Let’s start at the beginning…
I think I always wanted to be a musician, even from preschool age. I remember loading up the record player with 7” inch singles whilst my Mum did the housework. I must have been 3 or 4. I loved all the stuff my parents listened to- Bowie, Lou Reed, The Faces, Mott The Hoople, that song ‘Black Betty’ by Ram Jam? I remember my brother and I both loved that. I also totally adored ‘Bat Out Of Hell’ when I was about that age too. Vivid memories! My Dad used to buy my brother and I a single every week from the newsagents- we both loved Adam Ant and I remember choosing ‘Puss In Boots’ mainly because we loved the cover. Apparently, we had a huge Adam Ant poster in our bedroom, but Dad had to take it down because he had a skull on his jacket that scared us. I can’t remember that at all, but my brother swears it’s true! I always loved the glamour and style of rock n roll, and even though I was a pretty shy kid and am still pretty shy now, I totally love performing and have always known I could sing a little.
Why the guitar?
Originally, I tried playing the guitar at maybe 9 or 10, but a full-size acoustic was too big and it didn’t really feel too cool. Then my Dad got me a guitar and a Marshall amp from a mate he worked with. It was a black Les Paul copy and although it looked beautiful, I never really learned anything! I was 12/13 and was the victim of a short attention span. It wasn’t until I was 15 that I actually decided I wanted to be in a band for real and I thought I better learn to play something because, at that age, no one thinks about just being a singer! Once again, my Dad salvaged an old Olympic drum kit from a shed at his bakery and it moved into our garage. It was totally fucked but I played on it constantly and annoyed the hell out of the neighbours. I got pretty good and convinced my parents to buy me a shiny new kit. I wish I kept the old one now because it had a beautiful wood snare that I’ve since found out is worth quite a bit, but I liked hard rock and wanted a kit that was shiny…anyways, I played the drums for a few years in punk and grunge bands back in Gloucester and used to sing backup vocals and get up and sing one or two songs from the front of the stage. Essentially, I was like a West Country version of Peter Criss (although taller.) I didn’t rediscover guitar until I was 19 when my teenage bands had all split up. My mates went to Uni and I took a year out, so I bought a guitar and a ‘how to play rhythm guitar’ book that I only ever looked at once because it looked too hard, and I taught myself to play six open chords from a Beatles songbook and that was that. I was away!
I’ve always wanted to be the front man; the singer and I knew I couldn’t do that playing drums. The guitar gave me an excuse to get out there and be the ‘main man’ but also gave me the security of something to hide behind, and a prop to swing about and look amazing with.
Can you play any other instruments?
As mentioned above, I can play the drums but rarely do so nowadays. I still like to play from time to time. I also play the harmonica, which I used to do a bit in my old band The Breakdowns. I love the harmonica and I must be alright because someone said to me once; “you’re better than me, you can bend notes and everything!”
As a kid, I liked 70s rock mainly- Aerosmith, Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Mott etc. but I got massively into the Ramones at about age 16- we’re talking mid/late nineties here when they were already calling it a day. Their music totally consumed my life and I had a couple of good school friends who got into them too. We formed a spoof band, ‘The RayMoans’ so we could open up for our ‘real’ bands, but the RayMoans soon took over us. We would churn out half a dozen songs a day sometimes in my mate’s garage when we should have been in school. We set out to write songs that were as simplistic as possible, but some of them I think are still ace! We recorded some demos and then a full-length album called ‘Ev’rybody’s ‘Appy’ which sounded like shit sonically because we recorded it live in a church. Very punk! Around the same time, I read the excellent ‘Please Kill Me’ by Legs McNeill and Gillian McCain which opened my eyes to everything New York punk and beyond. By the time I went to Uni, it was all Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls, The Heartbreakers, The Dictators, Television, Blondie and The Ramones…oh and Joan Jett & Cheap Trick! Nothing much has changed, to be honest.
Successes and failures?
My last band, The Breakdowns were together 10 or so years and we had good success and some near misses. Early on, we got approached by Richard Rashman, the guy that managed Busted and McFly and all those bands. He really loved our sound but deemed us ‘too risky’ to sign because we were too old! I think I was 25 or 26 at the time. Dougie, the bass player form McFly was a fan of ours and he recommended us. I often wonder if he still spins our tracks?! Doubt it….anyway, after that brush with stardom, we started advertising ourselves as ‘Zac Efron’s Favourite Band’ which was my stupid idea, but it kept getting quoted in articles and interviews. It was so stupid, but it worked.
We had real success with our second full-length album ‘The Kids Don’t Wanna Bop Any More’ which got some good airplay, made Rolling Stone magazine’s ‘Albums Of The Year’ and topped a lot of online blogs and magazines album of the year charts. We toured Spain with it (we were already signed to a Spanish label) and did a full UK tour with Terrorvision. That was fantastic and was probably my first real experience of what it was like to play great venues night after night, plus Terrorvision were lovely and really liked us. We also played with bands such as Radio Birdman, Flamin’ Groovies, The Quireboys, Dogs D’amour and a few big rock festivals.
