RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW BRADFORD BAND EXPERIMENT 637
Hiya folks thanks for joining us in the virtual RGM lounge today, grab a brew and take a seat.
What made you decide that music is a thing for you?
Mickey: I’ve loved playing and listening to music since I was about 3 years old. I began playing on someone else’s piano, and soon after, my parents bought me a fifteen-note Bontempi organ with chord buttons. It was pretty horrific to be honest, but it showed them that I had the interest to learn and improve, and soon after that, an upright piano appeared one day in our living room, and that was amazing!
Ronan: I’ve always loved making things – creating something from scratch. I just loved starting something afresh and building something from the ground up. I tried my hand at many things, mostly creative, and the despite not being a technical musician, I found that I was pretty good at making songs. It felt like the easiest way of making stuff to me, and since I’ve had that realisation, I’ve just tried to find as many opportunities to be around music as possible.
Introduce us you / all to the members and your musical history?
The band is me (Mickey) and my dear friend Ronan Peaker. Ronan has a great band called LELO, and they’ve been into my studio a few times to make records, with me producing them. Ronan and I hit it off big style and wen enjoy each other’s humour and company.
A couple of years ago, I was on tour with another band, playing keyboards, and Ronan came on tour with us to look after and sell all the merchandise. Around that time, he was going through a break up with his long-term partner, and yet another band which I was part of was going through a tough time. Essentially, we were both going through break-ups, and to keep ourselves busy and distracted, we vowed to get into the studio and try and write some songs together as soon as the tour ended. And that’s exactly what we did, just as an experiment. The ideas came flying out of us. It was fresh, and hugely exciting, and we felt no pressure to do anything other than explore the ideas and have fun doing it.
My other band inevitably did break up, which left a slot in the line-up of a gig which Ronan and I were promoting at Brudenell Social Club in Leeds, in November 2019. So, we shuffled the other three bands up the bill, and Experiment 637 played their debut show, performing the only three songs which we had ready!
But the unique factor was that while it was just the two of us on stage (with a lot of sampler stuff going on through the PA), we enlisted the help of a videographer friend and he came and filmed Ronan playing the drums to the songs against a big green screen, which meant that during the gig, we could use a huge projector to show Ronan playing the drums in all kinds of wonderful locations (including upon a flying carpet!). The crowd looked on with their mouths wide open, aghast at what they were witnessing. It felt like a triumph especially with all the negative stuff we were trying to cope with personally.
On a high from our debut performance, we quickly made plans to write an album and of course change the world, as bands tend to do after playing a great show! Three months later, we were thrust into the first COVID lockdown, and we didn’t see each other for many months. It’s a miracle that we got through that really. Anxiety levels were horrendous and it’s the most difficult thing I have ever had to deal with (particularly with no government financial help). But we did get through it and as soon as the rules allowed, we began to spend 3 days a week writing and recording our album, and that became our anchor.
Looking back now, that dark period really influenced the songs, and now we’re in happier times personally, I’m glad that we experienced that difficult time, otherwise the album would not be as personal or honest.
The music industry is the hardest industry in the world to progress in, How do you feel you are doing?
We feel that we’re doing really great. We exist and get our music out there to the audience in spite of this crazy industry! With the help of word of mouth, and magazines like RGM and Louder Than War, our audience is growing slowly but surely and it’s happening in an honest and organic way. We’re not spending thousands on PR or plugging. We’re just doing our thing and taking our time. People are beginning to take notice and check us out, which is fantastic!
I should also point out that we have an amazing group of friends who help us do so much behind the scenes. We’re in the process of making a film, which is essentially nine music videos, one for each song on the album. But the videos have a connecting narrative. It’s a stupidly enormous task, and bigger than we imagined when we began filming! Thankfully, we have an amazing director called Alex Kershaw, who also creates stunning animation. And we have my partner Paul, and our good friend Jim who both help us with locations and logistics. Here’s an example:
“Jim, we need a log cabin in the middle of nowhere for a video shoot. We have no budget. Can you help?”. And 20 minutes later, Jim has emailed with a choice of three perfect locations.
Paul built us a robot for the opening song of our album called ‘Old Machine’, and by using a series of electro magnets the robot could drop all of his circuit boards from his body onto the floor via a series of switches. Sounds crazy but it will all make sense when we release that video very soon!
