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The Hermit Crabs are the latest band off the Glasgow musical conveyor belt.
The group, which currently consists of John Ferguson (lead guitar), Melanie Whittle (guitar and vocals), Tony McDonald (drums), Mark Waudby (bass guitar), and Ali King (violin, keyboards, percussion), play music with an 80's influenced indie pop sound. They have released both an EP, 'Feel Good Factor' (2006), and an album, 'Saw You Dancing' (2007) on Matinee Records, and also recently have appeared on one half of a vinyl only single on Slumberland Records
John Ferguson and Melanie Whittle took time to answer some questions from Pennyblackmusic.
PB : How did the band get together?
JF : Mel used to play drums for California Snow Story. That’s the band that David Skirving formed after he left Camera Obscura. That band kind of stopped for a while when one of its members became ill, so Mel picked up a guitar, learnt a few chords and started writing songs. That was in late 2003, I think. The original line up was Mel, Lee from Camera Obscura on drums, Des McKenna on bass and Anne Lafon-Delpit on guitar. I think there were a few different violinists. I joined in 2005 after I met Mel through Lee. The rest of the line up has changed quite a bit around Mel and me over the years, but it seems to have settled down with the current line-up.
PB : Why The Hermit Crabs?
JF : I've asked that myself. Mel over to you.
MW : Myself, Des and Anne were in the pub deliberating over names. I was fed up with the whole thing and just coming out with ridiculous sweary words. At one point I suggested the Hermit Crabs and Des and Anne cheered! Little did I know they didn't actually know hermit crabs were real things. After that I just couldn't be bothered changing the name.
PB : How did your deal with Matinee come about?
JF : Francis Macdonald from Teenage Fanclub suggested that we send some music to Matinee and gave us the name of Jimmy Tassos who runs it. We were talking to two other American labels at the time but Matinee just felt honest, friendly and right for us.
PB : Glasgow has been a hot-bed of indie talent of late with the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura and most recently Glasvegas all cutting their teeth in Scotland’s second city. Has it been a help or a hindrance ‘rubbing shoulders’ with such contemporaries?
JF : Glasgow has had a vibrant, internationally influential music scene for many years and over different genres. There's probably an essay on the internet about working class populations and the role of music and humour in post industrial cities that tries to figure out why the likes of Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool have such good musical exports.
People do tend to give Scottish/Glaswegian pop quite a bit of credence, if that's the word, and it does help being associated with that back catalogue. On the other hand, being a relatively small place, people tend to draw comparisons between bands. Camera Obscura being compared to Belle & Sebastian or us being compared to Camera Obscura for instance. While there is an obvious comparison to be drawn, there are plenty of other bands around the world, past and present that we all sound more like than we do each other. We get the Camera Obscura (who I think are great by the way) thing quite a lot but, while there are very definite similarities in the line-up, strings (although we tend to have a solo fiddle as opposed to their orchestration), clean guitars, female vocals, bearded guitarists, from Glasgow etc, our music is pretty different. We tend to be folkier, and, at times, heavier than they are.
One of our earliest reviews said that we had more in common with bands off Matinee than our Glaswegian friends and that was a while before we had signed with Matinee. To me, Belle and Sebastian are a totally different sound to the Cam Obscura but that comparison is still going around although not so much now that the Obscura are better known. I think with our next EP that it'll be far harder to make comparisons. Sorry, am I starting to sound like I've got a bee in my bonnet ? Underachievers please try harder…
MW : Well, that's quite a good answer. I've got nothing to add there.
PB : Is there a decent underground music scene in Glasgow in terms of bands, clubs and venues ?
JF : I don't know if you'd call it underground. There are gigs, clubs, venues, great music nights and great bands everywhere in Glasgow. Some popular established club nights die every now and then as the organisers go on to something else, but they're soon replaced by enthusiastic fans. It's a very musical city no matter what style of music you're into. It's a very friendly scene and you'll usually find that bands either know each other or share members and at specific nights you'll find famous musicians dancing away with the fans. It is pretty down to earth and supportive and avoids the elitist muso thing you can get in other cities.
