I sit down to interview Hush in Sheffield’s Café Totem ahead of their single launch at nearby Record Junkee. Their new track “King and Queen” is reviewed here whilst their gig gets a write up over here. This interview has been a long time coming as lead singer Ben Ibbotson has been on my radar for some years, since his early solo work, across several band line ups such as Somewhat Unprepared and Paper Bullets and finally in the current (and hopefully permanent) jig that is Hush, alongside fellow stalwarts Heather, Cam and new kid on the block, bassist Dec. Ben has always been a talented musician from his early days at high school where I first knew him, being his film teacher and form tutor. Interviewing him, he was as enthusiastic and professional as ever, as were his band mates.
Backseat Mafia: Can I ask you all please to introduce yourselves and say what your role is in the band?
Ben: I’m Ben – vocals and guitar.
Dec: I’m Declan. Declan is the bassist! [laughter]
Cam: I’m Cameron, I’m the drummer.
Heather: I’m Heather. Lead guitar.
BM: And how did you come together in Hush.
B: Well, me, Heather and Cam were Paper Bullets.
H: And me and you [Ben] were Somewhat Unprepared.
B: Yeah, we go back a bit further. Yeah and we had a manager at the time and we exercised every avenue we could find for bassists and Dec was in a band called Heartlines – big shout out for Heartlines! – and yeah, they broke up and literally within half an hour of them breaking up I obtained Dec’s phone number and rang him straight away. A few days later he came and-
C: We bloody hated him and he wasn’t very good. [laughter]
B: -he just nailed it!
BM: You were impressed with his musical prowess? It wasn’t just desperation?
B: To be fair, at that point – no offence – he could literally have been anyone, as long as he could play the songs, we’d have had him and obviously he turned out to be a lot better than just being anyone!
H: Yeah cos when we were auditioning drummers before Cam, we would immediately after one song whether it was the right person or not.
B: Yeah, he did click right away.
D: I was terrified!
H: He just sort of showed up, rocked it and went home and we thought, that’s the guy!
D: The only song I had was “Look What You’ve Done”
H: An unreleased recording that we never actually put out!
B: And we chucked a few more in and he smashed it out.
BM: So, is this the definitive line up now?
B: I hope so, unless anybody else decides to go! [all laughing] I think we’re certainly as productive as we’ve ever been when it comes to songwriting. Everything seems a lot more concentrated.
H: We haven’t got like one metal song and one pop song and one folk song.
C: I think the issue was trying to find our own sound and I think we’ve got this chemistry together now where we can think, let’s stick to that sound, like we’ve got a new song we’re working on, like in the “Memory Lane” kind of style and as soon as we started playing it we were like, let’s stick with this, because this is the sound we’ve got.
B: We’ve found the blueprint then.
BM: What genres would you say you put yourselves in?
H: Pop rock.
H: Modern pop rock.
BM: Did you just wince at the question? Do you not like the pigeon-holing?
B: No, it’s just because I never know how to pigeon hole us! We’ve always said we have songs which are definitively poppy, some with a bit more rock to them, so we’re probably somewhere like that.
H: Pop rock with a slightly higher emphasis on… [tentatively] pop?
BM: I think Ben was going to say “rock”!
B: I was!
H: We do pop songs in a rock style! That’s basically what it is!
B: I think as a band, and we’re not saying we’re anywhere near as good, but the pure sound is probably something like the Stereophonics because you’ve got the ballady ones, which we’ve got, then some of their album tracks are quite, a lot heavier.
BM: You’ve got Kelly’s [Jones, lead singer of Stereophonics] rasping vocals!
B: I wish I had! I mean if we did have to pigeon-hole, I ‘d say we’re along those lines.
C: They’re quite diverse really in all their albums
H: I mean, we’ve been put on line-ups with indie bands, pop bands, rock bands, and we seem to fit with all of them fairly well.
B: I think that’s why people kind of react to us like they do.
