What made you decide to change from metal into folk singer?
It was partly a logistical thing, I wanted to keep touring after my old band broke up, but I didn't want to put a new band together, because the inter-personal politics killed that band off. So, that kind of pushed me into doing something that would be just me on my own, and there's only certain kinds of music you can play like that. Also, I'd been playing hardcore for a very long time, and it just seemed to make more sense to do something new, as I was getting a little bored of the shouty hardcore punk stuff.
So you still view yourself as a solo singer, because you've now assembled a band?
I do have a backing band, but it's still under my name. It's a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Neil Young and Crazy Horse type thing and the musicians I'm playing with right now mean I'm really lucky because they are amazing musicians.
Does it rotate or have you pretty much got a set band now?
I'm playing with four other guys, three of which I've been playing with for almost two years now. At the moment I've got singer Chris T-T playing piano for me which is excellent. But he's obviously got commitments of his own, so I think I will be getting a new guy to play keys for me for the October tour that I'm doing which is a shame, because playing with Chris has been loads of fun.
That's a shame...
The thing is Chris is going to be there because he's doing the October tour as well, so he's going to be there. But I'm just not sure he wants to be doing two sets in one night for us every night. He's supporting us for the October tour.
Your songs are very good at studying the human condition did you study psychology or sociology?
No I studied history at university as it goes. I've been playing bands and writing songs since I was 10 years old, and believe me it was all utter rubbish for quite a long time. I've improved through practise.
How do you go about your song writing process?
I think there's a sort of stereotype about the business of song writing, that it involves lying around on a chase longe in a toga being fed grapes by nubile young women whilst being inspired.
I get ideas here and there, but to turn those into ideas into a song takes hard graft, you have to sit down and work through it. You need to have some discipline to force yourself to sit down because it's very easy to waste a lot of time on the road. And generally speaking what I've done with both my albums is had time to sit down for three weeks before each album and concentrate hard and work through everything. So the album is kind of technically written over a year long period, but the action of bringing everything together, such as writing second verses happens in a much more concentrated time.
So is there a set pattern to your album releases?
No, not really it's just sort of whenever they are ready to go. I did my second album quite fast after the first one but that wasn't really planned either way, we just reached a point where the songs were ready for album two, and it just felt right for me and the label to just push forward. I'm tapping into a rich seam of creativity for me right now because I spent so long playing one style of music, the change has really livened me up a bit.
How many instruments can you pay?
Many, a bit of piano. a bit of drums, mainly stuff with strings so guitars, mandolin, banjo, bass, all that kind of thing. I had some lessons here and there but mostly self taught. I think my style of playing is so much by ear and playing along to stuff which is very much in the folk tradition.
So you'd describe your music as being based in folk?
Yeah, well that's a kind of idealogical statement in as much as a musical one. Obviously the actual sound I'm making has elements of that, but it has elements of rock, and punk, and pop, and country, and everything else in it. But by describing what I do as folk it's a statement of intent as well.
So who has influenced you?
Bruce Springsteen is probably my favourite songwriter I think his arrangement and structuring of songs, and lyric writing and everything, is for me personally, unparalleled. Stuff like Billy Bragg, Counting Crows, Levellers, all that sort of thing.
I was going to say you are often mentioned in the same breath as Billy Bragg...
Yeah, that's true the thing is I'm a fan and he's great and it's fine, I don't have any problems with the comparisons. I do think people sometimes get a little bit lazy, just tagging me with 'Young Billy Bragg' or whatever because to be honest, I'm not saying I'm re-inventing the wheel, but I knick a lot more ideas from Counting Crows than I have ever knicked from Billy Bragg. I just think the fact I came from a punk background, and it's often just me and a guitarist means it's an easy comparison to make.
Do you think there's still a place in the world for punk music there days?
Yeah definitely, although much like folk, punk is an approach to music and an ethos as well as a sound. The thing that I've learned about by growing up with punk is the DIY aspect of not waiting for some kind of infrastructure to come along and do everything for you, but just do everything yourself. I think that's still, twenty five thirty years on, a really liberating approach to making music and certainly an important one.
A lot of punk artists have changed the face of folk music from the old...
Yeah definitely, this is one of the reasons why I started getting involved in listening to folk music when Million Dead was still going was that it seemed to me a lot of people in that scene do all the things that the punks talk about but don't do, you know. The folk guys do it without yakking off the whole time about how brilliant they are for being punk rock.
