There was no escaping The Manhattan Love Suicides in 2008. Not that you should want to, of course. After 2006's self titled debut, a series of wonderful 7-inches and radio sessions culminated in the 27 song filler-free collection Burnt Out Landscapes, released on their own Squirrel Records. The Leeds quartet operate in the beautiful fuzzy field between gloom and joy. Thick layers of hypnotic distortion don't hide how energetic and catchy these songs are; neither does the band's dark punk rock aura prevent them from warming the heart of pop fans across the world. This is outrageously addictive music.
Hello Manhattan Love Suicides! Can you give as a short history of the band so far?
All: Simple. We got together in 2006, recorded an album within a couple of months of forming, and we’ve just continued to record and release stuff ever since.
You are often associated with the indiepop scene, which probably has got to do with the labels you released some of your singles and your album on and the fact that you write one catchy popsong after the other. Still, both your roots and music are definitely more punk than twee. When you started making music together, did you decide on a direction, or was this just the sound that came out?
Darren: We do write catchy pop songs, there’s no point in us trying to deny that. But we’re definitely not a nice indie pop band. I suppose when we got together the sound we made was always going to turn out the way it has simply because of the main influences we shared. However, if you listen to that first album you’ll hear some ideas in a few of those tracks that we haven’t really repeated since. A track like (The Guy On The) 14th Floor is a good example of this. We were going for a Cramps style guitar part in that song with lyrics heavily influenced by The Soft Boys and Syd Barrett. A track like Providence features ideas that we haven’t returned to as yet either. That whole first album is the sound of a band trying to find an identity and just throwing various ideas into the mix to see what works.
Caroline: As Darren says, there was no defined sound that we wanted to go with. We have shared influences which we bring to the band and they are obvious to any listener. However, each of us as individuals also brings in something from other bands or artists we favour. This can lead to tracks which are not what would be termed "typical" in comparison to our usual output. The song The 10th Victim, for instance, is a bit of a departure from our usual pop approach.
Adam: We didn’t start out with any set plan, we shared a love for a certain aesthetic and the music was born from that. For a while the band was just me, Darren and Caroline and as we didn’t have a drummer we just wrote songs and recorded them without playing live. Magic Marker stumbled across our MySpace page and liked the songs enough to want to put an album out. It was then that music critics and bloggers began inevitably applying the tags, which has probably been a blessing and a curse in equal amounts.
Rachel: There was a strong direction when I joined that seemed to occupy most of the principles that I wanted to be part of, just simple things like not needing to be that good at an instrument to get a good song out of it. It’s more about the feel of the band and what we stand for and that we like what we’re doing.
Leather jackets, cigarettes, dark sunglasses, serious faces, black clothes, guns and rifles on your album covers... a tough image! Are you tough? Can mothers let their teenage daughters go see The Manhattan Love Suicides without having to lie awake at night, worrying?
Darren: We’re serious, but we’re not really tough. Not in the traditional sense of the word anyway. I think the mothers of teenage daughters should maybe worry that they’ll return home from one of our gigs with damaged hearing, but that’s all. The clothing and the sunglasses are just what we all wear every day of the week. We like the rough and raw imagery we use on record sleeves and in the promo videos too. We’re big exploitation movie fans and we like the idea of throwing that stuff up into the record racks, plus it’s good to mix graphic imagery with noisy pop songs. It’s exciting.
Caroline: I don’t think I’m too tough, just direct. Out of all the band members, I suspect Rachel is the toughest as I’ve seen the way she hits the drums. As for teenage girls, I don’t recall ever seeing any at one of our gigs. They can come if they like, but their parents will probably appreciate us more than they do because it might remind them of some of the bands they loved in their youth.
Adam: I’m trying to quit smoking at the moment.
Rachel: We just like being a bit provocative because we’re adverse to slipping into that overly comfortable 'IKEA' lifestyle. We’d just like to give people a little hope that there’s something other than that, and if you’re in a band you don’t have to be sponsored by Shockwaves. Radio 1 and the NME are appalling at the moment, and I think there are more bands than people realize who aren’t dying to be part of all that.
