INTERVIEW: Behold! It’s Sugarstone! The ANGEL BOYS!

© Sugarstone, 2021

By Neve Robinson

Sugarstone. The new-wave infused quartet are hot, hot, hot at the moment – and they took a moment out of their busy schedule to chat to little old me! I was fairly chuffed to say the least. Joseph O’Haire, George Miller, Brandon Calvert and Ben Wilson are aiming to change the face of the Manchester music scene one synth at a time, and by God are they going to do it. We chatted about their new single, Angel Boy, as well as the trials and tribulations of infiltrating Year 7 rock bands. Behold, the saccharine sweethearts’ wisdom, imparted…

Hello Sugarstoners, stones of sugar or sugary stones if you will. Thank you ever so much for letting me ask you some daft things. First and foremost, how long have you guys been making tunes and when did you all meet? What made you want to get into music?

(George) Joe and I have been mates for going on 7 years now, we went to school together. So I suppose it all started with that, as cliché as that may be. I actually joined the ‘Year 7 Rock Band’ without Joe’s consent, so things were a little Icey at first. But luckily we cut out the middleman (literally) and are now inseparable hehe.  We started writing properly in college, then sort of hit the ground running once we all moved to Manchester. We met Ben and Brandon at college and by second year had the line-up you now know as ‘Sugarstone’. 

You’re making quite the name for yourself as new-wavey synth revivalists. I feel like I’m listening to an amalgamation of all of my favourite eighties records but also with a modern, catchy indie-pop twist. Was this your intention with Sugarstone’s sound? Angel Boy is a bonafide Duran Duran-esque dream.

(Joe) Honestly it wasn’t! We aren’t all that interested in being pinned as one particular type of band. We just write music that we want to hear at a particular moment in time because we can’t find it anywhere else! With ‘Angel Boy’ I suppose it was written during the height of isolation and I wanted to just dance to some Peter Gabriel-esque pop with elements of EDM as we all love that too! Our next single which was written a month after ‘Angel Boy’ is a departure from a lot of our older stuff, but of course like anything our influences always seep into it.

I always like asking this, because I’m really nosey. Why the name Sugarstone? Where did it come from? Big into the name, I’m picturing a really, really big sugarcube – big enough for a swimming pool-sized brew even…

(George) ‘Sugarstone’ is a song by a band called ‘Peace’. One of my mum’s dearest friends was a good friend of the band and is actually mentioned in the song (or so he told us). He passed away in 2013. So I’d like to think the name is a bit of a tribute to him, he was great. But also, yeah, we thought it sounded cool. A lot cooler than some of the other options we’d come up with…trust me. 

So, as aforementioned. Tell us about Angel Boy. What’s it about? Talk me through the writing process…

(George) ‘Angel Boy’ is about the urge to look after someone, even if they don’t need/want it. Joe sent me over the music, and I wrote the lyrics that evening. We basically had the song you now hear pretty much straight away, with a couple of amendment made in the studio. But yeah, it’s lyrically laced with sarcasm, while at the same time being a very personal account of how I was feeling at the time. We love to ride that satirical wave, if you know what I mean

What would you say your favourite of your releases so far has been? I love Angel Boy but I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for I Wanna Be Famous. I think it’s because I wanna be.

(George) I think it would be rude (and bad marketing) to not say Angel Boy. It’s the start of a very exciting chapter for us as a band and we can’t wait to build on it when we release the next one. Although saying that, I do love ‘Tiger, Reach Out!’, its unapologetically intense and I like that. 

Who are your biggest influences? Not just musically, but in your fashion too please. You guys have got a really distinctive, snazzy look. It’s NEW New Romantic chic. I like it.

(Joe) Aw thank you! In regards to music our influences are vast and ever changing. But of course I would have to mention Duran Duran as I was bombarded with them as a child thanks to Mum. Some more contemporary influences would have to be artists such as Panther Modern from LA, De Staat from Holland, Queens Of The Stone Age and Grimes! But the list goes on and on! I would have to also mention the TV show ‘Twin Peaks’ as that has influenced me in so many ways to delve into sonic soundscapes within the music. To be honest, we don’t think about fashion all too much but we do like to match our aesthetics with the music we are releasing or making at that particular time. For instance with the release of ‘Tiger, Reach Out!’ We styled ourselves as flamboyant New Romantics and with the release of ‘Angel Boy’ we went for a kind of olden days school boy look with a hint of children’s tv presenters like Mr Maker hahah! 

Onto gigging. What have we got planned for the future of Sugarstone? Will we be able to catch you lovely lot on tour any time (fairly) soon?

