Monday, 13 April 2015

The Destroyers and ther fresh foundations

Eight years of constant change, and the band's hungrier than ever.

I'm sitting in the snug in legendary Moseley music boozer The Prince of Wales, with Leighton HargreavesMax Gittings and Aaron Diaz, three long-term members of the Destroyers. It's appropriate: if anything is, it's the band's home base. It's where members come to play at the open sessions; it's where they put on their legendary Christmas/New Year shows.

Now, after what seems like an uncomfortably long time, there's good news to report: the band are issuing an EP, on local label Stoney Lane. There may be more to follow, possibly building up to an album. And there's a tour planned out.

Max Gittings, Leighton Hargreaves and Aaron Diaz
I owe this band a debt of gratitude. Their 2011 Christmas show inspired me to change whole direction of this blog. Before, I wrote occasional music pieces; after, music, especially local music, took centre stage. 

The Destroyers are in good shape after several high-profile departures. They can now, for the first time, deploy a range of songwriters and front men to share vocal chores. Beyond the EP, there's a spiffy new website a-building, hot new photos, and a summer tour, culminating in a home town gig in August.
Leighton: It's a four track EP. Each track is about six minutes long. As eps go, it's fairly chunky.
Aaron: We haven't exactly been idle. Our last gig here was at Christmas, three months ago. Before that we were at the Hare and Hounds in summer. We always do about two or three things a year in Birmingham.

And more up and down the country, of course. Following you on Facebook, I spotted that Suman, your long-term bass player had left. And I thought – Oh God, what's happened now? You're a large band of very skilled and inventive musicians, so it's inevitable that there will be turnover – after all you once had Frank Moon and Leo Altarelli in your ranks. So where does the new blood come from?
Aaron: Aha. That would be telling.
Max: We were pretty stable for five years, but in the last two and a bit years, four people left. So we found ourselves, last September, needing a new video, needing new recordings, new images, a new website.... and it's taken us about eight months to do all those things. Now it's April. The EP's released next month.  

Of course, when you and Paul Murphy went your separate ways, you lost his songs. So there's been a clear need to build in new material. Which every band needs, of course.
Leighton: We've got a solid assembly line for new tracks. I've written some of the new material, as has our clarinet player Gaz and our accordion player Dave. And we have multiple front-men. So Dave sings some of the songs, our trumpet player Sam sings a couple. And I sing a couple. I can have an idea for a song, and what I want it to be about. Sometimes I'm really stuck on words, but when they come to me, they come really quickly.
Max: Our departed bass player Suman wrote two of the songs in our set, but we're keeping them. That's one of the ways we've filled the lyrical space.

The band's always had a very strong visual appeal. In terms of stage presence... I'm always fascinated when I watch you, because there's so much going on, always something to look at. Do you deliberately set up your live show? Are you conscious of the need for showmanship?
Aaron: Very conscious. It's something we're continuing to do. With the latest material, someone new steps up to the front all the time. And there are visual tricks, things we've done before.

Ah – the violin juggling?
Max: And now the flute juggling too... One of my prized Chinese flutes. Prised off the wall, that is. It's never hit the floor yet.
Leighton: a lot of the stage antics evolve naturally. And then they get developed.
Max: so it naturally follows the music.

You're saying the word 'naturally' quite a bit. But how much of it is a contrivance? How conscious are you about delivering a show?
Aaron. Very. About five years ago, we watched a video of us, all standing still. The horns just stood behind this barrier with the band name. There were music stands. So we worked to remove that barrier, and make it as visibly exciting as it was musically. We are very conscious of that.
Leighton: There's also a balance to be struck. We shouldn't just become a succession of visual gimmicks. As a violin player, I move around a lot, I jump off the stage and I run around... sometimes that is at the expense of playing the violin as well as I could do if I was standing still.


The Vortex: hot and new from the Destroyers, and kindly made available here for your listening pleasure

Tell me about your 2015 repertoire? I'm assuming a lot of your existing instrumental highlights will still be around, all the crowd-pleasers...
Max: We've added in a lot of new material. There's 'The Wizard Of Warrington' – a modern tale about magic, the M6. And Ikea and a troubled wizard. And 'The Vortex'. Leighton should explain that.
Leighton. So... the Vortex Cannon is on stage with us. It's an empty plastic dustbin with a hole in the bottom. It has a smoke machine inside, which you can trigger. And it at the other end is a diaphragm made of a circle of plywood stitched onto a circle of latex, hemmed on to the rum. And it's decorated. You fill it with smoke, and then tap the diaphragm... and it shoots out a circle of smoke which drifts across the stage. And you can fire it at the audience so it drifts above their heads.

Can't wait to see that...

Max We've just shot a video to tie in with that.

The band head out on tour in May, to tie in with the EP release, and we return to the Hare and Hounds in August. All the band members have other projects – Max plays in a classical Chinese ensemble; Aaron plays with the Old Dance School; and Leighton plays with the Mendi Singh trio.

So how do you organise yourselves these days?
Leighton. We try to do things collectively and democratically. I'm the one to notice if nothing's happened. We all have specialisms.
The band is now 13 strong. That's huge by today's standards. When I talk about you to people in the business, who don't really know you, the question gets asked: 'How the hell do they make any money?' 
Leighton: Without giving too much away, we have recently been asking, and getting, better fees.
Aaron: We've realised what the brand is, and what the price is.
Leighton: It means we don't get as many of the most fun gigs, because they can't afford us until we get to be headliners. But it does mean we can pay ourselves a little bit more than we used to do.

This is a fascinating area. How do bands know what they're worth? How can they ask a decent price that won't bankrupt the members? I think an awful lot of bands undersell themselves to get the gig. The business of being a working band.
Aaron: I think they do. But it's still a juggling act. Sometimes you need to price yourself to get into new markets. A balance of time and what's best for the band. 

Stop press: after this blog was published, it was announced this week that hurdy gurdy player Mick Howson, is leaving the band, amicably, after ten years. 

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