An Interview With: False Advertising
“Just fake it til you make it - that's what False Advertising is really!”
In a turbulent time for rock, Oxford/Manchester trio False Advertising are pushing a guitar-pedal based sound, reminiscent of the grunge and alternative music made famous by Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins.
For a trio engaged in various other activities, False Advertising are nothing short of ambitious - with a Japan-exclusive release of their album, Belligerent, dozens of shows across the UK and their aptly named all-day show ‘Falsetival’ already under their belt, the sky really is the limit.
Sitting with them in The Sebright Arms is a different feeling altogether. It’s more of an informal pub chat with singer/drummers Jen Hingley and Chris Warr and bassist Josh Sellers as they enjoy their pre-show dinner of chicken and chips. They discuss previous possible band names before they settled on False Advertising, noting Thought Crimes as a candidate. “I guess Rage Against the Machine was already taken, so we thought, “Maybe we’ll go with Josh Sellers and The Electric Sheep,” muses Sellers. “But False Advertising seems to make some sort of sense, particularly as swapping around instruments is the genesis of the band.”
Drummer/frontman Warr further solidifies the necessity of switching instruments: “There’s that whole idea about just being good at one thing, and I think it's all been done in this day and age - you have to be multi-skilled.” On the topic of influences, he goes on to cite Dave Grohl, Josh Homme and Jack White as accomplished idols. “They’re musicians and they’re businessmen as well - that for me is very inspiring.”
Hingley, sporting an Idles t-shirt, was introduced to the glamour of rock ‘n’ roll in childhood, with her uncle being Tom Hingley, frontman of 90s act Inspiral Carpets. “I was about four or five years old and saw him on Top of the Pops. In some ways I felt amazement, but on the other hand, I didn't know any different.” Despite the clear exposure, False Advertising do not hold their Manchester roots as close to their hearts as their Smiths-loving and Stone Roses-adoring counterparts. Finishing his pint, Warr states: “Me and Josh are from Manchester, so we love Happy Mondays, Stone Roses and all that kind of stuff, but for us, in the 90s it was grunge and then it was nu-metal.”
Sellers echoes his bandmate’s views: “I won't pretend I had a special relationship with that kind of music. Sometimes it's almost like you are expected to a little bit, but I can’t be like, ‘That was such a great time for music,’ because I was just too young.”
The sound technician bursts into the room to interrupt the procession, as one of the support acts are trying to use their equipment, yet no sound is coming out. Hingley goes downstairs to resolve the issue, while Warr and Sellers start their second pints and debate current bands pushing the boundaries of UK music. “Idles, Life - we really love Tiger Cub as well. We’re really looking forward to their new record,” says Warr, before Sellers reflects on inter-band relationships: “It's so weird to actually know the people who make the music that you adore. It’s so strange, but it’s great.”
Hingley returns, and the three finish their pre-gig meals. When it came to their Japan-exclusive release, False Advertising were wary of shoddy deals and exploitative small print, but they found themselves ultimately benefiting from the contract. “We got approached by a record label that wanted to put it out there. At first, it seemed like maybe it was a bad idea - there were all these factors we’d have to negotiate. But we talked to them and we negotiated a contract and it turned out totally fine.”
Dozens of contract horror stories are well-known in the music industry, like Van Morrison’s historic ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, in which he received practically no royalties for due to lack of legal advice when signing the dreaded document. But, sometimes it’s necessary for new bands to take the leap. As Warr puts it, “It was like we had nothing to lose.”
Their last EP, I Would Be So Much Happier If I Just Stopped Caring, features fuzzy guitars over unorthodox songwriting and lyrics, hinted at in the liner notes with, “It’s Been A While (So Sick) features lyrics contributed by anonymous young people.” On the matter, they said: “It started with that band we mentioned earlier called Life. They were working with Warren Records to do a charity night to raise awareness for mental health issues in young people. They put together a lot of bands to create an album by getting the groups to come in and record a track each. But all the lyrics were donated anonymously by schoolchildren. It was basically kids doing a creative writing workshop.”
Jen is very much the main songwriter of the group when seven year olds aren’t supplying them with poetic brilliance. Warr, now deep in conversation, says: “I would say there are principal songwriters, Jen being the main one, but if you look at a lot of bands, there's always a principal songwriter. I'll write songs, but I'm nowhere near as prolific as Jen is - she just churns them out. I try to learn from her style to influence my own, so I don't write something that's completely left field and doesn't work. Hingley finishes the discussion with: “It's rare that I'll write a song that Chris ends up singing. In general, whoever came up with the chords and the melody ends up singing.”
