By Hollie Jones
Various Cruelties are Liam O’Donnell, Beanie Bhebhe, Adam Coney and Dean Valentine Smith. The guys have been busy this year, touring and playing festivals and releasing their debut album (available in stores now) They show no signs of slowing down this summer, releasing their new single ‘Chemicals on Monday and playing Leeds festival later this month. I caught up with Liam on a hot summer afternoon in Regents Park, to talk about Kraftwerk, Boris bikes, chat roulette, WWE wrestlers and more…
So to start, how about for people that haven’t heard Various Cruelties before, you describe your sound?
The sound of Various Cruelties, I would say, is a mixture of mod…ness, with an added slice of goth and erm, a little bit of soul as well.
Who would you cite as your influences?
This is a classic influences question, it’s hard to say all your influences, I would say probably a mixture of Orange Juice, someone like Edwin Collins, possibly a little bit of Stone Roses, maybe things like Primal Scream… maybe Ian Brown as well. Obviously Stone Roses, Ian Brown, same thing. Then maybe sort of, a bit of old school reggae, maybe Jimmy Cliff, somebody like that
I love Jimmy Cliff! Have you heard his new album?
I’ve heard one of the tracks, it sounded good, it sounds a bit like a Bob Marley thing
In terms of the band, are you all synced in the kind of music you like?
We’re all pretty different to be honest, we’ve been described as being in four different bands by some people before but I think that’s quite cool it’s kind of a unique thing. It’s like the Spice Girls isn’t it… Erm… so… I don’t know what Spice I would be? Northern Spice.
Mel B is Northern…
Yeah yeah. I’m not as scary as Mel B though.
So when you listen to music, how do you like to listen? Are you into vinyl, tape, CD, MP3?
I think… how would I describe it… The only record that I ever listen to the whole way through is probably Transformer by Lou Reed, so saying that’s kind of my favourite record of all time, I listen to that on vinyl, otherwise I usually listen on iTunes, Spotify and things like that. So my listening habits are quite all over the place really. You know I listen to Kraftwerk, or, and then… I don’t know, something else. I never really listen to set things all of the time.
And where do you go to find new bands?
I think, well, I’m on Twitter, so if I ever say to people, “I wanna listen to some new bands” I find Twitter is quite good. People like giving me tips on things. So I’m trying to think… what am I listening to at the moment? I quite like a band from Leeds called China Rats, they’re pretty cool.. who else am I excited about? Jake Bug who loads of people are raving about. So yeah, those are two people I’m really into at the moment, I found them just through Twitter and things like that.
When you go on tour do you have a say in who is going to support you?
Yeah, we do. We have a say on who supports us. We want to put things on that we like, we will whenever we get the opportunity to.
So you recorded the album in LA. Why was that?
Well we record the album with Tony Hoffer, who worked with Beck, Foster the People, The Kooks, Fratellis and mixed the M83 record so he was obviously a producer with a great heritage who’s made some great records. We actually did three tracks with Tony in London and then yeah we went to Los Angeles to finish the record. It took us about a month in Los Angeles so it was pretty amazing. We stayed in Hollywood on Sunset Boulevard, we bumped into Malcolm in the Middle, went to a hotel party with Miss USA.. as you do… and Beanie the bass player got body slammed by a WWE wrestler. So yeah. We had fun.
Did you play shows when you were out there?
We played one little show, but it wasn’t something really to write home about. Just a little set, but yeah, no it was cool. People came to see us which was surprising.
Did you find a difference between the crowd in the US and the crowds you get in the UK?
Well, it’s hard to say really because we’ve only done one little show, but yeah people seemed to like the music in the US. There’s not that much of a difference if people like it. But we want to get over to the US still and play more shows over there as I say we’ve only done one show. It’s something we’d love to do.
I actually read this article someone had written about you, and they described your vocals as Sting’s well mannered younger brother combined with Alex Turner on steroids… I just wondered what you had to say about that?
Well firstly, well, I do know how to answer that and it’s kind of… I just think, you know, because of the way that I sing… the only reason people might think I sound like Alex Turner is cause I’m from Yorkshire, and essentially I grew up 26 miles away from Sheffield (because I’m from Leeds). So if anyone says I’m like Alex Turner it’s purely for that reason. I don’t mind the Arctic Monkeys I like em, but I’m not a massive fan, I don’t sit and hold any desire to be like Alex Turner. And Sting, I dunno, I don’t really get that either, but I guess it’s cool, it’s flattering I guess if people think you sound like Sting. I don’t know if anyone’s heard them on steroids…
So you’re from Yorkshire are you living in London now?
Yes, I’ve been living in London for, how long, two and a half years now, God- I didn’t think it was that long. I live in London but Leeds is my home, I’m proud to be from Leeds and I try to get back as often as I can, go see my friends.
Do you like Cockpit?
Oh yeah, we’ve played Cockpit a couple of times. We sold it out in January and then we sold it out again in April. It’s great, you know, they’re the best gigs for me, my home town gigs. Well I would say that. And we’ve got Leeds Festival as well coming up. That’s my biggest musical ambition to date fulfilled because obviously I’ve been going to that festival since I was about fifteen… it’s a long time ago. And also the bands that I’ve seen there, I’ve seen Pulp, The Strokes, Prodigy.. errrr… who else have I seen? The Darkness! I’ve seen loads of people. Of course The Darkness are my most defining Leeds Festival moment.
So you’re playing Leeds, what are the other plans for Various Cruelties for the rest of the year?
I’m just writing at the moment, I have lots of ideas. So yeah, I want to get back in the studio I want to get demoing things yeah, and I wanna try- our albums just come out- so I wanna try and do some more stuff by the end of the year without a shadow of a doubt. I’ve got lots of iPhone recordings, which we’ll hopefully spend a bit of time on and whip them up into a bit more shape.
Rostam Batmanglij of Vampire Weekend has talked about how he records ideas for their songs on his iPhone as he walks down the street…
I’d adhere to that policy, like, I find that the best ideas for some reason are the ones that just pop in your head, just for no reason at all and you know, that’s how songs start for me. It will be a word, or some kind of sentence that has a weird melody and I’ll go and work out the chords, and sometimes it’s the first line in a song, or sometimes it’s the chorus line. It never seems to be sort of like, the end of a verse, you know. It’s always like the lead into something. So yeah, that happens and when those moments do happen I sort of tend to pick those ones as the good ones you know. Obviously not all of them are the good ones but…
At Secret Sound Shop we film bands play in bizarre locations. If you could watch any band in any location, who would you watch and where?
Good question… OK… I’d like to see Kraftwerk do a Secret Sound Shop session, I’d like to see them play that Tour de France song they have at every Boris bike station in London. Let’s hope for that one.
On that theme, what’s the weirdest place you’ve ever played a show?
We’ve done a Skype gig before… it was actually just a test to see if we could do it because we’re thinking of doing one.
Would you do a chat roulette gig?
We might try and do a chat roulette gig. Just for now, let’s say we’re doing a chat roulette gig, but we don’t know who it was to. Wait, it was to a man, a man in a sort of gimp mask
‘Chemicals’ by Various Cruelties is out on Monday. Check out the video here