words: Shane Shapiro
pics: Danny North
Running an independent small business is a difficult task.
While the product itself is obviously integral for any chance of success, decisions such as marketing and financial strategies also play a role in how the business fares. And when that business is a band, survival becomes all the more tricky. Amidst extreme competition and mountainous workloads doing it yourself, although commendable, is often too much to handle.
Furthermore, as idiosyncratic as it may be, finding a business contract that allows the band to retain creative control while providing competent distribution is also just as difficult to find as staying pro bono. This is why Mama Scuba took nearly four years to finally release their debut album.
Despite forming in 2000, the band's debut is being released nationwide in March. Having toyed with the aforementioned DIY approach while shopping around extensively for the right deal, Mama Scuba released several independently marketed singles, but never anything full length.
"We had some discs out on our own label with moderate success, but when you are trying to do things right by yourself, the work is too hard and will only get you to a certain level. So we waited to find the right deal," explains lead singer and guitarist Wes Dale.
For Mama Scuba, the elusive "right deal" came with London based Redemption Records, a youthful new outfit featuring the likes of Proud Mary, Roddy Frame and The Cornerstones.
"I know we finally got [what] we were looking for," adds Dale.
Mama Scuba formed in 2000 when Dale, drummer Luke Blumer and guitarist Steven Howells joined forces with bassist Grimace and keyboardist The Shark after moving to Leeds post graduation from University in Liverpool. A mixed bag of nuts if there ever was one, Mama Scuba provides a healthy injection of eclecticism in a scene in desperate need of a good jab.
All five members are extremely attentive listeners, and their craft speaks volumes on their ability to nee only listen to each other, but themselves as well.
"Our outlook towards playing and how we listen to each other is quite free and diverse," elaborates Blumer. "Although a thread always runs through it, we have our own distinct Mama Scuba sound."
Miring heaping spoonfulls of rock, art pop, 1970s thrash and rhythmic Indie, Mama Scuba's sound resides on the cusp of the NME encrusted indie-rock scene, but never transfixes itself inside the tent. According to Blumer, this "confuses the fuck out of sonic people because they basically want to pigeonhole you. We can relate to being cast into that scene to a certain extent, but we see ourselves as different. Our strength is that we do not properly fit into any specific genre."
Take the album cover, for example. While there is an ambiguous consensus of what it is, most of the band has no idea what it actually depicts.
"Stan, the guitarist does all the artwork," explains Dale, "He is fucked up basically; like the rest of us. I really do not know what it actually is. I think it is a hybrid between a dog and a cow, but others think it is a reindeer or some sort of quadruped mythical creature. It could be a lot of different things actually."
Coincidentally, the album cover mirrors the thematic entanglement that entwines the music. While a generally evident theme habitually resides within the melodies, categorizing the music is basically a waste of time because there is no right answer for an unanswerable question. "I personally love the cover," continues Dale. "It is nothing like anything I have ever seen before. In addition, he goes by the name of Steven Howells on the album and 'No Bones' on his artwork, but we call him Stan. So you are not the only one who is confused."
Now onto the album. Cleverly titled, ‘You're a Long Time Dead, So What's The Hurry?’, Mama Scuba's debut was undeniably worth the wait. Named after a New Zealand governmental anti-drink driving campaign, the release unveils forty-five minute tight, poignant and melodically engaging rock, pocked with hooks, soaring rhythmic lines and heartfelt, affecting lyricism. Recorded in two separate live sessions, along with minimal studio work at Hall Place Studios in Leeds, ‘You're a Long Time Dead, So What's The Hurry?’ is an unspoiled example of how to create a record that works on a number of levels.
'You listen to a lot of albums now, and you have bands that hove one song and twelve different versions of it, while still calling it a fucking album,' muses Blumer.
"We tried to achieve a bit of diversity and we are really happy with the outcome. While in the recording process, it was hard to look at the music objectively because you stuck in the thick of things. You need space to sit back and stand on the outside looking in. Now we have done that, we are really proud of this album.”
And why not be proud of it. Consisting of twelve unique experiments in rock, the appeal grows with each listen, slowly divulging the quirkiness and attention to detail that makes up Mama Scuba’s sound.
