Originally posted August 2009
Beyond the Hype: Interview with Glasvegas
Written by Dan Collacott
Back in 2003, a small band from Dalmarnock, in the working class East End of Glasgow, began to make a big noise. Their music, a combination of a soulful brand of retro tinged rock n roll and a ‘doh wop’ pop aesthetic. Their lyrics, a gritty socially conscious web of underclass stories delivered from the heart by lead singer James Allan. These attributes coupled with ghostly keyboards and reverb brought them to the attention of famous music mogul, Alan McGee.
The release of the brilliant single, It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry, garnered the band the prestigious ‘Philip Hall Radar Award’ at the NME awards. The band’s endless hard work and touring helped culminate in them being signed to record giants, Columbia. In the autumn of 2008, they released their self-titled debut album to mass critical acclaim, and they are currently on a worldwide tour. We chatted to the band’s guitarist, Rab Allan, who was clearly still awestruck by the success 2008 brought them.
We asked what inspired him first to get into music? “Probably, the first thing was that I saw Oasis on TV [performing Don’t Look Back in Anger] I was about 14 and I saw them on Top of The Pops, and I thought it was incredible. From then on, that was what I wanted to do, I wanted to be in a band. I think that was the first time that I remember being excited by music, which is a strange thing I guess, being able to remember when you first got excited by music.
Being from Glasgow people kinda laughed a lot, like ‘yeah yeah, that’s nice, keep on trying’, it was always a strange thing for people to grasp. So for us to be doing what we’re doing, I think, is quite an incredible thing.” Rab was not easily drawn on the band’s early inspirations and influences, “You can’t really describe these things, some things are just natural and just happen. Glasgow was a big influence, as a city. And a lot of Phil Spector and Elvis Presley.” The guitarist and his cousin, lead singer, James Allan, have often cited the fact that their close personal relationships and overall band dynamic are the most important factor in their success, “I think our friendships, because we were friends before were in a band together, held us in good stead, y’know. We used to just party every week before we started the band, so there was already a really good relationship between the four of us. I guess that’s why we’re quite strong. Together, we can do anything.”
Fractured social culture and soulfully delivered melodrama lie at the heart of the band’s songs. Flowers & Football Tops deals with the subject of a murdered local teen. Daddy’s Gone has woven into the clever melodies lyrics like “I won’t be the lonely one sitting on my own and sad a 50 year old reminiscing what I had.” The chilling Stabbed brings violent yob culture to the fore, “No cavalry could ever save me ... I’m gonna get stabbed.” James Allan recounts as he describes an encounter with a knife wielding gang.
According to band member Rab Allan, James very much leads the band’s writing process, “James will always record like a whole song at home and then bring it to the band, basically he gives us a demo of the song. We try it out together, but nine times out of ten, what he’s done is great anyway. We’ve tried different ways of doing it, like we tried jamming together … but the best way it has worked was him doing a full song at home and bringing it in for us.”
The band have managed to transcend beyond the hype surrounding them and deliver on their early promise. It is interesting to note how a very understated working class band have coped with their success, “Every single day, something amazing happens, and I mean that genuinely. I think, before we signed the record deal, I wanted to release an album and I wanted to play the Barrowlands in Glasgow, and I’ve done both of those, so I’m going to have to think up some new things, y’know. There’s been so many things, we’ve been on the cover of NME twice.” Bassist, Paul Donaghue, added, “We played the Barrowlands on the last night of our UK tour. Everything seemed to come together, the crowd, the venue, us. It all gelled amazingly and created a real electricity and was really emotional for us. Plus, Glasgow has the best crowd in the world.”
When asked if they would like to collaborate with other artists, Rab said: “I quite like acts that have a lot of soul, and I don’t really think there’s a lot of that going on a lot right now. Kate Bush is one, I think she’s incredible, even though she doesn’t do much now. Somebody else I’ve been listening to a lot recently, who I think is really soulful, is Bono. I think he’ll go down in history as one of the great singers of all time.” Underlining the band’s closeness, Paul continued, “I collaborate with the only three artists I care enough about every time I go on a stage – with Rab, James and Caroline.” Most press are desperate for bands and musicians to behave badly and lead rock and roll lifestyles, so do Glasvegas fulfil any of those sort of fairly tedious stereotypes? “I would probably get arrested if I told you that. I’ll leave that to the imagination. Sometimes the imagination is a little bit stronger than the reality … If any of us did end up in rehab, it would probably be Caroline (McKay) first. She’s the one that drinks five bottles of Cava a night, we let her drink as much as she wants as long as she does the dishes and does the ironing, haha.”
