- Tue, 2010-04-13 15:03
La Shark are a London five-piece who write brazen pop tunes, albeit the kind of brazen pop tunes that one might expect from a mildly schizophrenic but largely benevolent outpatient. They have just finished touring with fellow Goldsmiths Uni alumni Paloma Faith, and released their debut single, A Weapon.
I Like Music caught up with vocalist Sam, guitarist Ben and keys-player Sami to find out about early forays into hip-hop, why La Shark are essentially a disco ball, being described as Mika fronting Green Day, and where all this leaves plans for a debut album.
“I Like Music…but I prefer material possessions.” La Shark
ILM: Sam, you began doing spoken word stuff on your own, how did you get from there to La Shark?
Sam: Yeah, I had a brief little liaison with hip-hop when I first started out.
Ben: Playing on street corners…
Sam: Then eventually it came together through random, coincidental meetings.
ILM: You were all at Goldsmiths University together, is that right?
Ben: That’s not where we met, but that’s where it all came together. It so happened that we were all on the same course.
Sami: I actually came to see La Shark play before I joined them. I was like “I dig you guys!” So I wiggled my way in. Like a little worm.
Ben: We did an initiation, like a gang. Sent him over an assault course.
Sami: It was pretty arousing… So we’re a pretty solid five-piece now.
ILM: How long have you been a five-piece?
Sami: We were a five-piece before we were a six-piece, and then we went back down to five again. It’s changed from two to three to four to five to six, to five members.
Sam: It kind of feels settled now.
Ben: No, we want three extremely hot gospel singers! We went on tour with Paloma Faith and she had three really hot backing singers. That would be so good!
Sami: We’re all on edge; any one of us could get kicked out at any moment…
ILM: You guys stand apart from the crowd musically, was that a premeditated move, or just how things happened?
Sam: We were trying to think about defining our genre the other day… We’ve always had the same intentions in terms of our exterior. We’re like a shiny disco ball, but it’s what’s inside the centre of that disco ball that’s the real core. That’s where it varies. The reason our set works is that every song is glamorous in its own way, and has its own glitzy façade, but in the interior there’s actually a lot of contrast. A lot of them are very personal, and others are trying to make comment. So there’s a lot of contrast when it actually comes down to the meaning…
Sami: So that gives you a genre! I think our sound is based on happy accidents, and they become the songs. We’re five very different people with very different styles.
Ben: Whoever shouts the loudest gets the final say!
Sami: Then it gets to the point in the rehearsal when we’re like, “now it sounds like La Shark!”
Sam: I liked my disco ball analogy!
ILM: Are there any other bands at a similar stage to yourselves that you consider to be ‘kindred spirits’ so to speak?
Sam: Because you’re so involved in what you do, I never compare what we do to anyone else. I never think “we’re better than this band,” or “we’re worse than this band,” or “are we the same kind of band as this band?” It never crosses our minds to do that. But there are bands that we love in South East London. And then there people that just make me crumble and go “I wish I could sing like that!” But in the end everyone’s very different and has their own sound.
Ben: A lot of bands, when they start, just aim to the next ‘whoever’…
Sam: We really love a lot of people who are quite close to us, in New Cross say. There are a lot of bands in South London who are doing very interesting things, but I wouldn’t say we’re a group, or scene. We go and see each other’s shows and are like “wow!” but stylistically we’re all very different. I think it’s nicer that way. Each band are doing their own thing, and that pushes all the other bands forward. It’s more inspirational than if we were all a phenomenon in ourselves and had one single genre going on. It’s good to be surrounded by creative friends. And the artists and the actors – everyone in their own field of art – is as much an inspiration as the musicians. We’ve probably got more friends doing art than doing music now that we’ve left college.
Sami: Music students are boring. There are two kinds of music students, and both of them are shit! One of them’s the ‘jazzer’, who’s like “ah, mate, that was a phat cadence!” That’s just boring. Then there’s the orchestral player who’s just in it for the community… I don’t know…
ILM: The debut single, A Weapon, has just been released. What made you choose that song to release in particular, as opposed to any of your others?
Sami: It was time to release a single. If that time had come earlier it would have been a different song, but that was the song that we were playing the most. It was unanimously decided, as well. It was the obvious choice.
Ben: It’s not like it’s the oldest song, or the newest song…
Sami: It’s just where we were at the time.
Sam: I like the way it all comes together. There’s the rawness of the bass and the vocal on their own for the whole first verse, and then it comes together. Any of the more sophisticated bits of it - the harmonies in the music – don’t come in until halfway through the song. I think it’ll divide people. They’ll think it’s quite minimalist and simple, but then by the first chorus it’s become a full song. I like that about it.
Ben: It’s a pretty weird structure!
ILM: What was it like working with So Darn So Records? How did you come together with them?