(George) The future of Sugarstone is extremely bright! We’re rehearsing a lot, back in the studio next week and yeah, got some very exciting live gigs in the pipeline for once the apocalypse is over (or nearly over). 

Where do you rate the best gig you’ve ever played is?

(Ben) There are a fair few that come to mind when you ask a question like that. I think most of our fondest memories belong to The Ferret, because that’s where we really grew into the band we are now. I’ve got to give my number one spot to when we played Band On The Wall, though. We were having a string of really good gigs at the time and it was just the icing on the cake. There’s a huge stand to dance around on, the lightings great, i think they even had a smoke machine. It’s just a great setup. The crowd was what made it though, everyone was singing and dancing, I remember it being fairly full and everyone came down. That’s definitely right up there.

You’re another cracking Manchester band. We love to uplift talent based in, FACTUALLY speaking of course, the greatest city in the world. Favourite local artists?

(George) I tell you what we’ll give you one band each, so no-one feels left out. I’m going to go with SLAPRASH. Two of our closest mates, and they make great music too.  Joe’s going for Kashmere. Great lads and we’ve played some great gigs along side them. Ben’s pick is The Blinders. Not technically a ‘Manchester Band’, but too good not to mention. And finally Brandon’s pick is Working Men’s Club.  

And finally, because I am the height of professional interviewer, I’m going to end with a Snog, Marry, Avoid – this time with New Romantic legends because I can somehow see you all having a bev with the likes of Visage’s Steve Strange. SNOG, MARRY, AVOID – Boy George, Simon Le Bon, the one really fit Kemp brother from Spandau Ballet. Think it’s Martin.

(Joe) Hahahah not had to answer one of these since those early school days where you had to choose this very carefully and seriously. 

SNOG – Boy George 

MARRY – Simon Le Bon

AVOID – Martin Kemp

‘Angel Boy’ by Sugarstone is available on all good streaming platforms. Listen here:

Interview: SLAP RASH Seize Manchester

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By Neve Robinson

SLAP RASH are absolutely killing it at the moment. Hot off the heels of their recent release ‘Cimmerian’, they’re looking forward to gigging post lockdown and the bright future of the band. Particularly in the Manchester music scene, they’re a hotly anticipated and exciting band on everyone’s lips. Amelia and Huw Lloyd, like a punk Carpenters, are an absolute powerhouse pairing. They very kindly took the time out of their busy schedules to humour my daft questions. As a big SLAP RASH fan, it was quite the honour. Read on as we discuss the important things in life: Missy Elliott, Blackpool and Ken Barlow…

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© Huw Lloyd (of, well duh, SLAP RASH fame)

Hello my lovely little SLAP RASHlings. What a delight to interview you! I am such a huge fan of yours. So, first things first, what made you crazy kids decide to start up music? When did you start up?

A: I’ve been playing music since I was about 6…so I have a classical background compared to Huw. Many years spent playing Viola before I discovered Nirvana at 12 and ditched it for a guitar (typical)

H. I only realised my love for music a year before college. I tried starting out on Saxophone and very quickly discovered that I was shit. Amelia taught me some White Stripes on the bass and it’s all history from there.

I’m dying to know. Why SLAP RASH? Do I need to shout when I say it?

A: YES. We locked ourselves in a room years ago and listened to ALOT of Primus to titillate the band name senses. I think I came up with SLAP RASH? SLAP RASH is just the juicy red mark that gets left when you’ve thwacked someone really hard.

H: I think Amelia’s right. Our focus was having something that was totally original and memorable. Like it isn’t a thing. It just is. Still feel quite proud of it. 

What’s SLAP RASH all about? What are you guys wanting to achieve with your sound?

H: Our approaches to writing come from pretty different avenues, but the way it comes together is what excites me. I hope that when people listen to us they feel the energy within the chaos. I’m also a massive fan of crafting a character and telling stories within music. That’s pretty apparent in ‘Cimmerian’.

A: I aim to make music that someone can listen to on repeat. I obsess over songs and can listen to the same one for weeks on end so i’d like someone else to feel that with our music. Gets under your skin in the best way. 

Bit of a bog-standard music interviewer set of questions here, brace yourselves. I’m not exactly Michael Parkinson, sorry. SO. Influences?

A: Alice in Chains, 7 Year Bitch, Patti Smith, Black Sabbath, Parliament Funkadelic, TOBACCO, Korn…Missy Elliott and Destiny’s Child…? Hamish MacCunn probably subliminally

H: Amelia has covered many of mine, but it’d be wrong of me not to mention Oh Sees, Gorillaz, Primus, METZ and Miles Davis (I know right)

What would you guys say your favourite show you’ve played? Do you remember the first show you played as SLAP RASH?

