Interview: We Three and the Death Rattle

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Chords to smash windows to, harmonies to put Blood Red Shoes to shame and a flight to fame that would petrify any early Big Brother contestant. It’s already obvious that Leicester band We Three and the Death Rattle know how to pick a name, but what you may not realise yet is that they also mark the dawning of a new era in British music.

Compiling songs that can be played loud and quiet in equal parts, the trio have already showcased their wears on tour with Josh T Pearson, and plan to release debut single “Inpatients” at the beginning of next month. First though, there’s a healthy slice of incomprehensible success to get their heads around. DrunkenWerewolf’s Tiffany Daniels speaks to Amy Cooper and Jon Bennett about the first two years of their career.

You’re based in Leicester. What’s the scene like there and how does it compare to the rest of the country?

Jon: Well we tend to keep to ourselves; we don’t go out and party or high five with other bands in the local scene on a Saturday night. We do our own thing. I just find life less overwhelming like that and it informs what we do directly because then we create our own world and that has an impact on the music we make. That said there are some amazing artists here and a really strong DIY aesthetic. Good people that are drawn together for the right reasons I guess. Handmade Festival is blowing up out of nowhere and that’s really inspiring to see it come together so fast to fill the gap that Summer Sundae and White noise Festival have left this year.

Amy: There is more of a scene in Leicester than people outside of it really know about I think. That’s what I have learnt since being in this band anyway - you just need to know where to look that’s all. This city is about as landlocked as you can be so you won’t see the sea anytime soon, but we’ve got good bands and good bones.

J: We run our own label now, which has been really hard work and perhaps at first that side of things was not really something we were keen to get involved with, but it’s also been great in that we have complete control over when things happen and what gets done down to the last detail. I think we looked around at a lot of people locally particularly who were doing everything themselves and making a real success of it getting recognition nationally and internationally and were excited by the idea of taking back control as artists. That’s what inspires me about Leicester’s music scene - the people at the heart of things creatively have taken back control and made a killer job of it.

How did We Three and the Death Rattle form? Did you all know each other previously?

J: It’s a long, dark, messy story. We had a previous singer for a couple of months and everything exploded really fast from the first demo we sent out - literally one demo and we had a live session on XFM, we were the Hot One record of the week, we were in The Guardian, Dazed and Confused and had label interest. We’d been together for like a month and had about seven songs - never even played a show. Right at this point our singer quit so we’re a band with it all going on and no singer. Andy and myself were not really communicating at all. I was in bad shape in every way and it looked like our house of cards had come down. People were emailing and offering things that we really couldn’t do then along came Amy Cooper and pulled the whole thing together.

A: I’d never done any music before this; none at all. I knew Jon and I was in the middle of helping him break out of a bad situation that was becoming pretty serious. In a moment of clarity he just asked me to sing, so I said yes. All of a sudden life became exciting and things sort of fell into place. It was like someone opened the clouds and beamed this ray of light in - for both of us. Initially it was no more than a focus to shift the direction things were going, but it really became the catalyst for everything improving and probably saving his life. Then about a month later we’re on tour with Josh T Pearson. My first ever show was opening for him in Sheffield. It was crazy. That carried on for the whole year pretty much as I learned my craft. I learned how to properly sing and play a theremin literally on stage every night and ended up at The Barbican ATP show. It was a huge year and was kind of like - why the Hell haven’t I been doing this longer?! This world of incredible people and music opened up and swallowed me whole; a rollercoaster I wasn’t leaving anytime soon.

How long have you been playing music, individually and as a group?

A: We’ve been together as a band since March 2011. I’ve been playing music and singing for exactly that amount of time. The boys have been doing music a lot longer so they can play together without even talking about it. It’s just instinctive with them - before an idea comes out of one of them the other one knows what they were going to say and has started playing it. When you’ve been playing together a while you get to know how the other person thinks - that goes double, even triple, for being brothers and identical twins.

If you weren’t in a band, what would you be doing?

A: I’d run a rabbit sanctuary for sure.

