Pete Fij and Terry Bickers – We Are Millionaires

As the summer turns and the shadows begin to lengthen, the soundtrack to the approaching autumn has already arrived. We Are Millionaires is the second offering from former Adorable mainman Pete Fij and Terry Bickers, the highly-rated guitarist of The House Of Love. The sleeve of the record says everything, a trail of rusting cars abandoned in a forest: a symbol of decay amid a backdrop of beauty. For this represents life for the duo, who once were on the brink of stardom before they crashed under the intensity of its particularly unsettling light. Nothing is without blemish, nothing endures. Their experiences of the music business have left Pete and Terry harbouring an obsession with failure, with might-have-beens, where melancholia is a constant companion, almost comforting in its intimacy. What soundtrack, then, could be better to lead you into the season of decay and the failing of the light? Of course there is re-birth and new life in the spring, but autumn always follows, and all things fade away. This is how it sounds.

The album follows on from 2014’s Broken Heart Surgery, a gloriously maudlin collection of downbeat ballads that marked Pete’s return to the music scene for the first time since Polak split in 2002. A move to the Sussex coast had seen the singer-guitarist record a solo album in 2004, but the tapes of this were buried in a kitchen drawer for many years until the recruitment of Terry, who was residing in Brighton, gave him the enthusiasm to resurrect the songs, record them as a duo, and finally release them into the community.

“I was in Adorable then Polak and when I’d finished with Polak I decided that I wanted to do something different. I got fed up. Polak was very labour-intensive in the studio. We used to go to the studio and spend days and days there, I mean weeks. Rather than getting things done in the rehearsal room, lots of the songs were written in the recording studio. But then I wanted to have a release from that. I just wanted to do something that was straight, free and easy and recorded really simply with all the flaws still in it, not over-polished with a gazillion overdubs. So I recorded this acoustic album. Then I finished it, really liked it, but just didn’t play it to anyone. I didn’t send it out, I just didn’t do anything and every New Year I kind of went, “Right, this year I’m going to send it out or I’m going to release it.” And I never got around to it. I just sat on it for years. I mean ‘Betty Ford’, when it was originally written, was called ‘Rehab’ and when Amy Winehouse brought out her single I changed it, that’s how old that track is. It’s pre-Amy Winehouse. About seven of the songs from the solo album are on Broken Heart Surgery in some shape or form. ‘Betty Ford’, was barely changed, but others were reworked and reshaped. ‘Downsizing’ was originally in a different form and that has been changed quite a bit.”

A Pledge campaign, the success of which surprised the duo who barely register on the optimism scale, saw Broken Heart Surgery released to extremely positive reviews. Delightfully dark, its misery tempered by irresistible wit, overflowing talent and some sublime guitar playing, it was always going to be a hard act to follow, but We Are Millionaires succeeds on every level. There’s more meat on the bones of the nine tracks, both musicians adding some welcome bass lines, while the songs flow into
more divergent channels with plenty of melodic twists and a greater depth of vocal harmony. It’s an exceptionally smooth-sounding record, almost refined, with Pete singing beautifully and Terry adding some astonishing guitar parts, all the more telling for their general brevity. And though most of the songs for the first album were already there to be adapted, Pete had no problem in coming up with new numbers for the follow-up, with the bonus being that Terry was on hand to help mould the songs
from the onset.

Fij and Bickers. Photo by Guy Christie.

“The songs came pretty easily. My head is like a giant notebook with lots of notes and scribblings in it, and I had quite a few songs logged up there written without having to pick up a guitar. It’s the way I seem to work these days, often writing without an instrument. There’s only space for a limited number of songs up there, though, so when it reaches about five or six I seem to stop writing until I have recorded one of them thus freeing up precious memory space. The songs were still written in much the same way. The chord structures and backbone of the song is written by me, pretty much complete, and I then present the songs to Terry who adds his parts, and also makes arrangement suggestions. I suppose the difference this time is that he was on board a lot earlier in the songwriting process – these songs hadn’t been demoed as such – whilst the previous album had been recorded once which meant the structures ended up a little more cemented in place. This album is more expansive and definitely Terry’s input is a large part of that. I think he has more scope and freedom on this album, and maybe subconsciously when I was writing the songs I was thinking of leaving space for Terry, whereas the previous album was largely written prior to Terry being on board. Seeing someone else’s perspective on a track is really interesting.”

