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: 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.