INTERVIEW by ZAK SLOMAN
PHOTO by IAN GAV
Since first forming as A back in 1993, the Suffolk alternative rock outfit have been on an eventful journey that has seen highs – signing their first record contract, releasing a string of critically and commercially successful albums, and playing gigs and festivals at venues across the world – and lows – the record label they were a part of suddenly collapsing, getting into a dispute with the label that took over their contract, resulting in them being dropped, and the band splitting up for three years in the mid-2000’s.
However, they have risen above those past negative events to become a collective who are highly-respected by their musical peers, and still bring much fun and enjoyment to their live shows.
Following the current five-piece’s set at the Electric Ballroom – as part of the recent Camden Rocks Festival – I went backstage to speak with frontman Jason Perry, who spoke to me frankly about his and the rest of the band’s experiences over the years.
How did the band initially form?
In the womb! Me and Adam (Perry, drums) are twins, then Giles (Perry, keyboards/vocals) popped out four years later. We were always into creating and playing music, which then eventually evolved into us starting a jam covers band when me and Adam were 11, and that was it, really, as we’ve just carried on ever since.
How did the name A come about?
We wanted a name that didn’t really mean anything, which wasn’t pretentious or anything, easy to remember, and wouldn’t tie us down to a specific genre. Also, we wanted a name that looked good on a T-shirt.
What would you say was your songwriting approach?
I don’t know, to be honest. Mainly, I will walk around, an idea will suddenly come into my head, and I’ll put it down on my phone or whatever.
We’ve never just sat down and written a song. Mark (Chapman, guitarist) will often come up with a bit of music, so did Dan (P. Carter, former bassist), when he was in the band, back in the day, and then we’ll join up all of the different dots to create a song. That’s the way we’ve always done it.
In 2002, the band brought out their third album, ‘Hi-Fi Serious’, which did really well critically and commercially. How did you all deal with the response to it at the time?
Honestly, we wanted it to do better! (laughs) No, it did well, but we thought it was going to take off in America, because we had been touring there a lot, putting down all of the groundwork, and a few of our tracks had been played on K-ROQ (an influential radio station in Los Angeles, which specialises in playing alternative rock), which was a big deal, so just before the album came out, we were really excited, all of us were thinking, “This is going to be it! We’re going to crack America!“, but unfortunately, Mammoth Records – the label we were with at the time – suddenly collapsed.
We first heard that news while we were all in France, snowboarding with Jo Whiley of BBC Radio 1, and Mis-Teeq, who were this pop group. We had had a great couple of days, but then we got this call about the label collapsing, and that it had been taken over by Disney, so we had gone from being part of this really cool record label, to being part of Hollywood Records, which was owned by Disney.
You went on to have a dispute with them, didn’t you?
Yeah, we did. We were gutted, because we had brought out a big album, which was doing well here in the UK, it was also doing well in Japan, Germany, France, all of these different markets, and when the MTV Awards were being held that year – I think it was hosted by Jack Black – and they were giving out the award for best band, they played one of our songs, yet in the middle of all that, our label had collapsed, and we subsequently lost our record deal, so it was really bad luck.
In 2005, the band decided to take a break. At the time, was it just meant to be that, or did you honestly think this was the end of A?
We had just brought out another album (‘Teen Dance Ordination‘), which didn’t do very well, it didn’t land anywhere, and when you had had a big album on a major label, to then come back and not get any radio play, it wasn’t good.
We did another tour after that, but we didn’t want to end up being this band that just kept hanging around, complaining all the time, so we decided to take the “no complaining” route, and during our break, I began to write and produce music for other bands.
Over the years, you’ve toured all over the world, playing numerous venues and festivals. What have been your main highlights from those times?
I think touring Japan was our best experience, and the rest of the band would probably say that as well. The main reasons being were that the audiences were cool, and we also got an amazing amount of time off.
We were over there with The Streets – who were our label mates at the time – and The Wildhearts, and we also played with The Offspring and Guns N’ Roses, and on our days off, we would hang out with Mike (Skinner, The Streets frontman) and the other guys from The Streets, and I remember just having an amazing time, as we all had lots of fun. It was really cool.
Also, playing at festivals in Germany, and on the main stage of Reading & Leeds, they were high points for us as well.
When the band first formed, did you ever expect it to still be going now?
No, not now. We wanted to be big, we wanted to write big songs, we wanted to play big venues, but along the way, we scored a few own goals, as we were just silly, because we spent more time trying to make each other laugh rather than doing other things, and I think – looking back – that was detrimental to our careers.
However, having said that, we have always been able to put on a good gig, for example, today could have been a complete disaster, but it ended up being fun, and I think we’ve always been good at being able to do that, as well as connecting with crowds, and that’s always been our favourite things to do as part of being in this band, because at the end of the day, the crowd are cooler than we are, and we’ve always thought that.
I don’t know why, but playing live has always come so naturally to us, as we’re the same on the stage as we are off it, also, we don’t rehearse for any of our gigs, so what you see on stage is genuinely real. In the early days of the band, our manager would try and get us to rehearse, but we quickly got bored and just went to sleep! (laughs)
What are your plans for the near future?
We’ve just written two new songs, which we think are really good, so we’ll soon be recording them in the studio, and then we’ll be going back on tour in November, playing the ‘Monkey Kong‘ album in full.
Will the band be releasing another album at all in the future?
An album seems so old-fashioned to do nowadays, so we’ll just keep on getting out new singles, because it does actually cost a lot of money to record a professional-sounding album, so it would really be of no use for us to release an album that sounded crap.
Also, there’s some really good music about at the moment, and we seem to be heading towards another great era.
And lastly, what advice would you give to any emerging bands and artists out there?
Don’t split up! It sounds obvious, but the best way to succeed is by not developing massive egos, and they say the first rule of business is to stay in business, because some bands tend to forget that at the end of the day, they are actually businesses, so it’s no use arguing over songwriting credits, royalties, etc, because that could result in a band splitting up.
I think everyone who is in a band now needs to find their own specific role to play. It doesn’t necessarily have to be music-related, as now, as well as being a musician, you need to also be an entrepreneur, so finding a role to play is now as important as anything else to do with being in a band.
A WILL BE TOURING THE UK – PLAYING THEIR 1999 ‘A vs. MONKEY KONG’ ALBUM IN FULL – THIS NOVEMBER, MORE DETAILS OF WHICH CAN BE FOUND BELOW:
FURTHER INFO ON THE BAND CAN BE FOUND THROUGH THE FOLLOWING SITES: