words: Chris Hutcheon
pics: Nick Sutton
Chris Hutcheon shares a quiet pint with 10,000 THINGS, everyone’s favourite rollicking six-piece rock’n’roll blues behemoth.
God it’s bleak tonight. It’s blowing a gale and the intermittent showers are sufficient in frequency and volume to confirm that it’s not a night to be out and about. This is Leeds - a city that seems to provide such unwelcoming weather relentlessly from October to March, a city that Eskimos find cold and a city that could provide electricity for the entire Western Hemisphere if a wind turbine was erected at the top end of Wellington Street.
Still, it’s not all doom and gloom though is it? Most of the best things in life can be done indoors and, weather aside, there are several reasons to be cheerful in Leeds at this very moment; About two miles away Leeds United are trouncing Wolves and hauling themselves off the bottom of the Premiership, right now bands of every genre are taking to the stage in a host of venues, new and old, cementing Leeds position as music’s form city while the vibrant and varied nightlife means there is something for everyone every night of the week.
Another six reasons are huddled round a table in a corner of the Primrose - Sam, George, Davro, Will, Justin and Stob are the vocalist, bassist, guitarists, percussionist and drummer of Leeds favourites 10,000 Things - a band firmly at the forefront of everything going well for the Leeds Music Scene but a band who, surprisingly were unaware of 10,000 Maniacs when they chose their name.
“We’d never heard of them,” insists Sam “it was only after we’d been together a while that people started asking us and it was always Irish people, ‘are you the Maniacs?’ [Puts on exaggerated thick Irish accent], ‘no we’re the Things.’”
“I was actually sat on a mountain top in India, high on magic mushrooms with Ravi Shankar,” continues Sam with tongue firmly in cheek, “and he was annoying me, so I says ‘look Ravi, shut up, yer crap - I’m trying to think of a band name’ - he said ‘you and your 10,000 excuses’, and I said ‘ooh, I like 10,000.’”
“No, we found it in a book and it just seemed cocky enough - the idea of 10,000 Things is originally through religion and books on Eastern philosophies based around the idea that there are 10,000 Things in the universe. It’s also a symbol of ultimate potential, fertility and abundance and we just liked the idea of being abundant and…”
“Fertile?” interrupts George to a chorus of laughter.
The name is a headline writer’s wet dream and it won’t be long, I’ll wager before headlines like ‘10 Things about 10,000 Things’ and ‘10,000 reasons to love 10,000 Things’ are commonplace. It’s not an issue that worries them though as seemingly self-appointed band spokesperson Sam explains with a logic that it’s hard to argue with and even harder not to warm to. “There’s a lot of bands whose name starts with ‘The’ and only two whose name starts with 10,000”. Touché.
Maniacs aside, it’s obvious that they are a band with a sense of humour that don’t take themselves too seriously. Tonight they’re enjoying a few drinks in the Primrose, where they played, in their words, a ‘shambolic gig’ a couple of days previously, and then enjoying a few more as proceedings are delayed by a band practising noisily in the background. At first it seems like a welcome distraction as one or two scoops can loosen inhibitions and make conversations flow a bit more freely. However within minutes we’re firmly into ‘Loose Lips Sink Ships’ territory as many of the subjects discussed and the opinions and events therein - including run-ins with the law, other bands’ girlfriends and rants regarding national radio disc jockeys - while hilarious, are unprintable and would no doubt have the Sandman legal ‘team’ dusting off their case law.
They’re not concerned though, despite the Dictaphone propped up in the middle of the table and why should they be when it’s this type of carefree approach that got them together in the first place.
“Me Sam and Davro had been playing together for a while then we met Stob and Will who were playing in a band called Little Sister,” explains George.
“After a while we were practically living together, jamming in each other’s basements and because we were the only friends we had we ended up doing gigs together,” laughs Sam as he takes up the story. “Little Sister would go on first as they were a lot shitter than we were and we would go on afterwards, then we’d all go on together at the end, have a laugh and do some cover versions. Most of our mates had seen us too many times though and most of their mates had seen them too many times and people were saying ‘you’re good but when you’re onstage together you’re a lot more amusing. Then our drummer left, their bass player left etc etc and that was it - 10,000 Things has been a band for about three years.”
Since then they have recruited percussionist Justin, something that has not only benefited the band musically but also logistically, admits Sam, as back in the early stages of their career, when the band were just starting out there were no venues to play.
“When Justin joined the band, he’d played percussion with a lot of DJs around town and he helped us get gigs in bars down Call Lane and all these places which has helped us. The only places to play were like the Cockpit or the Wardrobe but when you’re starting out you don’t want to play a room that’s supposed to hold 300 and you only have your best friends there. You want a small place that looks good even when it’s half empty.”
Of course playing to small audiences isn’t something that 10,000 Things have to do nowadays having firmly established their position on the upper branches of Leeds’ musical tree.
“This band is doing a good job of being a major player in the Leeds music scene”, says Justin. “We put on a gig without spending months promoting it and there’ll be a few hundred people there - there’s not many one-off nights that would pull in such a crowd. We’ve been out there playing to people you wouldn’t normally expect to be into live music”
“We’ve played everywhere”, agrees Will. “We’ve played with proper pub bands and the next day played down Call Lane to people who haven’t listened to live music since 1994. A lot of bands haven’t done that and that’s why we’ve ended up getting such a crowd - through gigging”
The band’s local reputation has gained them attention outside the city as well, with airplay on XFM and Radios 1 and 6 although, according to Sam, “Jo Whiley’s producer won’t play us though because apparently we’re too rough - I see why - ‘Here’s Enrique Iglesias talking about his clitoris and here’s 10,000 Things talking about their NUTS!!!!’ It would terrify the little schoolchildren”
That it may but they certainly didn’t terrify Warner Chappell enough to prevent a publishing deal – or, in fact, Domino/Dusty Company who are responsible for the release of debut EP ‘Foodchain’ and with whom they have had a relaxed relationship since day one as George explains.
