I wonder if there was a little frisson when they crossed the border into Scotland before this evening's date in Glasgow? Ian laughs. "No, not really. We've never really looked into our family history. The Graham side is really small so we don't really know that much about it."
Famous Graves is their first album in a worldwide deal with British label Xtra Mile. "It's been fine. There was never any pressure for us to make an album outside of what we usually do. We had a lot of time and we didn't have to show them anything until it was done," Ian explains. "We're actually going to meet [the label] for the first time when we hit London in a couple of days." That patience has resulted in their most even work to date. While previous albums like 2012's Giant Orange hit you over the head with hooks the size of their home state, this one reveals most of its charms a couple of months down the line. It also contains (or at least the digital version does) one of the year's best couplets ('Kick me in the kidneys really hard / I want to write my name in blood in the back yard'). "['7-8 Years'] is actually one Sean from Andrew Jackson Jihad wrote that they never did anything with," notes Ian. "We worked it up properly. Does that make it a cover song? I suppose so."
Some of 2014 was spent on the road promoting the album in the US with The Hold Steady, a band they've admired publicly in the past. "Watching them - it's a little subconscious, the effect. In those bigger venues, it's all about the sound. So you watch what they do and how they get themselves over." What about when you headline - do local supports ever ask for advice or guidance now that you have four albums under you belt? "Sometimes," Ian says. "Often it's really vague things like 'How do you go on tour?' (laughs) and there's not really much you can say!" Adam concurs - "You get asked about gear and ... 'What do you do on tour?!'
It was also the year when Ben became a father for the first time: "It hasn't really impacted on what we do. We got someone in to drum for a few dates really early on, but other than that it's not been a problem," he says. Nevertheless, the band still plan to "do nothing" when they get home, a chance to re-charge the batteries and contemplate the past 12 months. It's been a big year for Cheap Girls, in more ways than one, and even honest, hard-working rock bands deserve to put their feet up once in a while.
'Famous Graves' is out now via Xtra Mile. A digital single of 'Amazing Grace', backed with a cover of The Lemonheads' 'Style' has just been released.