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Interviews: Hard-Fi and The Redwalls

By Scott Smith in Miscellaneous on Jul 29, 2005 3:26PM

With so many past, present and future rock stars roaming around Lollapalooza last weekend, Chicagoist was able to pull a couple of them aside for some interviews. First, we sat down with members of the British rock band Hard-Fi as well as Andrew Langer, the guitarist for The Redwalls. Both bands have had their share of local success (Hard-Fi in the UK and The Redwalls here in Chicago) and are trying to break wide across the US.

(from left)
Ross Phillips, Guitar
Steve Kemp, Drums
Richard Archer, Lead vocals

Chicagoist: Is this your first time in Chicago?
All: Yeah, yeah.
Chicagoist: When did you guys get in?
Richard Archer: We got in at midnight last night. We had a bit of a…we were supposed to be playing Toronto and our bus broke down in Pocono [Pennsylvania]. We spent some time there, made our way here, and got in about midnight last night so we’ve only had but a look around.

C: Your sound is quite different from some of the other British or faux-British bands that are coming up at the moment. It’s got the dub influence, it’s got the reggae influence. How did that develop? Was it a conscious effort?
Kemp: It was all the music that we liked. We’re into all that...
Archer: It’s the sound where we’re from—a small town called Staines right on the outskirts of London by Heathrow Airport. If you go out for a night in London, you can’t get home at night. So you end up making your own entertainment. We’d get together with our friends and we’d play records: ska, hip hop, reggae, soul, punk, whatever. We’d play New Order’s “Blue Monday” next to…and old Motown track or a Clash track. We love all sorts of music like old Chuck Berry and stuff. When the band came together and it was time to make the record, it was the exact same sort of thing. In some ways, that’s a great tradition of British bands going back to the Stones, the Clash, the Specials, New Order, where they take that sound and it make it into something else.

C: You are from a suburb of London but you’re talking about things in your lyrics that would be familiar to say, a kid from the suburbs of Chicago.
Kemp: It’s like that in every city. People who grow up in the suburbs know what it’s like. It doesn’t need to be specific. People have the same problems that we do.
Archer: People ask “Are you worried that your sound is very British?” Well, not really. The things we sing about, it’s the same frustration about having nothing to do, never having enough money to go somewhere better, but then there’s a pretty girl that you fall in love with and it makes things a little better for a while. Those things are universal. It’s how it is in London, it’s how it is in Chicago, New York, Berlin, Madrid, wherever.

C: You guys have had a fair amount of acclaim in the British press already. They have a tendency to want to create the next big thing. Does that hurt you in your development as a band or in introducing your music to an audience?
Archer: I don’t think it has for us personally because we’ve spent a lot of time getting our sound right. We don’t let anyone hear anything until we think it’s right. We’re not gonna just get it out as soon as we can. That’s kind of why I think things have gone so well for us. Because then if someone says “Oh that’s rubbish” you can say “No, you’re wrong.” We know we’ve done everything we can to make it right.
Kemp: I think it can catch some folks when they’re not ready for it and they’re too high profile. We like our music but we didn’t know whether people we’re going to like it or not. But if they did we were going to be ready for them.
Archer: It’s really nice when people write good things about your music. It’s a real good feeling. And when people on the radio are playing your record. You really appreciate that thought when people get behind you and say “I really like what they’re doing. I want to record it.” We really genuinely appreciate that. But for the man on the street who puts his hand in his pocket who buys the record or buys a ticket to the show, it doesn’t really mean anything. We’re well aware of that. At the end of the day, you have to connect with people. And it’s great if the first people you connect with are writing for newspapers…but if you connect to people who live in the same town as us and they start playing it, it’s a real feeling. A groundswell of people going “You’re talking about my life!” Like Bruce Springsteen, he’s been doing that for years. We’ve always wanted to come to America. It’s a real big deal for us. A lot of British bands want to be big fish in a small pond. They come here and they’re worried about failing. And a lot of times they do. We might fail. It’s a big country and no one knows us here. But this is our best shot and we’re going to give it 110%. We love it here and it’s been very welcoming.
Kemp: We’re not scared of failure anymore now either. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. We’ve failed before.
Archer: We’ll start again. But we’re hugely ambitious as well. I’ve never had a lot of money. I’m not afraid to say I want to change that. I’m not going to say “Oh no, it’s cool. Really.” That’s rubbish. I want the better things in life.

