If Brian Wilson and Lux Interior had ever gone street drinking around the streets of Manchester and decided to start a band, then they’d probably have sounded like The 99 Degree. An intoxicating and eclectic collision of surf pop, dark rock and Northern humour (everywhere has a north and its humour is always oddly similar) make them an enjoyable, art-rocking outlier on the Manchester music scene. Intrigued? Read on to find out more.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves. What’s the story behind The 99 Degree and how would you describe your sound?
We’re like a kind of trashy mariachi surf punk band with bits of psychobilly and B-movie soundtracks thrown in. Covered in reverb with shouty gang vocals. Although it could be anything really, we just end up sounding like us now no matter what we do. When this started, we weren’t really thinking of forming a band. We’d been in bands before but found Manchester’s scene difficult and a bit stifling. Everyone has been hung up on the city’s past glories for so long that no-one really paid any attention to us trying to do something else. So, I was just writing music I liked and sending it to Joe to put lyrics to it that he liked without any thought about anyone else liking it. Just something to do really. There was a vague idea of perhaps going into a studio as a project at some point but no plan. We then started just doing some home demos of the songs to finish them off and showing them to our mates, girlfriends, etc. People we showed them to seemed interested and so we got our mates on board and… here we all are! We’re still just making stuff we want to hear really.
What motivates you and inspires your music, aesthetic and vibe?
Very little really motivates us! We like writing our songs our way and going out to do shows playing those songs and seeing if people like them as much as we do. The shows just tend to be as intense and sweaty as possible! We’re kind of like a very small unsuccessful cult. We have our ways and ideas. We’re right and we’re not changing!
Aesthetics and vibe-wise wise, everything really came together for the Boot Hill Surf Club EP. Our idea was that we were four (now five) surf obsessed idiots who had set up a surf club in the middle of an estate in Manchester, where you can’t surf. Maybe we’d try surfing the canals? The club had no hope of working or gaining members but it’s what we wanted so we did it anyway. We thought it worked as a background for the music but also reflected how we felt we were operating as a band.
The look was us wondering what the Beach Boys might be like had they been born in Manchester and its satellite towns rather than sunny California and not achieved success. The surf shirt thing is kind of done at the moment but I’m sure we’ll bring it back occasionally, when we feel like it!
You recently signed to Sour Grapes Records – how did that come about?
Sour Grapes promote gigs here in Manchester as well as running the record label. They’re bringing some great bands to town too. We played one of their shows late last year and got talking got talking. At that point we were looking around for a label to release the double A-side we were recording (more of that below) and had a few irons in the fire and some offers of help. We already knew Alex at Sour Grapes from gigging around town and Borja and Giorgio are great guys too.
We all like the same kind of stuff and they believe in what we’re doing, and we believe in what they’re trying to put together as a label and as a promoter. We think they’re doing something different and good and want to be part of that. They only book bands they like and can promote themselves and treat all the bands well. The record label is an extension of that and something we’re excited to now be part of.
What are the odds of finding you surfing on the Rochdale Canal?
You wouldn’t believe the amount of abuse you get wearing matching shirts and carrying a surfboard around Miles Platting. Actually, maybe you would. We had stuff thrown at us from a tower block. Which was very enjoyable. There were some nice people around too I should add. In an unrelated incident something blew behind us too. I think the billowing smoke can be seen behind us in one of the pictures. Nothing says surf like an industrial fire.
Canal surfing… Have you looked in Rochdale Canal recently? I saw a drunk guy jump in there a while back, swimming around, spitting water at people. You have to presume he’s now dead or at least horribly changed. Plus, there’s The Pusher about isn’t there…? (see our song about him/her/it/them/no-one on the Boot Hill Surf Club EP). Surfing-wise we’re definitely more Brian Wilson than Dennis Wilson. Happy to steal the sound, less inclined to do any exercise. None of us can surf. Brian’s acid sandbox is more us.
Your music has influences from 60s garage rock and 80s post-punk but isn’t overwhelmed by the sounds and motifs of those eras – how easy is it for you to find that balance between old and new?
We don’t find it that difficult really. Start with your own idea and let that be influenced by what you know rather than the other way around. If it’s your idea it should sound new! It feels like the genuine punk ethic is coming back at the moment.
There’s a lot of good, different bands around and it’s all very DIY as there’s no viable industry so people self-release or start their own label. There’s so much good stuff around if you know where to look. Bands like Oasis nearly killed what it was to be in a band in the last few decades by misrepresenting what punk was and saying anyone can do it with just three chords. They missed the point; you need three chords and ideas. In fact, you don’t even need the three chords.
What’s up next for The 99 Degree? Any upcoming gigs, new releases on the horizon, other projects?
Yeah, plenty of stuff! Our next release is a double A-side: Love (Like I Need You)/Bed Of Bones. Released via Sour Grapes Records on tape and download. We’re at Kendal Calling in July too. Then we’re looking at dates out of town and we’re going straight back into the studio to record another EP at Champzone in Sheffield with Jack Howorth who worked on Fat White Family’s new album. Hopefully that should be out in Autumn with dates around then too. We know what’s gonna be on the EP and it’s gonna be filthy!