The Hipshakes discuss onstage nerves, ‘Slipper Trees’ and conquering America at the age of 15
It’s one of the few token days of British Summer so we sit outside a pub in the leafier end of Sheffield. Guitarist Daniel Russell and bassist Andrew Anderson set about grilling me on mutual friends (we all went to the same High School) while drummer Bruce Sargent is content to huddle over multiple pints of Guinness, offering occasional nods of agreement.
The Hipshakes may only be 22 but they’ve already been together 7 years, forming the band at school aged 15. They all went to Sheffield University where Dan studied Architecture, Andy studied Geography and Bruce did Conservation. Based in Sheffield, they all found jobs in their respective fields – so far, so straight-laced. So why the urge to start a rock and roll riot?
Bruce starts. “First of all [me and Dan] formed a band with three people, Andrew was in another band.”
“I was kicked out for a while cos I didn’t know how to play the guitar,” adds Dan. “It turns out that was our saving grace, as sheer stupidity and not knowing how to play our instruments became the sound that we’ve honed over the years!”
Sonically, they’ve received comparisons ranging from underground American punk like The Oblivians and The Reatards, and compilation series Killed By Death. Usually clocking in at under two minutes, their songs are delivered in short, sharp shocks.
Dan explains: “We got compared to 60s compilations of Nuggets and Pebbles or box sets of obscure bands that we’d never heard of, but it’s all good. When we started we just knew bands that most people knew like The Ramones and The Stooges.”
The Hipshakes recorded their debut album, ‘Shake Their Hips’, with shadowy figure Shaun ‘The Hand’ Alcock from Leeds Punk band The Real Losers. He also plays guitar on the album and they covered Real Losers song ‘Don’t Leave Me Now’ on last years EP ‘Live at Rob’s House’ – “All those guys have got stupid nicknames like ‘Hotdog’ and ‘Seashake,” informs Dan.
In a 2006 interview for US fanzine Terminal Boredom, Dan claimed they suffered from nerves that exploded into angry performances. I wonder out loud if things have changed.
“We have this energy still,” admits Andy “but I only get nervous for occasional shows now whereas it used to be every one. With having played loads now it’s a lot easier. I don’t have to just lie down or shit my pants before a gig anymore. We enjoy it a lot more now.”
Their first single ‘OK, Alright’ quickly became ‘flavour of the month’ in America, with releases on underground record labels Slovenly Recordings and Tic Tac Totally. Playing their first tour with Cococoma in 2007, they soon found the recognition they were looking for.
“We went from playing every weekend, or thereabouts, around England to crap audiences and crap towns, to suddenly going to play in America,” smiles Dan.
“I think people just liked it cos we were dead young when we recorded our first bunch of singles,” reckons Andy. “They thought it was a bit special that there was a bunch of idiots from England playing the music they wanted to hear.”
Their tinnitus-triggering wall of guitar noise also caught the attention of legendary DJ and music lover John Peel, who played their demo on his Radio 1 show. It lead to them getting bigger shows and releases in the UK.
Andrew also creates melodic punk freakouts with solo project Proto Idiot and a looser garage rock sound with The Creepouts. Dan is in a band with Daf from Navvy called Sexplosion, so I mention Daf’s obvious enthusiasm for the project to him. “Yeah I’m excited as well,” he buzzes “but everyone does different things, like, Navvy just toured so we couldn’t really practice for a while, everything always clashes.” Describing the changes in the local scene, Andy explains: “I think what Sheffield needs is a place where people can bring their own booze. Ages ago (local bands) Smokers Die Younger and Champion Kickboxer used to run the Electric Blanket nights at the Blind Institute, now that’s just been knocked down.”
“Then they moved to Matilda Social Centre,” adds Dan “which is just a squat. Now there’s nowhere like that really, where you can go that’s not governed by rules.”
In 2006, thanks to guitarist Dan Russell’s career as an Architect’s Assistant, the band played Architecture Rocks and got their first experience of the corporate industry machine. “We were offered lots of German beer and a stylist,” says Bruce “but we declined it. I wished we hadn’t, we’d have gotten free clothes! We could have got the most expensive clothes and sold them!”
“We got a terrible review of that gig though,” frowns Andy “they said we looked like little kids, that’s just insulting!”
They’ve tried their hand at covering everything from the Eels to Eddie Cochrane and Johnny Thunders, so what’s next?
“Probably something by The Equals, which is Eddy Grants band from the 60s,” laughs Andy. “Especially that one ‘Slippertree’, a song about a man that has a tree that grows slippers that are silver!”
Dan: “That was before Eddy Grant ditched his band and did ‘Electric Avenue’. He was in the Greatest R’n’B band ever. Just a bunch of black dudes really rocking out.”
Recording in everything from basements and garages, to mate’s houses and council run studios, for their new album The Hipshakes have opted for a different approach.
“Yeah, for the first time we paid for our own recordings and then everything started to go more towards people recording stuff in their bedrooms,” explains Dan “so we’re completely at odds with whatever people from our underground rock world are doing.”
As for the rest of 2009, there are plans to release a 7″ with B Vicars, a tour with the Lovvers and Andrew is moving to America for a year to do a Masters. While he’s away Bruce and Dan plan to play some dates as a two-piece, though Dan adds, “We’ll still be band after it though.”
They will also provide backup for Andrews band Proto Idiot at the Prickly Peas Bowl festival in Sardinia. “You play on the beach with generators or a village fete in front of thousands of crazy peasants,” says Dan. “It’s pretty awesome.”
And despite misconceptions about their backgrounds, The Hipshakes resent the implication that to be Punk means to be working class or socially dysfunctional.
“The Urinals had a song called ‘I’m White and Middle Class’,” says Dan “and its not like we are writing overtly political songs or pretending to be a band of the people or anything. Everyone can be annoyed by things and write songs about them. A lot of our songs aren’t particularly angry, just delivered with energy. I’d like to write different music (and attempt to, for different projects) but the sound we have developed grew mainly out of boredom and musical incompetence rather than hating the world or rebelling. Or maybe we hated the boredom of where we grew up and rebelled against that.”
Originally published in issue 7 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. June 2009