Ben: They just said they’d give us a shit load of money!
Sam: I haven’t seen any of that money…
Ben: No, they were just nice guys. They really liked the record, and we really get along with them. It’s best to surround yourself with people who you can work with and be friends with. We’ve had relationships with bigger industry people, and at the end of the day it all goes a bit sour.
ILM: Speaking of which, you’ve started to get some bigger industry folks showing interest in you, like BBC 6Music’s Tom Robinson. How do you feel about the idea of going a bit deeper into that media world, encountering the NMEs etc.?
Sam: There’s so much stigma attached to what’s a good magazine and what’s a bad magazine. Just be honest to every single one of them and hope that they don’t fuck up your story. All these things are opportunities for us to play in amazing places to amazing people. You don’t want to be a dick and say “we’re not interested.” I dunno…maybe there are people that should be boycotted. Maybe we’ll realize that along the way and cut them off, but at the moment it’s just about taking all the chances that come. Ben keeps up on who’s a dick and who’s not a dick. He’s got a little black book.
ILM: Someone recently described you as ‘ska’s answer to The Cure’. What’s it like now to start hearing yourselves through other people’s ears?
Sami: I hate genres! I’ve always hated genres.
Sam: For me, when the names of people you respect get thrown at you, like David Bowie, Robert Smith, David Byrne… As longs as there are loads of them it’s a good thing. If everyone was saying “he sounds like David Byrne,” I’d be like “shit! I’m copying something!” But if they’re all over the place, and one minute someone’s calling you Madness, and the next you’re being told your arrangements are like Edith Piaf, that’s amazing! There’s so much contrast there. I remember this girl in Newcastle came up to us, it was so funny, and told us it was a bit too rocky and that if we were gonna do the electro thing we needed a bass player! I was like “we’ve got one!” Then she said something about it being a cross between Green Day and Mika. I like that being thrown at you, y’know, it makes you very self-aware. I was like “am I Mika!?”
Ben: Everyone has their own bands that they know…
Sami: They hear what they wanna hear.
Sami: They might be like “you’re so ska!” You can easily take all the ideas that you find in our songs and compare it to something that might be some completely different genre.
Sam: Because of how much music is available to people, and how massive their iTunes collection is, even if they’re only 14, everyone knows or thinks that they know loads about music, and they become critics. They say to you “that sounds a bit 60s, or a bit 80s,” or “that sounds like this.” That didn’t happen before. Even when we were growing up you’d get a couple of albums and listen to them for the whole year. You might only know ten bands. Now people know hundreds and hundreds of bands. It’s interesting to hear what they throw at you, but in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t change that much.
ILM: Your live show is a very big part of what you do. Has that always been the case?
Sam: I’d like to think that in terms of movement we’ve evolved. It’s not like I’ve got better at dancing, for example. It’s just become…I wish I could say it was contemporary dance without sounding really pretentious! I don’t know anything about that!
Sami: There are bits of everything thrown in there.
Sam: I’ve done yoga before, that’s in there. Yoga, break-dancing, tap…
ILM: If someone gave you a massive budget to spend on the live show, what would you do with it?
Sami: What was that film we saw the other day?
Ben: Flash Gordon?
Sami: Yeah. We’d make it like that. Seriously 80s.
Sam: I definitely want a cat-walk. A podium maybe as well. We can keep changing positions between first, second and third place. You’ll have to stay down by the keyboard Sami.
Ben: You can get a hamster ball.
Sami: We need to find a way to attach a keyboard to a swing.
ILM: How was it touring with Paloma Faith?
Ben: It was so much fun! Coming back to London feels really weird. You feel like some sort of Viking, going through each town and immediately moving on.
Sami: It’s a quite simple but intense lifestyle. It takes over. You live for 5pm. You’ve got to be at a new location to unload every day at 5pm, and then every night you play. Then you come back and suffer from some sort of post-tour syndrome.
Sam: I just want to settle down and get a wife and a farm! I was like “what the hell!?” I started calling up ex-girlfriends and asking if they wanted to hang out!
ILM: How was it playing in those venues; were they bigger stages than you’re used to?
Sami: Paloma requires a lot of space. They were big stages, but covered in stuff!
Ben: We did the Maccabees tour last year and that was pretty big, but Sami wasn’t there.
Sam: I feel like we know how to deal with the space now. I watched a video of us and we look like insects crawling over the stage and owning it. I’ve seen videos of us before and we looked like we weren’t doing it quite right yet, and I don’t think we were doing it right on the Maccabees tour because I was just pissing myself because there were so many people! Now it’s much more focused. Or not focused, but natural.
ILM: Did the crowds respond to you well?
Ben: Yeah, it was really good. It was a weird mix of people.
Sami: Perhaps a younger audience than we would have hoped for.
