Rook and The Ravens – Interview
Interview with Pete Devine of Pete’s Rock News and Views (http://petesrocknewsandviews.com)
PD: What type of artist are you?
RATR: We’re a rock band led by three-part harmonies and hooks. Joe, James, Tom, David and I’m John.
PD: Tell us the brief history of yourself.
RATR: The main thing is we’ve got this far to be honest, 2020 has been like a weird anxiety dream and we’re over the moon to be distracting some people from that by releasing our fourth LP, “Le Bateau”, recorded by our friend Adam P. Gorman at The Travelling Band’s Pinhole Sound Studio in Manchester, UK.
We met at Uni in Liverpool in the dog days of 2007 when we were all in other bands of varying success and punctuality, we originally formed Rook and The Ravens (a name we came up with as a joke, if you listen to us we’re usually pretty far removed from images of gothic ravens and that) to explore our combined interests in West Coast Americana and indie rock which we didn’t necessarily get to play with in our other bands. We had a string of fun stuff happen to us early on, tours and festivals and the like, Glastonbury was a highlight in 2008. Luckily enough, our manager at the time hooked us up with a great working relationship with the producer Andy Macpherson (Teenage Fanclub, Frank Black, The Who, Corey Hart) and over the next 12 years we released three full length records under our own steam with him, which was a great experience. During that time we also put the hard yards in touring the UK & Ireland, the USA and oddly enough Georgia, where we played to 35,000 people at the first free outdoor music festival of its size to ever be held in the country, in the capital, Tbilisi. The popular president at the time gave the crowd a rousing speech before we played. It wasn’t anything to do with us though, it was to do with being excited for their Eurovision entry who were also on the bill.
PD: Who are your musical and non-musical influences?
RATR: Speaking for the whole band, we regularly name check Neil Young as a massive influence. The way he can seamlessly shift gears between country rockers to down home ballads to all out rock n roll was really the inspiration of how to put together all these disparate parts into something that makes sense. When we started we had a lot of people complaining that what we saw as our main strength, that we have three lead vocalists was also a weakness because we didn’t have a frontman to get behind. I hate the idea of frontmen, there are only a handful of people who are ever truly good at it, and even then they spend half the gig banging tambourines or cheerleading like some chintzy Vegas crooner. In that sense Teenage Fanclub were really important people to look up to as they also have three songwriters, three-part harmonies and don’t really have a frontman. In terms of lyrics, Radiohead and Bright Eyes indulge in words in a way that all of our Tom’s songs do, and James to me sounds like he’s more from the classic songwriting stable of Paul Simon, Ben Kweller and The Beatles.
In terms of non-musical influences, four of us are massive Manchester United fans, one of us is the guy who does all the interesting sports like zorbing, scuba diving and surfing. Four of us studied in humanities or music, so there are definitely lessons we’ve learned about authenticity and criticism that are useful to turn to when we’re making creative decisions.
PD: What are your dreams and goals?
RATR: Just to get back out and play! Then to raise enough money from selling the LP to make the next one, and hopefully get more people to hear Le Bateau because I think people will like it. If that happens before 2021 I’ll be happy.
PD: Who writes your songs, what are they about?
RATR: Tom and James write all the songs on Le Bateau, I think if you listen to them they become pretty clear there’s broad themes across the record of personal growth, and a sense of becoming at ease with time moving in the way it does. There’s pastoral stuff, there’s explorations of society, there’s songs about dying. Very 2020 actually, now I think about it.
PD: How do you promote your band and shows?
RATR: We used to gig a lot, obviously not right now, so it feels like we’re old school songwriters or something, squirrelled away at desks in rooms writing stuff for the next record waiting for our chance to get back out and play. We’ve hit the exact sweet spot for being slightly behind every social media curve since we started. You have to remember just how quickly the world has moved on, even returning trends keep catching us out – like the cassette, one of our mates Tom Blackwell, a singer-songwriter based in Liverpool has just been putting his stuff out on them, as he argues that for one, the quality of the cassette is representative of the DIY home studio equipment he uses but also what people want is some tangible artefact of the cash transaction they’ve made to support his music, and that doesn’t matter whether it’s vinyl or CD or not. The only logical end to this thread is in 2022 people will be hawking MIDI file versions of pop hits on TikTok. Quite how a traditional five piece band navigate this is anyone’s guess. In 2007, when we started, we were told that it was about how many MySpace followers you have. Then, it was about pretending you had a secretary working for you so labels would take you seriously when they received links to your stuff so we were all signing emails from “April”. Then it was about strumming a guitar in your bedroom and getting 40 million followers on YouTube. We don’t know any more is the answer to your question really. All we know is every time we play a show someone who’s seen us before brings someone new, and if those people keep coming back we’re all good.
