Comfort Comes Interviews The Young Playthings
For those unfamiliar with your music, can you tell us a little bit about yourselves? Give us a bit of background, so we can get a picture of who you are.
The Young Playthings started out at the University of Kent, Canterbury in late 2002; the band was actually started by a friend who is no longer in the band. He asked Tibor, myself and a bassist to be in a Bruce Springsteen-influenced rock band. We played a few shows at the university, came 3rd in the university’s battle of the bands competition, and recorded a 7-song demo in Brighton called "Girls In Heat", at Mockin’ Bird Studios, which was the studio that Marc Beatty, now of The Brakes, used to own. This was at the end of the school year, after which we played a couple more shows – one at a pool party in Weybridge and the other at the Freebutt in Brighton – then disbanded. Not even split up, it was just like we were no longer playing anymore. It seems a bit odd now that I think about it – we’d had so much fun playing and writing the songs and recording them, and we were doing quite well with it, then it was over. I moved away for a year, to the States and Hong Kong, where I grew up, and then I came back to England in the summer of 2004. My friend and I had decided we were going to start a record label and have a ‘house band’ (as in, whose members worked for the label, not Balearic shit) that we’d write all the songs for. Well, when I got back he was in the Pipettes and they were starting to do quite well, so he could no longer be in the label’s house band. So I got back in touch with Rob and Tibor and we decided to have a practice again; after being unconvinced about the Young Playthings, I’d had all these people telling me that "Hot Sex With A Girl I Love", off the demo, was a really good song, and so I felt this renewed confidence in the band and wanted to play in it again. I had a ton of new songs that I’d recorded on a 4-track and wanted to play them live. We started playing again and it was fun! I had never liked the original bassist, so I asked Jørs Truly, who I knew from Hong Kong and who I’d played in bands with before, to join. After he learned all the songs, it quickly became quite obvious that the band was a completely different entity to what it had been in university, and that the differences between my songs and Rob’s songs were huge and that they weren’t really compatible. Rob quit, and the band became what it is now. We never started our own record label.
How do you think you’ve progressed as a band since you started out?
When Rob quit, which was pretty much right at the beginning of TYP version II, the band became a lot more focused and cohesive. It was really a blessing in disguise, because, for all intents and purposes, I’d joined the band as a second guitarist and then became the ‘front man’ – I named it, helped Rob arrange his songs, just generally had a definite idea about the kind of band I wanted to be in and that took over. I think Rob had all these ideas but didn’t have the same experiences I’d had in being in bands. But we shared ‘ownership’ of it, in the sense that we both took turns writing the songs and being the leaders. When we started playing together again, Rob had a lot more confidence and so did I and our egos clashed! But, it was a totally amiable split and since then TYP has come into its own. For one thing, I never used to really speak to Tibor or the old bassist – Rob was the link. Now it’s an equal unit, we all get along, we all contribute to the band and its progression.
I always feel that I had a sort of ‘conceptual’ idea of the kind of band I wanted to be in, which was a band that celebrated how music can express the awe-inspiring, wonderful chaos of the world. I never liked bands that were too serious, or political or self-righteous, but I always liked bands that were fierce in their determination and light-hearted in their approach to life. A little bit wacky and eccentric but not too weird. I think the best way to describe what I want TYP to embody is how John Peel would talk about The Undertones and "Teenage Kicks" – there were better written songs, more sophisticated songs, catchier songs, but none of them ever had the same excitement or raw teenage energy that "Teenage Kicks" had for him. I remember seeing him talk about it, in old video footage, on a posthumous documentary about his life, and other musicians who were so in awe of Peel were also in the documentary, trying to describe what the song meant to him, and, indirectly, what he’d meant to them as well, and I started feeling shivers – it was so spot-on. He and they expressed so simply what makes me love rock n roll more than any other kind of music, more than any other kind of art. Sure, other stuff is more sophisticated, more expressive, more original, more interesting, but nothing ever matches rock n roll for stupid great fun. It reminds me of being a teenager and experiencing things for the first time and not knowing how to express how I felt about that. So I wrote songs about it.
Now, I feel that we are united in this kind of ‘idea’ I have, and each of us brings something unique to it. We still share song-writing – JT writes great songs, and they are more in line with mine than Rob’s ever were. We all play to our strengths, and I honestly think we are coming into our own sound.
