An Interview With Athlete
By Mark Mason
Entering the Soundhaus No Ripcord is reminded of the life affirming gig by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs a few days previous at this very venue. As soon as the bands name is mentioned to Joel (Guitar/Vocals), Carey (Bass), Tim (Keyboards) and Steve (Drums), who all melt together to form Athlete, so begins the first bout of raw enthusiasm which prevails throughout the interview. "Yeah, she's really upbeat and smiley" spurts unshaven beast drummer Steve, in-between mouthfuls of fruit cocktail "and I fancy her" he guffaws, as the rest of the band join in with the hilarity. No Ripcord thinks that a brief history is needed for the uninitiated and although they must have been explaining their inception for months now, they oblige with enthusiasm and solidarity. "We started and learned to play together when we were sixteen or seventeen" replies Carey "...three of us carried on when Tim went off to University and we played the drums, guitar bashing out some tunes type of thing around Camden and got bored, then Tim came back from University and we started writing some different tunes". "We went from the noisy guitar thing and wanted to try something different, because absolutely everybody was doing that and it was getting so boring" says Steve "...so we bought a little twelve track recorder and tried different sounds, but none of us could play keyboards, so we had to keep asking Tim to come back down to play". A hearty discussion about several keyboard solos, by various members of the group follows and ends in the now predictable bout of group chuckles.
The interview turns to the subject of different bands and touring partners; Minuteman are collectively described as "Great" and the Hives as "...good, but the whole stylised/black and white thing is a bit kinda try hard". The horizontally laid back and sharply facetious Joel has been quiet, but livens up when talking about The Strokes and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, once more "These bands at the forefront are really good..." and before he finishes The Vines are mentioned and the whole band has an opinion. "The Vines are a really good band and he could have been a front man at any time in the past thirty odd years" says Steve "...but, that thing the NME wrote "see him now before he tops himself" I mean that is so, so wrong". "The NME seem to be glorifying the fact that he is on the edge and may be about to commit suicide and that is not wacky, or dangerous, it's just wrong" and No Ripcord agrees wholeheartedly, but it does seem that the stalwart of music journalism is becoming more and more desperate for sensationalism, at any cost - lets not forget a certain Seattle musician and husband and father.
The comparisons thrown at Athlete by sloppy journalists, are varied and sometimes incredibly funny - there are the obvious Pavement similarities and possibly even The Beta Band. Joel agrees "Yeah, our influences don't necessarily show up directly in our sound. Like for instance Grandaddy, but yes I suppose there is a kind of Beta Band similarity there, but we've even been compared to Steely Dan and we were just like, What!". When asked about the songwriting process, Joel and Tim paint a typically shambolic picture of Athlete in the studio, "We don't set out any particular way, we all bring in ideas and it develops from there, no one person completely writes a song or even a lyric all the way through". Even with the song writing process being such a group effort, there must be lyricists that the band can pick out. Steve confesses his love for Neil Young and his "really, really great words", while Carey says "I was talking to someone about Coldplay, of all people and how when they played Glastonbury, they knew all the words without realising it and that's a pretty cool thing for a band to be able to do to people". There has been a backlash from some bands, aimed at Coldplay and Joel rightly points out that "...it's just because they're successful. They are a good band and have a lot more soul than some of these other bands". Like Starsailor perhaps? Joel is quick to interject, "We're not gonna slag 'em off again", but his plan is ruined by the ever vocal Steve "They just don't seem to have an original creative bone in their bodies. It's all so fucking boring, easy listening piano, plodding guitar and so obvious". The cry then goes something like "Shall we start on Toploader now and big hair?", with a group howl of laughter ringing around the venue, once more.
One thing the band do enjoy talking about, is new bands and profess a love for "The Bees, The Coral, Ben Kweller" and agree that there are a lot of very good new British bands, that are original and exciting. The old guard are treated to some of the Athlete wit and no holds barred criticism, like the way bands "stop taking risks and stay formulaic after two great albums it seems to be hard to try anything new". "I mean Liam Gallagher is a great singer and Noel writes brilliant songs, but nothing seems to have changed, even with the new guys. I think that bands get comfortable and the creativity just seems to get lost somewhere".
Your reviewer confesses to "ripping Dungeness and other Athlete songs from Audiogalaxy" and quite rightly gets called a "cheeky git" by Joel, but this leads nicely on to the next question. Where does the band stand on the whole internet/downloading community and its repercussions on the music business in general? Joel hits the nail on the head immediately; "At the end of the day it's the artist and the consumer, who get the worst deal", this is followed with a chorus of approval, as it should. "I think it creates a good, new kind of underground scene and if the downside is that Metallica lose two million quid, then so be it", adds Steve "and hopefully it will let people be creative and intelligent with their choice of music and in turn the artist will be more creative aswell".
The future certainly looks bright for the London collective and with Jo Whiley championing them on her daytime show, the sun is definitely shining on them. Joel tells us that "The album will probably be out in February and it's going really well, we just want to make sure that every song is perfect and the album is the best we can possibly do". They head out on tour with Suede very soon and have a new single "Beautiful" out in September, but what is the new single about? It could only be left for Joel to say "It's just about moments like these" and once again the room erupts with laughter.
Sarcastic, united and so optimistic it hurts, how can they possibly fail? Listen to your radios and watch the T.V. Athlete will be everywhere you look and you'll love every sundrenched minute of it.
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