The Recusants, a reference either to the band’s views on authority or to the Roman Catholic's defiance of the Church of England in the 16th century, is an indie rock band hailing from London, England. Their music takes influence from bands like Pavement and The Wedding Present, mixing pop melodies and punky bursts of noise. The band was formed in 2009 by Adrien McCusker, Sean Brook, Tom Rundell, and Ben Wheeler. The Recusants release music on their own label, Ragpicker Records, as well as doing their own promotion for shows, artwork, music videos, and club nights. In 2011 they released their EP Elliott Strange, and have toured extensively around the UK.
The Recusants seem to truly live up to the meaning of their name (the term 'recusant' dates back to the 16th century, in reference to someone who refused to attend Church of England services, but now, more commonly, refers to someone who refuses to comply). Rather than leaving their music in the hands of a major record label, the London-based foursome is completely independent—they even created their own record label, Ragpicker Records, to release their debut Elliot Strange EP in 2011. Opening track “Sunday Afternoon” starts out as a mid-tempo indie rock number, before speeding up and incorporating some excellent guitar hooks, all fronted by Sean Brook's commanding vocals. Title track “Elliot Strange” draws on earlier punk influences with deliberately distorted vocals that bring to mind being in the thick of a mosh pit in a grimy basement somewhere in an underground London venue. We recently caught up with three-fourths of the band—frontman Brook, alongside bassist Tom Rundell and guitarist Adrian McCusker (drummer Ben Wheeler was absent)—to find out what it's like to function as a completely independent band in London, their opinions on the current state of music journalism, and why they envy the Queen of England.
Band of the Day: Question: Being independent and doing your own PR, what are some of the do's and don’ts you've learned along the way?
Sean Brook: Don't believe a lot of what people tell you [all laugh]!
Adrian McCusker: Trust no one!
Sean: A lot of people in music promotion make out that they're interested in you as artists, but they don't actually. It's why we've ended up doing a lot of it ourselves, because we didn't have too many good experiences. Good promoters in London are few and far between.
Tom Rundell: We've come to the conclusion that a lot of the time, doing it yourselves is better. You have more control, it's a lot cheaper and it's pretty rewarding in some areas.
Adrian: We're pretty inspired by people who take control of their own situation, from ‘70s punk onwards. It's nice to take charge and press your own records.
Band of the Day: So how do you define success for yourselves?
Sean: I would take success to mean writing a song and all being completely happy with the end product after recording and releasing it.
Tom: Or if someone likes it, if even one person likes it and connects with it.
Sean: Ultimately what we want is to just be gigging and releasing music. And to have a big enough group that wants to listen to [the music]. I don't think you need to judge things on the amount of money you make or whatever. If you can sit back, listen to your own music and still be happy with it six months after, I view that as success, whether or not loads of people have bought it.
Adrian: I agree with that, but I'd add that, recently, I found after playing a really good gig… that feels like success. The last few gigs felt really good between us as a band. I'm not sure if we're tighter, have a lot more energy on stage or it's just because we've done the best we sort of could. Playing live is really great when it goes well.
Band of the Day: I read an entry on your blog [http://therecusants.wordpress.com/] that Sean wrote about UK music press—particularly, overhyping bands. Do you feel like the state of music journalism right now is helpful or hindering to musicians?
Sean: I'm not sure if it's just English journalism, this brand of creating hype for a band just to get people talking, regardless of people engaging with the music or not. Saying that, though, there's a lot of good stuff out there, lots of people with blogs who are writing about music because they want to. They don't have any other agenda. Writing for print, which is driven by agendas and sales, unfortunately, can skew writing. I still read so many articles that don't connect to actual feelings about the music. They decide they just need to make this band big to sell papers. I get happy when someone online understands the music, and likes it. Print is on its way out, and I think it's a good thing that it's moving to online blogs and stuff.
Band of the Day: Going off of that, has anyone ever pressured you to make up a crazy backstory for your band to get press?
