The Somatics

words: Mark Sturdy
pics: Kevin Petch

January 2004


Formed, initially, with the simple idea of learn to play the whole of The Who’s Tommy ‘for fun really’, THE SOMATICS have, quietly, been keeping on keeping on.

The last couple of years of the 1990s were a fertile time for Great Lost Bands – people who were doing something original, worthwhile and possibly brilliant, but never reached their full potential, thanks, at least in part, to the twin coshes of the bovine machinations of the music industry and the wretchedness of the prevailing musical climate of the time. One of these bands was Ultrasound, the fabulously overblown Wakefield pop-prog monsters who managed to release one enormous album before imploding. It was in the aftermath of this messy end that guitarist Richard Green began to put together The Somatics. The group as we know it today consists of Richard on guitars and vocals, Stephanie Green on bass and vocals, and Bruce Renshaw on drums.

“Steph and I were old friends,” explains Richard, “and after Ultrasound split up, we set about trying to learn the whole of Tommy. For the fun of it really. We started playing together and throwing some ideas around, and decided we should be a band. We left London and moved to Leeds, met Bruce through a mutual friend, and that’s it really. “I’d always imagined myself singing and playing guitar, so I wanted to go and try do that. I don’t think we really had any clear objectives. It was more just to get something together and see what happens. We had a few ideas though, where it may or may not go, but once you start playing together it takes on its own life. I’ve always been open-minded as to where it could go, and it’s been really exciting.”

In comparison to the pomp of Ultrasound, The Somatics make music which, while still complex and multi-layered, has a more delicate feel, enhanced on many songs by the pretty twin vocals of Richard and Steph. “I’ve always seen it as a progression. I think you can draw comparisons with Ultrasound cos it kind of followed on. Lots of the early Somatics songs were written at the back end of Ultrasound. Ultrasound was like a big, balls-out rock band. Everything was meant to be over the top and overblown. What we’re doing is a bit more stripped down” To date, The Somatics have released three records. First there was Last Days In An Old Town, a single on Oxford’s Shifty Disco label, after which the band signed with Beggars Banquet.

“I can’t remember whether we sent one to Beggars,” says Richard, “but they just liked the single and rang them up. One thing led to another and we did a one-album deal with them.” A second single, Lemonade, and a self-titled debut album followed in 2002. Both sold modestly, but established the band as a name to watch. “I didn’t have any expectations really,” says Richard. “All I wanted to do at that point was just get the album out and exist. We weren’t disinterested in getting somewhere commercially but it wasn’t the main objective really. We just wanted to put it out, and what happened happened. It’s not a particularly in-your-face sort of record. It’s something that grows on you… or not. We kind of slid in there quietly, whereas everything’s very in-yer-face at the moment.”

The time-honoured national touring followed, while the band built and became acquainted with their audience – which, according to Steph, consists of “everyone. Well, not everyone but there’s so many different kinds of people. You get various ages, various styles, just people who are into music. People who recognise hard work. We do gigs here there and everywhere, whenever we can.” Bruce: “We’ve done more than our fair share of one man and a dog gigs, but we’ve done some great gigs at the same time. It’s probably like it is for a lot of bands, it’s really variable. Sometimes you get no one, and sometimes it’s great. But we’ve always enjoyed it. I think playing live is where it happens.”

What about gigs in Leeds? “We’ve always played good gigs in Leeds. There’s something about playing gigs in Leeds. But you can never tell, it’s different from week to week. I think The Vine’s been done in the right spirit, but the problem is that only about ten people can see. It’s quite a big room but you get this line of people, and anyone behind it seems to drift a little bit. It’s not an ideal place to play. If they took half the bar out and put a stage in it’d be fantastic. I like what they’re trying to do there. It’s quite a nice atmosphere in there really.” “We did our first ever gig at Joseph’s Well,” adds Richard, “so it’s like a home gig for us. That works well for us – nice big room, nice big PA system, all things that work in our favour. We play quite loud and that can be a bit of a problem in pubs sometimes, but Joseph’s Well’s great because we can turn it up.”

Steph: “We’re playing the Wardrobe in February. We played our second ever gig at the Wardrobe, we’ve not been back since. If it was full it’d be fucking brilliant. It’s a good room, the Wardrobe, a good stage. I like all the seats around. It used to be a dancehall, didn’t it?” “We’ve got a lot of support in Leeds,” reckons Richard. “Our audience isn’t vast but there are people who are really into it, who come to every gig, who love it, you know. I think if we were based in London or somewhere like that, that’s harder to get. There really are some people who are just diehard fans of us, which is the best thing you could ever hope for.”

“People in Leeds live in Leeds,” agrees Steph, “whereas people in London move around, you don’t have that family, community thing going on. We have a few dotted around as well in different places, which is really nice because you know that they’re wanting us to do well while we’re doing it.”

