Four Day Hombre
words: Mark Sturdy
pics: Louise Helliwell
Proof positive that a gruelling workload, the desire to get the music across and some good songs can get bands beyond their own backdoor, FOUR DAY HOMBRE seem poised for great things.
It'd be uncontroversial to say that Four Day Hombre are just about the biggest band in Leeds. Since forming in 1998, they've been gigging furiously, building up the kind of fanbase and reputation that means if you haven't seen or heard them by now, you're probably dead. Sandman caught up with vocalist Simon, bassist Jason and keyboard player Ed (drummer Ash and guitarist Rich were indisposed elsewhere) to talk about the band's history, their recentish debut single The First Word Is The Hardest, their forthcoming EP (due in the new year) and where they're heading next…
How did the band start?
Simon: We've been together for about four-and-a-half years. Four of the five of us met at Lancaster University, and we just decided to move to Leeds to start the band. Ash the drummer is an old schoolfriend of mine, so we got him in when we came here.
Are you from Leeds originally?
Simon: No, none of us. We wanted to stay up north, and there's something about Leeds that's a bit more perceptive in some ways.
It's never been a famous place for music though… What was it like when you came here in '98?
Simon: It was quite good because the Duchess was still open, and the Town And Country. We got to play the Duchess a few times.
Ed: It was good, it all fell apart as soon as we started playing here!
Simon: I think it's been a great place to be, I wouldn't change it at all. I think to an extent it's irrelevant, as long as you can get to London sometimes.
Do you think it's helped you that Leeds doesn't have a particular sound attached to it?
Simon: To be honest I think we'd have sounded the same whatever. We're not trendy enough to be in a scene. It's just not what we're like.
What were the first gigs like?
Simon: They were quieter. More pop.
Ed: The first three gigs were actually quite amazing. We played the Royal Park and it was just friends and family that came to see us, but there were 100 people there. The next gig was supporting a band called The Claim who were absolutely amazing. The third gig was at Unity Day, and the headline act cancelled, so we ended up headlining. And all that was in the first five days.
Did you start picking up a following right away then?
Ed: Yeah, we seemed to. But in the first six months, we just played Leeds, and the audience was 20 people, 21 people, 22 people…
You say your sound's changed since then - was that conscious, or just evolution?
Simon: It's developed, definitely. You just get older, play more, listen to more, and eventually you get a kind of understanding of what you're doing and how it all works. I think in the past year, year-and-a-half it's really become what we want it to be. I think it's just through playing more - as you jam through things, you pick up tricks and techniques.
Who writes the songs?
Simon: We write them all between us. That's why they're generally very quiet at the beginning and get louder, everybody sticks their two penneth in.
What direction are you moving in?
Ed: I don't think we're moving in any direction. We always said before we started, we just wanted to make honest music. If you look at a band like U2 or REM or whatever, they do have a sound, and they've had points where they've just become their own little cliché, but they always move past it. We just want to make great music. We don't have enough in common, in musical tastes between us, to set out a goal of what we want to sound like.
What are your musical tastes?
Simon: Some of my biggest influences over the past four years have been Deus - from Belguim, The Frames, particularly live… everything from Johnny Cash to Merz, to… anything really.
Ed: It's all music, innit?
Jason: I like a lot of country, but also System Of A Down, Grandaddy.
What about Leeds?
Jason: 10,000 Things, Parisman… a lot of what's coming out on Wrath, too.
Ed: 10,000 Things, I've seen them a few times. In some ways they're the polar opposite of us: it doesn't matter what they sound like, but there's just this atmosphere. They're a quality band.
Do you think Leeds is healthy at the moment?
Simon: It seems to be great. There's been loads of attention from the industry for the last year, really. Loads of people have got signed - SammyUSA, Stateless…
Jason: It's not really much different, though.
Simon: Yeah, I don't see that it's changed a great deal, but people are just getting more attention. If one band gets success, the whole A&R pack will just come up and scour the rest of the city. There were some brilliant bands in York when we first started, but they just never got picked up.
Ed: I think Leeds is getting a lot of attention at the moment, but I think it's kind of cool that a lot of the bands that've been signed are all very different. It's not like Manchester. People are getting signed for different reasons. “I think what we pride ourselves on is that we really enjoy doing pub gigs where you turn up somewhere random, a random pub full of people, and you're able to turn them round.”
How's that affected you? You've put stuff out but it's been self-published, yeah?
Simon: Well, we've put two CDs out in the past that were just sold through us, through the website and at gigs. Then the last single came out on Crystal Songs, the label run by Hall Or Nothing. They kind of had a singles label - which they decided to wind up right after they'd put ours out.
Ed: Despite it doing better than any of the other singles.
Simon: The single we're doing at the moment, we're not sure how that's going to come out. We've got options. At the end of the day, it comes down to what's going to give us the most exposure.
Jason: The last single definitely laid the groundwork. We've got a team round us now, management, distribution, press, so next time round it's going to be easier.
So, let's go through the complete discography then.
Ed: The first two demos we did, they sound nothing like the way we are now. They were things we did when we were young and innocent.
Jason: Yeah, they don't have that real underlying staleness that we do now!
