This Et Al
words: Tom Goodhand
pics: Tony Woolgar
It has become part of our local folklore that This Et Al are one of the best bands to walk the weathered streets of the sweet Northern paradise that is Leeds. So many reviews will sing their praises. The occasionally ecstatic responses that they get from their gigs are a testament to the high regard they are held in. Yet, in a world where the Britpop stylings of Kaiser Chiefs and Duels and the convulsing, pounding punk funk of ¡Forward, Russia! are putting Leeds on the map, This Et Al don’t really fit in that well.
“The thing about us,” explains Ben (roaring guitar) “is that although we can be quite heavy and intense live, at the same time it’s not inaccessible.”
“Yeah,” interrupts Steve (cataclysmic drums) “it requires a little more patience than some other stuff. There’s not much patience around at the moment.”
The boys are right. This Et Al are certainly not easy listening. Their songs are loud. In fact, some time ago, Wu said “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!’”
Did they do that? Well, on the evidence of their last three singles (‘He Shoots Presidents’, ‘You’ve Driven For Miles And Not Remembered A Thing’ and ‘Wardens‘), we can only give a definite nay. While there is no doubting that This Et Al can be melodic, their chief mediums are noise and sheer intensity. “My mum came to a gig and it gave her tinnitus for two months afterwards!” confessed Wu in an earlier interview.
Ben explains that he feels “like we’re the oddballs a bit. People seem to like us a lot, but I’m not really sure why.”
In fact, Gav (player of a vicious bass guitar) sums it up best when we get onto the tricky issue of taking some photos to accompany the interview. It’s a rather nice day outside, a bright, crisp autumn afternoon. This is a problem: “we’re not really a daytime, sunshine kind of a band. I was hoping to do it [the shoot] in the dark, with some weird lights.”
So do you lot really feel a part of ‘New Yorkshire’ then?
“You have to kind of distance yourself from the whole New Yorkshire thing,” explains Wu (guitar, frantic vocals). “You could just jump on the bandwagon and go ‘Leeds, Leeds, Leeds, Leeds’, but it is going to fuck up eventually. I think most of the bands that were in are probably going to stay around for a long time, but you shouldn’t rely on it, or it will end up biting you in the arse.”
Sandman hasn’t fired any awkward questions at This Et Al since way back in March 2004 (that’s some twenty months ago). One can but assume that some things have changed for this Leeds four piece (that’s Wu, Ben, Steve and Gav, just to recap) since then. Well, for starters, they’re a Leeds four piece, as opposed to a Bradford four piece. Care to explain what happened there then Wu?
“If we’d stayed in Bradford, I don’t think we’d have got anywhere. Like we’ve being doing videos and recordings recently, and on my street are people from iLiKETRAiNS, ¡Forward, Russia!, there are always people you can call on for a favour.”
Ben concurs, “There are people and resources which we have in Leeds which just aren’t there in Bradford. Which is a shame. I hope there is one day, I hope it’ll grow.”
“It’s very vibrant around here,” explains Wu, “People are just trying to make a name for themselves, like Sandman and Leeds Music Scene. You’ve got a load of bands trying to make a name for themselves, you’ve got a load of writers trying to make a name for themselves, and photographers. They’re all trying to make a name for themselves. I think it’s a good thing, because you get a load of people all trying to get to the top of their game. Which is why it’s been so successful. The best thing is there’s no bitterness involved. Everyone’s being well supportive of each other.”
What else? Well, there’s the uniforms. It’s black shirts and red ties, with occasional colour reversal (although the tie that Wu chose to wear for this interview was surely closer to magenta. Sell out.).
“The thing I always look back to” says Wu, with a look of embarrassment on his face “is, when we were a bit of a shambles, we did one of our first gigs at Rios (Bradford). There’s a picture of it, and it’s fucking hilarious. I’ve got like a sparkly shirt, Gav’s got big combat pants and a vest. We look like a shambles.
“I think, sometimes we get a lot of stick about how we dress live, but then again, you wouldn’t want to watch your mates all in fucking combat pants or jeans and a t-shirt. You’ve got to give people something to look at, you’ve got to be identifiable. The main thing we did was decide we wanted to look more like a band onstage.”
“I think all the best bands look like a band, like a gang,” explains Ben. “Like we walked into a pub in London and someone said to us, ‘are you guys a rock band?’. You want people to recognise you as a band.”
“I think it’s a mental thing with us as well,” expands Gav, “cos now we feel like a band. Endless touring and spending so much time together has… like me and you Ben, didn’t really know each other, and we probably wouldn’t have been friends. But we’ve come together we’ve spent so much time in the back of a van talking bollocks. We can confide in each other now, it feels like all four of us are proper actual mates, rather than just being in a band.”
Steve sums it up: “it’s a metaphor you see. The uniform is a metaphor.”
The only problem with having uniforms is that it can make people judge a band before a note is even played. Not that Wu seems very concerned.
