Musicfeeds spoke with UK band Rotating Leslie about their love of grunge and metal, their approach to songwriting and why Metallica got it wrong with file sharing.
MF: Tell me about the band; what made you guys want to get together?
RL: We met at school through a shared love of 90s grunge and 80s metal; we were the only kids without football shirts more interested in spending our lunch breaks recreating Kurt Cobain’s fuzzy riffs than Gazza’s ball skills. We were in separate bands at school, covering all the schoolboy classics to learn our instruments: Nirvana; Pearl Jam; and Metallica.
We went our separate ways after school and Adrian and I focused more on our DJing, setting up Techno club nights in Brixton when we should have been studying. After 2 or 3 years of constant partying and DJing in various squats and raves, we burned ourselves out and needed a break. Adrian suggested that picking up guitars would sooth our minds…and he was right! We moved to a rundown farm in the Hertfordshire countryside with Dan and set about forming a band. We wrote, rehearsed and recorded there, gaining Stu along the way on bass, and hosted our annual festival ‘Woodendstock’ each summer as an excuse to throw a party (and showcase the band), which just grew and grew. We met Steve (Drums) at this point after he replied to an advert on MySpace. We saw several drummers at the time, one of which didn’t even make it through the door; he was so panicked by the isolation of the farmhouse that he turned round and drove home! The fact that Steve was Megadeths’ Drum Tech appealed to the 15year old metal heads in us and he got the job!
The rest has been an amazing experience that’s taken us to the sunset strip in LA to play at a sold out House of Blues, many tours of the UK’s toilet circuit, The Isle of Wight Festival, and this year’s Reading & Leeds festivals. We recorded the album The Walls Have Ears live in the rehearsal rooms (that have become our home) to really capture our sound and we’re doing all we can to get it heard, so go out and buy a copy today and make our quest complete!
MF: How would you describe your music?
RL: The music is a mixture of our influences from Motorhead to Marvin Gaye, Les Savy Fav to Little Richard and everything in between; in essence it’s feisty, heartfelt songs played with drums and guitars. We wanted to sound like all our contemporaries when we started writing and it ended up sounding nothing like any of them, which can only be a good thing. People have likened us to all sorts, from Elvis Costello to Biffy Clyro, neither of whom we would agree with. The sound has grown as we’ve grown, I guess; we always try to take in new influences and push the Leslie sound forward. The staple press sound bite from the Leslie camp is ‘Somewhere between Slade, Slayer and Leo Slayer’. Have a listen and let us know what you think.
MF: Are there any continuing themes that underpin your work?
RL: The themes are those that occur in all songs: love; loss; life; late nights; and Liebfraumilch (not sure if you have this in Australia? A beautiful German wine enjoyed in fields at dawn). I don’t like to spell out the meanings of songs to listeners and prefer lyrics to be left ambiguous. I always find when listening to other people’s songs if the lyrics are cryptic and not so obvious, I can relate them to my life and almost fill in the gaps with want I want; it gives the listener a more personal relationship with the song. It does for me anyway, anyone else?
MF: How do you approach song writing: do you all work together as a band; do certain members bring ideas that you all then contribute to; is it a mix or something else entirely?
RL: Adrian and I write most of the songs. I always write the lyrics and we both write the music – normally the result of hours staring out the window at the sky with a guitar while the ‘to do’ list grows and grows. If the finished song is a roast dinner, we provide the meat and tell the others we definitely want vegetables, they decide what veg to bring to the plate and together we create the gravy; many a good roast has been scuppered by a poor gravy.
MF: Are you excited about coming to Australia? Is it your first time?
RL: YES! If someone told us, when we were covering Megadeth in the school hall, that our music would take us to America, Australia, and radio stations across the globe, we would have laughed. It’s a dream come true. We’ve always been a very DIY band, preferring to rely on our own resources in terms of recording and promoting the band, so the fact we’ve ended up on TV on the other side of the world (the video for Send In The Lions has been playlisted on ABC’s Rage TV) is amazing. We’ve been as tourists to Australia and have family and friends out there, so being given the chance to come out and play is definitely a high point for the band.
