I arrived early to see Exit Calm having polite ‘differences of opinion’ with the sound engineer during their sound check, a common sight with most bands. They sounded great to me, but they wanted perfection, and during the course of the night, they got it. I hated to interrupt them, but I had to introduce myself and they said they’d hurry up, to which I replied that there was no need. Who was I to ruin a bands hard work, so I waited patiently and watched them. I was already impressed. Already sounds of The Verve, Coldplay, and Primal Scream’s ‘Screamadelica’ echoed the empty basement.
The singer Nicky Smith and drummer Scott Pemberton were more than happy to be quizzed, like it was their first interview. I doubted it was having supported the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen and Modest Mouse, never mind the critical acclaim their self titled debut album had already received. They are down-to-earth funny lads but still their aura carried the confidence of a young band, rightfully so, being on the up. Nicky insisted on buying me a pint also, after me being too polite initially to receive one. How many singers do that? They’d long impressed me before I‘d even asked my first question.
While Nicky was at the bar, Scott said they’d just returned from Germany and loved it, claiming it to be a very cultured nation with receptive crowds and hospitable people, a country that had clearly moved on from its history and what other nations’ perception of them may be. I couldn’t agree more, having been to Munich myself, but already we were on the same wavelength, musically and humour wise. The pints arrived and so we began:
How long have you been together? How did you meet?
Scott: About 3 ½ years. Simon and Rob met in borstal.
BORSTAL? I nearly spilt my pint. It was a joke, which took me at least 2 seconds to get. I must stress that this is not true.
S: We’re not childhood friends as such, but still tight-knit friends. After touring we can spend time apart, then meet up after and have a good laugh and work hard. There are no secrets between us, everything is an open-forum. Our singer left our old band so Nicky auditioned and just fit the bill. He stood out and made the band better immediately. He changed the dynamic, through just being himself, and we all felt a lot better with ourselves as a unit.
Nicky: My last band were just lazy musicians leaving me unfulfilled, so when Exit Calm approached me, a bunch of ambitious and talented lads, I gave it a go and it just felt right. I was made up when they asked me to join.
How would you describe your music?
N: I think that’s your job. It’s your job to describe it, it’s our job to make it. Rob (Marshall, guitarist) has had his sounds complimented as having a washing sound, but these are labels given to us by others. We don’t like giving labels to ourselves.
Who are your influences?
N: Not just music but comedians, books, your parents, anything that means anything to you basically. If anything it’s s*it bands who can influence us also, because you don’t want to sound as bad as them. I’ve no favourite song or album, because there isn’t one. Do you have a favourite album?
N: What is it?
Personally, Definitely Maybe, but it’s a tough one. There are so many classics.
N: My favourite bands of all time are The Verve, Primal Scream and Oasis, but they’re 3 of a million. You just have to find your own common ground with everything around you.
What’s your ambition? What do you feel/believe to be an acceptable level of success for you?
N: We don’t think like that. There’s no biggest band in the world is there. Sorry to sound corny, but we just want to be heard by as many people as possible. We just push it as far as we can but by taking constant forward steps.
John Lennon said that it’s easier to reach the next step than aim straight for the top.
N: Who’s he? (obviously jokingly) Funnily enough we were thinking of covering ‘How Do You Sleep? for his 70th birthday. We’ll see how it goes (wonder if they did?)
How are you finding the tour? Enjoying it?
S: Well as I said before, Germany was amazing. This is only our second night back in the UK so we’ll see how it goes. You always enjoy being on tour but you have the usual peaks and troughs. It is hard work, no matter what anyone says, but we still love it as there’s nothing more important than being in a band. After this however we’re going to have a short break to think about new material.
N: The best thing about being in a band is playing live. That’s how people judge you best. When they’re up close and personal, not aggressive, but when you can see in their eyes and body language how good you may or may not be, that’s the test. Making records comes second, as does everything else. Playing live is what being in a band should be about. It is to us.
What’s the reception been like from the crowd at your gigs?
S: They’ve been great. It’s always a good sign and rewarding when people know the words to your music. We seem to have small pockets of fans in every major city. We’re grateful, and although we expect it a bit, it is still humbling. These are people who aren’t obliged to see you. They aren’t your relatives or gang of mates, they are people you don’t ask to see you but still spend their time and money on what you have created. We’ve even had fans travel from Spain, Germany and Slovakia, getting flights, just to see us. We always make a point of spending time with them after the show, to thank them.
What’s your opinion of the music scene now for indie bands? You’ve obviously noticed one, but this isn’t known to the mainstream?
S: It’s not in the mainstream but it is growing. Venues are selling out so people are speaking for themselves. The test is playing another city, not playing to the same people that go to the same place each week. Some punters do travel the country to see bands, and that’s great, but certain people should try other venues in other cities rather than stick to the same cliques all the time, to broaden their horizons.
What attention have you got from this? You’re ‘climbing the ladder’ to support more established bands now. Have they or other bands passed comment about you?
N: We’ve been mentioned in a good light by various bands. We won’t name-drop, but it’s obviously good to be complimented by your peers. However the mainstream press haven’t picked up on any of this as yet. We don’t mean that to sound pretentious (trust me, it didn’t) but hopefully it will come. A well-know magazine gave us 5 stars, so we are impressing a lot of people. On the whole, we’ve had positive reviews.
Any famous fans?
N: Again we won’t name-drop, but we’ve had nods from some great bands (as in legends) and had great advice from them.
How rock n’ roll are you? Any stories to tell off stage?
S: We’re not rock n’ roll animals, we’re not pricks but we know how to have a good time.
N: In Germany I threw a TV out of the window!
Ha ha ha, what made you do that?
N: TV remote! (cue hysterics from me and Scott)
S: It was an accident really. It’s only because he thought the window was closed.
Sorry, I misheard you. That’s class. Pissed no doubt?
N: Yeah a bit. There are loads of little stories really, we can’t really single one out. Most rock n’ roll stars who give it the bravado talk sh*t anyway. Most of them are in bed by twelve.
We’re winding this up now. You got any pre-gig nerves?
S: The usual apprehensive feeling but not nerves as such. It’s only the natural hope of wanting the gig to go right. It’s more adrenalin really. We feed of it and want the crowd to also. We’re not scared or shy, that’s for sure. We’re looking forward to it.
Nice one. Finally, do you have a band statement as such or any final words?
N: We don’t think like that, as we were saying before. We have no manifesto. We’ve done the hard work, we just want our music to speak for itself.
Nicky went for a fag (I had kept them for a bit) and Scott went downstairs, getting psyched up for their ‘hard work’ to show its results. They were confident it would be a good show, they had no reason to think otherwise. I didn’t. I couldn’t wait.
On the whole they are ambitious affable young lads, confident in their own ability, but they possess what many young bands don’t – humbleness and respect. They seem to fuse the two contrasts well, not taking themselves too seriously but still just enough to show people that they do. When they do finally get their footprint in the sand, they will feel justified but more importantly, they will be grateful. 45 minutes in their company was enough to convince me of this.