words: Pete Mella
pics: Chris Saunders
It’s been a busy year for RUMPUS. Pete Mella catches up with Sheffield’s finest purveyors of skewed, unembarrassed, clever rock and discusses their obsession with Phil Collins.
A hero’s welcome in the Channel Islands. Naked mountaineering in the High Peak. Titting about in churches. Birds with Phil Collins’ face. It’s been a funny old year since Sandman last interviewed Danny, Ian and Dave, better known as Sheffield’s warped psychedelic rockers Rumpus.
“We’ve had a couple of adventures in the last year,” admits Ian. “It’s been quite good on the adventure front.”
Rumpus need very little introduction to the regular gig-goers of Sheffield. Maybe surprisingly they were formed as recently as 2001, although they were in existence for a couple of years before that as the Insofars. This last year has seen them honing their sound and live show, to become one of the best damn rock bands you’re likely to see.
One of the highlights of the year for the band was a trip to Guernsey during the summer.
“The three of us went out and did this festival at a big castle,” says Ian, “we got into a big wobbly minibus and wobbled down to the South Coast, for about a week, and expected to play like an empty pub somewhere.
“We got there and there was a pub full of people who all knew the words. Somehow the CD had leaked over there.”
“Guernsey is basically like Sheffield, but with sea around it,” says Danny. “The music scene is quite similar.”
“We did that gig,” says Ian, “then a load of radio stuff, and then that festival at the castle. The dressing room was like some kind of dungeonny thing full of beer. We camped for most of it. It was a bit shit coming back, so we drove around Edale trying to find somewhere to play, and we eventually found a village hall.”
This outdoor show was another popular event, with the band’s Sheffield massive trekking across to Derbyshire border to camp out and enjoy the music. It was so successful they’re planning on braving prospective hypothermia and doing two more, tentatively pencilled in for Bonfire Night and sometime around Christmas.
“We’ll probably die [at one of those],” says Ian, “because at the last one Dave decided to climb a mountain at four o’clock in the morning, naked. It was actually in the paper, someone had seen a man walking across the Pennines naked.”
“When we do stuff like that we just tend to chuck it together at the last minute,” says Danny, “we literally give it a few days to get a few people together. It’s more a close knit thing.”
“I really like doing outdoor stuff,” says Ian, “It’s great when you’re doing a gig and you can see the sky, and the sun going down over the sea and a castle.”
Despite such successful jaunts, not everyone’s in such adulation of Rumpus. They seem to have uncanny knack of vexing fans of the more traditional genres of rock.
“A friend of a friend who saw a gig was actually pissed off at the end,” says Danny, “they were like [adopts Butthead-voice] ‘oh I can’t believe this, they’ve got no feeling or meaning’”.
“There are two schools of people who hate us,” says Ian, “there’s the people who only like slow, soulful music, and the people who hate any idea that music isn’t entirely serious, or think anything apart from sadness or love affairs isn’t a valid emotion.”
A typical Rumpus fan, however, is less easy to define.
“People who like us come from all walks of life,” says Ian, “from 14 year olds, to people who are 70-odd, who found something in it that inspired them.”
The Rumpus sound is far from conventional, and it’s easy to see why it doesn’t appeal to the more Luddite-esque rock fan. It’s a potent melting pot of influences that takes in psychedelia, grunge, and traditional rock, among many other things. Between the three of them they listen to a full spectrum of music, ranging from Nirvana to Arabic music, and there’s a bit of all of it brought into the band’s sound.
So is there any genre they definitely aren’t influenced by?
“Cher,” says Danny, immediately, “I don’t know if that comes under it’s own little category, but Cher. And Phil Collins.”
It is revealed, however, that despite their loathing of him, they have customised their bird calendar with images of Mr Collins, the Cockney drummer’s visage plastered over pictures of our feathered friends.
“You’ve got things like the kingfisher with Phil Collins’ face,” explains Danny.
“The robin one was good too,” says Ian, “where it’s the robin’s eye that’s his face.” “We don’t get out a lot,” sighs Danny.
