Interview: Smoking Gives You Big Tits on being daft and angry in equal measure

Smoking Gives You Big Tits are never going to get famous. With a name like that, you’re destined for toilet venues and miniature text on gig posters. That said, it’s certainly a memorable moniker. If anything, I think it works in their favour – it’s a such a bad name that when you finally see them live you’re shocked to discover just how gosh darn good they are.

A relatively new band, Smoking Gives You Big Tits (SGYBT) are currently in the process of transitioning from a kazoo-wielding acoustic two-piece into a fully-fledged, four-piece punk band. Their songs dance the line between comedy and rage, and tongue-in-cheek response to the terrifying state of the world. Signified by Helen Taylor’s jaw-dropping vocal talents, SGYBT has so far gained popularity with a stupefying whisper-screamed cover of Limp Bizkit’s Break Stuff and a list of facts about Margaret Thatcher, their favourite of which is “that she’s fucking dead”.

Smoking Gives You Big Tits is playing our birthday bash on January 22nd 2022 at Retro Bar in Manchester. It’s a joint event: Shout Louder vs Garlic Bread Club. The lineup’s got a little something for everyone, including Drones, Fair Do’s, Other Half, Piss Kitti, Brassick, Cool Jerks and Disaster Forecast. Grab ya ticket and come party with us.

We spoke to vocalist Helen Taylor about the band’s origin story and their unique balance of comedy and fury.

First up, I think we need to talk about your name. Have you done a robust double-blind study to establish this claim?

  • Helen: It makes us laugh how many people ask whether our band name is true! I’m afraid it’s not a scientific fact, it’s just something that I quite literally wrote on the back of a fag packet once.

It’s quite a controversial statement … have you had any problems with the name?

  • Helen: It seems to be something that people either love or hate. We didn’t really think too much about it when we chose it. It just sounded daft and a bit odd, like us! Jonesy puts big white stickers over all the warnings on his fag packets and I used to write new ones on them.
  • When we were about to do our first ‘gig’ back in August 2019 (it was three songs at a ‘cultural caberet’ night in Bolton, so not really sure we can call it a gig), we had to pick a name and that was the warning I had written most recently and we thought, let’s just go with that, it’ll be funny hearing that name announced at a ‘cultural’ cabaret night by an old friend of ours. As it happens, they wouldn’t announce our name (or print it in the Bolton Evening News which had the event details in) as it wasn’t ‘very cultural’ so we were just ‘Smoking Gives…’ for that night. However, Helen did wear a t-shirt that she got made with a picture of blue tits on it and the word ‘TITS’ written above it, so I’m not sure how cultural the whole performance was to be honest.
  • If it had been another day we could quite easily have been called Smoking Makes You Dead Cool and Distracts People From Your Face, Smoking Makes You Have Big Hairy Balls and Smoking Makes You Smell Like Mild Regret and Pies.

You’re relatively new to the live circuit, but you’ve been playing together for a little while. How did the band come about?

  • Helen: Jonesy and I played together in a big band jazz band called The Managers for 8 years, a long while back. Jonesy played double bass and I sang. From when I was 15, I always wanted to be in some kind of rock band, but had trouble finding anyone that wanted a female-fronted band and gave up.
  • It was only after attending MPF 2019 that I was really inspired to get back into music again. I hadn’t done anything for about seven years at that point. So, I went out watching local bands and really thinking about what I wanted to do. I‘d go to 3-4 gigs a week sometimes. I wanted to see what people were doing, not just the music but performance too, what worked and what didn’t. 
  • What was a drawn to? To be honest, I didn’t think SGYBT would be anything other than the two of us playing around doing some covers, but it grew. We started writing our own stuff and it was such a buzz to be out there playing our own songs and being creative.
  • Ben and Andy joined the lineup when we came out of lockdown in 2021. Ben, Andy and Jonesy are all in a number of other bands at the moment too, ranging from funk to metal. The three of them used to be in a Mexican Americana band. It’s great to have people involved who have such a wide range of music projects on the go.

Although it’s a two-piece at the moment, do you have plans for a bigger ensemble?