Is “She’s A Rebel” about anyone in particular?
I read a book called ‘She’s A Rebel’ about women in rock music, from early blues singers and guitarists to Joan Jett, Susie Quatro, the Runaways, the Go-Gos, Riot Grrrl, singer-songwriters like Joan Baez, Tracy Chapman, Carole King, Joan Armatrading. It was really comprehensive. I read it at my girlfriend’s parents’ house, and when everyone was out I would make myself a giant pot of coffee and read and play guitar all day. I’ve always had this fantasy about women playing music; there’s this song by one of my favourite bands ever called J-Church (who are, really, quite awful because the guy can’t sing, but I have always loved them) where they cover a song by Heavenly and change the lyrics and title to "Cool Guitar Girl". It’s perfect. So, I was reading this book and walking around the house looking at old pictures of my girlfriend with friends and family, thinking about the ballsiness of some of these women playing music, and that toughness and the happy innocence of these pictures inspired the song "She’s A Rebel". That and "Cool Guitar Girl". I decided that I wanted to write a song that was like this band called The Queers doing a reply to The Crystals’ "He’s A Rebel". Remember when Eamon did that song, "Fuck It (I Don’t Want You Back)" and then his ex-girlfriend Frankee did "Fuck You Right Back"? Well, I wanted it to be like that except less a cynical marketing gimmick and more a genuine tribute to girl groups and the guys who love girls in groups.
How was it recording with one of the Pipettes for the new single?
It took a lot of logistical planning because there are a lot of people involved with the Pipettes, but when we actually did the recording it was easy because Rose is one of the most incredibly talented people I’ve ever met. The song that we did is called "Life Is Great", and it’s about (what I imagine it might be like) being a porn star in Los Angeles. I remember writing it in bed one day and thinking, ‘it would be great if I could find a girl to sing this song’. At the time, the Pipettes were playing a lot and I was going to see them a lot because I’m friends with some of them and I had no other friends in England at the time, and I remember it slowly but surely dawning on me that Rose was unbelievable and that it would be awesome if she would sing on this song. This was right back when we restarted TYP, in late 2004. One night after a Pipettes’ show we were talking, and I got drunk enough to ask her, and she was drunk enough to say yes, so we practiced it a few times, in our old rehearsal space in some god-awful place in Elephant and Castle, recorded it at my house on a 4-track with an acoustic guitar and Rose singing, played it a couple of times at acoustic shows in Brighton and then never did anything with it again. Then about a year later, at the end of last year, I decided that I really wanted to record it with the band, and Rose agreed to do it. She nailed the emotion in the song so perfectly I get shivers when I hear it. It’s nice to be able to get that with one of your own songs, and it’s because I don’t sing on it!
How did you guys up end with the good people at Smalltown America?
A friend suggested I send Andrew Ferris our demo because he thought he might like it. So I did, and he called me a couple of days later out of the blue and said he really liked it and he’d like to hear some more stuff and see us play. I sent him the rest of the demo, he and a few others from STA came and saw us play at ULU in January 2005, at our 3rd show as a 3-piece, and again, he said he really liked it and we should talk about doing a record. It was strange, I didn’t actually meet Andrew for a long time and JT and Tibor didn’t meet him for an even longer time, all our correspondence was either by e-mail or over the phone. We eventually decided to do these 4 limited edition singles with very bespoke, hand-made covers – we’re on the 3rd one now. The 4th one might deviate slightly from this format and be a 7-inch, but we’ll have to see. We’re starting to record an album, which we had originally talked about when we first hooked up with STA, in April, with Andy Dragazis who is in Bluestates and who recently recorded the Pipettes. In case it isn’t really obvious, we’re doing our best to ride their coattails. STA are great – Andrew is very honest, incredibly resourceful and imaginative, and he inspires a lot of people to get involved. We’ve had the good fortune to have met some great people through the label – Helen Turner, who does all our artwork, is brilliant, as is Steve Ansell who recorded the new single, who we got in touch with through Daniel at STA.
Do you guys enjoy playing live and any crazy stories from the road?