H: I suppose the good thing is we can gig anywhere but the bad things is no one realises we can gig anywhere! [They all laugh]
C: We’re in the middle really. We get metal fans , right through to, I dunno, folk!
B: Yeah, like someone who likes AC/DC can like “FIGHT!” whereas someone who likes something more generic will like “Memory Lane” or “King and Queen”. Quick plug!
BM: So do you have a bank of songs already or are you still in the first steps?
B: Some of the songs we have taken from previous line-ups.
H: Like “FIGHT!” we’ve been doing for about six years, since the beginning!
[We briefly discuss Ben’s earliest recordings during his sixth form days, how some of the songs have stood the test of time and are still on the set list whereas others are brand new, created during their productive practice sessions.]
BM: So, “King and Queen” is the new single. Is there a story behind it?
H: [to Ben] You wish there was! It’s another one like “Tequila Haze” where he goes on about this drunken night out and we ask him and he admits he’s never had a night out like that in his life! “King and Queen”, we were like, when was this?
B: Yeah, it’s just one of them where you wanna say it’s autobiographical, it’s a cracking night!
H: It most certainly isn’t autobiographical!
B: I can categorically say it isn’t yeah. That was actually the first song that we did as Hush.
D: Yeah, I think so, because I came up with the bassline.
C: It was probably the most upbeat song we’ve done…apart from “FIGHT!”
H: Or “Get Up”
C: Yeah, or “Get Up”.
B: Like you wouldn’t class it as rock or pop. Of the blueprint that we’ve found, it’s probably at the rockier end. And again, it was one that just came out of thin air, the bassline, then we found the chords, then we just went, yeah let’s do it!
H: Yes, then Ben wrote a lot of lies! [They all laugh]
B: From the bassline, it just sounded like the song that needed some kind of, I don’t mean sleazy, cos it’s not sleazy, but just a…cheekier lyric. So I put my cheeky head on!
H: Oh it’s definitely sleazy!
B: It’s just boy meets girl drunk night out, isn’t it?
[We next discuss the band’s fanbase, whether they have loyal followers from their different incarnations or new fans and how hard it is to play to audiences outside of your locale. Cameron likes the idea of branching out to different cities, Ben agrees that it’s definitely the next step and that their friends and family are good at turning out. The band have fans in the Philippines, Germany, Romania and Wisconsin, which provokes much light-hearted discussion of world tours.]
BM: What sort of venues have you played in Sheffield so far?
B: Leadmill, small room a few times. Main room is still on the bucket list. Record Junkee tonight.
C: We played Plug under out last name.
H: And we did the O2 too. And as Somewhat Unprepared, we played Corp (a heavier metal venue) which was a mistake.
B: That’s the only bill I’ve ever felt massively uncomfortable on!
H: Because at the time we were a pub rock covers band that only did a couple of songs of our own on with a few death metal acts and we did “Baggy Trousers” which I’m not sure went down well.
B: Yeah, the best comment we got that night was that we weren’t really someone’s taste in music, but they thought we were good at what we did! I’ll take that! So from the previous bands to now we’ve done – along with Dec’s experiences in Heartlines as well – we’ve done probably, literally everywhere! Pubs and bars-
H: Mate, we went from doing no gigs at all to doing I think 280 in the first 18 months!
[We joke about the crazy schedule which saw them playing miners welfares, working men’s clubs and pubs, sometimes three gigs across a weekend and their sheer enthusiasm for playing live music which saw them foolishly agree to doing endless encores and extended sets, but how another request for “Freebird” would drive them mad.]
BM: So what are all your musical influences?
B: For me, I’m a massive massive Frank Turner fan to the point where I would literally do anything to go and see him. Massive Stereophonics fan just purely for Kelly Jones more than anything. I have a thing for Kelly Jones. [all laughing]
H: I want that to be the headline, in bold across the middle!
B: If that means he reads it and sees our band, then go for it!
H: And puts a restraining order out on you!
B: I’m also into a lot of acoustic music too. Will Varley I think is an absolute dude. I’m acoustic-y folk. I’m the soft side!
