Today we sat down and had a good old chat with chief Space Monkey Frontman, Richard McNevin-Duff, as we discuss the past, the present and the future.
It’s no secret that these lads have had a testing 12 months releasing their latest album ‘Modern Actions’ but testament to their positive spirit and approach to life, they’ve come through the other side and we caught up with Rich, to discuss all ahead of their headline Deaf Institute gig, on 14th Feb.
Space Monkey Interview
Firstly, let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way. How did it feel to finally get ‘Modern Actions’ out there, given the shit that happened with Pledge?
It’s great to have the album out there now and see all the people post up their own reviews of the album, we’ve had an unbelievably positive response so far and it’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears but it’s all been worth it (obviously no actual tears – we’re from Manchester).
What was the process of overcoming the issues?
It was a massive set back when we found out that Pledge had spent all our money and were facing bankruptcy. I think most bands like ourselves used Pledge purely to raise extra money to pay for all the boring stuff, you know, manufacture, distribution, promotion etc. So we have had to do all that ourselves which of course, isn’t the reason you pick up a guitar and join a band. Nobody has posters on their wall as a kid of the guy who boxes up records and posts them off to people do they? So we had to do it all ourselves, which was time consuming but we decided as a band that we needed to get the record out and try our best to make sure nobody lost out. We’re very much a working class band with socialist ideals so this was a good example of putting that into practise.
How much did it set you back financially plus lost time?
We lost almost £10k and a year of our lives in stress and anger. We lost twice really because we chose to pay for the Pledge orders ourselves. So we lost all the money that fans had paid in advance to Pledge that they were supposed to pay to us at the end, but didn’t and then we also lost the money we have had to pay again ourselves to manufacture and distribute the album to all the people at no cost to the fans. As I’m saying this to you now, I’m thinking ‘Why the f**k have we done this??’ But, like I say, none of us joined a band to have a career or make money, we did it to make music so we needed to get the album out and it isn’t the fans fault that Pledge f**ked everything up. If they want to help us out, they can buy another copy for a friend or a T Shirt or whatever from our online store.
Would you still consider another ‘Pledge’ style approach in the future?
No chance. It was supposed to all be safe and secure and any money our fans pledged was supposed to be locked away to be paid to us when we finally sent them the stuff at the end. That shouldn’t have been too hard for them to manage surely? Imagine paying £50 to a Just Giving type fundraiser to pay for someone’s funeral or child who needs an operation or something important and then at the end of it you find that they haven’t got the money and you aren’t getting your money back either and nobody can explain where it’s gone!? It’s scandalous that the government haven’t done anything to investigate these people as fraudsters/criminals. But then, I suppose they are too busy trying to work out how to raise £300k to make Big Ben bong for Brexit day.
Can you take any positives from what happened?
I’m a positive person, always have been. My glass is never half empty, as you’ll have noticed from all the times we’ve bumped into each other at festivals. The whole theme of this album is about love, positivity and hope. If we make another album I want to call it ‘Love and Peace’ because we live in a world where both of those things are in very short supply. Social media has become a battlefield. If you post up ‘The sky is blue’ within minutes there will be someone who doesn’t even know you telling you that it isn’t actually blue at all it’s a f**king colourless gas or something and then someone else will tell you it’s not blue it’s grey and it’s Jeremy Corbyn’s fault because he supports a free Palestine. So the positive thing has been the overwhelming show of love and support from all the people who believe in the band, whether they have followed us from 1995 or 2015.
Space Monkey Interview – Continues Below
Space Monkey Interview – Continued
Pledge to one side, obviously theres pros & cons with releasing independently. Compared to your Factory Too release with ‘The Daddy of Them All’, are any stand out pros or cons, you feel helped/hindered you with ‘Modern Actions’?
