This Hoosiers article was written by Matt Watts, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Macon Oxley
On Saturday the 17th of October, The Hoosiers were in Birmingham touring their new album, ‘The Secret Service’.
I sat down with Irwin (Never Say Never), Al (The Lives of Others) and Sam (The Bourne Identity) to chat about their favourite spy films, the departure of their bassist and the new album. Sitting beside the outdoor fountain of the Oobleck, the friendly bunch, like our mutual favourite comedian Stewart Lee, have a sense of wit and irony that I could callously take out of context if I was a tabloid journalist.
There was an obvious place to start. Irwin says that it’s the question that the world’s been asking: When are we going to get a Hoosiers’ Bond song? “Um… the moment we’re asked?” They’ve always thought that ‘Goodbye Mr A’ would make for a left-field, upbeat Bond theme. Sam then reveals that he’s been working undercover on this project for a while now: “I never told you guys, but one of the first conversations our old manager had with me when I first started playing with you – he said I want you to write a Bond song for the second album.”
With their new track ‘Runs in the Family’, I think they’ve found one. “I’d like to be the man who cannot keep it in his pants/So comfortable in his skin, you can’t help but be entranced” – that’s Bond, for sure. The band have always written cracking lyrics, and the new album is no exception. ‘The Secret of Happiness’ is a stand-out track with tightly-packed verses and wry melancholy. When it comes to other people’s lyrics, the band all enjoy the Flaming Lips song ‘Do You Realize??’ particularly the verse, “You realize the sun doesn’t go down/It’s just an illusion caused by the world spinning round.” Irwin also enjoys the “heady cocktail of violence, religion, sex and loss” that comes from Josh T. Pearson’s ‘The Last of the Country Gentleman’. Al says that although he could read it as poetry, he couldn’t listen to “that drivelling nonsense.”
‘The Secret of Happiness’ also includes a reference to their first album: “The lecture of a lifetime, the trick to life/It’s time to move on with the show.”
Irwin: “Self-referential. What are we, rappers?”
Sam: “No, we’re old.”
Irwin: “It’s a hard one because we want to say that we’re self-aware, and that’s what ignorant people probably say. I would say we’re at least aware of why people have probably bought tickets – that’s usually to hear ‘Goodbye Mr A’. The loud drunk ones, not the ones who are particularly fans of the band, but the ones who shout “Goodbye Mr A” at the first song. And we’re like, yeah, we’ll get there.”
And they did. After some great support bands and a career spanning set, ‘Goodbye Mr A’ was a triumphant end to the encore. In 2007, ‘Goodbye Mr A’ was that guitar pop song you couldn’t get away from, much like Noah and the Whale’s ‘5 Years’ Time’ and Vampire Weekend’s ‘A-Punk’. Everyone knows it, everyone loves it, but do the band get sick of it?
Sam: “The old songs have their moments when you get bored of them, but then you inject new life into them and they suddenly become relevant again.”
When The Trick to Life came out in 2007, Sam wasn’t a member of the band – he became a touring member in 2010, and it’s only in the last couple of years that he became a full time Hoosier. He still gets the same enjoyment out of the songs he didn’t write: “I loved playing the first album right from the off. I see no difference whoever’s song it is.” Joining an already established act can be tricky, but the keyboardist has taken it in his stride. Irwin added that “it’s key that Sam has been our friend for over ten years and we’ve always been playing music together since we knew each other and he was in the band Grace who were signed and we used to tour together. So it was very natural.” He also imparted this top tip for finding new band mates: “we tolerate fools, but dickheads are another question.”
The Hoosier’s second album marked a big change for the band, as they left their record label. Since then they’ve had a dramatic increase in output, releasing ‘The Secret Service’ only a year after third album ‘The News from Nowhere’. What could cause such a change of pace?
Irwin: “We got rid of the bassist.”
Al: “You laugh, but that is exactly the answer.”
This response is tongue-in-cheek to a certain extent, as Martin Skarendahl‘s departure is well known to have been very amicable: “It was a very honest conversation of saying we’re pulling in this direction and you’re going in that direction. The idea of us making another record together would be foolish and we all agreed.” Perhaps they just mean that he was a perfectionist?
Irwin: “Massively. Whereas, as you can tell from this album – wait a minute…”
Al: “Yeah, he would slow things down considerably. Like, ponder everything and second guess everything and we’d be the same a little bit, but then we got to the point where we went, let’s crack through the recording a bit quicker. We’re a bit better at playing live now, so we recorded it a lot more live.”
Irwin: “I think we’re writer driven. We’re song driven, whereas he’s more engineering driven. He’s working with another band at the moment towards another project, which I’m expecting to be the best sounding album I’ve ever heard.”
Although Al misses the free taxis, being free of the record label and being able to decide their own direction is still worth it.
Al: “It’s great, you can’t beat it. The pressure that came with the second album was so overwhelming that it killed music for me a bit, and I like music. I’d go so far as to say I love it.”
The dispute with Sony started with the publicity surrounding the second album or, rather, the lack of it. Sony pulled the entire advertising budget, and that wasn’t the first bad experience the band had in the publicity department.
Al: “The one we always refer to is when we went on T4 at a festival and Alexa Chung introduced us as ‘whacky funsters’, and that’s lived with us.”
Irwin: “And just for the record, we’re funny whacksters.”
Sam: “We went on Chris Moyles’s show. We were ready to take a beating from him, but he was actually very, very cool – very respectful.”
Irwin: “Yeah, but you didn’t listen to the radio on the way there. He ripped apart our songs on our way to the interview.”
Sam: “But to our faces he was lovely.”
Irwin: “A lovely, lovely man… probably?”
Sam: “Great toilet book, though.”
Finally, because I am a lazy and feckless journalist, I ask The Hoosiers: What is the one question you always wish a journalist would ask you?
Irwin: “We’ve got a few we wish they wouldn’t: Where did the Hoosiers come from? Who’s Ray? Are you still worried about him? Who’s Mr A?”
As I have successfully managed to avoid these questions, I decide to quit while I’m ahead. I leave the band to their pre-show ritual of dinner at a popular Italian restaurant: “we don’t want to be too full though. Sometimes we overstep that mark because we’re greedy” and the “band cuddle” they have before going on stage. The show that follows is intimate without intimate being a backhanded compliment – packed full of old favourites without being past it, and fun without being whacky.