Dirty Pretty Thing – and sometime Libertine – Anthony Rossomondo, bandmate of Carl Bart, has agreed to answer some questions about the band’s first year in action.
For this quizzical session, musicOMH finds itself orbiting Norwich en route to the University of East Anglia, where Dirty Pretty Things are set to woo a crowd of fans on this very eve.
Norwich (and more precisely UEA Student Union) is, quite spectacularly, in the middle of nowhere, a journey that ends with a single-track road long after the motorways and even dual carriageways have run out. As Dirty Pretty Things play here tonight, around the corner UEA students are putting on an end-of-term, open-air carol service.
The bizarreness of the juxtaposition is something that Anthony Rossomando can well appreciate. “There’s a lot of romance in the old world spirit of this country”, he says, “In America, our mythology has been squashed down … the Indians are almost considered silly stuff. But the Druids and that sort of thing, you don’t disqualify it or just brush it aside. No-one’s ever going to let you just bulldoze Stonehenge”.
History and tradition, the idea of an idealised past and a romantic present and future that’s evident in Dirty Pretty Things’ ethos is obviously important to Rossomando. In his own words, he is in a band that has “the hardest rock’n’roll shadow to grow out of”. I ask if he ever considers himself to be in the most difficult position of any of the band – not quite, like Carl Bart and Gary Powell, coming with the fully-fledged weight of The Libertines behind him, but neither, like Didz Hammond, coming to Dirty Pretty Things entirely fresh and baggage free.
“Spinning around when I’m playing and seeing Carl and Gary’s faces isn’t new”, he says, “but it’s new in the sense that I never had any creative input into The Libertines. Doing this band has been on fast forward, the first 12 songs that we ever assembled are on the record – and that’s it. There was no opportunity to write a whole bunch of songs, take out the best and have time to rework things.
“We’ve all grown together, quite expediently, in the last 15 months. It’s like a new relationship, just as much for Carl and Gary, because it was our first tour and we had to … not sell the band exactly, but it did feel like we had to cut our teeth and prove that there was some marrow in our bones. The thing that was most important to us was always the sincerity and the truth and doing something that we felt was real to us. Everyone had a bit of input into every song, a bit more stock in it. There was a lot more emotion flowing, especially early on, because putting it all together was much more of a creative process. For me, it’s been a totally different process because I can identify more”.
Dirty Pretty Things have, at times, seemed like one of the most inconsistent bands of 2006. They can be brilliant, but at times The Libertines are an albatross around their neck, too heavily represented in their live set when they should have been able to put to their previous band’s songs behind them. This is something Rossomando understands.
“I’ve kinda got bored of playing Death On…” he stumbles over the name of the song. “Death On My Stairs … (laughs). My death on somebody else’s stairs, pretty much”. He says that playing those songs is more about nostalgia. “This is definitely the last tour we’ll do any of that stuff, the end of the era of our foray as this new band”. He says they didn’t necessarily want to put so many Libertines songs into the set but, “we’ve only got the one album. We’ve toured it hard and fast. We don’t have enough material of our own to play for a whole set, we play about 19, 20 songs and we’re still done in about an hour. We obviously haven’t moved into indulgent and ballady songwriting yet, we just plough ’em out. We’ve just been too tired to get a lot of the new material ready for the gigs. There’s no time on the road. But there’ll be significant changes next year, when we’ll have all the second album’s worth of material. There’s a lot of stuff I’m really confident about. It’s a step away but it’s still going to have the urgency. We’re still going to record it in a similar fashion so that we’re not becoming too indulgent. We’re not going to turn into Pink Floyd“. So, he doesn’t see himself as Dave Gilmour, then?
“I can’t play like that anyway”, he laughs, “all virtu… virtuositic or whatever. So we’ll still have that immediacy. But the songs have grown, the arrangements will be different and there’s a bit more experimentation. I’m very influenced by the paste it back together, post-punk spirit … there will be a couple more mid-tempo songs and some more Smiths, jangly kind of stuff. It’s going to be the first record that we make together that really sounds like us. But the spirit’s not going to die. Gary’s playing is really identifiable, Carl’s playing is very identifiable … it’ll be hard to move away from that but there are a couple of songs now where Carl’s not playing lead guitar and Didz will play some keys. We’re going to become much more of our own band with this next record. We’re not going to need to play any more Libertines songs and maybe by the second record, by next year, we’ll have grown out of that very large, very all-encompassing shadow”.
The past isn’t something the band intends to put behind them completely, however. “If there’s one thing to come out The Libertines that we can be proud of, it’s the tradition and the spirit they embodied in the early days. But onwards and upwards and move away. The juices are flowing and everyone’s buzzing, although we’re all looking forward to a little break and maybe connecting with reality again over the holidays before diving back in to finish these songs off. January seems to be a good time to do it”.
Another thing he doesn’t want to see lost is the band’s ability to connect with their fans. The accessibility has always been important to the band and it pays off – not least in a phenomenally loyal army of fans who were waiting for Dirty Pretty Things long before their first live dates were announced.
“We get fantastic responses from album tracks,” he says. “Gin and Milk, Bloodthirsty Bastards and The Enemy go down huge treats against the ones that were released as singles. We definitely benefit from people knowing the whole record. Lots of people had the record before it came out – we were on tour all the time, so we could gauge how it was going. Really early on, we were in Germany and someone was singing all of the lyrics to The Gentry Cove. The album wasn’t released, that track wasn’t even close to being a single. It’s not a song you expect someone to pick up all the words on. That’s the power of the internet. It’s crazy but it’s so cool”.
The live experience, this connection with the fans, is something that he is sure will remain at the heart of the Dirty Pretty Things experience. “To me, that danger, that element, is what sets [live gigs] apart from people opting to go out to the movie theatre or staying at home typing away on their computer. If we can keep the spirit of initiating the conversation – the social, human conversation – then we’re doing well. None of us has any aspirations to be a stadium rock band, just to make sincere records that mean something to us. If that spills over into someone saying something to someone, who then says something back, then … the conversation has been struck, the match has been lit and there we go.
“The physical, human experience is what creativity is born from – that long day, when the train gets delayed by four hours and you get stuck at some weird town. That happens to everybody and those anomalies in life are important. I just hope people don’t get too mired down in the workaday stuff. I know I’m pretty lucky, I do as I please most of the time, I don’t have to be up at 6am to go to work every morning”. Fully aware that he’s talking from a privileged juncture, he smiles. “I just pontificate on idealism.”