It’s always a pleasure catching up with Whitley Bay’s finest, the indie pop/rock outfit Lisbon and this time I’m going to take on the challenge that is interviewing the whole band rather than just front man Matty Varty as I have on previous occasions. The band are lively and extremely good-natured as can be seen by their loving and generous interaction with fans both online and after their gigs, so I’m thrilled to get the chance to chat to Matty, Gaz, Joe and Alex ahead of their latest stop off in Sheffield as part of their current headline tour.
Backseat Mafia: Tell us all about “Shark” (the band’s latest single).
Matty Varty: I’ll do the scripted response. “Shark” represents our frustrations with the music business and we saw a few others being treat by the music industry. There are a fair few sharks out there trying to bite you, trying to get you down and we’re sort of trying to stay above water and well away from them.
BM: And have you had any experience of ‘sharks’ yourselves?
Joe Atkinson: In the metaphorical sense?
JA: We’ve had more than enough yes!
MV: There’s a lot of sharks out there.
BM: Have you had any literal experience of sharks?!
[They all laugh]
JA: I don’t think anyone’s had any literal experience but the metaphorical experience-
MV: One time Gaz was on the beach and his dad pretended to be a squid-
JA: That’s about as close as we get!
MV: Now he doesn’t call his dad ‘dad’, he calls him ‘squid’!
Gaz Turkington: There was another part to the story actually after that! We were in Florida and we were swimming in the sea and me and my dad were in the water and there’s people like ‘Oh my God!’ taking photos and stuff and we thought ‘Oh God! Is there like a shark?!’ and it turned out to be a massive fat mantis-thing.
JA: Manta ray?
JA: A fat manta ray?
GT: Yeah, like a school of them.
BM: So that’s the next single then, Manta Ray?
[lots of laughing and agreement]
JA: I’m sure Slaves already have a song like that!
GT: Oh, it’s manatee man! It’s not manta ray!
BM: Well they’re not scary! They’re cute aren’t they?
GT: Yeah, well I didn’t even know until I got out!
BM: Do you have a video in mind for “Shark”?
MV: We honestly don’t. I think we’ve had a certain amount of resources for this single which we’ve ploughed into touring and recording instead of doing anything extra like the video. It’s a shame because we actually really love putting our music into visual performances as well. We had a lot of ideas and our usual director wanted us to do one but we couldn’t make it work at the minute.
BM: What kind of ideas?
MV: Just like, standing in a fish tank kind of thing!
BM: In Hull, there’s The Deep and they’ve got a tunnel where you walk through and sharks swim around you. You could film guerrilla style in there!
MV: We actually did a bit of that for “Native” at the Sealife Centre.
[A brief debate ensues about the name of their local aquarium]
BM: So how’s this tour going in comparison to the last one?
JA: It’s going really good.
MV: It’s definitely a nice relief as the last one was so hefty, like 14 days in a row – I lost my voice after 12 – so we’ve got 2 shows in Newcastle this weekend and we’ll be at home for both of those. Still got back to back shows the day after with Edinburgh, London and then Dundee.
BM: I saw you’d added Dundee on the end there!
MV: Yeah, we chucked Dundee in! We’ve never been before-
JA: Chuck her in!
MV: – but nah, it’s been going well, all going good.
BM: What’s life like when you’re on tour? Is it all hotels and cars?
JA: [smiling] It’s a nightmare!
GT: Nah, it’s been quite decent this time hasn’t it?
JA: We’ve had two organisers with us.
MV: It’s been a lot more mellow.
GT: We’ve had people before who were quite full on and we could get stressed out.
JA: The last time as well, we were like drinking loads like I used to call it ‘pre-drinks’ before the gig, you know what I mean? I was like I going on a night out, drinking loads before the gig. So we kind of like stopped doing it so much.
GT: This room doesn’t resemble what it’s been like at the end of the night!
JA: If you came in here about two months ago it’d probably have been a nightmare!
BM: Do you have any rider demands?
MV: We don’t ask for Carlsberg!
JA: We keep getting given it but we don’t ask for it! We could put that on the rider: don’t give us Carlsberg!
