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Mammoth Penguins - Interview

  by Anthony Strutt

published: 23 / 8 / 2016

Mammoth Penguins - Interview


Anthony Strutt speaks to Cambridge-based Indiepop group Mammoth Penguins, which are fronted by former Standard Fare front woman Emma Kupa, about their career to date and holding down a full time job while being in an indie band

Mammoth Penguins are a something of an Indiepop secret. The trio, who come from Cambridge, are fronted by vocalist and guitarist Emma Kupa, who was previously in the much acclaimed Sheffield-based band Standard Fare. They released last year both a double-sided single, 'Propped Up/Thinking of You', and an album, 'Hide and Seek'. Pennyblackmusic caught up with them at a gig at the Firebug in Leicester to talk about the pressures of being in a band from Sheffield compared to being in a band in Cambridge, and holding down a full time job while being in a group. PB: Why did you decide to call yourselves Mammoth Penguins? MB: We spent ages thinking up names. EK: I can't remember how we came up with it but we liked penguins and we liked mammoths, so we just put the two words together. PB: Emma, you were in Standard Fare who were together for nine years. That band was based in Sheffield. Why did you decide to move south to Cambridge? EK: My girlfriend got a job in Ely and we had both finished university in York, so I moved down as well. Standard Fare had ended and Mark and I played at some of the same gigs in Cambridge and became friends, so when I moved to Cambridgeshire we decided to start a band. MB: Yeah, it was a good while later. We had another drummer before. He was a friend with slightly different tastes and wanted to be a guitarist in his own band. PB: Emma, you played bass in Standard Fare and now you play guitar in Mammoth Penguins. Would you say that there was a big difference in the sound between those two bands? EK: Standard Fare were a bit more upbeat and jangly, and we are not. We do have upbeat moments, but are a bit more rock-orientated and heavier. PB: Is there a big difference between being in a Sheffield band or being in a Cambridge band. Do you think the scenes are different? EK: In Sheffield, there is lots of cheap space. There are more pubs, more venues, more practice space. It's more industrial and it's cheaper to live there. In Cambridge there's no space, not many venues, and, because it's so expensive to live there, everyone has to have well paid jobs to pay their rent. If you a successful musician, you will probably move to London. PB: Would you say with regards to music there is a big North/South divide? EK: In Sheffield, there are lots of really great musicians, many of whom are proud of being from the North. In Cambridge, however, the Indiepop scene consists of a lot of bands with lots of instruments, making poppy sort of highbrow music, It is not as raw as it is in Sheffield. Cambridge isn't cool. Even if you are from there, you are not going to say you are from there and if all of your members are working full time jobs then you are not going to have the time to become a successful band. In Sheffield, even if you don't earn much money, you can still afford practice space and have more time to rehearse. Arctic Monkeys could just practice all the time. PB: They also had nothing to give up because they had all just left school. EK: Yeah, exactly. PB: Mammoth Penguins have signed to Sean Price's Fortuna POP! label. How did you discover them? EK: I have known Sean for years, He was at lots of Standard Fare gigs in London. We played with loads of Fortuna POP! bands, and I met him originally behind a merch stall at a gig. He seemed really nice and has been a friend ever since, Standard Fare signed to Melodic in Manchester, but we wanted to be on Fortuna POP! We couldn't, but as soon as Mammoth Penguins started I got in touch with Sean. PB: All songs are story based, but yours are especially strong stories. EK: My dad wouldn't say that. He likes strong Country and Western and they are real stories. It is nice of you to say that though. In Indiepop I think that it happens more. Really mainstream songs try and keep things vague as possible so everyone can link to them, whereas if you stick in more details it's more real. I know I do that a lot with my songwriting. Maybe that makes it more like a story. PB: Chorusgirl, who are also on Fortuna POP!, told me they didn't like being tagged Indiepop. Do you like it in reference to you guys? EK: Standard Fare played shit gigs for our first four years - empty gigs, and gigs with horrible bands and aggressive, grumpy promoters. It was awful and at that point I don't know why we carried on. Then we came across Indiepop. Huw Stephens played a song, and I tried to find Indiepop labels in Sheffield. The Sheffield Phonographic Co-operation is a really small Sheffield Indiepop label, and Darren on that label liked us and he introduced us to someone else in Nottingham and from there on it opened up this world of nice people, nice promoters, nice bands we like to play with, and