INTERVIEW

“ Only one thing can break this sort of tension‚” cue the mockney croaking heckle of, “You fuckin love it you slags!” And, as you’d expect, it works a treat. “Thanks for saving our evening son,” responds a slightly nervous but now smiling Sam Herlihy to rapturous applause from the Water Rats’ crowd. Perhaps now […]

Only one thing can break this sort of tension‚” cue the mockney croaking heckle of, “You fuckin love it you slags!” And, as you’d expect, it works a treat.

“Thanks for saving our evening son,” responds a slightly nervous but now smiling Sam Herlihy to rapturous applause from the Water Rats’ crowd. Perhaps now the tightly packed industry bods and super fans alike can break from their statue poses of hushed silence. Because that’s what Hope Of The States’ new material is capable of – paralysing.

Fast-forward five days and substitute the tiny Kings Cross venue for a tiny Hoxton pub. Front-man Herlihy is chaining Marlborough Lights, sipping a bottle of Bud, every bit the rock star. And then there’s us. Our look is a little different.

We’re losing our cool, tottering on the career shattering embarrassing, raving about all the things that Herlihy must already know – how his band’s return is the most important mark on 2006’s musical calender, how their new album ‘Left’ has been worth the thirteen month wait for all of its new direction and how last weeks intimate gig has had us preaching (yet again) how phenomenal Hope Of The States are when on a stage together. We didn’t want to be like this. We’d expected to feel apathy toward the band’s follow up to 2003’s ‘The Lost Riots’. But then we heard it.

‘Left’ is not what you’d expect from an album over a year in the making, for the simple reason that Hope Of The States have evidently kept their cool whilst recording it. Where so many bands have felt the pressure of releasing their ‘second tricky album’, HOTS found themselves in a far more appealing place come the end of touring ‘The Lost Riots’. Second guessing what their next release would sound like was near on impossible.

“Basically, we did enough with our first record to get to make another one and for people to give a fuck,” explains Herlihy, dragging on another fag. “And that’s amazing because we can do whatever the fuck we want. To know that nobody really knows what our second record is going to sound like is awesome. It’s got to be the best thing in the world.”

It’s a creative position that Hope Of The States earned three years ago by releasing an album that refused to sit comfortably between The Strokes and The Libertines (or any other buzz band riding the NME labelled ‘New Rock Revolution’ wave) but proved that intelligence and musicianship could still be at the heart of a great rock record. ‘The Lost Riots’ remains a release impossible to describe. When asked what it sounds like, you realise just how difficult it is to pigeonhole. Epic, theatrical, hopeful, tragic, powerful, are all relevant but far too vague to do the album justice. It just needed to be heard to be believed. The same goes for ‘Left’. Although it is clearly a Hope Of The States record, it’s certainly not ‘The Lost Riots’ mark two.

Most noticeable is how concise the new songs are. The bands previous wall of sound has been demolished, leaving in its place tracks that concentrate on more of a ‘hit and run’ policy. Outros have been kept to a minimum and it’s a deliberate direction that Herlihy is pleased with. “We were really brutal when we first wrote the songs,” says the man behind the band’s lyrics. “We hacked the shit out of them and were like ‘get rid, get rid, get rid’. When we started demoing we had no idea of where it was going apart from this idea of getting some directness to things. I knew I didn’t want to play acoustic guitar and I wasn’t playing much piano either. I wanted to play electric guitar and I wanted to play fast. There’s this perception of us being this huge trip avand garde rock band and we never really were. There were a couple of songs that were like that but we got fucked off because we can write fucking songs, you know?”

The outcome of rebelling against such perceptions is a far meatier guitar lead album. Direct, plugged in tracks such as ‘Bonfires’, ‘Industry’ and ‘Forwardirektion:’ demonstrate what the band wanted ‘Left’ to sound like most accurately – “three guitars fighting each other but pointing in the same direction.” And yet it remains an album that has successfully swerved sounding conventional in a tedious sense. More concise, yes, less epic and moving than ‘The Lost Riots’, no. Herlihy lyrics are no less throw-a-way now than they have every been. As before, every syllable carries a meaning worth absorbing. So, you’re probably thinking that ‘Left’ (no least because of its title) is the band’s anti Bush statement. Well, it’s not.

“Everybody’s saying that ‘Blood Meridian’ is really political and we’re like, ‘What?'” says a surprised Herlihy. “‘Blood Meridian’ is about us. It’s about something very specific and that’s what a lot of the record is about, us. It’s not to do with politics and the first record didn’t have a lot of politics and it’s what a lot of people missed the point about, the personal side of things. And that’s what this record is about as well. It’s not about ‘Bush is bad’ and ‘war is bad’. People say that stuff better than me and the people who say it a lot better are not people in bands.”

