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Broken Family Band Interview
If you read anything about The Broken Family Band, you will almost certainly encounter the term ‘alt-country’. You can’t deny it, Steven Adams does sing in what could be called a ‘drawl’, and there’s lots of talk of lyin’ and cheatin’, and plenty of ‘oh lordy lordying’ going on in songs like Honest Man’s Blues, from last album Welcome Home Loser. However, if one listens to their records in chronological order, you’d be forgiven for thinking that current album, Balls, is that of a different band, with much of the Nashville style giving way to a more ‘ballsy’ guitar record. ‘We’re not a purist band’, explains guitarist Jay Williams, ‘You’ve got to evolve’, continues Bassist Gav. And thank God there’s a band that realizes this simple truth. There are more than enough bands out there with their silly Hoxton haircuts, emoting to order and slogging their guts out to breaking point, only to deliver mediocre and diluted recordings second time around and beyond. The Broken Family Band have succeeded in that rarest of goals: success on their own terms. “The third way, it’s been called. I don’t know what the second way is but the first way is to give up your life. The third way is to try and box clever, have a fucking great time at it and go all over the place and get Radio 1 sessions and get great reviews for everything that we’ve ever done and have a fucking great time.” Amen to that.
In a break between recording and mixing a Radio 1 session at BBC studios in Maida Vale, Music-Zine badgered Cambridge’s busiest band on the issues of their ever-changing sound, why they aren’t as big as people think they are, and eating interesting food in fancy restaurants…
MZ: How would you like the band to be seen by fans? Are you comfortable with terms like ‘alt-country’?
Steve: We’ve shot ourselves in the foot by playing country music and then saying that we don’t want to be seen as an alt-country band. Alt country does tend to be…
Jay:…dreary, dreary and static and not innovative or exciting. Everything I’ve read just recently about us says that…all the reviews start off by saying that it’s alt-country, and then the rest of it spends the time explaining how different it is to alt-country. I can’t remember the last one I was reading but it was like ‘yeah these alt-country guys…but it’s really rocky, and it’s really this and it’s really that’.They say it all but it’s not really country.
Steve: We’re just a genuinely…decent band that happen to have a sort of country thing going on.That’s just us being a bit perverse I think, we stick with that because that’s what suits us.
Jay: I think if you listen to the album there’s only one true country tune on there and the rest of it’s indie-rock. If you came in on that album, if that was the first album that you heard, you’d think we were an indie-rock band that did a country song
Steve: We are an indie rock band…
Mick: who are trying out a special theme.
Steve: we’re an indie rock band that says it’s country and pretends to be country. It sets us up for everybody.
MZ: The new album is less country than your previous records. Are you changing direction?
Steve: You just do it for so long and you can’t do the same thing.
Jay: All good bands do it. All good bands change what they’re doing. That’s what Coldplay have got wrong. We’re not a purist band.
Gav: You’ve gotta evolve
Steve: We’re five years older as people as well. People start liking other music and come across other influences, and we get used to each other and we need to keep ourselves interested. We could probably carry on doing Cold Water Songs over and over again.
Jay: We couldn’t though cos it’d drive us MAD!
Steve: No I mean people would still buy it.
Jay: I think the crunch would come if you got a big record deal and they said ‘we want you to be like this’ and that would be the beginning of a nightmare.
Gav: I think the whole indie-rock thing has always been there you know? If you listen to Cold Water Songs,there’s a couple of tracks on there that, even though they’re played in a country style maybe, you can still hear bits of metal in there for instance.
Steve: We don’t all listen to the same thing together and all of us have got quite diverse tastes so I don’t think we want to set ourselves as being any kind of band, except – it sounds really poncey but I think we just wanna be this group, which is different to other groups.
MZ:It’s been great watching you as a new band playing in Cambridge and now a few years later getting 4 star reviews in Uncut and magazines like that. How does it feel getting recognition like that and how big would you like it to get?
Steve: It’s nice, we get asked it a lot, how big we wanna get, it’s too abstract a concept. I think the sensible answer is we’ll keep doing it as long as we’re enjoying it and as long as there’s a point to it. There’s various outcomes that could come of that. One is that we become the biggest band in the world, and I suppose the other is we’re still doing it in ten year’s time just down the Portland Arms in Cambridge. And there’s a lot of things in between, and lots of these outcomes can be pleasant.
