Today’s Feature – February 23-24: The Whybirds

February 24, 2008 at 1:02 pm (Today's Feature)

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Welcome to PensEyeView’s latest effort to discover the finest and most distinctive talent across the pond! What better way to continue our global search for the best artists than with a band out of Bedford, England – a group the Bedford Roar Club describes as “Great big rollicking honkytonk harmonies that jump into a kingsize water-bed with songs made out of tears, beers and cactus;” a band that has found the natural recipe for mixing style with substance… The Whybirds!

It’s more than talent that however that makes the Whybirds special – it’s a lot of dedication too. Most of the group (Luke, Ben and Taff) had been tearing up the region in a band called The View for years… but ended their run in 2005. The three tried performing under different acts, but hit some bumps along the way; bumps that had Luke admitting that old View fans were wondering, “what the @!#$ happened to them? They used to be so good!” After a near breakdown, the band decided to go with what felt natural in the recording studio, writing songs without limitations and sharing the role of lead singer. After this renaissance, their act turned into The Whybirds, a group that sounds like “Johnny Cash had he grown up on a sprout farm in Mid-Bedfordshire listening to Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam.”

Following up on the success of their “Tonight” EP, the Whybirds will be releasing a brand new album on March 8th that contains more uplifting material than ever without one song written in a minor key. Luke describes it as “Good songwriting, good guitars, good vocals, good harmonies, happy songs, sad songs disguised as happy songs, Hammond organ, and all in 47 minutes!”

A Whybirds show is the best way to truly get to know the band. Playing from a different set list for every performance, the group makes sure that listening to them live is a whole new experience. Taff has “seen too many bands these days who play note for note what’s on their album and it’s just plain dull.” The group will be busy preparing for their release later this year, as well as a launch party the night of at Camden’s famous Barfly venue. You can also catch them on a more regular basis at the Man on the Moon in Cambridge. Jump in now and learn more in the XXQ’s.

XXQs: The Whybirds

PensEyeView.com (PEV): How and when did The Whybirds first form as a band?

Luke: Ben, Taff and I had been playing together in a band called The View since we were 14, but when that broke up in 2005, we reformed with Dave as our singer. For a while, nothing really gelled and we kind of stumbled around for a year or so, playing under different band names, and frankly we were shit. Loads of people that came to see the new band were like, what the fuck happened to them? They used to be so good! Then Taff nearly left, and we decided to write the kind of music we naturally write, rather than the 70s rock that we were doing in The View. So in late 2006, we became The Whybirds, which is when we started sharing lead vocals. Once that happened, we were writing new songs at every practice and built up the material for the first album over a really short period.

PEV: Hailing from Bedford, England, what kind of music were you listening to growing up?

Luke: I remember listening to Queen’s Greatest Hits and this compilation tape called Blues Brother Soul Sister on every family trip I ever went on. But when I really started getting into music, about age 13, I was really into the Seattle scene, particularly Pearl Jam. Through Pearl Jam I got into Neil Young, and from Neil Young I got into loads of singer/songwriters like Dylan, Steve Earle, Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams, Josh Ritter and so on.

Dave: Same as Tuck, I grew up listening to my parents’ music, Rod Stewart and The Beatles and stuff and my love of music grew from there. Aerosmith and Guns ‘N’ Roses played a big part, but Bruce Springsteen I guess was my first real obsession from when I was about 15.

Ben: Yeah, my dad’s a Beatles nut. So I heard them pretty much every day and loads of other 60s and 70s stuff. Guns ‘N’ Roses were the first band I really got into too, but I got heavily into the grunge scene too before alternative country. Dave and I actually became mates through Springsteen.

Taff: If I answered this question completely honestly I’d probably get kicked out of the band, but like the others there were a lot of things like the Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Deep Purple and so on played by my folks when I was a kid and my brother was always discovering new music, which naturally had a big influence. It was when I first heard Appetite for Destruction that I started getting really obsessed with music though and from there on I think The Who, Bob Dylan and Nick Drake were three of the most influential artists for me.

