England’s newest hit makers: The Music head over the top

By Mark Guarino

The Music sounds like a band name the cocksure Gallagher brothers might have considered before choosing Oasis. There are many reasons to be suspect of a band calling itself The Music but drummer Phil Jordan stresses choosing a name was not about attitude. It was simply practical.   

“We didn’t have a name,” he said. “And we needed a name to put on posters for a gig. It was what we were about.”   

The Music plays impressively extravagant music with the confidence of a band long past their years. “Welcome to the North” (Capitol), their second album, does not follow the gentle, reflective pop typically imported from England these past few years in the guise of Coldplay, Travis and Starsailor. With all four members averaging age 21, The Music is what you’d expect from young guns trying to blaze a trail out of Leeds. With its tribal rhythms and boogie jams drawing strong associations with Janes Addiction and the Black Crowes, the soaring scope of the song production and earnest lyrics of singer Robert Harvey sets them in the same direction of old school arena rockers Rush and Journey. To Jordan, that’s not a bad thing.   

“We’ve played a lot of arenas and we’ve filled out the sound,” he said. “So we can do it.”   

Since their self-titled 2003 debut, The Music have lived the life of many young bands signed to a major U.S. label and pushed to break through in this country. They’ve been on the road continually, playing venues ranging from clubs to arenas, headlining and also supporting Coldplay, Velvet Revolver and Incubus. The relentless road life meant they had little time to write a new album. To get results, Capitol hooked them up with producer Brendan O’Brien (Pearl Jam, Bruce Springsteen, Rage Against the Machine) at his Atlanta studio and gave them a deadline of nine weeks to come up with something. “‘North’,” said Jordan, came together using the twin combination of speed and organization.   

“It was quite a lot of pressure. We were too scared and thought we just weren’t ready,” he said. “None of us thought we were ready but everyone around us said we were. Once we got into the studio, the pressure eased up a little. We were a lot more comfortable.”   

Unlike their more psychedelic, danceable debut, the new songs are toughened up with sharpened guitar riffs, breakneck drumming, wide-open choruses and Harvey’s reverbed vocals sounding like an intersection between Geddy Lee and Perry Farrell. Unlike the Darkness, the UK band that achieved cult status last year due to its irony-drenched ‘70s rock, The Music storm down without a knowing wink. Despite the title of their album, they sound unattached to their British roots and more nipping at the heels of American hard rock outfits Audioslave or Incubus.   

Jordan, Harvey, guitarist Adam Nutter and bassist Stuart Coleman started playing together when they were teenagers. With the exception of Jordan, all three knew each other as toddlers growing up in Leeds. Later on, Harvey and Jordan wound up playing in a band together but both left, disgruntled. Almost immediately, they started playing with Nutter and Coleman and found together they had a “phenomenal increase in skill.” “It was obvious we were going to be good,” Jordan said.   

In Leeds, England’s third largest city responsible for a wide range of imports including the Spice Girls, Chumbawumba and Robert Palmer, Jordan said music was never seen as a viable occupation, which translated to few clubs for bands to hone their craft in. “We don’t have the American dream in England,” Jordan said. “We got told by teachers to get a job and then maybe try and do music on the side. We thought ‘(expletive) it’, we’ll try and be in a band.”   

For two years the band practiced and recorded until a BBC DJ promoted them as the best unsigned band in the country. The hype spread soon afterwards, resulting in a locally released EP with the appealing title, “You Might as Well Try to (Expletive) Me” (Hut Recordings). In 2002, Capitol swept in. Amusingly, the band was so young, the label had to wait until Harvey and Nutter turned 18 and finished high school so they could legally sign a contract.   

Jordan, 21, said the band is realistic about their potential in the U.S., a market currently deluged with generic rap like The Game and kiddie pop like Ashlee Simpson.    

“The kind of music that we do, I don’t think a majority of American people are into it. It’s all about finding a small pocket of people who do. Because we’re a live band, we’ve always done it through word of mouth. We’re terrible in videos and we’re not very photogenic. So literally, all we can do is play live,” he said.   

That said, he does expect the band’s grand sound to attract converts as a matter of obvious good taste. In the beginning, he said the band thought the music industry “was (expletive).” “We just sat home watching TV and thought ‘we could do better than this’. It was as simple as that.”

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