“They just came up here, this very room, and saw us. A bloke called Laurence [Bell, president of Domino Records] just came in and saw it. He was really easy going - he just said lets do an EP and we were like, OK.”
“We haven’t even signed anything with them” continues Sam, “we have the EP out and we haven’t signed anything - we got on the last tour through on the back of this Domino thing as well - what with the Blueskins being on Domino”
Indeed it was Domino who teamed 10,000 Things up with producer Phill Brown, a man who has worked with the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin to name but a few. “Laurence brought this guy who he said had worked with all these amazing people. I mean, I’m not bothered that he worked on Stairway to Heaven, we’re more interested in the fact that he worked with Bob Marley.”
However, despite the EP’s Domino release, it’s not them who keep the 10,000 Things heads above water. “There’s a label re-opened called Fiction,” recounts Sam “under the shelter of Polydor eventually I think and there’s kind of a strange relationship between them and Domino, they’re both happy with Fiction paying our rent while we record for Domino. We also signed a publishing deal with Warner Chappell about two years ago and they gave us an advance but we’ve had to get another, we spunked it away.”
“Depends what you define as spunked – it’s not like we just went out and blew it all,” argues Justin, “Being in a band can be very expensive though – buying equipment, rehearsal time etc especially when there’s a lot of us.”
“No, five hundred grand doesn’t go very far”, jokes George, “but we’re on the radio now though so Warner will be happy - they’re recouping 40p a day from XFM.”
Sadly, the complex, slightly rigged nature of the singles chart and the fact that it’s a four track EP means there’s no chance of a Top 40 slot. “It’s unfortunate because we were expecting big things”, sighs Sam, “our mother’s spending her life savings on it. But either way we wouldn’t chart unless everyone wakes up and says ‘Oh my God I’ve been listening to shit all my life, I’m not going to buy a single this week.’”
It’s this kind of humble but witty self-deprecation that makes 10,000 Things so likeable and, despite the high profile single and major label connections, their love and enthusiasm for the Leeds circuit shines through. They play for the love of it and indeed in an hour or so they wander down to Milo and team up with other musicians in the regular blues jam.
They are also more than at home waxing lyrical about other local bands. “Buzzkill, Dino Casino, Blueskins, The Cribs, Iration Steppas, Farewell Party, Seven Hours, New Minds Eye, Suave Bastards and Bilge Pump...” The list of 10,000 Things-approved acts goes on and on.
Unlike some of their peers (none of the ones mentioned above I might add), they have never felt the need to try and launch their career from another city and have still achieved success which has to be encouraging for other bands, although with their laid-back, shoulder-shrugging approach you’d be forgiven for thinking that even if that was their intention they would never have gotten round to it.
“You don’t have to be in London now to get signed, We’d never played London before we got signed and so hopefully other bands will see that you can get signed without having to leave Leeds” explains George, with Sam on backing comments: “Dick Whittington is dead and gone - that was hundreds of years ago.”
“I thinks Leeds has always been good - before bands started getting signed,” continues George. “There’s always been good bands, there’s also always been shit bands, and there are still good and shit bands”
“Leeds is buzzing at the moment - it’s through the amount of actual musicians rather than it just being a DJ scene,” agrees Will.
“It’s all related to the city coming out of the back of this house and club culture,” adds Justin. “ Live music thing has become popular.”
“Live music is popular all over the country and Leeds latched on to it as every other city did, but it was unusual to Leeds for so many years to have bands it got noticed. If someone claims that this is the place then the record companies are all going to go to that place - they’ve got no imagination,” insists Sam - sceptical about the existence of a Leeds scene in the traditional sense.
“When you use the word ‘scene’ in terms of somewhere like Manchester it conjures up a certain sound in your head, which isn’t the case here. You can’t come to Leeds and here a sound like you would do in Liverpool or Manchester. Here you’ll have weird techno, glam rock n roll, reggae, dub and everyone is in their own basement coming up with their own ideas influenced by their own favourite bands without copying each other. If Leeds stays good for another few years then there might be a Leeds sound.”
If there is then 10,000 Things will no doubt have been a major factor behind it, proving that you can stay in Leeds and still make yourselves known to a national audience. They’ve started to show that already with their inclusion in THAT article in NME, although, like most others with even a shred of knowledge of what Leeds has to offer they have reservations about it.
“It was a shame they only picked six bands for that piece because they could have done a whole edition on Leeds,” complains Sam as Stob joins in: “They could have done it about bands that are actually playing in Leeds but half the bands in there have barely even played in Leeds.”
“They mentioned the bands with the best press agents” snaps George.
As we all know though, not every publication prides itself on quality, informed journalism, as Will will tell you; “I’d be far more concerned if we were slagged off in Sandman than if we were slagged off in NME.” Now there’s an endorsement, and I promise I didn’t make him say it.
The ‘Foodchain’ EP is out now on Domino.