Sitting in a lounge in Atlantic Records HQ, in front of their very first gold disc (for 100,000 sales of debut album 'Stars of CCTV'), things couldn't be going much better for Hard-Fi, but it hasn't been an easy rise to the top.
Staines' second biggest export (after Ali G) were scheduled to make their first appearance at this summer's Glastonbury, but had to leave early after singer, Richard Archer's mother was taken ill, and subsequently passed away. When asked what the highlights of the past year have been, guitarist Ross Phillips says “probably would have been Glastonbury”, though as drummer, Steve Kemp notes “Glastonbury's been and gone… there's no point dwelling on it now.”
Not only did they suffer that disappointment, but they then had the misfortune to release their album in the week of the 7th July terrorist attacks on London. Releasing an album about the infringements on our privacy through being watched on CCTV, in the week that the police were trawling through hours of CCTV footage, might not have been the best move for a new band. So did it affect sales, and are they the unluckiest band in the world?
“Things do seem to happen to us. I'm not sure that the CCTV thing is negative as far as sales are concerned” explains Kemp. “Maybe it drew people's attention to us a bit more. Nowhere else across Europe has CCTV really. It (the attack on London) was big news, people were talking about CCTV quite a lot, and although it was a horrible thing that happened, it helped people to learn what it is.”
So how do they really feel about CCTV? “You have to wonder why… when you go to places like Germany and France, they have exactly the same problems (of crime and terrorist threats) as us, yet they're not monitored. You have to ask yourself why that is,” explains the talkative drummer. “It's a cop out, it's cutbacks, they can't be bothered to put people on the streets and do the job properly so they'd rather have cameras that watch you.”
Music critics have put Hard-Fi's success down to their fresh sound, and their socially and culturally relevant lyrics. “Richard writes lyrics that are about everyday life, Rich is everyday life, which at the time he was writing the album was the same as like lots of people. It's easy to relate to, people in pretty much any walk of life get the lyrics. I mean, everyone's had no money at some point, everyone's been thrown out by their girlfriend,” Kemp continues.
The point about the lyrics is an important one. Richard Archer is doing for guitar music what Mike Skinner did for dance. The album features immortal lines such as “I'm gonna get my face on the 6'o'clock news” ('Stars of CCTV') and “Your face makes me want to be sick, ah yeah it's a physical reaction” ('Better Do Better').
Journalists have had a difficult time placing Hard-Fi within the current crop of new British bands. “There's a lot of scenes out there which we never really felt a part of,” says Kemp. “The Kaiser Chiefs seem to know all the bands from the Leeds scene, then there's Maximo Park and the Futurehads who come from the Sunderland scene, there's the Glasgow and London art-rock scenes, and then there's us, from Staines, just doing our own thing. We didn't know if people were going to get it, but we're pleased with the way it's gone.”
The album release, and it's subsequent success have obviously been a major highlight for the band. “The release of the album, seeing it in the shops, having a top 10 single ('Hard To Beat'), we've been having to pinch ourselves,” says an enthusiastic Phillips. Kemp expands on this… “Cos I'm the drummer, and I'm slightly inconspicuous compared to Rich or Kai or Ross, I remember walking down Oxford Street when the album had come out and going into Virgin Megastore and standing in there, by the desk… I wasn't boasting “this is my band”, but there was this massive wall of Hard-Fi albums and I could stand there and watch people going to buy it. I stood there for about 10 minutes… it's not our best achievement, but it's the thing that I'll remember the most, watching people walk in off the street and buy your record and walk out again.”
For bassist and former Rent-O-Kill employee, Kai Stephens, the July gig at Neighbourhood (with reduced entry for anyone wearing a Glastonbury wristband) was an obvious high point, as was the Mercury Music Prize nomination. How did they rate their chances of winning the award?
“I'd rate our chances pretty high, I'd say we've got a pretty good chance of winning it,” said Stephens. Kemp was less confident, but equally, less bothered. “I don't really care who wins it at all… I think they're all pretty good albums. I think it's great that we're nominated… Richard reckons that the final cost of our record was about the same as Coldplay's tea and biscuits.”
“Don't think we'll be writing a speech before we go!” joked Phillips, whilst Stephens was keen to point out the quality in this year's hortlist. “Anyone could win it this year, I don't think there's anyone who massively stands out who is going to win it, but if we don't, I'd like to see M.I.A or KT Tunstall win it.”
And looking back on the album, how do the band feel about it now? “It stands up as a really good album, and the Mercury nomination confirms that – it stands up to the Kaiser Chiefs album, to the Bloc Party album, it's as good as all those other albums. Rich writes very good songs and we're so proud that we recorded it all ourselves.”
'Living For The Weekend' is the next single, the fourth (if you include the soft release of 'Cash Machine') to be taken from 'Stars of CCTV'. “It's still the end of the summer, and it's a bit of a party track, getting pissed while it's still warm, if you know what I mean, it just seems like the right time of the year to be releasing it,” explains Kemp.
But the excitement doesn't stop there, and it seems that the boys from Staines will be quite busy for the rest of 2005. “We've got lots of gigs lined up, Europe is next, then back for a smaller UK tour in October which is all sold out, which we're really happy about. Then we fly to Japan, back to the States, before a bigger UK tour in December – we've got two weeks off now and then once the gigs start, we don't stop again till Christmas.”
If the sales continue and the buzz continues to grow, 2006 might just be
'Living For The Weekend' is released on 19th September. The album, 'Stars of CCTV' is out now. Hard-Fi will tour the UK in October (sold out) and December (tickets not yet on sale).