BOYS WONDER INTERVIEW
“There’s no scope for us selling out because we sold out before we made a record. The idea of selling out only applies if you made a lot of promises. We don’t promise anything. We just say what we think, look food, play loud and if people like it – fantastic!” So says Big Ben, voice and eyebrows of Boys Wonder, the latest, greatest, most exciting, no-shit rock’n’roll band to emerge from this country since… well, since… my God, has really been that long!
Anyone who caught their wham-glam bash through ‘Saturday Live’ in April will know exactly what I’m talking about, for never has three minutes of prime-time TV been used to such devastating effect. Boys Wonder are pop art, power pop, art-rock, no crock! Undisputed champions of the total look they could well be the ultimate band. But hey, that’s me talking – Boys Wonder don’t make promises, they make great music instead!
Boys Wonder were formed 18 months ago by singer Big Ben and guitarist Great Scott – identical twins, and telepathic too if you believe the Daily Express pop column. Together with Graham Jones (also guitar), the Addison twins set about getting “a proper rock’n’roll band together”. But this is not run of the mill rock’n’roll, it is decidedly English in flavour. Big Ben’s cockney vocal charm reflects everything that was essentially English about Anthony Newley, early Bowie (‘Love You Till Tuesday’) and the Small Faces on ‘Lazy Sunday’, while the hard and loud guitar pop has been compared to the finest moments of this country’s yob rock: The Who, Slade and the Sex Pistols. The national identity of their music is very important to the Boys.
“We want to sound as English as possible,” explains Ben. “A lot of people think it’s hard to sing in an English accent but I don’t find it hard at all. I think it’s more exciting… we’re from London and we want to get that London sound.”
After their excellent debut ‘Now What Earthman’, the latest release is ‘Shine On Me’ – the song they performed on ‘Saturday Live’ and easily the best record you’ll buy this year. A cracker of a pop song, ‘Shine On Me’ shows that Boys Wonder are trying to resurrect the sadly neglected art of songwriting.
Ben: “Songwriting in general has been missing for so many years. That’s why we keep getting references to the Sixties in the press – because that was when the most interesting songwriting occurred. There’s been absolutely fuck all since, because technology writes the songs for you now. There’s no songs, just rhythms.”
“It depends on how many songs as well,” adds Jonesey. “The Beastie Boys have got two hit singles but if you listen to their album there’s nothing else. That’s the case with most bands these days.”
Boy drummer Pascal Square is sharp to point out the importance of a good live performance too. “A good rock’n’roll band who are exciting to watch are going to get an audience buzzing. Most bands you go and see are dressed in something shabby and dark, and that’s the way they play and how the aura of the band comes across. We just wear and play excitement.”
Boys Wonder play hard-nosed guitar pop, the image is a clash of fashion rebellions. Inspirational reference points are the pop art era Who and the early punk Pistols. Both the Who and the Sex Pistols looked as original as they sounded. Boys Wonder look good too and the impact is immediate. So where does the image come from?
“It’s always been there,” explains Jonesey. “The image is there from when you grow up. It’s an attitude more than an image. It evolves throughout the months and years. You’re either that way inclined from the day you’re born or you’re not.”
Scott: “Everybody assumes that if you’ve got some kind of image that they find interesting it must be completely contrived. But it’s not the case with us. We’re just interested in what we wear.”
Ben: “There’s a parallel with mods in that you have to take an interest in the way you look in order to stand out from the millions upon millions of others.”
Scott : “It’s not as if we sit at home and say, ‘What are we going to look like? Let’s all wear white trousers and red shoes.’ It’s not as if that’s the image. Ben designs a lot of his own stuff that looks better than anything you can get in the shops.”
