Shutting Idles out of an airport lift: An Interview with False Advertising at Old Blue Last
“IT’S LIKE WE DIDN’T HAVE A CHOICE.”
In a follow-up interview to Decade.’s very first venture at Sebright Arms in April 2018, False Advertising find themselves at Old Blue Last in Shoreditch. Before playing a free show to promote their marvellous new single, ‘You Won’t Feel Love’, we get the chance to talk with them about Brexit, parental discontent and the time they got off on the wrong foot with Idles in an airport.
I think I’m late. It’s not the first time I’ve been unpunctual as a music journalist; life gets in the way sometimes and if you’re even a little pedantic or obsessed with something, you tend to believe you have more time than you actually do. I pace down Commercial Street and frantically text False Advertising frontwoman Jen Hingley to apologise for my utter lack of professionalism.
“We’re still soundchecking!” is the response.
Thank fuck. I’ve already interviewed False Advertising - way back in April 2018 at the Sebright Arms - and I can’t think of anything worse than to walk into the Old Blue Last’s familiar interior with a shit-eating grin to greet them, passing off lateness as a symptom of rockstardom and its worshippers. I have - literally - twelve pounds to my name, thanks to a generous donation from my girlfriend, so I use it wisely and get a pint of Stella. My tolerance has plummeted due to the lack of funds, but before I can ponder over the futility of my financial situation, False Advertising trot downstairs.
After we meet, the trio sit down and begin pulling out strawberry lollipops and stickers which promote their new single, ‘You Won’t Feel Love’. I can’t help but ask what on Earth they’re doing. “We thought we’d try something different,” says bassist Josh Sellers. So I help them. There I am, my housemates who kindly came along standing by the corner of the bar looking inquisitively on, as three rockstars and I put stickers on lollies. It’s genius.
We retreat to the green room, which is actually red here, to begin the follow-up to our initial interview. It’s been over a year since I spoke to them last and I’m keen to find out more about their exploits. I start (innocently enough) by asking when they last played in the Big Smoke.
“Was it... Brixton Windmill?” Hingley asks.
“It was. We played at a show called Upgefukt Festival,” Sellers confirms. “Death and the Penguin were really good.” Warr seems to have enjoyed it too: “It was the first one and you should definitely go next year because it was fucking rad.”
It hits me that despite the length of our first interview, I still don’t know what it is about False Advertising that gets the group out of bed every morning. Sure, playing festivals and shows is electric, plus getting your stuff heard on the radio is probably the best thing a musician could ask for, but it’s apparent that the driving force behind the band has yet to be revealed. “I would say the reason we can get out of bed and go to work is because we have the band.” says Warr. The band is what makes our lives worth living.”
Sellers adds: “When you go from having an idea and visualising something in your head and then going and actually doing that live and having other people interpret that in their own way, it’s such a fulfilling and rewarding experience.” Hingley’s motivation is a little more unrefined: “I just like playing music. I find it very cathartic; I have all my pent up annoyances yet I can go onstage and shout and hit drums really loudly and that's like, the best catharsis ever. You don't have to get angry in real life.”
“On top of that, it's almost like a form of therapy,” says Warr. “But it's also nice to challenge yourself. Being in a band, you could take it easy, but we don't. We push ourselves and the challenge is part of the enjoyment of it. We have busy lives and the band makes it busier, but it's totally worth it.” Unprompted, Sellers talks inspiration. “There's people you idolise. We've got musicians in our families, people we look up to. But then it's almost like you don't choose to do it; suddenly it comes up on you and actually doing it is even more enjoyable. It's like we didn't have a choice.”
I find it intriguing how musicians sometimes feel they didn’t choose the music life. Take Keith Richards, for example, whose grandfather conditioned him from a young age into loving the guitar by hanging it just out of reach, promising him a chance to play it should he grow old enough to grab it off the hook. It’s brilliant. Sometimes, somebody else has to usher you in, but once you’re there, there’s no way back out.
“HIS MUM THREW HIS GUITAR OUT THE WINDOW!”
“I didn't really choose it.” says Hingley. “Well, I did choose it, but I didn't want to do it for a while because I felt like it was too easy and my parents were too nice about it. It's like I wanted to do this to channel some kind of rebellion or anger as a teenager; it's not really a thing I should do with encouragement. I should probably just be a lawyer or something.”
Sellers can’t relate. “See, I was the opposite; my Mum hated me playing music…”
“His mum threw his guitar out of the window!” chimes in Warr. “Like a second-floor window!”
“Yeah, she was like, ‘Just stop playing it,’ and she threw it out the window. I was only about 14 or 15. I had to go into the garden and pick it up and clear all the mud out of it. Warr relishes in being reminded of the anecdote before suddenly becoming reflective. “My parents were worried about me playing too much. I'd get home, lock myself away, come out to eat tea and then go straight back in again, every day, for a long time. They thought that was unhealthy and they had a word. I think you get through phases anyway. That was the phase I was in at the time and I've not been like that since.”
I focus on their current successes, mentioning that they had ‘You Won’t Feel Love’ played by Steve Lamacq on Radio 6. “It got played on Annie Mac’s as well.” Warr tells me.
“I think it’s hard to visualise and quantify the value of radio play,” says Sellers.” It's something that's normal here and people will hear a band but they might see their name on a poster maybe five days later and they'll say, ‘Oh okay, I've heard them.’ It’s the tiny thing in the back of their head that’s hard to realise, but it works. But radio play is definitely something that has helped us. I think the DJs talk about us more positively now than they have done in the past. Now they're very clear about our name, where we’re from and all that kind of stuff. To hear the enthusiasm from the DJs is awesome.”
