Interview: Psycho Comedy

Psycho Comedy 2Psycho Comedy

Words and Photos by Gary Lambert

For years Psycho Comedy have been playing critically acclaimed gigs with the odd release here and there, constantly leaving people wanting more of the ensemble.  Now though it is time for everybody to get as much Psycho Comedy as you can fit in your life as they are ready to release their debut album, Performance Space Number One.  Already 2020 has been filled with albums that don’t just get the pulse racing, but send your soul soaring, Psycho Comedy are going to add to the list.  It’s not often that you get a band that includes their own poet (Matthew Thomas Smith – you will find a copy of his first poetry anthology Songs in the National Poetry Library no less) and artist (Sophia Rose Powell who produces all of the band’s non-musical output), but the left wing, Scouse take on The Velvet Underground do.  Let’s not forget having a member of the musical battalion of Psycho Comedy listed as playing Noise Guitar.

As we sat down in Doctor Duncan’s pub in Liverpool on a wet midweek night, it was striking how much the band functioned as a band.  Although it was obvious who the singer was, it was not a case of everybody standing back to let him carry out the media work as has been known to happen.  Psycho Comedy are a collective who move as one, act as one, and speak as one.  And they can speak quite a lot on a manner of subjects with the heart and passion of a prophet preaching to the not-yet-converted.
The album was the obvious topic of conversation for us, not least because I’ve been waiting for this one for a while.  “We have been together as a band since 2015 so this has been a long time coming.  Psycho Comedy is due a release too because we haven’t really put anything out in the way of singles and EPs as we’ve been biding our time.  After playing it for so long, it’s nice just to be able to sit there and hear it in full, altogether.  It’s like we’ve finally been documented.”

It is curious to hear a band describe themselves as needing to be documented.  It’s not a music scene word, it’s a word from discussions and debates; of union meetings; of thesis and essay.  It is a very Psycho Comedy thing to say.

Psycho Comedy 1“It gives the listener a different vibe from the live arena.  It is basically our chance to give our fans the opportunity to hear the music we have in our head.  There are a lot of sounds in there that you wouldn’t be able to hear if we were playing it live.  It is not enhanced when you are playing a gig, you’re focused on playing your instrument.  But with the record we were able to allow our moods to enter the sound by adding little extras like say bells.  We already have so many of us on stage that everybody’s hands are busy.  There are extra musical elements that we use for recording like having keyboard playing which we can’t always do live on a tour.  It’s hard enough getting six of us together on stage now.  Although we’d get twenty of us if we could”

“Some of the songs have been around longer than Psycho Comedy have.  They were written by Shaun (singer) in his earlier twenties when him and Connor (bass) played together.  But it’s not all old stuff.  There are songs like Pick Me Up which only came about last year.  Literally just before we started to record the album that was written.  Creativity and self-inspection keeps a band fresh.  There are songs which we always play live that haven’t made it onto Performance Space Number One.  It’s good that we’ve progressed as we view ourselves as a progressive band. (Note: not as in Prog Rock – GL).  In a way you can hear that in the album, or at least we can, you can spot the older songs and it’s like an explanation of the progression of Psycho Comedy.  Sleepwalking too is a relatively new song.

The one moment where Psycho Comedy do not speak as one comes when I asked them if there was a time they thought the album would never happen.  “Yes”, “Definitely”, “Sure” reply half of the band, the other half are far brasher and confident “I always knew it would come, but I was never sure of when” and “I’ve never wanted to give a thought that it wouldn’t come”.

“Because we’ve been playing these songs for so long, and I knew I wanted to get something tangible out of it.  Going back to what we were saying about the age of the songs, there are songs from years ago which we have taken apart and rebuilt for Psycho Comedy purposes, and the thought of all that work coming to nothing was just not going to happen.

“There were times when you would have a bad day and you’d think it’s never going to happen, but then we’d text each other the dates of the next praccy or the next trip to the studio, and you’d be ready again.  It’s a very emotional process putting together a piece like this.  You do have fights as a band.  You’ll have a bad one and think ‘fuck it, I’m jibbing this off’ and then you have a hot chocolate or something and everything feels good again.

“Because we’ve done this together for so long, it did seem as thought that the closer we got to the end, the further away it all was.  The sadness of those days made us all more determined when the time was right to get it done”.  The passionate determination of every single member of the band as we spoke about this was steely and rousing, drawing not just the outsider (me) in, but each of them rose in their seats.  It was cinematic watching the slight change in body language of Shaun, Matthew, Jack, Lydia, Jack, and Connor hint at the preparing for the next battle of Psycho Comedy.  “Honestly though, it never crossed our minds truly that the album wouldn’t happen as we weren’t going to let each other down.  We’ve been together as this band since Matty joined us in 2016.  We’ve all played with different people over the past decade, we’ve all had different things going on that have melded into other things, but this is the one.  This has kept strong.  It’s a collective and everybody is irreplaceable.  Everybody knows this is the one that counts.”

Psycho Comedy 3Last year Psycho Comedy were invited along to play the inaugural New Colossus Festival in New York.  It has been good to see so many other bands announcing this year they are playing at that event as well as SXSW.  For me though, it was the sign of a change in Psycho Comedy as, despite their ambitions, they had never seemed like a band who would make that step up.  Even going to their fundraising gig at The Shipping Forecast it felt like a sea change had occurred within the outfit.  But how did they end up there?  “Our manager, Ed, came in at that time, and he was the one who got us to New York.  And before he came in, we hadn’t lost direction, but we had any plans set in stone, but he just said ‘when you get back from New York, we will then start looking at recording the album’.  We went to New York in the spring, and then recorded the album in the summer.  And once that was done, we’ve been working on building it up.”

“New Colossus Festival is brilliant.  It reminded me of when Sound City was around town at places like The Kazimier, but on a wider scale.  Because they used a mix of venues, you’d go from playing a proper place to being in a car park.  Even though New York is massive, every venue we went in was packed out.  And although you think of a festival as being just that, a festival, we got to see parts of New York that we never would by travelling from venue to venue.  It’s a bit like SXSW.  Although we enjoyed ourselves, we all knew that we were there to work.  It was exciting, but it was a different feeling to usual.  We crammed a lot of tourist stuff in, but it was definitely work.

“Over the years we’ve put plenty of money in to the band for travelling, but that’s just for gigs down the road.  When you’re putting in the money to travel abroad to play, you can’t be going ‘oh that was a good laugh, I’ll go home and sit off on the couch drinking tea’.  You know you’ve got to get into gear.  It pulled together our focus.  We knew we were there for a reason.  We didn’t consider the expense beforehand, but then you understood that Psycho Comedy were there to work and try to make a name for ourselves in a new place.  But we enjoyed ourselves too.”

But what does the near future hold for Psycho Comedy once Performance Space Number One has been released?  “Well then we just want to get out there and get as many people as possible to listen to our record.  We want to visit obscure towns and little cities, and festivals, maybe some boutique festivals, where our music will suit the vibe.  We want to sell out that first press of the record, and then get a second press and sell that out…

“Let’s just say we’re not getting out of your face any time soon”

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LIVE

15 February Phase One, Liverpool

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