On the scale of things, Carlisle is hardly the cultural centre of Britain. What do people think of when they think of Carlisle and Cumbria? Sheep, lakes, floods, Kendal mint-cake – not a vibrant and interesting music scene. Through the age-old tradition of youth boredom, bands, however, are sprouting up all over the city. Of course, not all of them are that good, but some of them could really go places.

Take SecondtoLast for example. They have just been signed to Lockjaw Records after 5 years of gigging and honing their sound, which has gone from pretty basic emotional punk (now an embarrassing memory for the band) to sophisticated progressive rock with its roots in post-hardcore. To give you a better idea of their sound, the band members share a love of Dischord bands, the Mars Volta, Slint and Bjork.

Alex Macarte (bass/vocals), Lee Smith (guitar/vocals) and guitarist Greg Wynne have built up quite a strong following in the north, playing small clubs and supporting bands like Funeral for a Friend and the Paper Chase, while going through a string of drummers in the process.

Their debut EP, ‘We’re Going on the Bear Valley Trail’, which features Ben Turner from Tribute to Nothing on drums, will be released at some point in February or March, and from the sound of the two tracks on the band’s website, it’s well worth looking into.

We meet SecondtoLast in the Kings Head in Carlisle, sitting round the table next to the jukebox. We also have a horrible cold. Hard rock songs performed in a novelty Elvis stylee blast out over the speaker system.

The members of the band have known each other since high school. Lee and Alex were in a pop-punk band called the Annoyance when they were 14. That band became SecondtoLast in 2000. Greg joined the band on their second demo, in 2002.
The band have got themselves a new drummer and are starting to get prepared for the long, hard slog ahead of them to promote their EP. They seem excited about its release, but are trying to play it down – they don’t want to get their hopes up. They are, however, determined to take their music to as broad an audience as possible and to escape the trappings of the sometimes pretentious hardcore punk scene (“Apparently, you’re not allowed to like both Slint and Bjork,” quips Lee as we discuss the kind of people they’ve met while touring).

The band are in their very early twenties and are already making music that surpasses some of their older contemporaries – a good sign that they could be well on their way to creating some brilliantly innovative music.

PB : How did you team up with Lockjaw records? I know you’ve had dealings with them in the past.

AM : We recorded with them in like January last year, and we were looking for labels to put the record out because we really wanted to get it out properly, and we were looking at all these labels, and a lot of them showed interest, but didn’t get back to us, maybe they thought it was too risky or something, so we were going to release it ourselves, and because I know the guys from the label, I rang them up for advice about how we’d go about self-releasing it. Then they just rang us back and said ‘If you want, we’ll just release it for you.’ I was less hassle that way, so we said ‘yeah alright then’. That was in July.

PB : How does it feel to have your record ready to appear in the shops across the nation in the near future?

LS : Awesome!

AM : Good. Really good.

LS : Yeah, it’s just like, ‘finally!’ People are going to get to hear our stuff.

AM : It’s more exposure and it opens a bigger window for us, basically. It’s not the best deal in the world, but it’s a lot better than…

LS : Better than where we were last year.

AM: Yeah, it gets it out there and gives more people a chance to hear us.

PB : Have you had more journalists approaching you for interviews since you signed to Lockjaw?

AM -We hope so.

LS : There’s not been an awful lot yet, we’re not doing anything as such yet, but we’re kind of waiting for a release date at the moment, then we’re sending them to – what’s Ben doing?

AM : He’s sending promo copies everywhere, and we’ve already had a couple of magazines contacting the label about it, because they’ve put something up about us on their site, magazines like Metal Hammer’s been asking and Rock Sound and stuff so when the record’s more in the stage of being released we’ll get to talk to them, well hopefully anyway. We want to get as much exposure as we can really, so we’re hoping to talk to a lot of papers.

PB : You seem to be a band that tries to push boundaries. Is it difficult for you to push your sound forwards when you write a song?

