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Interview: The Miserable Rich… on ghosts, soundtracks and tours that get out of hand

By Ciarán McLoughlin

The Miserable Rich’s self-proclaimed brand of ‘Fiery Chamber Pop’ does its best to invoke the spirits of the deceased in a concert inspired by sex, death and ghosts… and it succeeds.

They gave a mesmerizing performance at Manchester’s Deaf Institute on Friday, and MM’s Ciarán McLoughlin managed to grab half an hour with them beforehand.

 

MM: How are you feeling today?

James

Yeah ok apart from the fact that Will is about to lamp me because I’ve just taken his seat, but it’s alright because he’s got the wine ha ha.

 

Tell us about your latest album

James

We had recorded two albums at home and thought it would be quite nice to go somewhere and have an experience. I’d just come up with this idea that we should go away to a house and record an album and make it a bit of an event and it became a haunted house and it became an album of ghost songs, and then i just told as many people as possible hoping someone would go, oh, it’s funny you should say that I’ve got a haunted house just down the back and you can come and stay there and that’s kind of what happened.

A friend of mine came to a show and she stayed around after and I had a chat with her and i said this is the thing i want to do now, and she said, well actually my pub is haunted you can come and stay in the attic and i thought, that was a bit tricky because of our alcoholism and also her short temper but then when I called her back at the end of or tour she said when I think about it the pub is on the estate of Blickley hall the most haunted stately home in Britain so i’ll put a good word in, we chatted to a woman at the hall and we hit it off.

 

Why ghosts? Where did the inspiration for that choice come from?

James

it was really, let’s just go away to a house, what if it was a haunted house? And then it went on from there, subsequently i read lots of ghost stories and my manager bought me a  couple of books and i read them and loads of people gave me ghost books.

Lyrically i wanted to approach the subjects of death and sex are hard things to write about especially if your British and I hadn’t read written about any of them before so i wanted to sort of tie that in, but we’re not really a goth group so we didn’t really have a particular interest in the occult it just was something that came out. it wasn’t really where we planned to go, what we do do is have some kind of theme or challenge, so with our first album we wanted to make it a sort of chamber orchestra thing, so no drummer and we built the sound of this band.

With the second album, because we’d had so many guests on the first album, just in case we didn’t make a second one, we set ourselves the challenge of just the five of us at that time and everyone had at least to play two instruments, everyone had to sing, so that was that challenge and with this album we had ghosts. i suppose this liberated us musically because there was more of a thematic challenge.

 

What’s being on tour like, do you guys party much?

James

Yeah it’s not generally too drug based, we do have a tendency to just drink all night long. Especially in Germany…

Rhys

…There are some good stories though.

James

You ran off too… didn’t you steal some hash from a dealer? (Pointing at Will)

 

In Germany?

James

In Copenhagen, the rest of us were knackered cos it was the end of the tour.

Will

It was when he had Jim the old guitarist in the band, it was just fun. It was a very strange place, have you ever been there?

 

To Copenhagen? No

Will

It’s kind of slightly horribly hedonistic, it’s sort of like yeah, you’d really think that’s amazing but actually it’s slightly disgusting. My friend Harry went there and the first thing he came across was just people puking up

 

A bit like Manchester then?

Will

I think actually it used to be a little bit like that round in Hulme at the crescent, i think it’s all been knocked down or moved on now, i’m not sure where these people were from (In Copenhagen) the dealers they were sort of South American, they looked a little bit like Red Indians. 

Rhys

You told us when you got back that you’d stolen it from some Eskimos ha ha ha.

And then there was a night in Prague when we all got very merry and went to bed and Will woke up in a dorm full of strange men…

 

Okay, i think this could turn into a very different interview! Do you ever go out much in Manchester? Do you know the city well?

Will

We spent a new year’s in Manchester, we might have been at the ‘Night and Day’ possibly i’m not quite sure, I ended up talking to a boxer and that was really nice as i’ve never met a boxer before and he was really very friendly, and then we went to a row of art studios in an old paper mill, my sister was living in the red bricks in Hulme and so they had a studio together and they had an attic space so that could crawl out onto the roof.

 

Was it picturesque?

Will

Yes we were a little bit jealous, there’s a lot more space for that sort of thing whereas in Brighton everything gets squeezed out by the property speculators.

 

Are you inspired by anybody from Manchester?

Mike

Because our label was based here we are interested in a few people like Denis Jones,  Aidan Smith, we’ve played with Aidan Smith many times.

James

He knows how to drink! F***ing hell. the first time we went on tour with him on our first album, we took it in turns to play last,  and he just drank all the way throughout the night.   I managed to snag a separate room and when i got up at 8 in the morning he was just opening another bottle of red wine for himself. He ended up hitting his guitarist, and they tolerated it! I don’t know why and then we went off to a gig in Coventry and he was just so chaotic by that stage, he was starting every song like four or five times but he was great fun and we really really love his song writing, but we’re like in the infant school of drinking, compared to him.

 

You collaborated with the artist Joe Simpson he exhibited at the Waterside Arts Centre in Trafford, can we talk about how you got involved in that?

James

Hmm yeah, he’s doing well!  i don’t know how he heard about us but he just called us up and we went along, it was about 3 or 4 years ago now and we went to his workshop and then to his gallery and he asked us to write a piece to fit into a road movie that didn’t exist, which he’d created scenes from, we ended up doing the first piece and we’ve sort of stayed in touch, i think he’s off to New York at the moment.