The new album opens with ‘Let’s Get Lost Together’, a song that dwells on the relationship between the two musicians. It’s affectionate and witty, and in scope mirrors closely the sound of Broken Heart Surgery thus making it an excellent bridge between the two records.

“There’s a genuine friendship between us which is very rewarding. I love Terry, and find him exasperating and exhilarating in equal measure, and I sense the feeling is mutual. I wanted ‘Lets Get Lost’ to be a bit like ‘Jackson’ by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra – where they diss each other but underneath the squabbling you realise there’s a love between them, and to me it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of our relationship. It was written because there was a documentary being made about us (Various Songs, 2014) that as it was being filmed we sensed was missing a rather crucial point about us. So I wrote the song to explain our relationship and offered it to the director for what I thought would be an interesting angle – a song explaining the relationship between the two people in the film. Tellingly he just ignored it and made a film that was so dull, unfocused and missing the point of what we were about that we disowned it. I was interested in having a song that had two males having a ‘bromantic’ moment. I couldn’t really think of anyone else who had done that. We are very different people, and work in different ways, but we’ve learned to deal with each other’s quirks. I quite enjoy the singularity and purity of a duo: there is only us two to hone and discuss the music, and there’s no band politics to work through.”

The whole tone of the album then expands with ‘If The World Is All We Have’, which explores new depths, emerging rather like a downbeat Bond theme from the Connery era. But the track has more sinister roots.

“This was written as an out-and-out pop song, not for Bickers & Fij, but originally with the idea of entering it into Eurovision with a female vocal and a far more uptempo electronic backing. It was maybe Depeche Mode meets Madonna, with a nod to John Barry. I revisited it with Terry and we changed a few elements, slowed it down, emptied it out and did a little re-write on the vocals and it took a character and life of its own. I see a lot of our songs as pop songs hiding under a veneer of melancholy. I have a love of Eurovision. I know lots of people are snidey about it, but it’s fascinating to see how each country approaches it every year. Yes it’s kitsch, and yes there can be a lot of power ballads, but there’s a real art to getting a song that sounds interesting, catchy but not too throwaway all within a three-minute framework. Belgium’s entry this year wouldn’t be out of place on 6 Music’s playlist. Radiohead, Morrissey and New Order have all sounded off in the past how they are going to enter, but they are all mouth and no Eurovision trousers which kind of pisses me off. Actually I don’t think Radiohead or New Order are right for it, but Mozza could pull it off – as could Jarvis. I’m not the right kind of artist either but I’d love to write an entry. I’ll keep plugging away, but you have to find an artist to front your song and it’s not easy.”

As the mind boggles, ‘Love’s Going To Get You’ shows Pete’s voice dominate; surely this is one of his best ever vocals? There’s a real retro pop sound to this, with its resonating keyboard sound and one of his most obviously tongue-in-cheek lyrics including a surprise “OMG” from the literary sophisticate.

“We originally recorded a couple of songs with a full band sound and this was one of them (along with ‘Let’s Get Lost’). It sounded very polished and professional, a bit Elbowish maybe, but wasn’t floating our boat, so we went back to a more stripped down sound with little or no percussion and only some bass here and there. This track has a kind of ‘dream pop’ vibe to it – Melody’s Echo Chamber ‘I Follow You’ was a reference point. I like to think my songs have a sense of humour. Without it the downbeat elements would be relentless. Actually a lot of what people think are keyboards on the album are either Terry’s guitars or our backing vocals put through various effects. I want to form an OMD tribute
band called OMG!”

‘We Are Millionaires’ takes a wry look at the duo’s career, gently feedbacking for half a minute before the song is finally shaken awake, though it seldom breaks out of its resigned torpor, the sound of a life support machine working at reduced power. Terry’s guitars are gloriously anaesthetised, his vocal harmonies barely conscious. As he narrates, Pete wonders whether even success would break the grip of melancholy that holds the duo firmly in its grasp.

