Harking from Herts, The Tricks are a 4 piece who are definitely on the up, and if determination is anything to go by, are odds-on to find success with their driving-rock orientated sound. Think of the more credible end of this genre – anywhere between the Undertones and the Boss and you won’t be a million miles wide.
The band has only been together in their present form since 2009, and are still to release their debut album, which is apparently in the can and waiting. One helluva lot has happened in that time though for these twenty-something erstwhile suburbanites. Not long after literally getting their act together, they attracted the attention of LA-based Unison Music, a well respected label coincidentally well known for its association with Jonny Depp. In what must have been a dream come true, the boys were offered a development deal that saw them holed up to write, first in a slightly worrying motel before upgrading to a house in Burbank, Los Angeles. Whilst they certainly didn’t waste the chance to experience everything the city had to offer, neither did they fritter the musical opportunity. They’re kind of serious that way.
The Tricks might only be two years old as a group, but there is more history than that – Joel and Ash Hodge are brothers, and have been making the living room double for rehearsals since then-10 year old Ash was ‘forced’ by brother and dad to take up the drums. John Bisset is one of their oldest friends, while relative newcomer Eliot Crabtree has added something unique to an already strong blend. New single ‘Remember Me’ is linked below so you can judge for yourselves.
GIITTV’s Mike Hughes caught up with them and found them in chatty and expansive mood.
Do you want to introduce yourselves?
We are The Tricks. We’re an indie pop band based in the creative hub that is London. Joel Hodge sings and plays bass, John Bisset and Eliot Crabtree both play guitar and sing backing vocals and Ash Hodge, Joel’s little brother, plays drums and sings backing vocals.
How did the band come about?
Joel: John, Ash and I were playing in a band, doing all the usual unsigned venues in London and occasionally heading further afield when we could. We were honing our songs, trying to build a fanbase and generally having a good excuse to avoid study or getting a full- time job. Simultaneously our old friend El was doing exactly the same thing with his band, so we regularly went to each other’s shows or played on the same bill so it was a pretty fun time.
Then both our bands ground to a halt. This was around the time that John and El moved into a warehouse in Hackney together. It was over a freezing cold winter that they killed some time by writing songs in a small makeshift studio with only a small electric heater and body heat to keep the frostbite at bay. So after there were a few songs in the bag to use as a basis, Ash and I got involved and we started to rehearse together.
I heard that you all have previous in other bands – were they of a similar ilk, and how far did that experience lead to the sound that is now The Tricks? I suppose that’s also a way of asking you that hackneyed question about your influences?
Joel: John, Ash and I have been playing together for years in various bands and the sound was always changing and developing as our tastes and influences changed. The band we were playing in before The Tricks was more of a Garage Rock thing and El was playing in a punk band. The Tricks has more of a pop essence to it for sure.
John: Definitely Catchier. more Up, less Down, More all around. More get down and dance! haha.
Our influences collectively have always been pretty rooted to anthemic pop and rock I guess. Petty, Springsteen, Costello, The Beatles, Stones, Clash…..the list could go on forever. When I started hanging out and writing with Eliot he got me into a lot of Soul and 60s music which definitely had a big impact on the writing process.
Music coming out of New York has always been pretty influential to us. Whether it’s from the 70s or from last week, there is a certain street- vibe to East coast pop music that I think rubs off on us and our music.
Ash – I understand you didn’t have much choice in becoming a drummer? It’s a good story so tell us more. I’ve got visions of some Home Counties version of Hanson haha
Ash: I wasn’t physically forced to play the drums, but Joel was singing and playing a bit of guitar, and Johnny boy was playing guitar as well. My Dad has always sung and played guitar and piano etc, and we didn’t have a drummer in the family. So on my tenth birthday my Dad bought me a small Peavey kit, and I started lessons down at my local music shop, which now has actually shut down, sadly. So I began having lessons and playing some gigs with Joel and John, mainly playing Hanson covers…haha, and from there, I became the drummer of the band that would eventually become ‘The Tricks.’
Joel, you’ve got a distinctive voice and the band have an equally singular sound – do you get people making ‘sounds-like’ comparisons?
Joel: We don’t get a huge amount of comparisons in the overall sound of the band to be honest; the rare times we have, they always seem to be a bit wide of the mark. Individual comparisons are perhaps more common- I always get the Springsteen or Strummer comparisons which are flattering because they’re iconic front men. Obviously you want to be recognized as having your own individual style but people like to have a point of reference.
It has been commented that the guitars have a Valensi and Hammond Jr thing going on which is cool because we’re all big Strokes fans.
Tell us where you are up to with the band? I’ve got some skeleton facts, signed at really quite an early stage, whizzed over to LA to record. It sounds like an interesting story. It must have been quite an experience for four lads from Hertford. Care to tell us more?
Joel: When we got signed it was very much an unexpected and exciting thing to happen. We were gigging hard and getting real good and people were starting to get on board and realize we were pretty serious about it. Then we were lucky enough to be spotted by Bruce Witkin who owns our record label, Unison Music Group, at a gig at Bush Hall, London.
He invited us to California for two months to record and hang out. We were living in a house next door to the Safari Inn (Clarence and Alabama’s hideout in True Romance). The recording studio was out the back of Bruce’s house so there was a really laid back Californian vibe to the recording process, mojitos, hookers, hard drugs, yknow.haha. There was a swimming pool outside (although we didn’t use it) and a ping pong table (which we used perhaps too much) so when you weren’t in the studio recording your parts, you could chill out and relax in the sun, John: Although I managed not to gain anything resembling a tan in two months of beautiful sunshine. – I tend to lurk in the shadows. haha.
