Interview: Cora Pearl – “There’s a difference between living and surviving; there’s a lot more to life than just work!”
Fresh from the release of their debut single ‘Hope Machine’, the Cora Pearl chaps – John Alcock, Jack Hardwick, Luke Hawtin and Will McMahon – popped over to Exposed HQ for a cuppa and a chat about their sound, challenging apathy and 19th-century courtesans.
So, tell us about ‘Hope Machine’.
WM: Yeah, really excited, because obviously ‘Hope Machine’ will be the debut single. It’s nice to finally have something out there with our name on it that sounds great.
JA: What did we used to call it? ‘Tangerine Space Fuzz’?
I’ve never heard of that one before…
W: Yeah, we used it to try and establish ourselves as something unique, but I think we can fit quite nicely into the alt-rock indie sound. We’re not trying to break any boundaries just yet. We’ve got a few different elements in there – funk, jazz, blues. Jack and I are both quite inspired by hip-hop, and the other single that we’re planning to release next is quite rappy.
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And how have you found your introduction to the Sheffield music scene since you started up?
JH: It’s been really great. We’ve had such a good reception at live shows and loads of positive comments, which is obviously lovely – especially to say we only just released a single. It’s kind of strange as well; we’ve kind of developed a core fan-base of people who often come to a lot of our shows, and to see some of those people singing lyrics back, even though there’s nothing for them to listen to at home yet, it’s quite strange and surreal.
JH: Yeah, our current lineup has only been together since January. Our new bass player has just fitted right into it, and the sound’s just developing so much now, which is really great, and we’re hoping to bring that into single two. ‘Hope Machine’ is something hat I’ve had written for years and when I brought it to the band everybody brought their own unique spice and seasoning to the song.
W: We’ve have great gigs at places like Cafe Totem and we’ve played The Washington a few times.
The spiritual home of Sheffield’s music scene.
JH: Yeah, it is. We’re there quite a lot of the time as well, not just to play but to go to gigs too.
W: It’s like a community there, quite a hub for musicians, any kind of artsy people like DJs and photographers.
Is the Washy your favourite place to perform at in Sheffield?
JH: The different places we have played have been good for different reason and they’ve all got different vibes. I do love playing at The Washington. It’s incredible because the area you play in is so intimate and everybody’s together. We’ve always managed to create an amazing buzz there, especially because the shows are free entry. It means you’ve got your audience, y’know, the ones who came down especially to watch you; but also there are the people who are just there, they can just listen to us play and make up their own minds. But I think Café Totem has got an incredible sound system and a really comfortable stage to play on.
JA: Frog and Parrot was a good one as well, to play that in the window in a big room is kind of like a reverse stage. I think that’s really like a cool idea to have it like that. Tere are a lot of cool bands in Sheffield at the moment; it’s a really great scene to be part of.
We do shoot out some gems. I guess it;s nice to come as outsiders to Sheffield and be welcomed into that?
W: I think Sheffield in so many ways is a great, friendly city. One of the reasons why there’s such a nice little music community is that Sheffield as a place just lends itself to that sort of thing. The town itself is just so nice to walk around, y’know, like Kelham Island’s gorgeous in it’s own unique little industrial way, and the Peaks are right on the doorstep, which is just amazing.
JA: Yeah, we drive out to the peaks every week or even twice a week. I’d say we’ve explored a good chunk of it. It’s really nice to just get out there and escape from the city.
W: I’m from just outside of London and, I just always find Sheffield is like a little borough of London, but less busy and in the north. It’s got its kind of liberal community, there’s always a lot to do, there’s a lot of art, and it’s just a friendly place.
Any local bands that you’re particularly big fans of?
W: The Life Aquatic Band, they’re too ahead of there time in my opinion – in a good way. Ben Allen’s just a genius, he’s the front man. They’re all fantastic musicians; they just bring together some wacky, weird wonderful sounds that just really, really work. I mean they pack out shows as well; they’ve got a few solo shows under their belt. But like, it’s mad that one of their songs has got a tin whistle solo on it. It’s that kind of stuff that I look up to and think wow, I’m so jealous of your ability to do that, and make it cool.
