An Aural History of Bangers

The punk scene as I know it is an ever-changing entity. Fads, bands, venues and fashions come and go, but after the last trend follower has sucked all they can from the musical vista, there is always a core set of people left to pick up the pieces and find out what the next big thing will be.

One band that seems to have been part of the landscape forever – but in reality, it’s only since the second half of 2008 – is Cornwall’s Bangers. They burst onto the scene with raw, infectious pop punk songs like ‘The Hard Way’ and ‘Banging’, and have since managed to stay both relevant and exciting with a slew of releases, each different from the last. We spoke to Roo, singer and guitarist, to get his thoughts on the development of the band’s sound and their musical output to date and to find out what’s next for them.

Starting at the beginning of Bangers – would you say the first songs you wrote as Bangers were a natural progression from your previous projects, like Burning Coalition? Or did you actively set out to sound the way you did?

I think it’s a bit of both really. The tipping point for me was one night when I was living in Brighton. Kelly Kemp and I lived in a house by the beach with no furniture and no money, and I lived on a mattress in the corridor by the bathroom. Burning Coalition and Hit The Beach were over by this point, and I remember spending an entire evening in the house on my own with headphones in dancing and singing along to The Alkaline Trio and drinking cider. For me that’s really where Bangers came from. I had this epiphany suddenly that I wanted to write music that people would actually like and want to listen to at home. We didn’t start practising for quite a long time after that because I moved back to Cornwall and had an operation on my hand. Most of those first 5 songs were written with a cast on my strumming hand which is probably why they’re now quite easy to play.

Dude Trips – released in 2010 – is a collection of your first recorded songs. Apologies for the generalisation, but one way to classifying it would be ‘a pop punk record with gruff vocals’. What bands inspired you at that point?

Hah, no apology necessary, that’s more or less how I’d describe it too. So I was still listening to The Alkaline Trio a lot, but Hamish and Andrew were never that fussed about them. If you listened to the first Bangers songs that we didn’t record that would be a lot more evident. There were definite Skiba-worshipping guitars and melodies. Actually the band that we all listened to a lot was Challenger with Al Burian, and in a lot of ways I think that’s what I’d hold up as a lasting gold standard for what I wanted Bangers to sound like. Hamish was probably listening to The Promise Ring and Andrew was listening to Wilco. Back then it seemed really important to me that we were still part of the South coast Hardcore scene, because that scene that my brother was involved in was our route into music in a lot of ways. So those bands like Jets Vs Sharks, The Dauntless Elite, and weirdly Dugong were really important to us too.

Your first songs were very dependent on the sing-a-long aspect. Was that intentional?

The sing-a-longs were really a hangover from Hit The Beach where it was loads of fun to have hooks that people would sing along to live, even if they were stupid hooks. I guess interestingly it was never the choruses that drew me to songs though. I love verses and asides in songs, and so often I think choruses are just bits that are repeated for no reason. I like reading lyrics whilst listening to records, and when there’s an endless chorus I always used to feel like it was a cop out from the story or narrative of the song. There’s plenty of Bangers songs that don’t have choruses but I’ve tried to repeat pertinent lines as hooks instead to varying degrees of success. Banging, for example doesn’t have what I’d call a chorus, but I think it still has sing-a-longs. It’s like the endless trichotomy of writing songs that are fun to play, fun to play live, and don’t make you cringe when you listen to them at home. So yes the sing-a-longs were intentional, but they always made me feel kind of dirty.

Small Pleasures was your first full-length album. How do you think it differs in musical style to the songs you had recorded before it? Is there much of a difference?