When we released the debut album ‘The Daddy Of Them All’ it was a 50/50 deal with Tony Wilson. Factory Too was funded by London Records who dropped Tony after we had recorded the album and gave us the recordings and said ‘do what you want with it’. We owned the master tapes and said to Tony, ‘We didn’t sign to London, we signed to you, let’s release it ourselves together’. Tony got excited by that independent spirit and loyalty and we made some great memories for the next five years. But, he knew how to run a label, we don’t. We were hoping to hook up with a modern indie label for ‘Modern Actions’, we spoke to about four or five, but it’s different times. There’s no real mavericks anymore running labels the way Tony Wilson or Alan McGee did at Creation or Rough Trade, Mute, 4ad. A lot of the people setting up labels these days seem to spend more time promoting themselves on Instagram than promoting their bands and telling the world how many 200 capacity gigs they have sold out, you know what I mean? Can you imagine a band in the 90’s boasting about selling out a pub?? You’d get laughed out of town, you had to aim to be the biggest band in the world, bare minimum, that’s just how it was. Rock and roll, man. That’s why I’ve got a lot of respect for Courteeners. They’ve been playing Manchester Arena solid now for the last ten years and you don’t hear them bragging about it. If they sell it out, they book Heaton Park the next time. That’s the way you do it, don’t go round bragging about selling out a tiny venue, it’s embarrassing.
The difference is, Wilson, McGee etc never went to college to do marketing degrees or get taught ‘how to run a record label’ they just did it! Tony got us into the Billboard top 50, sold quarter of a million records worldwide and we played to over 300,000 people at Edinburgh Hogmanay in 1996. We never felt like an indie band, same with Oasis and the Roses, we wanted to be international and we achieved that on a truly independent label which we set up ourselves with Tony which was ‘Factory Records Ltd’ which is something I’m very proud of.
How does it feel having had 200k spent of a music video in the 90’s compared to self releasing an album in the 00’s (or whatever decade the last 10 years we’re called)
Haha, well… going back to what I just said about the worldwide success we had for a short period, that was helped massively by the fact Tony somehow got us signed in the US to the biggest record label in the world – Interscope. They spent 200k on the ‘Sugar Cane’ video by David La Chappelle and it got heavy rotation on MTV and allowed us to tour the US twice and then do a full European tour. The first time we went to America we walked into a record shop to see if the album was in the racks and it was and some kid came up to us and recognised us and asked for our autograph. We were like, ’F*king hell lads, we’re rock stars!’. It never happened again. I reckon the record company paid the kid!
What are your standout tracks on the album?
For me it’s ‘The Outsiders’. Sometimes you try really hard to write a song and it takes a long time and other times, like this one, it just kinda falls out of the sky. It took me about thirty minutes to write. Sometimes I write personal stuff and sometimes I write nonsense and sometimes I write little stories like this and I think it connects on different levels with people because of the simple story and universal lyrics. I’ve noticed a lot of young bands these days like to sing about very local relatable things, like their favourite kebab shop or local pub or cash machines and stuff like that. I prefer a bit of escapism and romance. Some people look out of their window and see the recycling bins and some people see rainbows.
Space Monkey Interview feature Video: We Are Together
Space Monkey Interview – Continued
Which were the biggest nightmare tracks?
None. I love everything about writing and recording songs, that’s the reason I started a band back in 1988 and I hope it never ends. I could happily live without doing any more gigs, but I’d be lost if I couldn’t write songs anymore.
What was the inspiration behind the title?
It’s a Tony Wilson quote from a documentary about the Hacienda and he talks about the way the people of Manchester have a ‘large vocabulary of Modern Dress and Modern Actions’ and it just struck a chord. What a beautiful way to speak about people, which illustrates just what a wonderful and unique human being Tony really was.
Anything you’d do differently on ‘Modern Actions or was there anything you did on ‘Modern Actions’, that you couldn’t do on ‘The Daddy of Them All’?