H: SLAP RASH really became what it is now when we moved up here for Uni. The first show I remember was a support for our friends October Drift at the Night and Day. A very formative time for us as we were still trying to work out exactly what we wanted to do.

A: GORILLA was a real highlight for me. Alongside BINGE (my favourite current Manchester based band) and Melt-Banana. Or our sell out debut headline at The Eagle Inn, Huw got carried out the venue by the crowd, it was surreal. I drank way too much Old Rosie afterwards, devils juice. 

And where would be your dream place to play, and who would be your support? 

A: I’ve always said Brixton Academy. I saw Jane’s Addiction there in my early gig days with our dad and it just opened my eyes to the magic of live performance. I would pass out if Nine Inch Nails supported us (feel like i’m blaspheming even suggesting that). Trent Reznor is a hero of mine. 

H: The Exchange in Bristol holds a very special place in my heart, so it would be pretty great to head there at some point. As for a support act…Giant Swan, can’t think of a better way to get ready for a show than seeing them live.

Tell us about ‘Cimmerian’. We bloody loved it here at Robinson’s Records. Where did it come from, how long were you working on it, all that jazz?

A: We began writing it 27th Feb 2020 (there’s a sneaky clip of our band practise on insta from that day…so i’m 99% sure it was then). It was a long turn around from its conception to the birth but I think the time taken enhanced it. We worked on Cimmerian with Alex Greaves at The Nave in Leeds, his input really took the song to the next level. The moody vocal style was his suggestion. Golden. 

H: For a longgggg time we had planned on recording a different track for release, Cimmerian ended up being a last minute decision. I’m so glad we chose it. The recording process was one of the best moments of my life, spending a day with Alex asking “How filthy can we make this?”.

A little birdy has told me something exciting is afoot in Blackpool in April for you RASH-y Rockstars. Do tell all?

A: Yep! We’re playing at Bootleg Social on April 16th alongside our Disobedient Records alumni DEAFDEAFDEAF. Our first gig together so i’m very keen. 

H: It’ll be our first show in Blackpool since August 2019, so we’re gonna make sure that it’s a fuckin solid one.

What do you reckon the future holds for the band? Give us some creative spoilers…

H: We both desperately want to get into the studio and record again. The downtime we had over last summer gave me a whole lot of time to work on new ideas and themes. If you keep an eye on us during 2021, we’ll be very appreciative. 

A: Hopeful to release something longer than 4 mins in the near future…I’d like a chunkier body of work out there. We’re sitting on some crackers and I think the last year has only done me wonders for my lyrics…some slashes to the jugular but I think it’s stuff worth saying.

You’re Manc-based musical wizards. Who are your favourite local artists at the moment? 

A: BINGE. If there’s one Manchester based artist you should listen to it’s them.

H: Sugarstone are the most enthusiastic and talented musicians, and they just dropped a new single. You won’t regret it.

And finally, because I always like to end with something silly. SLAP, marry, avoid (get it?!) these Mancunians: Steve Coogan, Frank Sidebottom, Ken Barlow from Coronation Street.

A: Forgive me…Marry Steve Coogan (might make me laugh every now and then, reckon he gives a surprisingly decent hug). SLAP Ken Barlow (mainly because I’ve never watched a Soap in my life and I have quite literally no idea who he is) (I googled him and he has a bit of a slapable face). Avoid Frank Sidebottom. Never one for big headed men. 

H: SLAP – Sidebottom, MARRY – Coogan, AVOID – Barlow. I won’t be answering any follow up questions.

Pleasure chatting to you, and can’t wait to listen to your next offerings in the future!!!

H: Our love for Robinsons Records is endless xx

A: Oh, the pleasure was all ours. 

You can keep up with SLAP RASH’s antics here, and check out their tuneage here.

INTERVIEW: The Rowdy Rotanas Are On The Rise, And They Mean Business…

© The Rotanas, 2021

By Neve Robinson

The Rotanas are a five-piece from Cardiff in Wales with some seriously infectious songwriting credentials, offering up a zingy and fearless new recipe for britpop – gritpop. Their latest release ‘Spinner‘ received network airplay on Radio X, Sirius XM, and RTÉ 2FM, as well as repeat plays on BBC Radio Wales and Amazing Radio. The boys are really on the up, and their new single, ‘Manic’, comes off of the heels of their signing to Disobedient Records. To tell us all about what the Rotanas are all about and what to expect from these firecrackers in future, vocalist Harry Watton very kindly had a chat with us and let me ask some truly inane questions. Top banana. So, without further ado, here’s the results of our natter…

Hello, lads! First things first, explain the name – what or who is a Rotana?

