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Rogue States interview | Newcastle | 02/02/10

"I think we all feel that the best is yet to come"

Interview by Dawn
Photos courtesy of Jeremy Cowart

Rogue States are a West Midlands-based four piece formed from the ashes of Clarkesville (and, if you venture even further back in time, punk-pop pioneers the Dum Dums) who have just released their eagerly-awaited debut EP. Dawn sat down with bass player Steve in Newcastle to find out more about how the band came about, and their new CD.

'The easiest way to start is probably with the demise of Clarkesville,' says Steve. ‘On the back of the first Clarkesville record we went away and started writing new stuff towards what was going to be the next Clarkesville record. Myself and Michael wrote about 15 songs and it started to feel like it was going down a certain route and there was a nice kind of vibe to the next record, and we were getting quite excited about it. And then we got a call from our manager one day saying that the label had gone into liquidation, so all of a sudden it put a completely different slant on what was going to happen. Basically, apart from myself and Mike, the other two guys were paid members of the band and obviously without being able to pay them they couldn't really continue doing it.

 

'So on the back of that we got hold of Stuart and said do you wanna move back up to Birmingham and start working on the revamped Clarkesville thing, to which he stupidly said yes,' laughs Steve, ‘and he's still there now. He moved back up and I think quite quickly into the next couple of months, without a deal and without having to do anything to please any labels, we started writing new stuff and we realised that the direction we were going in was definitely not going to be the next Clarkesville record - it was a new project.

 ‘And then we went through several guitarists. That's always been our major problem - holding onto guitarists. Maybe not even holding on, in hindsight; maybe finding the right guitarist. And it ended up that, about a year ago, Adam Chetwood left the band and I bumped into Dave Wright, who's been a friend of mine for years but was always playing in other bands, in the pub literally a week before Adam decided he was going to leave. I'd always liked him as a guitarist and he was just finishing off what he was doing with his band and they were gonna call it a day, so as soon as Adam did leave I called Dave and he came down to rehearsal a week later and it was one of those things that just clicked straight away. It's the best thing that's ever happened to us and I just feel like now, as a band, we're actually making music that is what we always intended it to be, it's just taken us a bit of a long journey round to get there. Dave's played guitar on a couple of tracks but we'd pretty much recorded the EP before he joined, so I think the next lot of recordings which we've just done in Brighton are gonna be really good because he's added an identity to that now as well.'


The identity Steve refers to is based around the huge, epic sound which Dave has helped the band to perfect:

‘We love that soundscape thing like Flaming Lips and Sigur Ros,' he says enthusiastically. ‘We're never gonna be quite as arty as that, but it's the big, cinematic kind of sound that we try to bring into the indie-rock place we naturally come from. That's what we've been trying to do for a long time and that's why Dave's been so good for the band ‘cause he has this massive, epic guitar sound which just washes across the whole thing.'


When it comes to songwriting, according to Steve it's something of a team effort – although frontman Michael gets the casting vote:

‘Ultimately, Mike being the singer, he has the last say in everything. Myself and Mike and Stuart have now written together for about five or six years so it's been a developing thing. We all write lyrics, we all write music but I think ultimately a lyric only sticks if it's something Mike feels comfortable with because at the end of the day he's got to sing it, he's got to front it, and there's a lot of frontmen like that. I know with the Police, Stewart Copeland used to write a lot of songs and a lot of lyrics as well but Sting was never into the idea of singing someone else's words.'

‘I think with Mike he's much more open to other people's input and he likes bouncing ideas off people, but at the same time it's got to be something he feels comfortable with getting up there and doing. And on the influence level we have our kind of common ground in music but Stu and I obviously come from a more rocky background and Mike comes from a more singer/songwriter background. I think that's part of the reason it's taken so long to get it to the point where it's coherent in terms of sound as well because we've probably been gradually finding our way through all these different avenues and coming out with a sound at the other end. But it's nice when it gets there.'

And there's an interesting story behind one EP song in particular – Kings of the Ghost Town Mile - as Steve explains:

‘We just had this really mad idea one night. Even when we first demoed that song in our little home studio, Mike had this idea to get a black gospel choir singing on the end. That posed a slight problem because we didn't really know a black gospel choir - particularly one that was gonna do it for absolutely no money at all - but more to the point, when we were thinking what the song was about and where it had been born, it seemed like it needed to be more earthy than that. So I came up with this idea one day that we'd go for that approach, get a load of people singing but we'd just do it in our local pub, after hours late on a Friday night. So everyone had obviously had a fair amount to drink and we got in this room and I basically stood up on a table and conducted them. I think we had something like 83 people in there who all got a mention in the EP as well. I had to teach them how to sing in tune and it was still sounding relatively painful at the time. I didn't know if it was actually going to work, but I started messing around with it the next day and I was absolutely amazed at how good it sounded. I think the ones who were in tune drowned out the ones who weren't and it just came across like a load of people singing a big, anthemic, celebratory line and it worked perfectly. It was exactly what we were after. And if you wanna hear that it's on the very last minute of the last track on the EP.'

 

Aside from their music, one of the most striking things about Rogue States is their online presence, which comes courtesy of Steve and Michael's cousin. Steve agrees:

‘To be honest, James is our unsung hero really. On a lot of levels he's been a massive part of keeping this band afloat for years. It was always like the fifth member of your band was your manager but I suppose the way technology's developed, I think you've got to have a sixth member now which is your online person and he's been brilliant. The EP that we've just put out would never have come out if it wasn't for James' effort ‘because he knows so many things that we don't when it comes to formatting and things like that. He worked his backside off. I bought him a very nice bottle of whiskey for Christmas which was only a small token of our thanks but he's been brilliant.'

And finally, what are the band's hopes for the future?

‘We didn't expect to move mountains with this EP,' says Steve. ‘It's a kind of humble beginning really. Basically, after the amount of time we've invested to get to this point, we just wanted to get something out as a starting point. As much as we're excited about Lights as a lead track, which has just gone to radio last week, I think we all feel that the best is yet to come. It just felt high time that we just put something out. It felt like we were a band in waiting for a very, very long time, maybe because we came from that kind of era in the music industry where you did just wait until you had it all together and then you unleashed it. But I think it's dramatically changing now and I think you do have to take smaller steps towards a bigger thing. It's a case of getting something out, getting going. It went to radio last week, so hopefully we'll get a couple of spot plays on various things. If we get that and we can build a little bit of profile, even if it's just a little bit more than we have before, then I'm happy with that for this EP. Then I think the new stuff we've just recorded is really exciting and that'll be the next step. Whether we do another EP depends, if the mixes come out the way I think they're gonna come out then I'll probably push to actually go and do some more songs and look to record an album and potentially go after a label and licence it.'

With thanks to Steve and James. Visit www.RogueStates.net for more information and to buy the Lights EP, which will also be available on iTunes from 08/03/10.

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