It’s been no secret on this blog that I have been very impressed by Mamas Gun throughout 2009; their brand of Funk/Soul is refreshing and their live shows (Hoxton Bar & Grill in particular) have been among the best this year. At the start of October they released their debut album, Routes to Riches, which represents them cementing their arrival as a band, although it has been a long journey to get even here.
Now, as the band prepare to embark on UK wide tour supporting Beverley, I caught up with lead singer Andy and drummer Jack (with a cameo from guitarist Terry) to talk about the tour, the album, X-Factor and going full circle from indie, to major, to indie label again
To start off a bit of an assumption I’ve made… what on earth was it about Erykah Badu’s album that made you decide to name your band after it? Or is it not actually named after that?
Andy: It is name after that. When it came out, I thought, f***ing great band name, and when I get a band together I am gonna call it Mamas Gun.
Jack: I mean the reality is if a band becomes established to some extent their name becomes the meaning, if you think of Led Zepplin, that’s a German Airship, and you don’t think that when you think Led Zep.
So how does it feel to have the album finally out?
Andy: It’s been a long time coming it feels like the biggest release. We got together with an indie and made the album for peanuts. Then we got picked up by a major about this time last year. The major got credit crunched and fell apart, but they spent a lot of money on the record and we walked away scott free.
And then yeah, we managed to pick up investment from an independent investment firm that have been funding independent films for years and has just started turning the model to bands and their music, so people like us and Beverley Knight are making albums off the back of that
Thinking back to when you got signed by a major did it change you guys and your music?
Jack: Not to my knowledge at all. Andy produced it so there is no producer that came and did his masterstroke or made it sound different… it’s just a reflection of what were into and good song-writing. I think that’s one of the things that stands us in good stead for the future ya know, that we can do all this and make it sound as good as it does on our own. In terms of it changing, all they did was just spent some money and we put some strings on stuff.
Andy: There was difference in dynamic in terms of how the team overall worked. It’s a different world and to be honest I prefer it as we have it now. We’ve got this cool team of people who really identify with each other and are looking to get stuff done in an innovative way.
Jack: There are problems as in any working situation but everyone seems to be really good at just working through it ya know. I’ve seen everyone making adjustments to accommodate everyone, there’s a lot of generosity and spirit in everything. It’s not just with the band, in the management and with the people around us so it’s great.
Moving onto the album, do you feel like you a get a lot of freedom when you’re song-writing; is it do you find you get a good release and do you get a lot of personal things into it?
Andy: Yeah. The moment I love, which just makes it for me, is the moment you know what the whole song is gonna be like and it all just paints itself. You know what it’s gonna sound like, that’s just f***ing gold man. Angel breath. Brilliant.
Jack: Angel Breath?
Andy: Yeah – I don’t know where that comes from… It’s a different thing man, song-writing’s a weird process.
Do you guys get involved in the song-writing as well or is it just Andy gives?
Jack: Well the first album everything was written, there was one tune we deconstructed and put back together again different as a group, but I think the plan is to create a bit more. I mean I just think if a song is good and its a Mamas Gun song I don’t really care how it comes about.
Andy: Everyone has the capacity to do great work song-writing wise and I think the second album will be very very telling in terms of how the melting pot goes. Jack is actually, he’s playing himself down here, he’s a ridiculous writer himself, check out a band called Freq Electric that will showcase his writing chops, I don’t need to say anything.
On the album you’ve got the playful songs like Finger On It and more mellow, melancholy songs, like Chasing Down Shadows, was it hard to find a sound to accommodate all of that?
Andy: As a musician and songwriter variety is what interests me. I can’t write the same song twice, I’d die of boredom man. [So] there wasn’t a conscious decision to think right we’ve gotta make this all work, it kind of came together in the studio.
Jack: There’s a degree to which if you have the same guys recording in pretty much the same place, in the same period of time there’s going to be a relationship between them.
Andy: It’s a record of time. That’s what it is, that’s what’s gonna bleed through and hopefully it’s gonna bring it together in the end.
So you guys are about to go on a big tour with Beverley Knight, are you excited?
Andy: Yeah. It’s great to be playing shows every single night for a month. Getting in the last couple of weeks of the tour the shows should really be on fire.