PB : Do you have much contact with other local bands?
JF : Yep. Everyone knows everyone here. More or less...
PB : What influences have helped the band shape their sound?
JF : In complete contradiction to my previous answer, Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura would seem be obvious influences. But we don't consciously think about them when we write a song or anything like that. I just play what I like and so does Mel. Maybe it’s a Glaswegian or mellow Scottish vibe thing that we all tap into. Maybe we should get a trumpet? Everyone in the band likes a lot of different stuff. Black Sabbath, the Magnetic Fields, the Pastels, James Taylor, Teenage Fanclub, Laura Cantrell, Pixies, U2 (I'll get a total kicking for that) Jonathan Richman, Maths and Physics Club, The Boss, the Go-Betweens, Blondie, Laura Marling, the Smiths, Metallica, Love, Buddy Holly, Rilo Kiley, Felt...Who knows ? Mel ?
MW : For me, it's mainly female singer songwriters that influence me though I do have a taste for other types of bands. I'm a big fan of the Breeders and the Pixies. Boo to U2!
PB : What groups are the bands fans of?
JF : The above plus about a million more. Anymore to add Mel?
MW : As well as above, I do like Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Laura Marling. I actually like a fair bit of music in the charts at present which I haven't done for years. Don't let Mark write too much in this section…
JF : It’s ok Mel. I couldn't get through to Mark or David or Ali. Honest…
PB : It’s a while since your debut LP was released. What sort of reaction have you had from critics and fans?
JF : Mixed, but on the whole generally very good reactions. The EP got more consistent reviews than the album. I think this is because the tracks on the LP were compiled from a few years work and recorded at different times in different studios. I think that all the individual songs on the album are really good and there's no filler to speak of but it lacked the continuity that the EP had and the production on some of the songs wasn't quite as consistent as the EP. Tracks from the LP like 'Bad Timing', 'Closet Fan', 'Friends Folk Festival' and 'Goodbye My Friend' seem very popular with gig goers.
We also just had a single out after the LP on Slumberland Records that got some very nice reviews too. Actually, going off on a tangent, that single, 'Searching For The Now', upon which we had one song, 'Flaxen Haired Boy', was a very Scottish affair for a Californian label. We were on a split single with Roy Moller and the Company (the Company being Stevie Jackson and Gary Thom I think). 'Searching for the Now' is the name for what is a series of singles. Bricolage and Sexy Kids from Glasgow also had tracks out on the series and then another band called A Sunny Day in Glasgow, who are from Philadelphia, covered a Pastels song. Lot of Glasgow there... The most enthusiastic response live recently has been for our new songs, which is nice and hopefully bodes well for the new EP.
PB : Where you get the ideas for the songs, Melanie ? Are they autobiographical ?
MW : From everything and everyone around me. They are autobiographical. Yes though the songs I have written with John refer to the way I see his life and mine. Things just seem to pop into my head. Sometimes they stick, sometimes they don't.
JF : Mel has the artistic integrity in the band and uses songs to express her feelings. I'm always on at her to write songs based on well known non-specific TV friendly phrases. I mean "there's a feel good factor coming over Sauchiehall Street" Thats tricky for people. If it was "there's a feel good factor coming over 10th and Broadway " we'd have been on 'Sex and the City' by now and could retire. Come on Mel. Sell out. Gonna? Please…
PB : Do you come up with the lyrics first and build a tune around them or vice versa?
MW : I tend to come up with both lyrics and a tune together although sometimes the lyrics can be nonsensical and I will change them as I begin to complete the song.
PB: What plans do you have for future releases and gigs?
JF : We're recording a new 4 track EP at the moment and its sounding great so far. Lots and lots of trumpet. It should be out around October or November. We're going to try get to Sweden and mainland Europe in the next year and also get back to the US for another couple of gigs too.
PB : Thanks and good luck.
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Glaswegian indie pop group the Hermit Crabs released their debut album, 'Saw You Dancing', on Matinee Records last year. Dixie Ernill speaks to guitarist John Ferguson and vocalist Melanie Whittle about how they write their songs, the album and their plans for the future
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