Having scored a major label deal with Virgin, played at this yearâs Glastonbury and T in The Park and been compared to US luminaries The Strokes and LCD Soundsystem, Portland four-piece Hockey look set for big things. I caught up with lead vocalist Ben Grubin and guitarist Brian White at the swish Virgin Records offices for a chat about the new album, touring in the UK and overly keen elderly fans. Your debut album is out this month. From what I hear itâs pretty eclect... (continued)
Having scored a major label deal with Virgin, played at this yearâs Glastonbury and T in The Park and been compared to US luminaries The Strokes and LCD Soundsystem, Portland four-piece Hockey look set for big things. I caught up with lead vocalist Ben Grubin and guitarist Brian White at the swish Virgin Records offices for a chat about the new album, touring in the UK and overly keen elderly fans. Your debut album is out this month. From what I hear itâs pretty eclectic â there are songs like âToo Fakeâ which are a bit pop rock, thereâs some dance funk in there with â3am Spanishâ and some catchy, radio-friendly tunes like âSong Awayâ. Do you think debut albums should always be like that, so you can introduce all the avenues you might explore in the future? Ben: There are a lot of options. If anything it might kind of hurt us because it confuses people as to the bandâs sound, but for us itâs just fun to write songs that have different approaches and Iâve never been good at writing songs that are all in a similar vein. Bob Marley and The Strokes have like 50 songs that are kind of the same but somehow are all good. I think itâs more fun to make it a little more free-form. Why is it called âMind Chaosâ? Ben: Itâs a term we came up with a while ago in class at art school. Weâd always have discussions about environmental and big world issues and it was just a huge fight; no one could ever agree. My friend and I came up with the term âMind Chaosâ. If you consider the whole world, no one can ever agree on anything. It applies to the way I see the world right now. People are highly individual and highly opinionated and thereâs a very fragmented society. Itâs the same thing with music â thereâs not really a central heart of music anymore, itâs just all over the place. The album touches on different kinds of music and itâs just acknowledging the landscape of the times. How do you guys normally come up with a song? Ben: I write the lyrics and the melodies and then bring it to band practice and we build it up and change it around. Sometimes it starts with the lyrics, like I know a sentence or a chorus that it will swing on and we do the rest around it. Those are usually the good ones â the ones that start with a very central lyric. You list William Blake and Frank OâHara as influences on your MySpace â are you into poetry and do these poets inspire your lyrics? Ben: Yeah. Iâm also into Allen Ginsberg and James Tate. When youâre writing lyrics youâre dealing with language so I like to see how other people use language. Iâm told your new single âSong Awayâ has been chosen as the title music for Sky Sports Super Sunday... Ben: Really? That could be true but we donât know about it. Is that good? Or not good? Well, what do you think? Do you think itâs OK for bands to lend their music to big corporate organisations, or do you feel like youâre selling yourselves? Brian: The times have changed a little bit. I think 10 or 20 years ago you would have totally sold out, but now I think for certain things if it fits itâs OK, if youâre supporting something. Ben: And also because music has become almost free. People listen to your songs all the time â you know people have all your music for free so people have given bands a lot more leeway. Youâre not trying to get rich; youâre just trying to go on. I think people see it like that a lot more. Brian: And a lot of times songs get put on compilations that you donât even know about and donât necessarily approve of. What do you think of the current music scene? Do you think there are enough good bands around? Is there anyone youâre particularly into at the moment? Ben: Yeah thereâs a lot of good music. Brian: Yeah I think weâve played with some really great bands that weâd like to keep an eye on. Like Friendly Fires? Brian: Yeah exactly. And The Virgins and Passion Pit. Theyâre bands that weâd like to watch grow. I saw Blind Pilot give you a shout out at The Great Escape in Brighton a few months ago â are you good friends with them then? Ben: Oh you were there? Yeah I was at that show too. We played their CD release show in Portland a long time ago when neither of us were doing anything internationally. Brian: And we ran into them at Lollapalooza in Chicago. Ben: Yeah theyâre good friends of ours. My mum actually bought a painting from the drummer. Thatâs how I met him. There seems to be a lot of great bands associated with Portland. What do you think it is that makes it such a creative place? Brian: I think thereâs just a ton of bands. I think itâs a place where people are totally comfortable working a dead-end job and playing in a band all the time and thereâs just a huge cesspool of bands, so thereâs going to be quite a few that rise up. It is creative but itâs not necessarily that thereâs something in the water. Itâs just a cheap place to live and itâs pretty. Oh and it rains a lot so people hide in their basements writing music. So how was your tour with Friendly Fires? Any crazy tour stories? Any obsessed fans? Ben: It was good. We get mistaken for Friendly Fires a lot. Brian: Yeah it was a lot of fun. I remember at one of the gigs we showed up and there was an old woman waiting there for like five hours. Sheâd seen us on Later with Jools Holland and was waiting there with a little autograph book. Thatâs pretty cute. She doesnât sound like a particularly scary stalker. Brian: No, I donât think weâve ever had one of those. OK, weâve nearly run out of time but Iâd just like to finish with a fun, field hockey-related trivia quiz. Field hockey was originally played with a square ball: true or false? Ben: Uh, false. No, Iâm afraid itâs true. Brian: A square ball? Yeah, it was like a rubber cube. Ben: They put that on the ice? No, FIELD hockey. Brian: Yeah this is field hockey. You see, we have no idea about field hockey. Ben: Yeah itâs just a girlsâ sport. Well, funny you should say that. Next trivia question: Hockey was historically a girlsâ game and any boys taking part were obliged to wear skirts: true or false? Brian: True Ben: True No, itâs false. Youâre not very good at this. Brian: Weâre gonna try and answer every question wrong. Ben: Letâs just say true every time, weâll get half of them right. Sorry, maybe I should have done an ice hockey-related quiz. Brian: We donât know anything about that either. OK good. A Canadian 13-year-old who was smacked in the face with a hockey stick was awarded $1.37 million in compensation. Brian: True I thought you said you were going to answer them all wrong? It is true! Brian: I decided not to be difficult anymore. OK, last one. This oneâs music-related too. Field hockey is mentioned in a Pixies album: true of false? Brian: False Ben: False No, Iâm afraid itâs true. Field hockey is mentioned in âIâm Amazedâ on the album âSurfer Rosaâ. Brian: A question like thatâs got to be true. Yeah, I wouldnât have just made that up. Ben: What do they say? Something about being into field hockey players. Check it out, and brush up on your hockey-related trivia. Ben: I will. We should become hockey encyclopaedias.
So there you have it â great band, lovely guys, but donât actually know that much about hockey.
Hockeyâs debut album âMind Chaosâ is out on 21st September 2009.
Interview/Written by Gemma Thomson