The journey between London and Edinburgh by train takes approximately four and a half hours, and anyone travelling on that East Coast line through cities such as York and Newcastle and over 350 miles of British countryside.
The video of ‘Yesterday’, one of the four songs on ‘Misery Lake’, the new EP by Edinburgh-based band the Seven Deadly Sins, captures a lot of that journey.
It begins in London with the band’s singer-songwriter and guitarist Alex Moran wandering through its streets looking dazed and clutching a photo of a young mother and a child, before boarding a train at King’s Cross station with his guitar to go back to Scotland. As he travels north, he passes through landscapes such as the increasingly leafy suburbs that lead outside London; Newcastle railway station with its view of the Tyne Bridge in the background, and over the Royal Border Bridge at Berwick-upon-Tweed that crosses from England into Scotland. He also reminisces about another girl with whom he broke up with on the pier at Southend-on-Sea, and tries forlornly to write a song.
When he is back in Edinburgh, he meets up with Seven Deadly Sins bassist Kevin Turner at the side of Waverley Station. They have a meal and drink together at the popular City Café, which is just off the Royal Mile, and then go on to rehearse and play a gig together with drummer Nic Ross at the Voodoo Rooms, one of Edinburgh’s small venues. As they play the gig, the camera lingers briefly on the notebook in which Alex wrote his song in earlier on the way home, and the photo of the mother and child which is tucked inside it.
The Seven Deadly Sins first formed in 2008, and have been playing together in their current line-up, which also consists of Euan Moran (lead guitar and backing vocals), since late 2010. They released three download only singles on the London-based label the Animal Farm in an earlier line-up. ‘Misery Lake’ is the first release on the Seven Deadly Sins’ own label, Over the Hedge.
‘Yesterday’, the second track on ‘Misery Lake’, is a breezy and deceptively easy-on-the-ear harmonic pop number, which counteracts this with its melancholic and starkly bleak lyrics (“I loved yesterday/Yesterday ain’t today”). Other songs include the opening song, ‘An Accident Waiting to Happen’, a rumbling, grungy track which is about trying to resist falling for someone that you know is dangerous (“You’re an accident waiting to happen/You can’t cast your spell on me”), and the mournful title track which is a slow country ballad and break-up anthem (“On Misery Lake you put a stake through my heart”). The final song, ‘I Hate the Smell of a Rat’, is a seemingly flippant and jagged-sounding alternative rock number with again an undercurrent of angst (“But I never look back, I never look back/Don’t paper over the cracks.”).‘I Hate the Smell of a Rat’ has recently been the subject of a 45 minute animated video from director Mark Grossi, and features a cartoon rat that crawls back after being both electrocuted and drowned.
Pennyblackmusic met up with Alex Moran at one of Edinburgh’s cafes to talk about the ‘Misery Lake’ EP.
PB: Before you formed the Seven Deadly Sins you were a solo artist, weren’t you?
AM: That is how I started out, writing songs on the acoustic guitar. When I started writing songs, I was listening to a lot of the classic songwriters, Bob Dylan and that sort of thing. I played several solo gigs under my own name, and I recorded an EP of acoustic material, which was called ‘Bus Shelter Blues’. That was the main song. It is still a song that I play sometimes at gigs.
PB: Did you form the Seven Deadly Sins then as a means of building up and electrifying your songs?
AM: It was that exactly. I had been playing for about ten months or a year, playing gigs, open mics, and just learning, improving and practicing. I was frustrated with the acoustic guitar at the time, and wanted more of an electrified sound and to branch out.
This must have been 2008. I loved Ryan Adams and was listening to a lot of him at the time. The initial idea I had for the group that it was going to be some kind of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals thing, and so the first line-up of the band was called Alex Moran and the Seven Deadly Sins. You, however, move on. It can also be a delicate balance finding musicians when you are a songwriter, so I dropped the “Alex Moran” bit and it became “the Seven Deadly Sins” and it has stuck ever since.
PB: How do you write your songs? Do you write the lyrics and the melody and bring them to the group, or does it work in another way?
AM: Words and song titles always come to me first, I carry around a really cheap mobile phone with me just for those. When I have got about four messages saved of lyrics I will write them out on a piece of paper, and then I will cross out what is no good and underline what I think will work and build lyrics up from there. I will then build chords and melodies I like, before taking them to the band.
PB: You run your own occasional club night, ‘A Deadly Night Out’, usually at Sneaky Pete’s or the Cabaret Voltaire in Edinburgh. How do those operate?
AM: We have done those a few times now. I will start out by playing four or five songs acoustically on my own, and then there will be usually two support bands, and then the Seven Deadly Sins will play an electric set, with maybe an occasional acoustic number.
We pick the support bands ourselves by keeping an eye on the local scene and also through the internet. It isn’t always possible to do so, but we try and aim for about once a month, every six weeks for one of these gigs.
PB: The first of the four songs on the EP, ‘An Accident Waiting to Happen’, is about being attracted to someone who is bad news. Is it autobiographical?
AM: I think, with my song writing, everything is in some way autobiographical, even if it just the odd word or line. There is an element of that, and that song is about my own experiences.
I don’t tend to plan things too much in advance though with my song writing. I just write it and think about it once I have written it. It is really just a case at first of trying to get the feeling/emotions out and the basic skeleton of the song, and then working out what it all means afterwards.
Some songwriters go about their song writing by saying “I want to write a love song” or whatever, but I have never done that. For me personally it doesn’t feel the right way to do things. I tend to more stumble upon things. Anything that I tend to write usually happens very organically.
PB: The video for ‘Yesterday’ starts in London, moves to Southend-on-Sea and then shifts back to Edinburgh. Why did you decide to film it in so many locations?
AM: It is the fourth video now that I have done with Henry Stafford. He has been a friend for years. He works as an editor in London, editing adverts and music videos. We are about the same age and we grew up together, and, while he works in a different type of industry, it is nice to be developing in our different mediums together. His work ethic is fantastic. He is a good friend, and I know that I can trust him, and he can do a good job and he is very thorough.
Every video we do together is a development or a progression from the one before. The concept for the video was Henry’s, and originally I wanted to make it in just London and maybe Edinburgh, and then Henry came up with the idea of filming on the pier at Southend-on-Sea. It was just a step up. Most of our other videos have been shot in just one or two locations, and this one involved multi-locations.
PB: It must have been quite a difficult video to make because some of it was shot on the London-Edinburgh train. This must have all been one-take stuff.
AM: One of the plans was that we would get the train back up to Scotland after we had been in London. There are some good shots of me looking out of the window and writing. Henry got some good shots of Berwick, and also there is one in the sunlight in Newcastle station that I particularly like.
PB: ‘Misery Lake’, the title track and the third song on the EP, has been described by one reviewer as a “suicide anthem”. Do you see it as that way?
AM: No, not at all. It is a very sad song though. That is an example of a song that started with a title (Laughs).
PB: ‘I Hate the Smell of a Rat’ has had an animated short film made for it. How did that come about?
AM: Again I am lucky in that I have a really good friend Mark Grossi who is living in Dundee at the moment. He has just finished course in animation at university. I got in touch with him and he is so busy that he couldn’t do a full length video, but was able to make a 45 seconds film. Hopefully Mark and I will work together on a full length one at some point. The idea of that song was to capture some of the anger that you feel when people stab you in the back or turn their back on you.
PB: What are your plans for the future? Are you going to aim for an album?
AM: I am going to see what interest we get back from this from labels and management with ‘Misery Lake’. We will see what happens, but I would probably like to do another EP rather than an album initially with six songs this time and for release early to spring next year.
PB: Thank you.