Crack checks in with Dalston’s finest before you need the Hubble telescope to find them
Nobody likes a sycophant. And Christ, no one wants to be a sycophant either. But it’s mighty hard to keep the praise from flowing when it comes to the East London trio, Male Bonding. All that holds the ass-kissing gambits back is the inescapable fact that on hearing such complimentary adages they would either squirm or run a mile. Humble, unassuming and certainly erring on the side shy in the flesh, yet rambunctious and powerful on stage and stereo. You’ve got to love these contradictions in your bands. It keeps you on your toes.
Robin Silas, Christian, Kevin Hendrick and John Arthur Webb came together in 2008. A phoenix from the flames of their respective former bands Pre and Bullet Union, the three became colleagues (at a record store – duh, where else?), then became three housemates, then became three bandmates. The ultimate male bonding experience.
This resourceful outfit released their first singles on their own label, Paradise Vendors, as well as compilations featuring fellow Dalston based bands such as Spectrals, Fair Ohs and Mazes, before Subpop came knocking. Well, telephoning if we’re going to be literal. The lads thought it was some kind of joke. One of their 7” singles had landed on the right desk. You can’t blame them for being surprised; Subpop only rarely sign UK acts for a start and well, it’s Subpop, you know?
Branded post-punk, but with influences scaling the breadth of their encyclopedic musical knowledge – for this is the way of the record store employee – it is immediately evident that unlike many of their 90s derivative contemporaries (Crack isn’t naming any names, but there are a few Yo La Tengo rip off bands out there at the moment – join the dots yourselves, readers) Male Bonding are not in it for indie retro glory, nor for fame or money either. They want to create something genuinely great and phenomenally fun. Tracks like All Things This Way andYear’s Not Long are utterly contagious, and being two minutes each in length leave you reaching for the repeat button.
It’s only been a year since the release of debut LP Nothing Hurts and the band have been touring like Zebedee on his Magic Roundabout, with a list of festival shows as long as your arm, gigs all over the USA and Europe and recently completely owning the stage when supporting Weezer in London. They’ve even found time to write material for Rivers Cuomo himself. So the imminent release of album number two beggars belief. How did they fit it all in? Maybe it’s because they have been in this game a while, or maybe it’s because they have cascades of talent but that ‘difficult second album’ really hasn’t proved that difficult. Produced by the legendary John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr, Kurt Vile) and largely penned over Christmas 2010, Endless Now, out in August, proves to be an indie kid’s Arcadian dream, new single Bones wafting sumptuous, hazy harmonies into your summer. Next back in the UK for a tour in September, Crack caught up with bassist/vocalist Kevin before he departed for another epic US tour:
Male Bonding started out as a side project for yourself, John and Robin. Do you think that took the pressure off creatively?
We never really viewed it as a side project. We were very busy respectively with other projects, but we always warmed to each other and were always on the same sort of page musically. It became inevitable that it would take over from everything else. There was never any pressure creatively – that was what was so exciting about it, we approached it completely fresh. In the beginning the first person to the microphone sang the song.
You’ve said before that writing was a very collaborative process born out of jamming and a shared love of the same bands, was that the case with writing the second album?
The second album was different. John wrote a whole bunch of stuff while we had a break in touring and brought it to us.
It’s only been a year since your first album came out. Did you write while being on tour?
We’ve always been pretty productive like that but it’s in the gaps from tour that any constructive writing happens. Despite the best intentions writing on tour is pretty impossible.
Did your new fourth member Nathan get involved with the writing process? And why the need for another guitarist now?
Nathan is a dear friend who is super busy with his own project Cheatahs and we asked him to play live guitar because with this new album we entered a whole new world of guitar parts and overdubs. There’s a lot of guitar work on this record and to have someone else sharing it, frees up John to concentrate on his arpeggios and falsettos.
How was working with John Angello? Did you get any good Mascis or Moore stories out of him, or did you play it cool?
Oh man, John Agnello! Amazing. And we got a ton of stories that we’re taking to our graves.
You’ve been touring like mad men in the past year. Do you enjoy being on the road? Is it still exciting?
Personally I feel very lucky to be able to move around the world like that. We’ve seen some amazing places, met some equally amazing people. We’ve seen some horrific places too and shared floors with absolute animals but the good, for me, outweighs the bad. My only gripe is that you never get to stop enough. You’re always moving. Sometimes I just want to stop the van and go jump in a river or run up a hill or something. Gas stations take their toll.
What’s been your favourite festival experience?
Primavera this year. That was the last show we played. I’d never been before. It was amazing. One high point for me was having a shot with Ariel Pink’s drummer before they went on. He is the drummer in Beachwood Sparks, one of my favourite bands. Festivals are quite weird, there’s always this prevailing air of debauchery and people really get wild, and you have conversations with people like James Blake that would never happen in real life.
Do you have time to check out other bands at festivals? Who are your favourite live bands currently?
I really like Sauna Youth, I feel that they are a lot more than just another hardcore band. Something really compelling about them live. At Primavera I was blown away by Swans. I was really surprised. I mean I’m a little aware of Swans and their rub on all the cool bands etc. but I didn’t expect them to be so amazing now. Michael Gira was mind bending.
Has the success of Male Bonding and recording the second album meant your label, Paradise Vendors, has had to been put on hold a while?
Yes, we haven’t had much spare time to concentrate on releases in the last year. PVI is still very active and so long as there’s things to excite us there will be future releases.
Do you think having run of a record label gives you an insight in to the industry that maybe other bands don’t have?
Not really. We kind of operate outside of any formal industry. We don’t have distribution deals or anything like that but we are a small operation. I think younger bands and artists are way more clued up these days in regards to how they wish to present their music to people.
The new single Bones seems to have a lot of classic influences like Ride and The Wedding Present. Had you been listening to much UK indie while recording the new album?
Not specifically. I mean I think those kind of influences are old and almost omnipresent so maybe they just find their way out somehow. When we recorded the album I seem to remember listening to Ted Lucas, Michael Hurley and the (then) new Kurt Vile record.
And just for fun – Top 5 bands you would be in if you weren’t in Male Bonding?
1 Fleetwood Mac ( sorry John McVie)
2 Medicine Head (I love them and they never had a bassist, so it could have worked)
3 Fairport Convention (Perhaps if I had continued with violin at school?)
4 Rites of Spring (I imagine how exciting this would have been, brooding for a Fugazi right around the corner. DC fantasies from a small home town near Heathrow Airport)
5 Big Bottom (Look up – Susan Stenger / Cerith Wyn Evans)
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Male Bonding are on tour across the UK and Europe in September:
Words: Lucie Grace Trotman