Young Rebel Set: “We wouldn’t release music for music’s sake. It’s got to be right.”
Stockton-on-Tees favourites Young Rebel Set have been off the scene for a little while, but last week they were back doing what they do best with a headline show at Think Tank. The last time the band played in the North East was back in December and despite doing little preparation, their return brought an impressive crowd and a night of guitar-thrashing, foot-stamping, top quality live music. We caught up with guitarists Mark Evans and Andy Parmley in the dingy back-rooms of the Newcastle venue to chat about the Sunderland music scene, the decline of regional festivals and plans for a new album.
“We’ve actually been quite quiet for the last three months or so,” says Mark. “We’ve been writing some new songs and rehearsing quite a bit. We haven’t really been preparing for this run of gigs, it’s more been preparing songs for a new album so it was only really over the last few days that we’ve kind of went, right, we need to start thinking about the gigs now.”
Even with little preparation, though, the set was stunning. Roaring opener Lion’s Mouth was as fierce as its name suggests, old favourite If I Was brought a delicate sing-along and even debuting some new ones got people dancing. The recent material is slightly heavier than the warm indie-rock we’re used to, or so Mark tells us. “The new songs are a little bit less colourful,” he says. “We’re a bit more driven and rocky, but still melodic. We’re always going to approach songs in the same way writing-wise but when it comes to presenting them, we’re a lot more guitar-led now. We’ve cut back on a lot of piano.”
As far as inspiration goes, there’s a bit of variation. Andy mentions listening to new Canadian band Alvvays and Mark loves everything from Oasis to The Beatles, Neon Waltz and – in Andy’s words – Now 35.
On a serious note, though, changes in sound are bound to crop up when you’re in a band with so many creative brains behind it. What used to be seven members is now five but each of the boys bring their own ideas to the mix. “At the moment, it’s very, very equal. It’s been quite refreshing. It shows different sides to us. We’re in a really good place as a band I think,” Mark says.
The band’s last album Crocodile received mainly good press, but as ever, bands have to expect the bad along with the good. “You always have people around you who have their own opinions about what they think a song should go like or what they think you should do. But if you know exactly how you want it to go and you’re really confident about it then it’s not a difficult process at that point,” says Andy.
The writing process is something the band have done for years and something they don’t ever really plan on stopping. With each member being capable of writing and arranging music, their only obstacle seems to be organisation. “Creatively, I don’t think we’ll ever have problems writing. Our biggest problem is getting everyone into a rehearsal room at the same time. Everyone’s got their own things going on,” Mark says.
Young Rebel Set have been one of the region’s most prized bands since they formed back in 2007 but on reflection, they’ve never felt part of a North East ‘scene’, so-to-speak. “There hasn’t been a proper ‘scene’ for a while. I don’t think there’s one in Teesside. We’ve never felt part of a scene but that can be quite a good thing,” muses Andy. “All these bands in the North East are just doing their own thing and just getting on with it. They’re not worrying about sounding like other bands who might have a few more thousand followers than them. I think Sunderland has quite a good scene, though. They’ve got the likes of Hyde and Beast and Lilliput who are both really, really tight bands. They write good, memorable pop songs. The Sunderland area can kind of get overlooked in that sense. There are definitely good bands in the North East, they’re just not in much of a scene.”
The closest to being part of a scene they’ve really had is their consistent presence at regional events and the closure of one of their most frequented, Stockton Weekender, is a huge shame for not only the band but the region itself. “I think it’s partly down to record sales because people aren’t buying as many records. But the bands have still got to make money somehow so their fees rise which means that, for festivals, they’re forking out a lot more money than they should be for the same bands. It’s no one’s fault really, it’s just the way it works. For festivals like Split and Stockton Weekender, it’s a massive shame,” says Andy.
Even without festivals like Stockton Weekender, the band always love a homecoming show. In fact, this coming weekend frontman Matty plays Stockton Calling under his solo name, Billy The Kid. An old favourite for them, though, is Stockton bar and nightclub KU Bar. “It’s always nice to play in our hometown and we always kind of name-drop KU Bar because it’s where we hang out, it’s where we go boozing on a weekend and we played our first gigs there,” says Mark. “It always feels nice to go there. It’s like you’re returning to your roots. It doesn’t matter whether we’re in the North East, though, or whether we’re in the North West or London or Germany or America or anywhere. We approach each gig exactly the same. We just enjoy playing live and we’ll play anywhere people want us to play. As long as the audience accepts us, we’re happy.”
In Germany, the band have a bit more of a loyal following than at home in the UK. They can pick and choose who they take on tour with them over there and get to see more regular fans. When we asked them who they’d tour with if they could, though, their response was absolute: “Alive or dead? The Beatles. And if you’re just talking alive, we’ll say Paul McCartney… And Ringo.”
Album number three may seem well in the pipeline with the band taking time out to write, but Mark tells us it’s still early days. “I think the whole purpose of these low-key shows was really to road-test some of the songs we’ve been working on and try to gauge a bit of a reaction. And then we’ve got about a month off in April when we’ll probably try to get to work. We’ve got lots and lots of songs floating around. We had songs left over from the last record and maybe it’s time to start revisiting those. Matty’s written a lot of tunes and I’ve got a few and Andy’s got a few. So we’re not short of ideas but basically we’re just gauging which way we should push it and that’s the kind of purpose of this tour.”
Can we expect it by the end of the year? “I wouldn’t like to say… Just when it’s ready. I mean, it’s not going to be out before it’s right. There’s no big rush. It’ll definitely be before the end of next year! We wouldn’t want to put anything out that’s half-arsed or music for music’s sake. It’s got to be right.”