INTERVIEW

From The Ashes of Lost Penguin and The Violets, sure this trio have the wrong name

Photography by Phil Sharp

FROM THE ASHES OF LOST PENGUIN AND THE VIOLETS, WE’RE SURE THIS TRIO HAVE THEIR NAME WRONG

Noisy DIY alt. pop band Not Cool have only recently completed a tour of England, playing gigs in Bristol, Leeds and Manchester. Now they’re back in London, perched in a row along a bench. Matt (guitar) and Andrew (drums) are looking very serious, staring straight ahead, both fixing the middle distance with a firm stare, while Billy (bass) is mainly content to observe and smile.

So‚” how was the tour, then? “It was nice just to get out and play,” says Andrew. “I definitely feels like we got a lot better as a band doing those gigs – just got tighter and the songs came together a lot more and our personal experiences on the tour helped us to sort of bond and get more of an idea of what the band is all about. And it was just fun as well.”

Among other things, the band enjoyed being out of London for a bit, having frequented the venues of Shoreditch for the last few months. “It’s not a bad thing,” offers Matt. “There’s lots of venues but it just seems a bit‚” y’know, you’re playing in London but you’re not really, you’re playing in one corner of London. So, yeah, we really enjoyed getting to play outside that.”

Andrew explains: “Outside London people seem much more open and receptive to new bands and new music, it’s not about all the trendy touch points that, if you do live in London, lots of people just seem to be into.”

Speaking of touch points, Not Cool sometimes flirt with math-rock arpeggios but could quite easily be filed under the currently flourishing heading of Slacker Rock, which, the band admit, is hard to avoid getting involved with, however more assertive their fuzzy punk is compared to the louche DIY of contemporaries like Graffiti Island and Male Bonding – “We’re not ingrained yet and we don’t live in East London,” tells Matt. “We don’t hang out with the same people all the time‚” We’re our own entity, which we quite like.”

From the far end of the bench, Billy pipes up: “I think it helps as well, going on tour with a band like An Experiment On A Bird In The Air Pump. They’re so different from us – playing with them provided a challenge and I think that helps.”
AEOABITAP being an all-female punked-up, soul-infused minimalist rock trio, the two bands aren’t particularly close neighbours on the musical spectrum. “It was good and it was a challenge playing to their audience,” agrees Andrew, “Because they came to watch Experiment On A Bird and then we as the support band were just so completely different, it was a bit of a jaw-dropping experience for them but that’s really good – that little bit of tension at a gig when people don’t really know quite what to expect.”

Surely though, when heading to see a band called ‘Not Cool’, you know exactly what to expect – a band with tongues so firmly in cheeks that they have trouble yelling their spiky lyrics, no? “I think we’re a good band and I’m really proud of the music we’re making but we’re not taking ourselves √ºber seriously, that’s why we’re called Not Cool,” agrees Andrew, “It felt like a really petulant thing to do right from the start; to say, we’re not like every other band that we play with. I like to think Not Cool has a kind of childish underbelly.”

“It’s teenage music for grown ups,” says Matt.

Last month, Brighton’s Teen Sheikhs – also a trio, also peddlers of the DIY ethos – told us how they’d “never sign a record deal”, so what would Not Cool’s reaction be if approached by industry suits?

“First thing would be to say, ‘can we have some drinks, please?'” says Matt as the other two chuckle in agreement. Andrew recalls the story of Oi! band Cock Sparrer who allegedly turned down a signing offer from Malcolm McLaren on the basis that he wouldn’t buy them a round of drinks – “If you want to sign Not Cool, buy us a nice meal and a round of drinks and we’re yours,” he says with a sly grin.

“Although it depends on which restaurant you take us to,” adds Matt, “I don’t eat McDonalds.”

Not an outright ‘NO!’ then, but clearly bagging a record deal is not a major priority just yet. What is a priority is pushing on and getting as many people to hear their music as possible, and if that means putting something out off their own back, that’s what they’ll do. As Andrew puts it, “Too many bands just wait around for someone to dangle a fishhook in front of them and inevitably they just burn out and become really jaded and I think the way around that is to do everything yourself.”

Although, DIY is its own scene, observes Matt, and a significant portion of that scene use the Do It Yourself moniker as a superficial selling point. Not Cool don’t view it as an aesthetic so much as an ambition. “It’s an inspiring way to do things,” says Andrew, referring to the book Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad, which covers the American underground indie scene of the 1980’s and early 90’s. “It’s still fresh and relevant now as it ever was.” The general consensus of the band is that they’d like to keep things as close to home and maintain as much of their own input as possible. They are, in fact, preparing to self-release a seven-inch though there is the issue of coming up with a label name. Something like A Bit Cool, perhaps? “Someone said we should change our name to Cool, I think that’d be quite good,” Andrew laughs, “just to say to people, we’ve played some gigs and they went alright so now we’ve decided we’re Cool.”

Though all three agree that there’s something quite appealing about seeing gig posters with ‘Not Cool’ scrawled across them, the all-too-frequent introductions of ‘They’re called Not Cool but they actually are really cool’ are getting just a bit tiresome.

It’s the price of the gag, and besides, with Matt and Andrew being London buzz band veterans (the former having formed glitch nutters Lost Penguin, Andrew formerly of The Violets) the issue of hype and ‘cool’ is one they’re familiar with. No doubt lessons have been learnt by both members regarding how to deal with gushing blogs and Myspace comments, but their experiences have also brought on board a strong work ethic and an inherent understanding of what being in a band entails, knowing what to expect. With that comes both the confidence to go it alone for as long as necessary as well as the freedom to enjoy what they’re doing, feeding off each other’s energy and bringing that to their music.

“It’s nice to start again and be able to listen to music with fresh ears,” says Andrew. “I feel like when we play, especially now, the more and more time goes on I really look forward to our gigs and feel really euphoric when we’re playing, and I think that rubs off on people who come to watch us play. You see the smiles on their faces and that’s really important – it’s important to have fun.”
“Yeah, that’s cool,” agrees Matt. “‚”or, er, Not Cool.”

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Originally published in issue 8 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. July 2009

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