It’s not just the range of Rumpus’ influences that are unconventional; Danny has a fairly novel approach to lyric writing.
“I tend to find I like writing little rhymes,” he says. “It’s just finding words that rhyme together, and sometimes you look at it and go, ok that fits the melody, but it sounds ridiculous.”
“But sometimes it comes out where you can spew out a rhyme, and it seems quite abstract, but there are things going on in your life at the time that makes you think it’s actually got meaning to it.”
“What I like about the things Danny writes, and the things a lot of other people I like write, is that way that you can interpret it in many different ways,” says Ian, “and it ends up meaning something to you even though they may not mean that. It puts an image in your head, even if that’s not what was originally meant.”
“Stuff like ‘Sex, Food and Griffins’ is actually quite dark,” says Danny, “but because it’s got the word ‘griffin’ some people think it’s random and stupid but it’s not.”
The band have been busy recently recording some new material with 2Fly Studios producer Alan Smyth, who has brought out a more varied and experimental sound to their songs.
“The next thing is trying to bring that more into our live sound,” says Ian. “We realised that what we were doing live was falling a bit flat compared to how we could sound. That’s the next thing we’re working on.”
“It’s in the pipeline,” says Danny, “we’ve got a guy who’s doing keyboards and backing guitar and stuff.
“We’ve always been a rock band, but we’ve always had a odd edge, like a psychedelic-type edge. This is going to bring that out, rather than turning up to gigs as a three piece, doing this three piece rock, when we’ve got this other edge we can get that out. Hopefully that’s fallen into place now.”
As well as the recordings they’ve made two videos, with filmmaker Helene Michaelides, for the songs ‘Fish’ and ‘How Are You’. ‘Fish’ involves the lads in a church, Danny wearing a Venetian mask with a beak and replacing the crucifix in the pulpit with a plastic starfish. ‘How Are You’ features live footage from their escapades in Guernsey and other recent gigs.
“We’re talking no-budget film-making,” says Danny, “but it came out quite good.”
The band have a lot of praise for the Sheffield scene, picking out Texas Pete, Future Ex Wife and Jody Wildgoose as particular favourites. Danny is surprised how people outside Sheffield view the place, surprised we even have a scene.
“It’s weird,” he says, “the idea I get from people outside of Sheffield is they go ‘how come there isn’t much of a scene in Sheffield?’ But all these famous bands have come from here, like Pulp, Def Leppard, Human League and all them.”
But, as is always the case, it’s the band’s recent trips to London that have meant they’ve started to appear on the music industry radar, especially now they have the full multimedia package to show for themselves. So what do they think of the state of the music industry they’re dabbling their toes in?
“I think the state of music’s fine,” says Ian, “but the state of music that reaches people in their homes is shocking. Somebody somewhere is deciding what people like, and I don’t think they’ve got a clue what people really like.”
“It’s like art and business,” says Danny, “they’re not the same concept. But that’s what the entire music industry’s based on, a mismatch of the two.”
“At the end of the day people do what they do because they love it,” says Ian, “and things like the Internet and CDs make it so you can listen to something someone’s done at home or on the other side of the world. There’s a lot of stuff to route through, but that’s something that in previous years you wouldn’t have been able to do.”
They also recognise the current climate’s need for handy labels and pigeonholes, things aren’t easy to pin on Rumpus.
“If you’re a glam punk band or something like that,” says Danny, “then press magazines, everything, right down to where you put your records in a record shop, which section, kind of guides you in.”
“It’s the good thing about the newer sound to the band now, of getting the keyboard player in, it kind of emphasises that edge on things, it makes things that bit more clear. It’s that syntheticy keyboardy sound to things. It makes people go, ‘well I suppose this is psychedelic rock…’”
It’s going to be another busy year ahead for Rumpus. They’ve got gigs lined up across the country, new material to hawk round, a keyboardist to break in, and every chance of getting signed. Apparently they’re also planning on kidnapping Cliff Richard and poking him with pins to see if he really has a colostomy bag, but probably the least said about that the better really.
So we’ll see them this time next year to find out about another twelve months of adventure.