Luke: Being an alternative country band, we should probably say Gram Parsons and Hank Williams, but we didn’t listen to them till way later!

PEV: Tell us about the music scene in the UK and what is your take on it?

Luke: It’s all style and no substance. Loads of people are in bands just because they think it’s cool to be in a band, rather than because they want to play music. They all sound the same, but with varying degrees of competence. It’s frustrating. It makes me want to spit.

Dave: You have to dig deep and look hard for good music these days. Since the days of Supergrass and Oasis there aren’t many bands from the UK that really excite me.

Taff: We very rarely see any bands on the same bill as us who are any good. We played around 70 gigs last year and I would say there were maybe two or three bands that we played with that I would want to hear again. If you think that on average there are four bands on each bill, that’s pretty poor.

PEV: At what point in your life did you decide that music was going to be more than just a hobby for you?

Dave: Everyone has their dreams when they are young, but I guess I was about 16 or 17 when I knew I didn’t want to do anything unless it involved playing music.

Ben: As soon as I started playing guitar I wanted to be in a band. I must have been about 11.

PEV: What can fans expect from a live Whybirds performance?

Luke: We’ve got enough material now to mix things up a fair bit, so we do pretty much a different setlist every night. We’re also a lot heavier live than on record, unless we’re playing unplugged of course, which we also do quite often.

Dave: We also do some extended jams.

Luke: Some self-indulgent extended jams. So, it could be a few things, but it’s an area we really pride ourselves on. I don’t want to sound bigheaded, but we’re really, really fucking good live!

Taff: We like to make the live experience something that’s different from listening to our album, which is what most of our favourite bands do. I’ve seen too many bands these days who play note for note what’s on their album and it’s just plain dull.

PEV: Tell us about your “Tonight” EP released in August of 2007. How did fans react to the sound on “Tonight?”

Luke: Well, the EP was a strange one really. The EP was made up a couple of old View songs and a couple of songs that were a bit too punky for the album, and it reflects our kind of rock sound far more. Also, with the exception of What it Means Ð which I wrote but Ben sings Ð the album tracks are all sung by whoever wrote them, whereas on the EP Dave sings a couple of mine, because that was the format when we first started playing together. In terms of fan reaction, some people had already heard a lot of the album tracks live, and were disappointed that they weren’t on the EP, but we wanted the EP to be an entirely separate entity from the album, and I think it does show a different side to the band. Personally, I like it!

PEV: How is your upcoming self-titled release different than the “Tonight” EP?

Taff: I think the album is a fuller representation of the Whybirds. Tonight focuses on a certain part of our style but the album covers more of our musical bases. And the cover art is different.

PEV: What can fans expect from the new album?

Dave: It’s an uplifting, summery kind of record, in fact, we haven’t written a single song in a minor key yet, but at the same time the lyrics aren’t always happy. And because we all write there’s a good mix of styles and flavours in there.

Ben: A breath of fresh air.

Luke: Good songwriting, good guitars, good vocals, good harmonies, happy songs, sad songs, sad songs disguised as happy songs, Hammond organ, and all in 47 minutes!

PEV: In all your travels, what has been the favorite city to play and why?

Luke: Personally, I’d say Cambridge. We’ve just had some really good gigs there.

Ben: Yeah, either Cambridge or London. But that’s more because we’ve had some weird gigs in London.

PEV: Is there a certain “up and coming” band right now you think we should all be looking out for?

Dave: We’ve played a few gigs recently with a band called Small Devices and they are definitely worth looking out for!

Luke: Yeah, they’re cool. Apparently they don’t have any set lyrics, they just get on stage and the singer sings whatever comes to his head, but you’d never notice. I’d also say that Tinker Jack, Sister Ray and Sulfer are all worth checking out. Not because they’re our friends either, it’s just we happen to be friends with some really good songwriters!

