|Some bands just don’t get the critical acclaim they deserve. It can be for a myriad of reasons; wrong place wrong time, mistreatment by the record company or just plain bad luck. Six By Seven certainly haven’t drawn the plaudits their seven studio albums and explosive live shows so richly deserve. Hailing from the lace town of Nottingham, when they first emerged in 1996 there was nothing delicate about their dark, raging guitars. Fronted by the Nottingham-based musician and photographer Chris Olley, he has remained the band’s main creative focus throughout the band’s life-span. Their twelve year stint saw them explore indie rock, shoe-gaze and neo-psychedelia. In that time they squeezed out six albums including the John Leckie-produced ‘The Closer You Get'(2000), which is being re-released on vinyl in mid-February, and the classic ‘The Way I Feel Today’ (2002). They called it a day in 2008, only to return four years later in 2012 and release ‘Love and Peace and Sympathy’ a year later.
Now Chris Olley has put together the band’s classic line-up – the one that recorded the aforementioned ‘The Closer You Get’ (Olley – vocals, guitar, Sam Hempton – guitar, Paul Douglas – bass, Chris Davis – drums and James Flower – keyboards) for two special shows in March. The first is an already sold-out gig at in their home city of Nottingham at The Maze, and then the band will make a trip down to the big smoke a week later to play Highbury’s The Garage. Pennyblackmusic caught up with Chris Olley for a chat ahead of the band’s two landmark shows.
PB: Was it difficult getting the original line-up that recorded ‘The Closer You Get’ back together for the two special shows?
CO: Not really, everyone apart from one person was really up for it but that person just needed reminding that being in a band is not such a bad thing after all.
PB: Do you consider it to be the band’s strongest LP?
CO: No, because I think ‘Love and Peace and Sympathy’ and ‘Six by Seven EX’ are strong too and also ‘Six by Seven:04’. An album is like a chapter in my life and has certain memories attached to it and anyway, I like to keep moving forward. I think ‘The Closer You Get’ is a special album though, because we were in a great studio with great producers and a record label was also involved. It’s that collective that I remember and we were also a pretty good band at the time.
PB: The reason I ask is that many, myself included, would consider your third LP ‘The Way I Feel Today’ to be your classic LP, given its less aggressive, poppier feel.
CO: Yes, it also sold a lot more than ‘The Closer You Get’ but generally if I meet a fan they always say that ‘The Closer You Get’ is the classic.
PB: What were the biggest influences on you at the time of writing and recording the LP, both from a lyrical and sonic perspective?
CO: Just what was going on around us. Tony Blair’s Britain, the bullshit and the lies, the latest “biggest thing” band being on a front cover, the emperor’s new clothes, the hype, seeing the music industry for what it was, waking up, feeling down, a bit of hope, a lot of despair, financial difficulties, possible financial ruin and the break-up of the band because of publishing deals fucked up by lawyers. In the end, all we had was our voice and the music.
PB: That’s quite a heady mix of things. What’s your favourite track off the album and why?
CO: I don’t have one. I wouldn’t know which track to play to someone first, maybe ‘My Life Is An Accident’?
PB: Listening back to all three of the band’s first LPs, they still all sound very contemporary. They haven’t dated at all have they?
CO: Thanks. We didn’t stick reverb all over the snare drum and they were all recorded onto tape, live, without correcting every little thing with a computer. That’s probably why.
PB: Do you think Six By Seven have got the recognition they deserved given the quality of the band’s back-catalogue?
CO: Oh man, the million dollar question. Simple answer is probably no. I’m asked this all the time, now and back then. Every YouTube clip has comments under it saying “Why weren’t this band any bigger”?
PB: Why do you think it was?
CO: After all these years I have pretty much worked it out but it would take me forever to explain it. It’s a bit like when a plane crashes, it’s a number of things that lead to it going down. Like the German Wings sicko (Andreas Lubitz) who took all those people down with him, it wasn’t just him, it was also the fact that he wasn’t monitored or the system was in place on the actual plane for him to be able to do it. It’s sometimes the less obvious things, the smaller details that led to the crash. In a nutshell, with us, I think it was just bad timing. Great band, wrong time.
