21 Jun 2013
RFB talk to Chilhood about coming of age...
Photography: Alex Sutherland
From Childhood to Adulthood.
Ben Hopcraft and Leo Dobsen have done a lot of growing up over the past two years. Spawned from a mutual love of Deerhunter and some drunken sessions, Childhood have since blossomed into one of the most exciting new guitar bands around at the moment.
For a lot of bands just starting out, having a plan and knowing what your goals are from the off can be the most important aspect of every project. But for Childhood there was an appropriately childish naivety about the inner working of the machine we call the music industry, it seemed to be the most natural thing in the world to record some demos and put them up on the internet for all to see.
As the buzz that these first-time songwriters generated from their pet project took them by surprise, it's taken a while for Childhood to catch up and, after a few false starts, get themselves into a position to take advantage of the excitement that surrounds their output at the moment.
When RFB sat down with Ben and Leo it was to talk about girls, guitars and how the band has grown in the last two years.
How did you guys get started?
Ben: I met Leo at Uni in Nottingham and then I just made him play his guitar...
Leo: We started sharing music with each other, he was giving me stuff that I hadn't heard, I was giving him stuff that he hadn't heard and we thought, let's do something, let's see if we can actually make a band.
What kind of music were you sharing?
B: I had loads of different ideas, lines in songs, but it mainly started from just listening to music together really and then we'd get drunk and come back to Leo's room and jam. We had a few ideas from these jam sessions and then independently made demos and sent them to each other and they all kind of sounded similar.
L: It was lucky there was some kind of cohesion because we could have been in a situation where we were writing completely different tunes but as it was there was something that brought them together even though I'd never written a song on my life before. We put a few demos on the internet and started getting attention quite quickly and then as we started getting gig offers we realised that we probably should make a band.
What kind of artists did you bond over?
B: I think the first band that we realised we both liked was Deerhunter. That was our main attraction point. Leo is into a lot of modern stuff and I listen to a lot of older, eighties and nineties stuff so we just vibed off of that really. It was a good collaboration because I didn't really know that much about new music...
L: I was obsessed with blogs. I used to be anyway. I'm not anymore. But I was listening to a lot of new guitar bands from America. I remember hearing Beach Fossils for the first time, the first demo that he released, and I really liked that. I'd never really heard anything like that because I didn't really listen to much older music.
B: I didn't really think that guitar music was that good in 2010 when we first met. We came down to The Lexington from Nottingham to see a few bands and that was quite eye opening to see that there were a few more guitar bands doing less run of the mill, standard indie that'd been around for years. It was kind of refreshing.
What was more important, agreeing on newer things or listening back to the older stuff together?
B: It was both really. It was refreshing for me to feel like there was new music about and it was nice to play a load of old stuff I liked to Leo
What kind of records did you play him?
B: Loads of stuff. I'd been listening to the Byrds quite a lot and then we'd listen to a lot of nineties stuff like My Bloody Valentine and Slowdriver. A lot of Ride actually. I was quite big on Ride when I first met Leo. Things like that. It was quite good because there was some common ground in some of the newer stuff but it was nice to get into that and see what we could come up with.
L: It was good. I'd justt always wanted to be in a band from a young age but didn't see it as a possible thing that could happen in my life.
Why did you feel like that?
L: Because I was shit at playing guitar. I still am really. But I'd never really tried to write songs and I think it took meeting Ben, the first real person that shared my musical interests that well, to get me thinking that I should try and write songs.
Had either of you played in bands before?
B: Yeah, I'd played in two bands when I was younger. I used to help out in bands sometimes. I did a load of stuff. I played drums as well in a load of different bands. But I've never really taken anything seriously before.
What got you into that world - was it family or friends?
B: I think in terms of playing music live it was probably because of my Dad. My Dad's been a musician all of his life and my Mum's been involved in music all of her life as well. I used to go on tour with my Dad in the nineties, around the UK and at festivals, watching from afar and I guess I've always aspired to do that at some point. So that's what got me into the mindset that I wasn't going to do anything but play music from a young age really.
Do you think being at University was an important part of wanting to be in a band?
L: It was a pure escapism because I despised my course.
What were you studying?
L: I was studying History of Art. I don't think it was the course, it was me. I think it was quite a strange thing for me to be doing in the first place so I saw making music as a sort of escapism.
B: I saw University as a way of making money. Freedom and a bit of money. So even though the atmosphere wasn't that inspiring for being in a guitar band, the actual concept of living in your own place and having the money to buy guitar pedals and having the free time, if you chose to ignore Uni, which we did quite a lot. We had a lot of time to just hangout and play music.
So was it the philosophy of the situation more than the geography?
B: Yeah, but I guess it was also geography as we met the band there. We wouldn't be in the same band if we hadn't all been there.