The great thing about how the industry has changed is that we no longer need the permission or approval of an executive at JustAnotherMajor Record Label Inc in order to make our records or the film. We go and do it, and release it in our own DIY way, all self-funded and without any interference.
We measure our success in terms of “did that turn out as well as we hoped, or even better?”. If the answer is yes, then we’re winning! From what I can see, thanks to people mostly streaming music, there’s no real money left in the record business, unless of course you are Coldplay or Ed Sheeran. Albums in the UK top 10 are selling less than 5,000 records right now, and a band cannot live on that kind of revenue. And so, we do it for love, and also because this is what we are best at, and what we feel that we were born to do. If that sounds corny, hey we’re fine with that too!
I was really impressed that you went to the trouble of posting the album and used some rather snazzy paper with all your details too, nice one mate what made you do that?
We are perhaps a bit obsessive about packaging and detail. We have always loved album packaging and bands (and brands) that go above and beyond. It’s hugely important, I think. When we were sending out the review copies of our album on CD, we didn’t want just a CDR with ‘EXP637’ scribbled on it with a Sharpie. Nobody’s going to take any notice of that shit! I like it when bands take pride in those details!
We wrote to each magazine editor individually, and printed the letter on tracing paper. It harks back to Factory Records, and the New Order album ‘Low Life’, which is beautifully packaged, some of it on tracing paper.
Our album ‘Sleepwater’ is available in a transparent green vinyl version, and we made the record sleeve transparent too, with tracing paper lyric sheets and a tracing paper hand written message from the band in each copy. We wanted to play with the word water, and have something that you can hold up and see right through the sleeve and the record and the lyric sheet. Anyone fancying one of those can grab one from our website (www.ecperiment637.com)
We set up RGM USA and many other countries in the world to share music with America and the UK, good idea?
Absolutely! Respect to you for spreading the word! The world should be more connected, which is why Brexit is such a depressing mess for anyone who likes the idea of connection and free movement. Musicians can no longer easily move around the EU to play shows for people and we see no benefit to all this red tape and paper work. People need and deserve great art and entertainment.
Do you sign up to any conspiracy theories?
No, not at all. we left that to Ian Brown and Eric Clapton. We were too busy having fun in the studio!
Lets share the love, what bands are doing really well in your Town / City?
Well sadly, Bradford doesn’t really have a scene at all, at the moment. The only thing musical getting any press from around here is Bad Boy Chiller Crew.
With Leeds only 15 minutes away on the train, everyone seems to go there for their live music needs, and Leeds is a thriving city for music of all types. You can feel the energy when you arrive in Leeds station. The place is truly buzzing. Thankfully, Bradford is gradually waking up to the idea of investing in arts and upping its game, but decades of bad choices by the local council and a lack of investment has hit this city hard, and it’s going to be a slow recovery. But we are watching, and we are hopeful.
What advice would you give other artists starting out?
Strive to be the best version of you. Don’t go hopping on any bandwagons. It’s dull and boring. Focus on what makes you stand out and amplify those character traits. That way, you’ll hopefully get noticed for doing something fresh and exciting.
Ronan: If you’re comfortable, you’re probably not making something that’s worthwhile you creating. You’re probably not doing something that’s worth your time doing even! At no point did I feel comfortable in the writing and recording process of ‘Sleepwater’. If one of us wasn’t asking a ridiculous question about a part, or posing a bonkers challenge on the presentation of a track then the other was. There was essentially a constant ‘What if?’ being uttered from one end of the room. Operating out of your comfort zone is where the best ideas come from.
Did you buy anything you don’t need in the pandemic?
A bunch of Go Pro cameras which we used a little during lockdown to help bands who couldn’t play to their live audiences. “Come to the studio and stream a live gig!”. A great idea which lasted about 12 weeks. But it WAS lots of fun while we did it!
Ronan: I bought a hand-powered coffee bean grinder that I used once during the week I decided I’d get really into coffee! It’s just sat in my cupboard now…
Mickey; we both realised we were drinking way too much coffee!
What was the worst experience on stage?
We have only played one gig, so I think we should come back to that question when we’ve worked out how to play our album in a live setting! We’re starting to work on that right now, and hope to do something either late this year or very early next. We’ll be using visuals and our video projector. Talking of which, I remember a great story about a massive band (might have been Chemical Brothers, but not certain) who had finished their huge production rehearsals for a busy summer of festivals. Their Lighting Designer had finished doing all the amendments for the animated footage which would be blasted on giant screens all over the stage at some massive UK or European festivals. Sadly, the visuals guy had left the footage rendering overnight on his computer but had not checked to make sure it had all exported correctly, and halfway through the second song at some massive festival show, a message of “ERROR! YOUR VIDEO FILE DID NOT EXPORT” which continued throughout the whole show! Poor guy. I’m hoping that our first ever Experiment 637 tour will be as memorable as that!
