|Harmony singing has been a devalued art in the field of British pop music since the year zero of punk and yet great boy-girl harmonies can pull on the heart-strings like few other forms of musical expression. The Havenots, a young band from Leicester consisting of Sophia Marshall and Liam Dullaghan, have this ability in spades, but also are capable of writing songs and arranging them in ways that have critics desperately casting around for suitable comparisons from the Americana field. To my ears, "Bad Pennies" their impressive debut album, has a distinctly British strand to its themes that draws deeply from classic pop and folk stylings as well as the obvious cross-atlantic comparisons, and shows a new band developing rapidly.
"A dazzling new band from Leicester that demonstrates a phenomenal combined talent that belies their youthful age."
"Likened to a UK equivalent of Ryan Adams and Gillian Welch, not as frazzled as Mazzy Star, not as melancholic as the Junkies, but somewhere between"
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The Triste Interview - The HaveNots
TRISTE: People seem to have some difficulty pinning you down to a certain musical genre? If you had to describe your music to someone who hadn't heard your records how would you classify yourselves?
LIAM: We've never had a problem with the alt.country tag. It's such a diverse genre nowadays it's not like it's something that holds you back and it sounds a lot more appealing than contemporary folk/rock, yuck!! I'd take alt.country over that any day. Plus we've always toured and played with bands from that genre so it makes sense in that respect. As for describing our actual sound, well it starts to get tricky there. If I was to be honest I would have to say we hadn't really found it yet. I have a pretty good idea of were I see it going in the future. We tried to avoid using any intruments that were overtly country, so there are no mandolins or pedal steels in there and I think its gonna stay that way. Not that we dont like those instruments, but they never felt right for us, we grew up in Leicester not Memphis. The musicians that played on our album come from a post rock/emo backround so they made it sound less traditional. I think in the future we will probably move away form the country sound all together.
SOPHIA: I always struggle with that question. I think Liam has nailed it pretty well, though.
TRISTE: Had you both started songwriting before becoming the HaveNots? Was it in a different style to how you write now? A lot less rootsy?
LIAM: I've been in bands since I was 14. I started out singing (if you can call grunting into a microphone jammed in your mouth singing?) in a grindcore band playing Napalm Death and Carcass covers. of course we were shit, but it was a whole lotta fun. I think I might have permanently damaged my voice while I was in that band. I used sing so loud and hard that my throat would bleed and my neck would swell up so I couldn't look down. I think that's why my voice is kinda gruff now. I have no idea how I made the leap from listening to Morbid Angel to Gram Parsons & The Fallen Angels! One of the guys that was in that band died and I guess songs about mutilated corpses just lost there appeal. I really struggled to write before I hooked up with Sophie, but she managed to instill a degree of discipline in me. I don't consider myself a songwriter as such, I'm not one of these guys who knocks out a song a day, which might be a good thing, I don't know. The songs that work best just turn up late at night by themselves, the ones that I try to write 99% of the time turn out to be rotten. Sophie is a real inspiration though, her stuff just gets better and better. Back when first started out she already had one of the songs that made it on the album, "Evergreen", the first time I heard her sing that in my room my legs turned to jelly, it was so beautiful . It's an absolute joy to be able sing with her and I think one day she will be a truly great writer. She just needs to learn a 4th chord!! Ha ha.
SOPHIA: Since I was about 11, I used to steal one of my dad's electrics and compose in my room unplugged, so it didn't matter what I was playing I could sing louder over the top and not have to worry if anything fitted together. (But that was back when all I would listen to were my sisters CDs - Jewel/Tori Amos, but in the early days Hole & similar screaming lady rock bands). It's Liam's fault I've actually had to start worrying what notes are working with what I'm singing. He can't help but make me really think about what I'm doing. He refuses to teach me more guitar but he's constantly teaching me all kinds of equally important things about my own songwriting. It does mean that I'm so much more wary about bringing a song to him, but when I get a hunch he may like it, it becomes like a relief. Especially after having not contributed a new song for a few months...
TRISTE: Do you find songwriting a difficult process? Is it something you've got to work at, or do the songs come to you pretty much fully formed?
SOPHIA: I think apart from the fact the songs come to us both in various different ways we both write and work on them in opposite ways. For starters Liam never writes things down whereas you can't move in my house for pads and bits of paper with all kinds of ideas on. Writing together is something I think we're doing a little more of more recently. But you could never pin one style of writing to either of us. Songwriting is what we do best, but its rarely easy. As for a fully formed song - I don't think there's any such thing!
TRISTE: According to the biographies I've read, you first met up in Music College in Leicester in 1998. Was that in a classroom situation or socially?
