Interview: The Enemy
Mon, 04 Aug 2008 06:05:15
"It's a good time of year," exclaims The Enemy frontman Tom Clarke. Of course it is. It's summer, and The Enemy's taking part in their fair share of music festivals overseas. Tom laughs, "We get to convert a lot of people during the fests. They go thinking that they don't like The Enemy, but after we play, they leave saying they love us. It's quite nice." Given their incendiary live show and undeniably catchy debut album, the Coventry rockers will no doubt gain even more love after their current crop of shows.
The Enemy have already made a huge impact in the UK, but they're primed to make a splash across the pond this August when they hit the American tour circuit. Their debut, We'll Live and Die in These Towns [Warner], blends smooth synth sounds with jagged, organic guitars, forging a punky, epic alt-rock hybrid. The band doesn't have much in common with typical indie rock. They've got too much attitude, and they definitely don't care about trends. In between shows, Tom took some time to talk to ARTISTdirect about The Who, some very inspiring phone calls and when it's okay to write a song for a girl.
On the record, it sounds like you're channeling The Who a bit.
The Who are one of my favorite bands! [Laughs] "I Won't Get Fooled Again" is probably the second greatest song of all time. When we first sat down in a rehearsal room, we said, "This shouldn't sound like anything you've ever heard. It should just sound like us." That's all it is, but you can hear a lot of old school bands in what we do.
There's also a certain amount of attitude to your music that makes it stand out.
I think you've got it! When we first started in the UK, The Klaxons had just come out. They're a good band, and they made a great album. They're lovely guys as well. At that time, every kid in England bought a pair of stupid fuckin' skinny jeans in bright colors and started playing shit music really fast. You have to have an attitude to be heard over that. Every club and bar wanted all this nu rave shit. We were like, "There are still guitars over here. We've got a voice!" The only way to be heard was to talk loud, and when you're on stage, play even louder. I think we developed that edge out of necessity.
There is something about the UK that encourages great rock n' roll.
Possibly, the UK's got quite a history and a long list of great rock n' roll bands. I don't know what it is. I think it's possibly a knee-jerk reaction to the stiff upper lip of Britishness. You can always spot the Brit, because he's the one at the beach with his t-shirt on. We're probably the most reserved nation in the world. For those that don't like the system, it's a knee-jerk reaction to play rock n' roll and adopt that attitude of being yourself. It's a far more productive attitude in my opinion.
“The only way to be heard was to talk loud, and when you're on stage, play even louder.”
The title track's got a specifically orchestral vibe. How did it come about?
I was with an ex-girlfriend. She was up in Coventry, and I was down in London. We were doing some work with Owen Morris on the song "It's Not Ok." I was stuck in this shit hole flat in London, and she was stuck in a flat in Coventry that wasn't great. She called me one day and just said a load of things. She didn't realize at the time, but the things she was saying were just genius. She summed up not only how she and I felt, but also how all of my mates felt. It turns out a lot of people felt the same way, because they went out and bought the album [Laughs]. It was one of the simplest songs to write. When we record songs, there are very few production decisions deliberated upon. We just go, "Fuck it, let's try everything. Stick some brass on that. Put some reverb on it." There's no point in correcting little mistakes on records. I think the mistakes are what make a brilliant record. It was quite a quick process. We just burned through it. We got some acoustic guitars out. There was this geezer we knew who was playing brass, and he used to play with Madness. So we got him in there, and I put a few strings on it, because I play violin. There are things in there that people can relate to, especially anyone that's lived in a shit place. They're not the biggest problems in the world, but they frustrate you a hell of a lot, and they were on my mind. That's how it came about.
Where do the songs usually start for you?
Normally, I'll be somewhere that I can't get my hands on an instrument at all, and I'll get a song in my head. It's the most frustrating thing in the world, because you really want to pick up a guitar. Sometimes if you pick up a guitar then it'd just ruin it though. You're there hearing a tune in your head, and you get some words to it. The challenge is to remember it for a few hours when you can get to an instrument, and by that time you're working out all kinds of parts for it. Other times, we just walk into the rehearsal room, start jamming and stuff comes out. That's quite often the best.
Well there's a real chemistry that you can tap into when you're playing together.
The live show is probably about 200 percent more energy than the album. Liam, our drummer, is actually a mind reader. I don't need to say anything or give him signals. If we're going to make a section to go on twice as long, he just knows and does it. We push each other live, and the crowd's pushing as well. It's brilliant, and it's the biggest buzz ever.
"This Song" also really stands out.
It doesn't really sound like anything. Maybe we ripped off The Talking Heads at the beginning with that little synth part. When we wrote that, it was the most personal song to me. It's the closest to my heart on the album, because it's about my friends and other people I grew up with. It was also inspired by a phone call. I grew up in Birmingham, but moved to Coventry and lost touch with a lot of people. A girl I used to know at school called me. I'd lost touch with a lot of people, but I had this catch-up conversation with her. She railed off a load of names of people I went to school with. A lot of them had kids, some were in prison and some were dead. I was sort of shocked, and that's where the lyrics for that song came from. They're brutally honest and totally frank. There's no metaphor in there. It's just exactly what I was talking about at the time.
Who is "Happy Birthday Jane" dedicated to?
When we were very first starting out, there was a guy named John Dawkins that helped us. He put himself out a hell of a lot for us. He was there since the very first gig. The song's for his mom. She's a quality woman, and it was just to say happy birthday to her. Normally when someone writes a song for a girl, it's cheesy, but when it's for your mate's mom, I think it's alright.