LS: Dunno, not really, I mean I don’t look at it as if we’re pushing anything. I think we just write what we write and if we come with something…

AM : We don’t want to go over the same ground. We don’t want to write the same kind of stuff all the time.

LS : Yeah, it just seems to end up sort of…

AM : Progressive.

LS : Yeah, it just kind of turns out that way.

AM : I think it’s the same for a lot of bands, as you grow, you keep coming up with new ideas. It’s a bit difficult with this one though, because by the time it comes out it’s going to be about a year old. It won’t be a year old to people listening to it but it’s going be a year old to us, so we’ll be fed up of playing it. We’ve already started writing new stuff, so we want to do that as well. It’s gonna be hard for us to keep playing it.

LS : Yeah, like playing the same stuff for two years straight. It’s not necessarily boring. It’s just we’d rather be playing something new, and we’re going to have to play all the old stuff.

(I go into a coughing fit)

LS : (laughs) Do you want a cigarette?

PB : Er, no thanks.

LS : That sounds nasty man.

PB : It’s just a combination of things, but I’m not going to go into it now. Are you planning to continue with Lockjaw or have you got other plans?

AM : We’re not really sure.

LS : It’s just sort of one step at a time. We’ll get this out and just see what happens.

AM : With the contract we’ve got, we’ve got no ties with the label, so after this if they don’t want to work with us any more, they don’t have to, same as we don’t have to work with them if we don’t want to, and if we do want to work with each other we can as well,. It’s not like we’re tied down or anything.

LS : Whatever seems the best option at the time like when it comes around.

AM : Depends what happens. We might stick with them or they might not want us. We’ll just take it as it comes.

PB : If the EP is a success and more people start to take notice of you, how do think the pressure on you would change when it came to writing a follow up? Do you think you would feel more pressured?

AM : I’d like to think not.

LS : God, I hadn’t really thought about that. That’s a really good question.

AM: We don’t know. I mean we haven’t really been faced with that, so we can’t really say.

LS : I’d like to hope not, because… that would be bad.

GW : We have kind of been faced with that already, because do get people wanting us to play all the old stuff and only the old stuff, which is shit.

AM : Yeah we do get that a lot, especially in Carlisle, when we do a gig and they just want us to play stuff from our old demos.

LS : They just start shouting it out.

PB : Is that one of the reasons why you tend to play short, sharp sets?

LS : Yeah, no heckling.

AM: I think shorter sets are better as well because…

LS: People don’t get bored that way.

AM – Yeah people don’t get bored and you leave them, with a bit of mystery maybe. A bit…

LS : …of mystic.

AM : (laughs) Yeah we’re a bit Mystic.

LS : Hey maybe we should call our next album ‘The Mystics’.

(silence)

LS : …Maybe just not.

PB : Not unless you want to delve into Yes territory.

(laughter)

AM : Looking at examples like we played Lancaster a few months ago, and we hadn’t played there for ages. It’s usually a good place, and we weren’t expecting much, when we started playing, we opened with ‘That Boy Ain’t Right’ from our last demo and it was a real surprise because everybody there knew it, and they were all singing along, and we were like ‘Wow this is f**king amazing like, people really like us!’ and after a few new songs they just f**ked off! They all just left after a while, and we were just like ‘oh, alright then’.

LS : That’s the good thing about the EP coming out I suppose, once everyone’s heard it, because no-one’s really heard it yet.

PB : But once they know those songs, you’ll have the same problem because you’ll want to play your newer songs.

AM : (laughs) Yeah pretty much.

LS : I’m hoping though that once this is out, we should record something pretty soon after that and get it out pretty fast. I’m hoping it’d come out pretty soon.

AM : Like maybe, well depends when this one comes out.

LS : Whatever really, just as soon as possible. That’s what I’d like to do. Catch up on ourselves.

PB : If this picks up and you do become a part of the business side of music, they might not let you do short sets anymore> Would that p**s you off?

AM : Yeah.

LS : Completely. One: you get knackered. Two….

AM: We don’t want to do it.

LS : Yeah we just don’t want to. We don’t want to be pressured into something we don’t want to do.