Sam: I wouldn’t think that if we got much bigger that would be our crowd. Not that I wouldn’t want it to be, but I did feel that there wasn’t always that connection with a lot people. You could see people who looked very weary.
Sami: It’s always got to look up and see someone who’s absolutely terrified of us.
Sam: When you pinpoint someone in the middle of a group…I remember there was a bald guy with cool glasses…
Sami: I remember him.
Sam: When you pinpoint someone who’s absolutely loving it then that person eradicates twenty people around him who are hating it. I wish we could teleport people up on stage with us!
ILM: Are thinking about doing a headline tour yourselves any time soon?
Ben: I think we’ve got to have an album out to do that.
Sam: I think we’d have a great time if we played to ten people a night, which is what we’d have if we did a headline tour! We still haven’t made the step of playing with a band that we feel very in tune with. I’ve liked the bands that we’ve played with before, but we haven’t played with a band that we have an attachment to. We need to play with someone that we really look up to. We did look up to the other guys in terms of their stage presence, their music and how professional they are, but we haven’t played to our biggest heroes yet. I think that’s the next step. I don’t know who that would even be though!
Ben: With the other bands we just got the call. We got offered it and thought “why not?”
Sam: The most fun tours are when everyone’s in the same touring mind-frame together and everyone’s an equal. Then it’s amazing. With bigger acts that we’ve played with, they’re always separate. They’re always off doing their own thing, and you don’t connect with the band you’re supporting. It’s not always such a nice vibe when it’s like that. To some extent, Paloma was always so busy that it wasn’t easy to get as close as we would have liked us to be.
ILM: Have you got any festivals in your sights this year?
Sam: There’s a few. We’re waiting to see if we get a few more offers after the single.
Ben: We’re doing the Great Escape, 1 2 3 4, those kinds of things. And then a few of us might be playing with Cibelle. She’s an amazing singer-songwriter, with an album out soon. She’s going to be playing a few dates in Europe. Then we’ll get back and think about writing an album.
Sam: Well, write songs. We don’t know what format things are going to be done in yet. We’re going to try and be as creative as possible.
Ben: Summer’s the time to be creative. We can afford to chill out. Sami’s got to finish his degree.
Sami: Yeah, these guys have one up on me. I’ve taken two weeks off school to go on tour. I’ve still got 12,000 words to think about…
ILM: So you say you’re going to be doing a lot of writing for the album, does that mean the songs you have already aren’t going to be included?
Sam: If we pooled together what we could play now as a band we probably have fifteen or twenty songs. And there are so, so many bits and bobs that we’re just holding back on since we’ve been touring. Now that we’ve got home it’s so exciting to be working on little musical and lyrical ideas that we’ve had. There’s so much to be done. I’d be happy to write 100 tracks before we release an album!
Ben: We’re all a bit perfectionist to be honest. It’s not like we’re gonna get ten songs and then be done with it. When we get to releasing an album it’s got to be the right one. I grew up with Wild Beasts, I was really good friends with Hayden especially, and when they were putting together their first album there were so many fucking amazing songs that they left behind. I was like “you have to put that song on the album!” But it works. You have to have the right songs in the right order. You don’t want to rush it. It’s like a hot-pot! You don’t want to put it on too high a heat or it’ll go all hard…
Sam: I want to put loads of songs out there, loads of stuff. I want some smash-hit singles as well.
Sami: I want a Christmas number one as well. It’s all about Christmas number one.
Ben: Yeah, we’ve got a couple of Christmas songs up our sleeves as well!
ILM: What have you been listening to recently?
Sam: We listened to a lot of Phil Spector on tour.
Ben: And Fleetwood Mac.
Sam: Talking Heads.
Sami: I made some mix CDs that didn’t go down very well…
Ben: We had the new Gorillaz album on for a bit.
Sam: It’s funny listening to stuff on tour when you’re at your most vulnerable, really weak and hungover and just zoned-out. Then when you get back and put pen to paper everything just rushes out in a massive mish-mash of all the things you’ve been listening to and doing. That was the great thing about listening to music when you’re completely stationary. I didn’t actually stop moving mind you. I wasn’t allowed to chat! I was talking my head off and I had to stop.
ILM: You had tonsillitis a little while back didn’t you…
Ben: His tongue was completely green.
Sam: We didn’t get to adopt as many accents as me and Sami usually do!
Sami: The gangsters came out.
Sam: But we didn’t invent any new ones. You have to pass the time as an alter ego.
Sami: I think my favourite is the old-time deep-South cowboy. After about an hour you forget who’s who. It dangerous. Especially when you’re not eating. Our diet on tour consisted entirely of Walkers crisps and beer.
Sam: I could happily never see a packet of Walkers again! I actually managed to stop halfway through the tour, but you guys carried on.
Ben: I branched out, got some bread and put the crisps between slices.