 

Would you consider doing anything like that again?

James

Definitely, it’s one of the really pleasant things to do obviously you gig and record stuff but if there’s some extra level to stuff it’s nice  Will has also done some soundtrack stuff for some short films.

We’ve also done a soundtrack to a film with Martin Freeman from The Office… The ‘Hobbit’ guy, ha ha i don’t mean for that to sound like that’s unpleasant because the guys who we worked with did some work for us and they were really nice people. it’s something called the 48 film project where they give you a theme on Friday night write it, shoot it, compose a soundtrack and deliver it back on Sunday evening.

 

That sounds, exciting was it?

James

Yeah it was, we did the sound track under a fair amount of stress as we’d had a couple of sleepless nights on tour but it did really well. With no small part of that being the acting of Martin Freeman, it won the competition in Britain and then won the international competition, so that ended up going to Cannes and L.A. shorts, they haven’t put it out yet as they’re waiting for it finish the festival circuit and they’re waiting for when The Hobbit comes out or the new Sherlock.

Rhys

We were a bit daunted though, because we went to the studios and we were thinking short film 5 mins, and we got a text on the Friday night saying… it’s a silent movie and we were like sh*t!

James

We were in Berlin at that time doing a gig and we didn’t have a place to stay that night, and when i got back to my house my friend had had a party and there was someone sleeping in my bed who had just thrown up in it.

 

Lovely…

James

The taps had been taken off the shower so i couldn’t have a wash and i had to go straight to a funeral… and then we went to the film project. So yeah we were pretty shot. It was a nonstop day! it was probably the most unpleasant weekend of my life.

 

Based on that experience would you consider doing more soundtracks and if you were who would your ideal director to work with?

James

Wes Anderson, I feel it would be quite a good fit as well, he’s always quite quirky but he has poppy quirky tunes, and are music isn’t really difficult to swallow

 

Tell me about some of things you’ve worn on stage? The frock coat for instance?

James

That was from a partner, who gave it to me, she’d bought it for a previous boyfriend i think, yeah. She was like yeah you could wear this. i didn’t really want to go the whole hog so i think i wore it with converse and jeans so it was bit playful.

 

Would you over consider performing in black tie?

James

Absolutely, one of our ambitions would be to play at the Albert Hall but not performing, all of us conducting…

Rhys

We’d like to be in the position of the principle players of each of the sections…

James

So how many double bases would there be?

Rhys

There’d be eight. Ha ha ha 12 violinists a few cellos, 49 guitarists

James

…and i think a 200 strong boy’s choir ha ha ha.

 

In five years could you see yourself doing that?

James

That would be great i would love to do that, but i think we like touring and we have done a lot of touring in the last 3 years so it would be great to do more one off gigs like that and sort of wrap up the artistic element of that. There’s an arranger called Joe Dudell who has worked with Elbow, not with Guy Garvey, that’s where the confusion lies, i believe he’s from Manchester but lives in Exeter and we’d like to work with him.

 

We were talking about Manchester influences before, what do you think of Elbow?

James

Well actually we know quite a lot of people who know them, the drummer who we used to play with before, used to play with them.

Rhys

Jim said i used to know them, he used to go to university in Salford, i used to know Elbow when they were sh*te, said they’ve been going for like 20 years as a jazz funk band.

 

Twenty years seems like a long time to wait, would you guys wait that long to become as well known as Elbow?

James

Twenty years might be a little bit long ha ha, of course it would be nice to be as well known and as well loved as Elbow are, for your music to have such an impact on so many people and to mean so much to so many people, that would be lovely.

A friend of mine said music is bit like acting it doesn’t really exist in a vacuum you need an audience, in fact a lot of time you listen to it, no matter how content with it you are, the next day, you can’t stand it. so you want an audience and you want it to be a value and you want to play to a public service, and so you want people to use it, so it would be great to be that.

 

I can’t help feeling the band would lose some of its charm if it reached that level though? The venues i’ve seen you in are always much more intimate. I saw you support Wood Pigeon with the Winter Journey a few years ago…

James

Oh yeah, Wood Pigeon were lovely, gentle and unassuming and at that time because we didn’t have a drummer, we were trying to enter the stage really boldly and because we would have to hush people and I would actually try to stare people down, I remember seeing a review at that time and it saying that we immediately split the audience, it didn’t feel like that to us. We knew they were really quite gentle so we knew we didn’t really have to wrestle the interest of the crowd from them but it was just sort of like fighting for people to try and listen really.

 

What’s it like to be band that people aren’t coming to see?

Rhys

I really like it because it’s more relaxed. but it can be harder over here, compared to Europe because they’re like “why do we want to listen to you?”

James

The people we’ve played with haven’t exactly been electrifying on stage, we’ve played  with Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan who are obviously very well known but really didn’t seem to get on that well and Isobel didn’t really feel the need to get on with the audience and Mark Campbell definitely wasn’t there, so those were great because you had a record buying public who were of a certain age and they haven’t got your record  and it’s really quite easy to stand out in that circumstance,  it’s nothing to do with the value of the songs they write but on stage they’re not quite “Wahey here we are!”

To read MM’s review of The Miserable Rich’s performance on Friday, click here.

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