words: Pete Mella
pics: Chris Saunders
The five young dandies known as the Long Blondes aren’t doing too bad for themselves. Since forming they’ve taken their infectious, sexy new wave garage pop across the country, wooed the London media, and supported a mysterious Scottish four piece called The Black Hands…
They were formed when the five of them, singer Kate, guitarist Dorian, bassist Reenie, keyboardist Emma and drummer Screech, met up after seeing each other around Sheffield, and deciding to form a band. Then they went about the business of learning to play instruments.
“I first noticed Dorian when he was working in the library at Sheffield University,” says Kate, “but he never seemed to be doing much except hanging around in the film section. He was referred to as The Mod in the Library, until we got to know him better.”
”The first name for the band was Modern Librarian,” says Dorian, “but we didn’t think it was as catchy…”
“When we formed it wasn’t so much what we wanted to do,” says Dorian, “it was more what we didn’t want to do, which we could go on for hours about. We just wanted to start a band that didn’t have any acoustic guitars, no effects pedals, we were quite militant before we started, no guitar solos… we did actually take it to the point at first where we had no guitar tuners.”
“We’re glad we’ve left that behind us…” says Kate.
“There were some angry people after that, wasn’t there?”, says Emma.
“Yeah, we’d sold out,” says Screech.
“It was more about that DIY kind of thing,” says Dorian, “I do think there’s quite an exciting music scene about, compared to a few years ago, and I don’t want to hype it up as the next punk type thing, but there’s a lot more regional things going on, people want their own identities. That’s what it’s about, we’ve got loads of influences that two years ago would be unheard of.”
“People wouldn’t even know who they were. But suddenly they’re cool names to drop,” says Screech.
Bands that the Long Blondes are influenced by are varied, and fit into more ideological niches than musical genres. Sparks, Roxy Music and the Smiths are all mentioned, but it’s more a rally against what they don’t like than imitating what they do.
“It’s five different sets of influences we all argue about,” says Reenie.
“It’s just bands that have a DIY spirit and do things for themselves,” says Dorian, “and not just bands, it’s more about being interested in going out and doing stuff.”
“We all do stuff,” says Screech. “We all make the videos, and Kate does the artwork, we’re not just coming down it from a musical angle, it’s broader than that. There are influences that are broader than just the music, and we take an interest in things that are outside music as well.”
“If you’re clever enough you can do everything yourself,” says Dorian. “I hate this thing where bands are just ‘we’re in the recording the studio, and we’re going to get someone doing the artwork…’”
“How can you get a uniform idea,” says Kate, “when you’re getting people in from outside and you’re constantly having to explain to other people outside the band so we just do ourselves our own way. It’s a completely DIY thing.”
“We just set out to make people realise it is really easy to be in a band,” says Dorian. “We never played instruments before and I think we’re a really interesting band… even if I say so myself!”
Dorian is the main songwriter (although Kate writes some of the lyrics), but this is more to do with time management than any dictatorial role in the band.
“We’re not one of those bands that’ll go in and jam for five hours,” he says, “cos then everyone just focuses on their own instruments and that gets really important, so I just write the basic song and we form it round that. And then we can get a song done in like two hours. We haven’t got time… shopping for new clothes is more important!”
“I don’t think any of us four though would pretend to be able to come to rehearsal with a song,” muses Kate.
“Ah, can you imagine me jamming at home?!,” says Emma. “I haven’t even got a guitar at home! And I’m the one with the most guitars aren’t I?”
“How many have you got now?,” says Reenie.
The Long Blondes are releasing a single on Angular Records soon, the home of trendy London types such as Art Brut and The Violets. The label is getting associated with the NME-hyped New Cross scene… are the Blondes the token northerners?
“The thing about the Angular stuff is people say it’s New Cross and blah blah blah,” says Screech, “and half the bands on it aren’t from New Cross, Elizabeth Harper is from New York, and one of the guys who runs Angular’s from Huddersfield, and the other one’s from Cambridge.”
“Someone asked me the other day, ‘oh are you a New Cross band then?,’” says Dorian. “People think we’ve moved there or something. We sent [Angular] a demo because I saw the review of the first Angular CD and thought, ‘fuck they’ve beaten us to it’. It sounded exactly how we wanted to be. So we sent them a demo and they sent us a demo back saying it was one of the best demos they’ve ever heard!”
“And we’ve got the email as evidence!,” says Screech.
“We’re not exclusive to Angular, anyway,” says Kate. “We’re not just part of that.”
As well as the Angular release, they have a 7” out now on Thee Sheffield Phonographic Corporation, on typically gorgeously coloured pink vinyl”.
“The people at Thee SPC are fantastic,” says Dorian, “the way they’re just picking up people that they like. They just want to do it.”