PD: What do you think about downloading music online?
RATR: We don’t have anywhere near the same amount of monetary value locked into our music as a product in the same way as say, Metallica, did when they went after Napster 20 years ago so can’t really comment on the legality or impact of downloading music online to our brand’s bank balance. The thing I will say is you could argue that the Napster/LimeWire generation were sitting there spending 15 minutes on dial-up internet to download the one song by an artist that they really wanted to hear. I see in this in the generation we have now – it’s back to being how it was in the 1980s where you can literally have one “hit” and that’s you made (the 80s, wow. How hard life was signing on the dole as a musician and having to live in a squat in central London with only enough cash to buy the best synthesiser available). You can see the influence of the downloading generation from 15-20 years ago in the way haphazard capitalisation of track titles from great pop songwriters like Taylor Swift or Billie Eilish remind me of when you thought you were downloading an mp3 of Green Day and it was actually Weird Al or Nickelback or something horrific. It’s absolutely not a model that works for us – it certainly feels as if we’re giving our music away when we get our Spotify royalties through, they barely cover the amount it costs annually to keep our music up there with our distributor costs factored in. We were sold this as it being great exposure, when the reality is it’s just a massive rip-off except for the tiny percentage of people who if they’re not pop starlets are usually the same cartel of old money heritage acts racking up 100million streams for hit singles recorded nearly 60 years ago, that were hits then, hits when they broke up in the 70s and the label punted out a greatest hits compilation, AGAIN in the 80s when their catalogues were released on CD, then hits again in the 90s when the CDs were remastered, then hits in the 2000s when people started fetishising vinyl again so they brought out deluxe versions of the same record they released 60 years previously on 180g gatefold vinyl, and then a hit on Spotify when some post-ironic Netflix series co-opts it into the final credits of season one. It’s not that I’m against the idea per-se, it’s just we’re yet to see any huge benefit to having it all out there to listen to for free. We always make connections with people and promoters and other bands when we play live and that’s the community we love as it has supported us for the last 13 years.
PD: What song do you wish you’d written and why?
RATR: The Whole Of The Moon by The Waterboys. Lyrics are unbelievable, arrangement is stunning, production is timeless and his voice is perfect. A song for the ages.
PD: What are some of your pet peeves?
RATR: The growing idea that being able to play music for anything approaching a living is somehow a fey and luxurious past-time rather than viable paid work which demonstrably contributes to the economy. The comedy gravy train ruining a lot of live music venues forever by taking comedy into venues who realise it’s a lot cheaper to throw up any old microphone with one par can focused on a chair and the underpaid one-person act doing their own sound than it is to pay a five piece band with a proper PA system and an engineer. Promoters who don’t do any promoting beyond booking the room. Not being paid to play. Younger bands STILL getting ripped off on pay to play gigs. We love The Ferret in Preston. The fee hasn’t changed in forever, you get expenses and some tins of Red Stripe but every time we’re there there’s a crowd. These places need our help to survive otherwise that’s it. People who think it’s appropriate to stack dirty dishes in the sink to wash up later. Put them on the side, then I can wash my stuff without having to extract yours from their dish jus.
PD: What is your proudest moment in music?
RATR: Every time we release something I’m proud of it, as there has to be so much that goes right to get there and the feeling you get pushing a release over the line is the best as we’re all heaving that same boulder in the right direction… I have posters framed of our US tour, a poster of the line-up for Wychwood Festival 2011 where we’re on there with The Charlatans, The Waterboys, and our pals The Travelling Band.
PD: So what are you working on at the moment?
RATR: We’re working on getting Le Bateau in front of as many people as possible, while cooking up demos for the next record in the background.
PD: What music have you available online and where can we buy it from?
RATR: www.rookandtheravens.com is your muse here.
Rook and The Ravens links:
Band/Artist location – Manchester England
Facebook – You Tube – Soundcloud – Bandcamp – Merch – Reverbnation –
Twitter – Instagram – Apple – Spotify – Amazon – Deezer – Google Play
Check our page for Rook and The Ravens