JH: They’re great. I think what I love about their shows as well is that they don’t always nail them but when they do, they’re amazing. Brooklyn as well, they’re really good. I think being part of the music scene you just know bands and people from the bands. Femur are another really great band.
Sticking with the local scene, you’re playing the Leadmill on the 17th with the SSS for their last ever show. That should be a biggie.
JH: Yeah, really gassed. That came from just sending emails out with promotion packages for Hope Machine. Ben from the Leadmill had a listen to the single, really liked it, and just put us on that show and it’s already sold out, which is incredible. Just to have that opportunity to come and play to a sold-out crowd where people are there to listen to music properly is really exciting. It’s just an honour really that Ben, who trawls through loads of music everyday, thinks we stand out and sound good enough to put us up in a sold out show. Everything’s really positive. We’ve got a UK tour in the works, that’s all planned and we’ve got a few dates booked in.
You all met at university here. Housemates? Coursemates? Both?
JA: Yeah, so me, Will and Luke are all on the same history course at university, and then Jack studies music. Will met Jack in 2016.
JH: We were playing on the same bill at a show at The Doctor’s Orders of all places. My flatmate at the time was also doing this, so he asked me if I would play too, and I just kind of met Will on that night. We met up for a couple of beers the week after and it went from there. It’s been cool. Then Will brought John to the band and everything’s just clicked in a really good way.
W: John brought Luke into the band in mid-January and since then everything’s just come together – it’s kind of been a dream since then.
I have to ask: why name the band after a nineteenth century high-class prostitute?
W: Jack’s best to answer this question
JH: It’s kind of a funny story actually. My Grandma died three years ago and, God’s truth, as she was lying on her death bed she said ‘Joan’ (my mum), ‘I’ve got to tell you something. You’re related to Cora Pearl’, and I like to think she conked out then. So yeah, it all came out like that – very surreal! Everyone was just like ‘who the f*** is Cora Pearl?’ It’s not a name you hear at all, so I did some research and she was just amazing. She’s not too famous really, but she was an incredible feminist, she loved her body and loved her sexuality.
W: She owned it as well!
JH: She was the first person to do that cliché thing where you serve yourself on a platter, and the first person to dye her hair pink.
Are there any political themes running through your music?
W: One thing I’d say about our music is at face value it’s not the most politically-charged, but I think what we stand for is, musicians have always been, or can be, at the forefront of a political movement.
JH: Especially in the 20th century, music’s like the flagship for social and political movement. In some ways it’s like a responsibility that you have to be socially and politically aware, to understand the issues that might not affect you but affect a lot of people.
W: To stand up for them as well. The other day there was a march for International Women’s Day from the Art’s Tower into Barkers Pool, and it was also in support of the UCU Pension Strikes. John and I went down and filmed part of it ‘cause we want to use it as part of the ‘Hope Machine’ video. So the concept of ‘Hope Machine’ is kind of about apathy, but we wanted to use the video as a method of bringing together different people’s understanding of what hope is, what their ‘hope machine’ might be.
It’s about challenging apathy, then?
JH: I think it’s about a lot really; you might not get it from the lyrics but when we were writing them there were a lot of underpinning ideas that knit the song together. There’s the idea of apathy, and another one is this social bureaucracy that we live in: like the opening lyric is ‘Come on now you knights of old’. It’s like it’s trying to challenge those social perceptions that have existed for so long, in a very roundabout kind of way. Many people are just happy to sit and not really do anything with their life, but ‘Hope Machine’ is just trying to challenge that and trying to make people see that there’s actually a lot more to living. There’s a difference between living and surviving; there’s a lot more to life than just work!
Hear, hear. Owt else to add, chaps?
Will: Go and give us a listen – we’re coming for you, world!