You're also labelled a lot as a political singer, but I've read you're not pleased with that label.
Well, it's just at the end of the day I'm a musician and at the end of the day what I do is make music. The problem is, if you accept the political tag, it becomes like Rage Against The Machine, everyone spends the entire time trying to catch you out. And, that's just not really interesting to me, I want people to evaluate what I do in terms of the music. i think that music and politics there is a lot of interplay and there's a lot of things that music can contribute but at the end of the day if I wanted to be a politician, I'd go and be a politician.
You seem to be constantly touring, what motivates you to take to the road so much?
Well, I really enjoy touring it's a lot of fun, it's my favourite thing in the world. it's something that you are either built for or not. I've been doing it for quite a long time now and I still enjoy it as much as I ever did. I also consider myself as a working musician, and going out on the road is my bread and butter. For the kind of music I play the only real honest way I can build a fan base is to go out and get in front of people. Rather than relying on radio promotions or any of that sort of thing, obviously that contributes.
But sometimes you see bands created by label promotion and press coverage and they can be famous for five minutes but there's no loyalty in their fan base because essentially they've been foisted onto the public they are playing to. Biffy Cyro is a good example of a band who built themselves up by relentlessly touring and have built up a loyal to the point of fanaticism kind of fanbase, which I think is healthier in the long run.
Are surprised you've built such a good fanbase who sing along at your gigs?
I'm pleased, I must admit I like a sing along, sing alongs are great because they break down the barrier between the stage and the crowd a little more because everyone's involved in making the noise. There's definitely parts of songs which are deliberately written to be sing alongs. It's very flattering and very encouraging to play a song and have lots of people sing along, that's great.
Do you think your music would work as well on a large stage in front of tens of thousand of people?
I don't know I'd like to give it a go. We shall see.
What festivals are you doing this summer?
Well I'm doing a lot of festivals this summer. I've got Reading and Leeds coming up, Cambridge Folk Festival, Beautiful Days, and lots of others. I'm having a very festival heavy summer this year which is great. Beautiful Days should be really fun, I'm really glad to be on at that festival I'm a long standing Levellers fan so it's a good one to be involved in. i think Seth's going to be around as well, I'm doing another show with Seth at the end of the summer in Regents Park which should be great.
Do you enjoy festivals?
Festivals are cool you generally make a lot of new friends at festivals. The problem is that the organisation can sometimes be quite stressful, because there's 9000 bands trying to play in one space in one day. So from the logistical side of it, it can sometimes be rather trying shall I say.
Do you get to collaborate with other musicians, apart from Chris T-T?
Yes, and no, the amount of time I have to do that sort of thing is a little limited at the moment. Just last week i spent some time playing with The Bennett Brothers from Goldrush which was really good fun, I was doing some recording with them in Oxford. But. I've got a list as long as my arm of people who I'd like to get involved with.
Who would be on that list?
Well I'm constantly having conversation with Tom, Kid Harpoon about doing some stuff with him, but our schedules just constantly clash, so we haven't got around to it yet, but I'm sure we will. On a larger scale, I tried to spend some time with Evan Dando at truck festival this year, as I'm a massive fan of his, that straddles the dream, the fantasy and reality thing, maybe I can talk him into playing some tunes.
What's been the best band you've seen?
I must admit I saw Future Of The Left, ex-Mclusky and Jarcrew, I was a massive fan of bo0th the bands they came out of and they are excellent as well. They are definitely worth looking at. I grew up with Iron Maiden, that was the band I grew up with and Black Flag, Minor Threat, and Dead Kennedys. But Maiden were my first love and they will probably be my last as well. I missed the show in Twickenham, which was a real sadness for me.
What have you got planned for the future?
The next big thing for me, is after the summer is the big tour in October, and a single called 'Long Live The Queen' which will be a benefit single for Breast Cancer which should be out before the tour. I'm going to the States before the tour and again at the end of the year or the beginning of next year. So, as much as I'm writing new stuff it will be a little bit longer until the next album comes out than it was between the first two, because I've got much more ground to cover. We might throw one or two new songs into the set but when it will be released is a difficult question.
Thanks for your time.
Hopefully I'll see you at a show, thanks bye.