Feature / Interview By Dave Himelfield
Everyone knows the script for introducing a band in their broad artistic context. It’s boring and predictable so here’s a bullet point summary for those that need a brief refresher.
1) Rant about the mainstream music industry…formulas, cynical, boring blah, blah, blah.
2) Eulogise the underground DIY scene…real, organic, progressive blah, blah, blah.
3) (Dubiously) Explain why band X are here to save the day.
Ok. Is The Little Explorer here to save the day, Mighty Mouse style? Who knows and frankly, we need not abandon hope if they don’t. The capability is certainly there. They are certainly all of point two. However in a world rife with superfluous communications it really has no bearing on the most important thing – appreciation. Go download, come and see (they tour often enough), submit your credit card details on Amazon and you will hopefully appreciate one of the most wonderful bands to emerge from a vibrant yet relatively unknown stable.
While the music may take itself pretty seriously, a Leeds function room on Friday night post-gig sees the band in a facetious and jovial mood offering tribute to their first purchases and influences – Kiss, ‘Very’ by The Pet Shop Boys, and ‘Bat out of Hell II’ pretty typical choices for anyone that grew up in 80s and 90s.
Sensing a mood of unhelpful frivolity, guitarist and screaming singer Jim temporarily adopts the role of the interviewer. “What inspired you to pick up an instrument?”
Non-yelping singer and guitarist Biff counters, “Back to the Future. I used to play along with a badminton racket.”
It’s hard to be irritated as it’s probably true.
Paul “Beal” Beal enters on the same tack, “I bought a Kramer guitar for £40…The guy who owns Kramer guitars actually owns half of Michael Jackson’s estate.”
There’s a long silence. Then sniggers and then more silence. Now that we’ve spent several minutes driving round in circles I direct the band more forcefully. It doesn’t initially work. But after a bit of channelling I manage to extract a typical mix of underground 90s guitar such as Godspeed, Spy vs. Spy, Cap and Jazz, thrash metal and what Jim calls “bog standard stuff” by which he means the first wave of emo i.e. The Get Up Kids and Sunnyday Real Estate. The others laugh. After all it has become a genre that’s as valueless as ‘garage’; something associated with spurious corporate drivel such as Finch and Jimmy Eat World. However Jim is quick to make the very important distinction between its pioneers and the chancers. The rest of the band settle down with the agreement that, “It was fucking ace back then…Sunny Day Real Estate, Mineral.”
I probe as to why such bands appealed and it’s met with… “They just fucking rocked.” Ok. So do Carcass. It doesn’t mean that they’re any good. Beal goes on about an X-factor that Biff expands on to make some sense. “These people are the same age as me and they’re from and suburbs in America and it’s fucking ace music.” Beal interrupts dispelling any melodramatic notions, “It wasn’t like ‘I feel like I’m one of them!’” just as Jim sardonically admits that the band have emotional moments comparing themselves to Cap and Jazz.
Continuing with a broad question I ask what the purpose of music should be. The Little Explorer like many others are of the belief that music is something that surrounds a person as innately as natural and social elements but that it also represents an escape when it becomes shitty.
On the question of originality the band are unanimous seeing no point in regurgitation of “bog standard stuff” and the emulation of other bands. Conversely, when it comes to the subject of what Beal calls “haircut bands” (i.e. the great retrospective movement of bands with a ‘The’ in the title) The Little Explorer are full of praise for The Shins and The Thrills. When challenged on the derivative nature of such bands Jim dismisses it as something that was just “summery and happy”. Biff rationalises.
“The thing about originality is that I don’t think you can listen to somebody and say “this is really original. I’ve got into bands and through them discovered other bands and realised that one was just an amalgamation of this. You never can tell if it’s pastiche or nostalgia”.
Concerning the state the British indie scene The Little Explorer are ambivalent. While as Biff admits that they have “churned out some of (their) favourite records of all time, Jim is more cynical claiming that “they seem to be putting out lots of “the” bands.”
Breaking away from the popular mainstream we discuss underground music scenes namely the futurist punk underground that they themselves have played a large part on. Among any ‘scene’ of any standing they are always inherent problems. One of the drawbacks of the national DIY scene that champions premium futurist punk (such as This Ain’t Vegas, Paper Cut Out, Cat on Form and Andy, Glenn and Ritch to name but a few) is it’s incestuous and sometimes self-limiting tendencies. Jim considers The Little Explorer to be somewhat separate and Biff agrees that he “wouldn’t like to be…a staple part of a scene”. Jim summarises that “a lot of stuff that happens in a scene is driven by the fact that it’s a scene”.