So I remember writing songs for Small Pleasures and thinking that people just weren’t going to like them because they weren’t as catchy as the other stuff which we’d seemed to be playing forever as most of that writing happened after we got back from 7 weeks in Europe followed swiftly by another 3 weeks. So I guess what is different about those songs is that they were more educated by being on the road. I was hyper aware of the bits of the older songs that I didn’t think worked very well live, and we had pressed Dude Trips just before that tour so I hadn’t really listened to it. Those 7 weeks were mainly playing to no-one though, so it was more about failed sing-a-longs and bits that didn’t sound right when nobody was listening to them if that makes sense. So the songs on Small Pleasures were mostly very well thought out for playing to people who didn’t give a shit. I don’t think the musical style is particularly different, just evolved a bit, but the bit difference with the lyrics are that the songs on Dude Trips exist in a world surrounded by friends, whereas Small Pleasures is mostly about being alone.

And the recorded sound: obviously, it’s consistent, given that I assume it was recorded at the same time/place, as opposed to Dude Trips – but it also has more of a lo-fi feel. Did you have a specific sound in mind and did you achieve what you wanted with Small Pleasures?

We didn’t at all. Oli Wood recorded us in Pontefract in Above Them’s practise room and we really didn’t have a clue. It was the first proper album any of us had made and so we just sort of went for it. The fact that Oli knew what he was doing technically and musically (even though he was inexperienced with recording bands) is the only reason that album worked at all. We recorded most of it from 10am to about 2am on the Saturday whilst drinking quite heavily (Tom Rob showed up wasted and went to sleep on the floor), and then tried to finish it up on the Sunday but failed because my voice was fucked so we had to drive back up the following weekend to finish it off.

You became known for your guitar riffs/melodies that enabled those at gigs to ‘air’ mimic you – as a flattering gesture. Were you conscious of writing parts like that into your songs?

Insofar as I enjoy playing guitar, and I don’t want to feel bored playing the songs, yes. I always write guitar parts first, so it’s only the things that interest me that make it into a song, and then sometimes I feel like I’m forced to link them together with boring bits to make the songs work. I like to watch good guitar playing, and I think it makes bands way more interesting than just background strumming. I don’t think there’s any Bangers songs that don’t have at least one riff (hmm, Mysterious Ways…) that I thought was interesting or different in the context of punk rock in some way.

Your next full-length – Crazy Fucking Dreams – has a slightly different feel to it. Were you consciously trying to write a different sounding record?

Yes we were. We were sick of being called ‘gruff punk’ and wanted to make a record to show that we weren’t a ‘gruff punk’ band. Whatever that meant. Unfortunately I think we were caught between wanting to make a record that sounded like A Quite Different Coastline, and the fact that I really liked The Hold Steady so we ended up with a mess of songs that didn’t have any choruses, but had loads of lyrics instead, and then just twiddled off instead of being structured properly. I listened to that album recently and I really like it, but at the time I was kind of disappointed that we weren’t a hardcore band, and that we’d wanted it to sound like a really weird record and it just sounded like a new Bangers record. I remember sending Andrew and Hamish an email after hearing the mixes saying we should just make it into an EP, then we went up to Ponte for a day and sorted out some of the gripes I had with the songs. Oli Wood (once again) was awesomely patient and understanding.

During your seven years of Bangers so far, how would you say the three of you have progressed as musicians?

We all got better, particularly me.

The most marked difference between full-length releases is from Crazy Fucking Dreams to Mysterious Ways – the album you recorded in 48 hours. The latter has a much more garage/grungy feel to it than anything you had recorded previously. Why do you think this was?

I think a lot of that was the lesson that I feel like I learned from CFD, that we could do anything as Bangers and it would ultimately just sound like Bangers doing something different. We also weren’t at all concerned about making songs that we could play live, we were just jamming whatever came to mind, recording it and then filling in the melody and lyrics afterwards. I think that record sounds the most like Hit The Beach because the process was so similar. With the first HTB record we had a big list of song titles which we thought were funny, jammed out the songs with minimal thought about the lyrics, just leaving enough syllables for the gang vocals, and then filled in lyrics that made us laugh. Mysterious Ways was really similar to that except that I was pacing around trying to retain some of my precious “I am a serious artist” bullshit and stressing over making the songs make sense.

