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Wives - Interview

  by Sarah Rowland

published: 23 / 10 / 2005

Wives - Interview


Stoner have elements of everything from The Police to Franz Ferdinand to Led Zeppelin in their music. Sarah Johnson chats to the three piece London group about how many of their songs were written on John Lennons piano and their fikrst national tour.

When meeting Stoner at Carlisle’s The Brickyard they have just finished their sound check and it is obvious they are really looking forward to a good show later that night. I am introduced to vocalist and guitarist Desmond Lambert and his brother and the band's bassist Gavin but drummer Rob Flanagan has disappeared. We decide to get on with the interview however and make our way up to a huge makeshift storeroom on the top floor of the venue. A couple of sofas and a few chairs made a comfortable corner to chat as we chuck around ideas about what this huge room could be better used for. It is mostly taken up with drum kits, instruments and junk but we think it would make a really nice chill out room for in between gigs. Stoner has been together for around five years and this is their first tour since being signed to Rhythm Bank. They release their first EP in November and are expected to make an impact with their energetic classic rock influenced tunes. There is a bit of everything in their music from The Police to Franz Ferdinand to Led Zeppelin and so far their tour is going really well. PB : How are you feeling about tonight’s gig ? DL : Well, we’ve only been touring for about two weeks now, and so we are just in the middle of it and enjoying playing. This is the furthest North we’ve played GL : We’ve reached the end of the M6. DL : We’re actually staying at the last service station on the M6, so that’s quite cool. We’ve reached the end of the rainbow GL : This is our eleventh date isn’t it? DL : Something like that. Yeah, it’s been good. Rob's our manager, and he’s also the drummer. He sort of looks after us in the band, so you’ve got the two people that don’t really know what’s going on. The record company has put us on this tour because we are going into a studio in November to record a single that will be coming out in February. So this tour is all about going to some smaller venues, making mistakes maybe, but generally just learning. So far we’ve just been a London band. All our gigs have basically been London based so it’s really great to play to all these other audiences. We played at Leeds and Stockton, and a few other places in the North East and they’ve been really receptive audiences. London’s sort of got a name as being a kind of arms folded city because there’s so much going on there. There must be 400 bands a night playing in London so every one's a bit "Yeah go on impress me", but when you come to smaller cities or towns and you’ve got the one venue like here in Carlisle, people are a bit more curious to see who’s made the effort to come up, so yeah we’ve found the audiences have been really receptive and we’ve sold a lot of CDs. PB : You mentioned recording a single. Are you also doing an album ? DL : The album is coming into shape through the live shows. We are trying things with different audiences to find out what’s working. We are still in the process of short listing producers for the single and then the album. But I don’t know what’s happening with the album, do you? (Asks Gavin) GL : I think it depends on the single really. DL : Yeah, because they might want to do two singles first or if the first single does better than expected, well not better, just if the single does something, they’ll probably want to get the album done quicker. But at the moment we are on a kind of on a slow trajectory which we are really cool about because we only got signed about six months ago, so even though we’ve been going for four years, two years as a three piece, we still feel quite new. Suddenly we’ve left London for the first time and it’s been a bit like "Oh we’re actually still quite a new band and there’s lots we need to learn." We’ll just carry on really, we’re not in any hurry. I think you want to be as good as possible before you're exposed on a national level, I suppose it’s the opposite of the Pop Idol thing. That is just bang. Your first moment is exposed to the world and we are totally the opposite. We just want to simmer away for a few years, which we have been and then when you are exposed you’ve got your armour in place. Not that I have anything against those people. They're just in to a different thing. It’s a different service, TV entertainment really. PB : Have you been watching The X Factor ? DL : I haven’t but my mum does so if I’m ever over there on a Saturday and she’s got the TV on I’ll catch a little bit but I don’t think I’ve seen much. Nothing stands out that I remember. GL : Why are you hooked? DL : You can see she is by that grin? PB : Not really, I watch it in the first few weeks when you get the really terrible people, I know its bad but you can’t help but laugh. GL : It’s compulsive viewing. DL : You know some one told me this, and they were quite pissed off about it. They knew some one who went off to do the Pop Idol thing, or X Factor and apparently you audition before you audition to the three judges… (The door creeks open) DL : This could be Rob. It is Mr. Flanagan. RF : Good evening. I’m Rob (We shake hands). DL : We’ve got some organisation in the room now. (Getting back to 'The X Factor) So yeah, they audition you first and if you are really good, or really crap you go through. But if you’re generally just like most people, they don’t bother Simon Cowell with you. (We fill Rob in with our X Factor knowledge, and explain we haven’t actually got on to any of the proper questions yet). PB : Why did you go from a four piece to a three piece band ? DL : Well the