INTERVIEW

With a heavy sense of déjà vu, we play catch up with Hatcham Social to discuss new album ‘About Girls’.

hatchamsocial

I get the feeling we’ve been here – right here – before. It’s because we have. Nearly. Three years ago, almost to the day, Hatcham Social and I met in the pub next door to where we’re sat now, a few weeks before they released ‘You Dig The Tunnel, I’ll Hide The Soil’ – an unquestionably ‘indie’ album that was somehow something more: a mix of fop pop, new romance, art rock, poetry and shadowy escapism. Songs like ‘So So Happy Making’ had the band reviving John Hughes movie soundtracks long before The Horrors started to sound like Simple Minds. It had taken them three years to make – an aeon in the instantly bored world of pop music – and the forthcoming ‘About Girls’ hasn’t arrived any sooner. Once again, it’s out in a matter of weeks, and once again, more so, even, it’s an album that doesn’t apologise for its melodic easy listening. It’s as straight-up as you might imagine an album called ‘About Girls’ to be.

“We wanted to make everything direct on this one,” says singer Toby Kidd. “We put a limit on the amount of lyrics we’d allow in songs. I think the first record was a bit wordy in places.”

Even without ‘Jabberwocky’ (Hatcham Social’s melodramatic, gothic recitation of the Lewis Caroll poem), ‘You Dig The Tunnel…’ certainly is less pointed than the band’s new album, where lyrics like, “Bang bang, now I’m dead / Fifty bullets in my head” (from ‘Nicola Tells Me’) and “Kingsland Road, I stole a kiss / C’mon baby, let’s do the twist” (‘Would You’) are boldly without hidden agendas. Simplicity, after all, is to pop music what overdrive is to hard rock, and Hatcham Social make no bones about being a pop band. When I ask them if they’d purposefully tried to make a pop record, drummer Finn Kidd reasons, “well, you always do, don’t you?”.

“Our idea of pop just isn’t the same as some peoples’,” suggests Toby, but there’s a good chance that it is. ‘About Girls’ might lack Rhianna bass and LMFAO’s party bangers, but it’s full of nagging hooks – something Hatcham Social have always excelled in, in the most English of ways. The “Shoot me down” chorus of ‘Like An Animal’, the shambling pop punk of ‘Little Savage’, the call-and-response pomp of ‘Dance With Me’ – they could all find Hatcham Social on mainstream radio. ‘Would You’, with Toby lowering his voice to the bollock-dropping warble of Brian Ferry, is clearly inspired by Roxy Music; ‘All Summer Long’ sounds even more like Elvis Costello’s ‘Oliver’s Army’; the closing ‘Stick Together’ is as classically sweet as the songs of Ray Davis, The Kinks being one of the many bands that Hatcham Social have covered before now. They do a mean version of Lou Reeds’ ‘Vicious’ too. Covers, in fact, have always been a way for Hatcham Social to maintain a desired level of enjoyment within the group, and it’s a group that looks very different today than it did in March 2009.

Then, I was sat with brothers Toby and Finn (still here), and founding bassist Dave Fineberg and second guitarist Jerome Watson (not). Watson – an enviably talented guitarist – left the band and formed The History of Apple Pie. “Dave did his thing and disappeared,” says Toby. For a time, Finn and his older brother – then and now the driving force of the band – cobbled together friends to play shows as they were booked, until Riley Difford became a fulltime member on bass and David Claxton replaced Watson.

“My previous band were too serious and anal about everything,” says Riley. “Hatcham weren’t really. They were like, ‘let’s just play a Kinks cover’. It was fun.” Unusually, for David, this is his first band. “I completely changed what I was doing,” he says. “I just had a normal job and was miserable.”

“[Playing with new people] felt really refreshing, more than anything,” says Toby. “You get in ruts with people. Not so much musically – musically, it was always fine with Dave, but being on tour and that, you get into ruts with people. With [David and Riley] it was exciting musically again, but also as people… and they’re really good musicians.”

Toby and Finn wrote and demoed the lion’s share of ‘About Girls’ in their own studio in Wales, until David and Riley’s input gave them the finished record. David says: “They’ve turned out to be…” “The worst ones,” laughs Toby. “So we won’t do that again.”

“They’re the four or five potential singles,” finish David, “not to big ourselves up or anything.”

Looking back at ‘You Dig The Tunnel…’, an album that went overlooked and underappreciated for one so fantastic, Toby says: “I’m pretty proud of that record. I wouldn’t do anything differently on it for when it was. I’m surprised when I listen to it, which isn’t very often, but, like, I listened to ‘Superman’, and I was like, ‘wow, that’s beautiful’. And there are songs that are really enjoyable to play live. That’s what we took forward for this record – we very much wanted to make a record full of the songs we enjoy playing live, because this record was going to be something we were going to be able to play live anywhere, with just the four of us. Don’t need an special engineer, don’t need any effects, don’t need someone pressing whatever – it’s a record you can play in a room and it sounds pretty much like the record.” And by the sound of it – the smoothed corners, the brighter melodies, the less acute guitars – ‘About Girls’ is more… well… fun?

“The whole ethos behind this record is it’s about dancing and lust and fucking,” says Finn. “The first record is about looking for a place to make your own, inside yourself; this one is about how you’ve arrived at that place so it’s time to party.”

A lot of the record is autobiographical, about girls the band have chased or been chased by, presumably since we last met. “Some of them aren’t girls, though,” says Toby, “they’re boys… who talk to girls. And the others are girls… who talk to boys. But, yeah, it is all quite truthful about our lives.”

“It’s not been the making of the record that’s taken three years,” assures Finn. “That was a lot of other stuff.”

“Yeah, we’ve had loads of songs,” says Toby, “enough to record three albums, but unfortunately, people who you work with in this world sometimes don’t turn out how you thought they would. So it took quite a while of reassessing and working things out and sorting some money issues that people had gotten us into. It’s taken a while, but we’ve got it all sorted and the next record will be a lot quicker.”

I get the feeling we’ve been here – right here – before. It’s because we have. Nearly, but not that nearly. Hatcham Social still have a Dave, but a different one; they’re still making what is definitely a type of indie pop music, but it seems harder than ever to label as one thing or another; they’re intent on creating a world for themselves, just like before, it’s just a place that’s become less gothically insular and more outwardly up for a good time. They still laugh a lot between them though, and, as naïvely idealistic as it sounds, having fun remains their number one priority.

Three years ago, Toby explained how he didn’t see putting out a debut album as “making it” any more than releasing a single or playing a show or writing a song, even. That hasn’t changed either, and the overtly direct ‘About Girls’ probably deserves to be hit just as much as the gloomily romantic ‘You Dig The Tunnel, I’ll Hide The Soil.’

“I know it sounds like a cliché,” says Toby, “and you do want people to like it, but you want to do what you want to do, and hope that there are a section of people who think like you and feel like you. Because some people will just aim at making it, and they’ll do whatever they think will be popular. I think that’s the opposite to what we are – we find something slightly difficult and try and make it popular, and maybe fail,” he laughs. “But hopefully, eventually, you will like it!”

By Stuart Stubbs

Originally published in issue 36 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. March 2012

« Previous Interview
Next Interview »