There’s a whole lot to admire about the get-up-and-go mantra that seems to drive Totally. Less than a year after starting to play live – with some of the band having literally never picked up an instrument before – here they are playing some of London’s best venues, releasing a great single and on the cusp of getting an album out of the door. The group have already well exceeded their own expectations, Fliss says. “We didn’t expect the sound to all just gel together. When we heard the recording of the single it was like oh, wow, how did we make that happen?! If we can make the album sound like that, then that will be really nice.”
The band members also have an assortment of jobs, ranging from book publishing and PhD art production, through to charity advertising, speech and language therapy and working in a library. Yet they’re still squeezing in one or two gigs a month, albeit also trying to avoid some of the pitfalls that might derail other new acts – the experience of people like Laurel helps in this regard. “People will get in touch and be like, ‘We want you to play at these shows, you have to bring 50 people’, and it’s like, hmmm, no,” she says.
Fliss adds: “In my career as an artist as well, I’ve kind of been able to apply that to this. There are always people trying to take advantage of your creativity. Always! I think you can be naïve sometimes and think something’s a good opportunity and it’s not, so you’ve just got to be really careful.” To that end, the five have teamed up with indie gig promoters Bird on the Wire (“I think they should be held up as a good example,” Laurel notes).
Perhaps another advantage that the band have over other acts is their relative maturity: with each of the girls already having established their careers and lives outside the group, the pressure to succeed – and the sense of desperation – is less intense. “I’m really glad that I waited,” Jade says. “This is my first ever band and my first experience doing this, although it was really nice to come into this with people who have that experience and have the combination of people being completely new or having done this before.”
Susan agrees but Fliss protests: “I don’t feel older, for the record!”
Everyone laughs but Jade was always conscious of the age thing. “I was super into indie music when I was growing up and I remember reading that the guitarist from Bloc Party was 18 and he’d been playing guitar since he was 14. I was like 15 and I thought, oh well that’s it then.”
“Then you remember Debbie Harry was 32 when Blondie started!” says Laurel.
Franny points out that she probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to get involved in the band until now. Plus, says Susan, “It’s not like we’re 21, this is everything and if it doesn’t happen we’ll be devastated. We’ve got stuff going on and we’re comfortable in our own skin.”
To that end, the quintet has already entertained discussions with a sizeable indie label but they’ve got the confidence to move on without them, for now at least.
Next year there’ll be more shows. Hopefully the album is on the way, too; decisions are yet to be made on production values, or indeed a label, but the time is right, says Fliss.
“It feels like it’s time to get it out. It’s that weird thing where you don’t want to compromise on quality and we want this great recording and for everything to sound the same, but you can let things drag and drag, so I think it’s time to do it. The songs are there, so they should just be out.”
As for that name, it might be right down there with the Music in terms of search effectiveness but it sounds like it’s here to stay. “I’ve got two housemates, neither of whom play any instruments,” says Laurel, “so we were going to start a kind of electro band with one of them playing the coconuts and the other one playing the ukulele, and we were going to be called Totally. Obviously we were never going to do this – it was a joke band – and then on the night when we met Susan, I was like, how about Totally, would that be the worst thing ever? People said ‘Actually, that would be great!’” Susan gives a rueful laugh. “Terrible SEO.”
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