Indietracks interview #4: The Understudies

The Understudies reputation as an enthralling electric live band continues to grow with every shake of singer Brian’s quiff. Fragile and robust in equal measures in the grand tradition of British guitar bands like The Smiths they stand out as unique in London’s indiepop music scene. Their single “Everyone Deserves At Least One Summer of Love” is available from Odd Box Records, and there’s an album coming very soon! 

Shaun from the amazing Brilldream website kindly interviewed them for our blog ahead of their Indietracks appearance this year…

The Understudies are one of my favourite bands. It’s seriously exciting to see people finally ‘getting it’. It’s also a thrill to see them play live at Indietracks. I caught up with them to find that they are just as excited as we are…

I’ve spent, ooh, a good few years wondering when people are going to realise how good the Understudies are. But it’s happening now isn’t it?

Bree: Ahh, thanks mate! It’s wonderful to have that support. I hope things are beginning to come together for us, it’s been a while but to be honest we never really pushed it too hard. We’re feeling a lot more confident about our sound and how far we’ve come so are ready to get in people’s faces!

Brian: Well, that’s not really for us to say, we have had some really great live shows recently and people have said some nice things so I guess we’re doing something right. Ian and Thom have been instrumental (get it?) in helping us get to where we want to be as a live band and we’ve had some great feedback from folks who’ve had a sneak at the album.

Kris: We can never really tell what people think of us from inside the band, but we are definitely gaining confidence by doing more gigs this year and really enjoying it.

Thom: It seems to be, and it’s very exciting. I think I’ve been lucky enough to join at just the right time. I first heard about The Understudies through my musical brother Waz, who raved about Everyone Deserves At Least One Summer Of Love, and after my old band A Fine Day For Sailing played with them last year, they asked me to join. I occasionally feel like a glory boy for joining up just as everyone seems to be taking notice, especially as we’ve achieved more in the last nine months than most of the decade I spent in my old bands. But that’s down to the quality of the songs- I’m just very lucky.

How fun is it to be working with A Little Orchestra?

Brian: Not having any proper musical knowledge I was actually pretty scared about it initially but within about a minute of meeting them I knew it was going to be cool. When we done our first rehearsal with them we were all looking at each other and almost bursting out laughing half way through the first song cos they sounded so amazing! That was multiplied ten fold when we got them in the studio, so yeah, it was a lot of fun and they’re lovely. We just have to try to stop annoying them now as we want them to play with us at all our shows.

Bree: Brilliant. I’ve said it before that they sort of transformed the songs they play on, the arrangements were exactly what we were looking for and they’ve all been wonderful. Go buy their beautiful EP!

Thom: It’s amazing. I did a gig with them as part of the Fine Day For Sailing offshoot Banana & Louie, but on record and at Union Chapel, even in rehearsal, they’re just so wonderful to hear. My proudest contribution to The Understudies so far has been suggesting a string arrangement for Jackie, though Andy their arranger did all the actual work. It’s turned an amazing song into something even more potent.

Kris: It’s a privilege and a pleasure. They instantly make us sound better.

What’s the best thing about festivals as a punter and an artist?

Brian: I imagine the best thing about it as an artist is obviously getting to large it about the place with a fancy back stage wrist band and all the free booze n jacuzzis…. We’ve never actually played any festivals except Indietracks which thankfully doesn’t adhere to all that rock n roll bollocks. I’ve been as both a punter and player and the best thing I can say is that there isn’t difference, everyone is having a good time.

Bree: Punter: Dancing outdoors in the daytime, pissed. Artist: Playing outdoors in the daytime pissed to an audience danc… (see above).

Kris: As a punter I like the freedom of three carefree days getting drunk in a field. As an artist it’s the same, with the bonus of getting in free.

Thom: From an artists’ perspective, the rest of the band are great to share long journeys with, either by train or car or whatever, so this is a perfect opportunity to spend a weekend together and have a mini-holiday. There’s a genuine camraderie – we’ve lived through the classic late-night-burst-tyre-on-the-motorway scenario and survived that intact!

At the 1995 Phoenix festival, I saw a portaloo topple over with a girl trapped inside it. What’s your worst festival memory?

Thom: I can’t reveal my worst because it’s illegal and my Mum/Dad/employers might read this. Outside of the regular dumb luck of sleeping in the tent just along from the guy with the bongos, the second worst was having to sit through Starsailor and Texas playing in Hyde Park so as not to lose my space for the headliner. As if that wasn’t enough, it was the day of the 2006 Portugal – England World Cup quarter final, and there was a screen showing the penalties at the other end of the park, so Texas were basically playing to a crowd of people who’d turned around to watch the match and were ignoring them. I think even some of the band were watching. When England lost, the crowd turned really nasty (lot of racist abuse hurled at anyone not English-looking), and someone threw a shoe at Sharleen Spiteri in the middle of Say What You Want. To her credit though, she singled him out and gave him a bollocking in front of everyone then went right back into the song. They were still rubbish though.

Does the sun being out make a lot of difference?

Brian: The sun is lovely when it happens, one of my fave Indietracks memories is watching Camera Obscura from the mound as the sun set. Then again, I also enjoyed teenage fan club in the rain. But yeah, bring me sunshine, as the song goes. The rain did us a huge favour last time though, it forced the punters in to the church on Sunday morning, nothing like a captive audience.

Bree: Well that’s the dream, isn’t it? Though there’s something quite life affirming about people not giving a toss and hanging out in the rain.

Thom: Absolutely. For a start, it’s always fun to be able to play wearing sungalsses. But when it’s wet, it certainly can dampen the spirits. I played at the first Indietracks weekend in 2007 with The Gresham Flyers, and the weather was so bad that the main stage was moved from outdoors into the big shed. It was wet, and there was a lot of concrete, which made for a very moist, dusty environment. I think I developed a respiratory condition. There’ll be none of that this year.

Be honest, how long do you spend worrying about what you’re going to wear?

Kris: Me? No longer than five minutes. Bree starts thinking about clothes for the next gig as soon as she has stepped off stage.

Bree: Too long. The pictures crop up for years to come!

Thom: It is troubling – the white suit can only be dry cleaned a few times before it starts to look threadbare. I think once the album’s out, we’ll need a wardrobe assistant.

Brian: Honestly, far too much! Being quite a portly gentleman is rather difficult in rock n roll, skinny jeans and a smelly t shirt isn’t an option! We do like to make an effort, I think it’s important and people appreciate it. I’ve always admired people like Kevin Rowland as they do go the extra mile and aren’t scared to take a sartorial risk. However much we play it down, what you wear means something. Just look around you at this years Indietracks, it matter.

Have we got a name for the LP yet?

Brian: We do have a working title but you’ll have to wait I’m afraid. Sorry. Keep em hungry n all that!

Thom: There are one or two ideas. My favourite so far is Never Mind The Pocketbooks.

Thanks guys! The Understudies are playing in London tonight (Tuesday 30 April) to mark the closure of the legendary Bull and Gate, along with The Fireworks, Cosines and Listening Party. Pop along if you’re in town!