“There’s nothing in it for them really,” says Screech, “they just want to do it for themselves.”
“It sounds nepotistic too, but I think they are the best bands in Sheffield,” says Dorian. “I mean Champion Kickboxer, I’ve never seen a band better than them in Sheffield really.”
Out of that has also come a collaboration with Thee SPC’s “Reverend”, otherwise known as Mark Wainwright from the Motherfuckers and Velodrome 2000.
“The Motherfuckers were the first band I ever saw in Sheffield,” says Kate. “Me and a friend nicked their whisky!”
The pair duet on a track called ‘Peterborough’, Kate describing Mark as her “John Travolta”.
“I used to meet an ex boyfriend of mine at Peterborough Station intermittently,” she explains, “and we’d go there and sit in the Great Northern Hotel and argue and retreat. I’d go back to Sheffield and he’d go back to Nottingham. Mark’s pretending to be him!”
Perhaps the band’s biggest brush with fame was their support slot in Leeds with ‘The Black Hands’, who were in reality Franz Ferdinand doing an ultra-secret fans only show.
“That’s the attitude that I like,” says Dorian, “they’re a big band but they did this small gig cos they promised it to their friend in Leeds ages ago, and they lent us all their equipment, which is a nice change from, well this doesn’t happen all the time, but you get bands with ideas above their stations, with their manager coming up to you and saying you can’t borrow their equipment.”
“It’s that whole thing we wanted to get away from, from bands being too precious, and just the idea of local bands having managers, just things like that. Do it yourself, if we can manage to do it, anyone else can.”
“I think if you’ve got a good mate that wants to manage you,” says Emma, “and who knows exactly about all what you’re doing then that can take a lot of all the rubbish like ringing up and arranging use of equipment and stuff, that could be good. Not like these businessmen who start sniffing around you.”
Having been formed for such little time and laughing in the face of musical proficiency, do the band get hostility from some of the bands that have been around for years and feel they’ve queue-jumped?
“We get simmering bitterness rather than hostility…,” says Reenie.
“That’s the attitude we’re trying to get away from,” says Screech, “if you’ve paid your dues you’re going to make it. We have paid our dues though, we work really hard, we all have day jobs, and we all manage to do what we do.”
“I don’t class being on the dole and sitting in your bedroom for eight years playing blues riffs paying your dues,” says Dorian.
“No-one deserves it,” says Reenie. “No-one’s got a right to be doing well. It’s just tough! “We can’t get bitter about it either, we can’t complain about people doing better than us, people are and we can’t whinge about it!”
But the Long Blondes’ fame is growing, the NME keeps throwing references to them in the magazine, and put them at number 10 in their top festival bands of the year, just below The Hives and well above Metallica and Radiohead.
“We really don’t know how that happened,” says Emma.
“It’s not an insider job, none of us are sleeping with anyone from the NME,” says Kate.
“C’mon, you’ve seen us live,” says Dorian to Sandman, “you know we’re the 10th best band in Britain!”
And as well as the press, there’s less conventional signs of their fame spreading.
“One of my highlights is we were walking in the subways just near Safeway on Ecclesall Road,” says Dorian, “and a man dressed as a gorilla just said ‘Hey! It’s the Long Blondes!’ To this day I’ve never known who that is. When it gets to that stage you know you’ve got to start paying security.”
“Someone through a rock at me through a car window the other day,” says Reenie. “I don’t know if that’s connected or not.”
“A drive by stoning,” suggests Screech.
“Maybe they thought we weren’t rock enough…?” says Kate, puntastically.
But their early successes aren’t going to their heads.
“I’m still quite humble about it. I’m really surprised we got fairly far so quickly. We’re still on the rise, everything we do it’s like the first time we’ve done it really. To me I can’t imagine not doing it like that. I’ve got mates in bands for three or four years, and they just play the same venue all the time.
How do they do that? How can that progress?”
“I’ve got friends who’ve been in bands for four years,” says Kate, “and they’ve been on three or four UK tours, just playing the same venues again and again and again. It’s overkill, if they’re not going anywhere from that they should sit back and think, ‘we really need to sit back and think about this for a minute.’”
Whatever the Long Blondes are doing, they’re doing it right. At this rate they might make their humble ambitions of Top of the Pops, CD:UK, Late Night Poker and a Christmas number one (they have one out this year, all they can divulge is it’s a “classic slice of English misery pop”).
Sandman asks if there’s anything else before the dictaphone’s switched off.
“Yes, I want to get a quote in there…,” says Dorian. “We’ve got more in common with Diana Dors than The Doors”
So here’s to the Long Blondes, and their five-person DIY mission to rid the world of musical po-facedness.