What kind of music did you listen to yourselves as teenagers? When and how did you discover the bands that influenced the MLS-sound?
Darren: I was a big Guns N’ Roses fan when I was a kid, then I moved on to Public Enemy and eventually ended up loving bands such as Sonic Youth and The Jesus And Mary Chain. By the time I was 16 years old, The Velvet Underground had pretty much taken over my turntable, and all the bands I discovered from there have shaped my way of thinking ever since.
Caroline: As a teenager I was listening to a bit of Nirvana, Hole, that type of thing. I grew up in a house where The Doors and The Velvet Underground were often played, so I wasn’t even able to "discover" these bands for myself as many others do.
Adam: I was listening to bands like Ash and the Manic Street Preachers, following the NME like a lot of teenagers, until I was turned on to Guided By Voices, Pavement and The Mountain Goats (...et cetera) by the guy who worked at the local record store. It was then that I fell in love with music properly and especially the lo-fi diy bedroom recording aspect of it. Whilst I love hearing new music, it didn’t take long to realize the importance of going backwards too...
Rachel: Yeah, the Manics are definitely in there for me too, although I was 7 when Richey Edwards went missing, but he still played a massive part in my early teenage years, as did 70’s punk/garage rock. My sister got me into Ash and Idlewild, then I discovered The Pixies, and without realizing it I’d got into Sonic Youth, Pavement, Mercury Rev, Weezer, Radiohead and The Moldy Peaches. When I was 14/15 I didn’t have any money, or I spent it on booze, so I started listening to my dad’s old records; Bob Dylan, The Stones, The Monks - Bad Habits... that was good. The record sleeve was a nun smoking and drinking with stockings on - bad habits. Then whatever I could get my hands on... but unfortunately more often than not, that was uninspiring. I really got back into music when I moved to Leeds.
How do you usually put your songs together? Are you a group of individual songwriters, or a songwriting team?
Darren: Very simple. Sometimes I write a song, sometimes Adam comes up with a song, sometimes Caroline has the lyrics and we write the music around that, and sometimes we put songs together from just throwing a few ideas around collectively.
Caroline: We write songs as individuals, and together. Often, we set ourselves a task of writing a song on the same day as we plan to record. This has happened with alarming regularity.
Adam: Yeah, we write as a group and also individually. I write songs for various musical projects I’m involved in. The ones that end up sounding like Manhattan Love Suicides songs get used for The Manhattan Love Suicides. The typical band set up of who plays/does what is far more loose than it would appear, which gives us plenty of dynamic scope.
Rachel: Putting too much structure to stuff would cause problems so we just get on with it.
You’ve been an extremely prolific band so far. Do you ever get writer’s block? What do you do to get inspired?
Darren: We like to record often, and we like to record quickly. Get a song recorded almost as soon as it is written, when it’s at its freshest.
Caroline: If I’m stuck for ideas I will probably watch a good movie. With a movie you can pick up on a theme and run along with that, whereas if I listen to songs I will just try to write a song that copies what I’ve just listened to.
Adam: I think as we write individually as well as together, there is a constant unspoken competitive element that keeps us all on our toes.
Rachel: I think just hanging out and playing together helps a lot.
For such a prolific band, your live shows are extremely short and selective. You could play ten shows and never play a song twice. Why the hit and run gigs?
Darren: With a band like ours, any longer than twenty minutes would lose the impact. It may sound really shitty to say this and I can only speak for myself here, but I’m not out to win anybody over and have people come up to us to say how much fun they had at one of our gigs. A Manhattan Love Suicides gig is supposed to be like a smack in the face. We get on the stage, we play six or seven songs as loud as we can and we get off. If you like it, if you find it exhilarating then that’s great, but if you don’t like it then fair enough. Go and listen to something else instead. It’s the total opposite approach to any band that goes out of its way to impress an audience and does everything except get down on its knees and beg for acceptance and appreciation.
Caroline: The intention was always to create a big wall of noise and fuzz. We couldn’t do that with the necessary impact if we played on for much longer than we do. We have written many songs which have never been performed live, and some which we have played more than I can count. We know what works for us and we try to stick to our guns.
Rachel: I don’t think we need to be on stage for longer. We get our point across.