PB: It’s vindication of its longevity that Beggars Banquet(record label) are willing to reissue the LP in February along with your ‘best of’ in this age of digital downloads isn’t it?
CO: I don’t know, downloads suck don’t they? and people want real records again?. Beggars are cool for doing it like this, it’s what that label is about, releasing the good music, the music you might not “get” now but hopefully will understand in the future.
PB: You continue to be incredibly prolific in terms of releasing new material both as Six By Seven and your associated side-projects. What drives you to create when so many of your contemporaries tour on the back of past glories?
CO: Simple, I can’t do anything else. I’m terrible at working behind a bar or cleaning cars, I get bored. I swing the Brian Eno way of believing that human beings naturally have the need to express themselves. Everyone should ‘play’ more or turn more of what they do into ‘playtime’. Bertrand Russell also said that since the Industrial Revolution we work too hard and it’s not natural for us, it’s not what we are meant to do. We are now given holidays to simply recharge our batteries so we can continue to slave away. That is not the ‘playtime’ or leisure time that Eno talks about. I work very hard but I work at what I consider to be a leisure activity; creating music and art. I am prolific so I can live off it. I don’t get bored by writing songs, it’s different every time I do it, even if you use the same process.
I break the process down into different individual systems and then I swing between them to keep it moving forward. There is never any repetition within this constant repetition. How fun is that? I’m not really that prolific, I’m just doing what I do and trying not to be constrained by what a commercial organisation would do to my art.
For years people told me to only release an album every two years but I looked back at the bands I loved when I was a teenager and they used to release three albums every two years and at the time I actually wanted more and so did my friends. The evidence is that the real fans just want to hear everything you do and the more there is the better. That’s what I’m like too. I wish my favourite bands and artists would just keep putting stuff out, including demos and live recordings. I don’t sit around listening to ‘Aladdin Sane’ or ‘Rust Never Sleeps’. I want to hear new stuff.
PB: You have tapped into crowd-funding for recent releases and also the Nottingham gig. Do you think it has effectively plugged the gap left by record companies now being reticent to physically release the LPs by smaller bands?
CO: Crowd funding has saved my ass. It’s brilliant and people seem to relate to it and enjoy the process. Record companies are more relevant than ever before. We need the labels to bring us interesting new music and often it has to go through them to get out there because of the system that’s been created. Crowd funding has changed that system but the record labels will always be important because they are tastemakers and trend setters and they sort out the wheat from the chaff. As far as I can see, record labels are happy to be releasing LP’s by smaller bands, isn’t that what we are doing here right now?
PB: Do you consider Six By Seven to be in their element in a packed-out and sweaty 200-person capacity venue such as The Maze in Nottingham?
CO: It’s a great way to see the band but I think we should be headlining Glastonbury. I think that would be much more beneficial for all concerned, both artistically and financially.
PB: What plans have you got for Six By Seven beyond the shows in London and Nottingham?
CO: First and foremost I plan to stay alive.
PB: That’s a very sensible strategy!
CO: After that, just to survive really, as an artist. I am always making music either under the name Six By Seven or some variation of it and will continue until I can’t sell enough to keep a roof over my head. There are no more live shows planned beyond the one in Nottingham (which is sold out) and the one in London. There are still tickets available for the London show so grab ’em quick because one thing I can say is that Six By Seven were an amazing live experience. We tended to pulverise people with sound, energy and great melodies. Sure, we have Sigur Ros and The Arcade Fire now but we were doing that 20 years ago.
PB: Chris Olley, thank you very much for your time and all the best with the two shows in March.
Six By Seven’s ‘The Closer You Get’ will be released on vinyl and their ‘Greatest Hits’ on CD on the 17th February.