- Tue, 2010-04-13 16:28
Scouting For Girls’ first album spawned such hits as She’s So Lovely, Elvis Ain’t Dead and Heartbeat. It reached number one in the UK album chart and shot the three lads from Ruislip to instant celebrity, establishing them as a chart-friendly pop-rock force to be reckoned with. Now they’re back and hoping to climb ever higher with their new offering Everybody Wants To Be On TV.
I Like Music shot the breeze with the boys and heard about bucking the dodgy second album trend, the quest for the perfect pop song, recording in a glorified shed, and Pete’s Nan’s distasteful front room.
"I Like Music because… it’s everything.” Scouting For Girls
ILM: How did you approach the writing of your second album?
Roy: Most second albums are rubbish…or not rubbish, but unsuccessful. Following up a successful first album can be difficult. We wanted to buck that trend, and I honestly believe we’ve created a better album than the first!
ILM: Congratulations! How did you approach it?
Roy: It was quite simple; in this day and age we were more concerned about writing ten singles. Ten songs that were really strong that we could get to work together as an album and a listening experience. Our main priority was just to come up with ten banging tunes. I’m always writing, so there’s always a back catalogue of melodies and ideas. We started demo-ing the moment we came off tour in 2008. We played some songs to the record label and they were unsure, so we went back and did some new ones and scrapped some of the demos. At the time it felt like a real kick in the teeth when they said “we don’t really like this,” but that just spurred us on. It actually turned out that they did really like some of those demos. The lead track on the first one was This Ain’t A Love Song. But it worked in our favour! I’m really, really proud of this album.
ILM: How would you describe the SFG process of putting a song together?
Greg: Roy generally comes up with the melody and some kind of chorus or lyric. Then he'll come along to us two and asks what we think of it. If we like it we’ll work at it from there, start on arrangements and working out the music. Then he’ll go away and lock himself in his ‘recording studio’ [a shed] and start penning the lyrics!
Pete: It’s usually in parts and then we’ll get together and say “try this, don’t try that,” and then we’ll go to the shed!
Roy: I write loads of songs. Whenever I write one I always think it’s the best song I’ve ever written! Hahah! Then we’ll go and play it in the practice studio together, that's the point when I'll decide it’s not that good, or I’ll still think it is, but they’ll think it isn’t! We’ve known each other for so long, we just trust each other’s musical judgements. No-one’s pandering to any musical egos. If we think it’s shit, we’ll say so!
ILM: How do you go about writing your lyrics?
Roy: For a long time I didn’t give lyrics a huge amount of thought. It was only really on this album that I sat down and really thought about them. The great thing about this album was that there wasn’t any pressure from the label to produce something by a certain time, Christmas for example. They just wanted to make sure we really nailed it. But it was still hard work! We sat down and went through every line and every lyric and made sure that it stood up. Whereas with the first album we had the songs, we went into the studio and “bosch!” There it was. But here we had time to really work on it. We made sure every song worked, every lyric and arrangement worked. We just basically spent a year trying to write and record the perfect pop song.
ILM: You’ve worked with producer Andy Green on both your albums now. What is it about working with him that you like?
Pete: He knows us. He knows our strengths and weaknesses, so it was really, really good to go back with him again.
Roy: I would class him as a close friend now. It’s very easy to work with him. When you try to do something creative you make loads of mistakes, you can sound really shit and really awful and you have to be comfortable with someone to be able to do that. He’ll be happy to sit there while one of us noodles around on the guitar for two, three, four hours. I think he’s one of the best producers in the world!
Pete: He’s techie and hands on. He’s quite into sounds and trying to get certain sounds out of certain things...
Roy: He engineers it, as well as producing and mixing it. He’s quite a control freak in terms of what we do, but it’s almost like a joint venture between the four of us. With the first record he gave it this really big pop sheen. With this second record we stripped back all the songs to begin with to makes sure they were strong enough. A song has to be strong enough just to play it on an acoustic guitar. If it’s a great song it should stand up just on an acoustic guitar, a piano, or even a cappella. Then it was a matter of putting everything together, whereas on the first record a lot of the parts were already there. So we spent a lot of time making sure all the parts came together nicely. And we had more time as well, there was no rush. The first album was written in about twenty days! Here we had about three, three and a half months.
Pete: Twenty-two days!
Greg: Which was nice, ‘cos the sun was out!
ILM: Whereabouts were you recording?
Greg: Down in Kent.
Roy: It’s called Heliocentric Studios.
Pete: On a big estate in Kent.
Roy: It’s like a barn.
Pete: It’s a big shed, essentially!
ILM: How are the new songs going to change your live show?
Roy: We always want to make every tour better and different to the last one. We have lots of people who come more than once…repeat offenders!
Pete: Scouting For Girls repeat offenders!
Roy: So every tour we’ve ever done there’s always been something new. We change up the production. On the first one we had a lighting guy, now the budget for the production on this next tour is £100,000! And that’s just on lights and stuff like that. That’s not even the thing we changed! To accommodate the set-up of the new album, we’ve got one of the best keyboards players in the country.
Pete: Or in the borough at that time!
Roy: I’m trying to big him up!
Pete: No, he is great.
