INTERVIEW WITH CHEW LIPS
I think we’re completely different. It sounds obvious, but we just tried very hard to write better songs – we were really keen that the song-craft shone through this time rather than just the style of our music. I’m really proud of our first record, but when I look back at it now it doesn’t feel completely finished. Maybe it was a bit naive, too. This time, we’re more commercial, there’s no way of avoiding that, but there’s a strong feeling of progression.
So you want to be better songwriters, but do you sound different, too?
We always cite Beck when we talk about how we’d like to evolve. Every record he’s done is completely different and no-one questions it. In fact, his fans expect it. So we started looking towards weird hip-hop and R&B and I think we’ve ended up with a kind of Chew Lips version of R&B. It’s not a parody, more like our take on it. And I think that what comes through in the new recordings is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We really wanted it to be a fun record because, on reflection, the first was quite insular and icy.
One of the new songs, Hurricane, is a great example of that isn’t it?
Right. There’s nothing wrong with being poppy and polished, after all. We knew that we wanted to make a pop record, but that doesn’t mean giving up everything that you stand for. It’s about making your version of a pop record. We’re not competing with Rihanna and Beyonce, obviously. But if we can work in the same area, while at the same time putting our cheeky twist on it… that’s how I like to think we can operate. Certainly that’s how we like the live shows to come across.
Your live shows are more like rock concerts, aren’t they?
Oh yes, they’re very high energy. In a weird way, our live show has been more important to our profile than the debut album ever was. The producer [Bat For Lashes’ David Kosten] saw something in me that was vulnerable and delicate, even though live I was much more raucous. That meant we ended up making an album which wasn’t really a full representation of us as a band. But this time, it does feel more like we’ve made a record which sounds like how we sound live, more full on.
There’s also a Chew Lips mixtape on your website, which has hip-hop, Prince… and you. Is it like a signpost to your sound?
Kind of. I’m always a bit dubious of mixtapes – they’re a bit of a distraction if I’m being honest. They’re something for “internet people” to talk about online, which is fine, because you want to give your fans little tidbits. They do take your music to more people, I just don’t listen to them myself – they’re more James’ thing.
Interesting that you should mention keeping up with the ‘internet people’. Is it more and more difficult to maintain the attentions of your fanbase these days?
In the UK being new is more valued than being good, which is really strange if you think about it. In the US, you have to tour for three years or something before you make a record, but here you only have to release one single – or maybe not even release anything at all – and you get written about because it is so fashionable to be new. It drives me crazy really – attention simply isn’t paid to song-craft or even musicianship.
Still, you benefitted from the buzz when you first came on the scene. Steve Lamacq couldn’t stop talking about your demo…
Yes, but you can’t take that too seriously because, really, it’s all about making sure that the people who did like you will continue to do so when the buzz has moved on to someone else. In the end, our first album was released independently and probably did as well as it can do. This time, we’re with Sony, and so our hopes are much higher. They’ve signed us because they’ve worked out a target audience they think they can tap into with songs like Hurricane. And that is absolutely fine. You have to try and keep yourself unaware of all that business stuff, because hopefully that’s not why you got into music in the first place.
Why did you get into music then?
It’s actually a slightly weird story. I actually wanted to be a poet. But a family friend who worked at a major record label connected the fact that I could write poetry and had a good singing voice. And that started me on this amazing road. I do write from the heart about what I’m going through – and for the second album I’ve tried to do the same but in simpler language, which is quite a tough trick to pull off. It’s from a real place, and I hope that people get that. After all, it’s only if you do touch a nerve with people that your songs are successful.
So what’s the Chew Lips song in which you think you’ve cracked both the lyrical and musical sides to your sound?
Mixtape, the last song on the new record. This sentence just came out of me: “What’s the soundtrack to your life/like a movie scene that you’re inside/like a mixtape from your memory.” That encapsulates, I hope, that universal feeling when you equate a moment in your life with a song. You hear a tune which makes you think of a person, or a place. I mean, I can’t smell CKOne without thinking of my first boyfriend. But if someone walks past me wearing it, I always stop and think it’s him. It’s the same with music I think. I wanted to try and work through those feelings in Mixtape, while making sure the song had a pop sensibility. Hopefully, people will see it’s worked.
See Chew Lips live at Bristol Louisiana on Thursday June 28. Tickets £8adv from www.ticketweb.co.uk
by 247 Magazine