Monday, 13 December 2010

Interview: Hella Better Dancer

After a few months of being vaguely aware of their existence, I finally got around to listening to exciting young Londoners Hella Better Dancer, and was extremely impressed to discover that they make beautifully jaded bluesy rock with forceful, expressive vocals and meandering, melodious instrumentation.  And luckily, since my writing about them will doubtless fail to do them justice, the lovely band agreed to an interview in which they tell me about recording their debut EP and, more controversially, how they could have been called 'Fellowship of Funk':  

Who are Hella Better Dancer, and how did they come to exist?
Lucas: We are a four-piece band from Camden in London. Till, Josh and I met at a music course at the Roundhouse called ‘Live Jam’. After some band-member rearrangements we finally found Soph. Hella Better Dancer was born…

How did you end up with the name?
Josh: Sadly, I came up with it. It was a result of mixing several different ideas together, including some YouTube comments saying how Chris Brown is a "hella better dancer” than Usher. We have to spell it out to anybody who asks. It's horrifically impractical.
Lucas: ‘Fellowship of the Funk’ was a runner up. I’m not sure if that’s better or worse.

Lauren Laverne described you as sounding like a young PJ Harvey - is that something you were actively going for?
Tilly: I’ve got ‘PJ playlist’ on Spotify so that maybe could have had some affect, but it wasn’t an intentional thing. More than anything it’s just cool that Lauren Laverne heard us. She can compare us to anything. Except Kate Nash.

Who would you say has inspired your songwriting?
Tilly: I think when I was young(er) it was The Smiths. Then Regina Spektor’s amazing ability to make up stories got me thinking a lot about how to write lyrics with a narrative. Also, the production of Alessi’s Ark’s debut album made me think of how I wanted our music to be recorded. But bands like Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire have been my A-team since we started going for a bigger sound.

Lyrically you speak about the city quite a lot - to what extent would you say living in London has influenced your sound?
Tilly: Songs are about people, and London has a lot of people.

You recently released an EP - was that exciting to record? Can you tell us a bit about it?
Lucas: It was unbelievable to record! Four of the most intense, rewarding days ever. We recorded at the Roundhouse’s EMI studio and we were lucky enough to have Kevin Paul (to us, Don Pauly) to produce it. 
TillyWe recorded our 4 earliest songs, and the next EP is the next set of 3 songs. We’ve got a kind of a chronological thing going on. Kevin really gave us the space to experiment and develop our sound – song structures were completely re-worked, and the instrumentation was given so much more depth. ‘Infinite Reverb’ is now a close friend of all of ours, and it was Kevin who pushed that. We ended up with something that we were all really happy with.

Is there a story behind the artwork?
Soph: We wanted an intimate, vulnerable image to fit the title ‘Please Stay Here’. My mum did the drawing, and it fits the title just right, even though an old man bares no connection with any of our songs.

Is it difficult to manage being in a band at the same time as fairly heavy amounts of schoolwork, or is it something you're sort of used to balancing now?
Lucas: At first it was quite hard to manage, but the longer we’ve been in the band the easier it’s been to handle. It’s just a case of making sure we give practising and gigging the time it deserves. Although it’s got to be said - I’m the worst when it comes to girly stressing about work. Admitting it is the first step to overcoming my problem…

Once school is out, what's the plan for the band?
Josh: We all quite like learning, and are hoping to continue education in some form or another. Lucas is going to do an art foundation next year while the rest of us take a year out before university. During the year we're hoping to write lots of music, play lots of gigs and hit the music industry with the hardcorest rawknrawl that's ever been made. Probably.

You played Big Chill earlier this year which is awesome - which has been your favourite gig so far? And do you have any dream venues/festivals that you'd love to play one day?
Tilly: Playing on the 2nd biggest stage at Big Chill was pretty nuts.  Playing in the Studio Theatre at the Roundhouse is always so good too cause Tony the soundman is so on it. I’d also really like to play at Green Man or Hop Farm in the summer – both have a pleasant ambience, and I for one am a massive fan of pleasant ambiences.
Lucas: I’ve got my eye on the main stage at the Roundhouse and Reading Festival. 

Any recommended listening?
Tilly: A great friend of mine is in a really cool new band called ‘Big Deal.’ They’re badass. [They really are - I wrote about them here]
Josh: Also Ghosts You Echo and Evans the Death are really, really awesome. 

While you've got our attention, any final words of wisdom to share?
Soph: Whilst we feel that we’ve come on a lot as a band, we probably haven’t progressed far enough to be doling out words of wisdom. But cross your fingers, our day will come.
Josh: Just don't name your band ‘Hella Better Dancer.’

MP3: 'The City Sea' - Hella Better Dancer

Thanks so much to the wonderfully talented Hella Better Dancer for their time and for the lovely mp3; I thoroughly recommend you give them a listen and keep an eye on them.  You can buy their first EP, 'Please Stay Here', on iTunes now [click here].

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