Punk is back. And what’s more, it’s sounding pretty darn good too. So note down 2015 as the year we wave goodbye to the tidy jingle-jangles of snappily dressed indie four-pieces. The people have spoken – and they’re gasping for some fuzzy, reverb-soaked nourishment…
Step forward punk duo Nai Harvest, this month’s Exposed In Session stars, who are particularly proficient when it comes to whipping up a strong, scuzzy-pop cocktail or two. Before the film started rolling on their live session, we collared Ben Thompson (vocals) and Lew Currie (drums) for a chat about their progression as band, their latest record and escaping the ‘emo basement’.
The punk scene, and maybe the punk ethos, appears to be filtering back into the public consciousness. Music-wise, people don’t seem to want as much of the sanitised, super-tight sounding bands anymore; and you can see the grungy/punky bands becoming popular in a mainstream sense – Fat White Family, Drenge and Slaves are a couple of examples. Why do you think is?
B: I can see it happening. When I was growing up, we were listening to nice, inoffensive bands like the Maccabees and the Kooks. They were very clean-cut and hugely popular amongst teenagers during the noughties. Back then, the punk bands were way out of people’s comfort zones, and to get into the mainstream your tracks had to sound really polished.
L: It’s now become cool to like the heavier bands like Slaves and Drenge. In terms of recording quality, the scuzzy DIY sound is more popular now.
B: The whole indie-punk culture has spilled over into the mainstream now; it’s not as alternative anymore. From our perspective, it’s a good thing because it allows us to reach a wider audience.
By the way, does it annoy you that people still refer to you as an emo band despite the notable shift between your early recordings and the Hairball album?
B: Erm, yeah, it does a little bit. When we first started the band, we had no pretence of what we wanted to be. We met at an emo show in Sheffield at the Stock Room, which must be closed now, and initially started writing music inspired by indie-rock/emo bands from the US – it was all we really knew at the time.
L: It was just a bit of a mess about to start off with.
At which point did it go from messing about as mates to ‘shit, we’re a proper band now’?
L: To be fair, I think we only got that feeling in a real sense when we put out the album. Even all of the shows and stuff before that felt a bit like somewhere between dicking around and being a ‘proper’ band.
B: It all escalated quite quickly. We did a headline tour last year and all of the shows were absolutely rammed. I think we were both a bit like, ‘how the hell has this happened?’
L: Going back to what you mentioned about us still being labelled by some as an emo band, I think what can be frustrating is that our earlier sound didn’t get us to where we are. Of course it was the base of the band and honed our writing style, but I feel like this album couldn’t be more different from the earlier days.
B: Earlier on we were almost imitating certain bands which we both loved; we’ve since moved on and feel like we’ve found our own sound. Hairball is certainly a record which we both feel defines us at this moment. When we break up and are doing normal jobs – basically having “real lives” – I’d like to people to think, ‘Yeah, Hairball was the start for them.’ I LOVE emo bands, but I don’t want Nai Harvest to be associated with the genre as it can be hard to get out of the basement. Like, literally, you can play basement gigs to 20-30 people every week but you can’t get much further.
You guys managed to break out of the basement, so to speak. Where are you now?
B: First floor. Yeah, we’re kind of between the kitchen and the stairs.
L: The hallway?
B: Yeah, that’s the one!
So who’s up the stairs, on the first floor?
B: Drenge are up the stairs. They’re chilling in the bedroom on the first floor. Fat Whites are also having a party on the first floor – it’s pretty good fun up there. On the top floor, taking advantage of the en-suite facilities, you’ve got the big dogs such as The Libertines.
L: Libertines are chilling in the penthouse.
Was there ever a particular moment – maybe an early record or gig – which made up your mind that you wanted to go into music?
L: There are loads. I think it was more of an age thing for me. I was 14 or 15 when I really started getting into music and looking for the most underground bands I could find to show off about.
B: *Laughs* That was me – always searching for the band with the smallest fanbase! It’s fairly simple: some kids really get into football as a young teenager and dream about doing that, some kids get into music and look towards getting into bands. We’re both artists as well, but put art on the back-burner for music.
So there wasn’t a record or band that inspired you to pick up a guitar, or Lew to pick up the drumsticks?
B: The only reason I wanted a guitar is because my little brother got one first! *Laughs* Yeah, he got an acoustic guitar and started getting lessons, and I couldn’t be the one who didn’t do everything. So, yeah, I bugged my parents for an electric just so I could be a bit louder and cooler. I knew I wanted to be in bands forever when I started going to shows at 15 years old and hanging with cooler, older people who completely accepted you. It was such a buzz.
You’ve never really played the Sheffield scene much. Plus, Ben lives in Manchester and you both have spent a huge amount of time on tour over the last couple of years. Do you ever miss the traditional South Yorkshire things – like spontaneous bus conversations and, erm, Henderson’s Relish?
B: We always manage to hunt down a bottle of Hendo’s somehow – we’ve got that priority sorted. To be fair, I’m back in Sheff every couple of weeks anyway, picking Lew and our gear up so we’re never that far away. And yeah, we never really played the Sheffield scene much; as much as we love the place, we don’t really want to play the whole ‘homegrown’ card. It’s nice to space out Sheffield gigs and play them as a treat.
Ok, quick-fire round time. Complete these sentences:
If Nai Harvest was an animal, it would be…
B: A tiger – ‘cos we’ll bite your fucking head off. YEAH.
If Nai Harvest ruled the world…
L: Everyone would wear pink.
You will really dig us if…
B: You have no inhibitions.
L: You think that the Big Mac is the best burger in the world.
You will really hate us if…
L: You think that the Big Mac is the worst burger in the world.
So, I’m eating a pie. It’s a scuzzy, punky pie called Nai Harvest. I’ve just bitten into the first slice. Tell me how it tastes…
B: It’s kinda like broken glass. But it’s also quite cheesy with a soft, chewy interior. You’re scared to take another bite because you’re like, ‘Yeah, that was good but I’m worried that I can’t handle it. What if I cut myself?’ – You’re trying to weigh it all up. Luckily enough, we also provide antiseptic gravy to soothe your throat afterwards, so you dive straight back in and love it. How’s that?
I think that worked really well.