Well, as a band, we’ve always had a big imagination. In the 90’s we were one of the first ‘indie’ guitar bands to start using samplers and looping stuff and breakbeats behind guitars and stuff. I have it on very good authority that Kasabian were heavily influenced by our first album. One of their school mates told me they sounded like Oasis when they started and then bought ‘The Daddy Of Them All’ and a couple of weeks later were using beats and samples and stuff, which is nice to know. But back then you needed all the hardware and it was BIG. Nowadays, you can have all the tech on your iPhone that is a thousand times more powerful than what we had back then. So, the sky is the limit really, these days. Which makes me scratch my head when young bands still make basic guitar, bass, drum stuff that sounds like its 1977 again?
Do you prefer independent releasing compared to being signed or vice versa?
Nowadays, you don’t really need a record label. If you are in a band you can do everything yourself if you have the time and the money and the energy. Unfortunately, I’m running low on all three of those things. There’s great bands out there now, friends of ours like Déjà Vega and Scuttlers who are doing things themselves and making things happen.
23 years since ‘The Daddy of Them All’, how much has your approach to writing changed and what do you feel have been the biggest difference?
Well, the songs on this this album were all written pretty much 50/50 by me and Neil (guitarist). He would send me a demo of a piece of music he had written and recorded at his home studio and I would write the lyrics and melodies over the top and send it back to him with a demo vocal I’d record on my laptop at home. We would then go into a proper studio and record live drums, organ, piano, vocals and stuff and the band would all add bits and pieces. So that’s a very modern way of working, very digital, very collaborative, where in the past I would write the song in full and then get the band to play their bits in the rehearsal room and take it from there to the studio.
Space Monkey Interview – Continues Below
Space Monkey Interview – Continued
What’s been the biggest difference you didn’t expect?
Space Monkeys has always had the gang mentality to the band and always will so there’s no difference. We like to have a good time. I don’t want to be in a band with session musicians. I love the fact Liam Gallagher is back and making good music again but you look at the band and it’s a bit like that David Brent film where they all go home separately after the show and are paid by the hour. Oasis were the biggest band in the world until Noel decided to kick out all the original members because he thought they weren’t good enough musicians. Those photos of them in the 2000’s with Andy Bell and whoever else all with scarves on and the same haircut like they’d been styled by Miss Selfridge. That wasn’t Oasis to me. If Bonehead isn’t there, it’s not Oasis.
Listening to your latest music in reflection of your earlier releases, you’ve nailed that signature ‘Space Monkey’ sound (obviously), however ‘Modern Actions’ definitely has a current sound/twist/influence – was that a conscious decision, something you had to work on, new technology, combination of everything… etc.???
That’s nice to hear, thank you. What can I say? We are modernists at heart. We’ve always wanted to sound modern. During the Britpop years we could’ve played that game and pushed out the more Beatles sounding tunes like ‘Let It Shine’ or ‘Sweetest Dream’ but we didn’t, we had singles called ‘Acid House Killed Rock & Roll’ and ‘Blowing Down The Stylus’ with Jungle and Techno remixes and when we played live we used samples and breakbeats and loops and it alienated the NME and all the tastemakers as they were obsessed with Blur and Pulp and all that nonsense at the time. We might have been a bit richer now if we’d played the game but who cares? Money isn’t real.
So whats next, man?… another 23 years of it?
There’s no master plan. We may take a break after the Deaf Institute gig on February 14th. We try every year to see if we can sneak our way onto the Kendal Calling line up cos it’s such a top festival but we’re struggling this year. (You smashed our Trashed TV stage last year mate – packed-out tent – great to see) We must be losing our blagging skills! I write songs on my acoustic guitar all the time. I throw so much stuff away before anybody even hears it and I have a whole album of new Space Monkeys songs that are really great songs but the band hasn’t heard and if we had the money we could walk into a studio and record an album tomorrow. So if there’s any lottery winners or major league drug dealers out there looking to launder a bit of dirty cash by starting up a record label, give me a call. You never know, we could be millionaires by next year.
Love and peace. X Rich
Cheers man. J
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