As I write this, today (2 October, 2015) is a big day for Brighton based four-piece Demob Happy. After seven years as a band, and with the same line-up, they are releasing their debut album, playing an in-store at the recently expanded Resident Records, and a 'secret' show later tonight, a celebration of where they've got to so far.
Back in May they performed several shows as part of The Great Escape, including bringing the house down at the rammed Latest Bar, their fearsome, yet intricate and melodic stoner grunge rock sending many of the audience delirious. Their grooves are bouncy, and their stage manner infectious. You can't help but like this band. They look like they are are giving it all, and at the same time having a ball, a difficult to ignore combination that has seen them quickly gain a buzz in the UK and Europe. No doubt, with the release of the album Dream Soda, they will be building stronger and bigger foundations, as they concentrate fully on getting their music heard far and wide.
"It's kind of a concept thing based around this can, this fictional soda," says Matt Marcantonio, bassist, lyricist and lead singer. "It was a joke we came up with, because we are hilarious and we like making puns," he's says deadpan like. "Me and Tom (Armstrong, drummer and vocalist) were in the studio and we said it and we thought it was quite funny. We were looking for a name for the album and it quickly materialised in our heads that it was representative of a lot of the themes on the album, drawing it all together into this concept that we had never planned. But, because I love 60s and 70s music, I like the idea of a concept album. I think it's quite cool and due a renaissance; cheesy, concept albums," he laughs. "For me, that was perfect, we could make the album mean something, make it more than the sum of its parts. It gave us a foundation."
Along with Mathew Renforth (guitar, vocals) and Adam Godfrey (guitar, vocals), the Newcastle born and bred band made their way to Brighton about four years ago, sensing that here was a place that they could fit into more easily than the then barren Newcastle scene. "We left Newcastle because the music we were doing at the time, there wasn't particularly a scene for us. That's changed now, when we go back there are some local bands who support at us at the shows, who are rad, really cool. Guitar music has had a bit of a renaissance since then but when we were there we were the only ones doing anything like that. It was post-emo, metal or acoustic singer songwriter time. We were doing southern fried blues rock, so it was the wrong place to be. When the opportunity came to come down to Brighton we just took it. We've always been ambitious, we just thought we'd never be able to do anything in Newcastle, as much as we would have liked to. Brighton's proximity to London and the fact we could all come down and do a year at uni, and get loans and get settled and start the band… We had friends down here. There wasn't much of a conversation, we just did it.
"When we were up there it was at an age when we were ready to rebel and people would shout at us for having long hair, that sort of thing. That really got to us, and we thought we would go somewhere where people are more accepting of what we look like and our views, which Brighton was. I don't think I have been heckled the entire time I have been here, but on the streets of Newcastle it would be almost a daily thing. But when I go back, Newcastle has changed and I miss it. It's easy to go a bit soft down here and you lose your edge because there's not much to fight for in Brighton. Apart from ridiculous house prices! The problems in Newcastle are a lot more in-yer-face. We've had to remain really fixed on that and why we want to be in a band… I would definitely move back; all our families are there."
With his brother Andrew, the pair opened a cafe in Brighton – Nowhere Man – below where Matt was living and still lives. It's where I meet up with Matt, a warm and bohemian vibe to the place where you could easily wile away the afternoon… "The idea, still a work in progress, is to build a hub for all their activities, as well as for other like-minded souls, including a rehearsal studio in the basement. "We've had various problems with it and we're still trying to get the sound proofing right. Hopefully, these last little bits of what we're doing means we can use it full time. Andrew's going to turn into one of those evil geniuses who's completely obsessed with every corner of that room, working on the sound proofing until there's just a metre squared left. 'Yes, it's finally soundproofed!'"