Do you have a favourite moment in your short history so far, a story that will make it into the big MLS biography that will be written in many years? And while we’re at it, who should write that biography?
Darren: I think the highlight so far for me was SXSW in 2007. Not that our performances there were all that great actually, but the whole experience was fantastic. Playing New York is always really good as well. The Manhattan Love Suicides biography? Should be written by Abel Ferrara the film director.
Caroline: It’s difficult to pinpoint a favourite moment of mine – maybe it’s yet to come. When the biography is written we’ll have to go back in time as I think J.D. Salinger would do a good job. His stories were compelling even though they weren’t action packed. I’d like to think he could sum up The Manhattan Love Suicides in that way.
Adam: Peter Hughes in the audience at our SXSW show was quite a special moment for me (I think he was just there to see Tullycraft, but he was still there). And meeting Lily Allen. We once had an email from Kramer asking if we wanted to go and record with him too which we all got very excited about for a while. If we can go back in time then it would be fun to have Hunter S. Thompson along on tour, but not to write the biography, I’d want Alfred Jarry to do that.
Rachel: I’d like it to be done by the guys who do the Preacher comic books. My favourite moments are always traveling.
The Manhattan Love Suicides are also a series of short films from 1985 by Richard Kern: Stray Dogs, Woman at the Wheel, Thrust In Me and I Hate You Now. All good song titles, actually! Did you love these movies, or was it just the name that sounded right? Richard Kern also directed music videos, for (among others) Sonic Youth and Marilyn Manson. Do you know if he’s aware of you? It would seem nice if he could direct one of your videos as well! Who does make your videos?
Darren: I don’t think Richard Kern is aware of us, but then again I don’t know. I’m not sure what he’d think of the music if he heard it. Probably not industrial enough for his tastes judging from some of the music he put into his short films. He’s definitely an acquired taste. I love the rough and raw grittiness of his films, the DIY element. It’s inspirational as it shows you that if you’ve got a cheap camera, a few good ideas and some like minded people, you can make a grubby little movie.
Caroline: Well, if Richard Kern is aware of us, he hasn’t been inspired to contact us. We’d gladly accept any offer from him to direct a video – if only he can agree to waive his fee.
Adam: Come on, Kern.
Rachel: A friend of ours makes the videos now, he seems to get it spot on and understands any ideas we throw at him. A fan of ours who we know pretty well now came along to a show and made a video for Head Over Heels recently. We like it when different people get involved in various ways, whoever they are. It would be great if Kern wanted to be involved, but I agree with Darren... I don’t think he’d like us enough.
You run your own label, Squirrel Records. What makes you want to release a song or album?
Darren: A very simple philosophy – if we like it, we’ll release it. We get lots of demos sent to us, mostly really bad ones to be honest. But once in a while something comes through that ticks all the right boxes for us. Which is usually loud, rough sounding stuff that hasn’t been put together with too much polish. It’s hard to explain, but we just know when a band is coming at what they do from what we personally consider to be the right angles.
Caroline: If I listen to a song and want to play it again after it’s finished, then that is good enough for me and for Squirrel.
It’s hard to keep count of your own releases. At this rate soon there’ll be enough material for a Burnt Out Landscapes part 2. What can we expect in 2009?
Darren: Well, first up we’re issuing the debut album on CD on Squirrel Records, as up to now it’s only been available on vinyl in the UK and Europe. This release will have a bunch of bonus tracks on it, plus hopefully a DVD featuring around 9 promo videos. Then, we’ll be releasing the second album a little later in the year, and more than likely another handful of singles too.
Caroline: More songs of course. We’re doing a spot of recording in a few days.
Adam: We’ll just keep doing what we’ve been doing, with emphasis on putting a new album together. Squirrel will also be releasing my solo material which is very nice of them.
Rachel: We don’t really have a plan. We just deal with things as they come. We’re supporting Crystal Stilts so that’s exciting.
More songs is always good. Please, keep it coming. Thanks for the interview!
The Manhattan Love Suicides myspace
Magic Marker Records
1. The Manhattan Love Suicides - Jonny boy
2. The Manhattan Love Suicides - Head over heels