When we had time off recording we’d head out most nights or chill at our Burbank base. It was great to go boozing in bars like The Viper Room and The Rainbow. We also went out a lot around Silverlake which was a different thing altogether; much more like home in East London. There is a pretty lively art and music scene going on out that way. Obviously we had a fair few nights out in Hollywood too which was again a different scene altogether. We also played a few gigs which was amazing. We played at Whisky a Go Go which is a legendary venue and a real privilege. We also played at The Silverlake Lounge which was more of an indie venue and crowd so that was cool.
So that was a crazy time for us and since we’ve been back we’ve been working towards releasing the album and going on our first UK tour! January 26th – February 11th.
You are laudably keen not to trade on celebrity connections, but on the other hand your label is well associated with Johnny Depp. Did you find him having a hands on interest?
Johnny is really into his music and knows what he’s talking about. He’s watched us play a couple of times and really enjoyed it. He’s been very encouraging and supportive which is great so I guess he does have a keen interest in us, yeah.
This is a question to avoid when anyone else asks it, but you can tell us. What’s the most rock’n’roll situation you’ve found yourself in so far?
Joel: I think if you go to LA as an English band it all feels ludicrously rock n roll! When you go to Sunset Strip it is just fundamentally Rock n roll because of its history; the place is stuck in another era- it’s still like the 70s/ 80s there. You have a beer in the Roxy Theatre where John Lennon and Keith Moon used to drink or Whiskey a Go Go where The Doors were the house band or The Viper Rooms where Tom Petty played the opening night and it’s all rather surreal to be there. Every now and again you have a moment of realization of where you are and it just seems a bit silly!
John: God….So many.haha. Standing at the bar between Amber Heard and Eva Green at The Rum Diary premiere after-party. Although the free bar meant I couldn’t offer to buy either a drink. Just one half decent chat up line…that’s all I bloody needed.
I understand you have an album in the bag. The single is a pretty driving sound. Is that a good indicator of what to expect on the full length?
Joel: It’s an indicator of one element of the album; Songs like ‘Not Too Young’ and ’49 Mercury’ are driving, powerful songs. Then there are also some tracks which are stripped down, almost acoustic, and there are songs which are a slower tempo, like ‘Deadbeat’. I think the album is relatively varied whilst always sounding very much like The Tricks.
John: Can’t wait to get it out there. It sounds like us. It’s The Tricks. It’s Amazing.
From what I’ve heard you’re pretty realistic about the realities of the music business, and you seem equally convinced that you’re in it to succeed. Is that fair?
Joel: It’s a really competitive industry. If you’re in a band you have to believe that it has the potential to go places and be successful otherwise what’s the point? However, you shouldn’t be deluded and think it’s going to be easy. Not everyone can sell a million records… it’s the goal but it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to happen! –
John: Fingers crossed. Ready to Rock!
Did you ever think about Stars In Their Eyes or TV stuff like that? Are such programmes really that far from Battle Of The Bands competitions?
Joel: I think Battle of the Bands is a million miles away from shows like X Factor. I would never have gone on a TV talent show but I did play in Battle of the Bands when I was younger.
When you’re in your first band, at school and trying to get out there, playing Battle of the Bands competitions is a great way to do it. You’ll be playing with other bands in a similar position to yourself and it can be great fun- I did it when I was 16. It encourages you to learn instruments, write a set of your own songs, perfect them in rehearsal then have a supportive platform in which to play them live.
In X Factor you sing 1 or 2 songs a show, which are not your own, and are not encouraged to play an instrument. Therefore it doesn’t encourage development as an all round artist with your own style or sound.
You play Battle of the Bands to get local exposure, some experience at performing live and if you’re lucky a few days in a recording studio and a couple of hundred quid. It’s part of your development as an artist as opposed to a means towards having overnight fame/ popularity. The X Factor is a national platform therefore it can provide you this overnight fame that some people so crave.
Even so, I do think X Factor does provide an opportunity for singers with a raw, untested talent to have exposure that they wouldn’t get anywhere else. There are loads of talented singers out there who don’t know how to go about getting spotted; they don’t have contacts in the industry or they don’t have anyone to give them advice. Perhaps without the ability to play an instrument or without friends to play as their backing band they haven’t been able to go out and gig like the types of bands who would do a Battle of the Bands. Therefore shows like the X Factor give these people a platform to share their talents. In some scenarios this means someone like Leona Lewis gets famous; someone who can undoubtedly sing (although a bit bland for my taste) and arguably deserves a place in the music industry.
Then the opposite scenario is that you get someone like Frankie Cocozza, who has limited talent, but has exploited the show to gain a little amount of fame and notoriety. In this case, their place in the industry could be at the expense of someone far more talented and that is very frustrated.
But, that is the nature of modern culture… some people are successful and famous for being exceptional and talented in their field and others for being controversial and knowing how to get the tabloids to show them some interest. It’s Tabloid Culture.
John: Errrrrrrrmmmm, No.
What’s the question I should ask to get under the skin of The Tricks? And what’s the answer?
John: You should probably ask a plastic surgeon or experienced skin graft specialist about how to get under the skin of four young men?…could be a tricky job. I believe their answer would be to use a scalpel knife; specifically a Wolfe Graft.
And on that slightly gruesome note, we bade them good day
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.