Photo credit: Jade Falconer for Musicology at 2000 Trees Festival
Lonely The Brave were one of the headliners for Cardiff’s Sŵn Festival (you can read our review of their gig here), and we caught up with guitarists Mark Trotter and Ross Smithwick in a romantically unlit bar above the venue to discuss how these pariahs of rock ‘n roll manage their career. They went into detail for us about where their music comes from, their influences and whether they ever saw themselves where they are now. Without further ado, we’ve laid out this suitably honest interview as it was spoken.
You recently released your second album Things Will Matter. Are you happy with the response to it?
Ross: Yes. I mean mainly, yeah. Across the board reviews have been amazing and the fans have really taken to it. We were… Not worried, but it’s always a bit nerve-wracking when your new release comes out and you’ve strayed away from the first record. It’s been overwhelming.
There was some stylistic change on the album. Was that something you planned or a natural evolution?
Mark: We don’t ever plan to sound in any specific way. The way we write, what comes out and what goes onto record. We’re very different people than the people that recorded that first record. For a start we were a four piece band at that point. Ross came along, and that’s obviously going to change things in terms of the sound, the band, and much for the better. Everything’s changed since then. Life in general is different, and you write music about the things that happen to you, that you’re experiencing. There’s probably a good four years between those two records, so it’s going to sound different. We had a lot happen to us as a band and as people in between, so it’s going to take an effect.
Did you have any specific goals going into recording Things Will Matter?
Mark: We had a bit of a point to prove, didn’t we?
Ross: Yeah. Going into it we knew it was going to sound different, but you don’t really know until it’s finished, how different or… You know, a song can change right up to the last minute. We just wanted to make it, one hundred percent as killer as possible. Put one hundred percent into it and be true to ourselves, write what we wanted to do. That was the only goal really, to be honest with ourselves. I think we did that, pretty much.
Would you say your musical influences have changed since you first started recording?
Mark: I guess we all listen to very different music, different bands and different artists. But, with anything that evolves, new artists come along and inspire you, or something you haven’t heard before, so yes of course. Any music you listen to is an influence in some way. There’s always new artists out there you discover, or maybe new artists to you.
As yourselves as a band grow in proficiency and the sizes of audiences you play to, do you think you’ll find it difficult to stay in touch with the factors that originally motivated you?
Mark: I can understand where that question comes from, but the reality of being in a band – certainly at our level – dictates that your feet are stuck firmly on the ground. Even if we were flying around in jets and multimillionaires… I mean, no. We’re very planted in reality. We’ve all worked jobs for a long time, we’re not seventeen and living at home, we’ve had a lot of life before the band started doing things. We know what life is, I guess, and what it’s all about. We have a lot more responsibilities outside of the band than, perhaps, some younger artists do. There’s no chance of that changing.
Ross: It’s a slow build for us. It’s not like we’ve gone from zero to one hundred, I’d say we’re about at fifty-two at the minute.
Mark: Fifty-three and a half.
Ross: I don’t think we’ll ever be… Actually, fuck it, I’m going to be well arrogant on my gold throne when we’ve sold eight hundred million thousand trillion records.
Mark: I mean, me too. I’ll have a plane with my face on it, and a massive middle finger. The registration will be ‘FU TROT’. That’s my plane.
You’ve spoken before about your personal situations when you were first recording. Is the band now something you could’ve conceived of back then? Did you have a solid goal?
Mark: Never. I mean, we never had any aspirations apart from playing music and recording it. That was as far as aspirations went. If people liked it, cool, if they didn’t that’s cool as well. You can only write songs and write music for yourselves, primarily. If other people like it, awesome. That’s where it kind of stems from. Could I see us as the band we are now? Yes and no, for better or for worse. I guess people always change in some respects. Fundamentally we’re still the same people. I mean I don’t know, but to predict where you’re going to be at a certain time point would be a very difficult thing for anyone to do. I don’t know if that’s something I’d be comfortable trying to think of. It’s a ride isn’t it… It’s just a ride man! Let’s go all Bill Hicks on it, it’s just a fuckin’ bumpy ride man.
Is that still the sort of attitude you have now, or have you developed a more focused goal? Or, do you take it as it comes?
Ross: You’ve got to have a bit of both really. Obviously we’re ambitious people, we want to push it as far as we can go but at the same time we can’t really concentrate on that. You’ve got to take it as it comes. Anything can change in the blink of an eye in this business as we’ve seen. So, obviously we still have stuff we want to do and places we want to get to, you just can’t predict anything.
Mark: Very true.
You released the Dust & Bones EP, what was it that made you decide to form that four-track EP rather than a re-release of Things Will Matter similar to The Day’s War?
