Music News Interview The Young Playthings

'Theres a lot of man-love in this band'

Music News: Where did you guys meet and was it musical love at first note?

Bateman: Jørs Truly and I have known each other for more than ten long years. I can’t remember where it was exactly, but we went to the same school in Hong Kong. At the time we were both awkward fifteen year olds who were really into metal. He looked like a pretty, chubby girl and I looked like a skinny, ugly girl. I remember head-banging to "Wherever I May Roam" by Metallica at a school disco and we cracked heads. I chart our musical history together back to that painful moment. Musical love at first note? I don’t know, but there’s always been an awful lot of love between us! I don’t know how we ended up writing songs that compliment each other’s, because our record collections are vastly different; records have always been sacred artefacts to me, and I shudder every time I see JT’s because not only is there a huge amount of crap in it, but he also treats records like they’re just pieces of plastic and paper!

The Young Playthings was actually started by a guy who is no longer in the band. He recruited Tibor and me, and a different bassist, under the premise of being in a Bruce Springsteen-esque band. Back then, we barely spoke to each other, but we still managed to write and arrange songs successfully. When we reformed I remember feeling that I didn’t want to be in a band with the same bassist but that Tibor was integral to TYP. When Rob, the founder quit, I remember thinking I was going to have to beg Tibor not to leave. But I didn’t have to. Again, our record collections are vastly different, but all three of us have a collective understanding of what we’re doing together as a band. I think we all appreciate that TYP is about songs first and foremost, rather than riffs, or instrumental patterns, or even a superficial kind of ‘originality’. Any kind of originality we have is derived from three different people playing music together and being on the same page. We didn’t set out to buck musical trends or break new ground. I think that kind of thing is so pretentious and boring and, actually, easy. It’s much more difficult to be in a band that can bring something unique to an established mould. As a band our chemistry, both in writing and performing songs, and in how we conduct our band business, is great and I’m proud of that. As Andy Dragazis, who is producing our album says, ‘there’s a lot of man-love in this band’!

M-N: Can we expect a debut album full of gems in the style of the wonderful "She’s A Rebe" l, and the glorious "Yr So Fit", or are there some diverse shocks up the sleeves?

B: There’s eleven songs on the album, three of which have been on the three singles we’ve released so far. The first half of the album is pop songs in a similar vein to "She’s A Rebel" and "Yr So Fit". The second half is a little more varied; there’s a couple of sad, introverted acoustic singer-songwriter things, there’s a ten-minute epic called "The American West", there’s a chaotic, noisy anthem called "Ship-Shapes", and I attempted a Prince-like funk chorus on "Last Night In Los Angeles". But, of course, being TYP, all the songs have our same favourite chords (and chord changes) and pop hooks. I think it would be a bit bland if all the songs were cut from exactly the same cloth as "She’s A Rebel", and we want to make a debut album that is memorable, but that said, I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s TYP throughout!

M-N: What are your most memorable live Young Plaything moments to date?

B: That’s a hard question! There’s been so many shows over the past 18 months (Tibor worked out we played a show every two weeks on average in 2005 and, the way things are going this year, it’ll be even more) that it’s hard to pinpoint specific moments. That said, there are shows where the energy onstage, and the energy from the crowd has been perfect. Playing at the STA all-dayer last September when our first single was released was pretty special. We played in Lancaster last week and JT and Tibor got stuck on the M40 between London and Oxford the night before for five hours after seeing a horrendous fatal road accident; we were all so stressed out but when we played at 11pm in this outdoors tent with a few drinks in us we turned all this negative crap that was playing up inside us all into positive energy. I’ve got an appalling morbid curiosity and I was really freaked out by what the other two saw on the road the night before, and that makes the world seem so dark and frightening because you’re reminded too vividly of your own fragile mortality. But playing together is a positive affirmation of your capabilities and it can flip your mood to a good frame of mind. Furthermore, I’ve met so many great people in the past year and seen more of the UK than ever before.

M-N: What part of the country do you get the best reaction from?

B: It’s still early days for us and I don’t think there is a particular part of the country where we get a ‘best reaction’ from the crowd. We’ve been south-west a lot – Bristol, Bath, Devizes, Swindon, Cornwall – and that’s always been good. Scotland’s always been good too. London is hit and miss – sometimes you play a great show here but bands are also a dime-a-dozen here and there’s so much bullshit, like hype and people being too cool for their own good. I’m looking forward to playing Manchester and Liverpool with the Pipettes because we’ve never played in either city and both have musical histories that have inspired me so much, particularly Manchester. When we last played in Glasgow I was asking the people we stayed with about places in the city that Belle and Sebastian reference, so we’re (well me, the other two aren’t so sad as to be that interested!) going to get a B&S guided tour when we play there next week. To visit a city because you’re playing a show there, especially to get a good reaction from the crowd, and then walk where your musical influences have walked is a special feeling for me. It makes the small steps you take in a band towards being the best you can be seem a little less remote than at other times.