  • Helen: We are now a four-piece! We have done our last (of just two) gigs as a two-piece and the rest of the gigs we have booked are a four-piece. It makes what we are doing slightly different but it’s still a lot of fun. In lockdown, we asked a friend of ours (Andy Dawson) to do some drums on a track (Bang to Rights), remotely record it and send it us and we loved it. Jonesy did guitar and bass for that recording.
  • When we came out of lockdown we asked Andy if he fancied a jam; we were thinking who to ask to play bass and our old friend Ben Shepherd came to mind. Ben ran the jazz band that Jonesy and I were in and we have been mates for years. Actually, Jonesy is still in that band! I left (or was fired? Can’t remember now), then got drunk and called Ben a ‘jazz cunt’ on Facebook and we didn’t speak for a year! Obviously, we are speaking again now. 
  • Anyway, we didn’t think either would want to join long-term, but we knew both are amazing at what they do and it would be fun to see what some of the songs sounded like as a full band.
  • So we had a jam. Went to the pub after and asked if they fancied joining and they did!

How would you describe your act?

  • Helen: As a two-piece: odd, loud, uncomfortable in parts, daft. As a four-piece: slightly less odd, loud, slightly less uncomfortable in parts, daft.

I always like to know what gear a band uses, it’s so good to be able to replicate the tone of your favourite artists. Tell me about your kazoo, what’s the set-up?

  • Helen: Sadly the kazoo is probably gonna take a back seat as we go into being a four-piece as you can’t fucking hear it anymore. [Shout Louder: I think this is a terrible career choice.] Although we are thinking of writing something with a kazoo solo in, as it really is a joy to hear.

It seems that, although you’re very good musically, a lot of what you do is rooted in comedy (or at least a somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach). Is that a deliberate choice?

  • Helen: It really isn’t. I think we have two songwriting settings: daft or angry. I’m not sure how that’s come about; it’s just what we have been drawn to. I write the lyrics and I’m pretty daft as a person, so naturally, I think I’m drawn to writing about daft stuff sometimes. But then I also love belting out an angry scream and using the whole songwriting process to vent!

Politically, are there any particular messages you’re hoping to convey?

  • Helen: We didn’t deliberately set out to be political, but we do have some political songs that were born out of anger at how shit the government are. The key message we want to get across is it’s ok to be angry about how crappy the leadership of our country is at times and don’t lose hope or faith in things being better.

What sort of bands did you obsess over as a teenager, and how do you think that’s affected your outlook on music now?

  • Helen: No Doubt, Garbage, Green Day, Skunk Anansie. I still love all of these artists but I was really obsessed with female-fronted bands as a teen. They were showing me something that wasn’t seen as OK in the local scene at the time I was in my teens around the millennium.
  • Ben (bass): Queen, soundtracks and Ash. I’ve still got a pretty diverse taste in music both in making it and listening to it.
  • Jonesy (guitar): I was obsessed with Jimmy Hendrix and Eric Clapton as a kid. Both influenced me to pick up the guitar and learn to play.
  • Andy (drums): Metallica, Anthrax, anything thrash metal. Anything you can go nuts to on drums!

What’s your creative process as a band?

  • Helen: I imagine this is going to change soon given our set-up has. But up to now its been either me coming to Jonesy with an idea like, “I want an angry song about how shit the government are,” or “I want a song that sounds a bit odd and is about answering a Smash Hits magazine pen pal ad from the 80’s,” … and Jonesy will throw together some riffs and I’ll write a melody over it.
  • Sometimes Jonesy sends over riffs and I pick something out of one to develop more. I write out free flow on a topic, often pages and pages, and from that a line or two will pop out as being a good lyric. That can inspire more. We often write songs in bits, sending stuff back and forth and when it naturally seems likes it’s done, it’s done. We don’t want to force it just for it to be finished. Uri Geller Couldn’t is the shortest song we have at about a minute and a half long. It took two years to write. Bang to Rights is one of our longer songs and took just a couple of months.

 What do you enjoy doing, outside of playing music?

  • Helen: I like cooking using the washing machine [Shout Louder: Yes, there’s no comma in that sentence] … and cheering neighbours in the street out of my window when they put the bottle recycling out. Jonesy likes to grow plants and ask questions about how to make cushions at parties. Ben likes to drink port, write revenge music scores and going out to raves. When Andy isn’t making music he is either making it louder for someone else or teaching it.

What’s your ambition for Smoking Give You Big Tits? What do you want to be when you grow up?

  • Helen: Keep having fun with it. Explore writing new music and playing gigs. The only ambition that we ever had for the band when it started out was to indulge ourselves in what we wanted to do, what we thought was fun, regardless of whether we thought anyone would want to hear it or where we ‘fit in’ as a band. It’s been great to let the whole thing grow organically and liberating to just keep having fun with it and not care if anyone actually likes it or how we are defined.

Listen to Smoking Gives You Big Tits on Spotify. Be sure to grab tickets to see them live at our Garlic Bread Club vs Shout Louder birthday bash in January, while you’re at it.

Interview by Sarah Williams. Photos/video by Phukin Photos.

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