Before we let them hit the stage at Vienna’s concert hall Flex, two of us had the chance to sit down with the men of Britain’s least pigeon-holed band Counterfeit and talk about their first studio album. We found out how they went about the writing and production process as well as the true meaning behind the record’s haunting cover art.
After meeting Jamie Campbell Bower (lead vocalist, guitar), Tristan Marmont (guitar, vocals), Roland Johnson (bass, vocals) and Jimmy Craig (drums, percussion) of Counterfeit prior to their first ever concert in Vienna in spring last year, we meet up with the band once more. This time the group are completed by Sam Bower (guitar, vocals) who had been unable to accompany his colleagues the previous year, as he had to study for upcoming exams. This time we also get to talk about their debut album. Titled Together We are Stronger, the record features quite a few songs we already got to appreciate during their first show in 2016, but also introduces several new tunes. When asked about how their new album has been received by their fans and critics, the band say that they are very happy with the positive feedback.
Roland: It’s been so good. We have had so many people coming to us at the shows, handing us the record saying they have bought it, they are listening to it and that it was all they were listening to. So it is nice to have the product out there and have people consuming it and having people have such a good reaction to it, because we hadn’t put out an album before; it was the first real product that we put out.
Jamie: I think the best thing about it is the fact that it is utterly representative of who we are and it is a complete representation on our moral standpoint. It is our mark on the world. We have never really had the opportunity to do something like that before, so for us it is a vastly important thing to have done. The reaction as far as critics go: I guess, I’ve been trying to keep my head away from that kind of thing. I don’t really focus on that particularly because it’s one person’s opinion. If it’s great - amazing; but for every amazing review there is always going to be a shit review as well, so I’d rather just not read anything, you know, than read everything else; but everyone who’s come and spoken to us after a show has said that they’ve loved it and said that it’s connected with them and that’s amazing.
fm5: As long as it is something you as the artists can be proud of, it is a wonderful thing.
Jamie: Right? Exactly. It is a body of work that I think we should be proud of.
After listening to the album’s often very personal lyrics and after seeing the band perform their songs to a very excited audience for the second time, we cannot help but agree.
We noticed that a few of the songs get a little bit darker sometimes, very serious. Do you write your songs drawing from personal experiences, things that perhaps friends of yours have gone through?
Jamie: Massively. I mean, I see the writing process as a chance to explore self rather than a chance to tell a story. Some writers like to tell stories and that’s totally cool. I actually prefer to be very honest and very open when I write and it kind of can land me in hot water because people then start to ask me like 'What is the specific reason? What is this actually written about?‘, and there are some parts of my life that I want to keep to myself as well, at the same time as being honest and open as a writer; but yes: everything on the album comes from personal experience. There are songs on there that are about friends, there are songs on there, most of the songs, that are about experiences that I have gone through. I think that what happened is, I got midway through my twenties and your early part of your twenties is amazing, it is one of the best times you’ll have in your life and you just enjoy everything and you’ll enjoy excess and you’ll just enjoy terrible things and then you get halfway through there and you’re like: 'Wait a minute! Actually this isn’t right for me. I need to start thinking about life in serious terms‘; and upon changing the way that I behaved and the way that I acted and the way that I thought about things, a lot of stuff from my youth came up, a lot of hurt, a lot of anger, a lot of pain, and I enjoy those things. I think those are good things to write on. I think suffering is a very very powerful tool.
Do you find it is easier to write about slightly more negative things than positive?
Jamie: Yeah, I think so; but I mean, my earliest childhood memory is not one of joy. That’s for sure. My earliest childhood memory is one of fear almost and that is kind of just who I am really, I guess. I make no bones about it. I prefer the darker side of life. Always have done.
The 'darker side of life‘ is very much brought to light on the bands indeed very open and honest first studio album and we are even more curious to find out more about the process of making the record.
Jamie: We made the record in 25 days. From beginning to end. It was recorded in a studio called Broadfields and produced by Tom Mitchener who also produced Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes and has sort of been around that whole like Watford Rock scene for a while. Jimmy took three days to do his drums, Roland …
Roland: One day bass!
Jamie: He loves that!
We are suitably impressed and cannot but notice the bass player’s proud smile.
Jamie: We were fortunate enough to have gone and played some parts of the record on tour beforehand and honed it a bit. But it is a different thing when you get into a studio because everything’s there and everything is so clear. So you can’t really be as relaxed as you can be on stage and like fuck around as much. There were times when it got difficult. "You Can’t Rely" was written as we were in the recording process. The recording process was spanned out over a period of three months, but obviously altogether took 25 days. It just so happened that that was the time that we needed. So there are songs that took a little bit more effort in the studio, but all in all it was an incredibly calm process and I think we all had a very clear vision as to what we wanted this to be and what we wanted it to sound like and our producer was very forgiving in the sense that we were allowed to go in there and basically go 'Yo, this is kind of how we want it to sound. Help us.‘, rather than be like 'We don’t know what we want it to sound like. You do the work!‘
Asked about the band’s current sound, vocalist Jamie explains the vision to have "a Rock ’n’ Roll Heart with a Punk aesthetic and a modern shininess“.
Jamie: I love old Punk records and I love the feeling behind them but I don’t necessarily enjoy the way that they sound sonically. They sound like they might have been recorded with a sock over the microphone. My thing was always that the guitars should sound like daggers and should always sound like glass or the record should sound like it is about to kiss you and then … [do something very naughty that we are a bit too chicken to actually spell out]. I wanted it to be loving and aggressive at the same time and that is a really important thing, I think for us and for our debut album that we just needed it to be crazy. It just needed to be crazy and erratic. That’s why we use the gear that we use, that’s why we use the amps that we use, use the guitars that we use, you know. Those were the finer points that we made and the choices we made in the beginning with the clarity that we had and there was no real point where we went into the studio and it was like "Well, we have been playing like this and it sounded a bit woolly so now lets tidy it up". But it was like "Lets take the live sound and lets take what we’ve worked to getting and put that down on a record".
After getting a clear picture of the internal workings of Together we are Stronger, we are also interested to learn about the outward appearance of the record itself, the front cover showing the exposed back of a person whose face is hidden by a dark curtain of hair. Immediately the words 'lonely‘ and 'vulnerable‘ come to our minds and we want to know the story behind the design.
Jamie: It is an interesting story. We went to an illustrator first of all to make something for the record cover and they didn’t produce something that I or any of us thought was of quality or great enough to put on the record cover; because the album was written a lot in isolation and I felt incredibly isolated writing it, I wanted the cover to be representative of the idea of isolation and of the idea of honesty. Hence the skin, hence the person alone, hence the back.
While our conversation progresses, we get the feeling that Counterfeit aren’t too keen on being reduced to one specific type or genre of music.
Jamie: A lot of people have described this band as like Punk or whatever. We never set out to do that. I never wanted to be en elitist. We very much embrace all sorts of genres.
Sounds like you'd rather create a new sound altogether that wasn’t there before?
Jamie: Kind of, yeah. I mean, that wasn’t a conscious effort that we made, but we just didn’t want to pigeon hole ourselves immediately anyway and ended up being broader and having a broader spectrum; but there are obvious influences. Absolutely.
All in all the band do not appear to be the least bit counterfeit.
Before we leave them to prepare for their upcoming show, there is one last message, the band wish to address directly to their fans:
Jamie: Thank you for reading again! The thing that continues to blow me away is the fact that we are able to play shows and the only reason we are able to continue to play shows is because people keep supporting us. And that is mind blowing to all of us. It really really is. So, from the bottom of our hearts: Thank you!
co-author: Janis Giovanett - fm5 editor/photographer