The Stranger Son of WB
Interview by Dave Himelfield
They’ve only been around for six months and already they’ve been causing quite a fuss. This isn’t altogether surprising as they are what some people would term a ‘supergroup’. Formed from the ashes of two of Manchester’s most respected underground acts, The Stranger Son of WB have succeeded by continuing the ethos of their former bands while managing to sound completely different and yet equally dazzling.
The name – originally “The Stranger Son of WB and the Crab Robot Exodus Part Two” – initially appears as much of a puzzle but as singer and multi-instrumentalist, Gareth Smith explains, “it’s perfectly random” but “good…because it feels like they’re tricking (people) in some way!” They formed after doom post-rockers The Sonar Yen and equally dark post-punk combo Thee Virus House went imploded. Bassist Chris Haslam was already having musical problems with the Yen and he and Gareth got together in a flat in Chorlton over a love of classic avant-garde like Captain Beefheart, The Fall, Sonic Youth, Can, The Velvet Underground and various other “interesting developing bands”. Soon The Sonar Yen was history and Tim Horrocks swapped his drumkit for a knackered, old Hofner guitar and come on board. Paddy of space-rock set Sundowner soon moved in barely after The Stranger Son of WB had set foot on a stage.
As fervent believers in music as progressive art form The Stranger Son of WB are less than impressed with the majority of music doing the current rounds which Gareth describes as “very hedonistic and indulgent (and) reminiscent of the 80s mentality.” Many bands are content to talk about how much they drank and who they shagged last night but Smith justifiable finds this desperately lazy and uninteresting.
“I just hate to see bands play and not to be using it properly and not saying anything. There’s no political relevance that I see in a lot of bands. This is the best time to be writing about. There’s shit going on everywhere. Bombs in London. Bands just take a hedonistic “Let’s enjoy our life” approach. “Let’s have a nice haircut.” “Let’s be very enjoyable and enjoy it all.” I think that’s a really bad attitude to have because for progressiveness.”
Meaningful, relevant lyrics are clearly at the forefront of The Stranger Son of WB whose verses drip with shrewd social observation and satire. They cut like a sharpened Bowie knife but one can’t help but appreciate the mordant humour of “wanky bands with plastic scarves/pull your finger out/cut their fingers off”, “attack your neighbours they earn more than you” and “put out your flags the queen’s coming!” Furthermore, unlike many of their punk predecessors, there’s a positive undercurrent.
“We’re not the most po-faced fuckers.” I do like people. I’ve a lot of friends who are in bands. There’s a lot of nice people in bands in Manchester but it doesn’t mean I like their music.”
On that exact subject, Smith describes new number ‘Open The Peas’ as “a ‘London Calling’ for shit bands to get off their arse”.
Lyrically then, It isn’t all a bed of optimistic roses but neither is the world around us and pleasure-seeking escapism is clearly not the way forward. Thankfully, it’s something that The Stranger Son of WB transcend.
Brutal honesty is something that permeates The Stranger Son of WB musically too. Gareth accounts the sudden increase in their profile to honesty but also the fact that they “don’t have a real set pattern of the way we…work so that brings us lots of different things which ultimately makes us more interesting.”
We talk about the current state of local grass roots music and The Stranger Son of WB are ambivalent. While they admit to a modest smattering of decent local artists Gareth is less optimistic. “I don’t think there (are) a lot of bands that I’ve seen that I really believe in.”
Tim looks further a field. “There are a lot of bands playing small gigs coming to Manchester like (Liverpool post-rock terrorists) Mugstar.”
The problem as much as anything seems to be apathy. Paddy explains that good bands appear and “disappear after a bit because nobody’s listening.” His tone grows sarcastic. “Let’s go and watch Ian Brown’s impersonator at Revise in Chorlton and all that shit.” It’s something, together with the concept of sounding ‘Mancunian’ that The Stranger Son of WB are keen to distance themselves from.
We talk about further gigs and some of the important platforms in Manchester for upcoming bands. D Percussion is one of Manchester’s largest but The Stranger Son of WB are still less than unconvinced.
“The D Percussion line up is rubbish. These bands have been given such a privileged position to play in front of people and they’ve got nothing to say. I don’t want to start pointing fingers at people. There’s a lot of nice people in those bands. But ultimately, if they want to be judged as musicians then they’ve got to judge them for the music.”
Perhaps it didn’t come as such a surprise that two weeks later at the festival in question Smith opened The Stranger Son of WB’s set with the announcement “this is the only good band you’re going to see all day!” Paddy adds, “There’s no fucking heart. Doing it to…pull girls! (laughs) There’s no desperation.” We then carry on discussing what he means by ‘desperation’.
“People who can’t live without making music are probably going to make the best music.”
He then continues of the endeavours of near anonymous yet highly reverred avant-garde composer Jandek until Gareth cuts in…
“There’s an urgency in this band. Urgency is the most important thing. Great music always has urgency. (Music) has to be made no matter what and that comes through. Whether it’s simple or it’s clever that urgency always gives it validity. I just don’t see that urgency with bands. It doesn’t have to be fast or aggressive but there needs to be a necessity to do it.”
Sonically as well as lyrically The Stranger Son of WB are an unnerving ride and they’re all the better for it. Despite a fairly oblique, atonal sound they’ve been garnering quite an audience, something they put down to a similar concept of ‘urgency’ that permeates anything with an IQ over 100. Moreover, while The Stranger Son of WB might not exactly flow with easy-on-the-ear melodies there is plenty of pop craftsmanship at work. For example, it isn’t often you get someone yelling “MASSIVE POPCORN!” down your ear. Similarly the up tempo march of ‘Whistle My Returns’ is insidiously catchy.
Many are content with peddling the same old material until the (often non-existent) sanctuary of a record deal appears at their door. Not for The Stranger Son of WB who are indeed “opening the peas” this month by returning to the studio later this month. After six months worth of practices and constant evolution it promises to honour its predecessors while developing further.
Smith concludes, “We have a high turnover of material. Some of it is obviously better than other bits but it means that we’re constantly coming out with songs. It’s important to record them when they’re pretty new or things get stale whether anyone is paying for that or not.”
Words and pictures: © Dave Himelfield
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