Separation from it is something that perhaps can be accounted to geography. Coming from Derby, a town which is yet to make an impact on the musical mainstream can be a blessing as Biff points out that “in Derby there’s a scene and all the bands are completely different”. Jim argues that this leaves “everyone open to different things”. Biff concludes that it does still “get stale but most of the bands are damned good”.
In praise of their local music arena The Little Explorer are still well aware of the less scrupulous elements. Jim explains.
“Like tonight’s gig...If Mike (from Itch, a damned good band who are now on big scary monsters..), hadn’t put this gig on and it had been Collective AKA (Leeds collective) then there would have more people here purely because a Collective AKA is the cooler gig to go to.”
One of the other major problems of DIY scenes is their often self-limiting tendency to shut out the possibility of greater popular success for the misconceived fear of “selling out”. It’s something else that The Little Explorer are conscious of but not dogged by. Biff uses an example of emo burnouts Kids Near Water.
“The only thing that’s self-limiting about the scene is the suspicion of success. Like Kids Near Water. It happened to them. They were really good. Everyone loved them. They go round and play all these great gigs then as soon as they did Kerrang or played a big show…no promoters would touch them. Ed from Beecher (another top notch Manchester metal act signed to calculated risk ) drove us on our last tour and he said that…they come up to the same stuff all the time…just because they’ve started playing the game a bit.”
On the state of the current music business and media on the opposite end of the spectrum from the DIY scene, The Little Explorer are typically cynical, particularly of its current fad for whirlwind romances.
Jim explains, “There’s a thing where a magazine says the name of a band and then the next week they’re on the front cover and the next week everyone loves them regardless of what they are.” Biff accounts this to the mainstream press being essentially NME that he dismisses as a “gobshite London publication”. Nevertheless he is still reverential about Rocksound and Kerrang.
Even though the mainstream is clearly unwell and that The Little Explorer may never touch upon it they hold some justified hope for change. Biff refers to a conversation with his friend Jyoti (of the White Town fame).
“The other day and we were talking about things being a bit up in the air. Although there’s lots of shit popular stuff there’s a flux in the middle where people are up in the air and open to everything. I don’t know if that’s a cultural shift because of the internet or the NME”
Jim is characteristically more angrily sceptical,
“At the end of the day I’d rather have people listening to stuff like the Datsuns and The D4 and all that than listening to shit…There’s a mainstream mindset where people are like ‘If they’re going to release that, I’m going to love it and I’m going to go out and buy the single. Not because they like the track but because it’s by Robbie Williams”
If the present and future doesn’t appeal then there’s always the power to alter it. The Little Explorer a in the middle of recording a new record to follow up last year’s sublime debut. Self-release is naturally in the pipeline but Jim is aware that he’ll have to continue his night shifts. The other option if it arises would be to take a record deal. Jim responds in manner that’s as sensible as it is pragmatic.
“If it didn’t affect the music…why the fuck not? If people aren’t going to like us for being on certain label what’s the point in liking music at all?
As Nirvana had with “Teen Spirit” and The Who experienced with “My Generation” The Little Explorer have been dogged by one disproportionately popular song. “Sense of Smell” has become an albatross and subsequently it’s usually absent from the set list. Adhering to the ethics of progress and yes (yawn) the real concept of punk (motherfucker) the band are not keen to stagnate even if it involves disappointing an expectant listener.
Jim rationalises that “it’s just tired. I really love it on the record. It’s one of the best tracks.” Drummer Garrick who has largely remained silent for the interview adds, “Live it just doesn’t seem to happen. We moved on from that”. Jim continues, “At every gig…it’s the one they want and it’s like ‘Oh. Not again! This is boring!’” Paul suggests that play the intro and promptly stop to make a point. Well, Nirvana used to do it as a way of forcing the overly expectant to pay attention to a Santa’s sack full of other equally good tunes. And if it worked for them…
The Little Explorer:
- Biff – Singing/Guitar
- Jim – Screaming/Guitar
- Beal – Bass/Harmony
- Garrick – Maple and Brass
Dave Himelfield :: Pix (c) & Courtesy Of :
Kate Cake (
(c)(p) june04 - musicdash / manchestermusic.co.uk 2004