As with everything though, we started to find it really hard. We kept putting out albums and singles and never got the break that I think we deserved. Part of that was because of our own apathy at times but we’d get frustrated as we’d get so close. It’s hard work when you put your whole energy into something that pays very little dividends. After we split, do you know what- we had more interest in us than we ever did when we were active! Everyone was genuinely sad and wished us all the best, told us they’d miss us! Imagine if they’d all bought our albums? I could be retired already!
I’ve only been in The DeRellas a year and it’s quite different from my old band, partly because I still feel quite new and I’m playing a lot of songs that I wasn’t part when they were written and recorded. It’s been great fun though and since I’ve been on board, we’ve done two trips to Europe and played the Rebellion Festival amongst other things. We’ve been busy and I hope I’ve contributed positively to the band.
There’s a story about two ex-band mates getting ‘robbed’ by a prostitute just off Gran Via in Madrid, but I shouldn’t tell that one in order to protect them. I have fond memories of touring Spain and remember one sensational night off where we decided to spend our quite large per diems on a visit to a late-night strip club. It must have been Madrid’s seediest night spot and when we got there, it was just the band, two Man City fans and lots of strippers! The girls were very keen to get us involved in their floor show, so like a true rock n roll star, I hid in the bogs for a bit. When I came out, my bandmate was on stage, with his trousers and pants around his ankles, being led around on a lead. I often wonder, “that coulda been me!” I think we spent a lot of money that night and all felt terrible the next day as we trekked 6 hours across Spain for the next show. There hasn’t been anything quite like that since I’ve joined The DeRellas yet although we did recently play a wild show in Liege where loads of young punks were at the front of the stage sniffing solvents and stage diving. That was a lot of fun to witness and has been my favourite DeRellas show to do date. It’s great playing to an active and appreciative audience.
For those wanting to play your instrument or get into the business?
If you want to learn to play the guitar, go to a guitar shop and try loads of guitars- even if you can’t play a note. Pick them up, find how they feel in your hands. Find a guitar that feels right, not just in how it looks, but how it suits you. The reason my early attempts at playing the guitar didn’t go anywhere I feel is because the guitar I had was too heavy. Also, watch loads of bands, loads of musicians and see what they do. Listen to lots of music and learn to play the songs you like. I don’t really consider myself a guitarist- I’m more a singer who plays the guitar, but I am good at playing by ear so if I hear a song, I can pretty much find the chords quickly and play along. If you can afford it, go get some lessons. I never did, and I’ve got lots of bad habits!
Getting in the business? Do something that makes you happy, makes you motivated and drives you to be successful. Your chances of making a decent living out of music are probably slim- I know I can’t survive on being in a band alone so you’ve gotta enjoy what you are doing. Again, go and see other bands and buy their records. Find people who like what you like and write some songs, and if you can’t write your own songs, rip off somebody else’s songs but change them up enough so no one notices straight away, that’s what most people do anyway.
The DeRellas only have four more shows this year because we are working on new material for a new record. There’s probably half a dozen songs in the works at the mo which is exciting. We have a new drummer (Billy Chaos) and the sounds we are making are exciting! I love recording and being creative. Next year, there are more gigs around February/March in the UK, then Spain, Germany and Rebellion festival again. I want the new album to be out by the summer but that depends on how quickly we work. We are recording a few tracks in December, so we’ll be on our way. I also started writing songs for a solo project about a year ago that I’d like to commit to a studio soon. It’s all money and time though, isn’t it?
Which guitar did you start with and which would you recommend to begin with?
I don’t think the budget is important, I think having the opportunity to try loads of options is good. If you pick the wrong guitar, it may put you off playing guitar forever. I really started learning on an old Strat copy and through a shitty amp that I always had heavily overdriven. The guitar was probably worth £75. On the other hand, don’t go and spend a shit load on an instrument and find it’s not right for you and let it gather dust. That’s a crime! Maybe talk to friends who play and ask for a free tutorial or perhaps ask to borrow a guitar.
What do you play now?
I play a Gibson Les Paul Junior as my main guitar which I have had modded with a new bridge and stop bar. I play through an EX Soul Food overdrive pedal and a Fender Hot Rod amp. For me, it’s the perfect set up for what I do, which is trashy, tight power chord or first position chord rhythm guitar. I’ve been playing that combo for a long while now. I love Les Paul Juniors because of the simplicity of them- plus I think they look fab. Mostly at home and for writing, I use an Ibanez hollow body through an Orange 20watt amp, or I simply write on an acoustic guitar. In fact, I probably play my acoustic more than any guitar I own. I think I have 7 guitars at the moment, but only regularly use three.
Your dream setup?
I think I have my dream set up, actually. If I was to change anything, I’d maybe use a vintage 2 x 12 extension cab with the amp and have a really old Junior- a 1957 or something, but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got.