Youth Culture Forever: A conversation with Phillip of PAWS

YCF PAWS

YCF
PAWS

I first discovered PAWS at a We Are Scientists show in Manchester this time last year. On that night at Gorilla, I remember being pretty blown away, and I was struck with how close together and packed in the band seemed to be. The stage at Gorilla isn’t that big as it is, but it looked like these three lads from Scotland could play in a matchbox if the need should arise. They seemed to be playing at a million miles an hour, as they thrashed through a set of incredibly infectious tunes. Later that night, front man Phillip joined the We Are Scientists lads on stage for an up tempo, much rockier version of ‘After Hours’ It was a great show, and I was pretty taken by PAWS.

Move forward a year, and I was delighted to see they would be returning to Manchester, playing a free show at The Castle. That night PAWS put on a pretty kick ass show (one of the many highlights being new track and set closer ‘War Cry’, in which the drum kit was moved into the audience, and both the bassist and drummer played in the crowd,) and afterward I got to chat with front man Phillip about the new PAWS record ‘Youth Culture Forever‘ and their recent tours with best buddies We Are Scientists.

The new record ‘Youth Culture Forever’ follows on from 2012’s ‘Cokefloat!‘, their highly regarded debut full length. Recording for the new album took place last November, in picturesque Upstate New York.

It was great. It was one of my favourite times ever I think. This guy called Adam Pierce, who runs the US side of our record label Fat Cat in New York, he has a nice house out in the country in a place called Highland Mills, near a town called Newburgh. You could drive to Manhattan in an hour, so it’s not too far from the city but it’s not close to the city to have loads of distractions. It’s just out in the middle of nowhere in the woods in a really scenic area of Upstate New York. All of it’s beautiful up there. He just has a studio in his garden that he’s built over the years of living up there” Certainly a departure from the DIY nature of the first record, the studio has produced work from such artists as Frightened Rabbit and Animal Collective. “It was great, to record there knowing all the records that have been recorded there before, a lot of our favourite records have been recorded there. It was a really nice place to do it, ‘cus it was just completely out of the way and we just chilled with him for nearly two weeks. One of his best friends, Jeremy Backofen, is an engineer and a record producer. He sat in on the desk for us, to engineer – We’re like self producing it ourselves, opposed to the first record which our friend Rory recorded. We wanted to produce it ourselves this time and just have someone at the controls because we don’t know how to use a desk or anything, so he was at the controls and we were setting up and getting the sounds we wanted.

Rather than moving with the times and relying on new technologies, the studio is known for taking an old school approach with its practices. “We did it to tape this time as well rather than just to like – I don’t know, I can’t even remember what Rory used, some computer thing. We did it to tape reel this time, like a nice proper old tape reel desk, which was great. It was way more chilled than the first record, ‘cus the first record felt like we were just in, get done, get out, ‘cus recording is expensive. We’d never been in a studio before, so we were nervous, didn’t want to take much time on it and over think things, so we just played the songs a million times a day for a week, went to London, went on the boat, and just tracked it in three days and then mixed for four, something dumb like that. I liked that process, but this time we got to – because Adam owns the studio, there wasn’t so much rush to get in and get out, but we had a tour booked so we had a reason to get out.”

Youth Culture Forever

Youth Culture Forever

It was good to just play the songs over and over and record parts differently, pick the parts that we wanted, and work on the sonic elements of it and the dynamics of it a bit more, ‘cus the first one was just – we found a guitar sound, we found a drum sound, a bass sound, and we just tracked all of it. This time we wanted to try – the songs don’t have dangerously different sounds on each of them, but we wanted each of them to have little touches to the last songs, before or after, make it all a bit more different. Our friend Isabel came and recorded some songs on cello as well, so it was really nice. It’s good to think about the arrangements a bit more this time, rather than just plough through it.”

That extra time in the studio, as well as their on going touring has meant that fans have had a slight wait for Youth Culture Forever.

