Formed in the rainy city of Manchester UK, thirty years ago (with a pre-history dating directly back to the day Andy Warhol died in 1987), The Speed Of Sound ventures across the pond to California with an exclusive new recording released digitally as Big Stir Records’ Digital Single Of The Week.
The catchy track I See You, (a McGuinn/Crosby song) is the first cover version The Speed Of Sound has released in seven years! This powerful pop pleasantry is paired with an acoustic rendition of their original Seen It All Before. These original underground independent veterans have a busy 2020 ahead of them with an EP.
Next year will bring a double-A-side single plus there is a brand-new full-length new album on the way! Lord Litter, DJ extraordinaire from Berlin, (and also on California’s Sonoma County’s KWTF) described The Speed Of Sound as, “A cool mix of punk and The Byrds’ 5th Dimension LP!”.
Appropriately, the natural beauty and order of the alphabet places The Speed of Sound between Sonic Youth and Dusty Springfield. The band brings an original, distinctive, and identifiable sound – impossibly described as “like The Stranglers” and “like Jefferson Airplane” by different people simultaneously watching the same gig!
Since their first release in 1989, they have produced hard-edged music filled with optimism and a lyrical bite merged with a DIY ethos derived from punk, topped with a lust for experimentation taken from the best of psychedelia. The sound is enhanced by their long-term creative partnership with both Manchester’s Vibratone Sound Studio and their new collaboration with visual artist Local Hotel Parking.
What made you want to get into music?
Each of us would give a different answer, but for me, there was always music in the house, although not often from the radio; my dad played in a folk band for a very long time and my mother adored classical and jazz (Very LOUD). My brother plays as well and it was always pretty likely I would. I like music, I like hearing new music and exploring the possibilities. What made me think “I want to write songs and sing and play guitar” was listening to the Small Faces and The Chords, something about those two made me want to do it too, whereas The Beatles and everybody else hadn’t. I didn’t start playing to sound like them, just to play. I felt unconnected to most of the chart music (even then!) and wanted to make music that I would want to listen to, that is basically what the band is about. We’re trying to make something not copy it and have been since 1989.
What inspires you to write?
That depends on each song, and they are quite a lot of them but they are all about ‘things’ rather than simple ‘romance’ or ‘break up’ songs, there are enough people already doing that! Some are reactions to very specific situations (global or personal), some are written to express a mood or feel; Karin B sounds like a song to a dead lover but is about a ship loaded with toxic waste that wasn’t allowed to dock at any European ports, you might remember it happening? I mixed in the legend of The Flying Dutchman and it tumbled out of the pen …
Maid Of The Grey has a dream-like vibe to it and I still don’t know what it means! (If anything.) I Can’t Say is personal and about realising I needed to change something, which I did! …some are very spontaneous whilst others need to be hauled out.
Ideas pop up all the time; the problem is getting the mental space to actually write them. I have a notebook that I add possible titles, or ideas, or phrases (or sometimes just a word) and when I get a space to write I refer to it. It means I’m never starting with a blank page, and subconsciously I’ll be ticking over the notes even if I’m not aware of it. I always start with the lyrics; it is much less restricting than beginning with the tune and gives way more freedom to let the song find its own way out.
Who has had the most influence on your music?
Each of us has different influences and that’s what makes the overall sound interesting, some bands get together because they all love a particular artist and want to sound like that. Personally, I listen to a lot of different music not just 4/4 rock’n’roll or whatever but jazz and classical too. There is a lot of The Who in my guitar playing but there are a lot of other more subtle influences from John Coltrane to Ludwig van Beethoven in there as well, they are in the flow and ‘float’ of the music. Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground are probably the ones that reviewers hear the most.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far?
Most bands don’t last three years, to have a 30-year run is a bit unusual, the biggest challenge isn’t ‘keeping going’! Or ‘being inspired’ to write new stuff… The internet age gives lots of opportunities that simply didn’t exist 30 years ago, The Speed Of Sound have an international listenership largely because of the internet and that is wonderful.
However, the way the music hosting sites on the internet insist on demanding to know ‘who you sound like’ is pretty annoying and the whole search criteria is based around that, its fine if you are a band that ‘sounds like Oasis’ (or whoever), but if you have your own cross-genre sound it falls down. I think that affects The Speed Of Sound more than a lot of other bands/artists.
Plus, the current economic consumption model with most people ‘renting’ their music and streaming make it virtually impossible for independent musicians to breakeven let alone run a profit. That is not something that just affects the band or me, it is a huge factor in music in general, combined with the loss of music venues due to redevelopment (our 2016 single Shut All The Clubs is about that).