who want to listen too, that come to gigs and buy stuff. I will never bad mouth Indiepop because the debt I owe it is enormous and the alternative was so dreadful. TB: I had a similar experience of playing these really grinding gigs from when I was in my previous bands. As I lived in Cambridge, we would go go to London, and for bands like ours coming from out of town to play the Camden Town toilet circuit it went beyond that. The promoters there have got three slots a night, seven nights a week, so they do complicated deals. When you go through the door, the door staff ask whom have you come to see. If you get people in, you start to get paid and they use the number of people whom come to see you to decide if they would ever book you again which led to my band hiring mini buses and busing people down from Cambridge to London, so we would get sixteen people in If you didn't, you wouldn't get booked again. That whole thing disappears though if you find Indiepop. You find promoters that are into you and who genuinely like music. It's not a fun experience if you in a band and you are playing to three lots of sixteen people, all of whom have been bused in. You need some form of scene for people to gather around though. PB: What do you think your new band mates bring to your sound now, Emma? What extra do you think that there is now wasn't there in Standard Fare before? EK: There are lots of bands all three of us love, whereas in Standard Fare we didn't know what we were going for. It's like a relationship. The first one you have is really intense, and you don't know how to do it and fuck it up and hurt each other lots. Then the second time round you are a bit more wise and you communicate better with each other and don't hurt each other as much. It's that first love energy thing. I love you guys. MB: We love you too. PB: You are quite young as a band with just one 7 inch and one album to your name? EK: We are writing for the next record. TB: There's another single coming out soon hopefully. We recorded a track during the album sessions that didn't fit in with the album and another which was a demo, but we could work with it so we felt that the song was finished. They are going to come out on Kingfisher Blues, but the date is still to be confirmed. PB: How do you write the songs in Mammoth Penguins? MB: The words and melodies are all Emma's. Neither of us has written a song. It's really hard if you are in a band with Emma to write a song. It's like, "Let us put this on the album, next to Emma's (Laughs)." TB: It's the same sort of process that I have had in other bands. You do need someone with a vision and a hook, and then everybody brings it to life. Emma does a brilliant job of bringing those things together. EK: When I was with Standard Fare, Dan, the guitarist, wrote half of the songs, so I only had to write the other half. When we go to practice, it's just like Tom says and every week he and Mark ask if I have any more new songs. I didn't have to work that hard in Standard Fare (Laughs). PB: Do you tour or do you just do one off gigs? TB: It's hard to fit in tours into our jobs and annual leave. I had my second child last year, so I had to do a lot of child care in between going on tour. Last year was really hard. So we drew a circle and anything we could do in an evening around Cambridge and get home before 2 a.m. was good. PB: Is this Mammoth Penguins' first trip to Leicester? EK: Yes, I played here once or twice though with Standard Fare. PB: I discovered you through 6 Music. How important is 6 Music if you are in an indie band? MB: 6 Music feels achievable as an indie band. You feel as if you can get played on it. You can get a Marc Riley Session. EK: It is something that is very important and valuable. EK: 6 Music and Gideon Coe have played my stuff loads. Even when people have sat in for him, they still play my records and that's been really good. PB: How important is Facebook? Mark. I think it gives you back what you put into it. You can work it a lot harder than we do. EK: We do the bare minimum. We don't do a mailing list. The three of us enjoy making music and we are good at it, but if one of us could make videos or was a graphic designer that would be great. PB: The vinyl of the album is apparently in blue spotted vinyl. MB: The first pressing was half green and half blue which looked amazing as it spins around. We talked about doing a repress, and we were like, "What if we get loads back and then they sit under a bed?" Then we sold all our copies at gigs and so we phoned up Sean and said, "Can we have some more please?" And Sean repressed in another colour. The new version is fizzy blue pop and looks amazing. PB: Is there anything else you would like to add? MB: Thank you for talking to us. It's really nice to talk about our music. PB: I'm sure lots of people want to talk to you guys. EK: No, it's got around that it hard work interviewing us, so this has been a total joy. Thank you. PB: Thank you. The lower photograph was taken by Anhony Strutt.

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