Band of the Day

2011.09.19

Pete and the Pirates

Melodic, rollicking British rock and roll with a raw edge
She dances like she might never again.
lyrics from Bright Lights

Pete & the Pirates is an indie rock band from Reading, England. The five-piece band members are: Thomas Sanders (vocals), Peter Hefferan (vocals and guitar) Peter Cattermoul (bass) and Jonny Sanders (drums). Their first full-length album, Little Death, produced by Gareth Parton and the band, was released in February 2008. The first single, “Come On Feet”, appeared on Steve Lamacq’s, “In New Music We Trust” radio show on BBC Radio 1 and it is also used in the UEFA Euro 2008 game soundtrack. NME magazine in the UK deemed the album “perfect pop without the pretense.” The band’s second album, One Thousand Pictures, was released on May 2011 on the label Stolen Recordings, peaking on the UK charts at number 75.

Almost everyone, at some point in their life, has had that dream where you're trying to run away from something but, no matter how hard you try, your legs become dead weight. Pete & The Pirates, hailing from the English town of Reading, conjure up that feeling with their song “Come On Feet”, from their debut album Little Death. Singer Tommy Sanders'--with his distinct British accent--practically begs, “Come on feet, don't mess with me!” The sense of urgency and frustration is echoed in the stomping drum beats, and layered vocals all shouting out, “Come on! Come on!” Similarly, “Lost In The Woods” has a traditional Brit-rock feel, and with the abrupt tempo changes, you can hear the influences from post-punk greats like Gang Of Four and Wire on David Thorpe's guitar riffs. Although Pete & the Pirates master that angular post-punk sense of urgency (thanks to the combined rhythmic efforts of Jonny Sanders on drums and Peter Cattermoul on bass), they're not one trick ponies. “She Doesn't Belong To Me” starts off with just a single vocal line, but builds up with some excellent vocal interplay between Sanders and guitarist Peter Hefferan on lines like “Don't sell the car, just rob a bank or the corner shop/You'll get some excitement, in the papers, in the car with the cops.” And with Sanders displaying his ability to hit nearly-falsetto notes without going down a disco, Bee Gees sort of route, the song “Moving” is both subtly raw and tender. The heart-on-sleeve approach to lyrics can also be heard on opening track “I'll Love,” with Sanders laying it all out on the line by declaring, “I'm not scared of you, darling/I'm in love with you, darling.” “Mr Understanding” is the most danceable track on the album, with the kind of infectious opening guitar riff that stays embedded in your subconscious long after the song is over. Recorded in less than two weeks, the end result of Pete & The Pirates’ Little Death is melodic, exciting rock and roll that somehow manages to sound extremely tight, with losing its raw edge.

Earlier this year, British indie rockers Pete and the Pirates released their second album, One Thousand Pictures. Like their debut album, Little Death, it's full of melodic and exciting rock and roll. Songs like “Washing Powder” and “Can't Fish” have beautifully melodic build ups that are worth holding out for.

Others, like “Blood Gets Thin,” are scuzzy-yet-cinematic, as if they'd be playing over an epic car chase scene through a dark metropolis. We caught up with lead singer Tom Sanders to find out the differences between recording both albums, what it's like playing in a band with his brother (drummer Jonny Sanders), and how to survive as a young, independent band in the current music industry climate.

Band of the Day: Question: If you could control someone's first Pete and the Pirates listening experience, what would that entail?

Tom Sanders: I’d like to invite them to sit down in an armchair in the corner of our rehearsal studio. I guess it’s just the most intimate experience you can have with a band, because it's this hallowed, sacred space.

Band of the Day: What's the biggest difference between the recording process of this album (One Thousand Pictures) as opposed to your debut, Little Death?

Tom: Well the process of recording the first one wasn’t how I chose to do it, and we aren’t quite as naïve as we were then. But this one was recorded much more like being in a practice room. It was about performance rather than production, so we did one or two takes sometimes, instead of 13 or 14. There was a certain special and unique thing you get captured, that feeling of playing together instead of apart like the first one. I think you can hear it. It's the most natural thing in the world for us to be all together in a room playing music.

Band of the Day: Jonny (Sanders, drummer) directs a lot of the videos and does the artwork for the band. How important is it for you to maintain that kind of artistic control as a band?

Tom: Artistic control is everything, it’s really important to us. We don’t have a problem handing it over to people, but in the past when we have, we weren't usually satisfied with the results. We’ve been in a band for 7 or 8 years, so the independent approach is good, and it's quite satisfying when you create something that people like, but after awhile it would be nice to have someone else's help with the other parts. It’s a trust thing isn’t it? It’s the same thing with producers. It’s a scary thing to hand over your album, which is like your baby, to a producer whose like the babysitter, and you have to trust them to not to kill it, y’know (laughs)?