PEV: The bands has been described as “a mix of Tom Petty, Lynyrd Skynyrd and occasional Eagles”. How would you describe The Whybirds’ sound?

Luke: We can accept the Tom Petty thing. But Lynyrd Skynyrd aren’t an influence, despite what people say, and the Eagles certainly aren’t. As Tom Waits said, the best thing Eagles records are for is keeping dust off your turntable.

Ben: I don’t think we’re influenced by either. I quite like Skynyrd but the Eagles aren’t really my cup of tea.

Luke: I suppose our sound is exactly what we say it is, it’s rock ‘n’ roll, with an alternative country edge. Or alternative country with a rock ‘n’ roll edge. Depends on how you look at it.

Taff: Imagine if Johnny Cash had grown up on a sprout farm in Mid-Bedfordshire listening to Bruce Springsteen and Pearl Jam and you’re half way there.

Luke: And he had four heads.

Taff: It’s alternative southern country rock with an East Anglian twist and a hint of grunge.

PEV: On the Barfly website it was said that The Whybirds are “Generally accepted as the UK’s best alt – country band”. How have all your friends and family reacted to your success?

Taff: I think it’s safe to say they are keeping level-headed about it.

PEV: What is the meaning behind the name, The Whybirds?

Luke: It’s a reference to the Yardbirds and Gram Parsons-era Byrds. It’s kind of a nod to our rock ‘n’ roll side and our country side.

PEV: When you aren’t performing or traveling, what can we find the Whybirds doing in their spare time?

Ben: Taking the piss out of Dave. That, and eating.

PEV: What’s one thing we’d be surprised to hear about the members of The Whybirds?

Luke: We still currently hold down day jobs. Although hopefully this will change soon.

Ben: We’re all pretty much the same age.

Luke: Is that surprising?

Taff: I’m surprised that Ben is surprised enough to think that people would be surprised to know that.

PEV: What is a normal day of a show for you like? Any pre-show rituals?

Dave: Usually a lot of travelling, possibly some fast food, and a few beers!

Ben: A car crash. Luke: Traffic jams.

Taff: Shouting at Dave because of car crashes and traffic jams.

PEV: In one word, describe The Whybirds.

Ben: Tight.

Dave: Hairy!

Luke: I was gonna say something rude then that would go along with what you two just said, but I think I’ll leave it up to your imagination.

PEV: If you could have your “dream collaboration” with any artist, who would it be and why?

Luke: Well, like any self-respecting alternative country band, we should probably do a duet with Emmylou Harris, cos she’s appeared with everyone from Neil Young to Steve Earle to Ryan Adams, but other than that, I’d probably still like to do something with Pearl Jam, just because without them, I really don’t think I’d be doing what I’m doing.

Taff: I think it would be cool to share the stage with Bruce Springsteen.

Luke: Yeah, that’d be alright I suppose.

PEV: What has been the best part of The Whybirds’ career so far?

Ben: Hmm…playing the Secret Garden party maybe.

Luke: Recording the album probably. It only took two weeks, but it was the best two weeks of my life.

Taff: Yeah, I think recording the album really changed us as a band and gave us even more belief in what we’re doing.

PEV: What is next for The Whybirds?

Taff: We’ve got a few irons in the fire but we’re releasing our debut album in March this year and then we’re hoping to get back into the studio to record the next album in the summer. It took about year from recording the debut to releasing it but now we know what we’re doing so we should be able to get the second one released by the end of the year. We’ve written half of the songs already, so by the summer we’ll have enough to get in the studio. Otherwise we hope to do a few bits like acoustic EPs and get some live recordings made. 2007 was our first proper year as a band and we developed a lot over the course of the year. In 2008 we hope to build on our success and establish ourselves as a touring band. We also hope to get over to the States sometime soon too.

All photos courtesy of Brett Clarke

For more information on The Whybirds, check out /www.myspace.com/thewhybirds

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