"If we can get it to pay for itself then happy days. We never really like paying for rehearsals, we find it a bit anti-creative, it's difficult to relax. We saw this place and Andrew said, 'let's do a cafe, with the rehearsal room downstairs'. Pretty much on a whim. It will be open to the public, we've got loads of ideas about gigs and talks. There's already stuff going on like a nude art drawing class upstairs." What, in your room? "No, here in the cafe…"
As people try and get a grip on the band and their sound, lazy comparisons with Nirvana and Queens of the Stone Age have been tossed around, although there are elements of both those giants within their work… "I think when the album's out those comparisons will slightly water down a bit. We get the Nirvana thing way more than we're entitled to, although It's not a comparison I dislike. My bands are 10cc, The Beatles, Supertramp, Pink Floyd, all the old stuff. Some of the songs tend to go off on one… They used to a lot more, back in the day… Jesus Christ! Ten minute epics… That's where I come from. Some of those 10cc tunes are unreal, they are so good. If I can be anywhere close to what they had I would be happy. Harmonies and melody are a massive part of us on the album. I think it will surprise people."
Recorded in Eastbourne's Echo Zoo Studios, Dream Soda contains a few songs that have already seen the light of day such as singles 'Succubus', 'Wash it Down' and 'Suffer You', to go along with a lot of excellent new tunes that have been part of their live set for a while now. "It used to be an old Christian studio (ICC) and its got some amazing gear. Our friend works there so we got a good deal. In the 70s and 80s it was the Nashville for Christian music, you'd get people from all over the world to do their music, even people like Cliff Richard…"
As far as as the Dream Soda themes are concerned? “The album title is a pun on cream soda, something that is cheap, sickly and gets poured down our throats,” says Matt. “It represents everything that’s over-sugared, force-fed and corporate-owned. To us it symbolises the current cultural onslaught that aims to stupefy a generation through mass media and insidious advertising. The themes on the album include over-commercialisation, materialistic views and stupid politicians; everything that is wrong with the world, but with some positivity in there. Dream Soda is a parody of all the stupid shit in the world, this drink that zaps you of your dreams."
Indeed, Demob Happy's wild and deep and dirty musical soundscape is escapist but also intelligent and considered. "It's there in the lyrics. I don't hide it but I talk about it in a less obvious way. I think it's a bit tactless, protest music and stuff, kinda made it into something a little bit embarrassing. If people even have an inkling of that nowadays it's like, 'ugghhh, give it a rest'! That's not cool, that's the way public opinion has been swayed to think, that if there is just a hint of someone preaching, it makes them feel sick. It's probably a British thing… So, I'm very careful to not go anywhere near that; it's damaging and people marginalise you."
Not surprisingly, and bearing in mind the current political climate and the fact Labour have just held their conference in our fair city, the conversation turns to Mr. Jeremy Corbyn. "I'm intrigued by him," says Matt. "My viewpoint on this is difficult to explain…. It's good, but I am such a cynic, but I'll try and be less cynical," he says as he steels himself. "I think it's a great starting point, but I think in order to maintain this enthusiasm and drive… Put it this way, all the established parties say, 'Corbyn is dangerous because he doesn't toe the party line, he doesn't agree on accepted things, that we all agree on'. They think that's a negative thing and people are saying that it's actually the opposite, that he's not doing the same old shit. If I was in charge of those parties and the money, and I think that if there's a growing resistance and a growing left wing, a more liberal movement in my country, and I wanted to maintain control, I would make sure I let those people have their voice and make their voice count as far away from the election as possible. I don't think it's a coincidence that he has been allowed to come to prominence just after the election. Someone will try and dig up some dirt and discredit him. I would love for him to come to power, but something in the next five years will discredit him. It's like the hippy movement; we were so stupid to think that would ever work. That's why the brown acid thing was introduced into the the hippy movement; there was this general thing going on and yet they subverted it, agent provocateurs went in and made it into something bad and it fell apart. It wouldn't surprise me if that was to happen again, it's happened throughout history. So, we'll see. I hope it doesn't happen with Corbyn and people end up going, 'OK, we won't bother anymore, we need someone like Cameron'…"
So, is the band a democratic unit themselves? "No one is ever in charge really. We do disagree, there will always be disagreements. There were points on the mixing of the album, where one person had to shut up. There were moments where I would absolutely disagree but I would use that to my advantage when I had an idea I cared strongly about and they would say, 'No, there is no way we are doing that', and I would say, 'but I let you do that, you got to let me do this'. Fine… We care loads, which is always problematic. It's a democracy enforced by the fact we are friends and not afraid to call each other names…