D: At the moment it’s just basically Vulfpeck all the way. The bassist Joe Dart is the best. [notices Ben murmuring] What’s that?
B: It’s just great, it’s so many different spectrums! I love it!
D: I just love Vulfpeck so much. Joe Dart! I have a massive man crush on him. That’s it. I’m done!
C: At the minute I’ve been listening to a lot of pop punk so Travis Barker, that kind of vibe. And on his choruses he’ll go from very complicated beats to like 4/4 catchy kind of grooves. So when we’re in the practice rooms, I find if I’m on the toms messing around with the kit, I’ll go onto the crashes and the basic beats of the chorus comes across more catchy. But pop punk at the moment is where I’m getting my influence from. Especially playing drums. But my favourite band is Linkin Park. Again, like Ben says, the complete opposite end of the spectrum. But I’d say my influence at the minute is pop punk. As a pop rock band, if we’re calling ourselves that, then that’s kinda where I wanna go with it.
D: Can we just shorten it to “Pock”?
BM: What about the punk bit? “Prunk” maybe?
C: So if people ask our genre, we’re gonna say “Prunk”? [giggling]
B: It could work!
C: We’ve invented a new genre!
H: My influences? Heavy metal and country!
B: [laughing] I love that so much!
H: I really hope you don’t think I’m joking, cos that’s 100% serious! That’s effectively my entire background. The bulk of my guitar playing is from Gary Moore and Brad Paisley and… Iron Maiden!
B: And literally add all that together and that’s where we are!
H: So it’s singer-songwriter, prog rock, pop punk with country.
BM: You just need a rap verse for Cam.
D: [sheepish]: You know what, I can actually kind of rap!
H: D’you know what, it just got worse!
[Discussion follows of whether Dec should go for it at their gig in a few hours, of a story about how will.i.am claims to have written “Where is the Love” just half an hour before going on stage and whether Dec could in fact freestyle rap between songs. They continue by talking about how they never write off any ideas and give everything a go, making crazy ideas tame and tame ideas a bit more lairy and even if they could write a song called “Lairier” to validate their methods and Ben’s use of the word! This all peaks in a conversation about “Mardy Bum” by the Arctic Monkeys making local slang more global and who could be the next Arctic Monkeys.]
BM: So what are your aspirations?
H: [laughing] Wembley!
B: Heather’s been saying that ever since I’ve known her!
D: Just to play a gig.
H: Your dream’s gonna come true later, Dec!
B: In like a few hours! I think that leads to my problem, that I used to think that unless you played big arenas, you never amounted to anything.
H: In reality, you realise that you don’t need to make it that far to sustain yourself. For me, our little Wembleying aside, as long as I can sustain myself making music as opposed to getting a real job, I think I’m gonna be content with it.
B: For me, I think the absolute ultimate goal on whatever scale is if we can just do it for a living, then to me, that is-
C: -happy days innit, really-
B: -that’s the pinnacle really-
H: -in any capacity-
B: -that’s my Everest.
D: [deadpan] I just don’t wanna carry on selling my body any more.
H: That’s not going in the interview!
B: That’s definitely going in! So, if we can sustain it as a living then that’s the ultimate I think.
[We also discuss the highs (being around friends and in a band “it’s like you’ve adopted a bunch of siblings you didn’t ask for, ones that you share your diary with!” says Heather) and lows (just trying to get off stage, packing up and so on, “It’s the adrenaline rush after the gig” says Heather “when you’re miserable for the next couple of hours afterwards!”), how artists can actually make money (realistically, it’s merch, says Heather “you wouldn’t download a t-shirt!”) if not from music and the various band members’ early memories of performing music. Throughout, the guys are enthusiastic, passionate, honest and show a genuine bond with each other.]
“We’ve had bouts where we’ve been on a hold with the band, but days like today, we’ve released a new single, we’ve got a gig, but I think everything at once catches people off-guard,” explains Cam.
“That’s it, we’re gonna startle people into buying our stuff!” laughs Heather.
Hush were speaking to Ben Lewis