It’s been just over a year since vocalist Stu Smith left Oxford math rockers This Town Needs Guns to become a dad.
At the time, the band’s future seemed secure, with Pennines vocalist Henry Tremain all set to take over singing duties. However, little did he know, he’d soon be replacing Jamie Cooper as bassist as well.
After an event-packed year, 11 is louder than 10 caught up with TTNG at The Borderline in London in the final days of their 2012 UK tour to discuss ‘power trios’, Iron Maiden tribute bands and ‘Ron Jeremy Beadle’.
How would you sum up the last year or so since we last spoke?
Tim Collis (guitar): It’s been eventful! Stu started a family, which is good. He’s getting on well – he’s got a little girl now. And Jamie left to pursue a career in graphic design because he’s truly gifted at that, but luckily he recorded a new album with us before he left, so he features on the album – he’s got some pretty pimpin’ bass lines.
Moving on from that, it’s been kinda challenging recreating those songs live, but as three people. In particular, Henry and Chris have got a pretty tough job because they’re both doing a lot more. Henry’s singing and playing bass lines that weren’t written at the time as if they were both going to be done by the same person!
Did you have any idea that Jamie was planning to leave?
Tim: I think there’s always been this underlying money situation, which is unfortunate with bands at this stage. None of us make a lot of money out of the band and probably never will. There does come a point when perhaps there are other priorities and it was just the correct decision for him.
Henry Tremain (vocals and bass): It was quite a commitment we were asking: to put everything aside to concentrate on the band full time, and at the time he was in a long-term relationship and his employers offered him a high-paid position at work.
Is it the case that you guys had to quit your jobs?
Tim: Sort of. We were in a lucky situation in that we all do freelance work. I still do a bit of teaching myself. When we’re not touring we can usually find a way to make enough money.
Henry: I had to quit my job and subsequently move out of London because I couldn’t afford the rent anymore.
Tim: The money thing is always there.
Is it frustrating that despite being a signed band, it was more appealing for someone in the band to take a career elsewhere?
Tim: No, I don’t know, I think not.
Henry: We do it because we enjoy it and that’s its own reward. Life’s good. We don’t have any money, but we enjoy what we do.
Tim: We’ve all matured slightly. Perhaps in the past, I would have been a bit sore about it, but at the end of the day they’re both friends of ours and we want them to be happy. If staying in the band and being uncertain about money and being unhappy because of that was going to happen, it would have ruined everything for everybody. I’m happy those guys chose what they wanted to do.
Henry, when you found out Jamie was leaving, was it a case of you saying ‘I’ll do it’?
Henry: We weren’t really thinking about that. We were just making sure Jamie was happy and making the right decision. We did a tour with a friend of ours (Chris, TTNG’s long-time guitar technician) who filled in, but we couldn’t ask him to help us out constantly and we made the decision that it would be quite fun to try it as a three-piece.
How much of a challenge is it doing some of the crazy time signatures and singing at the same time?
Henry: It’s not necessarily the signatures that are the problem, it’s the syncopations. It’s where the rhythms of the vocals are working against the rhythms of the bass. The stuff off Animals (TTNG’s 2008 album) is usually a lot easier because the bass lines are usually following the main song, whereas what Jamie’s done on the new album is very much having something the guitar is not doing.
It’s all been a good, fun challenge and we’ve still not finished. There’s a good few songs that we’d like to be able to play live but we haven’t had the time to work out. We’re still working on the setup and building in some more instruments. Chris is going to be introducing another keyboard. Essentially what we want to do is move forward and write new material as a three piece and not be so tied down by the old stuff.
Was it daunting not only coming in to replace the singer but someone else in the band?
Henry: I didn’t really think about it, it was just dealing with the situation. The idea of being a three-piece and working on Jamie’s bass lines was so exciting – they’re great fun to play. It was just ‘let’s get on and do it, this will be fun’.
Tim: It kinda happened in two parts really. We knew Stu was leaving – at that time Jamie was very much still in it.
Last time we spoke Henry, you said it was ‘an awesome dream’ to join TTNG. Has it been as good as you thought it would be?
Henry: A terrible nightmare! (laughter) The worst dream ever! (more laughter) No, it’s been awesome – super fun.
Better than you thought it might?
Henry: Different. Reality’s always different to how you imagined it. It’s just been good fun. Just working with friends, having a good time and making music that we like. We’ve got to see some wonderful places. Since we spoke to you last time, we’ve been to Australia, which was incredible. Then we did Europe; met some lovely people. And these were experiences I wouldn’t have had had I not been in the band – I hadn’t predicted them.
Now you’re a ‘power trio’ in inverted commas…
Henry: What does that mean? Do you know what that means?! Can we not just be a ‘trio’? Can we not just be ‘three musicians’?
Tim: Weak trio (laughter)
Henry: Featherweight (more laughter). What does it mean? People keep using it.
Tim: I think it’s a standard bass player, guitar, singer…
The powerful core
Tim: Yeah, even though we make Henry do most of the work: holding two guitars, singing and dancing around.
Henry: Playing the saxophone with my ears (laughter).
How do you think the sound of the band and the dynamic has changed since you became three?
Henry: I don’t think it’s been that radical.
Tim: Not as radical as people might expect. People have been pleasantly surprised about how strong it’s sounded. That’s nice.
Henry: It’s quite nice simplifying things. Reduction is a rather powerful tool in many spheres, but in music it’s particularly powerful. Being a three, it doesn’t ever get too much where you can’t focus on any one thing at once. Sometimes we have bits where we’ve let certain guitar lines go.
