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Brand New Heavies - The IndieLondon interview


Interview: Jack Foley

AS THE Brand New Heavies prepare to release their latest album, Allaboutthefunk, IndieLondon's Jack Foley caught up with the band to find out about their past, present and future...

Q. Looking back on the days when you started in a bedroom just out of a love of playing music, did you ever imagine you would enjoy the success you have today - with 15 UK hits and over 2million albums sold?
Simon:
Absolutely!
Band: Laugh!
Simon: No we did it for the love of music to start – right at the start, it was just a hobby. Sunday afternoons – a bit of escapism..
Jan: We were just doing it and weren’t really thinking about what it was for – but it soon became apparent it wasn’t just going to be a hobby as we quickly went from playing in our bedrooms to playing in small clubs.
We started during the Rare Groove scene, but didn’t get signed until quite late on. We did our first gig at Cat In The Hat – it’s where much of the scene started, there and Black Market at the Wag.
They were good days.

Q. What was the biggest motivating factor during your early years?
Andrew:
Fun.
Jan: Just enjoying ourselves, just doing what we loved, it’s a great motivator, having fun!

Q. You have a strong reputation for being musical pioneers. How difficult is it to keep making music this way, especially in terms of keeping it in the charts and at the forefront of the musical movement?
Jan:
I think we are conscious now of not really being pioneers as we have a 'sound', but we’re also very aware that we shouldn’t be making the same record over and over again, trying to develop the sound naturally and organically.
We’re very conscious of cutting edge production and trying to keep the sound fresh.
Simon: The sound is part of the band’s progression.
Jan: With Nicole joining the band, she’s brought her own sound and writing on board; it’s put a completely new twist on it all. It’s very important to keep it all sounding fresh and being conscious of what’s going on around you in music.
Nicole: That’s really important. You can’t help to soak up influences from what else is out there as long as you are listening. It’s like osmosis.

Q. How did you feel, initially, when your ten-year deal with London Records came to an end? And how, if at all, has that viewpoint changed in light of the new album?
Simon:
Yes!!! For me personally it was a great sense of freedom. Progressively it was becoming more and more A&R influenced. Because we weren’t some sort of putty they could mould, they couldn’t really see what we were any more.
A lot of record companies can’t handle a band unless they are selling billions of records to teenagers.
Andrew: And we got paid off quite a large amount of money to go – which helped!
Jan: It was like a comfortable marriage, where you still like each other and like having them around, but your not having sex anymore. Then there’s the girl in the shop round the corner who you keep popping out to get a glimpse of, but you're still married.
When you are signed to a major, you’ve got about 10 to 12 people working on your record, and maybe only three of them are into it.
They get a lot of stuff on their desk and you know people aren’t really rooting for you.
The difference here (Hed Kandi) is everyone loves the record and makes an extra effort and you feel like you are making decisions that matter to people.
Nicole: At the majors, it’s all so corporate, just about number crunching.
Our management are much more involved here as well, which is good.

Q. Tell us about the new album, Allaboutthefunk? What inspired it?
Andrew:
The inspiration was money!
Band: Laughs!
Nicole: I was a new addition to the band, so a lot of it was about learning about each other and finding out what we had in common and what differences we had; it was all really inspiring. It really helped the creativity flow, the learning, drama and emotions for all of us.
Jan: There was also frustration from all sides in this record. What we’d been through as a band and Nicole as well, you do bounce back from that, but it leaves a lot of energy to draw on.
Nicole: It was like that for me as well, I felt like I wanted to have a poke at the music industry – you know Telstar dropped me and signed The Cheeky Girls and Victoria Beckham and it was, “Right! – is that the way it going to be!!”
Simon: But you know – through all of this, we’ve been making music since school, we don’t need specific inspiration it’s what we do, it’s our life.
Jan: Music itself is our inspirartion - it’s become our language – it’s the way we communicate to each other. Some people can communicate outside what they do, and others are less good at communicating in the real world, so this is the way we actually communicate to people on the whole.
It’s not necessarily words or feelings, it’s just what we are, and we put that forward and hope people like it.

