It can’t be easy being Hope Of The States.
A band who always seem to feel the weight of expectation burdening their shoulders – their own perhaps most acutely. Particularly when you’ve just released the dreaded sophomore album.
musicOMH met up with lead singer Sam Herlihy to see if that perception is accurate.
Oh – and let him test our ability to spell…
So how’s the tour been going so far?
It’s been good. It’s a funny time of the year to tour…
Yeah, before festivals, the weathers good and the football is on, so I think a lot of people would rather sit outside a pub rather than bowl into hot’n'sweaty venues, but no, the shows have been good.
It’s of a much larger scale to the previous tour isn’t it? So which do you prefer? Is it the acoustic thing in the Buffalo Bar where you have to tell the front three rows to sit down, or is it things like tonight where you can barely see the front three rows?
I think, without meaning to give a really boring answer, there’s good things to both. Playing tiny gigs in absolute sweat boxes, being backed into a corner with the songs you can play is really, really good fun, and then it’s nice to get on slightly bigger stages where we can have more stuff and be more comfortable with the sound.
And are the projections back?
Er, yeah, of a sort. We, uh, after doing that first tour we though we didn’t really want to do what we did before, and we felt we didn’t really need them as much, so we got a load of CCTV cameras all over the stage and lots of terrifying close ups of peoples faces. It’s nice to do something, but it was a case of not wanting to take anything away from the songs…
Did you feel like certain people were latching onto the projections as something to hold against you?
Yeah, it just became something that, in a way, we felt was kind of a weight around our neck. There’s a lot to be said for projections, I just think, at the moment we’d rather have things be a bit more focused on us and on the songs, as opposed to the “grand scheme”, because you end up just getting painted with this brush of – same with the packaging – of as if we’re trying to cover everything up and that was never the case. There was just no way we could come out and play the old songs with the old projections. And with the new songs it’s not the kind of thing we can bash out in a week or something, they take a really long time to do.
Speaking of things that seemed to take a long time to ‘do’, Left. Was it as long coming as it seems?
Everybody asks us where the time went and we don’t really know. It was, I don’t know, we started in January last year and woke up in March this year and it was done, and we had no idea where the time went – we weren’t sat around on our arses you know, we worked constantly, but we’re one of those bands who like to chase things, and sometimes it’s wrong, it’s a dead end, but we feel like we have to do that to realise what’s right.
Presumably then the label weren’t on your back demanding an album by the middle of next week?
No, not at all. They left us to it, really. I think there’s a lot of talk, especially recently because there’s a lot of guitar bands who sell loads of records, and I’m sure that’s really nice, and it would be nice, but it’s not our guiding principal and ultimately, if a label decides they’re not willing to continue supporting that then they won’t, and we’ll go and do something else.
Although, Left does feel a more direct record…
Yeah it is…
so more in keeping with what’s around, and popular, at the moment?
Totally, but then I think if we’d have released this record when we released the first one maybe we’d have gone and become some big band, whereas now, the bands that we’re perceived to be a part of something with are bands that we have absolutely nothing in common with whatsoever, these are pop bands – and they do that very well – but it’s not what we listen to, it’s not what we know, it’s not where we see ourselves.
Do you feel there is a lack of musical ambition?
I don’t hear a lot of musical ambition in many records that which are these great popular things. There’s a lot of reductivism, or whatever that word is…
…you do know I’m going to have to spell that now?
[laughs] Yeah, sorry, and you know, there’s a lot of lowest common denominator things and a lot of records that sound pretty scared to me. It’s this thing of lets maintain the status quo, and they end up sounding like Status Quo a lot of the time.
So do you see Left as a big direction change?
Yeah I do. And I hope that if we ever make another record that we do the same thing, in that we go and do something totally different.
Joy Division gone disco this time?That, that fucking haunted me since I said it. It was a fucking joke! But yeah, I hope so. I’m bored witless with what I was listening to a month ago, and what was inspiring me then is very different to what’s inspiring me now, and that’s the same with all of us in the band.
It does seem an angrier record though…
I think it is angry, but I think there was anger on the first record, and there was more striving towards a point emotionally, and this record is more like *bosh*, more of a slap to the face as opposed to a needling away.
But still hopeful with it?
Totally, yeah yeah. A lot’s happened to us, and so much of this record is about us, about the six of us, about the way we see ourselves, the way that we see the band, and the way that we see the world around us in relation to our band, and you know, without meaning to quote Jerry Maguire, we live in a fucking cynical world, and I find that really fucking hard to deal with and desperately desperately sad. A lot of the time we just feel like we’re smashing our heads against a brick wall, but then I think there’s some kind of beauty in aiming for something and maybe not hitting it all the time, you know? I think that’s better than these endless parades of winners, these really smug fake-grinned winners that seem to populate things that are really fucking important to us.
You mentioned musical tastes varying rapidly over time, but were there any specific, strong influences on the record?
With six of us, we all disagree 24 hours a day, so all we ever have is one point that we all know we want to get too but we’ll all get there in completely different ways, which is infuriating and amazingly inspiring at the same time. For me it was just getting guitars to play together and be really interlocked, like spiders. That was the thing. Which I know sounds really pretentious, but it wasn’t meant like that, just this thing of, you know like Television records, the guitars are so interlocked and where there’s a clash it’s there for a reason, that was something I was really interested in, it was this thing of trying to lift things through arrangement as opposed to layers -there’s a few things on the record which are very layered, but there’s a hell of a lot of stuff which is not a lot going on and it sounds four times bigger than it is because of the arrangement, and that was something that was really difficult.
But overall, are you pleased with it?
Oh, really fucking pleased with it, yeah, I’m not one for hindsight, particularly, I just don’t really see the point. But, same as the first record really, Left captures us. It was the best version of these songs that we could possibly do at the time, so I’m immensely proud of it. I think it’s… I dunno, it’s got a good spirit, I think, and it’s kind of questing and just kind of screaming but in a positive way. And I really hope that people get that. It’s kind of sad, there’s so much history with us which has nothing to do with us, and I think sometimes people miss the point, that there are so many songs on the record that are criticisng ourselves and then you read a review, and it’s criticising us for the things that we’ve already pointed out on the fucking record, and you just think listen to the fucking thing. Maybe on the next record we should just sing “Nah-nah-nah” and “Wooooh” and maybe then everybody will be happy. Because it’s hard you know, you put yourself out there and you get fucking shot down, and there are millions of people infinitely more brave than we are, but from a musical sense I don’t hear any bravery or spirit in the music that seems to be popular these days, and that’s just where we are, and you just think, well, maybe we lose in the end, but at least we fought a good fight.
So, as a final question, where too next?
No idea really. I just think we’ll see where we’re at after these shows and see what we want to do… I don’t think anything is set in stone – which is nice, but um, I don’t know, it’s not my… I don’t know… Sorry, it’s a loaded question at the moment.
Obtuse in the last instance but with the scalding rhetoric of Left burning in our ears, we’ll forgive them that. As well we should; few bands have shown the ambition displayed by HOTS across two albums, and fewer still have managed to pull it off. If they do end up losing there’s going to be a large, flaming hole in the British musical landscape where scope and passion once resided. So rouse yourself, join hands, link arms, and don’t let it happen… Okay?