“We worked really hard for five years, worked on our song craft and wanted to make sure we captured the record the right way. I love the production on it and the way we went about recording it.” Working with producer Barny Barnicott (Artic Monkeys, Kasabian) probably didn’t hurt either. “We had an established sound, he made it sound even better. He put a couple of extra layers of polish on it. When we were trying to decide on a producer we sent off tracks to a bunch of different guys; his came back and it was just big sounding.”
Big can be an overused term but it’s certainly apt for ME’s debut; grandiose rock’n’roll influenced by more groups and artists than you can poke a stick at. “I am a fan of Freddie Mercury’s vocals and obviously Queen’s theatrical nature, but when it comes to harmonies The Beatles, Beach Boys, and Simon & Garfunkel are big influences. When it comes to the classical stuff we’re into Tchaikovsky for example. But at heart we are a rock band.”
Pigeonholing ME then is fruitless, so when The Darkness is mentioned for bringing back – albeit briefly – a more grandiose brand of rock’n’roll, Ferris is keen to distance ME. “The Darkness are quite theatrical; it’s not my kind of rock. Everyone was scratching their heads thinking, ‘Are these guys a joke?’ I really don’t want to be put in that category, a parody or something, we are quite serious. But yes I would like to see more theatrical rock, but not many are doing it.”
Working Life is a good example of what ME are trying to achieve – a five and a half minute rock opus of sorts, full of heavy rhythm guitar, tempo changes, strings, flute and what sounds like a choir (which apparently was not the case). “Believe it or not the choir on that song is Damian (lead guitar) myself and Mikey (bass). [We] got into the studio and did 50 over dubs for the choral part. Sixty of our voices layered over one another.” Is there a danger then of songwriting coming a second to production and arrangement? “It’s all about the song first, we have a lot of fun arranging; that’s probably where we get carried away, when we go down the epic and theatrical road. With Working Life I did want to write a song like that but at its core it was written on acoustic guitar, and you’ve got to get the right melody, the right structure. When that’s finalised and perfected, we get crazy with harmonies, vocals and instrumentalisation.”
Considering the genres ME draw from, it seems sensible that they would venture to the UK to record their first album, and seeing places that sit high in English rock lore such as Abbey Road and the stairwell in a Hampshire manor where Jon Bonham recorded the drums for When The Levee Breaks, also putting them in good stead. “It was always really exciting for us to record the album there, I just wanted to get over there and experience what life was like as a musician in Britain. I love cold weather. I don’t like this heat. The miserable English weather suited me just fine. We got that very British rock inspiration. At that same time (we were seeing these places) we were starting our first album down in the countryside next to a horse riding school, quite picturesque – it was a good time to be recording.”
Though we may possess romanticised ideas about how our favourite songwriters and lead guitarists came together (Mercury/ May, Jagger/Richards) Ferris and Damian Finlay’s first encounter was less auspicious. “When I first met Damian he had a broken arm and I couldn’t tell how good he was. But we sat down and spoke about all our influences and what sort of music we wanted to make, what we wanted to do in a band, and when he finally got his arm out of the cast I thought, ‘Jesus, this guy can play!’” Damian’s ability is no more apparent than on Rock And Roll Dandy, which could sit on Queen’s A Day At The Races with ease. Across the album his guitar can be at one moment reminiscent of Brian May, the next Tom Morello, the next Albert Hammond Jnr. It’s not all guitars blazing, there are softer moments too; the rousing Trails In The Sky and closer Their Song providing nice contrasts.
Asked if they’ve cast the net too wide songwriting and arrangement wise, and whether they can translate it live, Ferris claims the problem has always been the other way around. “Our biggest problem has always been capturing our live sound on a record; we consider ourselves more of a live band than a studio band. But we don’t have any problem whatsoever creating a big show and a big noise in the live arena.”
BY GARRY WESTMORE