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The Crookes Dish on Italy, Sheffield and the ‘Dumb’ Music Industry in Exclusive Interview

The Crookes
James Dodd

Coming from a city that’s known for big Brit acts like Pulp, Def Leppard and Arctic Monkeys, you’d think the Crookes have got it made as a band coming from Sheffield.

Some indie bands complain about how hard it is to break into the mainstream, but Crookes guitarists Alex Saunders and Daniel Hopewell, singer George Waite and drummer Russell Bates embrace these struggles. On their third album, ‘Soapbox,’ which comes out on April 15, the group tosses out the rules of wanting to hit the big time. Instead, they just want to make good music.

Shacking up in a church in a remote part of Italy that’s far from any sign of human life, the band worked tirelessly for two months. Hardly taking a break, aside from a day trip to Venice, they buried themselves in the writing and recording of the album. Songs like ‘The Outsiders’ celebrate their outside status: “You know I like to be an outsider / Even though they try to drag me in / This is where it begins.”

Not all of their songs are about sticking it to the Man, but it’s refreshing to see a band that’s passionate about making music. We recently chatted with Hopewell about recording in a remote part of Italy, the Sheffield music scene and how ‘Play Dumb’ explains the Crookes’ relationship with the music industry

It’s been a couple of years since ‘Hold Fast,’ and you started working on your third album last year. How have you seen your musical approach and overall sound evolve since then?

We’ve matured as a band, which I know is an awful f—ing cliche, but it was inevitable. I think the sound of struggling to make your voices heard for many years will inevitably see you go a little bit hoarse, you know? But there’s a kind of sexiness and gruffness to that. It’s like someone who has spent the previous night smoking and shouting in a loud club and then wake up and realize they sound like Bukowski or something.

You recorded your album in some off-the-grid place church in Italy. Why did you decide to work on it there?

It was peaceful and beautiful up there. It was at the very top of a mountain and there was absolutely no one around for miles. All we did was drink red wine and play music for the entire time, excluding a solitary day off in Venice.

Did the distance from everything else make for a better album in your eyes?

Absolutely, there was no distraction for us whatsoever. We didn’t have the internet or a television or anything, so all we did was focus upon writing and recording.

So when you guys weren’t working on ‘Soapbox,’ what did you guys do to unwind?

I don’t think you ever really can unwind when working on something creative. It isn’t like a 9-5 job where you can finish and draw a line under the day’s work. Whenever we were awake we were focused upon it. I find it impossible to switch off — ever.

What’s the story behind the song, “Play Dumb’?

I suppose it has its roots in the idea that if you’re beautiful, you can be forgiven for being stupid. Those who aren’t “beautiful” are never afforded that luxury. So far, everyone has seemed to pick up on the superficial idea behind the song; but in reality, it has nothing to do with the relationship between two people, but rather the relationship between ourselves as a band and the music industry. As I’ve said before, we have never been embraced by the inner circle that seem to hand out success to those who fit the profile. This song is about refusing to chase people who don’t want us, or not trying to impress the people who want to see us fail. It may be a little graceless and to the point, but that was intentional — such a theme couldn’t be explored with subtlety for that would completely undermine what we were trying to say. The rest of the album is very different.

And what was the premise for the music video?

I guess it followed on from the idea behind the song. The video sees George transformed, against his will, into something he could never be. Although ironically he did make quite a good girl. I’ve found you can’t say “good girl” in any way without it sounding absolutely horrific.

Sheffield is known for great indie bands — Arctic Monkeys and Pulp, and solo acts like Richard Hawley. How did the city influence you?

It’s a very supportive city. Richard Hawley took us on tour with him last year, and that was a fantastic experience; but there is a sense of community that runs far deeper than that. The musicians all seem to know one another, and I can guarantee I could go for a drink in a local pub tonight and find someone there I know who is trying to create something.

What is it about the city that makes it such a musical epicenter?

I truly don’t know. A lot of Sheffield’s industry was closed down years ago, but rather than letting those abandoned factories go to waste they have been turned into studios and practice rooms. There’s a lot of areas like that in Sheffield, where people seem to revel and create when it would be easier to lament.

Who are some Sheffield bands that you think Americans should start listening to?

We’re taking a band on tour with us in April called High Hazels. To me they’re an a archetypal Sheffield band. There is a focus on strong melody, but beneath that there’s a sadness and frustration. We’re all big fans of them.

What are the plans for 2014?

S— loads of touring and eternally writing.

Next: Arctic Monkeys Strip Down

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