I think a ‘Rotana’ is difficult to pin down to a single thing, the name comes from a kebab shop in Cardiff but what a Rotana is, well that’s something only 5 of us have the pleasure of being. It’s a sort of freeness, an ability to forever evade being pinned down to one single identity, it’s a family. You don’t choose your family, that’s kind of like us, we just fell into each other’s acquaintance.

You’ve been knocking about since 2017. How did you all meet? What made you want to start a band up?

As I just mentioned it was kind of just falling into each other’s company. I don’t even remember meeting James, or any of the others really (bar Tommy but that was only recently). We all just kind of started to exist in eachothers lives and The Rotanas were the only realistic outcome of that, I think.

And, if you don’t mind, could you kindly explain ‘gritpop’ to an old fogey like me?

To be honest with you it’s a lighthearted bit of wordplay, PR bullshit. I think we might be something very different to that now, certainly heading that way. It was coined by an old friend of ours under substantial influence. At the time it sounded truly wonderful and personally I did enjoy it for a good while but, like many other things, it possessed something of an infancy to it, we’ve matured now. That being said I think it’ll stick with us for a few more releases, for old times sake. 

You’re Cardiff boys. Are Welsh shows your favourite to play? What’s the best city/show you’ve played so far?

At our level all your home shows are gonna be your favourites. We haven’t yet graced 50k plus arenas around the globe or even the UK for that matter, so 200 ish people you’ve seen once or twice down the local Tescos but never really spoken to, off their tits, rammed into some underfunded, war torn yet homey shed, will indeed, take the cake. Bunkhouse (Swansea) is good, as is Clwb Ifor Bach (Cardiff). Tough to pick a favourite you know. We found a brother there at the Bunkhouse mind, Aaron, so there’s a spiritually charged love for that place. 

Who would you cite as your musical influences? Who are your favourite bands? Guilty pleasures are also allowed, worry not…

I don’t have any guilty pleasures, if I felt guilty about them it wouldn’t be pleasurable.

I think there’s an obvious 90s influence, certainly to our sound. I do think that there’s a lot more influence from further afield, certainly for me 60s and 70s soul/rock and roll/reggae. Not that it necessarily is obvious in our music, but it does influence how our minds work within music and most definitely that has an affect on the choices we make, say, in the studio, for example. 

So, tell us about your signing with Disobedient Records. How are you feeling about it?

Yeah, great bunch, really on it. I’m excited, takes some of the pressures of it all off our backs and allows us more time for the music. Love and peace man.

And your new single, Manic. Lyrics? Sound? What’s it all about, Aaaaaaalfie….?

I think it’s just that, manic. It’s about a nutter, basically. A past friend of ours, turns out he’s just not all there, not in a medical way, he’s just a tart. The sounds big, the verses have a good walking vibe to them, with this hint of cockiness that plays to the ‘nutter’ vibe. It’s big though, real big. The solo is vulgar, you feel a bit rude listening to it. I like that. 

What would be a dream song for you to cover? 

Absolutely jack shit, I don’t think I’d ever dream of covering a song as such. Maybe to perform a song with a band. Imagine getting stuck into a track with The Doobie Brothers, that’d be a hell of an evening.

So what’s the dream for you boys? Where would you like the Rotanas to be in say, 5 years? Professional rock ‘n’ roll stars?

I think just being able to live off it would be nice, which is very humble of me, isn’t it. Of course we all get a tingle in our balls just before we drift off to sleep thinking about the chance of walking out on our second night at Knebworth. But for fuck’s sake, doesn’t everyone?

Let’s end with something silly – snog, marry, avoid, Welsh musician edition to echo your Cardiff roots. Tom Jones, Shakin’ Stevens, John Cale. Hypothetical, of course.

I’ve been told to at least snog John Cale cause he’s from Garnant like Aled, so I’ll have to marry Tom Jones, he’s guaranteed to be a great father to our children, and avoid Shakin’ Stevens cause he makes me anxious.

Diolch yn fawr iawn, The Rotanas! Godspeed and good luck, and I can’t wait to listen to your new record. 

Fuck Aye.

The Rotanas’ new single, ‘Manic’ which is set to be released on 26th March 2021 on all good DSPs. The link to pre-save it is here.