AM : We don’t really want to think about it that much because it might not happen. It might go all tits up or something, so we don’t want to get too high expectations of anything. We don’t know.

LS: It’d be well nice if it went really well and everything went smoothly. tt just came out and everyone really liked it - that would be absolutely amazing, but if it happens it happens and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. We’ll just try again.

PB : Has your egos been boosted since you signed to Lockjaw? Any ‘Do you know who I am!?’ moments?

LS: Maybe when I’m absolutely wrecked, but I doubt it.

AM : Yeah I do it all the time. I tried to get a drink in here for free, and I said ‘Do you know who I am?’ and they just booted me out (laughs). Seriously though, I sort of think of it as a small deal, that I just think of it as if we’re not really signed yet, just like we’re being helped out a bit. Nothing too serious.

GW : Some already think we’re like that round here.

LS : Yeah people around here have a bit of a problem with us.

GW : Yeah they’ve got a bone to pick with us. There’s a lot of talking behind backs.

LS: They come to our gigs and stuff and enjoy the show, then they just slag us off behind our backs.

GW : It’s not about our music, though, it’s just about us.

LS : I think it might be the way that we do come on and play a short set, then walk off.

AM : Sometimes you do get some negative vibes.

LS : Really it’s only here isn’t it?

PB: Is that just your audience or is that other Carlisle bands? Is there any bitchiness between bands?

LS : It’s mainly just in Carlisle, though obviously I don’t know about anywhere else because I don’t live there.

AM : It can be a bit weird though.

LS : Yeah it is strange. There is some weird band rivalries around here.

AM : They get really worked up about it.

LS : Tribes (laughs). ‘I hate your band’ and all that. There’s just no point in it. You might as well just help each other out.

PB : To be honest, judging by a lot of bands from around here, you haven’t got much to worry about.

AM : There’s not many local bands gigging at the moment.

GW : They’ve all gone to uni.

LS : The ‘scene’ as it was the last time we spoke to you has gone from pretty good to pretty p*ss-poor, but then again you’ve got like quite a few bigger bands playing.

AM : Like people think we don’t want to play Carlisle anymore, they think we’re too good to play here and ‘You’re leaving our scene!’ and stuff, but they don’t own us. We want to play other places.

LS : We don’t want to just play the same songs to the same people all the time.

GW : We don’t wanna get gypped out of money as well.

LS: Yeah that always happens to us here.

PB : You’ve had a bit of a ‘Spinal Tap’ thing with drummers. Have you got that sorted now?

AM – Yeah we’ve got a new drummer, Paulie, he’s really good. He’s a lot more into the band than the other drummers we’ve had. He’s more into the writing side of the band and is more on our wavelength.

LS : Yeah he’s more of a friend and more of a part of it rather than just being sort of in the band and we just see him when we need to.

AM : A lot of the drummers we’ve had seem to be up for playing in the band and stuff but when it comes to the work involved they can’t be bothered with it. They just give up after a while, but Paulie seems really up for it and he seems to want to be kept busy with it. He’s in his last year of college.

LS : He finishes in May.

AM : He asked us before about playing in the band, and we had a drummer then and we said no, but if we’d got him in the band then we could’ve saved us a lot of bother! We’re really glad to have him in the band because he’s much more up for stuff. He’s good.


PB : So finally, where do you go from here?

AM : We’re just waiting to get this record out, then hopefully we’ll be really busy. If the label doesn’t keep us busy, we’ll keep ourselves busy.

LS : 200 gigs a year.

AM : I’d like to be able to do a short tour in a month, then a month off, then do another tour, then another month off, because we need to earn a bit of money, we don’t get that much from the band or anything. Then we just sort of progress from there on, and get a bit of a fresh start next year.

LS : Yet another fresh start.

AM : Yeah.

LS : This time it should be different though because we’ll have this record out. Every other time it’s like: ‘fresh start, new year’ and then something bloody happens. This time It’s looking a lot better.

PB : Thank you.









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