MF: What should we expect from the live show? How does it compare to the album?
RL: We tend to go a little crazy when we play live; we seem to lose all restraint and treat it like a 30-minute cathartic release, like all good gigs should be! It’s the old cliché, but when a crowd reacts well to you and gets involved you feed off it and the whole thing snowballs. This year’s Reading and Leeds festival were testimony to that, we had the time of our lives and the Reading crowd could tell, they were amazing. We stick fairly close to the album tracks when we play live. It was hard trying to capture the excitement of a live show on record, but we think it’s fairly close.
See Rotating Leslie at Reading Festival
MF: How do you approach recording? Is it a case of trying to capture a live sound or do you like to use the studio to build things you couldn’t actually do live?
RL: It’s 50/50; we record everything live in 2-3 takes in the room that we’ve inhabited for the last few years. We’re very lucky to have a sonic wizard in our soundman Pete Watkins. He’s been with us since the start (he DJ’d with us at the techno parties and even played bass in an early mutation), and has always been very proactive with the live sound at gigs and in the studio. We overdub guitar parts and backing vocals to the live tracks and this time even went as far as adding piano and strings, courtesy of Ruth and Harriet, which digital home recording allows you to do with ease these days.
MF: What is your opinion on downloading and file sharing? Do you see it as an opportunity to reach more fans or is it just theft in your eyes?
RL: It’s a tough one. Obviously the artist wants to make money, but the way the world is these days we’re all for downloading. The more people who download our music for free, the more people who will pay to come to a live show. For some teenagers today, the idea of paying for music seems totally alien; it’s something the record industry is fighting to come to terms with and react to. Personally, I always buy an album on vinyl if I really love it and I pay to see the band live. So, sorry Lars, we were with you behind the white behemoth of a drum kit, but on file sharing we’ll have to agree to disagree!
MF: Looking at the future of the music industry, downloading and diminishing tour returns are seemingly an unavoidable part of it; are you at all worried about having an out-dated approach to the business? Do you have any alternate business model in mind?
RL: The live circuit and festival scene is thriving in the UK right now; there are more tours, parties and festivals popping up than ever before and we’re hoping to play as much as humanly possible to spread the word of Leslie. Like I said, in theory, the more people who hear your music, the more who come to the shows. That’s the theory anyway.
MF: How much of the business side of the band are you involved with and do you think it’s important to keep track of what’s happening financially to avoid getting screwed over like so many other bands have in the past?
RL: I think the industry has changed a lot in the last few years with bands becoming more and more responsible for all aspects of their careers, from recording to promoting to creating the merch they sell at shows. We’ve always been very DIY about it and like to keep up to date on what’s going on. Send in the Lions was actually written about the amount of industry involvement there suddenly was after years of self-sufficiency, we didn’t want to play the game that lots of labels wanted to play.
MF: Where do you see the industry moving in the next ten years? Where would you like to see it move?
I think the industry should be dictated more by the fans. It’s all very well predicting what people will want to hear but you only have to listen to commercial radio and go to a festival to see that these are very different things. The charts in the UK and the States are awash with competition winners and contestants from manufactured TV shows like Pop Idol and X-Factor, while there are hundreds of amazing bands and musicians going under the radar. Record labels, promoters and producers are afraid to put their money where their mouths are and will only invest in a project if other people are too, which makes for very tame, uninteresting results. I think the age of a suited and booted big wig telling the punter what to listen to will come to end as the digital age means people have more and more power and control over what they listen to.
MF: Is there anything else we should be looking out for from you guys in the coming months?
RL: In terms of Australia, we’re hoping the album does well and we can get as much airplay and media support as possible, allowing us to come over and play live. We will be gigging in the UK and writing more songs for future releases. But until then, thanks for giving us the time of day and we very much look forward to coming and seeing your beautiful faces!