Gather Yourselves Together for… Misery Guts
By Richard Lewis 2/2/2011
Southport band Misery Guts stand as positive proof that acoustic guitars and understated melodies can produce results as dark as anything produced by indie guitar slingers in thrall to Joy Division and The Cure. A fixture on the Liverpool gig circuit over the past twelve months, the group are beginning to build up a sizeable buzz around them following a nationwide tour supporting Cherry Ghost and their own evocative live shows.
Citing Jethro Tull, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and Led Zeppelin’s quieter moments as inspiration, the group have taken traditional and modern, largely English folk music as a starting point and created their own dark, urbanized take on it. Utilizing mandolins and glockenspiels to add texture to their sound, the most notable element are two nylon-strung guitars placed at the forefront of the band sound. Bolstered by a sympathetic rhythm section and their sound strengthened by scores of gigs, the songs translate themselves forcefully live without losing the fragility of many of the tracks.
Led by vocalist and principal songwriter David Hirst, the quartet formed in early 2008, and released several singles plus the acclaimed More Human Than Human EP in May last year. “Me, Pete and Leon used to be in an indie rock band playing the guitars and bass,” David explains of the band’s formation. “At that time I was writing some of the songs that went on to be in Misery Guts. Because the songs weren’t right for the band, I was thinking of doing something with them in another way.
“So when the indie band finished I thought I’d start to do something more serious with Misery Guts and got Leon and Pete involved from there,” David states. “We met Martyn through a fan of ours who used to work with him and brought him along to one of our shows. We’d been looking for a drummer for a long time and auditioned all kinds of mad men, it’s true drummers really are all mad, all different but all mad! Mart had the right approach and feel for the band.”
Something that has caused minor difficulty it seems is the band’s name, a common enough expression in the north. “I’ve always had affection for the phrase,” David says when discussing the name's origins. “I think it goes back to my childhood when my mother would use it with me and my brother if we wouldn’t share things like sweets. It’s surprising how upset some people get when you say the bands called Misery Guts. We had a PR guy refuse to work with us a while back ‘cos he said with that name we must be a joke. Fucking funny!” A listen to the group’s tracks with their tales of relationship turmoil and simmering emotions underscored by delicate acoustic guitars should have been enough to dispel the PR man’s doubts regarding the level of conviction in the band’s music.
David’s intriguing lyrics, with their bleak but resigned outlook are a hallmark of the band’s sound. Somewhat surprisingly, revered sci-fi author Philip K. Dick is cited as a major influence on the songwriter’s lyrics. Whilst latter-day progressive rock bands Muse and Tool cite science fiction novels as an influence, the juxtaposition of sci-fi themes is especially strange coupled with Misery Guts’ musical backing. Best known for 1961 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Dick’s work transferred to the big screen as Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic Blade Runner.
The title is also referenced in the band’s Club Electric Sheep banner they occasionally play under. “I’ve written songs entirely based on his stories.” David says of the author. “One of the really great features of his work is the type of characters he goes for. He’ll often have a guy who’s struggling with his job or his business, can’t keep up with his rent, hates his megalomaniac wife, real sort of anti-hero types. You put those characters into an antiquated sci-fi world and it takes on a real charm and a kind of realism. I guess it’s just inspirational, the guys a genius, a cult hero that really needs to be appreciated as a real literary great.” As for the dark tone that pervades through most of the band’s material, David flatly states, “I’m certainly incapable of writing happy songs.”
“I think a bit of darkness gives a song grit and realism” he continues. “When I look at the song writers that I really admire they tend to have a dark element to their work. Think of Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Pearl Jam, even Paul Simon. The Sound of Silence is possibly the greatest set of lyrics ever written and it’s really dark but amazing.” As far as more recent influences, David admires Bill Callaghan (better known as Smog), Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes and oddball US/Mexican folkie Devandra Banhart. “I think the most exciting musician around at the moment is (US singer-songwriter) Bonnie Prince Billy” David says. “I’d be into doing some tunes with him, I reckon I’d learn a lot.”
Misery Guts’ stage attire of waistcoats, old-fashioned suit jackets and general air of old worldliness displays a group who have clearly thought about the presentation of their music. In addition to the stagecraft, this approach extends to their music videos. The group’s MySpace page currently features three highly entertaining animated shorts as well as the standard live footage. “I came up with the idea of trying to make animations to go with the demos I’d made,” David says of the animations. “I came up with a little character and decided to call him Misery Guts, a little bit because of the look of the character and a little bit as a kind of self-mocking jibe at the music.”
As for the group’s next move, David says, “We’re working on demos at the mo’ for an album that we’ll be recording in the New Year hopefully with a really top producer but we’ll see.” As for who he would most like to helm the group’s debut LP, David selects Ken Nelson, the man behind Coldplay’s first three albums (both of which were recorded in Liverpool) Badly Drawn Boy's seminal debut and Southport natives Gomez. “It’d be great to work with him. I think he’d be the perfect producer to make our album.”
Misery Guts play at the Shipping Forecast on 11th February 2011
Visit www.myspace.com/miserygutsmusic for music, videos and gig info.
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