Let’s face it. Good female-fronted English rock bands are about as rare nowadays as a teetotal Irishman on St. Patrick’s Day. Back in the nineties we were treated to a veritable bevy of acts like Skunk Anansie and Garbage with sassy, cover-grabbing singers utilising their feminine charm against a deafening backdrop of guitars. So where are their replacements? Harry?
Give me a break! Even many of the American acts are going for the skate-punk-pop-bitch look and coming off as empty and shallow as any other manufactured pop act setting their sights on fame, fashion and crowds of screaming pre-pubescent brats at their fingertips. No, I’m talking about good, quality, homegrown acts, blessed with a female as commanding with her righteous, passionate tones as she is her striking looks onstage.
So imagine the smile creeping on my face when I randomly caught these young upstarts early last year, barely a few months from their inception yet lamping me repeatedly with intelligently abrasive post-hardcore blows to the head, with clear disregard for the shock it might leave me with. Of course, frontgrrl Mel Young is sussed enough not to allow pop bitch pretentiousness to suffuse her style just as her persona remains untainted by outré stage gestures and pouts.
Because dear readers, this is a band grounded in the post-hardcore playing fields; trained on muscular hard-hitting workouts of intricate post-rock inter-play, luscious heart-felt melodies and the prog-like inventiveness of Cave-In, as evident on their debut album ‘Frequency’.
So who are they again?
I’m sitting backstage at The Underworld in Camden, with Mike (drums), Simon (bass/vocals), Mel (guitar/vocals) and an antique dictaphone to find out just that.
DiS: Ok, let’s rewind to when you first got together. What were you setting out to achieve with your music?
Mel: “Well Mike and I have been in bands together for years so I think we were probably quite innocent about what we were trying to achieve. World super-stardom? And then when that reality kinda slapped us in the face we realised that actually we just wanted to be in a band with people that we got in with and make music that we liked. And be able to make a living out of it, which we haven’t got to just yet, but you never know.”
DiS: Are you surprised by how well you’ve been received so far?
Simon: “I think I’m just starting to get a bit freaked out by it, just the fact we’re getting interviewed and stuff.”
Mike: “I guess in a way, subconsciously it might have been a last-ditch sort of thing because we’ve just been playing for so long, and we’re not really old but we are thinking there’s only so many years you can keep doing it. Fortunately with this band, within a year we are where we are now.”
Simon: “Yeah, right at the bottom [laughs].”
Mike: "I think it’s probably down to the fact that me and Mel have played for so long and any time before now we obviously weren’t ready even though we thought we were, and now we know we are ready. And it just clicked completely when Simon joined, it was just perfect.”
DiS: Yeah there does seem to be a definite chemistry within the band.
Mike: “Well Mel is the main songwriter and you do need to be able to write songs with people that you click with. Mel’s able to write stuff with Simon at home and bring it to rehearsal, and it’s all able to fit together without any sort of effort.”
DiS: I read that little clipping in The Mirror about Mel C coming down to your gig at Notting Hill Arts Centre, so what was all that about?
Mike: “I won’t go into it too much but she’s best mates with my girlfriend and she’s been to two of our gigs now.”
DiS: So it wasn’t through reading a review in a fanzine and deciding to check you out?
Simon: “I’d like to think that’s how it happened that she just picked up a fanzine and wanted to check us out through that.”
Mike: “She wears the Tee Shirt as well, but yeah, that’s basically how it happened.”
DiS: Tell me something about the band that might surprise me.
Mel: “I’ve actually got really, really curly hair and I straighten it all the time and it really fucks it up.”
Mike: “Maybe you should put in there that this is another band where it’s a relation combo where you don’t know whether it’s brother and sister or husband and wife [referring to Mel and Simon's identical surname].”
Mel: “Yeah, maybe we shouldn’t be so open about it. We might be brother and sister having sex.”
Simon: “We might be. But we could be very, very close in a Hollyoaks kind of way.
*deletes rest of potentially revealing conversation*
DiS: Would you say you were post-hardcore?
Simon: "No. I dunno. I’ve got post-hardcore T-shirts so yes, but no.”
DiS: But then, if you’re influenced by post-hardcore does that make you post-hardcore? Or do you have to come from the hardcore scene and develop your sound in a post-what-you-were-playing-before way?
Simon: “Oh gosh, I don’t know.”
Mel: “I don’t think we are post-hardcore. I don’t even know what it means.”
Simon: “I like post-hardcore, but I’ve gone right off the scene or whatever just because there’s too many names with months in it, and theory projects. I just prefer Metallica and Megadeth at the minute. And Rush. I think we’re just a rock band really.”
Mike: “We’ve got a lot of influences that actually don’t come through as an obvious - not rip-off - but just the sound of someone else.”
Mel: “I think I’ve always been into the same kind of thing but the labels just keep changing. I’ve always liked melodic rock and whether it’s called glam rock or melodic post-hardcore or whatever it’s always the same.”
DiS: Ok, this is a feeble link to your name but what was the first thing you ever stole?
Simon: [straight away] “It was a John Barnes football poster that was free with Shoot magazine in the 80s.”
DiS: You seem very certain about this.