“Success is relative – my ultimate aim would be to make my living out of making music, which sadly I currently don’t. My driver is that making music is my creative outlet, and to a certain extent it’s what I feel I have to do. I wish I could just sit on the sofa and watch all these box set TV programmes on Amazon Prime that everyone raves on about, but I just don’t have time. Music is a blessing and a curse.”

‘Waking Up’ then bursts into life with poppy enthusiasm before settling down with slight
embarrassment. The lyrics stand out for their positivity, a rarity in the duo’s music, though the song concludes with Pete singing, “It’s been a long, long winter” for nearly a minute. It’s a hint at emerging into the light, but it’s more of a dream than a statement of fact.

“I’m not sure I have emerged from a long, long winter but it doesn’t mean I can’t write about that idea. We all need some hope to cling to! I made a decision to try to write some more positive songs after Broken Heart Surgery. It isn’t my default setting, and inevitably the idea kind of went off course, so even in a song which has a bright positivity about what lies ahead, it ends up with repeated coda talking about the dark past that is behind.”

‘Marie Celeste’ again clings to the idea of positivity, the song lapping at the shore like a summer sea. It’s a pure love song, but again it is the thought that attracts the singer more than a real situation.

“ ‘Mary Celeste’ is more of an ideal I think than a real person. In some ways this is one of the most ‘pop’ lyrics I have written in the last ten years. It’s a rare thing in my writing of late – a love song, without a twist.”

But as soon as the light has appeared, the duo snuff it out with the forlorn ‘Over You’, where love is once again a purely damaging concept. “I know I have to face the facts that you are never coming back, and it’s over…” Eight and a half minutes of happiness is your lot with Fij and Bickers, though the smiles return on the brilliantly mournful ‘I Love You’ which opens, “I’ve been waiting for a train that will never come…”

“This was an attempt to be positive. I started off with a positive title, and had pretty much failed by the end of the first line…”

Terry Bickers. Photo by Guy Christie.

Perhaps this is the crux of the matter, Pete and Terry have an inability to escape the darkness that constantly threatens to overwhelm them. Album closer ‘Sometime Soon’ is almost a plea for redemption, casting a longing look at a future where genuine happiness dwells. You cannot escape the feeling that this is what Pete is really searching for.

“Yes, it is. I had a particularly bad year in 2015 when we started writing and recording this album. I had to quit my beloved second hand bookstall after twenty years of a lovely work life, and ended up in a nightmare job. My dad was bed-ridden, dying slowly of cancer. I met a friend who was going through a similar bad time and they said something that echoed my feelings – there was that hope and belief that sometime soon things were going to change. We need to cling to this hope even when it seems forlorn, and it feels like you’re in a very, very dark tunnel. I came out the other side, as did my friend. There are more tunnels, but hopefully not as dark as that one in 2015.”

It’s a sombre conclusion to a record that can tug at your emotions whilst still making you smile through its nicely balanced wit and helpless charm. There are flickers of light here, but you have to wonder whether they are the first glimpses of the dawn or sparks from the accelerant that will burn your house to ashes. There’s no doubt that Pete was looking for more positivity in this album, but only he can make positivity sound like regret, and only Terry can frame his words with the saddest guitars you have ever heard. Don’t come here for salvation, it doesn’t live here, but if you like your music to be intelligent and beautifully dressed Fij & Bickers always deliver.

We Are Millionaires can be purchased from

Adam Hammond

An Interview With Andy Came and Joe Hatt of Spectres

dyingAdam Hammond spoke to Andy Came and Joe Hatt of Spectres to discuss their stunning debut album, Dying, and that Record Store Day controversy….

It’s what Record Store Day has become: just another event in the annual music industry circus, co-opted by major labels and used as another marketing stepping stone … U2 have already shat their album into our iTunes, why should they constipate the world’s pressing plants with it too? … Because of the rules and regulations (minimum pressing amounts, no direct to customer sales, blah blah blah) Record Store Day really isn’t fun, and it’s certainly not beneficial to small, backs to the wall labels … but we are still affected by it. Badly.