fourth member used a really heavy keyboard called a Fender Rhodes. It was from the 70’s and it weighs about 40 kilos. It just got too much carrying it around and he’s a studio engineer. the hours are just not compatible with the hours of a band. It got to the point when we all had bad backs and we couldn’t do many hours practice. RF : Some times he would be working. He'd go for a fag-break, come play a gig with us, then go back to work. One day he was a bit late, missed the beginning and just came in for the piano solo DL : That sounds like a lie but it is actually true. So we just ended up as a three piece. It’s really easy in the sense that, especially with brothers, there’s only one other person to arrange a practice time with. We’ve been a three piece for two years, which is quite relevant simply because it’s a completely different band. As the singer and guitarist you’re usually up front on your own and you’ve got the bass, keys and drums behind you, but suddenly as a three piece every instrument can be heard really clearly and you have to change your shape completely. RF : It’s harder as well to make the songs sound fuller and to get that same vibe you have as a four piece. PB : I notice after today you don’t any more gigs lined up for a few days. Do you have anything exciting planned? DL : Well our next gig is in York so tomorrow will be spent driving to London. GL : Monday we’re rehearsing, then we’ll drive all the way back up to York. DL : I don’t think touring is actually about the gigs. I think it’s about playing games in the car (We all laugh). We play alphabet games and list games and we’ve got lists now on our web site. Every week there’ll be a new list, this week it was top 80’s TV programmes. GL : Have you got any ideas to add it to the pool? PB : What about top children’s TV theme tunes? DL : Good one. PB : You’ve got Duck Tales… DL : Don’t tell us, don’t tell us. GL : It’s a gold mine (hums the tune to Grange Hill) DL : So what we are doing on our web site is we’ll put up our top five and then you can put up yours, RF : In a kind of High Fidelity kind of way. It’s a bit geeky really. PB : Well you’ve got to have something to do in the car. Is this the furthest up North any of you have ever travelled ? RF : Yeah, well I’m from the North, but I’ve never been this far up. PB : Do you feel like you are actually seeing the places where you are playing gig’s or just passing through ? DL : We went to the Lake District today. We played Hartlepool, so we were driving across and we just thought, let’s drive out to the Lake District PB : Did you enjoy it? DL : I think you need to have longer there really. We literally had half an hour. We had a scone. (Thinks about this for a moment) No actually make that a line of drugs, or something more rock and roll(Laughs). RF : Gavin had a sleep in the car (We all laugh.) GL : I would like to point out that there aren’t actually that many lakes in the Lake District. DL : Yeah where are the lakes in the Lake District? We drove from the M6 to Keswell. RF : Keswick. GL : That was a 40 minute drive. DL : No, it was only 15 miles. GL : Yeah but we were behind a tractor the whole way. DL : (Laughs) Yeah you're right. It took us 40 minutes, but there were no lakes. So me and Gavin coming from the South think the Lake District is actually a lie. PB : A con. RF : See I’m coming from the North and I’ve been to the Lake District so I know that’s not true. DL : Rob suggested going to see Hadrian’s Wall tomorrow, but I said you can get up early and have the car keys. RF : That’s okay with me. It’s one of those things we’ll do when we go to Scotland I think. DL : What is ? RF : Well the question was, is this the furthest North we have seen ? GL : Trying to get back to the original question. RF : I like Carlisle. I’ve just been for a walk around the city centre and it was really nice. DL : We are going for a curry later. Apparently there is a legendary curry house in Carlisle. PB : Is it Bari? DL : It’s near here. That’s all we know. PB : It must be Bari. They do brilliant curries. GL : We’ve been hearing about it for a while. I don’t know whether it can live up to its great reputation. PB : Well if it is Bari you’ll get a free Vimto lolly after your meal. DL: Are they good ? I’ve never had one. PB : Yes they are. They taste just like the Vimto drink. GL : That could be another list, top five take away treats. (Stoner told me later that they did enjoy their curry from Bari and not only did they get free Vimto lollies, but they also gave one to me at the gig later that night). PB : I read it was a chance meeting between Desmond and Rob that brought you all together. How did that happen? DL : I used to work in a piano shop, because I’m also a classical pianist, I just got too lazy to carry a piano around. That’s why I play guitar. Rob came into the shop with a poster that basically said: drummer available. GL.: A giant poster. DL.: Yeah a big A4 sign RF: You were so rude. DL : It’s a piano shop. You don’t come in with huge posters. RF : He was like "well I’m not putting that poster up in here." GL : Get out ! DL : then I just happened to notice that he lived near where I was living, and I kind of said "Oh you’re a drummer." I wasn’t in a band. I wasn’t even thinking about it, so we just got together for a jam and it worked. Then Rob brought along the keyboardist, and Gavin was living there anyway. He was just sitting in the corner so we gave him a bass to play (laughs) and that was that. But with Rob onboard, before you know it you’ve got gigs booked, if it was up to us we’d probably still be rehearsing. But two days after the first rehearsal he’s like "I’ve booked us a gig!" in Liverpool so all of a sudden we thought okay we better write some songs and learn how to play. PB : Do you prefer the writing/ recording side of things or the touring and playing