M-N: Are you happy with your cult type status for now or are you yearning for the mass limelight and mainstream?

B: I’m definitely happy with the way things are going, quite simply because things are going – they’re moving, and I enjoy charting our small successes, increment by increment. I get satisfaction from that because progress is, as far as I’m concerned, something that is innately satisfying to people. If we currently have a cult type status it is news to me! But yeah, we are starting to see people coming out to see us more, buying records, telling us what they like about the band, and there are reviewers that really get the band. All of this is really heart-warming. I’ve always said that I would like TYP to be to people what certain bands like The Mr T Experience, The Promise Ring, Superchunk, The Bouncing Souls are to me – the soundtrack to parts of my life, whose stuff is always brilliant on a subjective level to me whether it’s a critical success, it’s panned, or it goes unnoticed. That said, when you have to have a job the idea of making money from something you put your heart and soul into is very enticing. I have no great desire to be famous, but given a choice between earning a lot of money from something I’ve helped create and build up myself, or earning very little from a hobby that is expensive and involves a lot of hard work I would choose the former without a second thought! And if anyone says they would choose the latter I would call them a fucking liar!

M-N: What current bands are you particularly impressed and inspired by?

B: I don’t really know much about new bands. I like the same stuff I’ve always liked. I recently bought The Replacements back-catalogue in its entirety because I love that band, so even though their records are always hit and miss as a whole I wanted to own them all. I love the Pipettes. I love Lucinda Williams and Ryan Adams; Eminem and Jay-Z, because they all write songs about worlds that are a lot different from mine but they never fail to move me. I love Modest Mouse. I still love all the mid-90s California punk bands. I don’t listen to the radio, I don’t watch music tv and I rarely read music magazines because it just doesn’t interest me. I’m quite particular about the band/artists I like, and then if I really like them I’ll buy everything – the records, the books about them etc. But the music industry’s hype machine is not interesting to me. I’d like to make my living through music without needing to resort to use of the hype machine. I figure if a band is great enough, they’ll eventually get through to me, but I’m unlikely to ever be able to say ‘I saw their first ever show’.

M-N: Your lyrics joyously celebrate the awkwardness and glee of falling in love/lust. Do you need to feel that ‘pain’ to produce your best lyric?

B: I used to have an argument with an old friend of mine. He’d been through a couple of bad break-ups and music was a great consolation to him, which I completely identify with. When you hurt, music sounds more vivid, more visceral. But he would always argue that to write really well you also have to be hurting, which I disagreed with then and disagree with still, simply because it’s when I feel elation that I personally write best. I always try and write songs when I’m upset but it never works – alcohol is usually the best cure for that (temporarily!). That’s not to say I don’t write sad songs, but for me to write sad songs I have to be able to reflect more soberly on a situation, so, in a sense, be over it or at least be pretty much over it. My girlfriend lives overseas and we’ve had a long-distance relationship for awhile now, which is, of course, hard and quite emotionally confusing. But the awkwardness and frustration and emotionally compromising nature of love and lust is a never-ending source of fascination and inspiration to me and I can’t explain why. I’m an old-fashioned pervert and, to the puritanically politically-correct, disgustingly sexist – I love looking at women and I love their company, flattering them and being flattered by them, whistling, showing-off, acting the fool, being shy. And I love hugging and kissing and hanging out with the boys, feeling like we’re the last gang in town.

M-N: Have you met any musical ‘legends’ yet, and if so, how was the experience?

B: I was fortunate enough to meet and talk at length on a couple of occasions with Dr Frank of the Mr T Experience, when I interned at Lookout! Records in California. That label was a huge influence on me and MTX in particular, so to be able to meet Frank and talk to him was amazing for me. He’s not a musical legend to most people but he is one of the greatest pop songwriters ever as far as I’m concerned. That whole experience of working at a record label was the final push for me that I had to go back to the UK and be in a band and take it more seriously than I’d ever done before. Like, shed all the embarrassment and furtiveness of being a bedroom singer-songwriter and enjoy performing and being on a stage, be honest with myself about what I wanted to do with myself. MTX were a reasonably successful band for a short period of time, fronted by a very intelligent guy who was always too self-deprecating and aware of himself to ever be a rock star. The fact that he’d carved out a bohemian life for himself was inspiring to me; working in the music business I discovered is as boring as working any office job. The vague notion of being involved in the music industry was soon whittled down to ‘I want to write good pop songs and be a good guitarist and sing in tune’ as I became aware of my limitations and interests.

M-N: Have you many unfulfilled musical ambitions?

B: Always. As TYP we’ve achieved Step One – we’re in a band that works well together and writes good songs and performs them well. I feel like, okay, the car’s nearly built, just a few more flourishes and then we’re ready to ride! There’s a whole road of musical ambition to explore and experience.

Many thanks to Bateman for his honest and interesting answers, and would like to wish him, Jors Truly and Tibor, aka The Young Playthings, all the best for the tour, the upcoming album and the future.

- Rob Barnett, Music News