What was the next step for you after deciding to start making music together? Playing shows….
B: I think we actually played gigs a bit apathetically at the beginning. We just got asked to play gigs before we really knew how we wanted to do it because we were still at Uni and didn't necessarily want to quit. We didn't know anything about what we were doing. We just played gigs but didn't really know what the point of doing them was, but it was a learning curve. The whole experience of being at University and coming down to London to play shows was a good introduction. We didn't really have a plan, we didn't think that we'd play this one gig and that'd be the gig where everything would happen. We just started playing around and doing the circuit, trying to understand what live performance is all about really.
L: I think we just found it exciting that we were getting offers to play with bands that we respected ourselves. We did completely rush into it, none of us really knew what was going on in terms of how to play well live at that stage. But it was a good learning curve.
B: Then when we finished Uni we knew this is what we were going to do. We felt like we'd come of age to the point where we knew exactly what we were going to do and how to do it.
And what did you decide you were going to do?
B: We knew we wanted to be a band but when we finished university we realised that we wanted to make albums and properly go for it rather than making a song here or there. We didn't even understand what a release was when we were at Uni. People would tell us we should be releasing a song but we didn't really realise the significance of it. When we finished we realised the point of releasing a single or an EP or an album and how it was going to affect our whole world as a band.
What was the next chapter for Childhood? You’d finished University and committed to the band…
B: I think probably the tour with Palma Violets - that came about two months after University. That was the first time we'd done a tour, the first time we'd been in an intense situation where we were playing gigs every night. But it was an incredible experience and I think we've become much stronger as a band for it, even though we've lost members in the process.
How did the relationship with Palma Violet’s begin? You seem quite close...
L: I can't actually remember. I think it was when we played a gig at Hoxton Bar & Grill about a year and a half or two years ago now with Ducktails. Chilly came along and he'd heard Blue Velvet and he basically got really drunk and said that he wanted to manage us. Then we heard nothing from him for six months and then suddenly we hear there's this new band called Palma Violets who are causing quite a stir. We just met up with them, played a couple of gigs with them at [Lambeth’s Studio] 180 and developed a friendship from there really. That tour was great, going to towns that we would never visit and to have a reaction from people...
B: We did all the proper punk venues, which were the best gigs.
L: And the crowds were a great mix of old punks coming down to see what Palma Violets are all about and a bunch of excited kids who'd seen them on the cover of NME. Most people had never heard of us before, so to get a good crowd reaction, which we did most of the time, was great.
It’s interesting you mention losing members, does it feel like you made a few false starts as band… Was it frustrating?
B: It definitely felt frustrating but then it also felt like we couldn't have actually done anything differently.
L: A lot of things happened that were out of our hands and that meant getting our first single out was delayed. But at the same time, I didn't really mind so much.
I imagine it felt like you grew within those things and whilst it was frustrating, the way in which you had to react to those situations mean you come out stronger from them...
L: Yeah definitely. I felt like we learnt a lot. It's just one of those things, the natural progression of things you can't really control. The way that we met was completely random and it was the same with the way we met the other members. It's hard to get anything going when everything is just so random and you're just asking people to be in your band. We always wanted to be a four piece but the way we started was as a two-piece so there was always going to be a process of trial and error. But at the same time, I'm so grateful for what's happened - from all the problems that we've had anyway - because we never really started out with the intention of trying to achieve anything significant really so anything that's come along has just been really great.
It makes it more interesting too; to have these creative people come into your lives and offer things or take things away...
B: I think we learnt a lot. I just want to make music the whole time really and if I can't make music I'm depressed. I've never really been that depressed from a member leaving, it's been frustrating but the fact is that I've been able to make music for three years constantly; I've been making music the whole time and that's when I've been the happiest in my life so I can't really complain.
Your song Blue Velvet was your calling card for quite a long time. What was it like having a song that was so connected to people finding the band?
B: It was quite scary really. I didn't even like that tune when I demoed it. It was basically Leo's thing and then I put my vocals on it and some weird riffs. But it was weird with that because we had that song and then we had so much other stuff that no-one had heard before so that was our main thing for ages because it was only a demo version. It made it kind of scary releasing another song because that was the only song that people had heard from us. It was interesting to see how people would react to some of the other stuff. So far it's been pretty good...
But also now you've got Solemn Skies, which seems to have almost beaten it, did that make it even clearer to you that you were doing the right thing as a band?
B: I just felt more vindicated. There was a period when I was at University and I had a little song-rut, I was kind of dealing with that kind of thing where bands release one tune and then disappear. But there's a lot more material to come from us now, which is exciting so that'll be revealed shortly.
What was the next key moment after the Palma's tour ?
