Chapel Club Interview

In a backstage littered with suspiciously healthy snacks (bar for the enormous bottles of Jack Daniel’s and Gordon’s), I talk to Chapel Club’s Mike and Rich about Bruce Forsyth, drinking in church graveyards, and how the Turkish kids are way better behaved than the white ones.

How did you guys first meet?
Mike: I met Liam, our bass player about two or three years ago when he first moved to London. He was young and lost in this city, I saw him play in a shit band so I poached him to come and write with me. Then a few months later we met Lewis through a friend of a friend, it was the first time he’d ever been in a band or anything. We just started writing songs together, then we got Alex on board – he was best friends with Liam, and Rich knew my flatmate.
Rich: When I got there, these boys were lazy, man. They used to rehearse like once every two weeks. I got in there and whipped them into shape and, well, here we are. I think we’ve all kind of knuckled down now.

This is the last date of your UK tour. What’s it been like?
Mike: It’s been great, really good. We’ve been touring for about 14 months, and I’ve just noticed it slowly, slowly building. Since the album [‘Palace’] has been out, the change has been phenomenal, shows have been selling out which never used to happen. People are getting really into it.
Rich: Yeah it’s the first tour we’ve done since the album’s been out, you see a massive change in the audience from the stony, cold, ‘just checking you out’ vibe to everybody in the room dripping with sweat.

Did you start out supporting other bands?
Mike: We didn’t really, for some reason we never really got a support slot. I dunno why, maybe no one liked us or whatever. That would’ve been the sensible route.
Rich: We did get offered a few really dodgy ones, but you’ve gotta draw the line somewhere, you know?
Mike: It was just like lots of sporadic touring around the UK, it took a long while to get going. It’s no bad thing, but at the time it was devastating.
Rich: It feels like we’re climbing the mountain rather than getting the helicopter to the top, so it’s nice when you start reaching these heights.
Mike: We’re saying that to make ourselves feel better, but I want the chopper. Way easier, man.

So it didn’t happen suddenly then, you had to work hard for it?
Rich: Well we had that thing they call ‘hype’ for the first three months and then it was like a real kind of…
Mike: And then everyone decided we were wankers and it kind of went downhill for a while.

What were your biggest influences and inspirations for the album?
Mike: There’s obvious influences in there like Sonic Youth and My Bloody Valentine but as a band we were setting out to make music like Mercury Rev or The Flaming Lips or something a little bit ‘other worldly’.
Rich: We wanted it to be more sonically interesting than just a guitar record.
Mike: I’m not sure we quite achieved what we set out to do but we’re happy with the result.
Rich: The very first songs we wrote together, it’s really documented a moment in time which I think is what all debut albums should do. It leaves you lots of room to move forwards.

What do you see happening in the next five years for Chapel Club?
Mike: For the rest of the year we’re just going to be touring, but we’d like to get an album out next year, whether that happens or not is another thing. We’ve started writing some songs, we’ve got ideas we’d like to work with. We need to set a month aside just to really put some time into it. I’d like to get 30 songs and hone it down from there. We’d like to take a change in direction, mainly for our benefit rather than anybody else’s, it’d be boring to do the same thing again.
I want to put out an album a year for the next five years.

That’s pretty ambitious.
Mike: I don’t think we’ll get that far, I reckon we’ll burn out and have to take two years off.

How many songs did you write for ‘Palace’?
Mike: Not many actually, that’s why we wanna put some time together and write some more songs. We didn’t have that many songs and we made a decision to go and record them.
Rich: I think the last two songs that went on the album, they were the last two we’ve written. But I think sometimes that can make a really exciting debut, ’cause it’s not over-thought, and it’s kind of capturing the excitement when four or five people get together – and the energy you get off that.

So did you have a really big drive to get an album written and recorded really quickly?
Mike: Not really, no, I think we were just like “Fuck it, let’s just record something.”

Has music always been in your blood, or have you had other aspirations beyond being in a band?
Mike: Well Rich has been in bands since he was about eight, right?
Rich: Yeah, since I was a tiny little boy.
Mike: Umm, I have no idea what I’d be doing really.
Rich: You were just bumming around really, weren’t you?
Mike: Yeah, just avoiding work for years.
Rich: Someone called us posh kids with guitars the other day, and we’re actually a bunch of scrotes really, aren’t we? Compared to most bands, you know.
Mike: I was on housing benefit dole and working in a pub, it’s probably the richest I’ve ever been. It’s so easy.

Where are you both from originally?
Rich: I’m from Bradford, he’s from Essex. So pretty posh places, obviously…

What brought you to London?
Rich: Music for me. I just wanted to meet exciting and interesting people, there’s much more opportunities here. A lot more exciting scenes going on, you can go somewhere every night, see something new. I don’t think you get that in any other city. Not in England anyway.

It’s definitely the capital of culture. What about you, Mike?
Mike: Same really, I grew up about a 40 minute train ride from London, but because of its proximity to the capital it means there’s nothing going on at all. There’s one venue that’s a bit shit. I just thought “fuck this, I wanna be somewhere where it’s going on, I wanna be surrounded by new people.” It’s no bad thing to want to do that, that’s why I moved to London.

