////THE ZUTONS////BOYDON CHOURDAY////JUNE 2006
I don’t care who you are or where you’re from, chances are, you like at least three Zutons songs. You may not even know it, but when a Zutons track comes on the radio you’ll always find yourself bopping, rocking or humming along. It’s not that surprising really because this is a band whose debut album had no less than five top forty hit singles. Produced by scouse guru, Ian Broudie, of Lightning Seeds fame, ‘Who Killed the Zutons?’ sold over 600,000 copies in the UK alone. All good so far, but history tells me with such a successful debut record, the pressure that mounts from that alone is strong enough to destroy most bands when it comes to the dreaded second album. But not for the Zutons it seems, as their second album, ‘Tired of Hanging Around’, released earlier this year went straight into the album charts at No. 2. Truly deserved I feel as every track on the album stands firm and sounds great. Outline was lucky enough to get a quick chat with guitarist, Boyan Chowdhury, (who turns out to be one of the funniest and most humble stars we’ve been lucky enough to interview), to see if he’s ‘tired of hanging around’?
Hey Boyan, firstly congratulations on the chart position for your sophomore release, you must be made up? Where were you when you found out and how did you react to the news?
Thank you, er I can’t remember where I was, more than likely I was in a room in the corner really drunk. I sorta knew it was gonna be No. 2 because that nob-ed Shane Warner or whatever his name is…the pop idols lad, released his the same week. We would have liked to been No. 1, but No.2 was pretty good, so not bothered.
Due to the massive success of ‘Who Killed the Zutons?’ I wondered how much pressure you felt whilst writing ‘Tired of Hanging Around’, with that dreaded second album curse hanging over your heads?
It was a good sort of pressure. Not like the pressure Franz Ferdinand were under after winning the Mercury Prize. Unlike them, no magazines are really that interested in us, so it allowed us to go away and do things at our own pace, so that was a good thing. We never really figured out the impact the first album had, because we’ve been away a lot. So when people were saying there was big expectation on us for the follow up, we really didn’t feel that, we were kinda like; lets just go in and do these songs. The only pressure we gave ourselves was to make sure we played properly, because we had the songs already before we went in, which again helped to reduce the pressure. I think when you go into the studio it creates a certain pressure that every band will come across, so we tried to be ready before we recorded.
Did you write a lot of the tracks whilst on the road in the states finishing the ‘Who Killed the Zutons?’ tour?
No not really, a couple of them like ‘Secrets’ were written out there but not really. We did it when we got back. We’re not the best sort of band for writing on the road. We had this opportunity last year to either go back to America or sit down and start writing songs. If we went back to America it would have meant the album wouldn’t have come out until this winter, so I think we made the right choice. It’s not that we’re not bothered about America, because we are, but we just wanted to make sure we were writing songs consistently. If we had of gone, we may not of come up with the songs we did. A lot of bands try to go and crack America on the first album, but only a few manage it, so we decided to stay and write. It’s better to go over there with a whole arsenal of songs so you don’t look like a flash in the pan.
Is there a particular formula you use as a band when writing?
Dave (singer/guitarist) will usually write the lyrics, and he’ll have a basic chord structure worked out in his head. Then when he comes in, we’ll all tear it apart and then put it back together again in our own way. It’s like, right, lets see what we can add to it. Like with ‘Valerie’ for instance, that was the quickest song we put together.
So moving on to the recording of the album. You worked with Stephen Street (The Smiths/Blur). Why did you choose him and what do you think he brought out of the Zutons?
We were trying a few producers, just to demo them like. Like Mario Picotta who works with the Beastie Boys and we also tried Tom Rockworth whose done stuff with Beck, we did demo’s with them down in London, I mean it went well with them all, but time tables for each person just weren’t working out, and then Stephen’s name was mentioned and we were like sound, what’s he willing to do, and he was the only one out of everyone who bothered his ass and came to Liverpool to watch us rehearse. We were like, fucking great, it was like Broudie (Ian, Lightning Seeds) on the first album. He came and watched us rehearse and took notes and said I think I can do something with the songs. When Steve came up and heard us, he was like, ‘y’know, these songs are already together. I think our work ethic was to work harder knowing that Steve was comin’ up to hear them. He wanted to capture that live thing that we didn’t really have on the first album. A lot of people say that the first one has a sort of garage vibe to it, but I don’t understand that. They say it seems more thrown together. But I think the new one feels more thrown together for us. Stephen was all about getting us playing in the same room together, and that’s how we play best like…
Were you not tempted to go back to Ian Broudie due to his track record with you?
Eh, no not really. With us, it’s like lets move on and let’s keep tryin something different. It wasn’t like, let’s not use Broudie; it was more a case of lets see who’s willing and wants to work with us. Loadsa names were mentioned; I was like, fuckin hell why do they wanna work with us. You get taken aback. Nigel Godridge got mentioned. We were like, lets just make sure we know what we want and we know what we’re doing before we decide. It was good that Stephen came along when he did…
With all the hype currently surrounding you, I wondered how you all feel about the success you’ve recently enjoyed?
We’re all a bit taken aback by it really, because we’ve been away we’d got reports on how it was selling and when we found out, it was like fuck. To us they are just songs we play between ourselves, and then suddenly people want to buy it. It’s still a bit weird now that it’s become a business.
You tour an awful lot, surely it can get to be too much sometimes?
There’s good days and there’s bad days like every job. We work like a family. You know if you have an argument with your brother, you’re not going to hold it against him for the rest of his life are ya, ten minutes later, you’ll probably be messin around with him again. That’s the way we work. There’s no point in holding things back, these are people you are living with all the time. If I could choose a good family, it would be this.
With four guys and just one girl in the band does it change the practicalities regarding both the travelling and living?