That’s the thing, you always have to wait around for records to come out. It feel strange it’s out now, we’ve been playing the songs over and over and over on tours for nearly a year I guess. It’s strange that people are hearing them for the first time as of this week, well some of them, for the first time this week. It’s good to finally have it out there, now we can tour it for the rest of the year and a bit of next year, and we’re already thinking about starting writing our new one.

Already thinking about the new record? Phillip laughs about this when I question him further and explains, “That’s what we’re like though, we’re really bad for that. I’ve been writing some stuff already, I think we’re all gonna just tour this one for a while first. ‘Cus we toured the first record for nearly a year, probably over a year and a half, nearly two years, so we’ll probably do the same treatment with this one, just try and play to as many people as we can in different places and just keep going. It’s what we do best, just play shows and plan to always be busy and work as hard as we can to keep going back to places, or go to new places and promote our baby – our new record.

Earlier that night during the sound check, I spied Phillip’s guitar case, which is covered in neat stickers proudly displaying the areas of the US they’ve played. Looking very much like the classic traveller’s suitcase, brandishing memento’s of each city they’ve stayed, it’s a great indicator of how well travelled the band are. Growing up in Scotland, I asked him if he ever imagined he’d be out playing shows around America. “Never, not in my wildest dreams. I’m from an incredibly poor background… I say that like I lived in a mudhut or something, I’m from the bog-standard background. I’m lucky to have what I’ve had growing up. Some kids have fuck all. Some people have fucking terrible illnesses and all these things. I had a lucky upbringing, got a guitar from my brother, but where I’m from and the background that I’m from that doesn’t have any money, to be spending money on gear and touring, the idea of all that was just a complete no no. Growing up in a small town in the Highlands, the most encouraged you are to do music is in school for a grade. That’s as encouraging as it gets from adults. Except for the guys in pubs who are old and go ‘follow your dream’ or whatever. I was lucky enough to have my Mum who’s incomprehensibly supportive of the whole thing from the get go, and my oldest brother Paul too, who gave me my first guitar. I was lucky to have them telling me ‘if you want it, you can do it’ You decide your fate, basically. If you say ‘oh, it’s never gonna happen’ It’s not gonna happen. I never thought it would happen, I just kept trying. I knew I wanted to do music, I didn’t know what that would entail. Playing in New York with my best friend and touring America – Touring the UK or even Europe, anywhere. The fact that we’ve done over fuck knows how many gigs at this point.”

Phillip of PAWS. Live at The Castle, Manchester.

Phillip of PAWS.
Live at The Castle, Manchester.

The idea of going to the United States was weird the first time we went, because – I don’t know, you grow up watching things like Friends and all this American shit that’s pummelled into your skull when you’re growing up (if you watch TV), that’s so foreign, that’s so grandiose – The idea of the layout of America when you live in a tiny town, you just accept that you’ll never go there if your parents aren’t loaded or you don’t have money or you’re not gonna be loaded, you’re just like ‘nah, I’ll never get to go there’ So getting to go there was a really big mindfuck for me and Josh. If I look at it going from him hanging out in my room in my Mum and Dad’s house in the Highlands, and drinking bottles of cider and smoking endless cigarettes and talking about how fun it would be to be in a band and how fun it would be to tour and stuff when we were 17. When I look at it now, it’s pretty fucked. We’re not like a huge band or anything, but the fact that we get to travel as much as we do really blows my mind. I never would have thought that would’ve happened.

Their touring adventures have seen them share stages with the likes of Fucked Up, Japandroids, and The Cribs to name a few. But there’s one band in particular that they’ve taken a shine too (and vice versa,) New York funny men, We Are Scientists. I love We Are Scientists, and it’s been great seeing this friendship between both camps develop.