C: You mention Bruce Springsteen. A lot of his songs are about escaping, about going someplace greater. They also combine the personal with the political and I think that comes across on Stars of CCTV. You’ve got a lot of personal lyrics but you’ve also got some political overtones as well in terms of “This is what we believe.”
Archer: You’re right. We’re not a political band. We would never try to tell someone how they should live their life. That’s their own decision. But we’re not afraid to talk about things when they come up. There’s tracks on our album that talk about the Iraq war but it’s from the perspective of a soldier who’s out there. These aren’t faceless armies of the state, these are real people. Whether it’s right or wrong, they’re out there taking it. And most of them are like me or our friends.

C: Your song Stars of CCTV talks about closed circuit television and security cameras everywhere. In light of what’s happened in London over the past couple of weeks, does that song resonate for you differently now?
Archer: From one point of view, it doesn’t. One thing to know is that CCTV, or closed-circuit television, is much more widespread in the UK than it is here. I can see the point of having security cameras in tube stations or sensitive areas but in the UK, it’s everywhere. A lot of those are about saving money. It’s about employing one guy who can watch several places at once as opposed to hiring policemen who become part of the community and who can find out what people’s hopes and fears are and maybe catch things before they happen before it’s too late. We’ve been here while all of that is going on. You want to go home and feel like you should be there and deal with it as well.
Kemp: It is really weird to be in America and see a place where five minutes away from where we grew up getting bombed and getting shot up. It’s surreal, isn’t it? Like a bad movie.

C: Your full-length doesn’t come out for another couple months and because of the way this place is set up, you had a somewhat small group out there [ed. note: Hard-Fi played the no-man’s land that was the Planet Stage] but it was a very enthusiastic crowd.
Archer: You know, it’s 12 o’clock midday, no one’s drunk yet. Yet they came down and they were really great. We really appreciate that.
Steve Kemp: We weren’t worried but these things can be hard. Like he said, they make it easy by getting into it.
Archer: No one knows who we are. We’re well aware that we’re coming to the U.S. and have to start at stage one. We’re quite happy to do that. At the moment, we want to win people over.

The Redwalls
Andrew Langer, Guitarist

Chicagoist: Lollapalooza obviously has a lot of 2005_07_29_langer.jpghistory. How did it feel to open the fest in your hometown?
Andrew Langer: It was cool. I’d always heard about it growing up as a kid with all the alternative music it was pretty much the only decent festival going on. I don’t know what happened during the last couple years but I think this year’s a good lineup. We’re happy to be opening up, we’re glad to be a part of it.

C: Is there anybody in particular you’re looking forward to seeing?
Langer: I’ve heard a lot of stuff about the Brian Jonestown Massacre and I think tomorrow I’m going to see The Arcade Fire.

C: How does it feel to be playing to people who are fans but also trying to put yourself across to people who don’t know about you yet?
Langer: Being from Chicago, it’s good to have your own fans come up and support you. With this kind of crowd, you get to play your music in front of thousands of people who never would have heard of you unless they’re here. It’s good to get across to as many people as you can in one day.

C: When you guys are onstage, whether at a big show like this or at a club show, what’s your goal when you’re out there?
Langer: We pride ourselves on being a good, live, rock and roll band. There’s no bullshit. We try to go out there, we play our set, try to get the crowd into it, you know? Just have energy. Not be some band that gets up there and looks like they don’t want to be up there.

C: How do you think your live show compares with your record?
Langer: We make our records so we can play the songs live. We do a lot of new things actually because we just write a lot, constantly. We try to keep it fresh for us as well as for the audience.

C: Greg Kot just recently pegged you guys as part of this new wave, if you will, of Chicago power pop bands. How do you think your music fits into the Chicago scene?
Langer: I don’t really know, actually. I haven’t really been hip on what’s going on in Chicago lately. I hope it fits in somewhere. I think Chicago’s really seeing a re-emergence [of its place in the national music scene] and it’s great to be a part of that.

C: In some ways, you guys really wear your influences on your sleeve: the Beatles and Dylan are bands you’ve mentioned yourselves. Are you worried about being boxed in by those comparisons?
Langer: We do like that kind of music, you know? We just gotta try and be as original as we can. It’s kinda hard when people like to say “Oh this is exactly what you sound like.” But people can take it for what it is.

C: It’s an easy way for people to get to know your first album. Do you have the desire to subvert those expectations on your next record?
Langer: I wish we knew exactly what our next record was going to sound like. We have tons and tons of songs. When we have time off, we’ll sit down and take those songs and make them into real songs rather than just things we play with on the road. It’s gonna be totally different than this record. Hopefully, for every record we’ll do something a little different.

C: Chicago’s kind of notorious for starting a local backlash whenever a local band gets noticed on a national level. Have you felt that at all?
Langer: No, it’s actually been the opposite for us. We’ve been playing around Chicago for five or six years, in the trenches. We’ve been getting some good media stuff behind us and it’s been great. We haven’t got the backlash yet…we’ll see what happens.