We all have the same bus, she’s just gotta deal with male smells (laughs). Ya know what it’s like in the morning, you wake up and you just gotta let a few farts out. They do it too, but they just don’t like to talk about it…they like to think they don’t and they never make noise down there, but they do don’t they…and they’re always the worst smellin ones as well.
So what do you guys do between shows, I’d imagine that’s there’s a lot free time, you must get tired of hanging around…eh, ha ha…I didn’t mean that to come out, sorry…
As you can imagine, we’ve never heard that one before (laughs)…we all just tend to end up messin around with guitars, the thing is, we all just love playing music and listening to music, we watch films, and play pro-evo…
You are not ‘Fifa’ boy’s on the PS2 then?
Fuck off…ya might as well be playing basketball on the computer as playing Fifa. Pro Evolution is the way forward…I’m telling ya. It takes longer to get into, but once you do, it’s all about where you are putting your players, and how they run. It’s also all about your confidence on the day. Pro-Evolution wipes its arse with Fifa.
Ok, now that we’ve sorted that, in the last couple of years you have toured with U2, Oasis, R.E.M. and the Killers. There must be some mad Rn’R stories you can tell us about them?
I can’t really remember any to be honest. If anything mad happens when we’re on tour, it’s usually down to me being drunk and doing something stupid. On the last tour we were doing Aberdeen and we were meant to be doing this DJ-ing set. Sean and Russ we’re DJ-ing and I was getting pissed, we were getting paid and it was a free bar so I thought fuck it. I got completely wasted on Sambuca and Vodka. Then half way through the night I was stumbling towards the decks deciding I was gonna DJ. I tore in and cleared the entire dancefloor in like 3 beats.
Do The Zutons have any unusual rider requests?
No not really, just the usual lemon, honey and ginger, hot water, vodka…and uh, strippers (laughs).
You’ve played shows in so many different countries by now; do any in particular stand out for you?
The fact that we did a gig in Tazmania. I think its great to get the opportunity to play in Australia. But to then get to go to Tazmania was just mad. I mean how many people can say that they’ve played a gig in Tazmania.
I’ve read you all have very different musical influences, but can you tell us what they are?
Sean, Abi and Russ are all really into funk at the moment and soul and reggae. Also the Beatles and the Stones and all that kind of stuff as well. Me and Dave are into a bit of everything but the we really like the more rocky stuff as well. But we all know where to meet on it and that’s the good thing. I think it’s a bit pointless if you’re all into the same stuff, like the Verve. What are you gonna do? You’re going to end up sounding like a poor version of the Verve. Or it’s like, you love the Libertines and you end up sounding like a poor Sex Pistols…
Considering personal achievements, The Zutons were the first band to play in the newly refurbished Gallery of Modern Art to 6000 New Yorkers. How was that?
That was funny. When we were sound checking we hit the first note and this huge light crashed to the floor. The woman who ran the place went mad, screaming all New York sounding no no this can’t be happening, it can’t be happening to me. We were like, we’re a fucking band, what did you expect, and then she was saying we got to turn it down, and we were saying no fucking way. But apart from that, it was a real honour. I used to study art, so to play there for it’s re-opening was amazing for me. Again, how many people can say they’ve done that.
Everyone I know that’s ever seen you play live said you’re amazing, so going on that, why do you think this is?
That’s where it all stems from. If you look back at all the old bands they put proper shows on, but since the nineties everyone has taken the dead moody attitude on stage. We kinda think fuck that, people have paid money to come and see ya, so why would ya be moody bastards about it. Give them a good show because they’re sorting your career out for ya, so I think you’ve got to give a little love back. When you go to the theatre, you go to get taken in by the play and be enthralled by it, you don’t just wanna sit back and be a bystander. That’s what we want our shows to be like. We really want people to go away dancing.
You are all from Liverpool, so are you Red or Blue?
We’re all red apart from Sean the drummer whose blue. We call him the bitter blues. I don’t know what it is about them that makes them think they’re far more superior than the reds, but they’re not.
Then I have to ask where you were last year on the night of the Champions League Final?
I just got back off tour; I mean literally got in my flat and put my bags down as it kicked off. I went straight out that night afterwards and it was amazing. I walked the whole way into town from my flat through some rough as fuck areas, but it was unbelievable, people inviting you into their houses and people giving you drinks in the street. All of Liverpool went off that night. Actually you’ve just reminded me…UEFA turned up the week before and offered us tickets. They were like you’re Liverpool fans, do you want to go, here’s some plane tickets, here’s some room tickets and of course tickets to the final. But we couldn’t go because we had to be in the studio with Tom Rothrock, so we missed out. I was so fucking gutted. If they had of told us before it would have been perfect. At half time I was crying. We went to the F.A. Cup final this year, and we thought oh shit. Then one of the best things I have ever seen happened. After 80 minutes when people were walking out. This big scouser jumped up and screamed, “where do think you’re goin, get yer arses back down in those seats now”, and they all actually listened to him and sat back down. Without that lad, those people would have missed us winning the final.
I can assume then that Stevie G is a bit of a hero then?
Fucking right, even for England I think Lampard should sit back and let Gerrard go forward. In fact he should be the England captain and let Beckham go. Gerrard has got more fire in his foreskin than Beckham has in his entire body.
When a band starts out they are always grouped with other similar or new acts. Who would you consider as sister bands to the Zutons?
When we first came out it was the Coral. But I think that was just lazy journalism, they all knew we were from the same area, so they just lumped us together. I would like to think we were somewhere in between Arcade Fire and Queens of the Stoneage.
Finally, you’ve played in Norwich a few times before, I wondered if you have any lasting memories from those shows?
Yeah, I ended up having a fight with some lad over nothing.