INTERVIEW

They’ve play more shows than they’ve practiced.

saunayouth1

It’s taken two months, two buses and two tube rides across London, but here we are: sitting down in a field with Sauna Youth, just after they’ve played a storming set at the cosy but hip Offset Festival. At least we think it was a storming set: their interviewer badly underestimated the slow-motion agony that is TFL on a Sunday and only caught the band’s last 2 songs. So, why the long wait for an interview? Well, since the band live in three different cities and only play a handful of shows a month, it’s been somewhat difficult to get everyone together. But since they are one of the best and most interesting UK punk rock bands around at the moment, we happily waited it out until Rich Phoenix (vocals), Lindsay Corstorphine (guitar), Christopher Murphy (bass) and Reza Mirehsan (drums) re-convened for this rare festival appearance.

Song writing is inevitably a somewhat one-dimensional process. “I write most of the songs at my computer and e-mail them to everyone, and we all learn our parts separately,” says Lindsay. To laughter, he adds, “I’m not sure if that comes across live.”

“We try and practice before shows, but we’ve definitely played live more often than we have practised,” Christopher acknowledges.

All four are veterans of the UK punk scene (former projects include The Steal and Captain Everything) and they came together on a whim. Lindsay and Rich, who are based in London and Brighton, respectively, wrote and recorded the Sauna Youth demo tape in typically scattered fashion last autumn – “I don’t think the two of us were in the same room once during the recording,” says Rich – and common friends Reza and Christopher, who at that point neither owned a bass nor had played for some years, were drafted in.

Despite all four working full-time jobs and the organisational hazards of the physical distance between them, Rich insists they take their band seriously.

“We’re constantly doing band-related stuff because we do everything ourselves,” he says. “We design our T-shirts, book our own shows and do the artwork. The band’s something that’s always there.”

Reza agrees: “It’s not like we’re trying to achieve everything – it’s more natural than that. We just do what we can, when we can, and try to enjoy it.”

That attitude of only doing what feels right is apparent in the way the band produce and distribute their releases (two tapes and a 7”, with an LP on the way) – independently or with help from friends (Rich’s girlfriend wrote a short story that appears on their latest tape, and Patrick from Cold Pumas contributed one to their demo) rather than industry insiders – and the way they approach playing shows.

Rich looks at the others: “I think we’re all aware that the most fun shows we play take place outside of conventional venues. That appropriation of places is interesting. It creates a different atmosphere and headspace for people. To celebrate the release of our last tape we played a show at this community centre in Brighton, which is an all-ages and no alcohol venue, and it was great – everyone walking around with cups of tea and stuff like that, a real group effort.”

The financing for the ‘Youth’ 7” EP was similarly uncomplicated – a mate just lent them the money.

“So the reason for this interview is partly motivated by debt,” Rich smiles. “We owe a good friend £550 and we need to sell records to pay him off,” he explains. “And people who read this might go, ‘Oh, they sound quite interesting, I’ll buy their record.’ So hopefully, a day after your next issue comes out, I’ll get like… 4 more orders in my Paypal account.”

The record and the tapes contain a brand of shouty, catchy garage punk that owes its drive to an underrated drummer. “I’m obsessed with that Ramones drumbeat,” enthuses Lindsay. “All our songs are 200bpm or faster, and the best thing about being in this band is trying to perfect that song structure. And punishing Reza by making him play these songs. But he rises to the challenge every time.”

Scattered around the releases are a couple of sonic surprises – a [classic UK punk band] Snuff cover re-arranged with the help of a Rolling Stones sample, a remix of one of their own songs in the mould of ambient artist William Basinski, and the two aforementioned short stories, which fill the respective B-sides of the two Sauna Youth tapes. Not very common things to do on a punk rock cassette, is it? “Why not?” asks Lindsay. “We could say that we did it because Black Flag did it on ‘Family Man’. But it’s not that. It’s just like ‘why not?’ Why wouldn’t you wanna put a good story on there?”

On evidence of the results and the overall way they conduct themselves as a band, we’d be foolish to disagree.

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