BM: Can we talk about ‘the review’? [recently the band were the subject of a rather harsh write up which made fun of their teenage fans being busy doing GCSE exams and mocked both Lisbon and support band VYNCE for being ‘indie pop’. Clutching at straws, the review chose to mock the band for having a song called “Bananas”]
[lots of back and forth about which review and what they’d like to say to the reviewer ensues, all in good humour, if understandably annoyed]
JA: What a stirrer, eh? I tell you what, we’ve got a packed of bananas over there. I’ll send them to him. I’ll post him a banana! [laughing]
GT: You’ve just got to laugh about it really.
MV: He’s making an article out of something he doesn’t like in the first place and he’s also discriminating against a lot of music fans. Everyone we spoke to at that gig really loved it.
JA: You just can’t please everyone, you know what I mean? Fair enough. But to have the audacity to write something, in that depth like that. It’s just funny.
MV: And at the end of the day he paid money to see something that he hated.
JA: Cheers for the £8 mate!
GT: We had a little look around and saw that he’d tweeted a few days before we’d even played saying “Who wants to come and see trashy Lisbon with us tomorrow?” so he already had intentions-
MV: He knew what he was writing already. He probably wrote the outline before he got there and then just filled in the songs.
JA: He just went ‘Oh “Bananas” – that’s a shit name for a song!’
GT: He didn’t even say “Bananas” – he said “Banana”!
JA: Shows how much he was listening!
MV: You can’t really take a journalist seriously who doesn’t get their facts right.
BM: Who’s in charge of the lights? [The reviewer praised this part of their live experience. The band point to their technician, Ben.] That was a good write-up for you!
MV: [smiling] Yeah, the music was terrible but Ben was great!
BM: In terms of your set list for tonight, what can we expect? How do you generally choose? On your last tour, you’d mix it up from night to night, for instance.
MV: It’s changed a lot since the last tour. The set fits and is a lot more comfortable this tour. It’s been a lot easier and we’ve got this heavy sound going through the set with a dip in the middle to give everyone a breather. We play “Vice”, we play “Native” and calm down before going back into the heavy stuff. We’ve got a back catalogue of about, maybe 15 really good songs so it’s nice that we can be selective and choose what fits together well.
[There’s some banter about whether “Bananas” has made the cut and the band proffer up their new mascot, a bunch of bananas. There then follows a light-hearted row about who’s been eating and ‘fingering’ the bananas and whether fans might bring bananas to throw at them as with knickers at a Tom Jones gig. During all this Gaz laughs at the trouble I’ll have typing this all up. Joe thinks it’s going to be impossible. I’ll show him! At this point I own up that I may struggle remembering who said what and Matty laments a really good story he told another interviewer which was wrongly credited to Alex Wright, the drummer. I realise that Alex may not have said anything so far!]
BM: What’s the plan next in terms of where you’re heading? Recording more stuff?
MV: I think we’re going to record a new single and get a tour for around September time. We’ll have a good festival season, come out with a new tune then and just keep going. It’s always a different crowd at festivals as you get people who’ve come to see you especially and then others who’ve just ended up in the right place at the right time. It’s interesting because people are always feeling jolly at festivals and they’ll come up and give you a little ‘well done and where are you from?’ so that’s cool.
BM: Having just seen the Manic Street Preachers and Billy Ocean over the weekend who’ve been performing for 25 and 40 years, do you see yourselves still making music as a band together in 5, 15, 25 years and beyond?
MV: It’s hard to even see like one year into the future to be honest but I think that hopefully, what we’ve always said… What people ask is what do we want from it and we just wanna make a career out of it.
GT: That’s the goal.
MV: As long as we can make our own music and make a living from it.
GT: Fingers crossed.
MV: You’ve gotta see what happens but if we can live off the land-
BM: Live off the fatta the land [a quotation from the GCSE Lit text “Of Mice and Men”, sure to be big with Lisbon’s supposed teenage fanbase!]?
MV: Yeah [laughing] if we can do that and last til that age, it’ll be brilliant.
BM: Thanks guys.
Lisbon celebrate their sold out homecoming and then take to Islington Academy in London on May 31st, Dundee’s Buskers on June 2nd, Fibbers in York on June 3rd and The Cookie in Leicester on the 4th. They also have dates lined up at the 110 Above Festival and the Pride of the Tyne in June, Electric Fields in Edinburgh in August and Lindisfarne in September. Details here:
Lisbon were speaking to Ben Lewis.