This is the second of our features on the bands Londonist thinks you need to know about. Last week we brought you the energetic indie pop of The Pipettes. This week we bring you melodic, atmospheric indie rock in the form of Hedon.
"You've got to properly kick people in the bollocks in every single moment of every single song," says Archer James, lead singer of the google- and url-unfriendly Hed*n (hereafter referred to as Hedon).
"There's no room for generic acoustic stuff. Unless that's what your trademark is." Generic acoustic stuff is very much the opposite of what Hedon are about, as a sleepy, bleary-eyed Londonist caught up with the band at their Sunday morning rehearsal, one chilly December day.
Since becoming a five-piece unit, Hedon have worked hard, playing gigs and demoing songs, producing a number of impressive demos which should ensure that, sooner or later, the band's current quest for management and recording deals will be fruitful.
The demos have strong melodies, atmospheric instrumental backing, and incredibly sensitive guitar playing. They have a sound at odds with the spiky nature of bands like Franz Ferdinand and the wet blanket pop of the likes of Keane and there’s a distinct absence of bandwagon-hopping.
"There's some great new bands coming through like Bloc Party, Sea Change, The Boxer Rebellion and The Editors, who are fantastic, but we don't want to be lumped in with all that. You don't want to be lumped into a scene. That's when you're in trouble... It's about being a bit different, being a bit better and not just resting on the laurels of what you like."
Archer and guitarist Rav met playing football in the park when they were 11, and have been friends ever since, although not necessarily a musical partnership in all that time.
"I criticised Rav's band in this magazine I did at school. Rav and one of his mates just came up and ripped up loads of copies of it which just made me laugh. Eventually we just started doing music together and it evolved a bit."
A prolific song-writing partnership – they have amassed around 200 songs between them in the past few years – the duo became a full band in February 2004. Courtenay Purcell came in on keyboards, Jake Gladman on bass, and Mike Roberts completed the rhythm section on drums.
So how did the others feel about joining a band where there was such a long-standing bond already between the two main men?
Jake, the friendly, articulate, well-spoken bassist, says, "I stamped my authority pretty quickly, I think! I was looking at starting my own thing and then Archer got in touch with me and he sent me through the demo and I heard from just that first listen that I wanted to be a part of them. Met them, got along really well, there hasn't been a problem since."
Courtenay, the quiet, fresh-faced keyboardist tells a similar story: "I thought I'd be finding musicians who'd be starting from scratch but it was actually good to meet people that had written a load of songs, demoed them to good quality, were heading somewhere, so it was a leap forward."
In fact, as should happen but so often doesn't, the new recruits were confident enough to add to the strength of the music. As Mike, the shy but genial drummer says, "I've listened to stuff a little bit that the guys are into but that's not my influence, and I think that's what makes a good band: if everyone digged the same stuff it'd be very boring. I sneak stuff in, they don't realise. We've actually got a Big Band section in a song now which has taken me three years to get in!"
In fact, Mike genuinely brings something very different to the mix. "My influences are probably Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, big band stuff, Vinnie Colaiuta – a phenomenal drummer."
On his influences, Jake says, "We've all got such eclectic tastes. The last couple of years I’ve been on a big Motown kick. I won't go into specifics, any good song, I'm not bothered. If Britney Spears could come out with a half-decent one I might even admit to liking that."
The details of the ensuing conversation about the relative merits of Girls Aloud and Britney Spears are probably not suitable for publication, but Archer sums up the spirit of it pretty well, albeit in a Tourettes kind of way, when he says, "People are too precious about what constitutes a song. What constitutes a song isn't some huge great guitar solo, it's a tune people can connect with."
Which brings us neatly to the guitarist, Rav. The guitar playing in the demos that Hedon have produced have been noticeable for their restraint. The songs have an epic feel but there's no guitar-hero histrionics from Rav. Watching him in the rehearsal studio, Londonist was taken with the ease and relaxed guitar style that seems to strikes a perfect balance in adding something to the song yet not hogging the limelight, even during the solos. There's a distinct lack of ego. Ironic, when you think that Rav's main influence is Noel Gallagher. Or not that ironic, if you listen to what Rav says: "I just play what's needed. Everything I play is because it's catchy. It's all about trying to do catchy little repetitive hooks, that's what Noel used to do. Just as long as it's got soul and something that moves you."
When asked about his influences, Archer at first eschews mention of musical references, preferring to cite Martin Amis, Byron, Poe, Baudelaire, Aleister Crowley, and books such as Amis the Younger's Time's Arrow and Money. (Echoes of Blur around the Parklife album - London Fields was often mentioned by Damon Albarn as a great influence.)
"What we do isn't the same as everyone else. It's not the same garage rock and it's not the same second-rate 70s music everyone's regurgitating..."
So, in one ear, Hedon avoid sounding like any of the buzz bands currently on the scene. Yet in the other ear, Hedon's sound is so outside of any scene, it sounds incredibly familiar, classic, even. The obvious first influences you hear are The Verve and Radiohead. The latter influence is especially evident in the facility with which Hedon move between time-signatures, sometimes within the same song. While some of the early tracks could lead to a game of 'spot the influence', the maturing sound of Hedon shows that the band is fast becoming more than the sum of its constituent parts. It clearly bypasses the trap of pastiche that many bands fall into, and with the literary influences on Archer, has a greater depth lyrically than much of the moping 'anthemic' words sung nowadays.
Hedon have clearly got their sights set much higher than emulating the success of bands like Franz Ferdinand, The Bravery, Razorlight and The Libertines. They've got their sights set on longevity, citing bands like Blur, Supergrass, Radiohead and Athlete as beneficiaries of a discerning A&R policy.
"We're as ready as a lot of bands. We're better than them just because of the soundscapes that we create, the songs that we have, their ability to connect with people, the emotional drive and the musicianship behind the songs."
According to Archer, "Hedon's sound is really maturing right now - both in the nature of the music and the actual songs and, of course, the lyrics. There's a whole stack of anthems in waiting which, if you liked Scarlet and Who Melts Your Heart? will blow your mind."
Londonist liked the aforementioned songs immensely so we're looking forward to the new ones. It's not often demos make your spine tingle, and it's a little frustrating for us that, for the sake of the band, we didn't review the demos for our readers. Hedon do intend, however, to lock themselves away very soon to concentrate on recording and nailing their sound. With luck, there will be some songs out some time in the summer, at which time those not lucky enough to see Hedon live or to hear their demos will catch up with what the rest of us are already delighting in.