INTERVIEW: Orphan Boy | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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After releasing two albums between 2008-2010, many thought we’d heard the last of Grimsby indie-rockers Orphan Boy when they announced their split. But lo and behold, the four-piece returned earlier this year with another slice of Britpop-inspired belters in the form of latest album Coastal Tones. Described as being like an encyclopaedia of modern times, the record is a triumphant return for the band who are self-styled purveyors of “Council Pop.” They’re currently touring the UK, playing some sporadic dates around the country in support of the album.

Ahead of their gig at Ku Bar in Stockton, we talked to Rob Cross about not actively seeking to be political, the band’s love of service stations and how being in a band compares to “normal life.”

Congratulations on the recent release of Coastal Tones! Some Orphan Boy fans might have thought this would never happen after you originally called it a day five years ago. What made you decide to get back together?

It was our love of motorway service stations. You don’t have to be in a band to visit them of course, but it definitely helps.

Was it ever a bit odd going from “normal life” to being back in a band together?

No, to be honest it was normal life that felt a bit odd. Like, if you go out in normal life there’s no soundcheck to be at, no gig to mentally prepare for, no sweaty post-gig menthol cigarette in the beer garden, no music equipment that needs bundling back into taxis and hotel rooms. There’s no structure or restrictions at all when you go out in real life. And that’s a scary thing.

Was the austerity felt most firmly by the north in the past five years a particular factor in deciding to get back together and make the record?

No, we never got back together thinking “We have to do something to change this harsh political landscape.” We’re not a political band. If anything, austerity and lack of cash are a deterrent to making music. Making, recording and promoting music is an expensive business; Mike Concrete will tell you. There’s very little profit unless you’re in a position to tour extensively, or one of your songs gets used on a shampoo ad. Which is why most bands are from comfortable backgrounds because they have the luxury of being able to pursue it.

Coastal Tones is like an indie encyclopaedia of the state of Britain in 2015. Did you consciously set out to make an album that reflected the times?

The only song which is consciously written about the times is From The Provinces. It came from the idea that bands are able to make, release and promote their own music now, and carve out an existence without any industry backing, as long as they are focused and dedicated. And the liberation of small bands is linked to the liberation of small towns, who no longer have to import their culture from the cities; they can grow their own. It all sounds kind of naive I suppose but it’s a start.

Do you see yourselves and your music as being quite political? 

No, because music needs to be musical first and foremost! It needs to be emotive and expressive and evocative. If you set out with the intention of making bold political statements then you’re going against the nature of music.

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“We’re not a political band. If anything, austerity and lack of cash are a deterrent to making music”

You’ve described your music as being “Council Pop”; are your working class roots particularly important to you and your identity? 

Although I don’t think the traditional idea of the working class exists anymore, there are qualities often credited to the working class which we hold dear, hence the title of our second album, Passion, Pain and Loyalty. Qualities which hold no currency in the music industry, of course. The marketing people of the major record labels love the stereotype of the working class band: the provincial lads with shaggy brown hair who play fast and loud and write songs about girls and living on the dole. But there is no room in that stereotype for saxophones or gloomy monologues or any of the weird stuff that we like to do from time to time.

On a more general note, Sam self-produced the album in a warehouse in Grimsby. Were there any challenges in producing the record yourself?

At first we were tentative, because the old method that we had become used to (of paying a producer to record you in a studio) was widely accepted as the way it was done. But we believed in Sam, and in ourselves, and I have to say that it turned out to be a far more convenient and rewarding way of making music.

How do you feel about going on tour again after your hiatus?

Well in truth, we’re not able to tour in the recognised sense of an on-the-road tour; we’ve all got our double lives that still need leading back in Cleethorpes. But there are plenty of gigs in the pipeline, wherever promoters take an interest in us, and hopefully some festivals next year now that the album is gaining momentum.

After this tour what are you planning? Will you continue to make records as Orphan Boy?

Ever since Shop Local we’ve expanded our sound, and I kind of miss those days when we just turned up to gigs in a Fiesta with one amp, two guitars and drum breakables. So, if we make more music after Coastal Tones I’d like to strip things back a little while remaining a four-piece. Not acoustic but minimal, Fiesta-sized rock and roll.

Orphan Boy play at Ku Bar, Stockton on Friday 24th July.

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