Tell us something about you / each member that you think people would be surprised about?
Ronan: On a hungover rest day on a tour we were both on, we sat in a dimly lit pub pondering our existence and being insanely cynical on just about everything, when Mickey uttered the words ‘Well, we should just set up a record label and release our music ourselves’.
I guess it may surprise some that we run a DIY record label from the beautiful Heaton, in Bradford, West Yorkshire!
Mickey: I once broke my arm but didn’t know for ages until the teachers at school wondered why I could no longer paint or draw. I was three years old. I had fallen off the garden shed, which I had somehow climbed onto. I had a pot on my arm and all that jazz.
If you had to describe your band/music to an alien how would you describe it?
“Hello! Please check our band out. Some of our songs sounds a bit like your guys covering songs by humans… Can we please tour your planet? Do aliens buy records or did Spotify already ruin that too?”
What makes you stand out as a band/artist?
I don’t know! There’s a pretty big age gap between us both, so we have a very broad range of influences. But when I am writing, I don’t listen to other people’s records. I shut it all out and just rely on what’s in my head. Obviously, I have the years of influences stored somewhere in my brain, but neither of us are spinning anyone’s records in order to steal an idea. I think that’s part of what might help us to sound very much like us. And in the studio, we like to add layers of dirt to each instrument. We’re not interested in the perfect piano sound. We’re more into making the piano sound like it’s been recorded in a submarine, or found on an old sun baked cassette tape in the glove box of an old Datsun 240Z, or found in a sand pit.
Ronan: People have said to me how ‘out there’ our music sounds, (especially compared to the other projects we’re in). But I think that now, we’re so used how Experiment 637 sounds, we just hear the songs for what they are – not all of the whispered chanted vocals and heavily effected keyboard layers! I think that helps us stand out because we’re more fearless and far less concerned about how we might be perceived thanks to our confidence in the songs and one another. Sure, when we first recorded some sections of the earlier tracks, we were both out of our depth and unsure about just how far we could go – but that’s really what drove our album!
I hear you have new music, what can you tell us about it?
We have our album! Out now on vinyl, CD, and on all the streaming platforms.
What was the recording process like?
Once lockdown was over and we got going properly with the recording process, it was very fast! Ronan would come over on the train from Leeds to Bradford, and we’d play each other our ideas at the piano in my living room, and then head down into the studio in my cellar and dive straight in. We both play several instruments which allow us to try many approaches before settling on the right one. I love to work fast, especially when the song is first being played together. Momentum and spontaneity are vital, otherwise, ideas can get stagnant pretty quickly. We didn’t spend more than 2 days recording any song on the album, which is pretty quick, I think!
If an idea got stuck, we’d park it and go for a walk, or just watch a movie and chill. Songs are precious and you can’t batter them into submission.
What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?
LESS IS MORE! Space in songs and recordings is crucial, as is not rushing the tempos. Lots of producers like to see how fast a song can be before it’s too fast. We like to come at this from the other end! How slow can we go?!
Ronan: I definitely learned to be more confident in my ability to play. In the past, I have often relied on pedal boards and vocal effects to cover up elements of my performance, but despite us doing a lot in post-production, I think there are tonnes of elements and sections of the album where we are both truly exposed, which is something I think we both had to learn to be okay with.
Would you change anything now it’s finished?
We’re both really happy with the record. This might be the only time I have ever been truly happy with a record! Oh, hang on… there’s a synth sound that we put on the song “Is As The Wind’. It’s meant to evoke the feeling of a wasp, or a fly, or a mosquito spoiling the serenity of a beautiful, perfect sunny day. And I was adamant that this sound was there to stay! And Ronan agreed, but then my partner Paul heard the album and looked at me, shaking his head and said “I can’t believe you left that synth on the finished record!”.
A very famous artist once said “Always leave a mistake in your work”, and I guess that perhaps, we did!
Ronan: I love that synth! I rarely disagree with Boss Man Paul, but I do on this occasion! That’s no mistake!!!
Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?
Stay safe, be kind, and don’t worry about what you can’t influence.