Hinting at just why ‘Left’ took so long to complete is Herlihy and his band mate’s passion for making music when he talks about what being in a band means to him. His is a sentiment that most agree with but few stand by. As he enthuses though, it’s clear that he means what he says. “To me being in a band is more important than how much money you earn or how many records you sell. It’s about being able to sit in a studio and be like, ‘Fuck me dude, that noise is incredible. We’ve got to do something with it.'” So is that why Hope Of The States took thirteen months to complete their second album? Because they were addicted to uncovering different sounds? “It shouldn’t have taken thirteen months,” replies Herlihy. “It’s just fucking ridiculous. We did scrap a lot of things. We get bored really easily. We’ll go somewhere and then after a week be bored and then scrap everything and go somewhere else. But it’s finished now and we spent so long working on it, we just want the fucking thing out.”

Slightly anxious but largely relaxed about the release (no doubt due to avoiding a fanfare comeback – “We like to do things a bit more subtly and ease ourselves back into it,” says Herlihy of the band’s recent small venue tour) Hope Of The States seem to have been blessed with the best band/record label relationship in history. The success of ‘Left’ sounding the way that it does is surely in part due to Sony allowing the band to take their time, refusing to give them a deadline. It’s a mark of just how much Hope Of The States are considered to be a band of longevity and not a money making, fly-by-night, ‘band of the hour’. But it’s a relationship that Herlihy suggests was never going to be any different. “The label signed us on the strength of a seven and a half minute song with vocals for about a minute and a half of it. They knew who they were signing. At the moment it’s great. They really like the record and let us do what we want to do and if that ever changes we’ll fuck off and go and live up a tree in Cuba or something.”

So what of these fly-by-night, ‘band of the hour’? How do they sit in HOTS’s world? After all the band have been away for over a year, in which time Arctic Monkeys have outsold The Beatles, Kaiser Chiefs have won three Brit Awards and indie music has well and truly hijacked the mainstream once more. Are Hope Of The States respectful, fearful or nonchalant about the new brass? It’s a question that Herlihy doesn’t hesitate in answering, in a response that neither us or you should be surprised by. Let us not forget that the reason Hope Of The States impressed us so much when The Strokes were their closest competitors was because of their refusal to play the fashionable game. It was never about Top Of The Pops and it’s certainly not going to be this time around.

“It’s a difficult one because you can always come off so po-faced and arrogant,” says Herlihy, careful not to tread on anybody’s toes. “It’s not really in our orbit. I know they’re going on and a song here and a song there but I have no concept for it because it’s not in my world. Arctic Monkeys, fair play. You know, if you’re 15 it must be the coolest thing in the world, I kind of get it. They’re like a mid point between The Libertines and The Streets so there’s no wonder. When people say they’re like the new Dylan, I’m like, “What the fuck? I don’t get that. We’ve never been THAT band and we’re never going to be and it’s a really nice place to be. You know by their very nature, these scene bands that are post Libertines are great in a way. They get to play all of these venues and go to Bethnal Green and everyone wears trilbies and that’s cool. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, if that’s what you want to do. But it automatically dates and ages you. All of these bands, I know what their second records are going to sound like. Franz Ferdinand, they’re a good band or whatever but everyone knew what their second album would sound like. Everyone knows what the second Kaiser Chiefs record will sound like. I think there’s something to be said for not coming first, at first.”

Appearing po-faced or not, it’s advice worth heeding. Everybody knows that every clich√© is true and the bigger you are the harder you do fall. But commercial success isn’t something that Hope Of The States shy away from or consider a guilty goal. It just needs to come without compromising artistic values. They site Radiohead as “the ultimate aim” of what they want to achieve – a band that have “earned their freedom over a period of time and always do what they want to do but also sell loads of records,” as Herlihy puts it.

You’d no doubt have heard the first single to be lifted from ‘Left’ by now – the fist in the air heart pounding ‘Blood Meridian’. As a key moment in the evolution of ‘Left’ (Herlihy says that the band instantly knew that they had a great record in the making from the moment they started demoing in January 2005 but sights ‘Blood Meridian’ as pivotal in the bands new direction becoming clear) it’s a sight of what’s to come from the band’s second album.

For those lucky enough to have seen the band on their recent small venue tour (the very same tour that attracted the earlier mentioned Albert Square heckler) a glimpse at ‘Left’ was caught and a realisation of a great live band was cemented. With the trademark spectacular of Type2Error’s projections missing but not missed, the band sounded their most powerful and unified. There’s no wonder that most of us present stood statically silent as the band made The Water Rats (on our encounter) sound like the Royal Albert Hall.

And so, Hope Of The States are back! If you want our advice, prepare yourself between now and the release of ‘Left’ in early June. Throw out any preconception of what to expect, along with any doubt of whether the band can deliver under the pressure of their first album. Because, yet again, HOTS have proved that hope isn’t only important, it’s essential.

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