We love playing live! Playing live is the arena for showcasing everything you’ve worked on as a band. Recording is rewarding because you have something to keep as proof of what you’ve done, to measure your successes as a band and as songwriters, but it can be quite sterile, it’s like a distillation of your productivity. Playing live is like an eruption of that productivity, all the great feelings that go into being in a band coming out at once. I think Steven Tyler once said playing live is better than sex and, well, it’s akin to great sex that’s for sure. As for stories, recently we played a few shows in the West Country – Bristol, then St Agnes in Cornwall, and Plymouth. I’ve never been to Cornwall before, so I was excited about that and it didn’t disappoint. We played at this hotel in this incredibly picturesque little village with no chain stores or fast food restaurants, we met some great people, including the promoter who is this really fun person called Tina, had a lock-in and ended the night at 9 am, after having taken an early morning walk with Tina’s dogs on the snowy cliffs overlooking the sea, totally freezing and drunk. Then the next night, in Plymouth, we were staying at a friend’s house who had come out to see us with her friends, all of them so fucked-up, and they disappeared before we left and by the time we got to the street she lived on we couldn’t get in touch with her. We didn’t know which house she lived in, so we were walking up and down this bleak, terraced street peering in windows, whispering her name! My abiding memory of it, which had me in tears of laughter, is of JT peering through someone’s front window at 3am before the curtain was drawn back and a guy who looked like Uncle Fester was eyeballing him, a look of adrenalised anger and fear on his face, wondering what the hell this Peeping Tom was doing looking through his window! Jørs jumped back and whispered ‘sorry, wrong house’, like the guy could hear him through the glass! Then the cops came and took all our details down, but luckily by then we’d located the correct house and finally managed to wake our friend up. So our excuses were (kind of) valid.
Who are you listening to right now?
The first two of the three country albums Ryan Adams put out in 2005, ‘Cold Roses’ and ‘Jacksonville City Limits’; a mix cd my girlfriend made me of mostly new country stuff; the new My Morning Jacket album, ‘Z’; The Pipettes; Townes Van Zandt; Patty Griffin; Tom Waits, ‘Alice’; Lagwagon; Eminem; Jay-Z.
What are some of the artists that have inspired you?
There’s so many! Superchunk, The Promise Ring, The Queers, The Mr T Experience, Modest Mouse, The Replacements, Lucinda Williams, The Bouncing Souls, Tom Petty, The Magnetic Fields, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, Jawbreaker, Dinosaur Jr, Bruce Springsteen, Belle and Sebastian, Fugazi, early Weezer, Billy Bragg, Madonna, ‘The Boys Of Summer’ by Don Henley and "Waiting For A Star To Fall" by Boy Meets Girl.
What would be your greatest fear?
We always have this debate in the back of the Playmobile on the way back from shows – would it be worse to die by falling into a pit of snakes and getting bitten, or getting eaten by a Great White Shark? I think the consensus is that the snakes would be worse – falling into a pit of writhing muscle, biting you repeatedly, blowing up into a purple balloon and dying a horrible, painful poisoned death, amongst the snakes would be worse than being eaten alive by a shark – the shark would be quicker. These aren’t very pertinent fears to everyday life, but they sound pretty horrible. I think dying in general or having someone close to me die is one of the least pleasant promises of life, but I suppose the inevitability of it all inspires the wonderful urgency of life.
Anything up and coming we should look out for?
Of all the bands we’ve shared bills with, Ipsofacto, The Hitchcock Rules, The Panic were all cool. I like The Boy Least Likely To’s record, which I first got about a year ago, but now that they’ve toured with James Blunt most people who have even a passing interest in pop music probably know about them! I also love Art Brut, but the Art Goblins, Eddie Argos’ side band, are, bar none, the worst band I’ve ever seen. Oppenheimer, who have a single coming out on STA soon, are great – "Breakfast In NYC" is the best song I’ve heard in awhile. Maritime, the band started by ex-members of The Promise Ring are cool - I saw them at the Brixton Windmill a couple of months ago and got to meet one of my heroes, which is never a very good idea, but the few minutes I spent talking to Davey Von Bohlen weren’t too disappointing, in that I didn’t feel too insignificant. I also really quite like this band called Communique, who sound like The Killers, who I feel indifferently about, but Communique have this really good song called "Perfect Weapon" that sounds like the kind of song Abba would have written. I love Abba.
How is the future looking for the band?
I think it looks pretty good.
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