Simon: “I remember it because my Mum found out and was like ‘how did you get this, you didn’t get any pocket money this week’, and obviously I’m a shit liar. I was only about six or seven or something and I’d never been bollocked so much in my life. That put me off a life of a crime for good.”
DiS: Did she make you take it back to the shop?
Simon: “Yes - it was like a covert SAS operation and I sneaked it back into the very magazine I took it from.”
Mel: “I used to nick loads of stuff, like sweets. But then I got caught and that put me off for a while. And then just lipsticks and eyeshadows and stuff."
Mike: “I think I stole sweets and stuff at school, but as far as being caught it wasn’t really stealing but we found condoms in the playground at Primary school and I didn’t know what they were. We opened them up and got them confiscated by the teachers. But I managed to smuggle some home and then took them out and put them in a Kinder surprise little yellow thing and put them in my box of tricks that I used to have all toys and stuff in. And then much to the shock of my whole family when we were all sitting round watching early evening television and I sat down on the carpet in front of everyone and I got my box out and just opened up my Kinder surprise thing and pulled out this condom in front of my Mum and Dad, when I was like, seven years old. They were like ‘where did you get that from?!’
"And yeah, I didn’t know what it was and they just told me I wasn’t allowed to have it and I was really upset. They just said it was something for grown-ups that we weren’t supposed to have, but we just saw them as novelty balloons.”
Simon: “And Kinder being German, so that’s ‘Child’s Surprise’ and you get a condom - that’s gotta shock any child.”
Mike: “Well I dunno, they may have even thought that’s what you get in a Kinder egg, like, that’s a new direction for kids – helps to teach them early. Chocolate and a condom. That’s a kind of a ‘not stolen’ but ‘found out about’ [story].”
Simon: “That’s said so much. So many questions have been answered with that story.”
DiS: What makes you happy?
Mel: “Hey – time to plug the Snooty Fox! Very near Oxford there’s a pub called the Snooty Fox, which is just 1) the best name for a pub there’s ever been and 2) the food is fucking incredible and that makes me very happy.”
Mike: “And 3) it has probably the best artwork for any pub because it just had a fox in a smoking jacket and bow tie and tight slacks and a big fat cigar looking very snooty. It was fantastic.”
Simon: “The fox’s face said ‘I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire.”
Mike: “He was very snooty. And the word ‘snooty’. If you just keep saying it over and over again it’s just the best word in the English vocabulary, and what it means as well. And a fox that’s got a bit of a snooty attitude which is brilliant.”
DiS: What pisses you off?
Mel: “Oh God, where to begin?”
Simon: “London public transport. Sponging fucking dossers.”
Mike: “Travelling through London. When you go on tour you realise that once you’re outside of London you can travel halfway up the country in a few hours, yet to get out of London it takes just as long. It doesn’t matter where in London you are it will take you three hours to get out and then three hours to get to Manchester.”
Simon: “The band name means nothing. We’re usually trapped in a traffic jam for an hour trying to get to rehearsal. Drive like you’re stuck in heavy gridlock.”
DiS: It’s February 2005. Where is the band and what are you doing?
Simon: “Fuck me this is a long interview!”
Mike: “We’ve not been sitting here that long have we?” [laughs]
Mel: “Wouldn’t it be great if we were playing the Mean Fiddler. Wouldn’t it?"
Simon: “It would be fantastic. It’d be great if we got a soundcheck. Ever. [gives a sly scowl towards the direction of Amplifier whose drummer is soundchecking his kick-drum for the entirety of the interview] .But I dunno, if we’re still doing it in a year that’d be brilliant.”
Mel: “Hopefully we’ll be recording our first proper release.”
DiS: Who would you want to record it?
Simon: “Ken Andrews. He was in Failure and Year Of The Rabbit. He also does Bryan Adams. We want Bryan Adams’ massive guitar sound. Bob Rock, that’s who did it wasn’t it? We’ll get Bob Rock to produce the album and spend a year and a half writing it.”
Mel: “Do you think we should just get Dave Grohl to produce it?
Simon: “If he’s free.”
Mike: “That’d be nice. Just to be the speed it’s been going in the last few months, if it can carry on like that just so that this time next year we’ve just got people that really like what we’re doing. That’s the most important thing.”
Mel: “It would be great to put our other jobs on hold for a year or two and just concentrate on this and really give it a shot. It would be great this time next year to really be doing that.”
DiS: What have you got coming up after this tour?
Mel: “We’ve got a few gigs in March just here, there and everywhere on weekends. Then in April we’re doing few dates with Jetplane Landing, which I cannot fucking wait for because they are the best band in the country, I love them. I’ve never met them as people, though everyone says they’re meant to be cool. But their album’s incredible.”
Simon: “Andrew’s just the nicest guy, he’s brilliant. Have you ever seen that film ‘Paid For It’? It’s like, when instead of paying a good deed back to someone you do it to someone else. It’s like if Mel did something nice to me I’d do something nice to Mike. And he’s like the hardcore Paid For It because he does so many nice things to people and they’re inspired the next time they go to a gig because they’ll do nice things to another band. And it’s just a long chain of happiness.”
So there you have it. Drive Like You Stole It: amiable, post-whatever, rock school graduates and possibly the most promising new band in the UK right now.