Amid the echoes of self-congratulatory backslapping and the chimes of overflowing cash registers, another Record Store Day came and went, filling eBay with overpriced excrement and leaving the major record labels wallowing in the cataracts of abundance. As they gorged themselves on plenty, it would have been easy for them to ignore a lone voice of protest from two small British independent labels whose complaints in reality mattered as little as a gob in the ocean, but not so. Any barbs aimed at the most holy cash cow needed to be ruthlessly stamped out and Sonic Cathedral and Howling Owl became the subject of much ridicule as the argument was dragged on to the national stage. Why, reasoned the minnows, who kept the pressing plants in work for 365 days a year, should their business be put on hold while the majors clogged up the chain of production making picture discs of A-ha records that could be bought for a few pence in any local charity shop? A moot point you would think, but there was to be no debate. RSD was the insulin that kept the lifeblood of the music industry stable; to question it bordered upon insanity. This, the majors sneered, was all a publicity stunt by two small labels desperate to sell a few records. Talk about missing the point. Sonic Cathedral couldn’t sell their latest release because they couldn’t get it re-pressed. And they needed it re-pressed because it had sold out on the day of its initial release with barely a whisper of publicity. What they needed were records, and how dare a record label need records in RSD month.

The album that caused all the fuss was Dying, the debut from Bristol-based four-piece Spectres, a record that flew out of the shops as quickly as it arrived. Sometimes it simply seems the time is right for a band who transcend all of the usual hype to find favour with the minimum of fanfare, and that was certainly the case for Spectres whose approach to their career had been anything but high profile. The band had pressed a hundred copies of their Hunger EP on their own Howling Owl label in 2013 and there had been 250 copies of “The Sky Of All Places” single released by the Too Pure Singles Club in 2014, but that had been it. Spectres had played live, and featured in Wire’s DRILL festival, but the sheer impact made by Dying was as remarkable as it was unpredictable.

Andy Came: We were surprised about how much attention the album received, most of the reviews and press were amazing. The first pressing of the vinyl sold out on the day Dying was released and we were genuinely shocked.  We were then told it would take three months for the re-press to arrive due to the clogging up of vinyl pressing plants because of the same old shit being reissued for RSD. We toured Greece in early April and couldn’t take any copies of the album with us to sell because we didn’t have any. It was definitely a hindrance. The whole point of the protest against RSD was to raise awareness that the music industry is controlled by the mainstream and was not helping the little guys like Spectres/Howling Owl and Sonic Cathedral get by. We were surprised at how much attention the statement got; they are still making their millions on reissue after reissue so why should they care?

Photo courtesy of Spectres

The unusual aspect of Spectres’ success is that their music is by no means accessible, being dark, difficult, dense, and deliberately confrontational. Inspired by a host of No Wave artists, the band fill their songs with sheets of noise, built layer upon dancing layer, and have talked of their desire for their music to drag audiences into their own personal black holes. Hell, the album itself is titled Dying, has a cover picture of a drowning man, and is themed around, well, death. And after the warning sirens of opener “Drag” there is no let up from the dramatic sonic assault. Yet, Dying is no mere attack on the senses and Spectres are not a band to shout in a storm. Their use of noise is considered, textured and shaped to purpose. The incredible “This Purgatory” both hums and howls, veering from the cries of whales in a boiling ocean to full throttle chainsaw massacre. It carries you tenderly before dropping you off a cliff. Spectres don’t use noise as a cudgel as did the noise terrorists in days of old, but as a multi-faceted instrument of torture, intended to break you in a variety of ways; this is creative stuff.

Joe Hatt: I wouldn’t say that bands like us form noise into something more creative as I still think the whole No Wave movement is one of the richest periods of creativity, but I do agree that we harness it in different ways. There are still plenty of ‘true’ noise artists making statements through sheer abrasiveness and don’t care about it being in any way accessible/enjoyable, but we enjoy the tease of lulling people in and then attacking them with feedback and sheets of noise. To be honest I don’t think anyone has done that as well as Sonic Youth, and probably never will.

Well not until now, maybe. Just listen to the looping attack of “Mirror” as it scratches out your heart and it is difficult to imagine even the most committed Youth enthusiast not nodding in appreciation. This really is a monster of a song, searing and penetrating before it passes away abruptly after three minutes with Joe Hatt’s dark vocals echoing in your brain, “Soon this concrete running through my veins will set and leave me in stone.” The lyrics throughout are unremittingly dark and were the last part of the album to be recorded.

