If you’ve been within ten feet of any self-respecting alternative radio station broadcast over the last 12 months, chances are you’ve heard The Hornblower Brothers.
‘Android With A Heart’, the lead single off their debut EP ‘Adventures In The National Geographic’, rang out over the airwaves like a siren call to all those who’d had enough of identikit, cooler-than-thou indie bands and were desperately wondering when exactly music had stopped being fun. Its slapstick satirising of the nation’s obsession with doing silly things for charity, set to a chirpy, excitable indie backing, had the likes of Xfm’s John Kennedy and 6music’s Marc Riley foaming with anticipation, and ‘Give and Receivers’, the single that followed, confirmed these Brightonians as purveyors-in-chief of musical satire with a smile. A quick dip into the rest of their catalogue, and you’ll soon be either dashing onto your local indie dancefloor waving your arms and grinning maniacally, or popping out to your nearest music shop and emerging with an armful of melodicas and stylophones, ready to start your own band.
Gigwise grabbed a few words with them shortly before their performance at Brighton’s The Great Escape festival, to find out what it is that makes them tick.
Gigwise: Your MySpace page says you’re from Brighton, but there’s some very un-Brighton-like accents in your vocals. Where are you from originally, and have your origins influenced your music?
The Hornblower Brothers: "We all live in Brighton, but originally Nat and Al are from Halifax in West Yorkshire, which explains the ‘when I’m cleaning windows’ sound. Without wishing to sound too clichéd, I think there’s a northern mindset that we probably transported with us, and it inevitably found its way into the music. At the same time, we wouldn’t be the band we are now were it not for the constant enthusiasm and encouragement of the people in Brighton. So I would describe our music as a strange combination of candy floss and millstone grit.
GW: ‘The Hornblower Brothers’ has a nautical ring to it. How did you come by the name?
THB: "When the band started it was essentially a mockery of the things we considered pretentious, so it was probably an apt name. Plus, half of us were already down by the sea by that point, so tales of nautical adventures were never far away. None of us are actually brothers, though Al, James and Nat all lived in the same bedroom at one stage, so we’ve seen each other’s foibles (which isn’t a euphemism!)."
GW: Your songs are light-hearted, featuring comical lyrics. What made you decide to write that sort of material?
Nat (vocalist/songwriter): "I’d prefer to use the word ‘satirical’ to ‘comical’. I don’t think the lyrics are particularly funny - if I was in the audience I wouldn’t burst out laughing - but I hope that people can at least relate to what I’m talking about. I think I make a conscious effort to put more detail into the lyrics because I haven’t got the world’s best singing voice. I suppose it’s a bit like when a little man with a Peugeot 106 customises it by attaching a spoiler and alloy wheels."
GW: Half Man Half Biscuit made a career out of musical satire. Is it your plan to do the same, or will a future album show The Hornblower Brothers’ darker, more serious side?
THB: "Half Man Half Biscuit’s great skill is turning a trip to the local petrol station into a long, brooding epic about the nature of the human condition. It just exposes the fact that we live in a country where earthquakes don’t happen, dictators don’t kill people and generally everything is just blissfully mundane. If we can channel that same hopelessness in a way that is kind of uplifting, I’ll be a happy man."
GW: Do you find yourselves being treated differently by the industry because of the less serious side to your music?
THB: "I think because of the way the music industry is going at the moment, there are so many bands out there who aren’t even being given a second look if their sound isn’t immediately commercially viable. Even bands that are lucky enough to get signed are being dropped after one album if they fail to construct a song that can’t later be used in an advert for washing up liquid. I think we’re as serious as any other artist, but we’re wary of getting sucked into the same business-minded vortex that many hapless artists succumb to. That’s probably why we’re not on EMI’s roster yet."
GW: You released an EP last year, and recently, a single. What have you got planned in terms of future releases, gigs, festivals and the like?
THB: "At the end of the May there’s the Meadowlands festival happening somewhere deep in the Sussex countryside, and in July we’re arranging a tour of the UK with fellow Brightonians Curly Hair. We’ve been asked to play at In The City festival in Manchester in October, but the bookings are still coming in, so it’s all fun and games. We’ve decided to start working on the debut album, so touch wood that’ll be out before the year’s out."
GW: The Brighton music scene seems particularly lively at the moment. Are there any other Brighton bands you think we should know about?
THB: "We’ve built up a de-facto support network in Brighton with other bands like Foxes! and Curly Hair, who share a similar sound and DIY ethic to us. We’ve also appeared on (and are about to appear on) a compilation by the Brighton label One Inch Badge, so we feel like we’re part of one big family. Another band with links to Brighton that we think are quite underrated are Melodica Melody and Me, who we played with in London a few months back. There are so many creative people down here that you can’t help but feel inspired to make something yourself."