The Rushes Biography
Gerard O'Connell - Lead vocals / guitar
Dan Armstrong - Keyboards/vocals
James O'Connell - Bass
Joe Allen - Drums
The Rushes are a four-piece band from South London via Leeds who make surging melodic rock, with hooks so catchy they're pop. Their songs are designed to be played to huge audiences in stadiums, and they have that anthemic quality necessary to capture the imagination of the man on the Clapham Omnibus without making concessions or compromising the music's startling power.
The Rushes story begins in 2000 in Leeds. Gerard O'Connell, of startling vocals, met fellow student Dan at a uni footie match. Dan (who incidentally attended the same school as Four Tet, Adem and members of Hot Chip) recognised Gerard's prodigious talents immediately. Gerard picked up a guitar and started singing a song he'd written. It was, recalls Dan, "a classic cheesy Hollywood moment." The song was Diamond, "heavily plagiarised from John Martyn." But Gerard's vocal was, according to Dan, "unbelievable". "It was as good as I'd heard anywhere," he says, "ever. It was like winning the Lottery."
Dan snapped into action, buying a second-hand digital piano with his student loan. And so Dan and Gerard started making music. With an opera-singing great grandmother, Gerard has always had good vocals in his genes: "I'm a singer first, then a guitarist," he says. "It's always the song."
The Rushes' influences are broad. Gerard always loved soul music, because of a "shitty tape" of soul songs that his mum owned featuring Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. A friend, a "walking encyclopaedia", introduced him to rare northern soul. Dan's first passion was the soundtrack to '80s movie The Big Chill, which featured classic singles such as A Whiter Shade Of Pale and Ain't Too Proud To Beg, while his parents owned baby boomer staples by Van Morrison, The Beatles and Paul Simon. Now he thinks Jeff Buckley is "the best there's ever been." James was into Nirvana and Supergrass as a kid, before discovering the delights of Americana: The Band, Neil Young et al. Colchester boy Joe Allen, meanwhile, was obsessed with Buddy Holly. "I thought I was him reincarnated," he says. "I bought some 99p glasses and pushed the lenses out, and made a guitar out of polystyrene. I thought he was amazing."
But it was the arrival of Joe on drums that signalled the start of the band as a, well, band. They had booked some sessions at a recording studio on their street in Leeds called Touch Wood, where Nightmares On Wax created Smoker's Delight. Having recorded there the day before, Joe was invited down to add his much needed percussive talent which quickly became a vital part of The Rushes sound.
At this point they remained nameless, but after some to-ing and fro-ing settled on The Rushes. They liked the word's feeling of speed, acceleration and urgency, of exhilaration and its connotations of TV rushes, of getting the unedited, unexpurgated version of events.
So The Rushes were born in Leeds. But it was in South London that they came of age, especially after the final addition of the younger O'Connell, James on bass, which made them heavier and gave their sound that hard-to-gauge oomph factor. They began writing and experimenting in Dan's brother's old room. Soon, they acquired a monthly residency at the Brixton Ritzy, although they were later fired for being too loud. "They could hear us in the cinema next door," laughs Dan. "We interrupted Mission Impossible 3." Better, and even louder, were their secret gigs-cum-parties in a rehearsal room by the railway tracks in Clapham North.
Eventually they ventured further afield, playing two gigs a week in London pubs. Word spread and they were invited to play the Airwaves festival in Reykjavik, then Latitude and the John Peel stage at Glastonbury. Then they embarked on two "toilet tours" of Britain's finest scuzzy venues.
The band have survived their fair share of scrapes, most notably the fire which destroyed workshops next door to their studio and saw firefighters tackling the blaze with such gusto most of their equipment was soaked. "I could smell smoke," remembers Dan with a shudder. "Five hours later there were flames everywhere - that was the cover of our first EP."
There have been several disasters in The Rushes' brief history: Gerard's guitar was among the casualties of the Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand, where he was forced to flee a freak wave and his girlfriend got washed into a field. Luckily, the pair were rescued by some Dutch people in a truck, who entertained the survivors by playing Free's Alright Now on the stereo.
Grist to the mill, these knock-backs made them even more determined. And they've done it all their own way, including managing themselves past the signing of a major record deal with Island Records. The label had got their hands on an EP of demos recorded with Sebastian Rodgers, subsequently released on the band's own label Frickin' Records in May 2007.
Since 2007 they've been amassing material for their debut album which has been produced by Victor Van Vugt (Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Beth Orton,Athlete).
First, The Rushes will release the four-track Corners EP, in March 2008, including the songs Corners, To The Surface, What You Waiting For and Get The Feeling. The album will follow in the summer.
The music is urgent and strong, while the lyrics are no less unambiguous and direct. "They're songs about feelings," says James, "but they're not wet." "They're honest," adds Dan, while Joe sums them up as "action and emotion."
Many of the songs on their debut were inspired by the band's personal lives, particularly a "complicated relationship" Gerard had. "It's the document of a two-year period," he says. "They're specific, accurate and honest."
The track Save Your Son is about James and Gerard's experiences at a baptist church where they were subject to a hard stance on sexual morality. "There was a real going-to-hell vibe," recalls James, "which is not what you want when you're a 12 year old who wants a wank." Gerard has left his religious days behind. "I'm not conflicted now." He admits.
The Rushes combine the musical attack of Kings Of Leon with the melodic grace of The Police. They'll be bringing their brand of big music to your town in the coming months. Still haven't found what you're looking for? Try The Rushes.