“If people think we’re a bit pretentious, then it’s just a bit more added pressure, which I like anyway to be honest. We either get ace reviews or shocking reviews. It’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. The only real problem with the clothes is that you will get people who have the preconception that we’re a group of funny wankers. In Norwich I had someone say to me, ‘it’s not just about the outfits, is it guys? Actually you lot are fucking good’. Well it’s fucking not is it, it’s just something to look at.”
Most importantly though, This Et Al seem to have grown up as a band. As Wu explains, “I think we’ve got a bit of a clue about how to do stuff now. We were a bit naïve, and we were a bit pissed off about a lot of stuff, so we just thought ‘fuck it, we’ll do it ourselves’. It does take ages for a band to find its feet. We didn’t have much help then either. When you first start out you kind of have this idea that your ultimate goal is to get a record deal, and that’s it. Or you’ll do something and that’ll get you a record deal. We were very naïve.”
As Ben explains, the band have realised it doesn’t matter how good you are, you’ve got to put a lot of work in to get any rewards.
“We’ve realised how much hard work it actually is. We’re working so hard these days, touring loads and recording loads, every day there’s something we have to do.”
Of course, there are things to block your path. “There are lots of distractions as well,” explains Steve. “Now we’ve kind of been through a lot of that industry shit, and we know what it is now. It’s not something we have to learn about so much, so we can start thinking about ‘the music’ more.”
Dealings with ‘the industry’ certainly appear to be a huge cause of strife for the band.
“A lot of bands have learnt a lot of stuff,” explains Wu, “like with Duels, they’ve had a crack at it, and they’ve known what they don’t want to do this time. We’ve never been in a band that’s been in the position to sign a deal, or do anything proper decent except just play a school hall. So any mistakes that we make is just part of a learning process.”
Of course, the most obvious things that This Et Al have been up to are recording three singles. Two of them have been long sold out. But you might just about be able to stumble upon the latest one, ‘Wardens’ (on Jealous Records), in Jumbo or Crash. It’s worth the search. As well as this they’ve been touring pretty much constantly, which Steve reckons has really helped them out.
“It’s got to the point now where all it is, is just getting into our own songs, as opposed to concentrating on what we’re playing or parts. It’s got to the stage where… it’s like driving a car, you can start to think about other things. So you can start to think about, y’know, the emotional aspect of it. You can do something without thinking about it, is what I mean by that.”
Anyway, back to the singles. Of all of them, their most famous single is probably ‘He Shoots Presidents’. However, the fame has come more from its flip side (¡Forward, Russia!’s ‘Nine’) than This Et Al’s song. So Steve, that must have been quite frustrating.
“We’re not going to lie and say it wasn’t hard for us, going on tour with them, seeing loads of people being really into them and then thinking why were we there. You see a band doing loads better than you, who you are very close to….”
“…it drives you on a bit” finishes Ben.
“The only bad thing with that,” concludes Wu, “is that we’re constantly linked to ¡Forward, Russia!. Some reviews say stuff like ‘I bet This Et Al hate ¡Forward, Russia!, because if it wasn’t for them, they’d be the best band in the country’. But you don’t have to say something like that. And people come to our gigs in ¡Forward, Russia! t-shirts and say, ‘you’re that band that did something with ¡Forward, Russia! aren’t you?’. For fuck’s sake, we’ve done something on our own as well. Y’know what I mean?
“There’s a very romantic view you can take, where you have to focus on your own thing. But then when you see loads of people you know doing really well, like Duels and ¡Forward, Russia!, it’s like, ‘I’m delighted for you, but I wish I could be doing it as well’. I don’t think it’s really a competition. You can’t deny that they’ve worked for it. Whiskas has said that this is the band he’s worked his whole life for, I couldn’t say a bad word about him at all.”
So, as our word limit draws us to close the books on This Et Al for a little while, let’s look back on the past. Their achievements.
Wu puts their biggest achievements as, “The last single selling out in a couple of days. Being asked to headline the new stage at Leeds Festival. Whether it’s unsigned or not, there’s so many good bands on that could have headlined it. Winning Futuresound the other year. Hearing Zane Lowe say your band name is just hilarious. Me and Whiskas going down to do an interview with Lamacq as well. Being played on Lamacq is well good. It’s like, oh yes, at last.”
And finally, a last little anecdote from Wu about Mr. Lamacq himself (who Wu insists looks like Gollum): “Steve Lamacq played ‘Catscan’ which has ‘Fuck you to the man’ all over the end. That’s pretty bad for Radio 1, so he talked to his producer so she didn’t hear any of the swearing, and then he told us: ‘yeah I talked over it so she didn’t hear any of the swearing, so screw you Zane Lowe’. Something like that.”
So if Steve Lamacq is willing to risk the wrath of BBC Radio for them, he must find This Et Al rather exciting. I think we must agree with him on that one.