One thing you can certainly say for alternative pop newcomers FACE is that they’re tenacious.
Originally formed by vocalist David Arthur and bassist Matt Kern, the pair met and played together in London until the city’s high rent prices forced them north to Manchester. There, they lived in the basement of an old cotton mill until they finally got the chance to return to the capital to play The Black Heart in Camden – and on the way were rear-ended by another driver. Still, the gig was a game-changer for the boys, and they later completed their line-up with drummer Slim Gabriel and guitarist JC. We caught up with the band to get their take on the crooked road to success, and find out what’s next in their plans for world domination.
What was the music you grew up listening to and (how) does it influence you now?
Dave: There was always a lot of folk and jazz music around. I grew up in a Scottish working-class family where ‘singing for yer supper’ was actually actively encouraged. At every family event there would come a point in the night when enough whiskey had been consumed where you’d find granddad in the corner singing ‘Danny Boy’ and I remember the first time I heard him sing, it deeply affected me as melody always has and does to this day. My parents always had music on in the house growing up as they were both musicians. Sometimes I had The Beatles to Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Donovan and John Martyn playing in the house. Donovan’s ‘To Sing For You’ really affected how I wrote songs at an early age, I loved the simplicity of it. I think there’s a thunder-bolt beauty in songs that aren’t overly complicated.
I think there’s a thunder-bolt beauty in songs that aren’t overly complicated.
David Arthur, lead vocals
Slim: I think what we absorb in our young lives always finds itself in an honest piece of creative work. It’s all autobiographical. A bit like Dave: Glenn Miller, Dylan, The Beatles, Elvis are never going to leave my musical brain. That stuff is the best stuff.
JC: My Dad’s record collection is the soundtrack of my childhood, he introduced me to some of the best, you know. He’d be playing anything from Joni Mitchell, Miles Davis, David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen to AC/DC. I remember rushing back from school to put on some shades and guitar, I’d sit there for hours playing over that stuff, trying to figure it out. It all definitely still inspires me and comes out in my playing today.
You were briefly exiled to Manchester by London’s high rent prices where you lived in the basement of a cotton mill writing songs – describe that period.
Dave: Yeah, we sort of decided after being chucked out of our flat in North London that enough was enough of paying London’s mental prices for rent and living. It can really take a toll on you man when you’re committed to something that’s [as] all-consuming as music and you have high rent and bills to keep up with. There comes a point where you have to make a decision like ‘Ok we’re gonna have to get the hell outta here and find somewhere that’s less pressurised so we can continue on this journey.’ So we packed up and left for Manchester, and before long we found ourselves in the basement of an old cotton mill in Salford. I overheard a local once saying ‘Living here is like living in the arsehole of the world,’ and to be fair to the guy there were a few occasions when I looked up at the sky and thought, ‘He was right…’ We took minimum wage jobs in between writing and recording demos and I remember one night we were working on a song and could overhear Noel Gallagher doing a homecoming gig not far from the mill. We opened the side door and listened… As he kicked into ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’… You could hear the crowd singing every word, man, it was inspiring. Nights like that helped keep us going when there was no sign of record deals on the horizon.
Matt: Moving out of London seemed like the only option we had at that time. Ironically, the day we left, we actually signed a small single deal on a song we had written in London and so we spent the first months of Manchester trying to get this single recorded. From there though in our spider-infested mill we learned to record a whole bunch of demos that eventually got us back to London and land[ed us] a record deal with Warner Brothers. I look back on that time as one of the most valuable.
From our spider-infested mill we learned to record a whole bunch of demos that eventually landed us a record deal… I look back on that time as one of the most valuable.
Matt Kern, bass
It’s a bit of a rock and roll staple to have a period of struggle and songwriting like that – do you think that period of difficulty was a good thing in the long run, or do you think that’s a bit over-romanticised?
Dave: I think it’s completely over-romanticised by people who have never lived it, but what choice do you have when music affects you as deeply as it does? When you dedicate yourself to it, it’s a life choice man. It was difficult and hard and any other words of that sense but we chose not to focus on the hardship and struggle and instead focus on the songs and our belief in this journey.
You returned to London to play a show at The Black Heart in Camden (and got into a car accident on the way) – what was that show like for you?
Dave: It was like the final act in Arthur Lee’s ‘The Crucible’. We had arranged this show and had lots of industry coming down from the demos we had sent out. We had put all our money into it, so it was quite a high-pressure show for us. After the soundcheck Matt went off to get something to eat, next thing I had a text saying, ‘You aren’t going to believe this, I’ve crashed the car again,’ and then another: ‘I’m trying to get back but the police won’t let me go just yet.’ So we had a couple hours of ‘Are we going to have to pull the show or not?’ and meanwhile the room had started filling up, everyone was at their panic stations waiting for news. Then 10 mins to go ‘til showtime, Matt rocks up white as a sheet with a bruised cheek. With no time to chat, I handed him his bass and we all headed onstage like a misty fog and let loose.
Matt: Well look, it was clearly my right of way and he decided to drive straight over my bonnet. Actually, I don’t think the policeman would have let me drive off if I hadn’t told him about the gig – I definitely prefer the Met to the Manchester police. ‘Was just another reason why I was happy to be back in London, and it actually turned out to be a really valuable show for us in terms of getting things going for us.
How did you write your single ‘Cry’?
Dave: We started working on the idea of writing a song with a really simplistic phrase. I had the phrase in my head for some weeks before and we tried putting it down but it sounded more like a dance track than a FACE track. There was a strong feeling that we had to keep working on it though and so on and off for a week or two in between delivering Chinese food and making burgers it eventually started taking a natural shape the more time we spent time with it.
Matt: Yeah, we both knew the idea of ‘Cry, Cry, Cry’ had something cool, just had to try out a load of different chords and ideas until it worked. That is the upside of living in a commercial basement I guess.
What are your biggest goals for the future?
Dave: Scotland in the World Cup… But on a less serious note… We want to release the best records humanly possible ‘til the Book of Revelations comes true and we all float away on a little fluffy cloud, unless you’re one of the unlucky ones such as Donald Trump and you’re cast into the fire for 1000 years. We want book deals, movies and universities named after us. I’m not going to lie, FACE in SPACE is something we’ve all thought about. See you in space.
See you there. In the meantime, though, listen to FACE’s new single, ‘Cry’, below.
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