Text: Jacob Parrott
Pictures: Dan Kendall
Getting signed and releasing a debut album after only playing one gig is not the typical situation a band finds themselves in, however this is the exact position TV Priest found themselves in with the release of their riotous punk record: ‘Uppers’. CHAOS had the opportunity to interview frontman Charlie Drinkwater over Zoom to discuss the album, the relevance of punk music and the effects of lockdown on musicians.
How long have you been in a band?
We’ve been playing this music since we were teenagers really, but no one ever cared before. We’re all in our 30s and you just start seeing people less and less and I think, you need an excuse to meet up, especially as guys sometimes. You’re not very good at saying to your mates you really care about them and miss them. So, we’d always get in a practice room and play with each other, like once every couple of years, but really writing the album was an excuse, to almost be like “let’s spend some time with each other”. It’s got seriously out of hand.
Do you think there’s something different having that relationship from when you were younger?
Yeah, I couldn’t have made the album at any other time. It took me a really long time to work out artistically who I am and what I want to say. That’s probably why it all came about so quickly because we’d spent fifteen years trying to work out what we wanted to talk about. Also, it’s probably beneficial in the sense that because we’ve been doing this for a long time and not really having an expectation that anyone would particularly pay attention to it or would like it, it wouldn’t ever be anything that was other than just something that we did together as friends. It’s weird to think now that like technically we’ve got a record deal and we’re technically professional musicians
It’s the dream, isn’t it?
It is. It’s one of those things that’s really hard to get your head around. Not to say that people aren’t supportive, but people are always like “What’s the backup option? That’s a great hobby, but what’s your real job going to be?”.
So, it’s been quite a confusing time for us in a way. Trying to process this idea that this is a real thing now. This isn’t just necessarily a hobby anymore, or a thing that we do to connect with each other. That’s beneficial because if that happened to us when we were like nineteen or something, you probably would think that you’re the best band in the world, because suddenly you’ve come straight out of school and someone’s signed you as an artist and you’re being told all this stuff about how your music’s good or whatever. That probably would affect you and make you an insufferable idiot.
How has it been getting signed, growing fans and all that when you can’t play gigs?
We’re kind of proud of that but we’re also kind of confused by it. You haven’t got any reference points for what traditionally being in a band is like. I’m not meeting people in the real world. I’m not going to gigs. I haven’t ever met anyone in our record label. So, I think you don’t necessarily miss what you haven’t had. It must be really hard if you’re a band that were touring or you were maybe doing your second record. Traditionally, the way of supporting that is going out and playing shows, meeting people, being on the road. It’s been hard for us in a sense that we’re doing a session for a radio station and in real life we would have been at the radio station doing that, or our label is in Seattle in real life. We might have gone over to Seattle and met them. All of these things that would have been very big moments, I suppose you kind of mourn for it in a way. But at the same time you just try to take the good with that. We sort of manage to meet all these people. I’m meeting you now. I’m still having these conversations, and I think that’s been something that’s been special for us. It’s kept me feeling well, like mentally well in that respect, that putting music out has afforded me levels of connection with people, albeit digitally.
You’ve got a lot of humour on the record, why do you think humour and aggression in punk works so well together?
The way we try and write is to be as honest and as truthful as possible as to the moment that that song is being recorded in. So, a lot of those songs are written at times of our lives where we felt angry or frustrated or nervous or whatever. Anger is a really useful tool in some ways as an artist, because it’s quite blunt. You can easily deliver a message encased in this level of anger, especially if you’re being honest about this message. I think it resonates with people in quite a kind of internal, primal kind of way. It’s a big emotion. Anger in punk is a kind of interesting tool because if you’re looking back at the history of punk, it’s about people using the tools that they’ve got around them to convey emotion. I wouldn’t class myself as a musician really, you know I’m someone who likes making art. I can obviously write a song and write a melody with the other guys, but I can’t play an instrument. That’s something really interesting about punk, it’s such a democratic medium in some ways, or traditionally has been. But for me as well, it was really important that we have humour in the work.
Do you think that’s why it’s doing so well currently, especially in the underground scenes?
It’s interesting that post-punk seems to have come around again. Bands like IDLES are doing something incredible and have opened the door for a lot of people. We probably wouldn’t be here, signed to a record label if it wasn’t for a band like that operating to that level and people being like “oh there’s an audience for it”, which I think everyone who loves that music has always known there has been. That’s why IDLES are so amazing with their fan base because those people have always been there, and they found a home. When you’re talking about post-punk and these kinds of movements and why it’s become popular again, I like to think, is there something in it in terms of if you look at post punk when it came about? It’s at a time when there’s a political crisis. There’s the rise of the right wing. There’s racial disharmony. Is there a historical parallel there? Also, post punk sometimes gets a narrow definition. Often when we think of post punk we think of fucking people like me, like a white man in a band with a guitar, but post punk is so much more than that. It is early hip hop sampling. It is Detroit techno. It is ambient music. It is industrial music. It’s all stuff that uses that jump off point of punk, which kind of resets this popular cultural moment to be like “anyone can do this” and just opens it up. . I think that’s why it still exists. it’s such a powerful message. It’s such an empowering message to be like anyone of any class, race, creed, orientation can do this and also find a community that supports that. So that’s hopefully why punk is kind of popular again.
As you say, these ideals seem to be of the moment, but even some older songs still manage to resonate today.
Yeah, and that’s kind of damning in a sense, because we shouldn’t be having to deal with the same old shit still. I think there’s one thing to love the ethos and the philosophy, but there’s another thing to copy it. I think hopefully as an artist you try and bring your own voice to that philosophy. It can be hard sometimes to shake off your history, your influence, but I think that’s where the exciting stuff happens. When you take those philosophies and apply it to your life and your experience, that’s hopefully where you get something that is personal, but also talks to other people as well. When I think about it, it makes me feel emotional because it makes me remember how I felt when it was the first time I was in a band with my friends. We didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how to sing. Nobody really knew how to play their instruments that well, and it just unlocks a world to you. It unlocks a feeling of belonging that I just don’t think I’ve found in anything else that I’ve done, other than falling in love.
You can sometimes hear people on record and they’re great, but you catch them live and you’re like “this is something completely different”.
I just love that feeling of being surprised by live music. Being at the bar or something and waiting for the band that your gonna see, and suddenly hearing something through the wall and you’re like “what the fuck is that”, and then you like wander in and your like “this is the fucking best thing I’ve ever seen”. No amount of skipping around on the Spotify algorithm is ever gonna give you that. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve found amazing stuff on there, but you’re never gonna get that. It just becomes so personal when that happens. You can’t shake it. It’s like you’re in forever. 100%, and in these small venues, they finish playing, and you’ll go chat to them at the bar.
Yeah, maybe buy a t-shirt off of them or something. That’s what I want to be doing. I want to be in Stoke on a Wednesday night, in the pissing rain, loading an amp into a splitter van and stealing a rollie off of someone. That’s the dream, that’s the absolute dream, don’t tell me otherwise.