I agree, but I want to find out more about other bands perhaps deserving of radio play. False Advertising are among a plethora of top quality post-punk and alt rock bands bursting out of the UK at the moment, so I’m curious to hear about some of the artists they’ve played with. I start with Idles.
“It was a big moment.” starts Warr.
“Stu from the band Life was organising a music conference in Hull for 53 Degrees North and that's how it came about. He was having these industry people there and he asked me to speak on a panel and he ended up saying, ‘Oh! We're going to a secret show and Idles have agreed to do it, do you want to be on the lineup?’ and I immediately said yes before I even figured out how we were going to get there. I remember having all these conversations - certainly with you Chris - where you were like, ‘I have work that day, I can't get time off; what am I going to do?’ and you were driving down by yourself at one point. It was just a nightmare, but we were determined to find a way,” says Hingley.
Sellers was quick to jump onboard. “I was like, ‘Yep, doing it.’ An amused grin creeps up on his face. “Awkwardly, the first time we met Idles was coming back from South By Southwest, running for a plane when we were really, really late…”
Warr interrupts. “It was boarding and we weren't even at the airport.”
Sellers continues. “We were getting the lift to the shuttlebus. So we’re in the lift and I’m pressing the button rapidly to go down and we see these guys coming up the stairs, running towards the lift. I looked them dead in the eyes and was like, ‘No, sorry!’ and we pressed the button, the door closed and we got on the bus wishing it would hurry up. But then those guys got on the same bus!
Hingley shouts out mid-chuckle: “And it was Idles!” Luckily, Idles are pretty nice guys. And it turns out they were three hours early. The group are quick to mention other bands, too. Faux Pas get recognition, twice from Sellers, who just wants to say their name again for good measure. Dead Naked Hippies and Bloodhound get some love, too. “They’re great live. We’ll be riding on the coattails they leave behind!” jokes Warr.
The conversation turns to songwriting. A lot can change musically within a band in the space of a year, so I’m eager to investigate why ‘You Don’t Feel Love’ features a stark contrast between the song itself and the lyrics, in true Smiths fashion. “I bring the politics to the band,” Warr says.
The way I write is almost automatic. I’ll just put a pen to paper and start scribbling and stuff comes out.” says Hingley.
“I just mumble along.”
“BREXIT IS FALSE ADVERTISING!”
“I do tend to sing actual words most of the time and while they don't all make sense together, I do that until I get to reviewing, where I decide on the songs that I want to finish. By that point, I can kind of figure out what I meant or what I was thinking at the time.”
“It's a stream of consciousness. Sometimes you hear a few words in there and think it’s really good or equally, really cringey and you have to rethink the whole thing, because the vowels sound terrible or the words sound terrible.”
I can’t help but push some buttons at the mention of politics. “I'm wary of the time, but you mentioned politics; if you could say one sentence about Brexit, what would you say?” I inquire.
Sellers bites immediately. “Fuck off… oh, not you!”
Warr smiles. “Jonathan Pie called it ‘an absolute catastro-fuck’, which I love as a word.”
“Can I say something incredibly teasing?” smirks Hingley. “It’s False Advertising.”
Everyone lets out a collective groan. I tell her the pun might have to go in the title of the published interview.
“From the start, it's been very simple.” says Warr. “I feel like together we’re stronger and divided we’re weaker. I really hate tribalism and nationalism and divisiveness; we all should think of ourselves as humans and as living on the same planet. It should be that simple. All of this, ‘I'm different from you because of ‘XYZ’’ is ridiculous. But of course, different countries and all the different idiosyncrasies that make us different should still be celebrated.”
“It seems to be all about who can report the worst news about it,” says Hingley. “There’s never any good news or progression.” Sellers agrees; he says he’s not once heard a positive breakthrough in Brexit negotiations. Warr reveals some research: “We found out yesterday that in Holland, they don't allow binary outcome referendums; there has to be more options. I think it's become clear why.”
The band are on in less than 30 minutes, so I try to wrap up. It’s difficult, as the group seem to have an answer for everything and just like last time, I want to carry the conversation into the depths of absurdity, where we covered The Matrix, ancient tribes and the ever-daunting New World Order. Time is of the essence, however; there’s always next time, I suppose.
“The album. Is it finished?” I ask.
“Yes,” states Warr. “And tonight has a lot to do with what happens next...”
“Well, not necessarily. We’ll release it in our own time,” says Hingley.
“I mean, we have a series of plans for which direction we might go, based on what does or doesn’t happen tonight.”
“I think we're focusing on a lot of aspects. There's a lot more to tonight than just the album but we are really lucky to have PRS funding to release it. We’re kind of assuming that this is our reality and we really want to build our team and collaborate with the right people, but if that doesn't end up happening, we're still going to release the record.”
Sellers has the final word. “We're going to do it our own way and then we're going to figure out if there are other ways as well. Tonight's going to be a little showcase; some people we could work with are gonna be in the audience. But yeah, it's coming out regardless.”
I stop recording and the group hurry upstairs to play an incendiary show as I enjoy my strawberry lollipop. They sound immense and the delivery of a few new tracks (namely ‘Uncomfortable’) seem promising and exciting as hell. What attracted me to False Advertising in the first place the fateful night I caught them at Dingwalls is sometimes hard to put down. The DIY ethic certainly played a part, plus the gorgeous, mint-green (I think) guitar that Hingley played, as well as the swapping of band members. But, remembering full well that I, a mere glosser-overer of lyrics and often absent-minded music fanatic, went to the bar singing ‘Hey You’ after hearing it for the first time ever just a few moments before, it’s clear to see that it always was and always is about one thing: the music.