Leatherface Gets A Taste Of Independence

Monday, 15 February 2010

The excitement is building in Sunderland, UK. For the first time in five years, record store shelves will feature a new album from Sunderland-bred punk monsters Leatherface but that's only part of the excitement though. Certainly the excitement is building everywhere for the album, but the reason it's building specifically in the band's hometown is because this new release, called The Stormy Petrel, also marks the maiden release of material from Big Ugly Fish – the band's own record label, based in their hometown – and that's what has the band nervous and excited, it's an all-new turn. This is, after all, the first time in twenty-two years that Leatherface has ever attempted to do all the work, all on their own. “[Starting Big Ugly Fish] has been a pretty incredible learning curve,” exclaims Leatherface bassist Graeme Philliskirk from his home in Sunderland. “Frankie [Leatherface singer Frankie Stubbs –ed] and I talked some time ago about having our own label and we just thought it was long overdue, so that was it, Big Ugly Fish was created! For right now, Big Ugly Fish is primarily a vehicle for Leatherface releases but we hope to have other artists/bands on the label definitely. You can never say that nothing will change from now on, however we really hope it will be the start of some good things! The lads are really pleased with the work they did with the BYO team [Leatherface was previously signed with Better Youth Organization records -ed] , but it was time for a change and this is what we felt like we needed.
“It really is just something we wanted to do, continues the bassist, shedding all bravado. “You know, when you’re in a band, you think, 'I wish I had my own label to put my music out or other stuff we like.' I think it's part of where we are today as people and it’s nice to get involved in working on the whole thing from start to finish.  I wouldn’t say that it's been difficult – it is hard work, yes – but an amazing trip, we are learning and it's all good!”

Even with so many unknowns factoring into the equation this time, it would certainly be difficult to discount the band's achievement or ambition in this new endeavor, a fact that The Stormy Petrel illustrates handily. From the moment Stubbs opens his mouth and utters the words, “God is dead” – his voice cracked with abuse and strained with a resigned anger and frustration – to kick off the album, he's got listeners locked in and hypnotized for the long haul through the album. That voice is a treasure and, backed with the wildly emotive sonics supplied by Philliskirk, drummer Stefan Musch and guitarist Dickie Hammond, it creeps straight down to the bone marrow of anyone listening. While it's clear in songs like “My World's End,” Never Say Goodbye,” “Nutcase” and “Broken” that each of the band members is struggling with a sense of frustration that isn't perfectly defined, the upside to that sort of open-ended presentation is that listeners can enter the songs, read into them how they choose and take away a validation that is unique for them and somehow vivid; the way the songs are written implies the staple structures of a half-dozen music genres (including some post-punk, the darker end of the Brit-pop spectrum, some alternative rock and even a little folk), but the final aftertaste is largely dependent on the sensibilities of the individual listener more than it is dependent upon the creative drive of the band.

As good or profound as the effects of these songs might be on listeners though, in listening to the band discuss the sessions that ultimately yielded The Stormy Petrel, the album came together in an almost charmed way – or in business as usual, depending upon how one looks at it. “A lot of these songs came together the same way we've always done,” says guitarist Dickie Hammond, looking back on the work that went into The Stormy Petrel. “Usually, Frankie [Stubbs] and me get some ideas bouncing around and causing structural damage to Frankie’s flat, then Graeme, comes in to straighten us out. After that's done, that's when we hear the pounding hammers of Hades and Musch steps in, uses a bit of glue and baboosh we have a pop song!”

“Seriously, this time it really was a mix of so many things,” adds Philliskirk. “We often work in twos. Dickie would get some ideas and work with Frankie and vice versa! The bass lines would be worked on with both Frankie and Dickie at different times and sometimes would move a song into another area! Once we got a good idea of structure we rehearsed and got a good feeling with the drums and recorded the songs. Again by playing live and recording the drums this also changed the feel or direction of a song sometimes. I mean at times the guitar parts sounded like they were in the court of King Henry, then once we all got together, turned the amps on and up you just really kick fuck out of them!!! We had worked very hard to get the songs up to a point where we were happy with them, however the night before we went in some things were changed and even in the studio we changed a few things around, but by having so much put in place really helped the extra bits that came out in the studio to be touches of magic, for me. I think on this record there was some fine work done and, in the end, it just turned out the way we all had hoped. It’s great to work with Frankie and Dickie, lucky in fact!”

As excited as the band is about the new album, the real litmus test will come, of course, when the band takes the stage to present The Stormy Petrel to a live audience. According to Hammond and Philliskirk, the early response to the new songs has been really heartening, but there are no givens in life and, on these upcoming dates scheduled to pass through the US and Canada [and then later, around the world –ed] will have the opportunity to judge for themselves. When Ground Control spoke with Philliskirk and Hammond, the pair said that the band was already deep into a training regimen for the tour, in addition to a regular rehearsal schedule to present to audiences. “To get set for this trip, we've really been trying to get ready and we've been taking it very seriously,” says Hammond with a smirk. “We have been rehearsing in the Bunker without any heating on so we can get used to the cold, because apparently it’s freezing over there – all of us with hats and coats on!!! I think Frankie took an automated photo of us to prove to people that we have been in Arctic training for this tour!”

“Dickie got his tongue stuck to a can it was that cold,” cracks Philliskirk. “This will be the first live outing for the songs from The Stormy Petrel, apart “Never Say Goodbye.” We first played it in Edinburgh, and by the time we got home e-mails were flying around saying it was on YouTube. Funny enough it was the Canadians and they named it “Never Say Goodbye” as we didn’t have a title for it. We haven't really played these songs out at all yet but, so far, the few who have heard them really like really like them. I'll be really interested to see how it goes. We are all really pleased with the album and I just hope everyone goes fucking crazy when they hear it!”


Further Reading:
Ground Control's review of The Stormy Petrel.

The Stormy Petrel
comes out on February 22, 2010 via Big Ugly Fish in the UK and on February 23, 2010 via No Idea. Pre-order it here on Amazon .

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