This Et Al
words: Rob Paul Chapman
pics: Ruth Stanley
Leeds’ premiere uneasy listening specialists THIS ET AL talk Names, Pretension and Ancient Greece.
“We’re not a Good Charlotte rip-off” they reliably inform Rob Paul Chapman. No kidding.
It’s just gone 8pm on a wet, miserable Wednesday evening outside the virtually empty Edward’s bar. The diminutive figure of This Et Al singer / guitarist / keyboard player Wu is engaged in a remarkably one-way argument with the folically challenged man-mountain who bars his path. The problem seems to be that Bradford’s premier Uneasy Listening specialists are deemed undesirable by the ‘management’ and as a result will be forced to seek overpriced beer, appalling music and liberal measures of neon elsewhere this evening.
“The guy on the door was like ‘You’re having a laugh aren’t you?’” explains the disgruntled singer. “I was like, ‘Having a laugh? Edwards is a fucking two meals for a fiver joint!’” Bassist Gav sighs. “Leeds,” offers the Aslan-in-human-form look-alike, “is becoming full of these trendy tosser wine bars.”
Opinions are not something that the members of This Et Al are short of. Wu is one of those people who seems 100% driven by what he believes in whilst bassist Gav is a strong subscriber to the ‘speak first, think later’ school of thought, but everything comes from the heart. Both of them make excellent subjects for interview, refreshingly unconcerned by politics. They say it as they see it.
Drummer Steve and guitarist Ben balance this exuberance well. The former is eloquent and charming, seeking to clarify in more diplomatic terms what one of his bandmates may have meant, but with without contradicting them. The latter speaks rarely, but is affable and light-hearted throughout and, as on stage, is the perfect foil for Wu’s complex intensity.
At first it’s easy to mistake all the driven ambition and underlying self-confidence as arrogance, but the band are far too likeable. In some ways they remind you of latter-day Noel Gallaghers, full of black and white opinions, but just about self-depreciating enough to be funny rather than annoying.
“I’m actually the most boring person in the world,” admits Wu. “People that we play with for some reason seem to think that we’re completely unapproachable. I think it’s because people think that we must be so far up our own arses.”
“It’s only the music that’s up its own arse,” laughs Gav. “We’re lovely lads!”
Defining the music is something of an enigma. Imagine, if you will, if in 1976 John Lydon had decided not to declare war on the prog-rockers and instead sat down with Rick Wakeman and agreed a power-sharing arrangement. This Et Al are uncompromising and shamelessly artistic, with influences as diverse as Radiohead, Television and Trail Of Dead all over brutally tribal Keith Moon drums.
“We’re trying to make it a bit more to listen and look at than writing a song called ‘I Wanna Rock’ and playing three chords,” explains Gav. “I’m all for musical elitism, we want it to be like ancient Greece, where music was treated as a serious art form.”
Now you're not likely to hear that from Northern Uproar, but are they serious? Isn't that level of muso pretension a bit of a faux pas now for a musical landscape dominated by blokeyness and back-to-basics chic? Quite the contrary according to Wu:
"People should be more pretentious," he argues. "They should make it more of a mystery. "You're not going to be the biggest band in the world if you don't act like the biggest band in the world".
This Et Al’s roots are in the old ‘known each other from school, all played in different bands etc’ routine. The breakthrough came with the recording of ‘Police Officer’, the lead track from ‘Everything’s Irrelevant’. Its origin, for a band with such highbrow tastes, comes as something of a surprise.
Gav: “We were singing that Good Charlotte song and I said ‘I hate that song,’ but Steve went ‘yeah, but I love that drum beat’. We just played it and Wu had these weird chords and got us to play them on top.”
Wu is quick to backtrack. “It’s not a Good Charlotte rip-off! If anything it’s a ‘Last Night’ [by The Strokes] rip off. But it’s not really like either of those two songs. The Strokes have got no power, it’s all at the same level, they’re the least dynamic band that I’ve ever heard.