I love those guys…a lot. We’ve toured with a lot of bands, but there’s totally something about those boys. They’re just so…They’re the biggest sweethearts I’ve ever met in music and as people. They’re so funny and so considerate and so in touch with reality, they’re really just down to earth guys, just dudes. That’s hard to come by. When you’re touring with a lot of bands, to not have that at there size – a lot of bands don’t have that at their size, that’s what I’ve figured out. Some do, a lot of bands we’ve played with do, people like Japandroids, they’re some of our best friends too. They taught us how to tour, basically. They taught us what it means to be in a touring rock band. But We Are Scientists have taught us a little more, they added to it. When you tour with bands, everyone seems to teach you something else, you slowly really learn the wide element of what it is actually to be a touring band, to do it all the time. They are – I don’t know, I can’t even comprehend it. How we met them’s so bizarre, that’s what bothers me about the whole thing. Even though now they’re just dudes that we know… Before when we met them it’s like ‘fuck, that’s Chris and Keith from We Are Scientists’, now it’s just Chris and Keith. I was like 16 when their first record came out and I was fucking all over that, I loved that record so much. I would have been learning to play it on guitar when I was at school like a little fucking guitar nerd or whatever.

So how did this this love affair start? “Our first ever show in New York, it was pretty much sold out, and there were these two guys in the front row for the fucking thing, just singing, like mouthing the words to the songs that were on our first album. These two guys mouthing the words, for the whole fucking show I was like ‘I totally recognise them but I’ve no idea who they were’…They just came backstage as soon as we finished, I was like ‘holy fuck – now I know who it is’ When I met them properly and I heard them speak I was like ‘yeah, We Are Scientists’ They were just huge fans somehow – to this day, I don’t think I ever asked Keith how he heard the album. But since that moment, we’re drinking in bars around Brooklyn with those dudes, and they showed us around a lot of the country. The arse end of it to the highlights and all the in-betweens. They really look out for us, they’re cool guys. I miss them already. I was talking to them earlier today actually…It’s the same as if I find a band that I like, I fucking love it and I wanna support them, just the same as anyone liking a band really. It makes me smile when I think about them liking it, it’s funny (laughs)”

 

PAWS have just come off a mammoth run of shows, taking in locations all across the States, topping it off with a UK tour in support of Youth Culture Forever. The tour was marked by two pretty big events – Playing with Matt Sharp (The original bassist in Weezer) and getting into hot water with Morrissey…

It was ridiculous. For the whole US Tour – one of the things we have in common with We Are Scientists, they are gigantic Weezer fans, like huge Weezer fans. All three of them – Keith Carne, the drummer too, he’s a massive Weezer fan, as are we. The first week of the American tour, I remember Keith saying “I think Matt Sharp might come and play with us in LA” and I was just like “what, like Weezer Matt Sharp?” and he said “yeah he’s a friend of ours, he might come and play” We thought they were just winding us up, ‘cus we all talk about Weezer…I think it started on the UK tour we did with them where we played at Gorilla. The next night in Preston, the last show of that whole tour, the last song of their set, they bought all our gear back on stage and both of the bands together played ‘Tired of Sex’ the first track on Pinkerton. So when he said that, we were like ‘nah it’s bullshit’ and just kinda forgot all about it. When we got to LA, at midnight it was gonna be Keith’s birthday on the night of the LA show. We went surfing that day, ‘cus it was after the whole – god forbid me mention it – the whole fucking Morrissey escapade. It was the day after that, and we’d had such a fucking annoying time the day before, just trying to turn off our phones, turn off our computers and just stay the fuck away from all these dirty, dirty media bastards who were trying to poke at it and trying to get us to say things that weren’t true – everyone was just trying to get a piece of something that we were already done with. We just wanted to be truthful, said what was said and that was it.