J: Well we all do other things to pay rent, but you mean for a release? Probably drugs or Bikram Yoga. I’d be a Drunken Werewolf on my knees in Church.

What’s it like to work with your brother and what’s it like to work with brothers? How does the band dynamic work?

J: It’s a tightrope because there are no boundaries - you don’t know where the edge is. The edge being where the practice space explodes into violence...

You’re making a lot of mistakes tonight.”

What? That’s because I was trying to keep in fucking time with you.”

Don’t fucking swear at me.” *standing up from behind drums*

...You get the picture.

A: Working with brothers has its good and bad points! The bad being that like Jon says they can push each other to the edge like no one else, just because they know each other so well. But then that level of understanding between them is a huge part of why the band works, so the dynamic works really well musically. We all write and we all contribute ideas. They have a ton of musical experience together and that makes for really exciting writing. One thing I love is that we write from a drumbeat - a huge filthy drumbeat - and a melody, then do the guitars last. It leaves so much space for the song to develop.

You’ve already been tipped by The Guardian, XFM and Dazed and Confused. Is the amount of good press your music has gained surprising or do you feel like it’s been a long time coming?

A: We get sent press so obviously we see some of it but I think it’s quite a damaging thing to have that measure as your barometer of what is good art or not. By the time it leaves us we need to be ready to stand by what we’ve done regardless of what critics write about it. But to have your art received well? Any musician who says they don’t enjoy that feeling is probably lying.

You’ve worked closely with Josh T Pearson, touring with him and in particular playing London’s Barbican. What were your experiences of the tour and have you taken any top tips away with you?

J: A top tip from Josh? “Give me $10 and download that shit for free. Just don’t tell the label.” Josh is a really close friend of mine and has been for years. It’s been amazing to watch him blow up with that last record. Not just playing at The Barbican but watching him play was pretty emotional. He’s a great artist - one of the greatest and hugely inspiring to watch perform every night. That tour we did was directly after I stopped drinking and taking drugs; luckily Josh had been sober a while because at that point it was just not going to be possible for us to tour with people who were off their faces every night. It was tangerine shots, lots of bad jokes and 100% a rebirth for me. I mean, we played acoustic because he was doing a really quiet record and we didn’t feel like we wanted to go and open up for him like Motorhead. We played the songs like old soul songs with maracas, handclaps or sometimes even a capella. That’s the thing; some people take one listen to WTATDR and are like oh, another loud garage rock band, or whatever. But every single one of our songs you can sing a capella like a Vera Hall song. No music, just a voice and a melody, and they totally stand up. The second WTATDR record we’re already talking about is gonna be completely different - writing the songs on a Moog Minitaur and Microkorg.

Your new single “Inpatients” is due out on March 4th. Can you explain it in three words?

A: Seven Filthy Inches

Who or what is your biggest influence, as a band?

A: Well we all always knew what we wanted the band to sound like - big Wu Tang drum beats, a filthy Dead Moon riff and an old crackly soul vocal shot through with theremin.

J: Dead Moon, Aesop rock, The Gun Club, The Make Up... I’m a crazy cat person I love to watch them. Ol’ Dirty Bastard I love too. I was hugely influenced by Breaking Bad - the writing just blew my mind - we watched the entire series back to back and did nothing else for a month. Being able to be sober and actually still do this, that’s probably the biggest influence. It’s not easy being in club or pub environments all the time, where everyone is drinking and you’re completely sober, and be able to get into that headspace where you can deliver something great so people walk away changed. For the longest time I totally relied on other things to be able to get there. The discovery that space is still somewhere I can inhabit as a sober person was just the greatest relief. It’s not an environment I would choose to still be in. I read Tom Hardy said, “I know that I like a drink, but if I had hay fever I wouldn't go walking through a field full of hay”.

What else can we expect from We Three and the Death Rattle in 2013?

A: Well we try not to make plans and you know what they say about expectations, but we’re going to do our best to get the debut album out this October. We’re almost done with it. Before that we’re doing the music for a spoken word single with an author friend and we’ll be playing some shows this year - maybe in your town so look out. Other than that, expect the unexpected. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve.

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