Mark: Those songs – the majority of them anyway – were recorded in the same session as the Things Will Matter album, and we didn’t put them on the record. Not because they weren’t good enough, more around the fact it didn’t flow how we wanted it to flow with those songs in the album. So, we took them out. We’re not really one for stockpiling songs as we said earlier. Songs are, to us, a bit of a snapshot in time of us, and what we’re doing at the time, so it feels kind of weird to hold those songs for when we make another album down the line. So, it just seemed like the right thing to do to put them out on their own EP and be their own entity that ties in with the album but isn’t part of it.
Ross: All the songs are strong enough to be on the album, but like Mark says, they didn’t really fit so we just wanted to share it all, really.
Did you have a particular motivation for choosing Comfortably Numb to cover?
Mark: It was Dave’s choice actually. I think Dave’s recently discovered Pink Floyd in depth, obviously he was very well aware of who they were but I think he’s become a fan over the last few years. I think also from Dave’s perspective… It’s a bold choice man, I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan and to try and take that particular song on was probably a bit stupid if I’m honest. I think we kind of do it justice. I think we’re respectable enough to it in form not to try and pretend we’re Pink Floyd, we just do it the way that we do it. It was kind of good fun, we’ve played it live quite a bit now.
Ross: It’s gone down quite well. It’s a weird one to play. You just want to shred, don’t you!
Mark: I fucking hate it. Like I say, being a Gilmore fan trying to play Dave Gilmore solo’s without seeming like a complete cock is pretty hard work. I’ll swap with you, any time.
Ross: We could do it tonight. It would be a catastrophe.
Do you have any highlight gigs from your career?
Mark: A few…
Ross: There’s a few, but there’s one biggie – Reading main stage was literally a dream come true, so. I don’t think we’ll top that. But then, we have these Biffy Clyro gigs coming up and they’re going to be insane every night. There’s been some special nights along the way, even some of the not so big gigs. Like, the Cambridge Corn Exchange gig one, the album release show we did was. Even for me, I mean I’m not from Cambridge as I joined later but for these guys it must have been…
Mark: That one was mental. I went to my first proper gig at the Cambridge Corn Exchange. My sister took me for my 15th birthday. I’d been to other gigs but it was my first proper gig. To go and headline that ourselves was pretty special.
You’re on the road quite a lot. Do you tend to write on the road or do you have more focused writing sessions?
Ross: There’s been a few sort of jams we’ve done in sound checks, but we definitely focus on the touring, we don’t focus on writing. For us that’s just how it works, we want to pour one hundred percent into each aspect. That might change in the future. We haven’t really had the facilities.
Mark: It’s a bit difficult in a van!
Ross: The sound checks have been about half an hour long so we can’t really.
In terms of touring, what artists are there out there that you’d love to tour with?
Mark: I’d love to go on tour with The National, absolutely love The National. I’d quite like to go on tour with Frightened Rabbit too actually, I think they’d be a lot of fun. Otherwise, I don’t know. Actually, I’d love to go out on tour with Andy, Andy Shauf though we wouldn’t fit at all, he’s just fucking awesome so I just drop his name in everywhere. I hate music and I hate everyone else so just those three.
Ross: If we could get Smashing Pumpkins original line-up to reform that would be pretty rad. The Chili Peppers.
Mark: Oh yeah that would work really well! Why don’t we go out with Fleetwood Mac circa ’77 ish?
Ross: All those bands that we just chose would probably be horrendous to tour with.
As a band you write songs that are very thoughtful and emotionally invested. Do you think it can be imposing to continue to write songs about those issues without feeling you’re treading familiar ground?
Mark: No, because I don’t think we are. They’re not about the same things. I mean if you’re going to pigeon-hole it you can say its emotions, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Certainly when it comes to writing the music, not the lyrics, from my perspective I’m not sure if it’s the same from Ross’s perspective, you’re writing about the things that have pissed you off that day or have affected you in any way, or things that make you happy. Lyrically, it’s certainly not “my girlfriend’s left me” twelve times on a record. There’s a lot more going on than that.
Ross: I think if music hasn’t got that emotional depth… I mean, I like music without any words at all but it’s still got an emotional pull to it. I think any kind of music that’s worth anything has got to mean something. Dave’s going to write from the heart, and that won’t change at all. There would be no point producing meaningless rock, there’s plenty of that about.
What is your opinion with pay to play gigs and tour packages?
Ross: From what we hear they’re ridiculous amounts of money which is just obscene.
Mark: Just don’t do it, it’s retarded.
Ross: I understand why people want to be on these shows but they shouldn’t have to do it.
Mark: Sorry, I’ve just got the set-list through, I’m just seeing what I’ll have to do in a minute… It’s Comfortably Numb twelve times!
Ross: A fifteen minute solo.
It turns out Lonely The Brave did perform Comfortably Numb that evening, and Mark did Dave Gilmore proud regardless of his concerns. It wasn’t, however, a set fully comprised of Comfortably Numb renditions, but the flowing mastery we’ve come to expect from these Cambridge rockers. We’ll have all the latest news from Lonely The Brave, so don’t miss it!