Tim: Not really. The whole logistics of tours are much easier – that’s no offence to the other guys. You’ve got less people to organise and what little money we earn, you each get a little bit more.
Last time we spoke, I asked you guys what you wanted to do next and Tim, you said you wanted to play more gigs – I guess you’ve achieved that goal?
Tim: Yeah definitely. Our work rate’s started to pick up quite considerably.
Henry: I feel like we’re in a really, really good place at the moment. We’ve taken more control over everything and are working really hard and it feels like it’s paying off. This tour, Tim’s booked the whole thing himself and it’s just been a great experience. We’ve played some wonderful, beautiful shows and met some lovely people. The whole thing’s been easy and enjoyable.
Tim: It’s been fair as well.
Henry: Exactly. None of the promoters are out of pocket and we’ve covered our costs. It’s ideal. It might sound like you’d expect it to be for a band, but actually, being a band and touring can sometimes be an unpleasant experience, particularly when you’re working with booking agents you can end up playing shows that really don’t suit the band, the promoters end up losing money and you can end up not getting the money you were guaranteed. It’s really reassuring to take control ourselves.
Tim: Just to be aware of the whole picture that goes into organising a gig, being fair and aware of costs the promoter has to face. When you’re removed from that even slightly, lots of bands take advantage.
Henry: They see it as free shit. ‘Oh yeah, we can get 20 beers even though we’re only going to drink three of them’.
(Ed. TTNG’s rider consists of four bottles of beer, one of which they gave to me, and some Red Alert energy drinks. Henry, however, is drinking from a bottle of honey to soothe his throat after singing too hard the night before).
Tim: Taking control of things has been great. We’ve got really strong backing from Sargent House (TTNG’s label). A good set of people who are working hard and are invested in it personally. The new album’s not just another release, people really care about it. They can do a lot of stuff we couldn’t on our own.
I was going to ask what the highlight of the tour’s been, but it sounds like it’s all been a highlight.
Henry: Playing in the same room as Iron Maiden was pretty interesting (chuckles). It wasn’t actually Iron Maiden, it was the Scottish Iron Maiden who are called ‘Made in Scotland’. It was in Dundee in this venue that’s basically a really large concrete box and they put a wooden divider in the middle with swing doors and thought that was fine to consider them as two venues!
I’m guessing the Maiden tribute were pretty loud?
Tim: Just a little bit louder than us.
Henry: We quite like being quiet and in moments we bring the dynamic down. But we had old Scottish Bruce Dickinson wailing away. It was pretty funny actually.
I was going to ask if there’s been any lowlights, but that sounds like a bit of both!
Henry: I enjoyed that, it was very strange. The crowd were great – super up for it.
Tim: I don’t know if there’s been any lowlights really.
Last time we spoke, you were just about to start some recording with Ed Rose.
Tim: We went and recorded in Brighton Electric – which is a cool little studio. We had three weeks together and it was very good. We learnt a lot. It was heavy going for all of us and we realised that’s probably quite a long time to go and record – it was just such intensive working hours. It was especially hard for Ed I think – it was probably one of the longest stints he’d done with a band.
Henry: Especially not to have any time off, it was a bit naïve on our part. But the whole session was awesome and the album I think’s really strong and I’m really excited for it to come out.
So you’ve got a release date?
Tim: Yeah, it’s January 22nd  I believe. We’re all sort of gearing up for that and pretty excited it’s finally going to happen.
So the tour’s a pre-release effort?
Tim: I guess so. We’re playing quite a few new songs. Hopefully they’re going to stick in people’s heads a bit. It’s always difficult playing new stuff when people haven’t heard it.
Henry: We’ve had some really good responses though.
I’ve seen a few new live HD videos of you guys online, one from Paris…
Henry: That was one of the worst shows we’ve played (laughter). You can never predict how these things are going to go. The thing about doing shows, you can never let it worry you, it’s out the way and you can move on and hopefully play a good show. Then occasionally someone turns up with a camera! (laughter)
Tim: Luckily for that video they were pretty kind…
(Ed. At this point we are interrupted by Chris Collis (drums) who has been out manning the merchandise stand and wants to ask Tim what the plus symbols mean in the guitar tab book).
Henry: (laughter) Each year, Chris gets one line: ‘What do the pluses mean?’
Your new tune ‘Cat Fantastic‘ has been getting plenty of positive comments on Soundcloud
Henry: We found a video this morning of some dude having a dance to it in his room.
Tim: It’s not really too drastic a change from our old stuff. I guess there’s a bit more space in there. Like we were saying, the whole ‘less is more’ – that has been in the forefront of our minds. We want there to be a bit more space. There are some minimal parts.
Henry: And dynamic variety. But Cat Fantastic I don’t think sums up the album. I think it’s quite a unique track on the album. I’d like to think there’s a lot of different flavours on the album.
Can we expect some more interesting track names? I remember Stu telling me after Animals came out that one reviewer just banged on about the names rather than the actual music!
Henry: You’re on the video for ‘Ron Jeremy Beadle’, which is a little acoustic thing we recorded at home and we put it to some footage just filming around in here and there’s a point where the camera goes past you…
I did not know that!
Henry: It’s a silly little acoustic thing we recorded just testing out microphones and we called it ‘Ron Jeremy Beadle’ and no one’s talked about the name at all! You can get away with pretty much anything.
Tim: I guess we still run with it. There are some daft names that don’t particularly tie in to what’s being sung.
I take it ‘Cat Fantastic’ is not about…
Henry: Well actually, there is this cat… He’s pretty awesome!
This Town Needs Guns’ new album is out January 22nd 2013 on Sargent House.