Photo by Guy Christie for Isolation

Joe: The rest of the band genuinely didn’t see or really hear the lyrics until the album came out due to our writing process. That involves me recording the music on a phone at practice and then playing the songs on repeat in my headphones and writing to them. It definitely wasn’t a conscious decision for the album to have a theme running through it, it is just what came naturally due to scenarios happening around me at the time. My mum asked me if I needed counselling when she read the lyrics, I just told her it was all fiction … ha ha! I think this band is a psychiatrist’s chair for all four of us.

Unsurprisingly, given the craft involved in shaping these songs with their painstakingly interwoven layers of sound, Spectres are not prolific writers, yet when they have discovered something they like they embrace it, nurture it, and guide it to maturity. These songs matter. Dying is not the pick of the crop, it’s the band heart, body and soul, with nothing spare.

Andy: Our songwriting process is a slow one as we only rehearse once a week for about three hours. It usually involves the four of us staring at the floor playing different things and then somebody will come up with something that we all like. We then piece together the song and get a structure from that idea which can take several weeks. When we recorded Dying we only had those ten songs; we aren’t the sort of band who will write and record twenty and then choose the best ten or twelve.

Such intensity not only explains the unwavering quality of this collection but also sets the warning bells ringing. Spectres’ music has grown ever more ferocious over the past couple of years, so how far are the band able to take it? Is it even possible to better the warped fury of “Lump” or the creeping threat of “Blood In The Cups”? If Spectres look to outdo themselves every time they enter the studio, things could easily end very messily.

Andy: I think that is a reaction to what is going on around us and how we have grown as a band. We never say this needs to sounds like this or we have to make this bit sound horrible, it all comes naturally and the four of us all bring our own experiences from the outside world into the practice room.

Joe: I don’t think we’d ever spend enough time in the studio for us to want to kill each other, which is maybe something we should address. The album was recorded in five days as we just do live takes and then the odd extra track but for the next one I think we’re going to try and do the whole clichéd ‘hire a cottage in the country’ and write for a week, away from the internet and ban ourselves from our phones etc… and see what happens. Hopefully something terrible.

As the band continue to promote Dying, they will be appearing at a few summer festivals in the UK and Europe including Incubate, La Route Du Rock, Supernormal and Reverence. These will be followed by a European tour in September and a short UK tour in November of places they haven’t yet managed to reach. If you haven’t caught Spectres playing live, then make sure you do so, as watching them is something you will never forget. That may be because of your mad dash for the door, the consequent purchase of your first hearing aid, or just the thrill of seeing these consummate musicians create such stunningly addictive patterns of sound.

Photo by Guy Christie for Isolation

Andy: People can take our live show however they like. We appreciate fans who enjoy our music as much as people who can’t stand it. If it makes someone smile then that’s great, whether that be in a disturbed way or if they genuinely like it. We do like people appreciating what we are trying to create and there will be people who like the darkness and the ear battering. We also smile when someone leaves a show because they can’t handle it or have a look on their face whereby they don’t know what to do with themselves. We want people to pay full attention to what we are doing and not be distracted by anything else around them.

It’s difficult to imagine anyone being distracted when Spectres are playing, even by World War Three. Just put the album on and see for yourself. Dying is great; everyone should try it.

Adam Hammond is the head of Isolation in Sussex, once a small record label and now an independent music website and gig promoter.

A Long Period Of Blindness by Weird

WeirdAlbumCoverAs the scene that celebrated itself, there wasn’t a lot of room in Shoegaze for doubt and self-loathing. Introspective it may have been, and dreamy to the point of helpless romanticism, but an underlying confidence lay at its heart; a belief that it was possible to capture the essence of a moment in sound, to breathe new life into thoughts, dreams and emotions and dress them in intricately woven textured layers. There was power, there was grace, but there was never misgiving.

Italian trio Weird approach their music from the opposite direction, carrying all the weight of alienation, loneliness and a lack of self-worth. Just a glimpse at their song titles reveals the darkness that haunts them – “Infinite Decay”, “Widow”, “The Sound Of Your Heartbreak” – and their inherent negativity feeds into their music making A Long Period Of Blindness (the title itself speaks volumes) more funereal than celebratory. There’s little counterplay between dark and light here; the single guitar has no rival to taunt or hide behind and the band eschew excessive multi-tracking, resulting in a mournful, pared-back sound reminiscent of a reverb-friendly Red House Painters or a guitar-hungry Brendan Perry.