Ed: There's definitely a line under the first two. The first one was an EP, a demo which was the first thing we'd ever recorded. The next one we'd recorded totally live in our rehearsal space. I would encourage people not to buy them.
Jason: We actually made a decision to stop selling them because it just wasn't fair with them being so totally different to the way we are now.
Ed: You still meet people who saw us two and a half years ago who want them, asking for the lyrics.
Simon: There's a certain optimism to some of the early songs that I can't stand anymore!
Ed: There's a guy who comes to see us in Harrogate - he's lovely but he always gets really drunk and after the show, he comes up to us and says "I make love to your music!" What do you say when someone says that to you? Err, cheers!
Simon: We sold over a thousand of those CDs at gigs though, but it's destructive in the end when they're nothing like what you're playing.
Where were you playing at that time? Had you started gigging nationally?
Jason: Yeah, once we'd got the demo done, we were out touring.
Simon: We went mad in the first two years, playing wherever we could.
Ed: We were doing something like three gigs a week, which is difficult when you're working fulltime as well.
How were you received outside of Leeds?
Jason: It's quite varied. We've played to empty rooms in London, and to loads of audiences who've never heard of us. But if you get a room that's got people in it, you can normally turn them round.
Simon: I think what we prided ourselves on, and still do, is that we really enjoy doing pub gigs where you turn up
somewhere random, a random pub full of people, and you're able to turn them round. There's people on the mailing list now who first came to see us like that.
Where's your favourite place to play?
Simon: Isle Of Man.
Jason: Blues Bar in Harrogate. It's really small and it's always rammed, and they're very receptive.
Simon: It's still the Royal Park for me. The atmosphere there's always really good, and Steve Kind's an absolute legend.
Ed: We usually get a really good crowd there, and you can really enjoy the gig.
Simon: The last gig we did at Joseph's Well was good - again it was absolutely rammed, which was fantastic. I don't dislike the Barfly in London as a place, but it's hard to enjoy a gig, or give your all, or create a special atmosphere, where people are there looking at it from a business point of view, weighing up whether this is a viable option. If you play the Royal Park to the same number of people as at the Barfly, you can just be a band, which is what we want to be, rather than a business proposition.
Jason: In that respect, I've always liked playing at the Windmill in Brixton, which is a tiny venue - there's something special because it's always a really good atmosphere. People come to see us.
Simon: Mulligan's in Carlisle. I'll let you look that one up. It's a very odd pub with a giant toucan.
Where's been the worst?
Simon: Corporation in Sheffield, without shadow of a doubt.
Ed: Really shitty room, shitty PA…
Simon: …and a lot of very hostile metalheads.
Jason: Trinian's in Newcastle!
Simon: Trinian's in Newcastle! (Laughs) The most ill-advised booking of our career. A hair-farm.
Jason: They wouldn't let us use our PA, we had to use the in-house system and the in-house engineer who didn't know what he was doing. It was full of goths with black make-up on.
Simon: We sold some CDs though!
What level of interest have you had from labels?
Simon: It's hard to say. We are known, people know our name, and at times we've been one word away from getting signed - but then again, in that situation you might as well be a million miles away. It's become more and more about just being the best that we possibly can. In a way, all getting a deal is, is a bank - it's just a loan. You get a large amount of money and resources. We've nearly got all the resources now. We just need the money. And there's so many ways to get that money. Obviously having a major label deal would be great, but… There's a sense in the industry sometimes that a band can be almost too good to get signed.
Simon: Yeah, I think if you're too polished, too finished, everything's closed off. Most A&R men want something they can create. Which is fair enough - if you've got a job, you want to do something with it.
Jason: I think it's a lot to do with movements in music. Bands getting signed at the moment tend to have a sense of four-on-the-floor, early '70s rock - I suppose the Strokes started that, opened it up. They sound a bit like Golden Earring, similar kind of haircut. Obviously we're not like that. As soon as one of those bands becomes successful, labels sign other bands of a similar ilk so they can capture a bit of the market.
Simon: The best response we've had to material so far has been to the half-formed stuff. People want to have a stamp on it, they want to do something with it. If we were successful, they want to say "That was me - I suggested that triangle."
How did the single do?
Simon: For us, it did brilliantly. I think it got to number 80 - there was only a run of 1500 and it sold out. The most important thing for us, to judge how well it did for us, is our mailing list. And from the day the single came out, the number of people joining it just went through the roof. There's about 3000 on it, which is great.
Did you get much national press?
Simon: X-Ray, Barfly, Play Music, and Elle! Kate Moss came to one of our gigs and the magazine did a feature on that. Jason: We only did the single as a demo.
Simon: Yeah, it was partly to get used to some new equipment and partly to get a manager. And we got a manager, radio plugger, press agent - it's just spiralled.
What are your ambitions for the future?
Jason: We want to do this second single, then an album.
Simon: We're at the stage where I think we've got to record an album. We've got this great set of songs that we really want to get out. I think it would create a brilliant piece, and if we don't do that in the next six months, year, it'll go stale and we'll have to start all over again. So many people ask us, When's your album coming out? We've got to do it.