Roy: He’s amazing! He adds loads. We’ve always been a live band, we've never played to backing tracks or things like that, so we’ve always said that no matter how big the arrangements get we want to be able to replicate live what we do in the studio. So he’s got this wall of keyboards and sound boxes...
Pete: We want to be able to look at somebody rather than push play.
Roy: That also frees me up a bit. It means I can play a bit of piano and a bit of guitar and I can run around the stage! So it’ll be different to the last tour. It’ll be good fun to get out, ‘cos we haven’t toured for a year and a half.
ILM: What do you look forward to the most about playing live?
Greg: It’s a nice mix. We’ve got all the hits from the first album that you know inside out and you can almost do with your mind switched off. Then you’ve got the challenge of playing and nailing all the new songs as well. It’s a really nice balance.
ILM: Do you change your sets nightly?
Roy: We’re not sure yet. We’ve been coming up with various sets because we’ve got more songs and we can do that now. It’s quite hard…there’s a real art to doing a live show. I spend hours mucking around with set-lists, trying to get them to work. The way you balance a set-list and order the songs is really important. The energy of a show should go up and down. Then obviously at the end it has to come back up, and then you’ve got the encore. I want to come up with a couple of set-lists, but we usually just have one. That way you get to know what’s coming up in terms of songs and you can get creative with other things. The whole show is about interacting with the audience. On the last tour we had someone who came up on stage and proposed to his girlfriend!
Pete: She said no.
ILM: Oh no! Really?
Pete: No! She said yes! Hahah!
ILM: Hahah! Thank goodness!
Roy: We’ll always have something surprising like that happening....
ILM: Where have been your favourite places to play?
Roy: I’ve got so many! In the sleeve of the new record we’ve sort of turned it into a Scouting For Girls magazine. It’s good to have something else for people to look at, rather than opening it up and it just being a random picture or having nothing in there. So we put a little interview in there, and two pages of pictures of us playing live at our favourite dates. Isle of Wight Festival was the biggest show we’ve done.
Pete: I was saying earlier with Greg, that every day something new happens that you think you won’t be able to top. But the festivals are great. We’re a very good festival band. It comes over very well from our own live show to the festival show. Anything really. Anything live is great!
Roy: I liked Hammersmith and Glasgow Barrowlands. I’ve always been a massive music fan, and it’s amazing to travel round and see all the places that I’ve seen on the posters of all the bands that I love. When we started we went to King Tuts, which is in Scotland and holds about 300 people, and is where Oasis got signed. We’ve played virtually every music venue in the country!
Pete: Backstage at Leas Cliff Hall was a disappointment! My Mum’s been wanting to go back there since the ‘60s. It’s like my Nan’s front room. It’s horrible!
Greg: Your Nan’s front room?
Pete: Yeah, I think some of her sofas are from there!
ILM: Are you big music fans? Do you all have big collections?
Pete: I’ve got a massive CD collection. When I hear a song I will download it off iTunes or something like that. If I want an album though, I’ll buy it. I don’t like buying an album off the computer, I like a physical copy.
Roy: In the bus, Pete’s always listening to music. All the time.
Pete: I just love putting the iPod onto shuffle and listening to whatever comes up.
ILM: What are your biggest influences?
Pete: I really like older music. Fleetwood Mac and old Stones. My Mum was a rocker and my Dad was a Mod. Romeo and Juliet, but in Ruislip. So they’ve really influenced me. I like old ‘60s stuff. Kinks and all that. But often I just find a song and download it, like Paloma Faith’s new song. Just good music.
Roy: He’s quite old school. For me, I love to check out playlists of what’s hot and what’s coming up. I love to hear what the new sound is, who the new bands are.
Greg: You are the musical oracle.
Roy: Yeah, I love to know what’s coming up. I’m really interested in who the new bands are!
Pete: Then you pass it on to us, which is quite good!
Roy: Yeah, I listen to all the shit and just pass the good stuff on! But I compare everything to two sort of ‘banks’ of music. One is stuff that I grew up to. When I was very young my Mum used to listen to all of the ‘60s stuff; Motown, Beatles. That’s literally all the music I heard ‘til I was eleven or twelve. Then when I was thirteen Britpop hit and they were going back to ‘60s stuff, that’s when I really got into music. They’re my musical roots.
Pete: It’s really good doing festivals as well. A lot of those new bands area usually playing somewhere smaller to not a lot of people, so you can go and have a look.
Greg: I’m the rocker of the group I suppose. Zeppelin, Steve Vai. I do tend to listen more backwards than forwards.
Roy: It works really well. Pete’s sort of in the middle, I love hearing new stuff. But if you put our music collections together, they do agree on pretty much everything. There’s nothing we wouldn’t listen to. We’re not in any way musical snobs, we just like good songs.
ILM: What gigs have you seen that you’ll never forget?
Greg: Stone Roses at Wembley was awesome!
Pete: The last James gig before they split up, at Wembley...
Greg: The first gig we went to together was Suede at Watford Colosseum. It was on the Dog Man Star tour. That was unbelievable!
Roy: We didn’t realise what it was going to be like. We thought people would be sitting down, like at the theatre! I remember seeing Brian Wilson and R.E.M. at Glastonbury. Nothing beats a great gig...