Gav: I think people’s perception of us is bigger than it genuinely is as well. Because we get a decent bit of press. It just astounds people, when they discover that we’re not as big as we’re made out to be.
Jay: Lot of downloads!
MZ: There’s a lot of humor in your lyrics. If it all goes tits up one day, have you considered a career in comedy?
Steve: No I wouldn’t! I genuinely wouldn’t because it’s too fucking scary. People do say sometimes about doing comedy stuff. It’s cos we like a laugh. I’m finding now that there’s a real pull and the songs are getting more serious, and it’s becoming funnier onstage and it’s a real dichotomy about whether were a deadly serious band or whether were a comedy band. I’ve been saying it for years that nobody is serious all the time, or at least I’m not serious all the time, we’re not serious all the time. And you’re not always having a laugh either.
Jay: We’ve been watching bands that’ve looked dead serious onstage for fucking years and it doesn’t wash any more with me. It’s like, look at you looking all serious and dead sincere at the same point in the same song every single night for years. It doesn’t work!
Mick: We like doing it and if you like doing what you do then you end up having a laugh.
Steve: There’s humor in the lyrics, but I don’t set out to write amusing songs. I’m a very amusing man.
Jay: You’re a naturally funny bastard, aren’t you?
Steve: I’m an extraordinarily funny man.
MZ: Which of your lyrics are you most proud of?
Steve: The lyrics on balls probably aren’t my favourite that I’ve done, I think there’s some better stuff on Welcome Home Loser. I very much like the words to ‘The Booze and the Drugs”, I think those are dead funny.
Jay: My grandma does as well, strangely enough. I was really worried about that.
Steve: It’s a dirty song. They write themselves and I’m not choosing what to write about. It’s as much of a pleasant surprise for me when I end up with something that I like. I haven’t written any lyrics that I’m not proud of apart from one line in ‘John Belushi”, which is rubbish.
MZ: Which is?
Steve:”Tonight I’m laying down in a smoky darkened room”. It isn’t a good line.
Jay: Steve’s had some fairly interesting instances recently where fans have come up to him and started to try to tell him what they think his lyrics are about. One in particular, ‘The Devil in the Details’, the line “Where your pretty body lays”.
Steve: Oh yeah, “The Devil in the Details” is a heartfelt love song and some guy thought it was about murdering ladies. Which is interesting because I think we only ever wrote one song about murdering ladies...
MZ: Track & Field houses some great artists. How did you get involved with them and what kind of label are they to work with?
Steve: Fantastic! They paid for us to go to Texas before we were properly on the label and we’ve stayed with them since and we’re very, very happy with them. I can’t conceive of a time when we won’t be with them as long as it carries on like it is. If they fuck us around we will punch them in the mouth!
MZ: Which bands on the label are you most proud to be associated with?
Steve: None of them!
Jay: It’s not like that. You don’t hang out with them.
Steve: I really like the new Essex Green album. Currituck Co. is a talented guy…but they put out a lot of shit as well. No that’s not true! Darren Hayman’s new album is fucking brilliant actually, really, really good. He’s a clever boy. And Herman Dune were nice to be associated with but now they’ve gone to EMI.
MZ: Which other artists in Cambridge do you particularly like and what do you think is special about the Cambridge scene?
Mick: I don’t really think there’s anything special about it, it’s growing but I don’t really think there’s anything special going on. There’s a guy called Simon Baker that puts on a lot of gigs [no relation to Musiczine editor – JS]. There’s a guy called Paul Goodwyn, who is fantastic.
Jay: We don’t play Cambridge any more.
Steve: Well we don’t play much. I’d say my favourite thing out of Cambridge is UM. That’s my favourite music out of Cambridge.
MZ: Do you enjoy playing festival audiences like Strawberry fair and the folk festival, or do you prefer your own gigs?
Steve: It’s horses for courses. If the festival’s good, like the folk festival is an absolute riot, fucking ball, but some festivals are a lot of effort for not a lot of reward. When you play a club you get to speak to people afterwards and see the whites of their eyes. Festivals, for us tend to be more about…how buggered we get all weekend!
MZ:What were you all listening to when you recorded Balls?