Though at times this can make things a little one-eyed, ALPOB is not an unattractive listen, and when Weird hit the target, they do so with some style, the restraint of the simmering “Widow” being particularly fine. Throughout the thoughtful basswork of Giovanni Romano impresses and, pleasingly, the band are adept at ending songs, never the easiest thing to do. The final incongruous twenty-four seconds of the dreamy “Infinite Decay” are a joy, and the little burst of falsetto from Marco Barzetti at the conclusion of “Gaze” is a quite lovely touch. Where the album works best, though, is on the multi-layered, seven-minute closer “Swans” which is given just that little extra bit of satisfying depth and hints that a second guitarist may be no bad thing as the band progresses.

This is darker than your average fare, more haunted than haunting, and though there is power in its structure, it comes at a cost to its field of vision. Time will tell if Weird can escape from the prison of their own minds.

Adam Hammond is the head of Isolation in Sussex, once a small record label and now an independent music website and gig promoter.

Nothing Can Save Us

“There’s no such thing as old or new,” sang a resigned Nigel Benjamin on “Career”, Mott’s 1976 hymn to blank horizons, “Cuz everything’s been said and done before.” It was a sorry indictment of the music scene from one of the country’s most inventive bands, now at the end of the road. An impasse had been reached; there was no way forward, no tomorrow. To carry on in the same old way was meaningless and empty; all that was left was to grow old and fade. Little did Benjamin know that a new generation was already on the rise, fueled by the energy, anger and fearlessness of youth. If history, tradition, received wisdom and musicality were barriers to progress, then they would be smashed apart and the broken shards trampled on with contempt. Odd fragments would be stuck together in a random order to create something different. The past would be rebuilt into a future with no rules, no inhibitions and no apologies. The most inventive and bravest era in musical history had begun.

Punk fractured the music industry and pried its deathly grip from the throat of creativity. Though the corporations were quick to reassert their hold on commercial pop, independent labels now provided a fertile breeding ground for those with scant regard for fame and success but a burning desire to express themselves in new and vital ways. The post-punk scene was a broken limb, loosely connected to the whole but hanging free, impossible to control and swaying in unpredictable directions. It could be painful, it could be shambolic, it could be bleak, but it could also be stunningly beautiful. In 1983, Cocteau Twins, at the height of their creative powers, released an album and EP of quite uplifting grandeur. The common track on the pair was “Sugar Hiccup”, a kaleidoscopic waltz that showered the listener in patterns of dazzling light as it spun them around the room. One guitar laid down a shimmering backdrop of the gentlest distortion, while another chimed gorgeously in front. A drum machine hurried the dance along, while Liz Fraser’s voice crushed you into a helpless, simpering wreck. There wasn’t the faintest clue as to what she was singing about; this music was about the textures of sound, the voice an instrument that gave the song both resonance and depth.

On playing NOTHING’s Guilty of Everything some thirty years later, it was a shock to hear “Sugar Hiccup” pouring out of the speakers. Yet this was that song drained of colour, devoid of light, injected with iron and titled “Endlessly”. Opening to a deliberately familiar, low-key guitar introduction, the background guitar scrapes rather than soothes, while the chiming guitar is now a siren, bursting in on the second line of each verse and soaring in pitch and waywardness until it reaches dangerous heights. This creates a void that is quickly filled, giving the song a reeling immensity. Its epic scope turns your focus to the vocals, as passionless and smooth as they are dark, “Stains on the sheets, childhood blood that would soak through our jeans”. It paints a terrifying picture with a longing for an endless release that never comes, “Heavy. The world’s so heavy. Carry…” Desperate and unremitting. There are no machines here, but purposeful and grounded drumming that keeps you rooted in reality. This is no skip through a magical wonderland, but a dance of the doomed. And where Cocteau Twins end their song with a little flourish that seems to say, “Beat that”, Nothing’s song ends with its own personal beating, a measured assault of the drums.