Our city’s recent musical renaissance hasn’t escaped the band, who namecheck Crosscut Saw, New Mind’s Eye, 10,000 Things, Scaramanga Six, Little Japanese Toy and Les Flames! as local favourites. “It was pretty dire a couple of years ago when everywhere was closing down,” says Richard, “but people have taken it upon themselves to do something and it’s starting to happen. It’s just got that feeling that something’s gonna happen.”

Steph: “It’s because people can be bothered to get off their arses and do something and believe in something, and it’s great. And you can feel that as well.” Although none of the band come from Leeds originally, it’s provided a significant amount of the lyrical subject matter – notably on the lovely LS2 9LZ, which takes its name from the postcode of the street Richard lives on (stalkers take note). “When I first moved up here, I didn’t have a great deal to do, so I used to walk around a lot, and as I was walking along you’d just start thinking of things, peeping through people’s windows. That’s what inspired that song. The last album’s about doing something - getting up and, instead of talking about it, actually doing things. The songs that we’re working on at the moment for the new album, they’re a bit more conceptual in a way in that they’re set out to write about a certain thing whereas before that we used to just let it flow and then see what it was about afterwards. I think the songs are more human, really, they’re more about people on this album.

I’ve just started on a mini rock-opera type thing that’s probably going to end up being a whole side of the album. It’s like a little song cycle, it’s going to have a story. That’s what I’m working on at the moment, I’ve got a few ideas for it, just writing some narrative kind of bits. I like to do things I’ve never done before, don’t want to get into too much of a formula. So once I’ve done one song I kind of try something else.”

The band are currently ‘between deals’ following the not-entirely-satisfactory pairing with Beggars, who Steph describes as “Very nice people – lazy bastards, but very nice people.” At the moment, with a new album on the way, a gameplan is being formulated for a return to the public eye.

“We’re going to become a bit more assertive now,” says Richard “We want to be out there a bit more really. We’re trying to think of ways to advance our career. That’s kind of the order of day at the moment – how can we get there, I suppose. “Ideally we’d find someone who’d fund what we’re doing, leave us to our own devices and do all that shit for us, but if that doesn’t happen we’ll do it ourselves. I think a lot of our audience don’t know we exist yet. That’s the gap we need to bridge. We need to be able to… all the people who potentially like it to know about it, which has kind of been the problem so far. We haven’t had enough exposure to reach all of those people. I think we’ll just carry on, keep making records and try and get them out somehow, and build it and build it.”

One thing that’s been lacking so far is recognition in the national music media. “We’ve had a lot of local press,” says Steph, “not a lot of national, but a lot of local press in each different area, which I suppose mounts up to a national thing. We’re big in the Shetland Isles, we got Album of the Month there! Lots of press in Germany, France and Italy as well, but I don’t know what they say. We’re going to France in January to do a couple of gigs in Paris, which will be good. just think it’d be good to experience the European audience, different to the British one. As long as we’re not just big in Germany, like David Hasselloff or something.”

As the interview draws to an end, things begin to degenerate, willingly, into Smash Hits territory. When asked their favourite colours, Steph replies “Colours that I can’t see and are yet to be discovered”; Bruce opts for light green; and Richard offers “Combinations of two colours that go together well. Like orange and purple.”

What next? How about the good old “each member of the band has to pick a word to describe each other member of the band” game?

Bruce: “Late for Richard and for Steph, rude. In the nicest way.” Steph: “Richard, abnormal. And Bruce is… animal. Think what you will. Could be a little cute animal, could be a ferocious animal, you just don’t know.” Richard: “Bruce – primal. Stephanie… aquatic.”

Steph: “You can tell Richard writes most of the lyrics, can’t you? I do like to have lots of baths. I don’t piss myself. I’m Pisces though.”

2004 will be a good year to watch The Somatics. “You’ll have to come and see us play,” says Richard “I think if you’ve only heard the first album, what we’re doing now is quite different. It’s a step forward. More amplified in the sense that every aspect of it is amplified – bigger, louder. I hope by this time next year, we’ll be able to do the next thing, which’ll be… I don’t know, another big leap on. We’ll be a different band by then. We’re going to become more and more our own thing, get deeper and deeper into it and see what happens. I think it’ll become more and more unusual.”

According to Richard, 2003 has been “a year of hard work. It’s not been an easy year, but by this time next year it’ll show itself as a productive year. I think what we’re doing now is going to catch up. You don’t see the benefits of what you’re doing until further down the line. There’s no instant returns. What we’ve done this year is lay the foundations.” His New Year’s resolution more or less sums it up. “I think I may try and be less resolved, less stuck in my ways. It’s not always necessary to be certain.”

The Somatics
The Somatics
The Somatics
The Somatics
The Somatics
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