Interview: Mouses | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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The last time Mouses released new music in the form of their debut self-titled album, the Bank of England put polymer banknotes into circulation, Britain had just voted to leave the EU and Diane James replaced Nigel Farage as leader of UKIP (but then was replaced by Paul Nuttall two months later). 

In the seven years since, Billingham’s dynamic garage-punk duo Mouses have been doing what they do best and tearing stages apart with their ferocious emotionally/politically-charged live performances, as well as nurturing and contributing to a flourishing DIY music scene. On the release front however, things have been quiet and, to be frank, people have been gasping for some new Mouses music for their Goodmans briefcase style vinyl turntables and running/love-making Spotify playlists. 

The good news is that Mouses are set to unleash a fantastic new single on Friday 18th August. Illusion (released courtesy of Darlington record purveyors, Butterfly Effect) is a grungey, fuzzed-up, manic music offering, which delivers cabaret drama, crooning tenderness and unhinged energy in just under three minutes. 

Lyrically, the song tackles the difficulties of ‘growing up and growing apart from a parent who is no longer there for you when you grow into someone they never wanted you to be. It questions the feelings of guilt, regret and existential anguish that come to head when dealing with growing apart from someone who raised you and someone you idolised as a kid.’

We’re delighted to talk to Mouses vocalist and guitarist Steven Bardgett to find out more about the band and the new release…

How long has Mouses been going for? What’s the secret to keeping a band together that long?
This year will be ten years since our very first band practice, which seems absolutely wild. We’ve known each other since we were 11, starting secondary school together, but we’ve always been able to just dip into doing stuff whenever we want. I think that’s a big part of it. It never feels forced. Sometime’s life gets in the way but we just let it. Then when we finally get back together again we realise how much we miss this and we throw everything we’ve got back into it again. As strange as it sounds too, we barely practice ha. It helps everything feel fresh and exciting even when we’re playing stuff we’ve been playing for years. I think open dialogue is always so important too – just being able to talk about how we’re feeling and deal with things. We’re not going to pretend it’s been 10 years of plain sailing ha, life doesn’t work like that – but we love each other and love Mouses still, more than ever right now.

Tell us an interesting piece of trivia about the band that not many people would know about.
Oooh. I’m never good at thinking of interesting things on the spot. Which is funny, because this isn’t even really on the spot since I’m just sat in a coffee shop typing things in my own time. I could even Google it. I suppose, the fact that Mouses is actually a real word! We named ourselves Mouses because we wanted something animal based but almost every pluralised animal was already taken so we made one up BUT we have since found out that it’s actually the pluralisation of a computer mouse. FUN FACT OF THE DAY.

The band never shy away from airing their political views and trying to tackle social injustices. What do you make of the UK in its current state? 
I’ll try and keep this short and sweet, as I think we could probably go on forever about this ha. It’s tough. There’s just so much to be angry about at the moment. When the people who make decisions don’t care about the people they’re making decisions about, it just doesn’t work. It just feels like everything is broken. There’s just such a divide, widened by misinformation, media playing on the insecurities of people, politicians manipulating the media for their own gain etc. and I’m just sick of the constant jingoistic bullshit all of the time. Like no matter how bad anything gets, we’ll just wave flags and shout about the empire and pretend we’re the greatest country in the world – and everyone just does it and doesn’t question anything and it blows my mind. But lately, I feel like I just don’t have any answers, and maybe there aren’t any. The power of community is the only thing that inspires me. If you want a world where everyone is truly respected and you’re free to be whoever you want to be – no racism, no discrimination, homophobia, no bullshit – create your own. Make and protect safe spaces, build communities and fight the powers that be when you have the strength to do so.

What would Mouses do to put this right if you were voted into 10 Downing Street?
Probably just burn the place down and start again, but that’s pretty nihilistic isn’t it ha. Like I said, there’s power in community and I honestly think that’s the only way we go. I’m disillusioned as I know a lot of people are. I was angry for a while, and I honestly still am, but it’s totally exhausting. I want a world where my daughter can do whatever the hell she wants and feel like she can be whoever the hell she wants and I’ll fight that with everything I’ve got, but also, I’m doing that myself already. We’re building a community of people around her that support that. We try and make every Mouses show a little piece of what we wish the world could be. As a more direct answer, I think we’ve gone too far for a quick fix, but is it too simplistic to just want respect and dignity for people, however they choose to express themselves, and tax the fucking rich.