How would you say your lyric writing has developed over the years? And do you still have enough things to write about?

Haha, good question. I am very proud of the lyrics I’ve written for Bangers and I’m always happy to tell people all about them and how very clever I am because of them. But there has definitely been times when I’ve felt like I don’t have anything to say any more and I should just stop writing songs, ever since Small Pleasures. Saying that, I find that if you just say whatever’s on your mind and don’t worry that it’s a weird thing to write a song about then at least one person will generally connect with it or get it and that kind of makes it worthwhile. I’m not writing songs to appeal to the maximum amount of people, so I guess if a song means anything to anyone then I think it’s a success and was worth writing. On Bird there’s a song that is basically about how I think Isaac Asimov was funnier that he was given credit for.

Your new album, Bird, picks up from where Mysterious Ways left off in many ways. Would you agree? What were you listening to when you recorded your latest record?

I would agree. I didn’t really feel any pressure to write good songs after Mysterious Ways because that had been such a fun, easy process and we’d ended up with an album that we all really liked. Just like everybody else I really liked that Cloud Nothings album, and I was listening to Murder By Death, Tom Waits, the new Lawrence Arms album, Superchunk, Torche, Ben Folds Five. I don’t think it was particularly a shift in what I was listening to so much as just relaxing into writing an album that we liked and not worrying about it or trying to second guess it too much. There was a moment when we were jamming the end of ‘I Don’t Feel’ and I thought for the first time that people might actually like it and I started worrying that we should make it less pop, or keep it shorter and then I realised that I didn’t care if people did or didn’t like it because I did, so we just jammed it out for fucking ages and I think it’s cool.

What have you learnt from your seemingly many hours in the recording studio? Do you learn from each recording process?

I feel like post-Bird we are just about at a point where we can make sensible decisions about recording music and soon I hope that we’ll be able to communicate them effectively too. Maybe in one or two more albums time. I’ve learned that I love recording live, and that Bangers makes much more sense as a live band than all pieced together. I’d much rather we recorded music that sounded together and rocking than well produced, and putting us all in a room together seems to be the best way to do that. I’ve also learned that the promise of earning a drink makes for much better vocal takes than the actuality of a drink. I’ve also learned that I can’t record a whole album’s vocals in one day to a standard that I would like to. Always turn down the gain on your guitar. Stay hydrated. Trust that everyone else’s opinions are valid, and don’t be lazy because you will always regret it later. If you don’t leave a recording session feeling like you’ve been wrung out into a bucket then you’ve probably done it wrong.

Do you take each Bangers release as a snapshot of what you want to sound like at that moment in time – or do you more see it as a constant attempt to reach the sound you’ve been aiming for from the start?

This sounds cheesy, but every release is it’s own little adventure. The excitement of writing the songs and showing them to the band, developing them and working out how they should sound at practise, planning how to record them and what kind of release it should be, actually recording them and the heady highs and plunging lows that that entails, fighting amongst ourselves about how it sounds afterwards, then the endless wait until it actually comes out and the bewildering sense of anti-climax when each one fails to shoot us into super stardom. Then all too soon the excitement that maybe the next one is going to be better.

How do you see Bangers progressing over the next couple of releases?

Well we’re planning to do a few songs with a big band vibe. I’ve got three written at the moment and we’re planning to have backing singers, keyboards, brass, and maybe an extra guitar. Just make a big deal of it and do something kind of different. Then who knows. I’ve always wanted to sound more like Lemuria, and we’ve talked for ages about doing a really punk-sounding 7inch. We talked as far back as CFD about doing a couple of songs with me playing the piano, and Andrew had a cool idea about releasing a song as an answerphone message that you had to call up to listen to. The fun thing about being in Bangers at the moment is that it seems like we’re all keen to try some stuff out and see what happens.

– Andrew Cream

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