So, you’ve toured. And toured. And toured again. Some gigs have been incredible. Fanatical crowds. Huge sales of merch. Massive glow of pride. Other gigs have been more depressing than Schindler’s List. Just the uninterested bar staff. Angry promoter and only one pin badge sold. But still, your album has been well received by the people who dig, dance to and download the type of music you play.
So, what’s next my friend?
Erm. I mean, you could keep plugging away and writing new stuff? You’ve found a niche at least. But, realistically you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expect the same positive responses and unwavering support. You’re not bloody Oasis. Math rock changes daily, and new bands arrive with fresh, exciting styles, and the people who once waxed lyrical about you have probably moved on into the arms of a new outfit. You often hear of bands suffering from “second album syndrome”. I think that applied to us.
We wrote the Grit Eyed & Greasy Tailed E.P and Critical Meat without really knowing anything at all about Math Rock, and the bands that were included in that scene. It was only really when people started name-dropping bands that we sounded like and the ‘math rock’ tag, that we truly understood what You Slut! actually was. We were basically four super naïve guys, and we just played what sounded entertaining to us. Writing Medium Bastard was kind of the death knell. It took so bloody long to write (five years), and we suddenly had expectation to follow up an album that we never ever anticipated would be popular in the first place.
You begin to forget how you originally wrote songs with such ease. And with the added expectation came the reduction of naivety and, in-turn, the fun. It turned out to be a lot more mathy and complicated than Critical Meat. It also really didn’t help that we were all dead busy with other projects/jobs/lives – some that involved travelling the world and being away for the very long periods of time – so finding the time to rehearse and write new material reduced immeasurably. As you would perhaps expect as you get older, and take on more responsibility.
Having said all that, I’m really proud of Medium Bastard, and there are songs on there that are some of my absolute favourites we wrote (Magnifiererer, Plural Sex, Fifzteen). But we knew there and then that we weren’t going to be writing another album. We’d taken You Slut! as far as we could, and any future albums would simply just be re-hashing old ideas for the sake of new material. We never wanted to become boring and predictable – and a Weezer style pop album full of vocal harmonies might’ve been a little too different to perform under the same moniker. I think the fact we started out with the intention of doing just one gig and then splitting, but ended up playing hundreds of gigs all over Europe, releasing two albums worldwide, doing a Radio One session, amongst other crazy achievements, meant that our lifespan was never expected to last long. We were like a geriatric may fly.
So that was that. We called the old “indefinite hiatus”. For those unsure of what that term means, it’s basically like saying, “We’ve split-up but there’s an incredibly minuscule chance we’ll one day reform and write new material”. Very minuscule. The decision to end wasn’t down to musical differences. We grew to understand that we all pretty much disagreed on the bands we liked. Maybe that was what made the writing part so weird and wonderful? It certainly made long van journeys very frustrating/entertaining (delete as musically appropriate).
You often hear of bands splitting after all that time spent in each other’s pockets whilst touring. To put it politely – not enjoying one another’s company as much as when you first began. That wasn’t really the case either with us. I mean, yeah, there were times when all the buttons were pushed, and we could’ve easily killed one another in a newsworthy bloodbath – probably more times than we wish to admit. But without the four varied, eccentric and often annoying personalities, we probably wouldn’t have ever made any music at all.
I guess with the instrumental genre it can be a little restrictive without the added element of vocals. Writing songs without a vocal hook, along with a standard song structure can limit the process.
I have two sage pieces of advice to help keep your band going:
1. Keep sounding fresh. Try new concepts, ideas, and/or instrumentation?
Adebisi Shank had the right idea for me. They reinvented themselves hugely over their three albums. Their second album in particular was just incredible – complete with elements of disco, pop and electro, all neatly tied together with a mathematical bow. It was so different from their all-out math debut that it bordered on the genius.
There are quite a few bands in the genre that write a great fresh sounding debut album, and then follow it with three or four pretty similar efforts of decreasing quality.
2. Try not to thump one another in the mouth, even if years of build-up has been boiling like a fucked kettle. You see, if you love what you’re doing and have the time to nurture and develop the band, then stay together. Keep playing to crowds and touring. And keep releasing exciting new material. If it’s fun being in your band, then fuck what others think. Write music that makes you happy. If other people like it then that is a bonus.
If it’s no longer fun then maybe it’s time to move on. But ensure if you are to split that your last ever gig is a planned cracker.
We played ArcTanGent in 2013, and it was quite honestly my favourite ever gig. It was utterly insane! So many enthusiastic people packed tightly into a tent to watch us play. I’ve never felt that humble before, or since. We then played a gig around lunch time the following day in a tiny music shop in Nottingham. This wasn’t quite as euphoric. We didn’t know at the time that that would be our final gig. We then reformed to support MaybeSheWill earlier in 2016 and played some unreal gigs, including a truly ridiculous show to 1,400 people at Koko in London. We then bowed out again in Nottingham to a sparse crowd.
So in hindsight we should’ve broken up after ArcTanGent. And then again after Koko.