Why so long since the last release?
Well… this could be long ha! We recorded an album in the summer of 2018. Ultimately, this album was almost ready to go in April 2020. When Covid struck, we just decided it wasn’t worth releasing if we couldn’t tour and play shows anymore. The live show is just such an important part of Mouses, we couldn’t do it without it. When things started going back to “normal” (whatever that is?!), I feel like my feelings towards it all changed quite drastically. It didn’t sound how I wanted it so I went back and forth trying to remix it. After an exhaustingly long process of doing this, I gave up. I’ve always struggled to finalise projects and when it’s something so close to my heart, I honestly think if it was left to me it still wouldn’t be done ha. We handed it over to the wonderful Rob Irish and the rest is history. He’s brought the songs to life more than we ever thought they could be. In amongst all of this, I’ve realised I have ADHD and it’s something I’m in the middle of officially diagnosing at the minute. A big thing I’ve always struggled with is making final decisions on anything. Sometimes the thought of listening to final mixes and giving them the thumbs up or making notes was so overwhelming I just couldn’t do it – for like 6 months sometimes. It’s honestly a miracle we’ve got to where we are now and I’m super thankful to everyone that’s helped along the way. Also Nath has an unprecedented amount of patience haha!!

What have you been up to (both in the band and as individuals) in the time since your last release and how has that informed your music?
It has! Absolutely loads has happened since and I think the music we’ve been making is very different from the first album we put out all those years ago. There was a pandemic – Nath was a key worker all throughout, I got made redundant, went self-employed, I made a human, Nath came out as bisexual which was a huge thing for him. We’ve all been through lots of counselling and have individually had to come to terms with a lot of things in our life that we maybe didn’t have answers for before and deal with a lot of past trauma. I feel like on a personal level, lyrically, the first album was the album of our youth. It was openly critical of institutions, of the things in the world that we saw that we didn’t like – and we wanted to just say fuck you, in a way. We didn’t have answers. The new music we’re making is a lot more personal, it’s self-referential in a way that the first album wasn’t so much. It feels a lot more like a goodbye letter to our twenties. It’s cathartic and therapeutic. There’s a lot of my feelings towards my childhood and dealing with that – I was in the midst of that when a lot of these new songs were written. Illusion is the very first hint of that.

How does the band go about writing music?
I write on acoustic guitar usually. The first album was pretty much entirely written like that and then we put drums to it in practices. With the newer stuff we’ve been writing, I was a lot more open to taking songs to practices that maybe weren’t completely finished and we’d jam and work out parts together, which was really exciting to do. Lyrically sometimes I can sit down and write a song in 10 minutes, but some of the songs went back and forth between different ideas and lyric changes for years sometimes until I was happy – Illusion was one of those ha!

Tell us more about your upcoming single, Illusion. How does this song differ from past releases?
Illusion felt like a good track to come back with, as it’s totally different to what people might expect from a Mouses song. It’s erratic, dynamically a bit all over the place and way more introspective lyrically than pretty much anything off the first album. It’s got more of a loud/quiet sort of vibe that we never really did up until writing Illusion. Basically, I turned the Big Muff off for once ha!

The song talks about the negative emotions that come to the fore when dealing with growing apart from someone who raised you and someone you idolised as a kid. How important is music for you to deal with things that happen in your life? 
It’s absolutely the most important thing to me. Sometimes I feel like a fraud because I champion talking about your feelings more than anyone, and how important it is to do that – and it is! – but it’s something I’ve always struggled with. Music is such a cathartic thing for me. I can write about the things I can’t talk about. I feel like part of why Mouses are like we are live has something to do with that too, as I’m not just singing some nice lyrics, I’m screaming about my deepest fears, insecurities – making myself as vulnerable as I possibly can – and then I fall down and we’re done. I need it just to exist. I couldn’t live without it.

The band has always been a prominent figure in the North-East DIY scene. Tell us a bit about what’s going on… i.e. which artists, venues and promoters should we be checking out?
Sorority Grrrls are amazing. They’ve barely been going a year and are all super young, we put them on Mousetival last year and it was their first-ever gig, but they’re already such an important band. We love them so much. The North East has needed a band like them desperately for so long. We love The Timewasters too, another great young band shouting about the stuff we love to shout about. There’s so many great bands doing cool DIY stuff right now, it’s amazing to see artists really using the internet and social media to push out of the North East. I feel like we live in a time where it’s easier to be DIY right now than it ever has been and that’s ace. Mage Tears is another act we absolutely love. It’s been so wholesome watching them blow up. I feel like even none-DIY, there’s been such a movement recently in the North East – bands and artists actually getting out of the area and putting it on the map more and more. Venues are closing left, right and centre which has been devastating, but there’s still so many places really thriving which is so great to see. Cobalt Studios in Ouseburn, Little Buildings, Disgraceland in Boro, and Pineapple Black are creating some amazing spaces for art of all kinds to flourish. There’s also loads of bands really getting out there and putting on and promoting their own shows locally which is super cool to see, it’s where we started and it was always the biggest advice we’d ever give anyone. Rare Breed, Ocean Floor, Labrinthine Oceans, Mascara’s Lies, Gone Tomorrow, etc.

Is this single a sign of other future releases?
It absolutely is. Take this as an announcement. The second Mouses album will be finally arriving next March on Butterfly Effect and we couldn’t be more excited about it. There’ll be more on that and a load more really cool things to announce soon!!

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