SOPHIA: Liam started the music course a year before me with my older sister Sarah who he used to perform with. So she introduced me to him after lessons one day, then he came to the Reading festival with us, but at that point he was still just Sarah's weird friend who fell asleep under my chair! We would occasionally sing together between lessons when Sarah wasn't around. But didn't really bond until Sarah and my other sister went away to America three days after I just got dumped! For months Liam would and buy me whiskey and play all his favorite depressing country records to make me feel better, I think, and every now and then we'd sit and have a singsong, maybe a Jewel cover or two!
TRISTE: What was your take on this? Was it always your intention to form a male-female duo, or was that something that just happened?
LIAM: I just love the sound of a man singing with a woman, and I've been doing it as long as I've been singing. I learned to sing by harmonizing with Sophie's sister so it's natural for me. There was a short period before I started singing with Sophie where I'd gig on my own and it just wasn't the same. For me, all the emotion comes from the harmony. I think when it's done well male and females harmonies have a magical quality that's unique. We are getting better at it all the time, its exciting to push it and see how far you can go.
TRISTE: But how did you match your two, presumably different outlooks to music? Was there much overlap in your musical influences or did you suceed in finding common ground elsewhere?
SOPHIA: Back when Liam had been singing with my sister was probably about the time we found we had reached a fairly similar taste in music. But neither of us were conscious of the fact that could lead to anything between us. Right now we have things in our minds to aim towards i.e. the next album and what ever may end up on it. Before, the whole duo thing just-so-happened to work out for us, starting us off while we probably thought it was just a bit of fun. The common ground occurred between us as I said before, Liam started playing me all these cool records at his place. So he literally walked me into it and I've been wondering around ever since. But I'm not sure where the death metal to country overlap happened with Liam.
TRISTE So how did you get picked up by Circus 65? Was it from a demo or through a live performance?
SOPHIA: We used to perform separately, but occasionally we'd join each other on stage to harmonize, the manager of the label we are now signed to was the promoter of all the gigs we were ever offered at that time. So together with the crowd reaction it was his encouragement I guess that made us do what we do now.
TRISTE: But I presume you must have started playing open mic nights or something similar first?
SOPHIA: Yes, but rarely togther, Liam also worked at the venue we performed in, so usually he could only watch!
TRISTE: So you never went the demo tape route of trying to get signed?
LIAM: No never. We were signed before we even had a band name. It was very weird; they already had The Guthries signed up and there one my of favourite bands so that did it for me. We never even thought about sending demos out to other labels. I think at the time we only had about four songs! I guess we were just lucky.
TRISTE: When you went into the studio to record your debut album, were there any arguments about which songs should go on, or how they should be arranged?
SOPHIA: We had very few songs to start with, it was more a matter of pressure to get enough tracks to complete the album. If the arrangements changed at all, it was because of the band we worked with. It all came easily to them, most things happened naturally, we knew what we wanted in our heads, though we gave them plenty of freedom to add to the material however they wanted. I think that was probably the best way for them to be able to enjoy it too. They were the best musicians for the job and they worked like magic.
TRISTE: Liam, looking back on the album now, a few months after release, are you happy with the way it turned out, or would you be tempted to arrange the album differently or choose different songs if you had your time again?
LIAM: It turned out a lot better than I thought it would. We were lucky that the band worked so well with us, but I can't say I'm happy with it. It's not that I don't think it's a good album, I think it's a whole lot better than some of this bland polite americana stuff that's around and I believe in what were trying to do. I think it's just that our sights are set a bit higher now. We had to learn a lot making the first album, and of course you're gonna make a few mistakes and bad decisions. Looking back, I would have liked to have made all the tracks electric. We had some cool ideas for some of the acoustic songs that were kinda crazy, but we just didn't have the time to finish them. The whole thing took just 10 days start to finish, including teaching the band the songs, arranging, mixing and mastering. I think next time there will be a lot more planning involved before we go into the studio, and that we're not going to be scared.
TRISTE: So how are you finding the touring experience? I assume the life on the road with the Sadies was slightly different than with The Be Good Tanyas?
LIAM: Not as different as you might think actually. Those girls can be pretty wild once they've had a few! Touring for us is difficult because there isn't much money about, but we always have a blast and we've been lucky to tour with some of our favourite bands. The Sadies tour was great because they were such an awesome band. It was hard to believe the sound you were hearing was coming from just 5 guys. I think they will be a really big influence on our next record. The Be Good Tanyas tour was crazy because it was the first time we'd ever played outside of Leicester and every gig was sold out. We were still fumbling about trying to work out what were supposed to be doing and they were so supportive. we still keep in touch with them, they are wonderful people.