“I do like them, but they were on the cover of NME so much you’d have thought they’d written the fucking Ring Cycle or something, it’s a piece of piss. And it’s the worst name for a band.”
Names are something This Et Al take very seriously. They don’t have a song called ‘Saturday Night’, ‘The Power Of Love’, ‘I Wanna Rock’ or, indeed, anything that at first glance seems more than a random collection of nouns, verbs and adjectives. This Et Al songs are called things like ‘Pigs Make Children Sick’ and ‘Put The Door Through The Boy’.
“Wu gets possessed by demons and has weird dreams,” explains Gav. But what about their new EP ‘Baby Machine’?
“I had this dream about the ‘Baby Machine’,” explains Wu. “It was basically a microwave attached to three babies and they’re in a room and they get twatted by this big hammer.” Surely this is difficult subject matter to get across to an audience of confused pissed-up students in Leeds who, presumably, don’t suffer from such disturbing visions?
“Yeah it is. When people come to see us, everyone thinks that we’re a moody bunch of bastards, and they’re probably right, but what have I got to say on stage? “This one’s called ‘Pigs Make Children Sick’? I’d just sound like a twat!”
When the ‘Everything’s Irrelevant’ EP was completed and shipped off to all and sundry, all hell broke loose.
“I was getting labels ringing me every day,” recalls Wu, “it was so over the top.” Things turned sour when the band were invited down for a showcase in London.
“I emailed every A&R man with a sheet saying who was interested, really naming people, and I think it pissed off lots of people. It went from everyone saying it was ace and having loads of interest, to going to London which was a fucking nightmare.
“After being told things like we’d be signed when we came down and working with the guy who produced the first two Supergrass albums and in the NME, we heard nothing. It took me sending an email with loads of swearing in and a bit of passion for people to say things like ‘Actually it were a bit metally for me, you sounded a bit like a Kerrang band.’ Fine, but why didn’t you just fucking say that in the first place!”
You could have forgiven them for throwing in the towel after having their hopes raised so high and then obliterated. Not This Et Al though: the experience knocked them down, but like Muhammad Ali, Rocky and Chumbawamba before them, they got back up again.
“This is a good time for us now. I’m really glad that we’ve experienced all that early on. We now talk without massive egos, or getting way too excited about things that ain’t going to happen. We know where we are now, things are much clearer and more focussed.”
Ben agrees, “It just made us realise even more that we can do it ourselves. Now we’re just like, well fuck London, why do we need London?”
Wu: “This promoter from The Sonic Mook Experiment rang me and said did I want a gig down in London, but why would I want to when there is so much kicking off in Leeds? It’s just totally heartbreaking down there. New music has become background noise in some of these big name venues.”
The blame, according to the band, lies with the lack of support for sustainable grass roots music through development and long-term careers. “Take 10,000 Things for example,” says Wu. “If Polydor had picked ‘em up properly two years ago when they first had the chance, they’d be doing something by now. They just need to show a little bit of faith.”
The band are due to release ‘Baby Machine’ imminently. If live previews of its material are anything to go by it stands to be even better than its predecessor. Darker, louder and even more intense than ‘Everything’s Irrelevant’.
“We could do with writing some quiet songs really. People were saying ‘Your tunes are brilliant, it’s just I don’t want to be deaf after hearing them!’” confesses Wu. “My mum came to a gig and it gave her tinitus for two months afterwards!”
On disc, the quality of some exceptional song writing and musicianship is likely to be much more apparent. ‘Everything’s Irrelevant’ is still available and well worth checking out, but if you’re looking for something a bit different, there is nothing like a This Et Al live show to divide opinion.
“If you’re bored with all of the crap that’s going round you should come see us because we’re interesting, we’re entertaining and we’ll fucking kick your balls!” chirps Gav.
“But you’ve got to come with a bit of an open mind and you’ve got to talk to us afterwards ‘cause we’re not that big a bunch of twats!” pleads Wu. “And we are really good.” Even if he does say so himself.