Jack: When you’re on the road and the band just hit a point when you’ve been gigging for however long and its kinda like anything could happen, there could be an earthquake, whatever, and you still wouldn’t drop a beat. That kind of strength you get as a group from just doing it every night is such a great feeling because you just feel like, “right tonight I’m just gonna go out and f***ing kick the s*** out of it.”
Talking of killing it, I’ve been reading Rick James’ book recently and when he was touring with Teena Marie they would go back and forth trying to out do each other’s performances. Now I’ve seen Beverley play and she’s really good. So. Will you be laying the Smackdown on Beverley?
Andy: Well… naaaaah…
Terry: Her band is baaaad man… and I mean good bad. Not to mention Beverley herself is very talented.
Jack: Hopefully it’s just gonna be a great night of music
Actually, if my memory serves me right, you toured with Craig David last year, how was that?
Terry: We laid the smackdown on him!
Jack: No, it was great man. It was great the experience playing for thousands of people every night and again sharpening up the show. It’s always good watching another guy, seeing how the audience and how his band do it because there is always something you can take from it, something to be learned and the catering was really good.
Andy: Catering is important
Are you going to get the same catering as Beverley?
Jack: Hopefully. I think we’ve requested… are we on the same catering? If it is good it just makes the whole thing work well really. No hunting around for a kebab in between sound checks… you don’t wanna be doing that.
Cool, well I gotta ask it now the final 12 have been chosen, going back in the days before Mamas Gun, did you ever contemplate going the X-Factor route?
Andy: Ab-so-luelty not! Never never really… It’s a long discussion this I think, the whole X Factor thing but personally I’m a fan of the mystique of music, and rock and roll, and artists. When we’re talking about a TV show that’s all about short term gains and radio audiences it’s a different thing really and it’s not something I subscribe to.
Jack: I think the reality is you wouldn’t be able to chose what songs you sing, who produces your record, where it’s recorded, what musicians you probably have in your band on tour…
Terry: The emphasis is so much on let’s create a new star, let’s just launch somebody into fame and it doesn’t seem to have any kind of… well whoever wins is very unlikely to have any artistic control and it doesn’t seem to be any kind of like artistic integrity.
I speak to a lot of people and they still haven’t heard of Mamas Gun. Do you not think the X Factor ‘over-exposure’ would help you get out there more?
Terry: I think that X Factor gives you that overnight fame if you win or even come anywhere near the finalists but it’s for all the wrong reasons as far as I’m concerned. Just having the kind of fame and recognition just for sake of it doesn’t hold any appeal for me at all.
Jack: If I can live like a normal person, comfortably, so that I am not in dire straits all the time if I can live like that and make music I wanna make and go and do gigs I’m happy.
Andy: The ideal is to be able to have a career and to make an album. To have an audience that buys it, and make another album, tour it. It doesn’t need to be millions and millions of people. A fan base that buys your record [will let you] pay your mortgage and have a few drinks, take your missus out for dinner, that’s what anyone wants isn’t it?
Jack: Ask us the same question two years time when we’ve gone triple platinum…
Andy: Couldn’t live without the Learjet…
To finish up is something I ask everyone… you guys have been signed, now doing the Indie thing, and you said you liked it [the indie thing]. Let’s say tomorrow a major came along, Sony or whoever and offered you a contract what would you say?
Andy: That’s a good question man. We’d seriously have to contemplate how to best make it work for us within the framework in we’d been working. Ya know just to carry on this gradient, this journey that were on in this setup and how to use that money essentially most effectively. It definately wouldn’t be a case of “oh my God, life saved!”
Terry: In any case it would depend on what kind of deal was on the table, we certainly wouldn’t sign just for the sake of it being a huge name label.
Finally, what’s next for you guys?
Andy: We got the Beverley Knight thing… Japan.
Andy: Japan, they found out about us very early on, they may have heard some stuff on the web, so they’ve wanted to do something from day one basically. We’ve been getting radio play [in Japan] so we’re doing a show over there. And the albums out too.
Mamas Gun play the Regents Theatre, Ipswich on November 3rd, then tour the UK throughout November