Pretty Citizens are one of the UK’s most interesting new indie rock bands and recently, I interviewed them about the way they’ve been inspired by bands like The Stone Roses and The Verve, what it was like to record at the legendary 2Fly Studios where Arctic Monkeys recorded their debut, and what their plans are as a band for the future. Currently, the band have two tracks out- ‘Lost Control’ and ‘Wolf Whistle,’ both of which are equally immense and raw and gritty. The band have a really cool intriguing indie rock sound, taking more classical rock elements from bands like Oasis and The Stone Roses and adding a more modernised edge to it. ‘Lost Control’ starts with this great riff, a really insane guitar which multiplies in intensity as the heavy bass and drums drop in. The vocals are soft yet raspy and gritty, which accompany a really great rhythmic guitar sound in the background. ‘Wolf Whistle’ is notably a much softer, lighter track with a really stunning melodic guitar in the background. The vocals accompany the music so well too, really nicely complimented by the softness of the guitar. As for the band themselves, the four piece are made up of James Addy (vocals and guitar), Luke Watson (lead guitar), Josh Welsh (bass), and John Hulse (drums), and are based in Nottingham. To me, their music is immense and atmospheric, going from soft hazily trippy indie, to more heavy and rough cutting edge tunes. You can tell they’re pushing the boundaries in that their music doesn’t fit into one box; they don’t sound or look exactly like one band, instead they have an excitingly unique quality about them. Recently, I interviewed James and Luke, and we talked about all sorts of things, including the meaning behind their name, their dream of headlining Glastonbury, and why Luke doesn’t want Nickleback in his search history. Read below for the full interview.
Tell me about the formation of your band- who’s in it, where did you meet, and when did you form as a group?
James: The band consists of Luke Watson who plays lead guitar, Josh Welsh on bass guitar, John Hulse playing drums and myself (James Addy) on vocals/ rhythm guitar. I met Luke at uni through the Music Society Facebook group. We jammed out a few songs I’d written and even started to compose new songs that Luke had come up with, that were pretty much ready for a full band.
Luke: I could barely play guitar when I met James, but I’d always wanted to be in a proper band. When I went to uni I saw it as a chance to reinvent myself (cliché). James had four or five songs that he played to me the first time we got together, and I thought ‘fucking hell, I need to up my game here.’ Those few occasions really helped me improve as a musician – or at least made me better at disguising how crap I was. You could argue that I’m still crap and simply have yet to be found out. And you’d probably be right.
J: It was really hard initially to find a bassist and a drummer so we put it on hold, still jamming occasionally.
L: At uni, there seemed to be a lot of guitarists, and people calling themselves ‘singer-songwriters’ who suspiciously only sang covers and couldn’t play any instruments. Very few bassists, and fewer drummers. We were buzzing when we finally found both at the same time.
J: I met Josh through a friend and we had a jam fairly soon after where I showed him what he was missing and he duly obliged. He happened to know a drummer and we thought we’d cracked it, however, the lad had a crippling nicotine and motorcycle addiction, and he’d often cancel practices to get some more patches.
L: Both for his motorcycle jacket, and also the nicotine. It was the jacket patches that pissed us off the most.
J: We quickly found another drummer, who fit the bill and played with us for a few months, however he had an epiphany moment after watching ‘Into the Wild’ and swiftly moved to New Zealand. He also used a suitcase for a bass pedal which was problematic. So, alas, we were drummer-less once again, until we found John via the Tinder for bands, he liked the look of us, he had a good personality and we matched.
L: We immediately got to third base.
Where’s your band’s name from?
J: We went under a couple of guises before we came up with this name. In my head I was always trying to come up with something that came out of our songs, and the lyrics I was writing. And at the same time I liked the idea of the name having some form of rhyme going on. Pretty Citizens.
L: On the ground level, I think we just agreed on it because it has a good sound to it, and is quite memorable. Personally that was my main concern, that it didn’t sound rubbish. Names only really gain meaning after they’ve been around for a while anyway – look at something like The Smiths, which is the plainest band name. But when you hear it, you immediately react to it and get all the images and sounds you associate with that band popping into your head.
You mentioned a couple of your musical influences being The Verve and The Stone Roses. Which other musicians have inspired your music?