'Infinite Bleak,’ the dark, highly emotive opener ignites the album from the onset, using Television and Sonic Youth influenced rhythm lines to tell the sombre story of Dale’s friend who lost his life as a result of the aftereffects of Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear disaster. In fact, most of the album's Iyrics retain the same darkness that hovers about ‘Infinite Bleak,’ imparting another emotional cause to the album's overall effect.
“I don't think the lyrics sound that dark, but if you take them at face value, they sound quite miserable and suicidal. lt is true that many are based on awful things, but they are beautiful to me. I sing about what interests me and the experiences I have,” explains Dale.
“With 'Infinite Bleak’ I watched my friend die in front of me. That is what the song is about and I guess you cannot spin it any other way. Yet, there is an uplifting, dark humour element throughout most of the album.”
That humour shines through in songs like 'Make a Stance,' the album's most informal tune and, in essence, a complete reversal in theme from 'Infinite Bleak.' With the Iyrics 'put on your sexy pants, I want to see you dance in your sexy pants,’ it is impossible to pigeonhole Wes's lyrics as entirely gloomy.
"The song is about a guy who goes for a drive with a girl who he wants to fuck, essentially. You can see we are misfits and we are trying to be polite here," laughs Dale.
The juxtaposition that flows within the veins of the band is gorgeously evident on the debut. While the Velvet Underground (the band was named after a John Cale song by the way), Television, The Pixies and Sonic Youth are collective influences, the quintet houses a Deadhead, a keyboardist with a penchant for 1970s porn funk and a singer obsessed with Leonard Cohen.
"When I first listened to Leonard Cohen, I thought it was the most beautiful music I have ever heard. Same goes for Live/Dead (arguably the Grateful Dead's best live album) for Luke and George Clinton style funk for the Shark. He actually has loads of old porn samples on his keyboard," jokes Dale.
In addition, all five members are avid local music fans, soaking up the local scene while scanning local watering holes for new friends to share the stage, or unique ideas being put forth on the home turf.
"I really like Buen Chico, Samsa, The Scaramanga Six and the Kaiser Chiefs locally," proffers Dale. "I think the Leeds scene is pretty healthy. It seems to go in waves and right now it is going through a prosperous trip."
With the new record off the presses and a fresh record deal paving the way towards sunnier skies, touring has consumed precedent so the boys can as eloquently put, "get the fucking record out."
With up to a dozen dates already in the works throughout March, Mama Scuba will be relentlessly frequenting the M1 in order to push the record they been have waiting over four years to release. With dates in London, Leeds, Cambridge and Liverpool to name a few, the UK will be treated to a wholesome amount of Mama Scuba in the near future. Also, with the album already released on iTunes and a DVD floating around the University circuit via SubTV, collegiate touring will consume much of their schedule throughout the tour as well.
“One of our trademarks is that we will go off on a bit of a tangent when playing live and jam a bit, even though it comes off sounding rehearsed," explains Blumer. "Sure it comes off scripted, but it is really just us having a bit of fun. We are just improvising, but not with our thumbs up our own asses. It is just us feeding off each other because we intuitively know each other onstage."
So the bottom line is, watch out for Mama Scuba. Much like their unpredictable music, their live show follows the same suit, lacing surprise with intrigue, dark emotion with lighthearted humour and most importantly, seriousness with laid back ease.
“We simply act this way naturally," comments Dale. "We are definitely focused on what we are doing and are determined to get to where we want to go, but we are never too anal about it."
In addition, now that Redemption Records has alleviated the worry for coordinating the business side of the craft, Mama Scuba can focus more intently on the music. Just by analyzing their output when they had everything on top of the music to deal with, this new prospect is unquestionably exiting.
Mama Scuba headline the Tea Time Shuffle at the HiFi Club on March 4th with Buen Chico, Johnny's In the Basement, Shatner and Portobello. The show starts early and costs a fiver for an evening of richly eclectic local music. You can also catch them at Sandman's 'Meet The Neighbours' night at The Vine on the 17th along with Champion Kickboxer and Last People On Earth.