NEWS: Bandicoot release new single 'Early In The Morning'

IN CONVERSATION : Bandicoot – “We’re anticipating a Welsh invasion”

When we catch up with the Bandicoot it’s mid-February, a couple of weeks before the band deliver debut record ‘Black After Dark’ to an innocent unsuspecting world. One that has no idea what is coming.  An exciting time for Rhys Underdown (guitar, vocals, saxophone and keyboards), Billy Stillman (drums), Tom Emlyn (vocals, guitar and keyboards) and Keiran Doe (bass); catching up with Rhys and Tom over a Valentine’s Day teatime zoom, we’re talking about the record – out today – and for reasons too complicated to go into here, whether bandicoots marsupial or musician, make good pets.

‘Some of us are better pets. Not sure Kieran is,’ is Tom‘s analysis. ‘Kieran will scratch and bite too much, make a mess in his cage. Billy’s got a good temperament. Rhys, not sure. I’d rip all the sofas and stuff. It’d depend if the person wanted a high maintenance pet. It’s a very subjective thing.’

Rhys nods in agreement. ‘Kieran would defecate everywhere. Not toilet trained. I’d want fuss all the time and demand to be fed.’

We’re having a laugh and everything about the concept, but this off-the-cuff self analysis of the Swansea-born band in many ways sums up varied vital components of Bandicoot. Elements combine, the exact right chemical balance contribute something different and unique to a record a long time coming. As an interested outsider it’s stressful on the run-up to hearing an anticipated album, so what a relief when it’s as ambitious and realised as this one. Bandicoot are a rock n roll band at its core but kick away temptation to follow the meat and potatoes lad guitar band path and choose to challenge, embrace colour and energy and most importantly follow impulses. They pull on influences from the iconic John Cale, Krautrockers Can and NEU!, Scott Walker, The Beatles and delve right back to the beginning of rock’s origins, with the flash spirit of Elvis and Little Richard sneaking in to join the party; but also rave about the wonky romantic charm of the new Black Country, New Road release.

Black After Dark captures a wide palette of emotions from moments of high emotion to tender melancholy. The moods on it reflect the natural ebbs and flows of their lives, Tom tells me. Rhys explains further; penning and moulding the songs was a case of following their own collective nose to see where it led. ‘There was an element when we were writing the songs and shutting our eyes, trusting that whatever we were coming up with would somehow just fit. There was definitely no deliberate attempt to be “ok, the song has this character”.’

Living together during plague year forced the band closer, gelling them as a unit and a more collective creativity. A new songwriting and working practice, sharing record collections and playlists and delving into the past and present, an eye determinedly fixed on the future has led to a debut long player of impressive depth.

‘Writing things stuck in the house and writing together made it a better album,’
Tom stresses firmly. ‘The last few songs we did that way and really we just got to know each other better.’ The creation of  ‘Monster‘ – the B-side to a live version of glam stomper Fuzzy for Bandicoot’s first 7” vinyl release last month, sold out before we could blink – proved a turning point. ‘It was a jam me and Kieran did together, one of the first ones I wrote the lyrics for Bandicoot. It was very collaborative.’

‘I like just playing guitar and not singing, on that one. Just strut around the stage and not be at the mic. But I think that was a nice one because it changed the dynamics that we were used to in the band. And it opened us up a lot more, changing how we approach writing songs,
’ says Rhys.

Bandicoot are no one trick pony and of course as Huw Stephens once commented, they’re in active possession of a sax and they are 100% unafraid to utilise it when and if necessary. We see and sense much interaction and generosity onstage and off, ‘Bleed Out’ and ‘O Nefoedd!’ has Rhys and Tom sharing vocal duties, adding layers; Kieran makes his Bandicoot vocal debut on the driving ‘Train Station Mural‘.  And we have those moments of deeper reflection free of shiny distraction, quiet songs powerful enough to hold the attention of a room. The tearjerker ‘Early in The Morning’ – excuse me, but there seems to something in my eye – pushes five minutes in length, and carries us with it. Title track ‘Black After Dark’ is sweet, pretty and mellow. ‘Shadow of a Former Time’ has a Lennon-flavoured simplicity. The acoustic ghost version of ‘There’s A Light In Everyone‘, the final song on the album, is a demo recorded on Rhys’ phone.

We could have done a proper studio recording but we just decided that the rawness was all it needs. We couldn’t have bettered it by making more polished,’ says Tom.

And yet, we get theatre as well. ‘Fuzzy’ implores ‘suck the blood out of me!’, ‘Life Death & Other Things’ has its contradiction of bouncy sax and axe man shredding; ‘Worried Blues’ is youthful angst; ‘Dark Too Long‘ is rip roaring, but it’s ‘Bleed Out’ Rhys enjoys the most.