J: I guess two big ones that influence my song writing are The Smiths and Arctic Monkeys. I started listening to dodgy recordings from Arctic Monkeys’ gigs many months before they released their album, when I was around 14. The thing that stuck out was the realism in the lyrics, you could see the song being played out in your head and I love that. The imagery is immense. The Smiths mainly for the same reason. Morrissey creates great imagery in his songs, fitting words in where they have no place but it works because it’s not contrived. It’s proper music. Coupled with Johnny Marr on guitar it’s musical bliss; the guitar playing can be intricate or heavy, always complimenting the lyrics.
L: I’d agree with those two for sure. I do think you can be influenced by absolutely anything, if you let it happen. And if you hear something you don’t like, that influences you as much as something you do like, it is important to listen and be receptive, to work out what makes up the stuff you like, and the stuff you don’t.
Who did you grow up listening to, and has this had an impact on the way you write/ perform today?
L: I first got into ‘guitar music’ through bands like Editors and Interpol who were around when I was 15/16. They were the bands that probably contributed to me picking up the guitar, even though at that stage it was probably more about the mood and the feel of it. I’ve always been into darker stuff – through those mid-2000s bands, I went back in time to catch up on stuff like Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen, and then to Tom Waits and Nick Cave, who are on a different level musically. I think that once you start looking back like that, at the artists who influence the artists you like, you really start to appreciate originality. Nowadays I’ll gravitate towards anything that sounds like it’s had a lot of thought put into it, away from genres and themes that have been done to death.
J: For me a major genre of music is Motown. I love listening to Motown in the car on my own and enjoy the fantastic vocal ranges singers such as Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding have/had. I’m not sure they come out too much in all songs, although the Lost Control B-side Wolf Whistle has a bit of Motown in there somewhere. Another love of mine are the Beatles. I remember buying the White Album when I was about 16 and being amazed at the range of songs they’d written and the stories they tell in their songs. That’s something I always aim to do. In my opinion, a lot of bands at the moment regurgitate lyrics over and over, whereas I always prefer a song that has a story behind it.
L: I also liked Linkin Park and Eminem when I was younger. I was a weird kid.
You recorded your debut single at the same studio Arctic Monkeys recorded their debut album in. What was it like recording in such an iconic studio?
J: We’d already recorded a couple somewhere else and it didn’t feel quite right. We found 2fly via a friend of Luke and were impressed straight away. I mean, there’s a framed Arctic Monkeys album in the toilet, but that’s not what’s impressive for me.
L: It is actually in the toilet.
J: What I liked was how Dave Sanderson (the guy who recorded and produced the songs) got into the vibe we were looking for, and knew how to bring certain sounds in our songs to the fore.
L: Yeah, as cool as the Arctic Monkeys connection is, and it is a great thing to tell people, you quickly forget about it once you start getting into the recording. It was Dave’s reputation that really attracted us, and he was great to work with. Chilled out and a good laugh, but also professional and always up-front with his opinions. It was good to record with someone who, rather than sitting back and clicking a button on his Mac, would get stuck in, offer insight and suggest things, and even play parts on keys and guitars. Just a really fucking cool bloke.
What plans do you have for the future, with regards to recording and gigging?
J: We’ve got a gig coming up in October for Oxjam festival in Leeds. We’ve got quite a few songs in the pipeline at the moment so September will be spent putting the finishing touches to those and rejigging the set list.
Nottingham and Yorkshire have such vivid music legacies- what’s the local music scene like for each of you?
L: Barnsley, where James and myself are from, has some great bands. But gigs seem to be more about the entertainment aspect – it’s great for a gig-goer, as you’re guaranteed a decent night wherever you go. But it does make it less about the band. It could really be anyone playing – and that means that you tend to see the same bands, who have been playing the same Mr. Brightside cover since 2009. It does take away a bit of the responsibility though, of making sure you’re 100% tight and error-free. It’s more of a laugh.
J: I think on one hand the music scene is great. Anytime there’s a local festival it’s rammed with people, showing that really, people here prefer live music to sitting at home.
L: Nottingham’s music scene is insane. The quality of the bands is always amazing. When we were students, you could go out on a Tuesday night and see two or three bands, usually by accident, and the musicianship and creativity would blow you away. It’s great when you’re in a band – it definitely keeps you on your toes. It really feels like it’s about the artists as well, and maximising their exposure rather than lining promoters’ pockets. And it seems to work – it’s always a good feeling when you see a band get their dues. Like I saw Kagoule supporting another band at one of those gigs (probably on a Tuesday). They smashed it. Next thing I see, they’ve released an album and are being hailed as ‘the best band in Nottingham’.
