Brighton’s Electric Soft Parade have made one of the debut albums of 2002. So why do they think they’re the victims of an NME hate campaign? Text: Mark Beaumont.
It starts as a low, wind-whipped whisper of “The Hives” in the distance. Within seconds it’s built into a muffled argument about the merits of The Warm Jets over The Coral. Then the rehearsal room door is kicked open with a rallying cry of “Awright chief?! and it’s “Waddayathink of Richard Hawley? Isn’t the Fugazi album phat? Have you heard the new Chemical Brothers? What about Flaming Lips and Silver Jews and Cooper Temple Clause and Haven and Incubus and Jimmy Eat World and the 45s and did you ever like Ultrasound and Marine Research and Gay Dad and The Icarus Line and Doves and The Beta Band. What you bin listenin to then chief…”
The Electric Soft Parade – the messianical saviours of esoteric guitar pop comprising 20 year old frontman Alex White (skinny, pale and recovering from a morning of phone interviews) and his 17 year old drumming brother Tom (unshaven and puffing on a retired admiral-style hash pipe) are in the building and it’s like being beaten about the face and body with the entire NME back issue cupboard. What The White Stripes are to 30’s blues musicians and Dane Bowers is to varieties of Ginsters pasty, Alex and Tom are to 90’s indie times a thousand (er, Yard Stare)
Alex’s biggest dream is to meet Martin Carr of The Boo Radleys and Brave Captain fame (“He’s the biggest thing ever. I’m gonna name my son Martin after him”) while Tom once accosted Stephen Street – not to wax lyrical about his productions for Blur or The Smiths but to thank him for his work on the second Tiger LP.
The inner sleeve of their debut album Holes In The Wall carries a photo of Tom’s bedroom smothered in posters for Silver Sun, Six By Seven, Saint Etienne, Suede and Super Furry Animals – and that’s just the S’s.
No wonder The Electric Soft Parade are descendents of a rich line of guitar pop experimentalists stretching from the Super Furries back through the Mighty Boos to the Even Mightier My Bloody Valentine and beyond. From the breathtaking stop/start assault of Start Again, through the nine-minute frazzled-Fanclub wibblethon of Silent To The Dark to the fiery Song 2-isms of Why Do You Try So Hard To Hate Me. ESP video all the best bits from MTV2 through the years and edit them into It Really Should Happen More Often To A Rock Band.
“There’s a real misconception that you have to be original to be good” says Alex as we repair to a wine bar near their rehearsal studio in Bath and start on the first of the afternoon’s three bottles.
“Look at The Strokes. The most backward-looking thing, so retro it celebrates the past and can’t even spell the future and what does it do? It goes to Number One. Well done”
Alex and Tom first met at the Royal Sussex County Hospital on April 30, 1984. At first they didn’t get on – the first picture of the two together showed Tom wrapped in a blanket surrounded by toy guns with Alex lying next to him punching him in the head. But both being sons of the same teaching couple, and finding themselves regularly listening to Pulp’s Different Class on the same stereo, they eventually realised they had a few things in common and decided they might as well form a band.
“You start playing music, then you play music with other people, then you suddenly realise you’ve been doing it for six months and you think “Oh, it’s a band” says Alex. “I’ve written concepts for bands but they never work. There was one called Suburbia where we wrote this little manifesto. It went “Cover Oasis songs to start with, then write our own based on them and wear shellsuits”.
Alas, Suburbia were destined to burn out before they’d managed to swagger their way off the drawing board but it was as Feltro Media that the White brothers exploded onto the international scene with their legendary set of Blur and Oasis covers at the Brighton Freebutt in 1998. To this day, thousands of rock snobs and A&R losers swear they were among the 12 audience members that night and even more claim to have witnessed the equally earth-shattering Empty Train Station gig.
“Our bass player’s mum had something to do with a kids charity” Alex recalls “so we did this gig that was sold to us as this big arena thing. We turned up and it was basically a railway platform and the vibe was, the train pulls up and all these kids get off, watch the band and then go and get on the bouncy castle. We set up this PA we’d hired, which was the loudest thing you’d ever heard and it was a bunch of six year old kids with their parents! There’s this photo of us looking amazingly pissed off, playing to one parent and a couple of kids and one of the kids has got its fingers in its ears”
Over a year and a half Feltro Media recorded three demo ‘albums’, the third of which caught the ear of the fledgling db records at the end of 2000. Cue a swift change of name to The Soft Parade, a lengthy stint in a Brighton studio recording ‘Holes In The Wall’ and their first, even lengthier stint on the road, where all their dreams of cocaine-smattered bosoms and bare-buttocked fire hydrant shenanigans came true. Er, right?
“If there was a whirlwind of hype surrounding us then there would probably be that” says Tom, an old lag’s head on a hormone-addled teenager’s body. “But we haven’t been hyped, so I don’t think it’s gonna happen. We’re not the kind of people who’d embrace that. For some people it’s play some music, have a f***, do some charlie. That’s all well and good but it’s not really us”.
“I think you’ve got to be into that lifestyle anyway to behave like that. It’s like when a lot of people say “Make sure you don’t turn into a rock ‘n’ roll dickhead”. I know some people who are famously dickheads, like Som out of My Vitriol, the famous loser. I was in the bogs backstage at Reading and he was standing there doing his make-up in the mirror and I went “Alright chief, you’re out of My Vitriol, aren’t you?” And he went “Yeah and what are you doing here?” Utterly tossy bloke, really dismissive. He was probably a dickhead to start with and then just happened to be in a band and be a dickhead.
If you wanna talk dickheads in bands, however, they don’t come bigger than the singer from The Soft Parade. That’s The Soft Parade USA of course, the Doors covers band who forced the Whites to add ‘Electric’ to their name so that they don’t get mistaken for the talentless Yanks.
“There’s a (!!) in America called Joe Russo” Tom hisses “who couldn’t be arsed with co-existence, even though he’s a covers band and we do original material. He’s a (!!)”
“This is great” Alex laughs. “He was going to sue us but we managed to pacify the situation, now Tom’s calling him a (!!)”
“He’s a (!!) basically. He’s a (!!) He sent us this really snotty lawyer’s letter saying we were damaging sales in France and Belgium because they released a record of their own material in ’92, so they’re suddenly this massive original act”
“Why opt for ‘Electric’?
“The Electric Prunes” Tom explains. “We were getting wasted listening to David Axelrod at the time so it seemed appropriate”
You decided against The Soft Prunes then?
“Yeah. And The Brighton Soft Parade” says Tom, skinning up.
“Actually, f***! In Thrills there was a joke review about a band called the Scottish Welsh Sex Pistols that I think is a dig at us. It’s about a tribute band of a tribute band. That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it?”
“The Soft Parade are a tribute band in the US and the band in Thrills had to change their name too. And there was another thing the other week in Thrills that I’m sure was a dig at us. “Indie band dropped for not mentioning Spinal Tap in interview” or something”.
Right. You do know one of the side effects of ingesting large amounts of cannabis is rampant paranoia?
“I get it a lot” Tom admits. “Ever since NME had a go at us in the Empty At The End single review we’ve both been a bit wooah!”
So, against the findings of decades of scientific research, it’s true. You really can read NME too much. For the sake of your mental health, readers, don’t you have an album to go buy?