Steve: I was going through a big Micah P. Hinson phase when we did Balls, as is evident from the song ‘All I Want From You Is Some Effort’, which sounds like him.
Gav: I think I might have been having a Dylan renaissance during the time we were doing Balls.
Jay: I was probably listening to some dreadful heavy metal from the eighties that Mick recreated on a casio.
Today’s Radio 1 session comprised two new tracks, Dancing and Love Your Man / Woman as well as a fantastically realized cover of Nina Nastasia’s In The Graveyard and a new version of You’re Like a Woman. The latter of the new tracks is the stronger and has possibly the most anthemic of any chorus they have yet delivered. Steve explains the validity of this, their fifth session at Maida Vale, and where they might take the band’s sound on their next reocrd…
MZ: Recording the session today I suppose was a good chance to try some new material out in a studio before you record them ‘for real’ on the record?
Steve: Yeah it was. Traditionally, this has been good for us, doing radio 1 sessions it tends to be immensely useful. It keeps your hand in at a studio when you’re not thinking about your own record and it means that you can listen to things. It’s like demoing, we never demo, never wanted to demo. It’s like demoing but with a purpose as well.
MZ: What’s the next album going to sound like?
Steve: I think it’s going to be really spiky and not so much quiet introspection. And not many fucking jokes.
MZ: What would you say were the best and worst things about being in the Broken Family Band?
Steve: The worst thing about being in the Broken Family Band…
Jay: … is that we can’t do it full time, because it doesn’t pay enough money.
Steve: The worst thing for me is that not enough people get to hear us and I think that lots of people should get to hear us cos they’d love us.
Gav: The worst thing about being in the Broken Family Band is the hangovers that I get. One of my livers has let me down. Seriously.
Steve: Ha! The worst thing for Mick is being in a band with his uncles!!!
Jay: The best thing about being in the Broken Family Band is that you get to play music with a bunch of people you really like and you get to go all over the world with it. It’s great fun, it’s an excuse to get out. Boys need an excuse to get out.
MZ: Where’s your favourite place you’ve been on tour with the band?
Steve: South by Southwest was wonderful.
Gav: That was a good holiday spoiled by a stupid gig in the middle of it!
Steve: We’ve had lots of interesting European weekend mini-breaks. Jay said all over the world and I think the thing is that we’re quite specific about where we go. We do as much as we can in Europe because it’s on our doorstep. All you have to do is destroy a bit more of the ozone with Ryanair or Easyjet and we are literally cuddling our European cousins.
MZ: What are your favourite songs to play live? Is there anything that you will always play.
ALL: Twelve Eyes of Evil! HAHAHAHA!
Jay: No behind the chapel. [Getting the title wrong. Song is called ‘At the Back of the Chapel!’]
Gav: Back at the chapel! [Also getting the title wrong]
Steve: ‘I’ve never really listened to the lyrics!’
Steve: Twelve Eyes of Evil we will always play. It doesn’t mean it’s one of our favourites, well it IS one of our favourites but we will always play it. It’s the rules.
Jay: Happy Days?
Steve: Yeah, Happy Days are Here Again.
Mick: John Belushi
Gav: Living in Sin.
MZ: What do you all do when you aren’t dong band stuff? I hear you’ve all got jobs as well. How do you find time to release so many records?
Gav: Fuckin and suckin!
Steve: We’ve all got jobs. The question I always think shouldn’t be how do we find time to make so many records, it’s why doesn’t everybody else find time to make so many fucking records. It’s not that difficult, all you have to do is write some songs and go into a recording studio and record them.
Jay: It doesn’t take very long to record an album. Some people go out and play golf for the weekend and every now and again we go out and make albums. And that’s it. Some people sit in front of the TV all Saturday and Sunday, and we’re laying down bass, drums, guitar and voices. Two or three weekends and you’ve got an album.
MZ: Do you plan to take it full time?
Steve: I refer the right honorable gentleman to the earlier question regarding where the band is gonna go. If I was interviewing our group I’d ask that exact same question, but it’s a shame because it always annoys me. The question itself isn’t annoying, it’s the answer that’s annoying because we don’t really know because we have to not see past our noses. We started the band for fun and it’s got to where it is because we treated it as a fun thing. We have to work with a certain strictness because we have to work with our jobs, otherwise we’d get bored and we wouldn’t enjoy the band, and we have make sure each one of us is happy so we can’t necessarily do things that some of us would want to do because some of us might not want to do them. I think that we’ve lasted as long as we have because we didn’t get in the back of a fucking van the minute we got signed and flog our guts out supporting fucking whoever.