Band of the Day: So your video “United” features clips of cats sent in from fans all over the world. Where did the idea come from?

Tom: It kind of seemed like quite a natural opportunity to have that interaction. We like to know where our fans are from, and what kind of people they are. I think often bands ask fans to be in their videos because it's such an unusual way of bonding with your fans.

Band of the Day: Why did you use cats, as opposed to dogs or other animals?

Tom: Me and my brother Jonny grew up with cats, and we aren’t dog haters, it's that cats are just really funny! We were making a statement as well, or our YouTube statement, because YouTube is full of cat videos that people really like, with like 16 million views. So we were like, “here’s OUR cat video!” Y’know, taking the piss out of the YouTube culture.

Band of the Day: And speaking of YouTube, what's the last video that you watched that made you laugh?

Tom: There is one, I think it’s called the Mystic or Mystical cat. The cat is kind of a very kind of old fashioned English cat trying to summon the spirit of the mouse, and it's quite funny!

Band of the Day: As a frontman for a band, have you always felt confident on stage, or was that something you had to work up to?

Tom: I was kind of pushed into that role at first, and told to be the frontman, but I’ve changed a lot as a performer and I enjoy it a lot more.

Band of the Day: What do you think caused that change?

Tom: I learned to enjoy it and decided that if I’m going to be up here in front of all these people, and they are going to judge me, that I would just enjoy it. I don’t get nervous on stage anymore, whether it's in front of a few hundred or thousands of people.

Band of the Day: What was the moment that it really sunk in that you could actually make a living as a musician?

Tom: That’s a hard question because it's really up and down, there’s nothing steady about it, about money y’know? There are some times you don’t know where it's going to come from. I’m not sure I've accepted that I make a living doing this as my job, even though I am, and I think it’s a miracle and I don’t take it for granted. Every day I feel blessed that this is my job. It's a lot of hard work, and most of my friends think I’m a complete dosser (laughs)!

Band of the Day: What's a dosser?

Tom: A dosser is someone who doesn’t do anything with their days, just sits around in the sun, doesn’t work very hard….basically an English term for “slacker.”

Band of the Day: I believe we call those “The Real Housewives” here in the US. Ok, so since your brother Jonny is also in the band, what do your parents think about it all?

Tom: My parents have been absolutely amazing. They’ve never tried to force us into quitting, and they love the fact that we are doing something we love. I think all parents should encourage their kids to do something they like. I don’t know any of my parent's friends who've had jobs that they've enjoyed, and my dad spent his whole life in a job he hated, and he is very supportive of what we are doing. I feel lucky that my parents are so cool about it. I think the fact that we don’t have to pester them for money is something they like (laughs). We have some very cool parents, me and Jonny!

Band of the Day: If you were stuck in isolation for 24 hours, and one song was playing on a loop, which song would choose?

Tom: “Pale Blue Eyes,” by The Velvet Underground. It's a nice long song, which will help, and it's incredibly beautiful, lyrically and musically.

Band of the Day: Imagine it's the apocalypse--what's the last Pete and the Pirates song you'd want to perform, and where would you perform it?

Tom: I think it would be the opening song on our new album, “Can't Fish.” Just 'cause it's a slow song, kind of with this big, rich sound, and there's something kind of spooky about it. And I’d like to perform it in the Yorkshire Dales. It’s just this very bleak kind of landscape in North England. I think it could make a quite nice music video, actually. It's been done lots of times before, bands going into a field to play...it's got like a storm as well, torrential rain...The world's ending, so I'm assuming there would be a storm (laughs).

Band of the Day: As a young band, how do you deal with the pressure of people in the music industry?

Tom: I really respect any young band who has a really strong, clear identity of who they are, and who stick to it. It really pisses me off to see bands every year try to reinvent themselves according to what they think is going to make them popular. Or what their manager says they should be doing. We’ve made some mistakes in the past, let people talk us into things we shouldn’t have released, or done some videos we shouldn’t have done. But now I think we are now growing more intelligently, hopefully.

Band of the Day: What’s been your proudest moment in the band so far, and what keeps you going?

Tom: My proudest moment is the first time I heard our song on the radio...a magic and bizarre sensation. What keeps me going is always our next release, because it's such an exciting time. I think the first time a band goes into the studio for the first time, you're totally absorbed. Each recording and release is something I look forward to, because essentially that’s what you're building up to. You're constantly growing and nurturing yourself, like gardening, and you're a little family looking out for each other, so you can’t really afford to f**k it up!