Maybe by name, but certainly not in reality. Growing up in the West Country, brothers Callum and Ewan Merrett have been making music together since their early teens; a combination of daisy-age hip-hop swagger, big funk, and indie-soul-pop, where Beck meets Blur via the loose Madchester sounds of the 90s. They released their first songs in 2015, Annie Mac made ‘Wages’ ‘Hottest Record in the World’, and the brilliant ‘Avalanche’ was also featured heavily on BBC Radio One. The smart money was on Bad Sounds, and this summer they released their debut album Get Better. It’s lived up to expectations, throwing the band further into the spotlight, helped along by their captivating and energetic live shows, supporting Rat Boy this summer, playing loads of festivals, and about to embark on a sizeable headline tour of their own this autumn. They also like remixing, and people like remixing them, such as the recent Everything Everything remix of ‘Wages’. Jeff Hemmings caught up with Ewan.
Callum and I are working on some demos at the minute. And it’s Sam’s, our bass player, birthday tonight, so we’ll head over there soon. We’re in Bath at the minute which is where Callum lives. I live in Bristol.
There’s five of you in the band, right?
The other three have been part of what we do since the beginning, when we first started making demos. Me and Callum have always written the demos, and when we have written the track we take it to the band, and maybe adjust it a bit for live.
How did you get into making music?
Me and Callum used to play guitars together in bands, from the age of 13, 14. But, we went in separate directions for a while. Cal moved to London when he was 18, and came home a couple of years later and we started doing something different again. While he was in London he worked in a studio, and got into recording, and producing classic pop music. When I say classic, people like Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye. I got into more straight up hip-hop, and sample-based stuff at home. When we came back together we showed each other what we knew.
Our dad played guitar a bit, so that was always the thing we would do at the weekend, the three of us would play guitar together.
And the band, how did that come together?
Originally it was just me, Callum, and Olivia (Dimery, drums). We then decided we definitely needed a guitarist, and after using someone who didn’t work out, we found Charlie (Pitt). And then we decided we definitely needed a keys player, but just couldn’t find someone. So, we got Sam (Hunt) to play bass, and I had to learn keyboards to do some of the stuff live.
Things seemed to happen quite quickly for you once you put music out there?
We wrote a load of demos, and seeked out some management (they are now with the same management company who look after the likes Placebo and Deaf Havana). Before that we put online the demo of ‘Living Alone’, and that ended up getting on Radio 1, which got our name out a bit more when we were looking for people.
So you got Radio 1 to play an unsigned band!?
We always seemed to have good fortune with Radio 1. We have really good support from Annie Mac, she’s been wicked. They’ve always been up for playing our stuff. Maybe it came through BBC Introducing. Annie getting behind ‘Avalanche’ helped us to get a slot at Glastonbury (the BBC Introducing Stage, 2016). We made the video for that on no budget. There was a green screen room at our old university.
There seems to be a concept behind Get Better…
I think the term concept album is a bit strong! But, we’re basically big fans of albums and always have been. The album should feel like a cohesive piece of work, and not just 11 songs that we’ve written. When we were picking the demos we wanted to turn into songs on the album we had to make sure they worked together. We did have in our heads that we wanted some sort of lyrical theme that ran through. And a lot of the demos had this self-help thing, that we’ve spoken about together quite a lot. And we had a demo which didn’t make the album, called ‘Get Better’, which became the name of the album.
It feels like a prominent thing amongst our generation, something around us a lot. We wanted to have some skits that tied it together, like this opening self-help talking, and this interlude.
Yeah, it does seem to be prominent these days!
There is definitely that issue with our generation. Mental health is seemingly a more prominent issue now. But for me, it was about trusting your own instincts, feeling you’re certain about the choices you’re making. I think a lot of that insecurity is what a lot of those self-help books cater for, that’s where a lot of the market is. I know Callum rips me all the time. I wouldn’t say I do self help or anything like that, but I definitely do those fad things, trying something new out. Like maybe a big change in my diet, thinking it’s going to change the ways I think about something. To be fair, it’s not something new. You had people getting into Buddhism and meditation in the 60s, and stuff. I guess it’s wanting to be a better person, and I think a lot people relate to that.
You don’t seem to take yourselves that seriously, though, certainly not on stage…
I think not taking ourselves too seriously is important. I’m really looking forward to these shows. It’s the first time we have had a theme, playing on that ‘Get Better’ self-help stuff. I don’t want to go into too many details, I want it to be a surprise on the night. Like I said, when we first started I was doing more hip-hop stuff, and Cal was doing more band stuff, and I didn’t really want to do live shows. Every live show I went to, it felt like a band being moody on stage. I found it really boring. Cal convinced me to do it, in a way that could be fun, and people would leave feeling, ‘wow, that was fun’, rather than a night where they go ‘ I just heard those songs I already know, played by a bunch of moody people on stage.’ That’s my biggest fear of what a Bad Sounds show would be. We know that we’ll never be cool enough to pull that stuff off, we just try and make it a fun thing.
Any particular highlights from the summer festival season?
Reading was surprisingly really, really fun. There was a lot of pressure on that show, because it was the week after the album came out, and it was the last big show of the summer. There were a lot of label types down there. I had resigned myself to the fact it was going to be a shit show. I was amazed by the amount of people in the audience who seemed to know the words and stuff. Most of our experiences of playing at festivals up to that point was playing to people who had never heard you before, except maybe a few people at the front. But it felt like everyone was on our side once we walked on stage.
You know Brighton, you’ve done The Great Escape twice.
The Great Escape always lands on my girlfriend’s birthday so we always go there for the weekend and make a proper thing of it. It’s super nice.