April 20th, 2005

Leftovers: Howie Payne of the Stands

I’ve taken most of a week to get around to this, but so it goes. Had a piece in last Thursday’s Journal News about the Stands, a British pop band that is just incredibly fun to listen to. I hope they succeed in building an audience here in the States.

Howie Payne, the band’s songwriter and frontman, was a very pleasant interview subject. Engaging, good humored and down to earth. If you’re from the Valley, I can give you a bit of a sense of what he’s like in conversation by telling you that he reminds me very much of John Allen of the Big Bad Bollocks in both temperament and voice. In case that’s not helpful to you, I’ll say that Payne’s speaking voice sounds a bit like Jon Langford’s singing voice (which is pretty much the same a Jon Langford’s speaking voice, for whatever that’s worth).

I’ve got plenty o’ leftover quotes from my chat with Howie. And here, in the usual rough Q&A format that they were never meant to be presented in, they are.

[Note: We’re gonna jump in sort of in the middle here, because the first quotes in the piece come from the beginning of the interview, with Howie responding to a question about what it’s like to be in the States supporting a two-year-old record just as a brand new disc is being released at home.]
That is a strange thing, because in England and in Europe when we do shows, we’re doing new stuff. So that is a bit strange, the fact that when we come over here and people are asking us about it in interviews: “So Howie, how are you feeling about … ? What does this song mean …? Where were you when you wrote this?” I don’t remember, man. It was like eight years ago. So it’s kind of strange to come over. It feels like we’ve stepped back in time a little bit, which is kind of strange.

But that can only go so far, right? I mean, you’re not over here trying to rediscover the mindset you were in two years ago. You just play the songs the way you play them now — I mean, assuming that’s changed some. Does this question — I’m not sure it’s even a question — does it make any sense?
[Laughing] Yeah. We’ve always done a fair amount of jamming on stage anyway. I don’t like to play the same stuff every night. It’s just something I don’t like to do. So a lot of the songs, we’ll just go off somewhere and have a little groove for a little bit with something or other. So it’s not like we’re trying to just repeat the same things every single night. You know, I’m always sort of careful. I don’t like playing one song too much. I always change the sets around and things like that, you know? How I’m feeling tonight kind of thing, you know?

[Here’s where we got into all the other stuff that’s in the print piece, the stuff about how All Years Leaving got made in a hurry. We come out on the other side with Howie just having told me that he feels like the finished record is the American version, which just came out.]

But you didn’t ultimately change all that much, right? I mean, it’s not like you decided to go back and start from scratch. You tweaked one song, used a different mix of another. It’s not a radically different version of the record that we got here.
I look at it like a photograph, you know? It’s kind of like, you don’t look at a photograph and think I should have had my hair cut differently. It’s done. What are you gonna do?

So was making the new record a completely different experience for you?
The biggest difference is that I felt like I’d exhausted my knowledge of the studio with the first record. I have an amount of knowledge, but … it’s different. I just didn’t want a very polished record for the first record. I just wanted, like a kind of “microphone in the room with the band” record, you know? With all our frailties and warts and all. These are the songs. This is real people playing real songs, you know? But it puts a lot of pressure on you, you know? Not from like an outside source, but, you know, internally. Because you kind of get too attached to it, and I found I couldn’t really get a perspective on exactly where I was at with it. But I was determined to finish myself and not get somebody in. But for the second record I didn’t want to do that. I just thought, OK, I want to work with someone now, I want to learn some more. So we went in with a producer in the form of Tom Rothrock and we got together and worked really closely on the pre-production. You know, we did like weeks of pre-production and then three weeks recording again. So to me, it was a much smoother process. I could concentrate more on, you know, just keeping the band playing the parts that we’d focused on, and just getting the sounds right in the room.

So now here you are and — you’ll be here in the States touring this record when the new one comes out in England, right? I know we talked about this already, but I’m still thinking about it, because it’s starting to hit me just how strange that has to be.
We just left England and everyone’s geared up for the next record and then we come to America and it’s all happening for the first record. That’s what’s really strange.

And it’s not like you restrict yourselves to your old stuff on stage here, right?
[Laughs again.] No, man, no. We’re kind of playing some of the new stuff anyway. We’re not being snobbish about it and being like, hey, we’ve moved on. It’s not like that. We just kind of like playing some of the new stuff, so we’re playing some of the older stuff and some of the newer stuff. But we kind of do that anyway. Half or our sets that we do in England is b-sides, you know?

So that tells me that you just trust your audiences to go along with what you’re doing.
Oh, yeah. Our audiences are not ignorant about what’s good and bad. You don’t do your gig for your audience as much as you do your gig with your audience. There has to be a respect of your audience’s ability to know if you’re doing a good job or not.

[Everything after this pretty much amounts to small talk, so we’ll end it here.]

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