NOTHING build upon the past rather than stand in awe of it, brilliantly fusing their hardcore roots with other underground sounds of the last thirty years. It takes skill and imagination to mess with the best and still emerge with such potent results, but they manage it with a detached assurance, dragging grace from darkness and creating monochrome vistas that entice but reject all attempts at empathy. And it’s glorious.

In an interview with Noisey, Dominic “Nicky” Palermo, described the essential cocktail of music he ingested as a kid that shaped his musical influences:

“I grew up in a single parent home and my brother and my sister were out of the house. We kind of lived in a shitty neighbourhood, so I was shook and I think my mom was also shook. I would just sleep in her room all the time, and she would always listen to college radio and Cocteau Twins records, Siouxsie, all that stuff. And that used to scare the hell out of me because they had some creepy songs. Even the Cure, like Pornography, would terrify me. But I wound up knowing the songs and learning them. But it’s really weird music for a seven-year-old to like. My brother, though, was feeding me punk rock and hardcore, so I got a little bit of everything.”

A musician who, at seven years old, was “shook” and listened late at night to the early, great, darkest Cure, Pornography no less, and Cocteau Twins with a cool mom, then Punk and Hardcore, with his brother, is exactly what the world needs right now. Urgently.

All these ingredients of the perfect cocktail are there. A Molotov cocktail.

NOTHING’s Guilty of Everything combines lush vocal melody with a massive wall of instrumentation that reminds us how post-rock sensibilities provide a beautiful mix of grit and calm. Straight from the single “Dig,” you recognize the 90’s alt-rock Smashing Pumpkins/Deftones vibe with a blend of layered clean and distorted guitars in a driving pulse that places you under the lights of a crowded show. Tracks like “Somersault” bring a laid back groove with soaring guitar melodies to crashing drums that breathe gracefully. Each track compliments the last in providing this blend of pumping rock and big emotion. There is a certain appeal to this approach that definitely translates to the stage, and NOTHING provides this sound for listeners who enjoy the light melancholic vibe within crunchy, fuzzy guitars and pounding rhythms. 

Stripped back and genuine in sound, NOTHING provides a solid debut LP of headbangers and introspective moments of chilled out ambience that takes you away from the cluster of overly produced and generic rock music that frequents most popular media. The album consistently barrages the listener with dynamic louds and softs in a soundscape that strengthens the overall experience of an album and performance. 2.

Listen to all nine tracks of Guilty of Everything, a truly great debut LP/CD, like the rare and not always appreciated great debut records that came before it. Listen to it again: it’s greater than so many debut LPs that came before it. Released in March 2014, the band has been touring steadily in support of the album and generating solid buzz everywhere they land.

“Although they are often pegged as a post-shoegaze band, NOTHING’s live performance abandons the genre’s namesake, favouring a vigorous, animated stage presence over the passive stance contemporaries are known for. This is in part due to the band’s noisy, gritty live sound coming across as more powerful than their recordings. The layers of reverb that add a delicate feel to their recorded vocals are foregone in a live setting, and more dissonant elements amongst the instrumentals are introduced.” Exclaim review of Lee’s Palace show, Toronto March 21, 2015.

At Lee’s Palace, NOTHING’s music erupts; it doesn’t wait to be asked, and yet it’s the antidote to what ails society. Because there is always a new strain, a pop musical pandemic spreading like the one we are exposed to right now. Once in a great while, once in a generation, music may upend the balance and let authenticity, rage, grief, and pure, uncut art blast through to the masses. This time is here and now. There is nowhere to go from here. Pop music’s stars with their dead eyes are more than ever, cynical, manufactured, monsters. There’s no fun in pop left: it’s fascism, it’s death. It’s child abuse. Kids need to hear those minor keys and feel the vibrations from the floor of the rock club and be present. Luckily for us, in plain view of the suits, a generation of kids with moms who listened to college radio to get through the longest nights have picked up the guitars and have the sly, innate talent to B & E this rigged musical game.

