Del Osei-Owusu interviews The Happy Somethings…
Hello! How are you all doing?
We’re pretty good thanks. Still recovering from what turned out to be a marathon first-in-a-long-time get together recording session over the weekend. We haven’t met to play for over a year. The last time was just before the first official lockdown, to record Stand Alone Song, which sounds strange to listen back to now because it’s like we knew what was coming – although of course we didn’t! So we’re rather rusty – but it was great. Think we need to get match fit again… and maybe buy some shin pads. Quite a bit of pent-up energy was released.
Our Tom Robinson calls you Optimistic Jangle Fuzz Merchants, what do you think to that label?
We’re very pleased with it. He also likened us to lemon sorbet – which we rather like! We had a little less of the jangle and fuzz for our latest release but it’s seems to be back with a vengeance now. Think ‘Optimistic Jangle Fuzz Merchants’ captures what we try to be about. We’ve been called quite a wide a variety of things – ‘smiling assassins’, ‘warped, wonky & wily’, ‘cunning, simple & complex’ and this morning someone’s called our EP ‘a fistful of wistfulness’. We do try to be optimistic but there’s quite a lot of dark humour and cynicism in there as well. Some people are obviously picking up on our contradictory natures and darker sides… which can sometimes make the dolls we like to hide behind seem a little sinister!
You are a group from the East Midlands, how did it all begin for you?
We all started in our prams and have been in numerous bands of various repute over the years. Between us we’ve played to absolutely no-one, a full-house and most things in-between. We’d known each other for a long time and Joy and Happy had just returned from living in Devon. On catching up with Jolly over an in-house gin or two, the conversation inevitably turned towards music. By the third or fourth gin we were talking about actually making music together – but in a rather hesitant way. Fortunately we all wanted the same thing – to be in a band but without all the trappings… but we still managed to leave it three years before we actually did anything about it!
What was the catalyst for putting the band together?
To be honest, looking back we were a bit jaded and had all had enough of the ups and downs of gigging and ‘band life’ – the highs – and the lows… We made an agreement that we would just play for fun with no expectations or plans and we’ve pretty much stuck to that. We occasionally talk about doing live gigs when others around us seem to be having such a good time – but then we talk some more and decide against it. We’re happiest just doing what we do – which is making music for pleasure. It means a lot to us if we get positive feedback – but we keep reminding each other that we’re really just making music for fun and for ourselves. We really do want our music to be heard outside of our own heads and ears – but having this approach seems to work for us and means we don’t get too deflated if we go unnoticed.
Congratulations on the release of the Beach Cleaners EP, what are your favourite tracks from it?
Thank you! Think we’re just pleased that we managed to create and complete something during these constrained times! We had to work differently to previously as we’re very much a ‘do it in the same room at the same time’ type of band. We’re not especially technically minded, so working separately and combining isolated recordings – also in isolation – proved quite challenging for us. We’ve decided this EP will be a stand alone collection of songs as it’s got something of a different feel. Think it’s a bit more relaxed. Perhaps less fraught and chaotic than a lot of our other material. So to try and answer the question, we’re pleased with the overall collection of songs and they way they hang together. Which is a very long-winded and round-about way of saying we don’t have any favourites!
You also released a bumper twenty track album, what were the challenges and triumphs in working on this album?
Well we have various health issues across the band which we have to navigate our way around whatever we do. That was particularly difficult around the time of recording some of the ‘thinking is free’ album. In fact, some of the experiences are documented in the songs – albeit in a fairly oblique way.
The album is actually a collection of EPs with a few additional tracks and we were fortunate to have done most of the recording before the restrictions came in. We released the tracks at intervals throughout 2020 and then finally as an album at the beginning of 2021. We also had the good fortune to be able to release a small run of CDs through a great little record label – and for that we made extras of watercolour portraits, bookmarks, badges and various other things. That was great to do! So, although there were some health difficulties we still had such a lot of fun making ‘thinking is free’ – but to us it now feels like ‘The Past’ and we’re looking forward to working on new material. Overall we feel the album is perhaps just a little more ‘polished’ than our first one ‘playing with dolls’, but it retains the spontaneity and general chaotic, ramshackle nature we like – which we’re pleased with. The challenge for us is always to capture live recordings and then supplement them with ‘extras’ without loosing the live feeling. It’s all very imprecise and any triumphs consist of accidentally achieving apparent coherence!
How does a typical Happy Somethings writing session begin?
We start with a song idea that’s often then worked on by us all separately. We pool ideas and usually come together with a very basic drum machine track to keep the timing and then play together, headphones on, while being plugged in separately to different recording channels. We then work out additional parts – drum stuff (a mixture of real and machine), little guitar riffs, harmonies and sometimes lyrics – and attempt to play together again to the original recordings. Sometimes it works – sometimes it doesn’t… We then add and take away things until we’re satisfied – or completely exhausted! We all play different instruments with various levels of incompetence! And we all like to have a bash at percussion and generally are willing to ‘have a go’. It’s not a smooth process but we enjoy it.
You are big supporters of indie artists what new ones have you discovered in the last 12 months?
Since first uploading a song several years ago to BBC Introducing (who are always very encouraging) and Fresh On The Net (also incredibly supportive), we have heard so much fantastic new music that it’s quite mind-blowing. To single out any individual acts would feel like doing a bit of a disservice to any not mentioned. We’re constantly discovering music of extraordinary quality and it makes us realise how limited our listening had previously been. There are so many brilliant musicians out there creating wonderful music. Additionally, our minds have been opened and expanded through the extremely diverse sounds and stimulation provided by independent radio.The mutually supportive networks of musicians, radio stations, listeners, FOTN moderators, reviewers and bloggers is so inspiring and uplifting. As well as the more well known and mainstream music media, the scene of ‘under-the-radar music’ is very much alive and flourishing!
COVID has affected the creative industry in a big way, what has kept you motivated?
We were fortunate to have the ‘thinking is free’ songs recorded and ready to promote and that made us aware of all the great independent radio stations. Getting positive feedback and plays, and also having some nice responses and reviews from Fresh On The Net has been very encouraging – FOTN is such a great motivator! So things like that have meant our creative energies haven’t dipped too much and we’ve all carried on writing and working with future projects in mind. It means we’ve now got a backlog of songs we’re excited to work on together as the restrictions are lifted. And the Beach Cleaners EP came from a splurge that seems to point to us having missed being able to go to the coast this last year. It started with a photograph a chap posted on Twitter of some things found on his local beach during a beach clean. He let us use the picture for the cover – and the title track came from that too. It’s sometimes surprising where inspiration and motivation comes from.
2021 has been a time to reflect, what did you learn about yourselves?
Probably like a lot of people, we’ve become more aware of what’s important – both to ourselves and also more generally. Words like love, care, gentleness, kindness, support – they’re all slightly pushed to the front at the moment. As is an awareness of the fragility of things – nature, mental health, physical health, friendships… It perhaps sounds a bit trite but hopefully some good can come out of all the recent happenings. Think we’ve learnt that there’s always a lot more to learn!
What are you looking forward to next?
Getting to work on the new songs. Being in the same room again, playing and bouncing ideas off each other is so exhilarating. If the recent session we had together is anything to go by, then fun and creative chaos are in the pipeline – which is very exciting for us.