The Ordinary Boys – Interview – 2015

"My computer, my iPad and somehow my TV were all screaming at me, that I had a phone call… I've got a bit too much technology, I think I need to get rid of a bit of it." So says Samuel Preston, one time constant tabloid presence and celeb; not so much for his music, but for the fact that once upon a time (2006) he was in the Big Brother house, and in front of millions of viewers, struck up an intimate relationship with fellow inmate Chantelle Houghton (who was the unexpected winner), to be followed by marriage, and not long afterwards, divorce… "You forget how to write," say Preston. "I noticed that the other day; my phone ran out of battery in a session and I had to write stuff down with paper and pen. I realised how terrible my handwriting was, I'd forgotten how to do it." It's one of several amiable diversions during our conversation with this talkative and friendly interviewee, a songwriter and musician who has enjoyed both success in and out of the spotlight; with his band The Ordinary Boys, and as a songwriter for other artists.
"I live with a teacher… she teaches at one of the roughest schools on the Isle of Dogs. I went in to do a talk about song-writing and they are all on tablets (not the medicinal kind); there's no whiteboard or anything like that any more. I had no idea how completely different it was, everything is like a screen or tablet. It's all typing rather than writing… I remember in the Jetsons (long running American cartoon), one of the visions of the future was that you would stand on a conveyer belt which would take you into town or work. It was stupid, one of the worst ideas; you might as well walk. It wasn't fast. I always thought that was quite a stupid prediction. Sorry for going off on a completely weird tangent…"
Indeed… Worthing born and bred, Preston ended up in Brighton, where his musical career really got going, first as a promoter and then with The Ordinary Boys (it was as a promoter that he met up with Mark Nicholson and worked shows under the Illuminanti name, including bands such as Fugazi and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Nicholson ended up managing Preston and the band). Although he still has a place in Brighton he's been in London the last couple of years. "I rent in Clapton, which feels Brightoney," says Preston, "even though there is no water anywhere. I really miss Brighton but I don't miss not being near all the studios and stuff. I think I'm going to sell Brighton and try and find somewhere here, but it's really expensive. I thought Brighton was expensive, on a par with London! And I'm in quite a cheap area of London. Yet, if I sell my flat in Brighton and get something like for like in London, I could get less than half the size! In exchange for a really nice maisonette (which he has in Brighton) I could get a bedsit in London or a one bedroom. It's very frustrating."
Back to the band and a short history… Their debut album Over The Counter Culture was released in 2004 and became a top 20 success, while subsequent releases Brasshound (2005) and How To Get Everything You Ever Wanted In Ten Easy Steps (2006) also made the top 20 album charts. They also enjoyed several top 20 hits including 'Talk, Talk, Talk', 'Boys Will Be Boys', 'Lonely At The Top', 'Nine2Five' (with Lady Sovereign) and 'I Luv U'. They were a productive and musically ambitious band; moving from their hardcore roots through to ska and mod influences and a more pop orientated output, culminating in the rather loungey Blur meets Beach Boys 'I Luv You', their last single release before the band unofficially split. Preston made a solo record but this was scrapped (and still not released), instead he ended up writing songs for others and enjoying substantial commercial success along the way, including co-writing Olly Murs number one hit 'Heart Skips A Beat'.
"I don't even remember if we split up; I don't think we did, not officially. We never officially came back either. We've done the odd tour but I'm so wary of saying 'we're back'. It's got a bit boring with old bands coming back; I hate the idea of being on the nostalgia circuit. I'm the only one in the band over 30! When we did our first album we had to get our parents to sign release forms, we were under the age of consent to make an album. We've always been a young band."
And they do sound young, vibrant and fresh even. The new, eponymously titled album, the first for nine years, could have been made before they ever released anything. And it's a million miles way from the faintly saccharine tones and textures of 'I Luv U'. From the Ramonesy punk pop blast of 'About Tonight' to the big power chords of the Husker Du sounding 'Four Letter Word', this is pure, unadulterated The Ordinary Boys, in line with their formative influences.
