Having scored a major label deal with Virgin, played at this year’s 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. Photobucket Your debut album is out this month. From what I hear it’s pretty eclectic – there are songs like ‘Too Fake’ which are a bit pop rock, there’s some dance funk in there with ‘3am Spanish’ and some catchy, radio-friendly tunes like ‘Song Away’. 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 band’s sound, but for us it’s just fun to write songs that have different approaches and I’ve 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 it’s more fun to make it a little more free-form. Why is it called ‘Mind Chaos’? Ben: It’s a term we came up with a while ago in class at art school. We’d 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 ‘Mind Chaos’. 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 there’s a very fragmented society. It’s the same thing with music – there’s not really a central heart of music anymore, it’s just all over the place. The album touches on different kinds of music and it’s 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 – the ones that start with a very central lyric. You list William Blake and Frank O’Hara as influences on your MySpace – are you into poetry and do these poets inspire your lyrics? Ben: Yeah. I’m also into Allen Ginsberg and James Tate. When you’re writing lyrics you’re dealing with language so I like to see how other people use language. I’m told your new single ‘Song Away’ has been chosen as the title music for Sky Sports Super Sunday... Ben: Really? That could be true but we don’t know about it. Is that good? Or not good? Well, what do you think? Do you think it’s OK for bands to lend their music to big corporate organisations, or do you feel like you’re 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 it’s OK, if you’re supporting something. Ben: And also because music has become almost free. People listen to your songs all the time – you know people have all your music for free so people have given bands a lot more leeway. You’re not trying to get rich; you’re 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 don’t even know about and don’t necessarily approve of. What do you think of the current music scene? Do you think there are enough good bands around? Is there anyone you’re particularly into at the moment? Ben: Yeah there’s a lot of good music. Brian: Yeah I think we’ve played with some really great bands that we’d like to keep an eye on. Like Friendly Fires? Brian: Yeah exactly. And The Virgins and Passion Pit. They’re bands that we’d like to watch grow. I saw Blind Pilot give you a shout out at The Great Escape in Brighton a few months ago – 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 they’re good friends of ours. My mum actually bought a painting from the drummer. That’s how I met him. Photobucket 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 there’s just a ton of bands. I think it’s a place where people are totally comfortable working a dead-end job and playing in a band all the time and there’s just a huge cesspool of bands, so there’s going to be quite a few that rise up. It is creative but it’s not necessarily that there’s something in the water. It’s just a cheap place to live and it’s 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. She’d seen us on Later with Jools Holland and was waiting there with a little autograph book. That’s pretty cute. She doesn’t sound like a particularly scary stalker. Brian: No, I don’t think we’ve ever had one of those. Photobucket OK, we’ve nearly run out of time but I’d 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, I’m afraid it’s 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 it’s just a girls’ sport. Well, funny you should say that. Next trivia question: Hockey was historically a girls’ game and any boys taking part were obliged to wear skirts: true or false? Brian: True Ben: True No, it’s false. You’re not very good at this. Brian: We’re gonna try and answer every question wrong. Ben: Let’s just say true every time, we’ll get half of them right. Sorry, maybe I should have done an ice hockey-related quiz. Brian: We don’t 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 one’s music-related too. Field hockey is mentioned in a Pixies album: true of false? Brian: False Ben: False No, I’m afraid it’s true. Field hockey is mentioned in ‘I’m Amazed’ on the album ‘Surfer Rosa’. Brian: A question like that’s got to be true. Yeah, I wouldn’t 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.
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So there you have it – great band, lovely guys, but don’t actually know that much about hockey. Hockey’s debut album ‘Mind Chaos’ is out on 21st September 2009. Interview/Written by Gemma Thomson