Holy freakin’ shit balls batman, Popes Of Chillitown have released their second album, To The Moon! Guy Hirst speaks to Jack Ashley (drums,) Arvin Bancil (Bass) and Tom Penn (Guitar) to find out what’s behind the upbeat-offbeat-punch-drunk-ska-punk.
Here’s a picture of you playing a show to a naked man, what’s up with that?
“We drove for nine hours from Plymouth to Hastings to play that show,” laughs Jack, “I know other bands that’ve played there and the naked guy features at every gig, wearing nothing but some wellies and a cheeky grin. It was one of our favourite sets though. We arrived late, had a horrendous journey, we only had a short set, but the reaction [other than a swinging cock] was great. Everyone was dancing and singing along and then you’re like ‘actually, this is pretty fun.’”
Does it get any less glamorous than playing to an old man’s willy?
“Playing to the nobody but the sound man,” says Tom, “you’re basically having a rehearsal in 500 capacity venue in a different city in front of the other bands, that’s a unique experience…”
Tell us about your new album To The Moon, what’s changed since your first album A Word To The Wise and which track are you most excited for people to hear?
“Wisdom Teeth, we normally play that as the penultimate track in our set,” says Arvin.
“It just felt like a natural progression from our first album,” Jack continues, “where we were just finding ourselves. I guess we’ve got less of the dub-style stuff and more of the punkyness came out this time. But we’re always trying to get a bit of everything in there.”
“We’ve played everything [on To The Moon] live, says Arvin, “it’s partly impatience, really, if we think something’s good we really wanna see how people respond to it. We’d rather play it than sit on it. There are tunes that didn’t make the album, because they end up feeling a bit forced, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be revisited. There were bits on this album that we wrote three-four years ago, so I’m sure it’ll happen again. We’ll road-test tunes and if they don’t work, we clock that from the start.
“The title stems from the opening track, says Tom, “we were dicking around at practice one day and someone shouted “TO THE MOON!” into a microphone and we were like ‘oh, awesome,’ a lot of things on the album are just snippets of us playing around. It’s just as if we’ve happened to recorded a practice, having a bit of a jam is our entertainment. It’s stuff we find amusing, we just wanna share that really.”
A Word To The Wise was pledged funded, but To The Moon is not. What was behind the decision of not to crowd fund?
“Yeah, well, we’ve basically saved our pennies since then,” says Arvin, “just from merch and touring. We’ve saved a lot on production because Jack produced it too.”
“It didn’t save much of my sanity though,” Jack laughs.
“Pledge funding seems to go on so regularly that it’s just not a special thing anymore, it’s almost a standard method of putting album out. We’ll save it for a rainy day.”
“Yeah”, agrees Arvin, “and it’s a lot of hard work on its own. It’s time consuming – promoting, getting it done. There’s less freedom with how long you can take making an album, if you’re asking people to pay for it then you need to put it out promptly. We tracked the first stuff in May 2014, we had the freedom [to take as long as we needed] because it was our time and money we were playing with.”
What’s it like for you in ye-olde foggy London town? As a ska-punk band, of course.
“It’s so saturated [with all different types of bands] that it never feels like there’s much of a scene,” says Tom, “you end up on a lot of weird bills, and there’s a lot of shit promoters, but a lot of hard working ones too. In Brixton and Camden there seems to be more of a vibe.”
“Yeah, we’re not gonna name any names,” Arvin chimes in ,”but we had a gig, we went over our set time and they cut out PA halfway through the song, and you know, the crowd we’d brought down had payed nine quid to get in, there are hard working promoters in London, but sometimes there’s that London attitude, like, ‘this is a London venue you’re privileged to play here,’ and they won’t let a band play because they haven’t bought X amount of people down, there’s a lot of that.”
So, what does Popes of Chillitown do now?
“We’ve already started writing, we get through it quickly,” Tom Says, “I think writing has always been a thing that fuels our ambitions. It refreshes us and keeps us going. If it’s something we’re excited about, we’ll release another EP maybe between albums, we get bored pretty quickly. It kinds of just happens so as long as we’re in a room together, all of that stuff ends up getting played to other people.
And finally, if you could add anything to your live shows, what would you do?
“LASER BEAMS,” they all shout with a surprising conviction. “Definitely pyrotechnics or a giant inflatable pig,” they agree.
Why not both? I’d pay to see that. God speed, Popes Of Chillitown.
– Guy Hirst