False Advertising, despite their DIY work ethic and small fanbase, have played both tiny pub venues and large festival circuits. “I prefer playing larger shows because there's more room to run around - I love it!” enthuses Sellers. “With a more intimate show, I think the sound we have accommodates a larger room. Obviously, we’ve all been to a gig where the room is too small to house the noise coming out.” He pauses, seemingly to acknowledge The Sebright Arms’ cosy interior. “Usually, the sound guys we work with are really good and we don’t have that very often, but there is a danger of it. But, music is for everyone. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big venue or a small venue; it’s for the people that go to listen, and the size of the room you’re in shouldn’t matter.”
Warr quickly turns the conversation into a personal reflection. “I would say it’s pretty rare that we’ll all come off stage 100% satisfied. I mean, we’re all fairly self-critical, but it has happened where we’ve all come away happy. Sometimes we’re happy because we feel like we may have risen to the occasion, or we’d like to think at least. I mean, it might just be dumb luck. I’m not sure.”
“Or maybe we just didn’t realise how rubbish we were!” chimes Hingley, grinning from ear to ear. Investigating the DIY attitude, I ask about whether the effort and risk is worth the reward. Hingley is quick to explain her views on prolificacy: “I think we’re putting ourselves into an interesting situation with what we’re working on behind the scenes. We want it to be really good and we’re not thinking about how we’re gonna release it yet, and we won’t until we know we’re happy with it. We’re not trying to rush. I think in the past, the good thing about being DIY is that we have wanted to rush before, and we’ve been like, ‘Bang, bang, bang, here are all of our new songs - listen to them now!’ That’s really helped us because it’s stopped us from being kind of run-of-the-mill.”
Being ‘run-of-the-mill’ shouldn’t be a concern for False Advertising, who recently put on their very own ‘Falsetival’. “It started out where we did a gig with our mates; a band called Horsebeach,” says Sellers. “We didn’t have the idea of Falsetival at that point, but we put it on ourselves with the outlook that it was our gig, and then on the back of doing that, Jen was like, ‘We should do an all day thing.’ It became a success through that.”
Hingley points out the facts. “Falsetival was a joke name for starters; it wasn’t meant to be named like a festival, because it's too small to be one. But, it seemed like the easiest way to name it, but then everyone started thinking it was an actual festival, which was funny really.” Sellers seems enthusiastic about a round two. “Maybe we’ll do it next year, and get another venue involved.”
“That was the thing! People were coming up to us going, “Are you doing one next year?” says Warr, before Sellers laughs, “Exactly, and we were like, ‘We have no idea - we’re still in the middle of doing this one!’”
I wrap up the conversation just before support act Dancehall begin their set by prying into the band’s visions for the future. Warr opens with, “As we have alluded to, we are trying to do an album…”
“Yeah, trying!” jokes Hingley. Warr continues: “Yeah, currently. In fact, we are doing more recording tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. It’s a bit of an all or nothing attempt for us. We’re actually quite fortunate to be in a position to have the studio we’re using.”
The trio then spend the next five minutes reeling off a seemingly endless list of commendable artists who have recorded/produced at this studio, including Adele, Mumford & Sons, Radiohead, The Horrors and David Gray. Hingley and Warr then briefly argue over whether the mixing desk at the studio was used for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon or Wish You Were Here, much to my amusement.
“We’re only there because, well, somehow this happens a lot - we are absolute blaggers, and people from Manchester get this reputation, and it works for us,” admits Warr.
“Just fake it til you make it - that's what False Advertising is really!” says Sellers. “We have a friend who’s been working there for a while now, and he’s got that much faith in us that he got us to come in and do it. In reality, we couldn’t even afford one day there.”
“You catch yourself in the studio, looking at all the expensive gear and holding a drink in your hand, thinking, ‘What if I accidentally spilled this?” You know you’re not gonna spill it, but your brain is like, ‘Don’t spill it, don’t spill it, don’t spill it!’” says Hingley.
Sellers shares a similar anecdote: “I remember going into one of the guitar rooms and I had a little go on one and it was amazing, and the guy there was like, ‘Oh, that’s a 1952 Les Paul Junior - you can use it if you want.’ And I was like, ‘I’ll just put that down,’ as I’m shaking uncontrollably!”
The interview ends very much off-topic and before I know it, I’m discussing the Matrix, the Illuminati and the ancient place of worship, Göbekli Tepe, with the group. It’s clear that while False Advertising are up for a pub chat and a few drinks, their work ethic is astonishing, and it’s that mindset that should see them achieving whatever they can hope to dream of - whether they ‘fake it’ to the top is irrelevant.