Jay: Worrying about the money coming in from T-shirts and selling Cds because your mortgage relies on it or something like that and you’re just shitting yourself because you’re thinking ‘where’s all the money?’ at the end of the night, ‘who’s got this, who’s got that?’ If someone came along and gave us quarter of a million quid each we’d fucking jack it [the jobs] in and do it straight away, there’s no question of it.
Steve: As it stands, we all have reasonable income like normal people. Except we’re like superheroes because we’re in this [chuckles] amazing band! No seriously, we’re like normal people except that we’ve got this extra thing going on in our lives…and it’s fucking brilliant. It’s a way of life, but it can’t take over your life. I defy anybody to not enjoy being in our group because we have a lovely time, we all like each other and we don’t piss each other off because we’re not on fucking tour constantly, stinking each other’s faces out with our dirty feet!
MZ: Is there going to be another Singing Adams album?
Steve: There’s not enough time for Singing Adams. There will be another record but The Broken Family Band’s a priority, even if I didn’t want it to be because I find it more enjoyable writing songs with these guys around than I do for with my stuff. And there aren’t enough hours in the, sorry weekends in the year to do both of them. But the Singing Adams is probably going to be an ongoing thing that I just pick up when I can. It’s a bit like the Broken Family Band in that we don’t have to have a career plan, we just say no to all the gigs we get offered.
MZ: Is that a lot of gigs?
Steve: The Singing Adams turn down loads of gigs because people think it’s cheaper and that they’re getting the Broken Family Band lite playing at their dogshit venue.
MZ: Anything any of you would like to add?
Gav: I’d like to say that that tuna wrap was wicked.
Steve: I think that people always get the wrong impression on what we’re about. I think that unless you were in the group for a while you wouldn’t really know what it was about. People are always asking us ‘why aren’t you famous’, and the simple fact of it is that it’s working really well at the moment and we don’t have any complaints so we don’t have to fuck with it. I’d also like to add that we eat in nice restaurants whenever we can. That’s important to note actually, the focus of our enjoyment when we’re not making music is on eating in nice restaurants. When we travel, we like to spend all our money in restaurants and have the most interesting and fantastic meals we can, which I think sets us apart from other bands, who go off and take heroin!
MZ: Where has the best food?
Jay: Sweden do very good food.
Steve: I had some fine reindeer in Sweden.
Jay: Oh god yeah! Also, We went to one of the best museums we’ve ever been to the last time we went to Sweden. It was awesome.
Steve: That might be our new thing I think, going to museums. While everyone else is doing cocaine.
Jay: Do you know what the problem is…
Mick: Let me tell you sunshine…
Jay: The problem is that people want bands to give up their lives to live the dream. People live it vicariously; they want to see people give up their lives for the dream. And we worked out coming back from Glastonbury one time what the chances are of getting on to a well paid slot on the Glastonbury bill, which is sort of a benchmark for having made it I suppose, you know you get a million quid or whatever. It was something like half a million to one that you’d actually get somewhere near the main stage. That 499,000 other bands have all given up their fucking lives and are living in shitholes and not making it and nobody gives a fuck!
MZ: And with an average of 4 people in a band, that’s about half the country!
Steve: Exactly! Half the country are in bands that aren’t getting anywhere.
Jay: And we’ve been accused of finding a different way to make it. The third way, it’s been called. I don’t know what the second way is but the first way is to give up your life. The third way is to try and box clever, have a fucking great time at it and go all over the place and get Radio 1 sessions and get great reviews for everything that we’ve ever done and have a fucking great time.
Steve: I think we mean something to people.
The Broken Family Band Play Cambridge Folk Festival on 28th & 29th July. Balls is out now on Track & Field Recordings.
In the light of the recent Bob Marley / ‘Family Man’ court case, Music-Zine would like to add that it’s faithful hack, Jonny Scurfield heeded the call of duty and added handclaps to Love Your Man / Woman during the Radio 1 session. Our ‘client’ feels that his clapping was the best and played an integral part in the song’s accessability, marketability and groove. Can we have some money now please?