words: Pete Mella
pics: Chris Saunders
Out of the ashes of Groop Dogdrill come future eX wife, a fiery four-piece with little time for angst, a thirst for stella and, potentially, the world at their feet.
It’s safe to say things are going well for Sheffield-based rock quartet Future Ex Wife. In less that a year of being together, they’ve played some blistering gigs, got national press and radio play, and are poised to release their debut album.
The band was formed by ex-Groop Dogdrill frontman Pete Spiby and bassist Jay Hale about nine months ago. Dudley-born guitarist James Maiden, a mate of the original drummer, was brought in originally for one song, but fitted so well he became a full time member.
The current line up was completed when they drafted in former Beachbuggy drummer Darren Feris, originally only to temp for a few gigs.
“One gig was so amazing that we thought we should be a band,” says Pete. “and that’s how it came about. We all turned round Kiss-style pointed at Darren and said ‘you’re in!’”
Just as the band was formed in an organic manner, the band’s sound was also allowed to evolve without too much of an agenda.
“We have loads of trouble with this,” says James, “because we can’t seem to come up with anything that it does sound like. It’s hard to describe in terms of other bands.”
“I think some people can see things that we don’t,” says Pete, “some people may think there’s certain bands that we sound like, so we could sound like anything from 90s American rock, or Fugazi. Someone even said we sounded like Stone Roses!”
“It was really upsetting, that,” says James.
“It’s probably pretty hard for people to describe what we’re like,” says Pete. “Someone was saying that one of the songs sounded like the Ruts, a lot of people say we’ve got kind of like a punk thing, we think we’re more bluesy. It might be a really good mix of punk and blues, in a kind of John Spencer or Rocket From The Crypt kind of way. This [album] is only our first recording, so I definitely think we’re in development.
“We’re probably akin to people like Johnny Cash, all those really old blues people. I’m not the greatest guitar player ever; I’m not even the greatest guitar player in Sheffield. Or even in Greystones where I live.
But my approach to it is the same as those old blues players, if the feeling’s there and everything then that’s all that matters really, and I think it’s not a case of wanting to fit in, to any genre or current scene. Rock is a fashion accessory now”
The album, ‘Miss September’, due for release at the end of October, is a visceral slice of skewed and sleazy, bluesy rock, with some of the most gloriously dirty-sounding basslines around. Remarkably, it was recorded almost completely live, perfectly capturing the energy of the band’s live show.
“We recorded this album live, in one take, because we were all in agreement that when you do a gig you get one chance,” explains Pete, “you can’t stop a song half way through and start again.
“Darren’s had a lot of studio experience with [producer Steve] Albini and Beachbuggy and stuff, so he sorted a lot of stuff out. That was one of the reasons we could do it all in one take. The thing was we did a rehearsal on a Monday, ended up doing a gig in a little shitty pub in Doncaster on the Tuesday, and did the recording on a Wednesday, we went in about half ten, set the gear up, started recording the songs.”
“Mixing took the longest,” says James, “getting all the levels right. It paid off though, cos when we got it home and listened to it I couldn’t believe how good it sounded.”
Inspiration for this recording technique came partly from Rumpus, a Sheffield act much admired by Future Ex Wife, and seen as kindred musical spirits.
“They’ve got that really old Seattle thing happening as well, that really good old rock sound. There’s a song by Rumpus that I heard that made us go into that same studio, and they’d done it live too, though I don’t think they recorded it as quick as we did.”
Fluidity to Future Ex Wife’s approach to songwriting means the songs are ever evolving, and what you hear live is unlikely to be exactly like the recorded versions.
“In the studio, I made half the lyrics up,” says Pete. “On some of the songs we’ve given Jay the job of transcribing what he thinks I’m actually singing, and they’ll become the lyrics! Cos a lot of it was made up spontaneously, without being too arty farty it was like a performance artist just going in and doing it.”
“We had these rehearsal tapes, you couldn’t make out the vocals, and we had this recording of ‘Six6City’,” says James, “and I always thought Pete was singing ‘Six6City, something something, the birthplace of Rock n Roll!’. And he was singing something else completely. The engineer put it on the minidisk player, and Pete was like ‘I know exactly what you mean’, and heard it straight away as well. It ended up being used in that song.”
The music too is not set in stone, all four members having to keep close tabs on each other on stage to ensure they’re all playing the same thing, as Pete has been known to add new lines and verses to songs as he goes along.
“It’s a great way of improvising,” says James “without getting noodley and doing stuff people can’t relate to”
Sitting in the pub with these four, very well put together blokes, it’s hard to imagine Pete once fronted Groop Dogdrill, a band that, according to Doncaster webzine Eerie Powers, inspired “constant nagging concern that [they] may genuinely be criminally insane”.
“That scared the shit out of me,” admits James, “reading Dogdrill reviews like ‘they’re pretty good… and not just in a knife fight!’ And Pete showed me photos and they were there looking pretty mean, and I thought what am I getting into here!”
Pete denies he’s mellowed, though. “At the moment we’re all pretty nice, but give us a fucking 24 pack of Stella and we’re out there!”
“It’s just one of those things,” he says. “The first few years of Dogdrill was a pretty bad time. I did have a problem with drink when I was in Dogdrill originally, there was a load of personal stuff, and that’s kind of what drove the band, and I think we were all like that.
“I’d never met any people so similar to me at that time as Damo and Hug - they’re great people, and when they’re pissed they can be the nastiest bastards, not to me personally but if you ever want backed up in a fight, them two pissed are great.”
All the press Future Ex Wife have garnered so far has mentioned Pete’s former band - are the others worried that it’ll forever be thought of as Pete from Dogdrill’s new band?
“Yeah it crosses my mind occasionally,” says James. “But Pete obviously doesn’t want it that way, so it’s very easy to avoid it, but you are aware that some people will be coming to the gigs saying ‘what’s Pete doing’.”
“Every review we’ve had’s mentioned Dogdrill,” agrees Jay, “though I think people will get bored with that.”
“I don’t mind using it though, if it is useful and people do get to hear us,” says James.
“We can use it,” says Pete, “but the point is I don’t know how far it’s going to get us. A lot of people think we were a lot bigger than what we were!
“Damo’s had it too, with Three Stages of Pain, and they’ve probably still got it now - ‘The bloke from Dogdrill’s new noisy band’. And I’m sure he has to deal with it in the same kind of way.”
Listening to the recordings and seeing the band live, it’s fair to say this is a band that don’t really need such help on their way up the rock ladder. Not that such success is high on the Future Ex Wife agenda. They just do what they want to do, and the acclaim they’re getting is merely a happy accident.
The coming months will see the band out on the road promoting the album, some dates with Intentions Of An Asteroid and Number One Son, both bands that Pete manages (he also looks after Fake Ideal and 65 Days Of Static). They’ll also be recording as much material as possible – they’ve got a whole album’s worth of unrecorded stuff already. Next year sees them doing festival dates in America, where they’re getting label interest.
“We’re just starting out, and everyone’s loving it so far,” says Pete. “And let’s hope that in three years time, if we can keep a hold on it all, we’ll still be loving it, and loving it more. And hopefully we can give up our day jobs, because 24 hours a day to think about the band would be scary. We’d have an album a week!”