‘When you talk about the drama, the first song I think about is Bleed Out. I think it’s my favourite one. There’s so much like, freedom. Playing it live is always incredibly emotional. I always feel like it’s a really powerful song, how we play it and in the lyrics. I think the lyrics are kind of bordering hilarious,’ he laughs. ‘How dramatic they are. “Love me ’til death carves up my entrails…”’

Bandicoot live shows are ferocious and sharp. Every headline band’s worst nightmare, it has been said. If that wasn’t enough, the relationship with their audience meant each of the band’s three sets at Focus Wales last October were beautifully chaotic. We’ve all seen the photographs, lads.
‘I’m not really sure how intentional it is because we never talked about it. It’s just starting to become almost self-parody. I think what it was, is that Kieran joined’ is Tom’s explanation for the anarchy and stage invasions.

‘I’ll be at the keys or playing the sax. I’m usually with my eyes closed or looking at the floor. Every now and then I look up and there’s like another 20 people on the stage. There’s a few other people playing other people’s instruments, Billy’s not at his drums, someone else is wearing Kieran’s bass. Once he was actually hanging from the lights.’ Rhys smiles at the thought.

We just want to put on a show and see how far we can push it,’ says Tom.

When asked with Black After Dark do they think they’ve made a classic rock n roll album, there’s a silence. But it’s a short one.

‘Yes, I do. I actually do,
’ decides Rhys, like it’s a relief to admit out loud. ‘Well, I think it’s a classic Welsh album,’ he clarifies. ‘I really think so. And I know that can sound a certain way but that’s what was the intention, in a very broad way. And I think we’ve done it. It has all the elements of other albums that we love. I think it’s like Badfinger, I think it has Gruff Rhys and Furrys in it and it has John Cale. Because we were conscious of them when we were making it and we had all these things going on. And that is the lineage that we’re following, you know, so I don’t see how it couldn’t not be.’

A couple of days after we talk Bandicoot are off to the Future Echoes festival in Norrköping Sweden, and April sees them cross the Atlantic for the first time to SXSW in Texas, with fellow country men and women Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard, Mace The Great, Cara Hammond and more. Tom aims to focus on opportunity and look to what comes next. ‘We do the band because we love it. And whatever happens happens. We just feel very lucky.’

‘I’m anticipating a Welsh invasion,’ Rhys carries on the theme. ‘I’m  giving you a headline there! People talk about it a lot, but I think there’s a real particular brand of Welsh rock. We’re going over with two other Welsh bands and not just rock bands. There’s a character in Welsh music in a moment, which, obviously, from our point of view, you know, we’re immersed in it. I felt for years that it’s a unique thing.  People respond really well and increasingly with Welsh language and the Welsh culture generally, and we’re not just going over as British artists. We go over as something distinct to that. It’s like, we’re taking Wales there, you know?’

SXSW is a massive thing to ponder on, is it not?

If you’re aware of the bigger picture and what can happen it’s quite overwhelming to constantly be in that place of anticipating, you know, either success or failure. Both can be equally hard to deal with I suppose. SXSW always been something that we’ve always wanted to do but it’s is not something that we expected realistically to happen this year! So I think the best way to do it is just to go at it and not even worry too much or put too much thought into where it could lead. Because we really don’t know. So try to enjoy the moment as much as possible. And focusing on making the best music that we can and keep ourselves interested and motivated to do it.’

The two are keen to stress that by this time next year they’ve have finished a second album. Bandicoot do not mess about, do they? I confidently predict they’ll give the little furry animal they’re named after, a run for its money on the popularity stakes. But being asked what’s the best thing about being in Bandicoot at the moment, stumps them both. So much so that Rhys asks to hear the question again. ‘It’s quite a hard question.  Rocking, rocking, rocking out with your mates.’

Tom nods. ‘The rock and roll. I love the chaos. It’s never boring. And trying to make an album is agonising process, as fun as it is as well. It’s nice to feel like you know people will finally get to hear and it’s paying off, which is which is amazing.’

‘Like Christmas eve or something you know, it’s like you know that tomorrow or something it’s going to be really, like really fun day. And it’s like that sweet spot of like, it hasn’t been and gone,’ says Rhys. ‘It’s about to come, you know? It’s the fruition of years of work. Songs we’re really proud of, and we’re about to play these crazy places. It’s just all to come. And the year ahead, it’s gonna be really fun. We haven’t really started yet, we haven’t made a mark yet, but it’s about to happen. That’s a really nice kind of anticipation.’

Black After Dark is released on 4 March on Libertino.

Sat 5 Mar: Cardiff, Clwb Ifor Bach
Sun 13 – Sun 20 Mar: Austin, Texas, SXSW
Sat 26 Mar: Laugharne, Laugharne Weekend Festival,
Fri 8 April: London, The Fiddler
Sat 16- Sun 17 April: Newport, Big Sesh
Thu 5- Sat 7 May: Wrexham, Focus Wales

Photo credit: Bethan Miller

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.