Little Comets are not your typical indie-rock band. Cult heroes in their hometown of Newcastle, they eschew the rock and roll lifestyle in favour of late night baths in Travelodge hotel rooms (for which they have an almost pathological hatred) and a deep-seated longing for the comforts of home. Aside from the music, tours are to be endured: a battle with the loneliness of the road that suggests Little Comets are an act that suffer for their art.
It’s an unusual aside from the rock-and-roll norm, a perspective they take another firm step back from in their press release, naming their influences as ‘Debussy, Paul Simon and Roald Dahl’. Having fought major label Colombia – who they fell out with in the recording process – in order to finally release debut album In Search Of The Elusive Little Comets under a smaller label just a few weeks ago, Little Comets’ front man Rob Coles does a great job of coming across as the least clichéd up-and-coming rock star ever. Despite generating plenty of buzz, Rob sees himself as far from the finished article, and he’d rather be playing in your university lecture theatre than propping up the bar…
It’s been a real struggle to get the album out there. It’s finally been out a couple of weeks now, how does it feel to have it in the public domain?
It’s a bit of a weight off. We’ve still be writing things and working, but it’s hard not to stagnate, especially when we’ve been wanting to release it for such a long time, we just haven’t been able to. It’s nice, too, because people are definitely starting to pick up on lyrics to songs other than the singles. It’s been nice to have people singing along to some of the more obscure songs on the album.
On your press release, you talk about all kinds of really off-the-wall influences on In Search Of The Elusive Little Comets. Debussy and Roald Dahl, for example… They’re pretty difficult to pick out on the album… is it more of an “inspiration” thing?
Rob – Yeah, I think a lot of bands write their “influences” on a press release as the music that they think that people say they sound like. We’re talking about artists who we get our creativity from. Debussy, for example, the way he produced his music was just perfect. With the scored music, if there’s a snare drum it’s meant to be there. We try to do that when we record our music, worry about every little noise, when we overlay parts we’ll end up stripping the sound right down.
Roald Dahl is a real inspiration in the writing, when you read his books you can really visualise things. It’s just really clever use of the language. Our album is really a product of everything we’ve experienced in the last two years, every book we’ve read, film we’ve watched and story we’ve heard. It comes down to the idea that songs are just kind of hanging there, waiting to be made. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re kind of channeling experiences into the song.
When you look at writing in that way, does it really require that you have a certain state of mind, or a certain situation, to produce music?
We tend to start off doing everything musically, rather than lyrically, than I’ll go away and write the lyrics. I always have this conversation with Gary, when he’ll say “when you’re full of angst, that’s when you should go and write the lyrics”. I have to be quite calm and settled. I’m quite an emotional person, so I have to wait until I’m calm to process something, than I can write about it. I can’t explain my rational properly when I’m emotional. Some writers are so talented that they can write well about anything they’re passionate about. That’s something I’d like to learn, to write clearly and succinctly about big issues. I’m frustrated by the lyrics to ‘Aisles’, for example, as I know what I want to say, but I’m not sure if I’m wise enough to write on such big issues in just two verses and chorus.
There are a few political – or rather sociopolitical – lyrics on the album. Do you think of yourselves as a political band?
In some ways. I mean we have views, but I think it’s really difficult to write political lyrics. I try, but when I read the lyrics back and think it’s shit. I’d love to be able to write a song that describes an issue well. We definitely have passionate views on things.
You’ve become known for your guerilla gigging over the past year or so. Is that still going strong?
Rob – Yeah, whenever we see an opportunity. We played in some lecture halls when we were in France. I think we get away with a lot because of the Geordie accent. People come in and go “what are you doing?”, and especially abroad, they don’t understand our response. It’s risky, but it’s also a way to relieve boredom, and a good way to promote your gig. You can play to double as many people if you play a few lecture halls during the day!
You signed a deal with Columbia, and then decided to withdraw from the deal before the album was released. In these cases, a lot of bands would lose their album altogether, or have to pay a lot to get it back. It’s been a long battle… how did you end up keeping hold of the album?
I think it really helped that we did a lot of the work on the album ourselves. I don’t think we appreciated before we signed just how important it was to our music that we recorded it ourselves. It’s part of our writing process, as the song doesn’t really take its true shape until we come to record it, especially in terms of soundscapes and how the parts fit together. We spent a year just clashing, really, over the tiniest thing. When somebody who maybe you don’t respect enough in a musical sense starts telling you what to do in your songwriting, it sort of becomes reciprocal. You think if you can tell me what to do in my job, I can tell you how to do your job properly. It’s much nicer in the job we’ve got, as there’s clear delineation in terms of people’s roles. We trust the label completely to take care of the business side of things, and they leave us creatively to do what we want to do.
Can you see yourselves ever being on a major label again?
Rob – I think major labels are brilliant for bands that need a certain level of care. Rightly or wrongly, we don’t feel that we need that.
You’re huge cult heroes in your hometown of Newcastle already. Is it very different to go home and perform?
Yeah, we’ve played one or two gigs at The (Newcastle) Academy, and they’re quite raucous. It’s great to play to a crowd like that, especially when they also go quiet at the right times, and the last few gigs it’s been like that. It’s nice to play to a perfect crowd, and it’s nice to go home to home-cooked meals and your own bed.
Reading your past interviews, your hatred of Travelodge seems almost pathological….
Rob – Yeah, we stay in them almost every night. I think the worst thing is that a lot of the ones we stay in aren’t in the centre of towns, and I’m quite an early riser. If they’re on motorway junctions, there’s nothing to do. When it feels like you’ve been in the same room for two weeks, it just drives you a bit mad. They also like to send you emails at about four in the morning asking you how your previous night’s sleep was. It’s sleep disruption from the place you’re paying to sleep in.
You talk like you don’t think you’re at your peak yet; like it’s still to come an album or two down the line. Is that fair?
I was touring with a band when I was 21, 22, and we did a gig the other day at Oxford University ball. I think when you see things like that, it makes you release how much experience you have, and how if you apply it properly it can only make you better. The difference in me between now and when I was 21 is massive. I hope that the older we get, the better we’re able to see things.
What would you see as a success at this point?
Rob – Well, we’re definitely a kind of cottage industry now. We’ve all got girlfriends and Mark’s just married, so it needs to be something that can support a home. The aim, really, is to be able to keep making music, keep making albums and touring. As much as it’s great to be a musician, it needs to fit in with the rest of our lives.
As published on State.ie, March 2011.