Photo: Linda Chasteau/ Chris Birkinshaw
35 Seconds are extremely pleased with themselves. Two weeks ago the Birmingham band were as obscure out of their home territory as the psychedelic guitar riffs that are patent within their music. Now though, just fourteen days later, things have changed. A demo thrust into the right hands, a smouldering – not to mention commanding – live performance or two and they’ve suddenly become a bunch of ‘Indie Idles’. And the best thing? There wasn’t even an Ant or a Dec to be seen.
“That was a fun day,” recalls 35 Seconds’ charismatic front man Andrew Hickman, as he reflects on the bands triumph at the recent Gigwise Camden Crawl ‘Indie Idle’ competition. “We got to the event and it was this tiny little bar with a shitty P.A and I kept banging my head on an IKEA lamp that dangled right down into the middle of the stage. It was a kind of Pop Idol set-up where a panel (which included journalist Mark Beaumont and XFM’s John Kennedy, plus several record label big shots) would publicly judge you as soon as you finished playing. They absolutely slaughtered the first two bands and I made the decision that I was not going to be humiliated like that so walked out of the building as soon as I sang the last note. From outside I could still hear the P.A though and we were totally showered with praise.”
OK, so Gigwise might have stumped for some dodgy Swedish flat pack accessories in order to provide a fitting ambience for proceedings, but that’s only because, for a change, this was a talent contest where the output came before the outfit. And output is something 35 Seconds have in an eclectic abundance. Whilst in Myspace terminology they’re stated as a ‘Birmingham’ band, 35 Seconds origins can be traced from Glasgow’s dark side (“(Guitarist) Andy ‘Bears’ McBurny’s mom moved him from inner city Glasgow because he was getting up to lots of typical Glaswegian mischief, like burgling people and using class A drugs,” explains Hickman) to Cradley Heath - the district of the Black Country where the rest of the band eventually fused together.
It was through a decaying advert that Hickman had placed in the music press that he met the relocated McBurny and the band’s other guitarist Danny Rowe, who’d both “taught each other guitar for something to do.” However, as the singer explains, recruiting the remaining two members of the band was a more fraught, and, up until recently, unpredictable task. “Dan (Guest) was an amazing local drummer courted by all the rock bands, but he was messing about with ex members of all-girl bands. He came to see us play and said we were the worst live act he’d ever seen, then he got to hear our recording and thought there was something in it and we started playing together,” he continues. “We’ve had various guises and line-ups but keep coming back to this four. We’ve had a string of inappropriate bass players. The last one used to watch Mr Bean the Movie in the studio so we sacked him. Kev (Abbot) recently auditioned for us and fits in well.”
With a background that’s more puzzling than Sudoku, it’s not surprising that the band's musical output is just as diverse. Citing musical influences that range from “jangly pop” to “twisted avant-garde techno” to local “late eighties unfashionable indie bands,” 35 Seconds' actual output is a ferocious conglomeration of all that, and then some. That ‘and then some’ is important as well because this band want to make you hear something that “you haven’t heard before.” It’s a determination that makes ‘Dinosaurs’ ripple with a hypnotic, Springsteen like euphoria and ‘Grudge Match’ so frenetically fierce. Hickman also name checks Billy Bragg and Morrissey as his biggest lyrical inspirations, but notes that the band don’t make a conscious effort to sound like the past…ahem, as some bands apparently do. “We’re sickened by fashion because all it really means is copying what everyone else is doing. I’m astounded that nine out of ten new acts are fishing ideas from a very small pool of “acceptable” influences.”
Indeed, in an era of political correctness, 35 Seconds have found a front man who is quite comfortable to court attention both on and off stage with a batch of frank and honest statements. On the bands lyrics, he says: “The songs are mainly about my hatred of the general public. I’m astonished by people’s stupidity, laziness and rudeness on an hourly basis and most of that is vented in the lyrics. I tried writing a love song once but couldn’t do it with any sincerity.” And, what about the bands live performance? “ I’m a fan of Radiohead, but find it slightly embarrassing and unconvincing when Thom Yorke incorporates his little spazz bit because it’s so expected even though he is probably thinking about a dinner party or changing a nappy.”
Gigwise can actually hear the feet of The Enemy’s Tom Clarke as he runs back to his Mum, and The Twang stumbling to seek refuge in some seedy Birmingham pub as Hickman speaks. By now, it’s not surprising that he’s also got an answer to our question about the current Midlands reformation that the aforementioned bands are leading. So, besides the fact that a night out with The Twang gave Hickman a three day hang-over, what does he think of the current Midlands scene? “Some people in bands share the same bars and girls and that’s about it. There’s no musical unity. I would say that I despise the laddish Northern swagger of a lot of the Birmingham bands. This is Birmingham, not Manchester, take off your parker. There’s an assumption that Brummies are thick and it upsets me that so many (but not all) of the acts are merely cementing that stereotype.”
Whilst he admits that 35 Seconds will add “some innovation” and “some intelligence” to the current ‘scene’, The Twang’s Top-40 ascendancy, for example, is not exactly filling him with belief that 35 Seconds can achieve the same. “I don’t know anymore. I’m constantly mystified by the sub Shed Seven B-Side dross that often gets signed - cardigan wearing twats that can’t play their guitars properly. It’s astonishing. I just hope that their skinny jeans render them infertile so that I won’t have to put up with the whining of their offspring.”
With that we arrive at The Underworld in Camden. 35 Seconds have demolished those other two, probably now “infertile” bands in the Indie Idle heats and have found themselves on stage in the beating heart of the (good) music industry. Any initial in trepidation about being a “competition winner” is forgotten as Camden’s scrupulous scenesters respond like there’s suddenly a new band to believe in - even they didn’t see this one coming.
So then, 35 Seconds. A rather misfit, Mr Bean hating, girl-band frolicking bunch of Black Country based lads with a hint of the Glaswegian underworld thrown in for more good measure. Sounds like a recipe for disaster? Well maybe, but at the minute, we can’t think of a better – or more appropriate - band to call Indie Idles.