Interview: Free gigs and Thai Kings with Reverend and the Makers

Jon McClure of Sheffield rockers Reverend and the Makers chats train come-downs, the ‘lad’ curse, and the state of a music industry with Chris & Kem at the top of the charts.

Death of a King has been described as “a modern classic”, “brave”, and “risk-taking”. What can you say about the process of writing and recording? 

“Just that I enjoyed it very much. Was a bit mad with the Thai King dying and the nation being in mourning, but more interesting to go to Thailand than to record it in a broom cupboard in Sheffield innit? I think that narrative becomes a bit dull six albums in. Ultimately people love the album and the last one. It’s just getting them to hear it is the battle.”

And how did the process differ from previous album? 

“They’re very much sister albums. In fact, they form part of a trilogy. The third instalment is on its way.”

What led to the decision to record in Thailand? 

“Excellent way to waste the record labels’ money? No, to be honest we toured with the Libertines in Europe last year and they’d been out there to that studio and Peter and Carl highly recommended it so we decided to give it a go and we loved it.”

‘Monkey See, Monkey Do’ is insanely catchy, and the second half in particular certainly stands out on the album. Am I right in thinking there are feminist themes in those lyrics?

“Yeah definitely. We’ve been pegged as some sort of “lad” band because I’m a Northern alpha male, but we’ve always had Laura in mind and I’m not some knuckle scraping fucker who drinks from puddles. Not that the media gives a shit though. When you’re from North of the Watford Gap you’re often deemed to be stupid in the eyes of the London-centric types who control the keys to the music industry.”

Nothing keeps the sound of a band fresh like changing the vocalist throughout an album – it’s fantastic to appreciate the diverse talent of each of you. What were you hoping to achieve by mixing up the roles?

“Just that it keeps a freshness as you say. The reason the Beatles were the best band ever is you never get bored. As soon as McCartney treads the line of being too happy and annoying, along comes Lennon with some minor key weirdness to even it out. And vice versa. That’s before you add George and Ringo to the mix. Potent stuff.”

What’s the connection with Auld Reekie?

Honestly? I DJ’d in Glasgow the other year and me and my brother did fuck loads of coke and MDMA. Our train went via Edinburgh and I was on the mother of all come-downs. Ed had the verse sections almost written so I added the chorus and the title line and made it about that. Works a treat, wouldn’t you say?

It’s been just over 10 years since the release of ‘Heavyweight Champion of the World’. As a native of Sheffield, I’ve always been delighted by the local references, dialect features, and the sense of identity which comes across in your music. Do you feel you’ve moved beyond that now, or is the local influence still rife as ever?

“It’s still there and I still live a fairly normal working class life but equally to continue to pretend to be the person I was back then would just be false and boring, you know!”

You’ve been known to delight fans with free gigs. What inspires you to do this? Do you think it’s something artists should do more?

“Just keeping the spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll alive. Whatever that means these days with Chris and fucking Kem at number 1 in the charts. It’s about standing for something other than big corporate gigs and bullshit and money!”

You suggested on Twitter that the cancellation of Hope and Glory festival in August was symptomatic of bigger problems in the music industry. Do you think there’s anything, however small, that can be done about these issues? Whether it is by the artists, fans, producers, labels, or even the government? 

“It’s dead simple. Pay artists what they’re worth or else they’re vulnerable to big money offers from amateurs, and at worst gangsters. Someone is going to get hurt sooner or later given the state of the music game. They say it’s the most prosperous time ever for music but that only applies to 20 artists max! It’s OK if you’re Adele or the Foo Fighters. The rest of us are in the trenches mate.”

The increase in popularity of streaming services like Spotify has seen a drop in record sales, and the artists are paid pitifully by streaming in comparison to physical sales or downloads. On the other hand, piracy is on the decrease, and artists do have the option to opt-out. I personally have found such services useful for discovering new music, and this may have provided revenue for music I might not have otherwise downloaded. On the whole, would you say this trend has been positive or negative for artists?  

“Yeah it’s good for discovering new shit but they need to pay themselves less and pay the artists more. It’s like football. The big clubs make all the proper money. So Taylor Swift probably makes millions out of Spotify but I don’t.”

Do you think people who care about music should boycott streaming services?  

“Yes. Also there’s nothing like holding a record in your hands is there? Reading the sleeve notes. In any case, they shouldn’t include streaming figures in the chart. Some middle manager from Slough streaming the Foo Fighters greatest hits on the way to the office isn’t the same as actually being a music fan and spending your money and engaging with an artist is it?”

You’ve long been outspoken about your political views. How does it feel to be given support from a politician like Jeremy Corbyn?

“Brilliant because I was derided by the NME for my views previously, yet the world turns and now it appears I was right all along eh?”

Do you think musicians should be more engaged in politics? And how possible do you think it is these days for music to create real change?

“Well sometimes music is escapism so doesn’t always have to be political. But those who always remain silent have to be one of two things – careerist or stupid. And most musicians aren’t stupid. So that leaves one option doesn’t it!”

Reverend and the Makers play The Garage in Glasgow tonight.

 

IMAGE: Roger Sargent

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