Demob Happy – Interview

Demob HappyMoving down from Newcastle around the turn of the decade, Demob Happy have slowly but surely stamped their mark, with two glorious progressive grunge-pop albums, Soda Dream and Holy Doom, under their belts. More recently they’ve been out supporting the likes of Jack White, Frank Turner & The Rattlesnakes, and Nothing But Thieves, expanding their fanbase both here in Europe, and in the US. Hungry for more, they’ve just released a new single ‘Less Is More’, with an album expected later in the year. Bassist and singer Matthew Marcantonio took some time out to chat with Jeff Hemmings…

You’re not Brighton-based anymore, right?
I live slightly outside Brighton nowadays, in Hailsham. It’s cheaper when you move outside Brighton. The others live in Brighton. They don’t hold my views. I mean, to be honest, when you move out of town you have a lot more space for your money. My girlfriend lives in Brighton, so I’m there plenty.

What’s Hailsham like?
Hailsham itself is a bit crap. It has a nice church. That’s about the most outgoing thing it’s got going for it.

I remember chatting with you in the Nowhere Man cafe, in Brighton, which I believe you helped set up?
Nowhere Man started as me and my brother’s cafe, but he took it over once it opened up. I just helped with getting it off the ground.

You formed the band in Newcastle, but moved down here?
Yeah, about 2011, I think. It’s been a long journey. We’ve had to stick to our guns, otherwise it would have been quite easy to have fallen apart. For me and the lads, we don’t have a plan B really. This is what we’ve always wanted to do, even though it has been tough at times. Nice things have been starting to happen, which is quite nice after about ten years!

I saw you guys supporting Jack White here in Brighton last year. How was that?
Yeah, that was good. We did the whole UK tour. They were the biggest audiences we had played to. One of the first albums I had ever bought was Elephant. And I remember hearing ‘Seven Nation Army’ for the first time at my friend’s house, and being blown away. It’s nice when you get things like that. It’s a bit of an affirmation: ‘OK, I must be doing something vaguely right here’.

I hear you even got up onstage with him.
Yeah, in Edinburgh. That was cool. It was totally unplanned. We hadn’t really spoken much during the tour, he’s quite a private dude. In Edinburgh, we were by the side of the stage, just watching, and he was gesturing to us to get up. ‘What do you mean?’ He basically dragged Tom onto the kit, threw a guitar at Baz, and I was like, ‘Okay, piano’. That was it, we started going. We had absolutely no idea what we were doing. But, figure it out, you know!

Holy Doom was re-issued a couple of months back, as a deluxe edition.
Yeah, with some live tracks from a show we did at the Borderline earlier that year. Just some cool tracks, and it was quite a triumphant show, so we thought ‘why not put it out?’ We knew it was quite easy to just record off the desk. Just plug a hard drive in, and press record.

You’ve also just released a new track, ‘Less Is More’, which seems to have come out of the blue.
It’s funny the way things work now. Bands used to release maybe one single, and then an album, and then maybe release another two or three tracks. But it seems now more weighted to the front end, because music has been devalued so much because of streaming services. So, I think we’re going to release a few singles first, and then go from there, with an album by the end of the year.

What do you think of the album format nowadays?
I tend to think that people, arguably, tend to say the album form is only the product of the technology, like the 45 minute LP. We adopted that, but now it doesn’t make sense. And that’s an argument for just releasing music on a track-by-track basis. But, I don’t really think that’s the case. I think naturally we fall into the idea of a body of work. I don’t think it’s the death of the album. I don’t think any self-respecting musician, writer, or band out there is ever going to be satisfied just releasing a track at a time. Everyone still dreams of releasing bodies of work. People’s listening habits may change, but the album isn’t going to go anywhere.

Perhaps release material more often and more regularly!?
People are a fickle bunch nowadays! You need to give them plenty. A thing I aspire to is The Beatles-esque two albums a year release schedule. If they can do it! If that is going to water down your creativity, then you probably don’t have enough to begin with. It’s going to sort the wheat from the chaff. It’s just unfortunate that the mechanisms of the industry aren’t in place to support that. Record sales just aren’t there. It’s a little more difficult to justify. But the album will be out this year. An album a year. That’s the minimum I want to aim for. If things go well we can collect more and more gear, and be self-sufficient, and start recording ourselves. As soon as we get to that point we can take the middle man out of the equation, and it becomes a lot cheaper to record all the time. Potentially.

You are a noted fan of classic 60s and 70s rock – The Beatles, 10cc…
I still feel like I’m making my way through the 70s. I’m discovering stuff all the time. One of the most thrilling things to me, is discovering an artist from the 70s who has got maybe 1,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, and I think it’s amazing, and how has this seeped through time, and no one has heard about it. I love that. And it’s invariably ten times better than anything modern I’ve listened to. Why do I bother, you know?

You manage to combine that classic aesthetic with a modern sound…
I wouldn’t want to be a luddite. It just wouldn’t stand up, if you’re on the radio next to Royal Blood, or something. This big rock sound. You have to balance.

You were initially a four-piece, but now you’re a three-piece. Has it made a difference?
The only bit that was challenging was making some of the old songs work. All the new stuff (from Holy Doom onwards) was written primarily with the three-piece in mind. But even on the first album we had written beyond what was the four-piece then. Maybe some keys, and extra percussion, and three guitar parts, stuff like that. We’d always written beyond our means of what we could do live. A lot of bands seem to have that, ‘well, if we can’t do this live, we can’t have it on the record’ attitude. I think the opposite; records and live don’t have to be the same. You can have live versions which can be more stripped-back, and you can have the more delicately produced stuff just on record.

In terms of the music, it wasn’t a big shift. But it was quite liberating. Emotionally it was difficult, we had been that band for a long time. If our desire to do this hadn’t been as strong as it was, I think that would have killed most bands.

I also saw you at The Great Escape last year. It was packed!
That was a great show. We were so hungover. We thought we would be playing to like 50 people, but there was like 700 people there. If there is one way to cure a hangover, it’s the adrenaline of a show in a packed tent. I didn’t think we would get that sort of audience. We were blown away.

How was the Nothing But Thieves tour?
Before that tour we’d only done SXSW. It was amazing and great fun. I think we did 17,000 miles on that tour. I felt I saw more of the US than most Americans. They’ve got great audiences over there, so it was a bit of no-brainer, to be able to play to about 1,000 people a night. We are going back in March, supporting Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, and a band called Graveyard. They are more of metal-rock band, which is cool. And then some festivals in the US in May. We like playing over there. I genuinely think Americans are a little more receptive to what we do. When we play in Europe they generally have more of an attitude of ‘I like rock’. And in America they are like, ‘I am a rock music fan’. I think they are a little bit less self-conscious than the Brits.

Jeff Hemmings