gigs? RF: Playing live. DL : He's the drummer so he just likes hitting things. RF : I get a bit impatient in the car. Gavin likes the studio, don’t you ? G L: Yeah I’m afraid I do. DL: Me, after a good gig, I just want to play live forever, but after a bad gig I want to stay in the studio and never play live again, so I'll just sit on the fence. PB : What’s been your best gig so far ? RF : On this tour or just ever ? PB : Ever ! RF: Royal Albert Hall I think. DL : No. RF : No? Mardi Gras was good. DL : I'm trying to think of one that’s got some kind of interest to it as well. We played this tiny place near Swindon called Riffs Bar . GL : We arrived there, and were a little shocked to find this bar in the middle of nowhere, but it got packed. DL : But then you could play a great venue and no one really shows up so it turns out to be a bit of a crap gig. PB : How has your sound changed since those first sessions jamming together ? RF : We’ve gone through different stages. You just kind of experiment with different sounds. GL : The biggest jump was the loss of the Rhodes. DL : We were very much a down beat, mellow band. The first things we did were kind of funk orientated, which is where the name came from. We had an instrumental song called 'There’s Gunna Be A Riot' and Sly and The Family Stone have a song called 'There’s A Riot Going On' and we were just kind of, Stoner, that’ll do for the gig and after a little while doing a few gigs with it, it was sort of a memorable name. So that’s where the name came from. It was funky stuff, then we turned in to a sort of mellow, nice chord band and everything was sort of sub 100 bpm. We were playing in small places with carpets and stuff. RF : It was sort of Stevie Wonder, and kind of had a 70’s thing going on. Then we went a bit urban for a while. DL : Yeah we just tried a few different things, what’s around in the air kind of influences you a lot. I’d say we are on a higher energy level than we were when we started, but that might end after the tour. RF: I think with the record deal as well, you kind of put yourself up a level and also the added confidence it’s given us. PB : What are your other current influences? RF: We are all very different, I’m kind of retro and I like a lot of old stuff, like B-sides to old 60’s records. I think Gavin is our link to the modern world. DL : Obviously you look at yourself in a very flattering light so we would say we are like a bit of Led Zeppelin. Who else did we say?(Turns to Gavin and Rob) PB : I was going to ask if any of you are in to Jeff Buckley, because I thought I could here a bit of an influence in there. DL : Really, well it’s not conscious, I’ve actually seen him live. PB : Have you, what was that like? DL : I saw him in Toronto on the Grace tour in about ’95 a week after I saw Portishead on the Dummy tour, at exactly the same venue, these two great gigs in a church. The thing is because he’s dead and not many people have seen him you expect it to be like a religious experience. But to be honest it wasn't really. At the time he wasn't a legend. The album had just come out and as you probably know, when the album came out it didn’t sell. It kind of got a lot of critical acclaim but at the time he was just some one else. At the time you didn’t know what kind of an influence he was going to have. I mean he's cast the biggest shadow possible but at the time you didn’t know it. You just went on to another gig. My favourite song on the album at the time was 'Grace' and so I just kept on waiting for that guitar rift (sounding out the first bars of 'Grace'. The bit with the distortion vocals came in really high and I loved it. But he did do quite a bit of self indulgence on stage. He had one album and there was a lot of sections of him doing like Sine stuff, which is fine but at the time I preferred a more concise set. Because 'Grace' was done by a producer and the songs kind of finish after four or five minutes, I don’t want to sound all hating Jeff Buckley. I love Jeff Buckley. I'm just giving you the honest review. RF : But that’s nice of you to say DL : You never really know your own influences. You just like to think what they might be. But going back to the question, I think we covered what we are all into apart from me. I like Abba. RF : Can I be really boring and say the Beatles DL : Well just the drums from the Beatles because Rob knows every drum fill from every Beatles album so we've got Ringo on drums. PB : Well keeping to the Beatles theme, is it true you wrote songs on Lennon’s Piano? DL: Yeah, at the piano shop I worked in. The boss bought John Le nnon’s Steinway that was in his Ascot recording studio when the estate got sold. It was in our shop for years. It's the one George Michael then bought for a million and a half pounds and it was in our shop for about three years, or even longer. It was just an anonymous brown upright piano sitting at the back of the shop and of course we knew what it was but we didn't really advertise it because it was sitting in the shop and worth a lot of money. But it was a really nice piano so I used to go there and work on tracks just sit there and play. It’s the one he wrote imagine on and if you see the documentaries you'll see that piano on them, so it's quite cool. PB : Did you get the wow factor as you sat down and played John Lennon’s piano ? DL : It did have the sound of the record. I should be more pretentious and say "yes, the electricity ran through my fingers", but it was more the sound of the songs. I played a few songs from the album on it and it definitely puts you in that frame of mind. You can maybe steal a few of Lennon’s cords, from his piano. PB : Not many bands can say that. DL : No, they can’t PB : Thank you.

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Wives - Interview

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