"There's too much gravitas these days. If this was a comeback record, it would have all the bells and whistles, and a shiny production. It really has been a case of getting into a little studio with our friends, and recording songs we had written, bashed out in the practice room, in the way we would have done it for the first record and tried to make something really organic, that felt really natural. I think what has been really useful is not to have have any planned sound. 'Let's plug in', as we would have done 10, 15 years ago. Plug in and have the same guitar tones that we always liked, turn it up really loud and just play guitar 'til there's a song. That's how we wrote the first album. We had kind of forgotten about that…"
As Preston has candidly admitted: "The Ordinary Boys had wandered pretty far from the sound, energy and ethos that had garnered respect for our debut album and earned us our still-loyal fanbase (a particularly fanatical fanbase known as The Ordinary Army). So, I made Spinal Tap-esque phone calls to bassist James Gregory and drummer Charlie Stanley who I hadn’t played with since that record. After promising several times that it wouldn’t sound anything like the questionable third album, we met for some beers and started rehearsing. We were 15 again."
Along with Gregory and Stanley, Preston be-friended Louis Jones at a Cribs gig. Jones' band Spectrals were in support that night, but would soon be no more, as Jones jumped ship to join Preston and the gang. Together they bonded over music, Jones helping to shape the new Ordinary Boys sound, co-writing and singing too. "We were listening to the same sort of music that we were listening to when we made that first album; not necessarily on purpose but they were the things I had in common with Louis and I rediscovered them through him and he rediscovered them through me. We were listening to a lot of emo American pop punk…
A recipient of an American passport (his parents are American by birth), Preston developed his love of American punk and hardcore when he went to live in the States for a couple of years, aged just 16. "I hung out with loads of hardcore bands, like American Nightmare and they turned me on to Britpop, kinda weirdly or ironically. They were going on about how good Oasis were and I was like 'errrrr…' I came back to England with this Americanised version of Britpop and that became the Ordinary Boys. I came back with this distorted Americanised version of English music and applied it to the hardcore band we had.
"I'm doing songwriting for a living, I'm chopping up guitars every day, making sure there are no unpleasant frequencies or anything on any of the guitars. So, it was just such a treat to plug in and make the guitar sound feel good and then just record it."
His enthusiasm shines through even more when he discusses the possible legacy of the album. "I don't want it to be all about the release; I want it to be part of our repertoire, a long term record to be out there in the ether. There are some similar type records coming out as us, and just reading about them – I can't say who they are, it might seem I'm slagging them off – they will say things like, 'this is arguably out best album'. What does that really mean? I don't want to be a part of having to say all this nonsense, all this self advertising. Let people listen to it and decide what they think. I just want people to enjoy it and to be able put it on my wikipedia page. We're completely relaxed amd not expecting anything" Yeah, it's obvious he's very proud of the record while at the same realising that it almost certainly won't be as commercially successful as the previous three albums. He's changed, times have changed.
Is he still writing for others? "I just keep myself really busy. Music is one of the industries where everyone is waiting to get caught out. Music is like that a lot of the time, I feel like that a lot, especially when I am in a session with someone really important and I can't quite come up with something and I think 'fuck, I'm going to get found out, I'm no good at this.. . The only way I will make it is if the song is good. I have set myself up in life to only make money depending on the quality of my output. It is my job, I work five days a week. I have good days and bad days…
"It's really tough, there are people being dropped all the time in pop music, that you never hear about. There is one girl who got a record deal and she went in to her job and said, 'fuck you all, I've got a record deal, I'm going to be famous'. And when she got dropped she wanted the job back and said 'it didn't work out, can I have my job back please'? The lesson to be learned is, don't say 'fuck you'. Just in case…"
"No one really wanted to be in a band, it wasn't the plan. They were all set to go to University and do something nice with their lives. And then the band happened and I felt a bit guilty about it at the time. But everyone's found their feet and doing really well now."
It is indeed, a life less ordinary…
Jeff Hemmings
How To Get Everything You Ever Wanted
In Ten Easy Steps
Over the Counter Culture
Lonely At The Top
Life Will Be the Death of Me