Adrian: It makes us feel boring… maybe we should say we were raised in the tundra.
Sean: When we do interviews, we're not very interesting [laughs]. How most bands form is very average. You know, new in a city, looking for other people. But I suppose you stand out—it gives you some edge—if you have a crazy lifestyle. But, ultimately, people will stick with you because of the music, and not because you've grown up in some convent somewhere. I don't begrudge anyone who [makes up a backstory]. They just have different aims than we do.
Band of the Day: Back to your band blog, how important is it to maintain?
Sean: [laughs] If you’re referring to the dates, we're not too good at maintaining it! I did one today...
Tome: ...the one before today was one year ago! But when we do keep it updated, we use it as another outlet for creativity.
Sean: It's hard keeping on top of it because we do a lot of things ourselves with the band, but it's a good outlet to have.
Band of the Day: This next question is actually inspired by one of your posts, about the anniversary of the Queen's coronation, who you dubbed 'the glorious lizard overlord’… if you had to pick one Recusants song to soundtrack the coronation of your glorious lizard overlord, which song would you pick and why?
Adrian: [laughs] Are we pro or anti-queen?
Tom: I don’t know. She can do what she wants!
Sean: Like a montage? We have a song called “Paint By Numbers” which is pretty long, so that's good 'cause she's quite old. I don’t know. It's kind of about ambition and stuff. I don’t know if the queen is particularly ambitious...
Tom: She's quite boring...
Sean: She's done a lot, but...
Tom: ...the main achievement of the queen is that she's done nothing [laugh]! Which is actually pretty inspiring.
Sean: But yeah, “Paint By Numbers” is a good choice because it goes kind of nuts at the end, so I think she'd quite like that.
Adrian: And she'll probably go nuts at the end!
Sean: She's going to have some kind of break down, eventually, and the song has a good breakdown at the end.
Band of the Day: And then she'll have an army of lizard minions take over...
Tom: Exactly! That's quite a good idea for a video, actually.
Sean: That's our next video!
Band of the Day: I'm taking credit for that one.
Adrian: You can invoice Ragpicker!
Band of the Day: What's your favorite memory from recording at Moat Farm?
Sean: Probably riding bikes around the field at the studio. We'd go record for half a day, then run around the fields for a bit. The actual recording was quite intense. We'd record five or six songs in a day. It was all quite new to us and for the studio, as well, so we were all finding our feet. It kind of felt like a learning process for all of us. It was intense, but nice to have the surrounding fields and fresh air during the day.
Band of the Day: Were you pretty inspired by the surroundings there, more than in London?
Sean: It was certainly a nice change from the grimy old studios and buildings in London.
Tom: Even though the studio we recorded in had no windows [laughs].
Sean: But it does make a nice change being outside of London. In the countryside, you have a different mindset completely. The actual room [in the recording studio] was not idyllic. It was a bit dark and dank, but the journey was significant. It was the first time we traveled anywhere together as a band. That journey, and being away from London, was the first time we felt like we were in a proper band—a group of people doing music together in different places.
Band of the Day: What's been your most surreal or proudest moment as a band so far?
Adrian: Making it to Scotland in one piece [laughs]!
Sean: We had a fairly long night in Birmingham, and then a seven-hour drive to Glasgow.
Tom: I would say whenever we put in a lot of work with our own PR, and then when quite big name DJ's play our music. Or a small-time blogger that writes something that really hits the spot—where they've really identified with the music.
Sean: The first time we were played on Steve Lamacq's primetime show!
Adrian: Or any really good gig we do.
Tom: This is up there [laughs]! Someone researched us from San Francisco!
Sean: Oh, and in Glasgow, we ended up at a student union, and it was a 1920s-themed private party. So there we were, in a city we'd never been in, surrounded by students in 1920s dress.
Tom: We'd been back in time!
Sean: It was very surreal!