This interview has taken a humorous journey. Almost a year ago lead singer and drummer (nope, you read that right) Tarek Musa and I exchanged emails to set up an interview. This virtual ping pong went as far as Tarek recording his answers in his studio and drop boxing them to me across the pond. Carefully sourced, I was excited to hear what he had to say in response to both fan questions and my own. *DISASTER STRIKES*. Well, not really. But I didn’t open the Dropbox immediately so all of the audio got deleted. Yup, all of it. Luckily, Tarek was lovely enough to sit down with me when the boys came to Boston; showing how both his kindness and unwavering belief in authenticity, made his talent and drive inexplicably more pronounced. I sat down with the band ahead of a BBC Presents show held at Brighton Music Hall alongside Sundara Karma and Izzy Bizu and I’m so glad that we did. Sometimes you get to meet good people and other days you’re lucky enough to meet really great ones. Here are the latter:
Can you explain how the band formed back in 2012?
Tarek: This started out as a bedroom project of mine. I had just started University and I was trying to make music because I studied as a producer and Pete was living at my house for two years at the time because we’d both graduated and didn’t know what to do. He kept hearing all these tunes downstairs and was like ‘What are you working on? What’s this? What’s this?’ and he kept hearing all these demos and in the end he was like, “You should start a band for this.” So me and Pete started jamming together and then Andy was a really good friend of ours from back home and we knew he played guitar since we’d played with him in other bands in the past so we asked him to join us and we started getting things going. Then we found James on Facebook –
How modern age!
Andy: We’re a very 21st century band!
Tarek: (laughter) Yeah, so we needed a bass player and then we found James.
That’s a cool story though! I talked to Hinds the other day and they found their drummer Amber Grimbo the same way.
James: Amber! No way.
Andy: We can totally bring that up next time we see them.
Pete: We’re playing with them soon…well I don’t know what we’re doing but (laughter)
James: We can bring that up next time we see them and be like “Oh hey, I’m From Facebook…You’re from Facebook.”
Tarek: Let’s add each other! I’m sure you guys are already friends on Facebook James. They’re great, they’re really cool. We played with them at The Castle in Manchester – it’s this really small venue that was like 50 capacity. That was like two years ago.
Pete: It was a great show!
They played a really small one here about two weeks ago.
Tarek: About how big?
Was a little bit smaller than this venue, to be honest. They really should have played here, but it was awesome.
Tarek: Good turn out?
Awesome turn out! It was packed.
Tarek: That’s so good, I’m really glad about that, they’re great.
Were there bands at University that influenced you at all in terms of keeping steady on that path to music?
Tarek: There was a lot of new bands coming through – I really liked this one called the Casiokids…I was in a band at University any way though – with a guy called Dan Croll and we had a rock band. When we played we got to meet a lot of new American bands coming around, like big American bands that were touring. It was an inspiring time, but to be honest I only started writing when I graduated really. That’s when I really wanted to start doing it properly because I heard The Beach Boys for the first time, properly. I’d listened to them a couple times but had never really got into it but then I heard them over the summer once I graduated and thought, “What is this? This is amazing.” I’d always thought they were just these 60’s tunes and hadn’t paid the songs much mind but they’re really deep and awesome.
My mom used to drive me to school and play The Beach Boys a couple times a week and we’d get pumped to go to school.
Tarek: That’s awesome! We all like them too so it’s not just me getting that influence which is great.
That being said then, how does that surf rock scene appeal to you? They have some great bands in California getting some light shed on their work and it’s been sweet.
Tarek: Yeah 100% that’s the thing – all those guys Ty Segall and, I’m not sure if The Black Lips are from California*, WAVVES, Thee Oh Sees – bands like that were also an influence on starting this project. But, it’s kind of grown in its own way. I don’t even know if you could call it garage anymore or as garage as it used to be. Those original demos like ‘Let’s Ride’ were all pretty raw and now the better I get an finessing the mixing and stuff, the better the music progresses with that.
The surf rock scene has one of my favorite festival lineups time and time again – Beach Goth which I know you guys know was started by The Growlers.
Tarek: Yeah! They’re from Michigan. That’s a good one, yeah.
If you guys got to create your own festival what five bands would be in the lineup with you? You’d be surprised (or maybe not) how many people say Kanye.
James: I don’t think we’re in any danger of saying Kanye West – I mean I would, but I wouldn’t put these guys through that.
Pete: I think Kendrick Lamar would be sick.
Chance would be cool, no?
Tarek: Chance would be cool, he’s a top dude. I think we’d have to say Arcade Fire.
Pete: I’d say Beck, probably. I love Beck, I’m a huge fan.
James: I’d say LCD Soundsystem.
Pete: Andy would probably say Mars Water!
I guess if you have Beck you wouldn’t want Kanye.
Pete: Why do they have beef?
Tarek: Ah, yes they have beef I remember that.
Pete: Well, I didn’t know they had beef.
Pete: Oh, shit….well.
Good thing I intercepted that, could have been a disaster.
James: This festival, that will realistically come together, could have been a real problem.
You gotta conceptualize it and it will occur.
Tarek: I’m up for The Beach Boys to headline if you are.
James: Always, man. Always.
Tarek: You can’t really get tired of it because it was such a good opportunity and, you know, Zane Lowe could have picked any band he wanted in the world to fill that spot so I’m grateful, very grateful. And it was great, there was no P.R. or radio plugger telling us ‘Oh, yeah tomorrow you’re going to be on the show.”
So you just heard it on the radio?