B: I think the main milestone for us was actually when we finished Uni. We just recorded for the sake of recording at the end of Uni with this guy called Pete Fletcher in Nottingham and then as soon as we finished, we went on tour with Palma Violets and suddenly had all these people wanting to release our music. So that was a big point for us because we actually had people that wanted the songs. We'd always been talking to people but nothing really materialized because of our situation and we didn't want to release anything and then not back it up. So it was quite a good experience, getting on a good tour and meeting new people when we finished, being able to have the industry side backing us. The next point when we'd finished the tour was when the single came out and that was a really nice package, doing that tour and then having a single come out. It felt like it was finally real.
Do you think that you have done things in a more organic and honest way over time?
B: Definitely, I remember reading this interview with Elton John and, even though I don't really know much about his music, there was this quote where he was saying that being in a band, you've got to do it, you've got to go places, drive up the M1 and do it in a real DIY kind of way. At the time I felt like “we've never really done any of that, we've never really played gigs, we've just been making demos in our bedroom” but without knowing it, and before we'd released any music, we'd actually done all the really clichéd things that being in a band is about, travelling the M1 and playing every toilet venue. It was good to know that you'd done that. I knew what it was all about before I got into the deep end, rather than being bang, bang, bang, release, release, release, hype, hype, hype and then thinking that everything is so easy to have it come crashing down around you, I was actually ready to do it.
Do you think that goes back to you guys meeting and forming the band with your different backgrounds in music? Do you think you were more aware of the things you had to do, being in a band, without pushing yourself to do them?
B: Totally. It was completely like that. It's just really nice to get that stuff out of the way really. I think as a result of it we don't really argue that much either, we don't have those irrational arguments when someone's got two songs and they're already stars and all have egos. We've all been knocked down quite a lot in the small situations of being in a band so now we're taking it really seriously we're not getting too egotistical or too ahead of ourselves and starting getting a bit deluded by our own hype. We know how much hard work needs to be put into it! It's been really positive for it.
What place are you in at the moment, what's next for you?
B: We're just demoing the album at the moment. We're not recording anywhere, we're just demoing. We've got quite a few tracks that we've had on the internet a few times in the past and we're going to use those as a good fifty percent of the album, it'll be fifty-fifty new and old. Fifty percent classics and fifty percent club bangers. I want it to be long. I think that all the best debuts are about twelve songs.
L: This is where we differ though. What about The Strokes first album? That was only half an hour.
B: We're not The Strokes, I think it should be a twelve or thirteen track album, clock in at about forty-six minutes. It'll be sick, the culmination of everything we've done over the last three years.
I imagine the album is a bit of a blood, sweat and tears thing?
B: I was really scared about being in a band because I didn't even know anyone who could play instruments in the same style that I was interested in, how was I going to be in a band with people I don't even really know? So it has been a process of securing that friendship, or gang mentality, which has been weird. Even sometimes when I look at old press shots of us and I think about the fact that three years ago I didn't know anyone in this band. So it's not been a thing where we've known each other since we were babies and grown up together. It's been an honest friendship journey as well as a musical journey.
And how are you finding the writing process, after three years of being in the band, does it feel better than it was before?
B: It's been the same really. I get annoyed at that actually. Every time I open my computer, get on my guitar and start writing I get annoyed by how similar the feeling has been for years. So I guess in that sense it forces you to try new stuff.
What is that feeling?
B: When you're not feeling inspired and you want to make a song because you feel you have too; it's probably the worst thing ever to feel like you've been doing the same thing for years. When you're in that depressing mode of not writing good songs, you feel like you're really unoriginal and you're not even challenging yourself but then again it kind of feels the same writing songs in London as it did in Nottingham. So in a way that does actually make me want to challenge myself more because you don't want to get complacent and just go through the motions.
L: It's easier now that everyone's in London and we're able to go and meet up, it's great to hear very basic ideas develop into something much bigger than what they were conceived as which we didn't really do in Nottingham because our drummer wasn't even in the same city as us. So we had to just plug away and make a demo and that was it but now songs are written differently because we take more raw ideas to rehearsal and see what happens with them. Normally they'll turn into completely differently things to what they started as but everything seems a lot quicker at the moment, which is good, especially in terms of getting the album together.
And what's your relationship been like over this period, I'm sure it's been good but how have you guys as the core of the band, how has your relationship developed?
B: I'd say our friendships been the same really, we only get in arguments when we're really drunk but none of us really know what we're talking about.
L: I think we're quite defensive people. But it's good. It is the same.
B: I remember when I first met Leo and it's been exactly the same ever since that. I'd worked him out after day one.
Watch Childhood's video for 'Solemn Skies' below.
'Solemn Skies' b/w 'Semester'10" is out on 06/10/13 via House Anxiety/Marathon Artists