Q. What are your favourite tracks?
Nicole:
Surrender
Jan: Boogie
Simon: Waste My Time
Andrew: How We Do This, it’s the best track on the album for me at the moment.

Q. Current single, Boogie, is a dancefloor filler coated in funk. Yet it contains a serious message. What inspired this? Personal experience? If so, can you elaborate?
Nicole:
It wasn’t really personal experience as such, although I had just come out of a relationship, but I really wanted to write a song about dancing, and it just felt like a hit, the word 'Boogie' fitted in perfectly. It’s a simple message that all people can understand!
Andrew: And not being pestered by someone who wants to shag you! …gay or straight!
Band: Laughs!
Jan: Like I may be wearing next to nothing and shaking my bits around but don’t bother me!
Andrew: ..not for an hour anyway!
Band: Laughs!

Q. How does it feel to be working with someone like Nicole Russo?
Jan/Simon/Nicole:
Great!
Jan: Nicole has added loads to the band. She wrote most of the tracks on the album. Everyone who’s worked with us has added something, but having Nicole on board is something that’s really gee’d us up – it’s a very cool combination of things that are working here. I think everyone who’s seen us play live can see how much it’s working.
Andrew: We’re all very in touch with each other. Everyone who has worked with us has to collaborate, it’s much more fun that way. We all learn from each other – I’ve learned lots of things from Nicole and I’d like to think she has from us.
Jan: There’s always more to learn with music, it’s like language, it’s always changing, I learn something new every day.

Q. And Nicole: What did you get from working with someone like James Poyser? How did it feel when Telstar went under? And who was it that suggested you should meet with the BNH?
Nicole:
Working with James was awesome. He’s this massively conscious person who’s so talented but so humble.
But I also have some big regrets about that time as I had some bad people around me who were very controlling.
When I went, they prep'd me and they said don’t have any ideas, don’t try and impose any demands on him, just do what he says.
I was told quite clearly thatiI would be dropped unless I went there and just did what I was told.
After three years of being battered by the people around me, I just said, 'ok, no prolem, I’ll just be a good little girl', which is very unlike me; I was just dramatically happy to be working with him it was a dream.
He arrived a day late from working on Erykha Badu’s album and he came in and sat down and the first thing he said to me was, have you got any ideas'?
I looked at my management and thought, 'you arseholes'!
It was a brilliant experience, though, I had five days with him and learned so much.
I also had a phone call when I was out there saying, 'if I didn’t write a hit song on the next four days I’d be dropped' – which kinda leads to the next question!
When Telstar went down, I was sad for a lot of the people who I knew in that company, who got a really bad deal when things fell apart and really lost out.
Mystique worked so hard and it was a really poor show; I really felt for them.
There were also a lot of good people who worked on my stuff who were really really nice people.
I know bad stuff can happen in business, but I still felt for a lot of people. There were a few people who didn’t help the situation there, but I still stay in touch with quite a few of the people there.
Just before I left Telstar I was talking to a guy called Jeremy Marsh, the MD at Telstar, and he said I should meet Colin, the Heavies manager for the last 10 years.
So I did and we got chatting and it was like, 'why don’t you meet up with Jan'? So I did and we got on great and it all just kind of came from that.
There wasn’t a big plan or anything. We did a couplpe of tracks and it felt right for us all.

Q. Will you be touring with Nicole and the new album and, if so, what are the dates? And which places are you most looking forward to returning to?
Jan:
Yes we’re playing in London and Manchester.
Andrew: Also Southport Soul Weekender and Moscow! We’re really looking forwards to going back to the States.
Simon: Europe’s great as well, but I’d really like to get out to the old Estern block - Croatia, Lithuania, places where people are really welcoming.
Nicole: I can’t wait to go to New York, I’d just love to play in New York..

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