Tarek: We just heard it! And I got a text message – I was playing the drums in my boxer shorts and I was really feeling shit – really low – and then I got this text saying, “Check your inbox, congratulations.” And I was like, “Whoa, wow.” A guy called Jamie at DIY, Jamie Milton, text me saying congratulations and I was just like, “What for?” And Pete was at work, I think.
Pete: I was working at a bakery at the time and I used to work really early mornings, like making croissants and stuff. (Laughter) I was walking home and I was knackered and my phone kept buzzing but I was just like, “Leave me alone!” In the end it was Tarek and I answered – for the next week or so we were all just in a complete haze – just the type of interviews we were getting asked to do from people like Entertainment Weekly —
Tarek and Andy: USA Today. Wired.
Pete: These massive things. We were doing pretty well in our scene but for us that was a pretty defining moment and even now when I think about it it just seems laughable that it happened.
And on a bad day too!
Pete: Yeah, we were both having bad days! We actually met Zane about a month ago at the Apple Music Festival but we did an interview with him [at the time] about a week ago.
Tarek: That was good.
Pete: We finally did that face-to-face with him and it was great. It was kind of emotional actually because he was so genuine. He’s a celebrity and I’d never met anyone like that before, but he’s just really into the music and he could talk about it so well. It was a really cool thing. It lived up to the expectation.
I hear he knows a lot more about the recording process than one would think which is nice, as well. Tarek produces the tunes, how was that process for this album?
Tarek: I haven’t had a lot of time to produce this year. The last thing I produced was probably the Spring King album and that was a pretty simple process. It was the way we were always doing it – just kind of only do 3 or 4 takes. There was no um-ing and ah-ing about, “What does this sound like?”or “Let’s tweak this”. It was really quick to make. I remember the night before we went to the studio we supported Mac DeMarco, then we went right to the studio and we were there for 3 weeks. As soon as we finished that tour we were straight with Skepta and Slaves touring with them…so we had about three weeks in between to record and just made it really fast. The songs were already written and we did all the drums in one set of time and then the bass and the guitar and guitar. Hopefully for the next album, we can spend a couple of months on it and really explore things in a different way. It was quite a ruthless process. Done. Done. Done. We just wanted it done as fast as possible. I spent some time mixing it in December when we had a break from the tour and we’ve been playing it ever since.
I know this band is really a passion project and Tarek, you said that it’s all really constructed out of love. Could you shed some light on that? Because a lot of bands around here are doing that in basements so seeing you guys rise with that mentality is super helpful.
Tarek: Well I think that, for us, this has always been about the love because you’d have to be insane to be in a band and to want to sit in a van for 12 hours a day and sit in a studio for weeks upon weeks, losing your mind over something you’re so passionate about. You’ve got to love it to do it. You have to. In a way, if you expect anything out of it, there’s no point in doing it. You should only expect to write music and then if something good comes out of it then, you know, when we started this band we never wanted to —
Be on Beats 1!
Tarek: Yeah! I don’t know. Andy always says that we tick our bucket list as it comes along because we’re just very lucky to be doing this. If something good comes along then that’s amazing. Obviously we have aims. We want to play big festivals; we might want to play higher up on a bill – but we’re doing what we love anyway, at the moment.
Pete: I can’t imagine doing this and not loving it because I definitely wouldn’t do it. Sometimes it can be really tough and you have really long days but when you get on stage and you start playing, you’re like, “Okay, this is why we do it.” Just that feeling that you get.
The vibe from the crowd?
Pete: Yeah! The reaction from the crowd, new places – this is our first American tour so in a way it’s kind of like back to the old days for us because we’re back in a small vehicle and that’s what we were doing three years ago in the U.K. so it’s back to the old school for us here and [the tour’s] got a good feeling about it.
Tarek: Definitely. I think it’s a bit of a shock to us because in the U.K. a lot of our fans are moshing and there are crowd surfers, so it’s different. It’s our first U.S. tour so we’re doing what we were in the U.K. those three years ago.
Andy: Lots of heads tilted like, “Really? What’s going on?”
Pete: (Laughter) “Why?”
Tarek: But if we stick at it for three years we might be doing the same thing here.
That’s nice to gain that perspective. You get the reminder of your beginnings but then still have the backbone from your experiences and success over there.
Tarek: Yeah! Sometimes there are warning signs in the music industry and you see a band come out of nowhere and they’ve just been signed two months ago and they have all of this money injected into them.
Tarek: Yeah! And people can see that, you know? I don’t care if this takes me 10 years as long as I’m not getting kicked out of my house or anything. I don’t care.
Pete you can always work in that bakery again.
Pete: (laughter) I do miss working in that bakery!
Tarek: Pete worked in really amazing bakery, actually.
Pete: It was a sourdough bakery. It was pretty serious.
I don’t doubt it. Last question: Will you ever make music with Wonk Unit?
James: Oh, good question!
Tarek: We want to play more shows with them and I would love to work with Alex. Alex is a genius in the punk scene and is very well respected. It’d be cool to do tunes with them and like split a 7” vinyl, 4 tracks each with them.
Pete: Also, Daddy Wonk would be amazing.
James: Yeah! We’re desperate to play at their festival. They run this festival in Tufnell Park called Wonk Fest and the venue is amazing. We played there with some other bands and they have the best of the best of the most underground punk bands in the U.K. We’re almost too…well, we’re definitely too pop to play there (laughter). But, when we toured with them – Alex, for a couple of days was a bit like, eh. After about three days he came up to us and was like, “I get it” and it just clicked and we were like, “Oh my God, yes (laughter)!”
So stay tuned, right?
In Unison: YES!
(*Fun fact: The Black Lips are from Atlanta!)