Only once every few years, something comes along that vibrates the body at a primal level with the feeling of imminent danger one minute, and the flicker of impossible to believe happiness, of empathy, the next minute. Impossibly, this music understands you, speaks to you, slaps you in the face; turns things cinematic for a little while in your little apartment, in your little head, in your little life. For us, love’s gotta be like that: something that has those perfect layered harmonies, that revels in its human fragility, a voice or an instrument that has risen because of need and will, not because they heard they should be up on stage all their life. Maybe because they heard no encouragement all their lives. Maybe they heard nothing, except how to somehow survive, just like they did as kids. Like too many of us kids. Music like this comes from outsiders, from the self-made, from nihilists who are really brokenhearted romantics.

It spills from somewhere tough and genuinely rough, whether the poorest parts of so many American towns, The Ramones’ gritty world view of the Five Boroughs; the decaying English city so far north of the center that London cab drivers stop and ask you why you’d ever want to go there, a place the rags call “STAB CITY” (yet you go there, alone, to see your chosen history, the home of all the musical Gods of Manchester). Great music comes screaming out of rainy, starkly beautiful drug-addled hubs that have hidden depths of so many scarred, beautiful souls. It comes, too, from normal looking families that are secret battlegrounds for a hundred different private family reasons.

When things are dark, we each have our own private darkness. Yet, the dark nothingness is today’s shared cultural touchstone: we’ve all been sad for a really long time. It’s dark out here in the anti-social media world. Every click, every feed, contains semi-random snapshots that hold potential to delight, astound, cause a belly laugh, anger, disgust, repulse. Baby animals; kids saying the darndest things; Mommy taking a picture for Facebook instead of reacting humanely to a child’s embarrassment, shame or pain; disgraceful news media showing ISIS pictures before we can agree to look; people who are shamefully wealthy and famous for nothing at all any good. These things all scroll by as if they are all one neutral thing, while we wonder why we can’t sleep.

Music fans are either old enough to remember that new music was an event and trips to the record store a sacred ritual,  or were were born just in time to miss all that; when the last great true organic moment happened in music. For a while, the game board was smashed and 90’s Alternative music ruled, only to have it die too young, leaving a gaping shotgun hole and shoved off screen before the body was even cold, opening the door to worse pop music than ever before. But music, even then, was not yet devalued, compressed and shoved in our ear holes, alone from a tiny machine, a tool to survive the daily grind. In the last great Alternative wave of the 90’s, the idea that all the record stores, most of the dive bars, rock clubs and the shared public cigarettes in all the cities would disappear because of file compression technology was pure dystopian Science Fiction. Its become our dull reality. Internet and social media channels are what we largely have outside of the concert hall and the rock club. Likes and shares are really nothing, but they’re what we have- they’ve replaced the real tour posters that used to flourish in a city before we were told to see them as wasted dead trees and knew them as necessary, vital, and the only news that mattered to us in the street.

Real rock critics in the old days could love wildly as well as pan mercilessly, but wielded their power with a deep, uncorruptable knowledge of why they were doing either thing. The media is dead. Everyone’s a rock critic now. So be one. Buy into the Alternative bands you love. Spread the word. Ignore the pop vacuum, even the easy joke. Screw ironic detachment. Break something. Start a riot. Remember what it was the first time you heard The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Cure, Nirvana, or Slowdive. NOTHING in 2015 is transcendent, a light flickering in its own darkness. It’s a long awaited answer to Jane’s Addiction when Summertime Fucking Rolled; it’s an illegal fire, an uncontrolled burn to fight our endless winter chill.

NOTHING’s music, with its roots in hardcore, authentic musical knowledge and natural talent, makes for a tight and exciting live show that infuses the rock club with stadium-sized energy. It knows just when to quit, leaving you wanting another hit. It hooks the listener who knows what it means to be Guilty of Everything. This music acknowledges it all, brings it out into the light, and transcends all of that ugly. It comes from dark places and hits us where we live. It takes the bleakness of now and makes it tolerable, even beautiful.

Just listen.

By Step On magazine co-founders and editors with:

1. Adam Hammond: head of Isolation in Sussex, once a small record label and now an independent music website; also a gig promoter.

and 2. Alex Gougeon: a Toronto-based freelance Writer, Musician and Videographer who loves everything Film and Music.

NOTHING is on a U.S. tour from May to June 2015; they also will play Montreal’s OSHEAGA Music Fest. Get more info at the band’s official Facebook page.

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