Where does the name come from?
Mike: I think it was from cutting up a bunch of words and picking them out a hat.
Rich: Nah, it was fridge magnet at a party wasn’t it?
Mike: I don’t know actually, we never really got a good answer for this. We had to get a name really, really fucking quick cause ‘Surfacing’ was already getting played on the radio, so it was like “Fuck!”. We kinda liked the idea of the ‘Club’ thing ’cause we’d been doing it intermittently for about 18 months. We didn’t like the idea of anything serious, we wanted to sound like some kind of get-together, something jolly, so we were always pretty set on the ‘Club’ bit being in the name. We also rehearsed close to St Luke’s on Old Street.

Oh yeah, that’s a fun area. You’ve got some of the best and worst bits of London in that tiny space.
Mike: I used to work in a pub in Clerkenwell that I don’t think exists anymore, the landlord was an idiot and didn’t know what he was doing – he’s dead now so I shouldn’t say that really… It was a really posh area right off Exmouth market, but there’s all these estates, and this particular pub – because it was so shit – was where all the estate people would come. It was so fucking rough, I’ve never been threatened so many times. In a night it was so fucking insane. It’s a crazy place, I always find Camden and Islington far more threatening than anywhere else. I live in Stoke Newington, it’s a Turkish area. They tend to keep their kids in order, there’s never any trouble, but round Camden and Islington where all the white kids on estates live, they’re all fucking brutal. They’re always throwing bottles at you and shit.
But yeah, we used to go drinking in St Luke’s Church graveyard.
Rich: It’s pretty nice on a summer’s evening.
Mike: So Lewis is really interested in religion from a kind of iconography sense, and in religion, not as a belief but in terms of what surrounds it. So he really liked the word ‘chapel’ and we thought it tied into the fact that we used to love drinking in the graveyard. Y’know, the Chapel Club. It sounds like a coming of age movie, doesn’t it?
We bought the beers, he bought the intellect.

What are you listening to at the moment?
Mike: A lot of Kurt Vile. I’ve been listening to John Adams, he’s a composer who did some music for the film ‘I Am Love’, it’s a bit Steve Reich-esque but it’s really beautiful. There’s this one Gorillaz track we’re all quite obsessed with called ‘Empire Ants’. I’ve never really bothered to listen to any Gorillaz before…
Rich: Yeah, me neither. They’ve never been a band that’s particularly excited me.
Mike: I’m really enjoying the new Anna Calvi album, I think that’s really good and bits of the new PJ Harvey album are mind-blowing.
We spend so much time together that we get really excited about shit that you wouldn’t normally listen to yourself, and that enthusiasm kind of passes on. It’s really nice cause we’ve all ended up listening to a lot of similar stuff which I think will point the way forward for us musically quite well. We listen to the Flaming Lips a lot. A new little band called the Flaming Lips… You might’ve heard of them.

Do you ever sit down and listen to the album together and think “Yeah! We made that!”?
Mike: Never, no no no.

I can imagine if you put so much work into something, you never want to hear it again.
Mike: It’s true, it’s like it’s drained you of your soul or something. I think it’s the same with everyone. Once it’s done, you don’t want to think about it again.

So what’s it like to be playing all those songs live?
Mike: Well that’s kind of different.
Rich: It is, it’s a totally different emotion playing it live. The adrenaline of being on stage takes over.
Mike: And it’s quite exciting taking something you’ve written and then re-working it in some way.

True, I guess you’ve got the album which is set in stone, and then the live show which you can constantly improve.
How has it felt being on tour together, any major arguments or personal issues?
Mike: We’re literally about two feet from each other most days.
Rich: We’ve never had any arguments that are that unreasonable. There’s nobody unreasonable in the band.
Mike: I dunno, this guy’s a real slug…

Are there any tour bus necessities you have?
Rich: Headphones, so we don’t have to speak to each other.
Mike: You never use headphones! You just sit there with your fucking laptop so no one else can listen to anything. His laptop’s the loudest so he just sits there.
Rich: Yeah, I just turn mine up above theirs even if they’re playing something.
Mike: Alex always laughs at you ’cause you use your laptop like an iPod.

So Rich, you’re like the annoying kid that gets on the back of the bus and plays their shit music really loud on their phone?
Rich: Well I don’t play shit music, these guys are playing the shit music, my stuff’s good.

Generic quirky question: If Chapel Club could be any 90s game show host, who would you be?
Rich: Bruce Forsyth for me, definitely.
Mike: Without a doubt, man.
Rich: We having Brucey?
Mike: Yeah, I think so. He’s the man.

I would’ve gone with Dave Benson Phillips.
Mike: Who was he?

He was the kids game show guy, he did Get Your Own Back, where kids could slime adults they didn’t like. Something along those lines anyway, he was awesome.
Rich: Ohhh, right.
Mike: Y’know, I’ve always said the worst part of British culture is the Saturday night game shows, “oh god, I really should have more friends, I should be going out”.
Rich: But when you’re a kid I think you look at it differently. I think now, “who the fuck watches this shit?” but back then Brucey was my God actually. The guy who presented Going For Gold as well, Henry Kelly he was called. An unknown legend in his time.

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About merlinlondon

Cynical but loveable wannabe journalist with a keen interest in music and the arts in general. Ignorant yet highly opinionated about most things. Mostly liberal with occasional fascist tendencies, usually concerning Coldplay, Crocs or other crimes against the developed world. Amateur photographer and even more amateur singer/songwriter.
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