TRISTE: What about you, Sophia? Was touring as you'd imagined it might be? Was it as squalid and boring or as glamorous as you might have expected?
SOPHIA: There's nothing 'glamorous' about touring, (unless you count the odd hotel or free meal here and there), but that doesn't stop it from being enjoyable. The first tour with the Tanyas back in March last year was the hardest for us. Being new to it all and having to travel by train, carrying two guitars and an amp that JUST fits into a plastic Sainsbury's bag to keep the rain off, that was the hardest part I think. I didn't expect it to be boring at all, there was never a dull moment, we had the occasional quiet hour travelling but I think we both appreciated that. The tour in June with them was slightly easier travel wise, it was great spending another few weeks with them, we were very flattered they asked us to play with them again. We had a lot of fun touring with the Guthries too in December. We got to travel with them, seven of us including equipment squashed into one van. We all got on so well (we've been lucky, that happens to most bands we play with) and I think Liam appreciated having more men around that time...
TRISTE: Talking of being outnumbered, didn't you say your sister had accompanied you on The Sadies Tour? Isn't there a boys' club element about touring with a group of men?
SOPHIA: We did have my sister Louisa driving for us up until the last four days of the tour. The police pulled us over at Heathrow on our way to Brighton and found something wrong with the car, which then had to get towed back to Leicester. We didn't find this out until we had got the coach together assuming the parts could be replaced and she would catch up with us that night in Brighton. So Liam and myself were to finish the tour on the trains. Minus a second electric, our amp, and we had only what ever we could carry between us. That was a massive disappointment, and we ended up losing money on the travel after that. We managed though. As for feeling out numbered by men, my family includes four sisters and my mom so I never minded the change, hanging out with the lads. I'm used to spending a fair amount of time with Liam anyway, and we were still getting to know the Sadies so it was always fun. I also ended up asking Liam about what to wear for the last show, it turned out he was keen to help! It wouldn't have worked clothes swapping with the Sadies like I did the Tanyas mind you.
TRISTE: I think the marijuana decorated Nudie suits the Good brothers wore would have suited you and Liam - but I think you'd both have to have the length taken in a little. Going back to the idea of playing live; how much did you have to rearrange the songs to be able to perform them as a duo in a live situation? I assume most of the songs started out as being written for a duo to perform, but did some songs not develop in the studio in ways you couldn't duplicate on stage?
SOPHIA: We didn't really have to change any of the songs. 99% of the time our songs start out acoustically. They may have changed once we were in the Studio, for example "KISSING", but there are versions for most that work fine just the two of us. The ones that don't ie: "Hurricane" we just don't do live without the band unless we're pushed to fill out a longer set, but that never happens while we're a support act. Thatís not to say our next record may not turn out to be full of tracks we may find impossible to get a good acoustic version for.
TRISTE: What about you, Liam? Have you anything to add to what Sophia's said?
LIAM: Yeah, I'm gonna make damn sure that our next record is impossible to play live, I want it to be crazy. I just have to convince her its a good idea.
SOPHIA: ...And so the the next records may be solo ones! (laughs)
TRISTE: But seriously. How do you see things hopefully panning out with the HaveNots?
SOPHIA: I'm pleased to have come this far, we're lucky to have recorded the album we did, with such great musicians, been on 4 tours in the past year or so, not to mention having landed some fantastic gigs inbetween and made some great friends at the same time. Things are getting more and more interesting for us all the time, we are both very eager to get back into the studio and get started on some new material. Liam's best songs are usually only half written when he starts recording them, I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. I personally would love to get on the road again, maybe even play some festivals next year, although we got through this last tour with out a single argument so I'm not sure if we should just enjoy some time apart!
TRISTE: Liam, what are your plans for The HaveNots in the near future?
LIAM: We are going to take over the world, or at least the northern hemisphere. But really, all I'm interested in is the next album; I think it is going to be very special and different to anything else thats out there. I'm not that bothered about touring at all. It's a lot of fun, I just find the studio a much more exciting place to be in.
Interviewed by Steve Wilcock
Live Gigs & News - The HaveNots
June 27th Spydafest, Portland Bill (full band show)
The new album is now being recorded and early reports from an insider are that it will "knock your sox off!"
Exclusive live tracks (covers of songs by Weezer and The Be Good Tanyas) are available on The HaveNots' website.
Exclusive live tracks (covers of songs by Weezer and The Be Good Tanyas) are available on The HaveNots' website.