Only Strangers: Growing Up But Not Giving In [Interview]

Only Strangers have produced one of 2018’s best melodic punk releases; we spoke to them to learn more about the journey that brought them there.

Article by Sarah Williams.

If you’ve read Shout Louder before before, listened to our podcast or spent any time with me personally, then you will already have some idea of how excited we are about Only Strangers at the moment. I am a real sucker for all things gruff: over then years I’ve falled in love with Leatherface, Hot Water Music, Red City Radio, Bear Trade…. the list goes on. It’s been a while since I’ve heard a record that really fills my need for melodic guitars and shredded vocal chords and Only Strangers are, without a doubt, next on my list of favourite bands.

As with many bands that I love nowadays, I’ve gotten to know them through the old-school ska-punk scene. 3 out of 4 members of Only Strangers were originally in Sense of Urgency, who put out a split on TNS Records back in 2009. It’s hard to see how they went from that brassy, aggressive noise to the melodies and harmonies of Only Strangers, so I was keen to learn more about their journey. This is a band that have grown up together, through school, through starter bands and now through kids and marriages. The sound you hear on their self-titled record is the music that has grown with them; it has an organic depth that you wouldn’t hear otherwise.

Moreover, it’s a quality record. This 4-piece from Stoke-On-Trent clearly favour quality over quantity, although here’s hoping that they get out there and tour it soon. We spoke to guitarist/vocalist Dec O’Reilly to find out more about the band, their ambitions and how they’ve grown both as people and as musicians.

Hi Dec! You have just released your self titled album on Horn & Hoof records. It sounds like a lot of love, time and detail went into the record. How long did it take to create?

Hi Sarah! It took a very long time indeed. We wanted to make sure it was something we were really proud of as, despite most of us playing in bands since around 1999 and in Only Strangers since 2010, none of us have ever put out a full length album, so it was a pretty big deal for us. The whole process probably took around the best part of two years. Even though we had so much material from the years we’ve been playing, we had to really be convinced that we had 10 tracks which we’d never see as being more than half decent, so we kept adding new songs and re-recording old ones. We had quite a few more which we recorded properly but didn’t make it on to the album. It feels more like a ‘best of’ to us, rather than just recent tracks rushed into an album.

What did you find most challenging about recording the album?

I think the biggest challenge was simply finding time. Everybody works all week and does some pretty long hours, so realistically weekends were the only time we could ever get in to the studio, and those weekends were limited just to everyone being so busy. We weren’t keen on going in at different times mid-week or here and there as we wanted to make sure everyone was involved in everything that was being recorded.

Also, it was a big challenge calling recordings complete. There were quite a few occasions where we thought something could sound better and so we would just go back in and do stuff over and over again but it’s something we’re all really glad we did. The amazing response we’ve had from reviewers, peers and friends is a really good pay off for all the hard work and tweaking we put into it.

Are there any themes you find yourself returning to when writing songs?

Lyrically, we tend to have all the music done first and then just agree between the two vocalists who it would suit best. Then that person goes away and starts sorting out the lyrics, usually on their own. Personally I never set out to pick a theme (as I’m pretty sure Gater doesn’t) and the musical style can often dictate the content. There’s quite a variation of subjects on the album from health struggles and health care, hangovers and people’s grim attitudes to racism to name a few. I think because we’re all at that point where we’re definitely realising we’re not spring chickens anymore and have a lot of work and responsibility, there’s a bit of a theme of looking back at the past and to the future also, as that’s always going to be prominent in our minds. Bit of a cliche, but it’s very much what we deal with day to day. Musically, we just mess with hooks until something begins to stick and progress from there, without thinking of what style it should be or anything like that.

Would I be right in saying that Only Strangers is a Bruce Springsteen reference? Is that something that’s had a big influence on you?

Yeah it’s a lyric from the song Streets of Fire. We’re all Springsteen fans but I don’t know how much of an influence is it in our music. I could never imagine trying to come up with something that would emulate any of those records as his band has such a unique and huge sound. Continue reading “Only Strangers: Growing Up But Not Giving In [Interview]”

EP Review: Clayface – Don’t Hold Your Breath

Clayface are back and ready to take punk by storm with this rough ‘n’ ready EP. FFO: Early Blink 182, Leatherface and Gnarwolves.

Review by Jake Jeremy.

First off, any band with ‘face’ in the name will instantly endear themselves to me: here’s looking at you Leatherface and Face to Face, who get double points. Anyway, right now I’m looking at new Clayface EP – Don’t Hold Your Breath, their first on Manchester’s Horn & Hoof Records, due for release on November 10th.

First off, the band lays out a beautifully intricate and delicate intro track rather fittingly called Intro. It has a Cheshire Cat-era Blink vibe that strangely doesn’t have any vocals but does serve as a precursor to just some of what you can expect later on.

The second track Just A Word completely shifts gears into a two minute ska-punk track that has a laid back 3 Doors Down style and impressive bass work over a fairly solid soft-hard-soft dynamic. It doesn’t have a strict structural base, but it flows quite effortlessly until the more reggae infused ‘breakdown’ that gets a bit Sublime, before launching straight back into a full-pelt distorted outro.

Next up is Only Guy In The World, a one minute Lars and The Bastards-style track that does again have a hint of Blink in there. This is more straight ahead than Just a Word but the focus shown here is more akin to what I would want out of future releases from the band. NOPE! Tell a lie… Nothing Left hits me next and is the best track on this EP, a perfect mesh of everything I’ve described previously but with a strong sense of stricture and even more nods to some classic 90’s pop-punk. Recommended listening for sure. Continue reading “EP Review: Clayface – Don’t Hold Your Breath”

Album Review: The Crash Mats – 69 Peruvian Panpipe Classics

The Oldham trio have just released 28 minutes of irreverent ska/punk ‘n’ roll nonsense that captures all the energy and hilarity of their live shows. FFO: Snuff, Teenage Bottlerocket and having a good time.

This weekend super-fun ska punks The Crash Mats released their second album 69 Peruvian Panpipe Classics. It’s 28 minutes of solid comedy gold, out on Horn & Hoof records now. Spoiler alert: there’s not a panpipe in sight.

The trio from Oldham have been around since 2008, and yet ‘maturity’ is the last word you’d use to describe this record. Their songs are short, snappy punk ditties and that can’t fail to plaster a grin on your face, covering such thought-provoking topics as The North, getting high and how your parents may react to finding a dead babysitter. If you’ve had the joy of catching The Crash Mats live before, you’ll know they’re unbelievably fast and fun. Before I saw them I’d never had the opportuntity to skank along to the Chucklevision theme tune and I am eternally grateful to them for that. 69 Peruvian Panpipe Classics take all of that energy and delivers it staight to your living room.

The Crash Mats 69 Peruvian Pan Pipe Classics

The album opens with an invitation to join them on a Hot Air Balloon Ride (“Would you like a ride in my hot air balloon?”), rolling through to Drive Me to Drink (“You drive me to drink, you drive me to drink.”) and heavier Oldham’s National Anthem (“Meat pie, chips and gravy!”). The Crash Mats are by no means lyrical genuises, but they sure do get their point across. It’s fun on record, but the drunken-singalong potential live is second-to-none. Continue reading “Album Review: The Crash Mats – 69 Peruvian Panpipe Classics”