Ben: “We look deliberately uncool and it gets up a lot of people’s noses. But it’s exactly the same as the Sex Pistols in that they looked completely different to everyone else around. We’ve got a song called ‘Platform Boots’. It was originally written to show that if there’s a trend for something, whether it’s fashion or music, if you automatically go straight to the opposite then you’ll find the best means of making a success of yourself. It always runs in opposites. That’s why with a chart full of automated keyboard love songs we chose our starting point as a loud, live, sexist rock’n’roll band. ‘Platform boots, top of my list/Platform boots will make me rich’. And of course, next year, when everybody’s wearing platform boots and wide lapels, we’ll write about winkle pickers.”
Scott: “It doesn’t really matter what the song’s called, it’s just that Ben chose to use the term ‘platform boots’ because it’s still the most ridiculous form of attire. But as he says, next year somebody will look back to something else that’s deemed more ridiculous.”
Boys Wonder don’t lack controversy. Their fervent pro-British and anti-American music stance has not endeared them to certain sections of the British music press, while the lyrics to ‘Shine On Me’ have come under particular scrutiny. When you’re a band who wear DM boots and sing ‘The Union Jack is on the right track/The Union Jack is a gas gas gas’, it would seem easy to make the wrong assumption. Isn’t it a dangerously thin line to walk?
Scott is adamant and unrepentant: “It’s not a problem for us, it’s only other people’s problem.”
Ben explains further. “We’re completely apolitical. Any lyrics that we have that refer to this country are purely about pop music in this country, in the same manner as The Who. We had a Union Jack over the amp at one gig and that frightened a lot of people off but in France if you’re either a socialist or right wing you use the Tricolour as a banner. Yet if you use the Union Jack you’re instantly branded as completely right wing and politically minded. We’re totally apolitical, we’re not interested in politics in the slightest.”
Scott: “I just think it’s a real shame that our national flag has got such a dirty name because of some people’s political views. It’s mad!”
And ‘Shine On Me'?
Ben: “You can come up with a completely new definition for any lyric taken out of context. It’s unfortunate how people manage to do that but the song in its entirety is about the God of English pop music. It uses a mythical means of saying that every now and then – and it’s been a long time – a good band that’s based in England comes along and does really well. And that’s what the song’s about.”
Wouldn’t it have been simpler to steer clear of controversial subjects?
“We’ve got this policy of being completely honest. If you’ve been asked a question, you try your damndest to answer it, whatever it is. If someone doesn’t like the answer then it’s their fault for asking the question.”
Scott: “Hence a song of ours called ‘We All Hate Honesty’, which is an observation on how people shy away from the truth. Ask someone a straight question, get a straight answer out of them.”
For an apolitical band your first single had some quite serious undertones…
Ben: “’Now What Earthman’ was our protest song. Rather than wait until we’re 40 when we’ll get religion and start being world conscious, we started with our very first single. It’s a protest song about this planet in the eyes of someone from another planet. It’s political but not party political. It’s just as general as you can get about this planet.”
Boys Wonder have created a distinctive look and sound. It’s not surprising that they demand total creative control over the ban’s output, whether it’s sleeve design or choice of producer (they chose top notch Brit duo Langer and Winstanley for the new single). Why is total control so important to them?
Scott: “It’s just about one of the most important aspects of it all because if you start letting people water it down with their ‘old man’ ideas, then it’s just gonna sink into the rest of the crap.”
So do you urge other people to go out and be creative?
Ben: “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing yourself. Nothing’s terribly easy, you have to work hard at it. If you can’t play guitar in six months then go onto something else. Don’t waste our time thinking you’re good at something if you’re not.”
Scott: “There’s no point in complaining about it either. Get off your arse and do something for a change.”
Pascal: “Get out of bed.”
Scott: “Don’t follow old men!”
Take a tip from someone who’s prepared to put his reputation on the line. Boys Wonder are a happening band, the saviours of no-nonsense live rock’n’roll. Go and see them if you can. If you can’t, rush out and purchase their new single (on Sire) and make yourself some clothes to go with it. Become a Boy Wonder!
© Words copyright Chris Hunt 2007