words: Tom Goodhand
pics: Danny North
¡Forward, Russia! are not Communists. Their name has no political connotations. If you don't believe them, then bear in mind that they were almost called Welcome Megatron, and played their first gig whilst called Orlando Pirates. No politics there, see.
Rather, they are ¡Forward, Russia! because they thought it sounded more commanding than other name on their list of fifteen potentials.
Commanding is of course what you want if you're going to be throwing up a danceable mix of punk, funk and screeched vocals. Especially if you air it in public for the first time in front of a Cockpit packed full with fans of post-Mod dullards The Ordinary Boys.
For most bands, a gig that size would be huge news, for ¡Forward, Russia! it was just a warm-up, as Whiskas explains; "we really wanted to play with Kill Kenada, which was a couple of weeks later, and we didn't want that to be our first gig, so we decided the easiest way was to support The Ordinary Boys in front of four-hundred people in the Cockpit. It was good. It was kind of nice to play with the Chiefs as well, because they were all really nice about lending gear and shit. Cos they all served us pints in the Well."
It all started as Whiskas' "rebellion" against his then current band les Flames! (now sadly deceased), he recruited the similarly disillusioned Rob (bass) and Tom (vocals/synths) from The Black Helicopters, and his sister Katie, on drums and shouts (Katie: "I'm still just Whiskas' sister", Whiskas: "You'll break out of that").
Both bands were apparently "pretty fucked around that point" and both soon disbanded. Whiskas explains that, "the two bands both started as something, and became something else. If your band changes, it's really hard for you all to keep going with the same ideals you started up with. When this band came together we were really clear about what we wanted this band to be: we wanted to have a laugh, and to be ambitious, and to not worry too much about the stuff that got us down in the other bands."
Tom similarly enjoys the freedom, "what I like about this band, as opposed to The Black Helicopters and les Flames!, is in this band, we can do anything we want. We don't write something and think, that doesn't sound like ¡Forward, Russia!. We just write it, and then play it. Everything we write does sound like ¡Forward, Russia!, invariably. We've never really thought about anything else."
It soon became a lot more serious than that: "we played the first demo to a manager round here and he was talking to another A&R man, and he said 'well they're really good, but they're not serious, they're not going to go anywhere'. But I thought, 'well we will if we want to', and I like the fact we've written all these really ace pop songs that are completely fucked. It's nice, it's good."
¡Forward, Russia! decided to go somewhere: "we decided we wanted to put a single out, but didn't want to release any of our current songs, because they're not very accessible. It was almost like a challenge to us to write something more accessible, and now we've written shit-loads."
The result of this is that ¡Forward, Russia! can support both The Blood Brothers and The Bravery in the space of ten days, and go down well at both gigs. The negative side of this is that reviewers (in Sandman Leeds no. 16, no less) have recently compared them to Franz Ferdinand and The Killers, something that Tom was not too keen on: "it made me want to kill myself". Comparisons that the band are somewhat prouder of include Gang of Four, At The Drive-In and XTC. Whiskas' is also surprised that they've yet to be compared to Bloc Party "which is a triumph, considering how much I've listened to that album", and Ex-Models, although Whiskas admits that "I suppose it's hardly the most ear-marked of bands to say, 'there's a right Ex-Models influence in there'".
Every song that they've written so far has been numbered in the order that it was written (for the dim amongst you, that means that the first song is called 'One' and the ninth 'Nine', and so forth). Which surely means that if they go on to last as long as The Rolling Stones, they'll be arguing over whether to put 'Seven Hundred and Eighty One' or 'One Thousand Nine Hundred And Nine' into the set? Or possibly not, Tom has decided "that once we do our second album, we're dropping that. We'll start naming songs then." And already Katie has decided that she doesn't "want a number 'Thirteen'", so that one may end up being called 'B'.
Whiskas denies that it's all a bit of a gimmick, "we didn't think about naming songs. It wasn't like, 'hey let’s be really cool and name all our songs numbers', it was just, 'we don't have a name for this song, let's make that one 'One''".
Does it not get confusing though? Rob admits: "it does get a bit difficult to remember which one's which", Whiskas agrees, "writing them as fast as we are now and getting into double figures, that's confusing me. 11 and 12, I always get them the wrong way round." Katie seemingly just wants to confuse things more: "I think we should change them round, and all of a sudden have number 'Two Thousand and Twenty Five'".
If 2004 was a good year for ¡Forward, Russia!, with mentions in the NME alongside numerous good reviews, then they intended for 2005 to be better. The band are releasing a split 7" single with This Et Al that should emerge in March on Whiskas' own fledgling Dance To The Radio label, as well as a track on a compilation of the same name, and a national tour with This Et Al.
The plan from there is for the band to go full-time when Katie finishes college and to release a more widespread single in July. By the end of the year they want to be "getting the album planned, and know that it's going to be released". So who would they like to do the album for them?
Tom wants "Paul Epworth (The Futureheads and Bloc Party, amongst others) to do it, but that's too cool now. I wanted it 6 months ago." Alternatives include Blake from the Moving Units, who produced his own band’s album and would hopefully make "a completely different dynamic for the punk stuff" or DFA man James Murphy.
The interview closes with ¡Forward, Russia! showing their ambition. The dictaphone is switched off with excuses of only needing around one thousand words. Whiskas claims he believed that this interview was for a "¡Forward, Russia! Edits…" magazine, whereas Katie asks for a four page spread, and offers to be the centre-spread if that helps, much to the surprise of Whiskas.
Joking aside, if ¡Forward, Russia! can even begin to make a dint on their dreams, then 2005 could be a very big year for them indeed.