The much talked about Morrissey escapade! The topic has already been discussed to death, and I could tell it was something that wasn’t worth bringing up during the interview. A statement of the events and the official word from the PAWS camp can be found on their Facebook. Anyway… “So we went surfing before the LA show, and totally forgot the Matt Sharp thing. I just remember when we pulled up outside the Troubadour, we got out the van and we could hear Keith Carne sound checking his drums, and we’re just getting stuff out the van and then just heard *imitates bass line from ‘Tired of Sex’* It wasn’t even a question of ‘oh, Chris is just playing ‘Tired of Sex,’ it was like, the sound of the bass – that is Matt Sharp. No one else has that bass sound. We went in and there he was, on stage with them sound checking. We just couldn’t fucking believe what we were seeing. The dressing room in the Troubadour is smaller than this, it’s like half the width of this. Tiny little eagles nest above the stage, a really small room, and we’re just standing up there hanging out with Matt. Nicest guy ever, such a fucking sweetheart, really down to earth dude. He was winding us up, saying that he’d heard of us ‘cus of all this Morrissey shit, and obviously We Are Scientists had been telling him about us. For their encore they went on and played ‘Suzanne’, ‘Say It Ain’t So’, ‘Sweater Song’ and this was just as it turned Keith’s birthday and the Weezer anniversary…Before they went on to do that, he just asked us to come on during ‘Say It Ain’t So’ and do the chorus. He wanted us to run on for the chorus, and run back. It was fucking great. He’s such a cool guy, to the point where he had so much fun, the next day he was like ‘I’m just gonna come to the next show’, so he just came to San Diego with us. He just got in the We Are Scientists van and came with. He doesn’t have to do that, I’m pretty sure Matt Sharp has a lot of other stuff he could do, but he came to San Diego.” As if it couldn’t get any better…”We went for breakfast with Matt the day after the San Diego show, we’re all really fucking hungover, and just as we were coming out of this restaurant I spotted this blue wall. He had the same shirt on that’s on the front cover of the Blue album, so we did a little recreation – We Are Scientists versus Weezer recreation of the Blue album.” It was at this point that Phillip got out his phone and showed me the photo. Pretty unbelievable stuff for a group of lads from Glasgow, hanging out and becoming mates with guys who had been very influential to them (one of whom played on probably two of the best albums ever made!)

After finishing their set, Phillip was out in the crowd talking with the people who had come to the show, making time for those who wanted to speak with him. Seeing him here amongst fans and from chatting with him, I’d use the very phrase he uses to describe others right back at him. The guy is a total sweetheart, and a really down to earth bro. The night was really getting on, and the band still had to drive to Glasgow after packing up, but we had a massive discussion. You can hear the full interview below:

So with their star rising, and the three dudes rubbing shoulders with some pretty big names, I put forward the final question of the night – Coming from the background they have, how are the band feeling with all this success?

Well, great. How many people were here, 40? If that? That’s normal for us. I find it funny, some people think we’re playing fucking “BRIXTON” every night. Last night, London was a sold out show and there was maybe 150 people there, and that’s like a big deal to us. Some shows in America, there’d be like 700 people there and it’d be fucking amazing. I don’t know, It doesn’t really matter to us – as long as the people that are there are enjoying it, that’s totally why we’re doing it. 4 people could’ve been here tonight, and if they had a great time, I would’ve had had a great time. I don’t know if there is any success. The success to us is us trying to work as hard as we can, that’s our definition of success. When you’re personally exerting yourself to strive towards a goal. I don’t think there is a thing in our heads that’s like when we do this, this is what we define as success. We just like to constantly work and try and exceed stuff we’ve done before and always build on it. It’s a weird one, we get so much press and we have a really loyal fan base. I don’t know, we’re totally just the same people as when the band started. We’re different people in our personal lives I guess, ‘cus you grow up and things happen every day that change you as a person, but the band ethic has always been a thing. Me and Josh started the band, and we still have the same thing where we just wanna push each other to continuously excel in what we wanna do. That’s our definition of success, just keep working hard, keep writing songs, keep playing live and just push each other as band mates and as friends to get the most out of life, ‘cus you only live once so you might as well be passionate about something with the people you love.”

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