If we ever reform again (which is highly unlikely) then I’d ensure we bowed out at Wembley Stadium or something. Not a tiny venue called something like The Piss & Blister in (more than likely) Nottingham.
So, if after all that you still feel like drawing the old hiatus card, then I’ve made one last thorough, and frankly exhaustive list of what I feel you should achieve as a band before you do so:
Release at least one album
Tour the country in a shitty van
Tour foreign countries in a shitty van
Breakdown/have near death experience in a shitty van
Play with a band whose music you’ve always admired
Have at least four cracking tour stories to tell mates down the pub. Bonus points/pints if it involves a cherry picker, a Stay Puft t-shirt and the Hell’s Angels
Play at least one house party that got shut down by the Police
Play at ArcTanGent. Seriously, it’s the best fun you’ll ever have in a math rock band
Play a gig to absolutely no-one. It’ll strengthen you
Suffer complete equipment malfunction and have to cut a gig painfully short.
Play on a bill with way too many bands and end up only performing three songs, and then pack down in front of a bemused crowd.
Have a mosh pit
Have to halt a gig when someone crowd surfs over the mosh pit, onto the stage and straight into your guitarist’s pedals, causing unbridled havoc.
Have a full pint of sticky beer spilt all over your expensive pedals and four-way extension. Or alternatively, do it yourself
Play a game of 4-a-side football in a multi-storey car park against a fellow math rock band, and swiftly hand them their asses
Crash at someone’s house/flat who has a crazy dog. Additional points if it gets so excited to see guests that it pisses on your guitarist
Play a gig where you fear for your own safety and have a band emergency continuity plan in place
Sleep/lay awake in the back of a freezing cold van wrapped like a furious burrito
Accidentally start a song whilst a band member is still casually drinking their pint, and is therefore rendered unable to kick-in
Completely mess a song up and spend the remainder of it trying desperately to locate the beat
Play the rare beast of a “near perfect gig”. Where you all agree it was good and you played well
Eat a questionable meal and spend the remainder of the tour trying desperately not to soil oneself
Accidentally turn up to a gig without your merch and then tearfully turn away far too many punters who are seemingly desperate to pay for your stuff
Drink too much prior to a gig and end up playing with one eye shut and at twice the intended speed
Get in the back of the van after a gig and shout “shall we do an idiot check?” to which there is a uniformed reply of: “I’ve checked, we’re all here!” LEL
Turn up to an overseas venue and be unsure, because of its foreign grafitti’d shutter and the area it’s in, as to whether it’s a horribly racist establishment. Discuss in depth and agree that you won’t be playing if it is. Only to be tremendously relieved when the first picture you see on the wall on the way in is of Martin Luther King
Drink Buckfast until you can no longer feel your arms
Slip during the first song on spilt soup and fall, smashing your knee cap. Continue the gig sat down, before walking to A&E and having you knee drained of the build-up of blood.
Play a gig that you think is going to be absolutely shit, but turns out be amazing
Play a gig that you think is going to be absolutely amazing, but turns out to be shit
Sign a CD/vinyl/cassette for someone at a gig, and feel like you’re a proper rockstar.
Play several consecutive gigs on a tour where the crowd end up chanting for an encore – but quickly realise you’ve played everything you’ve learnt. Then bow to pressure and play a gig where you hold back two songs purposefully, only to typically not get an encore request.
Panic that your amp isn’t working and run frantically around the stage before realising you haven’t plugged your jack lead into your guitar
Manage to release a drumstick mid-song, which narrowly misses the bass player’s ear and lands in the small gathering of bearded men at the front of the stage. Then look down in horror as you realise you haven’t got a spare, and resort to playing with your now bloodied stump of a hand until the song stops
Struggle like a World’s Strongest Man competitor whilst carrying an Ampeg 4×10 up four flights of stairs, only to find out at the summit that the gig has been cancelled, and a little of your soul fades and then dies
As you probably guessed, pretty much all of the above happened to us at some point in our band life. I hope one day that you will have an extensive list of ridiculousness like this one that you can gaze fondly upon and reminisce, before you fade back into a monotonous job.
So, there we have it. A guide on how to be in a band that your parents will hate.
It’s a lot longer and more convoluted than I envisaged, and I now realise that the vast majority of it is me waffling on about a subject that confuses, and arouses me in equal measure, complete with perhaps too many pointless lists, and a few choice Alan Partridge quotes thrown in just for shits and giggles. Kiss my face! I hope my experiences and advice can, in some small way, help you and your band improve, or at the very least, chuckle at the unfortunate situations we experienced and didn’t learn from.
I honestly think that being in a band is the best thing ever. You get express yourself whilst playing your chosen instrument to, hopefully, lots of interested people. It really feels fantastic. Even if I’ve unintentionally dissuaded you over the course of this book from forming a math rock band, then please just be part of a band at some point in your life. Make sure it’s noisy, heavy and fun to play. And bonus points will be offered if your parents are really disappointed by your offerings.
I had a great time in You Slut! and I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Apart from all the things I’ve put in this book.