There just aren’t enough live venues in Manchester anymore for the number of bands that want to play, for example; I booked our next gig at the end of March the earliest date I could get on a Saturday was 16th November. That is basically eight months later… most independent bands couldn’t guarantee they won’t have split up by then. How can bands continue to play live if there are not enough venues? That is the challenge these days.
What has been the nicest thing ever written about you
The nicest thing is when someone completely ‘gets’ what you’re doing and expresses it really succinctly: Amy Britton did that writing in Louder Than War about our last single (released to raise funds for Manchester Women’s Aid, which it did and is still doing) when she said “New Wave blood powered by a heartbeat of 1960’s influences” it really gets to the hub of where we’re starting from.
What has been the best and worst gig you’ve ever played?
We really enjoy playing live, it is what we do, so it is difficult to pick out a best as such, for sense of occasion there is the 50th anniversary of Bob Dylan’s going-electric ‘Judas!’ concert, 17 bands played a song each from his set , we got Visions Of Johanna and were introduced on stage by Andy Kershaw (35 years earlier he was introducing the acts at Wembley Stadium for Live Aid!). There was an amazing buzz in the green room with everyone from all the bands in there all knowing they were part of a special night. We were the first full band on, the people before us had been solo performers so we were able to replicate the power and volume that it must have been like.
Hitting that first chord felt pretty damn cool. Worst is tricky, I once snapped three strings on the opening chord of the first song (luckily I had a spare guitar) but if you want a ‘Spinal Tap Moment’, getting stuck by a jammed door in the toilets at Night And Day and just making it on stage in time is probably the one!
What is the last album you played on Spotify?
I don’t use Spotify a lot myself, they don’t pay the artists much, I prefer Apple Music as they do pay a bit more… *checks phone* …it was Davey Woodward And The Winter Orphans, I saw them support The Popguns last week.
If you could support any band who would it be and why?
If you asked the whole band we’d probably come up with different names each, I’m going to say Throwing Muses as one of my all-time favourite bands and a fantastic songwriter in Kristen Hersh, or PJ Harvey, I saw her play The Boardwalk in Manchester on her first tour in ’92 and have followed her stellar trajectory since then.
Or Anna Calvi, I was stunned with the originality of her first album and she just keeps getting better… Having said that The Damned would probably be fun. There’s a whole load of artists I admire, and I’d rather support them because I like them than go with a MASSIVE name to maybe get seen by a load of people that would be unlikely to understand what we did.
What other bands do we need to be checking out right now?
There is so much excellent original music around at the moment, people who think it is dead aren’t looking enough, the major labels haven’t been interesting for decades and they pretty much have the mainstream media in lockdown to prevent real independent music getting heard.
I have two radio shows so I’d say listen to them (Psonic Psunday on All FM 96.9 and Tuning Up on Mad Wasp Radio) and I’d also say look at The Speed Of Sound’s gig list on the website and check out any (or all) of the bands we’ve played alongside, the majority of those gigs we put on ourselves and we hosted hand-picked visiting bands.
But if you want me to actually name some, so I’m going to have to say Weimar first as I also play in them! Everyone in it has another musical project going on and it is very different collectively to what we play individually. Louise Turner performs as ‘Turner ‘and is working on her first album at the moment, with a full band, she is exceptional and I’m also going to say Stephen’s Ruin from Dusseldorf because they’re great and we’re hosting them at our next gig. There are so many others I could list right now, not just within the Manchester area but worldwide, independent music is thriving and not enough people either know or ever hear it!
Give us a few hints on what’s in store next for your band……
The new The Speed Of Sound single is released with Big Stir Records in Burbank California on 25th October and that is pretty exciting. The Speed Of Sound has been on international as well as UK compilations before but never previously had a specific release on a label other than our own (Be Records).
We got to know Big Stir via In Deed (a very cool Swedish band we played with 18 months ago) it would be neat to play over there and we are looking at the logistics of it… maybe next year? Wait and see… We’ve spent much of 2019 in the recording studio so in addition to the new single we’ll have a four-song EP, plus a Double-A-Side single and a full new thirteen song album out in 2020.
As well as all that I’ve just spent most of my week-long holiday writing songs for the ‘next next album’. There is plenty more on the way! The next live gig is Saturday 16th November at The Peer Hat in Manchester with Stephen’s Ruin flying in from Germany to play their first gig here, 45-minute sets from both bands, no ticket link just pay £5 on the door well worth the effort of going out instead of Netflix or whatever. We’ll definitely keep moving along it is 30 years and counting!
As answered by John Armstrong – Songwriting/Guitars/Vocals