Coming off the back of a lengthy festival season, Hockey released debut album ‘Mind Chaos’ on 28 September 2009. Now, back in the UK for the first time since its release, they have a chance to tour the album to a new audience, shake off the pressure of being another hype band of 2009 and relax into every live show. Talking to frontman Benjamin Grubin and bassist Jeremy Reynolds before their gig at Manchester Academy 2, they led me through some of their ideas about where the band are at now and why they continue to enjoy music once the attention has died down a little.
Daniel Willis: So, this is your fourth time playing live in Manchester, do you like it here? How’s the tour going so far?
Jeremy Reynolds: We’ve been out a couple of months now, around Japan and Australia, but we’ve made it back here and we love it, it’s got a great student feel to the place.
DW: And you were here a lot over last summer with a lot of media attention, especially over festival season, how did you cope with that?
JR: It was good, we played some unbelievable festivals. Glastonbury, T in the Park, Oxegen, Leeds & Reading, it’s pretty unreal to do all them in one summer. We don’t really get the opportunity to do that in America, there’s only like four, so we’re much more on the circuit here.
DW: The album came out in September. Compared to your first EP, which I understand was very DIY and self-produced, did you find it different or hard making this record or that it changed you in any way?
JR: For the most part, the record works off what we made at home. When we signed with EMI we went in and did some new recordings in the studio but mostly we worked hard to keep the same lo-fi, homemade sound that we had originally.
DW: And you’re happy with what came out of that?
Benjamin Grubin: Yeah most of the time, that was how it was going to be for us. It was either going to be our home demo or nothing.
JR: It’s strange really to think that our debut record was something which we made in our basement, totally in obscurity having no idea that it would be heard by anyone, never mind touring the world.
BG: And especially to think that you come across the market as the ‘Next Big Band’ in this almost cheesy way and we just think about being back in our basement.
DW: Well, from a British perspective, we get constantly told about bands who are going to make it big, Passion Pit being a good example, who are very home-recorded and don’t seem to have a large American audience. Does that not create a lot of pressure for you to succeed here?
JR: The start of last year was really the time for all that sort of stuff, but that’s really died down now, it’s kind of been nice for us. We’re just in it for the long haul, the ups and downs and touring and building our fanbase, and it’s slow but that’s alright with us because we’re just thinking about growing as a band and writing another record.
BG: It was weird because it felt a little bit artificial in a sense. We were over here a lot but this is the first time we ever played Manchester with an album out and you just think, ‘why?’ It’s like some kind of weird hype game and it can maybe pay off, maybe not.
JR: It was a long gamble for us; the hype was at the start of last year with the first single [‘Too Fake’] but the record didn’t come out till the end of September and it’s hard to maintain that through 8/9 months of “this is the next band”. It’s a record we recorded in our basement for God’s sake.
DW: So do you find that it’s still the same playing live? There’s probably been the people who were standing at the front knowing all the words from the start, but has the excitement died down when the media caravan went away?
JR: If anything it’s got better. The last couple of shows have been people knowing everything which has probably been helped by the album actually coming out.
DW: Coming over from America it can sometimes seem like a musical invasion if a lot of bands get popular at the same time in the same genre. Do you feel like part of a club of people touring and getting plenty of attention in England?
BG: We’re friends with bands like Passion Pit, we did our first UK tour with them and their good guys, and we see bands on the road who we know and have a good time with. We met Phoenix once and opened for them and they were nice but we don’t feel like part of a scene or posse.
JR: It’s a good time for music and good to see a lot of good bands out there but I think that’s more a general thing and just being the right kind of environment.
DW: And is Britain a good testing ground for that kind of music? It seems like Pitchfork and SXSW and Coachella are almost tailored to what’s popular in indie at the time here rather than in America and that they’re quite isolated events.
BG: Yeah that seems to be true.
JR: I’d say definitely, England’s a place that will make you or break you if you’re an indie band. If you’re not hip-hop or hard rock the States is an insane place to break a band; England is like this indie country where everyone’s really into music. Word spreads fast, and radio is nationalised! I mean, we could be all over the radio in Seattle and totally unknown in Portland, easily. That’s just mental and you have to totally co-ordinate it. Zane Lowe plays your record and ten minutes later the whole country knows you and that’s why, I think, the UK’s like that. Plus it’s just historically just such an awesome place for rock and roll.
DW: Is there anything which you think you as a band are particularly about, a beliefe you might adhere to, or do you just feel carried along by the music and creativity?
JR: Yeah, creativity and experimentation and sharing positive energy with people.
BG: We’ve been playing together since 2002, for eight years now, so we’re really about sharing our music with each other and working off each other’s talents.
DW: And you say you’re enjoying music at the moment, anything in particular you’d like to pick out?
JR: I suppose music is always the cutting edge of culture and where it’s heading. It’s what people can’t quite define or understand at first but what they can experience through music, and I think that’s always been historically the case. It’s a forerunner for the expression of what people can’t talk about or their motives which everyday life doesn’t touch on.
DW: And finally, how do you look forward to a show like tonight? Is it something you all mentally prepare for, or are you happy to just go on stage and let it come to you?
JR: We’ve been on tour for a while now so it just feels like getting into a rhythm but not psyching yourself up too much. Last night was a bit of pressure because it was London and first night of the UK tour, so tonight’s going to be about having fun and there’s a lot of kids around here so hopefully it should be crazy.
The Manchester audience don’t disappoint, working off a vibrant on-stage performance. There are somewhat dubious points of the record as a whole, descending into repetition and being simply boring in places, but live it is transformed into a spectacle of energy. Early singles ‘Too Fake’ and ‘Learn to Lose’ are clearly crowd pleasers inspiring frantic pogoing from the kids at the front and demented cymbal bashing from Grubin on stage. There are occasional instances of a band thinking they’re a bit grander than they really are; ‘epic’ would be a generous description but then ‘pretentious’ would perhaps be harsh (see ‘Curse This City’ and ‘Preacher’). Despite their eight years of hard work this still feels like the performance of a young band. They are are clearly comfortable with their set and the songs they have recorded for ‘Mind Chaos’ and the introduction of a couple of new songs halfway through does little to enliven the crowd from a temporary rest. A little production, a bit more inspiration or a broader music education could produce better results and it will be interesting to see what efforts Hockey make to really develop over the next year or so as they head towards recording their second album.
In honesty though, it is a good performance and you can understand why they got so much attention last year. Alternative song for last year’s summer was undoubtedly ‘Song Away’ which comes back to open up the crowd and send them wild like it’s Bank Holiday Sunday at Bramham Park. The band smile, use the space of the stage and provide an entertaining and engaging enough image to support the music they’re trying hard to share. This might not be the easiest time for Hockey, a period of transition like this never is, but whilst they’re still excited to tour and there’s an audience willing to hear them they will rarely fail to please.