The feisty drummer didn’t contradict this: “Indeed it’s true that I can more than hold my own in the drinking stakes, Rab likes to exaggerate just how much I drink, but then he loves to spin a yarn and can be a bit protective of me. I know I’m drunk when I stop talking and just smile a lot, but I can always dance, regardless of what state I’m in so noone really knows, ha!” Caroline’s entry into the Glasvegas story is quite an unusual one, “I ended up being the drummer in Glasvegas by fate, fluke or friendship, or all of the above. I became friends with James whilst I worked in my friend’s vintage clothing shop at weekends. He’d come in and chat, never buy anything, and we struck up a friendship. It followed that I became friends with Rab and Paul and we’d all hang out together, get drunk and listen to music. One night we were sitting around and they suggested I join the band as their drummer. I laughed hysterically, before realising they were serious, then we agreed that I’d give it a bash and review it a month down the line, which we never did. Two weeks later we had our first gig!”
We discussed with Rab how he felt about the ‘working class hero’ label some have attributed to the band, and how it feels to be a role model to others? “I think people can do a lot worse than us. I don’t think of it like that though, I think if you’re in a band, you work hard, it doesn’t matter if you’re working class or middle class or whatever it is, but it’s nice to be looked at as a role model.” The band just finished massive gigs at the Glasgow 02 Academy as part of their huge UK and world tour. “We’ve done two nights, and it was just incredible, it’s like 2,500 people both nights singing every single word. My mum was up in the balcony with a bottle of vodka.”
Continuing with the subject of success, it’s always interesting to see how a band judges when they have made it. “It depends by what you mean when you say ‘made it’, because even before we signed the record deal, we made music I always thought was good, it was soulful, passionate and it meant something to me. Sometimes people gauge success on album sales and chart positions, but personally, I felt we made it a little over a year ago.”
As a band whose friendship is clearly paramount and feature two family members you would have to wonder if the members ever argue or play pranks on each other during their exhaustive tour schedule? “We play pranks on each other all the time. We don’t argue too much … normally when we argue, it’s always something that needs to be sorted out. I think the last argument we had was in Japan two weeks ago, and we had a massive argument from the airport to the hotel. We were all shouting at each other, but five minutes later we were all hugging each other, so that’s just the way it works … Paul got a bunch of grapes and squished them into Caroline’s hat, so when she put the hat on, she had grapes all over her, so that was the last prank I remember.” Rab grinned.
At the end of last year, the band made the unusual decision of releasing a Christmas themed album and the result was six beautifully crafted songs free from the usual saccharin and commercialism you would expect from most Christmas songs. Rab expanded on why the band went in this direction: “Sometimes you just get ideas in your head and you just go with it, and that was one of those things. We told the record company we wanted to do it and when it came to it, we just did it. There was nothing else really in it. We did it in Transylvania, which makes it a little bit strange. It was supposed to be a full length album, we had ten songs but because we were so tight for time we only recorded six.”
We discussed with Rab if there was anything the press had got wrong about them? “They always think me and James are brothers, and they get Caroline’s age wrong, they say she’s like 24 but she’s not, she’s 35, just silly things like that. Oh, and I read that the band had split up a few months ago. It’s not until you’re involved that you realise that not everything you read is true.”
On the subject of the MP3 revolution forcing bands to work and tour harder, “I think bands have always had to tour, but I think they’ve had to come up with other ways to do things. I’ve downloaded music before illegally, so I would never put anyone down for doing that. Any way people can get music, they should get it because it’s there to be enjoyed. I think it’s the record companies that are putting more emphasis on the touring now, as opposed to the actual bands.”
2008 saw Glasvegas take the indie world by storm, and if 2009 is even half as successful for them, then the band are sure to cement their position as one of the best rock bands on the British music scene today.
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