Written by frontman Richard Archer and co-produced by Richard with Wolsey White, it’s a landmark LP of scopic, wide-eyed, unrepressed tracks. Mixed by Spike Stent (U2, Bjork & Madonna), it’s their second studio album and their most cohesive, definitive release to date. Boasting 12 killer anthems, including the blistering new single ‘Suburban Knights’, August 20th, it’s truly hard to beat.
Born from the kitchen sink fatalism of Staines in 2002, Hard-Fi - Richard Archer (vocals), Ross Phillips (guitar), Kai Stephens (bass) and Steven Kemp (drums) - have emerged from suburbia triumphant. After recording their dazzling debut in the ultimate brokedown palace – a dilapidated taxi rank that cost £300 in rent – it matured into a DIY triumph that propelled them into the A-list. Selling nearly 1 million UK copies and soaring to Number 1, it spurned the radio mainstay hit singles: ‘Cash Machine’, ‘Hard To Beat’ & ‘Living For The Weekend’.
“I lost my dad 5 years ago and he was the one who’d always tell me to pursue my dream. He’d been working for other people his entire life and wouldn’t let the bastards get him down. He inspired me to get out there and kick some arse…When we were first signed, the major labels didn’t want to know,” says Richard. “They mistook variety for being inconsistent - they obviously hadn’t ever listened to the Clash”
Nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize and Best British Group at the 2006 BRITs, their defiance paid off. In a matter of months Hard-Fi had shapeshifted into one of Britain’s biggest bands. Their first major tour sold out in a record 15 minutes and saw them play London's Brixton Academy for 5 consecutive nights - making them one of the few bands to do so alongside The Clash, Bob Dylan &The Prodigy - plus the only act to do it with their debut album.
“Whenever I think of a great British band – The Rolling Stones, The Specials, Massive Attack - they're not just a rock band," Richard explains. "At the end of the day we're a rock'n'roll band but we listen to hip-hop, we listen to house music, we listen to dub and reggae and we're not afraid to introduce that.”
Now, following a white-hot headline set at Glastonbury in support of Love Music Hate Racism, they return to the fray with their eagerly awaited new LP. “We’ve learnedt a lot in the making of this record. People say that debut albums are always the best because you have a lifetime of experience to pour into them, but that’s bullshit. The last three years have been like 20 years compressed.”
“Before we started the LP, I wanted to make something that sounded dark, atmospheric with elements of the Clash and Stones – and we’ve really fucking nailed that. CCTV was put it on and turn it up, this is sharper, more tactical and raw.”
“We were tempted to fuck off and record it abroad, but it didn’t seem appropriate,” says Richard. “We looked around at other UK studios, but decided that everyone else records there…and we definitely didn’t want to sound like everyone else. Ultimately, nothing really made us feel comfortable but, saying that, recording in Staines was anything but comfortable – we returned to our converted taxi office, which didn’t have running water until halfway through. It was more the fact that we could do what we wanted. We used bigger studios to mix, but conceived it in our natural environment.”
“The first album came together in stages – track, EP, mini album then album - so this felt like the first time we truly made a record,” he adds. “It’s like anything we do, it’s never contrived. It’s just what comes out. There are still elements of CCTV- style social commentary, but it’s more subtle and integrated. The 12 tracks are simply the best ones written, and they just happened to mean something.”
“We were on tour and watching ‘Once Upon A Time In The West’ while on the bus. Ultimately, that title reflected the theme of the album – these are stories from our west, West London”.
Standout tracks include the 70’s SKA-inspired ‘We Need Love’, and ‘Tonight’. “The latter is a big piano-driven number – it had a few incarnations before it became what it is, but it’s about the possibility of night time. History is made at night.” Meanwhile, the former harks back to the Specials and was inspired by Billy Bragg’s acclaimed novella ‘The Progressive Patriot’. Other highlights include the rousing R&B swagger of ‘Can’t Get Along’ with its stomping Motown lilt, the stark fragility of ‘Help Me Please’ – a track written about the death of Richard’s mother – plus, ‘I Shall Overcome’ which echoes an early Clash while remaining truly, unmistakably Hard-Fi, and the lead single ‘Suburban Knights’.