What would be your dream venue/ festival to headline?
J: I’d love to play at Glastonbury. Pyramid stage. Done.
Do you remember the first record you bought?
J: The first record I bought was in 1996 with some vouchers I’d been given for WH Smith. I bought a ‘greatest hits of ’96’ album. Highlights included Oasis, Underworld and Peter Andre.
L: The single that the bloke from Nickelback did for the first Spiderman film. What was it called? I’m not Googling it. I do not want that in my search history.
Is music a full time career for you, and why did you choose to be in a band?
J: Nah, I’d love it to be my job but sadly it doesn’t quite pay the bills at the moment. So in my spare time away from the band I teach chemistry in a secondary school.
L: I suppose the ultimate aim is to make it a full time job. But then again, if it felt like work, would you want to do something else?
If you could collaborate with any artist, living or dead, who would it be?
J: If I could collaborate with someone it would probably be George Harrison. His songs always move me, they’re hymn like and make you really think about life.
L: I’d like to see inside the studio when Kanye is recording. It seems like that would be a really weird, fun, creative time. Actually, I bet he’s a cool guy too, despite the substantial evidence to the contrary.
Tell me about your writing process and what inspires your lyrics.
L: Songs tend to come from anywhere really – a guitar riff, a beat, some lyrics that James has written. We’ll then get together and pick it apart, try different ideas. With me, I tend to put my parts together on my own at home, which lets me mess around away from the time constraints of being in a studio. It can take ages, and sometimes I don’t really know what I’m looking for. It’s sort of like trying to catch a rain drop in a bottle top. No one can see what you’re trying to do, but you either do it eventually, or the bottle top gets so wet that it doesn’t matter anyway.
L: Once you start writing songs, it must change your brain in some way, because you’ll be in the shower and a part will pop into your head, or occasionally even a fully-formed song, drums and all. And then it’s a mad rush to grab a towel and write/play/beatbox the song into your phone notes.
J: When I’m writing lyrics, I tend to come up with a melody first. I usually just sing nonsense words for a while until I’m happy with the exact melody. Once that’s set I like to get into the right head space for writing lyrics, then I think of a couple of lines that fit the melody and the mood of the song. I try and come up with the lines that set the tone of song and write around them. Although they often get interchanged before I’m happy with the finished article. Like I said earlier, I like the idea of a story being told in a song. Sometimes it’s an obvious story, sometimes it isn’t, but I think whoever listens to a song, ours or other bands/ artists, should make their own conclusions and interpretations on lyrics and how it’s real to them.
What’s your opinion on modern day politics- is it something you’d ever consider writing about?
J: We have a song called Wrecking Ball, which isn’t necessarily politically motivated but could be interpreted as such. It’s something that floats in and out of the lyrics though.
L: I think that goes back to the thing about taking influence from anywhere – if you think about things enough, you naturally take stuff like that on board. Especially something as emotive as politics.
J: I think modern politics is awash with people who’ve found a quick way of earning 60k a year. There are few in politics who understand real life, which is comical!
L: You have to be careful explicitly writing about stuff like that though. It can come across as a bit cringeworthy. It’s like that Morrissey lyric about protest singers.
J: Yeah, it has to work as a song first and foremost. If it works with what you’re feeling, then it doesn’t sound forced anyway.
L: I think if the political agenda is too heavy, and the lyrics are just on-the-nose and try too hard to ‘send a message’, it actually makes people switch off.
Who are your favourite current musicians?
L: Most of the stuff I listen to is from folks who have been around for a while, which may say more about my poor listening habits than the state of modern music. Although I’m excited for new music from… The National, Kendrick Lamar, Wye Oak, St. Vincent, Future Islands, and Nottingham’s own London Grammar, to name a few. Actually, I love Radiohead’s latest album, and that’s from this year, which I guess makes it current?
J: I’m not sure I have any favourite current musicians. I’m enjoying the new Last Shadow Puppets album though!!
What’s the best gig you’ve ever been to?
J: The best gig I’ve been to was probably Kings of Leon at Leeds festival in 2007. They’d just released their third album (their last before going a bit shit!) and it was a really party atmosphere.
L: I saw Kasabian in Sheffield, after that Velociraptor album. That was a great time. I’m not even a fan really, especially after I heard someone refer to them as Primark Scream, which is both hilarious and entirely accurate. But they were really good. You can tell they love the live shows. I aspire to rock leopard print leggings like their guitarist did.