No Reason to Cry
“A lot of people move to London for work and then end up meeting people and being in bands. There’s no particular stimulus, if you’re already in a band, to just randomly move to London.” Clive Powell, 23, lead guitarist and songwriter for the Britain’s Fretblanket, is talking about why the band still reside in Stourbridge — a small town about 15 miles west of Birmingham — where they all grew up together. In on the conversation is David Allsop, also 23, who plays bass in the band. The two friends have been in since they were 13 years old. A tiny room in the posh NYC hotel, The Paramount, provides a stark contrast to the home they’ll return to after this brief promotional tour for their second CD, Home Truths from Abroad (Polygram/A&M). The boys love doing business in Los Angeles and New York, but feel there’s really no place like home. “Personally, it’s very nice to go home to some place that’s really quite normal. Very suburban and comfortable. When you’re the international jet-setters that we are, it’s really nice to go back somewhere that’s just normal,” Clive continues, tongue planted firmly in cheek.
Fretblanket, which also include singer/guitarist Will Copley and drummer Matt Carey, are a decidedly British-sounding guitar rock band whose music is both strikingly modern and comfortingly retro. Imagine Gang of Four partying with the Jam and the Monkees (keeping in mind, of course, that the Monkees were meant to be an American TV version of the Beatles). When presented with these comparisons, the boys agree to disagree, as they explain in this interview. Home Truths from Abroad was released February 24th.
Fretblanket is like a security blanket right? So did you guys have thumb-sucking fixations as children?
Clive Powell: Well… Kind of. I used to have a security blanket when I was little.
Dave Allsop: I used to suck my thumb but I didn’t use a security blanket. I had a hat [laughs].
Clive: A security hat! I don’t know, we just sort of turned up with it, sort of came out of the blue and we thought ‘well that’s quite interesting and doesn’t really sound like any other band.’ It’s not too specific. I don’t like bands that are like “The” somethings, cause it just seems so limited. We wanted something that suggested a number of different things on a number of different levels. I kind of like the idea that the name implies that there is something within the music to hold onto, something that will comfort you, because that is a little part of what we do. We’re trying to make a connection with people and we’re trying to get people to grab hold of our music and cuddle up to it.
You guys have an intense group vibe that seems to show up in your sound. What do you think sets Fretblanket apart from all the Brit pop bands?
Clive: The main thing about this band that, to an extent, separates us from others — the reason that it works — is that the four of us work really well together. I think it really comes down to the fact that it’s always been the same four people since we were thirteen years old, when we started this band. It’s always been about the relationship the four of us have, more so than the fact that we’re particularly great at what we do. Does that make sense? I think a lot of bands, when they get to our position, have already been in two or three bands and have developed their own [individual] style. People say, “okay, we want a drummer who plays like this.” Whereas we want Matt, regardless of how he plays, because we get on well. With all four of us the chemistry is really solid, and I hope that continues. It would be really weird to have somebody else [in the band].
I think that “Into the Ocean” sounds a lot like old Gang of Four. Are you influenced at all by that band?
Clive: I have to say that I don’t know who Gang of Four are. So I guess the answer to that question would be no.
Dave: A lot of people will say ‘who are your influences?’ or ‘are you influenced by this?’ and it seems to be an interesting mark of what we’re doing in that nearly everyone we meet says ‘you remind me of this band,’ and it’s usually their favorite band. Which is probably a good thing. I mean, there are so many bands we’ve been compared to. We don’t have any specific influences simply because, like we were just talking about, the fact that we’ve always been in the same band. We started when we were 13. We started playing in the band before we ever went to see a band play live.
The song, “Supercool,” where Will sings “I wish I was supercool like you,” is that about anyone in particular?
Clive: There’s often few people you know that just seem to be really really really lucky. Just really bloody lucky all the time and they’re in a situation where they think “oh my god, I’m really totally screwed, I can’t do this.” And then, two days later, they’ve not only come over their problem — they’ve improved their lifestyle 1,000% and they’ve got a really great job and all that. These strange, lucky people seem to attract positive things and I’m really envious of it because I have to work really bloody hard to get positive things [laughs]. So that’s really just what that’s about. The spiteful element of it was about one person.
“Hammer and Tongues” is my favorite song on the record. What’s the story behind that?
Clive: The title came from a headline that I saw and I just liked. I’m a sucker for a bad pun. But the story was actually [about] a really bad period we went through when lots of things — personally, for me — went a bit wrong. The unit where we rehearse got broken into and all our gear got stolen.
Dave: Summer of ’95, it was.
Clive: Yeah, summer of ’95. Actually, the title of one of our songs that I never used [was] “1995 Was a Bad Year.” We walked in and there was nothing there and the bottom fell out of my world. The song is kind of about disaster striking and then realizing that it’s all right, because you’re with somebody who makes it all right. I guess that’s what it’s about. It’s a love song, really.
That’s so corny!
Clive: I know. But pop music is corny.
But I still don’t understand what the title means.
Clive: It means, well, “Hammer and Tongs” T-O-N-G-S is a saying, isn’t it?
Oh, so it’s a play on words.
Dave: It’s a pun.
Well, they say the British and the Americans are two people separated by a common language.
Clive: We had a list of things that are different… like “First Floor” in English [is] “Second Floor” in American…
I did read that 12 Angry Viewers, another one of those wonderful shows on MTV, gave your video for “Into the Ocean” (directed by Ted Crittendon ) its highest rating ever. How do you feel about that?
Clive: It’s awesome. We were totally blown away. I would just personally like to extend a huge vote of thanks to everybody on that panel of voters and buy them all a drink.
Dave: When we got the treatment [for the video] it was by far and away the best treatment that we got. Plus it was kind of dangerous.
Clive: It’s a spy spoof. When you see the video you’ll know what we’re saying. We’re dressed up and we did all sorts of things that we’ve never done before. There’s fight scenes and jet packs and cars crashing over cliffs — you wouldn’t believe it.
Dave: We were like, this is great, but will we be able to pull it off? And it took quite an effort of will to begin with, to actually say ‘Fuck it, let’s do it.’ It’s about time we did something a bit different. So getting that bit on 12 Angry Viewers was like confirmation that we’d done the right thing basically.
Clive: It was a compliment on a job well done. When you get treatments you very rarely find that the end product has any relation to the treatment whatsoever. It was exactly transferred from paper on to film. It’s a great video — it really is.
Do the boys in Fretblanket subscribe to the belief that fashion is an integral part of rock music?
Dave: Oh, yeah. Rock and roll is dictated by fashion, 100%.
Clive: Absolutely. I think it’s the height of arrogance to turn up [for a show] like somebody off the street. Plus [dressing up is] an awful lot of fun, you know. You can’t really strut around [every day] in velour pants and spangly flippin’ jackets and what not, so I find it a real treat to come out here and get dressed up and have people taking pictures. Great! You do get the impression that a lot of people are really lazy when it comes to how they present themselves to the public. I can’t, for the life of me, see how that could be possibly conceived as a sensible idea. The whole point, when it comes right down to it, is for us to try and get people to buy our record.
Dave: That seems kind of mercenary, in a way, to say ‘buy our record.’ But what he really means is that, the strangest thing is that some people perform music and then don’t really want people to listen to it. We want as many people as possible to listen to our music, because we happen to think it’s quite good.
Clive: Quite a lot of English bands to seem to be extremely bloody miserable. If you’re so miserable, why don’t you go and do something else? No one’s demanding that you be a pop star!
Fretblanket will tour the States in the spring of 1998.