Standard Q&A with Standard Fare
by Bill Reese
Sheffield, UK's Standard Fare are earning a reputation across the pond for their bittersweet indie-pop licks that counter-act the implied dullness of the group's moniker. Co-led by singer/bassist Emma Kupa and singer/guitarist Danny How, the power trio just concluded a stateside tour, including a stop in one of the birthplaces of indie, at Popfest in Athens, GA.The English trio's lead single is titled after an American city. The choppy-poppy "Philadelphia" is one of several sleek, catchy tunes on the group's debut LP The Noyelle Beat.Before gigging at Don Hill's in Manhattan's Soho district, Emma and Danny and drummer Andy Bez talked to OfficiallyAYuppie.com about their new album and their American mini-tour.
A lot of American rock journalists are consistently impressed with the new crop of indie-pop groups hailing from the U.K. Do you feel that you're part of a bigger upswell of young, talented bands-both in Sheffield and in England as a whole?
Dan: Not particularly, there seems to be a little community of indie-pop bands and people around the UK and although it feels like a really great thing to be a part of, I don't think people involved in other types of music see it as a big deal. There's definitely bags of talent and potential in some of the bands we play with, and there's something intriguing about hearing their upbeat songs often with an underlying sense of heart ache.
I'm also glad to see more "power-trios" make a comeback. Did you always envision yourselves as a three-piece, or did you resist the urge to add a second guitarist or keyboard player?
Dan: In the early days there were 4 of us but we never all practiced together, the other guy was my best friend on lead guitar but he went away to Uni before we ever played a gig. It felt weird to replace him and I think we found more 'room' in the music as a three piece.
Emma: As a bass player I felt like a second guitarist would make the sound muddier and not add anything to it. Our sound felt a bit thin to start with but either we got used to it or we grew to fill it - I'm not sure.
Dan: I don't think we'd change it now, plus we get friends up to help us at gigs now and again if we fancy playing something slightly different.
How do you decide who takes lead vocals on a particular song? Do Emma and Danny each bring in their own songs to share with the group, or does it happen spontaneously?
Andy: Emma and Dan both come to practise with song ideas they've sometimes just written on the way from home in the car or train, or ideas they've been working on for weeks. One of them will show their idea singly and the other will automatically start humming harmonies down the microphone.
Emma: Generally whoever writes the vocal part sings it, but Dan wrote 'Nuit avec une amie' for us both to sing and we'd like to play around with writing vocal parts for each other in future.
"Philadelphia" mixes 2-3 different styles within the same song. I especially love how all four guitar chords in the chorus are strummed with varying force and rhythm. The whole album is a mix of differing styles. Do you make it a point to mix in varying styles and sounds to each song?
Dan: Emma originally wrote 'Philadelphia' and brought it to the band, I'm not sure the chorus was intended to be quite so punk-rock but I thought the chords fit well and the natural reaction we all had was to just rock it up a bit.
Emma: I think we try and keep every song different somehow especially as I find myself using the same chord sequences in some songs!
"Philadelphia" is also one of the poppiest "long distance relationship" songs I've ever heard, (I grew up listening to Taking Back Sunday's "Something to write home about," which was an album full of songs like that.) Do you find that that's a theme that a lot of your fans relate to?
Emma: It's hard to tell what people relate to about our songs. I think it's possibly that they're quite direct and honest.
Dan: I guess a lot of our experiences, especially with relationships, are kind of common with young people and to sing about them pretty straight up can put people back in that place - just with an upbeat melody in the background.
When you're stateside, are there any cities or venues that you're fond of playing?
Andy: When we were in the states in March, we had great audiences! Each gig we played had a different feel to it, some gigs people were jumping, dancing and cheering and others where people seemed to be reserved just watching what we did, listening contently maybe hopefully? I think my favourite venue we played was a warehouse in Philadelphia, there were lotsa indie kids going crazy and there was a real great atmosphere about the place! But I enjoyed every place we played at!
Emma: This tour will have a lot of new venues and cities, which we're pretty excited about!
Are your set-lists sticking exclusively to the new album, or are you mixing in some new songs and covers too?
Emma: Covers are really hard!
Dan: yeh definitely! We like to keep things a bit exciting, as much for ourselves as the people who are listening, so we try out new songs and occasionally revive some old songs too.
So, is "Fifteen" based on a true story? I kind of hope it is, personally-as someone who lusted over musicians as a kid and was always left broken hearted.
Emma: It is yes I wrote it a few months after a brief experience of a few hour crush on someone much younger. I knew I shouldn't have been feeling anything and I'm glad I did nothing about it except write the song!
Johnny Marr played on a Cribs album, Paul McCartney wants to produce the new Wombats record-So, which one of your idols would you most like to develop a sudden interest in joining the group-and would you let them?
Dan: They say "never meet your idols", but I guess if they had heard of us, I know Andy will like this, I wouldn't mind Graham Coxon or Damon Albarn giving us a bit of advice.
Emma: That's a tricky question as there's bands and albums I love so deeply like Fleetwood Mac and the Cardigans but I don't know what I'd like from the artists or their producers. I think I'd prefer someone also starting out to help produce or work with us as if it was someone big they'd always be comparing us to the amazing artists they'd worked with.
If you guys don't have Sam Cooke's "One Night Only: At the Harlem Square Club, 1963" on your iPods, I highly recommend it for those long journeys between shows. What kind of music are you listening to while driving from gig to gig?
Dan: cool, I'll have to check it out. When we're in the van we normally have Andy's iPod and I reckon it has pretty much every mood of music - we rapped along to Kanye West not long ago. Recently though, we were listening to the Scottish band 'Kid Canaveral', their songs have a really great feel to them and he has an incredible voice.
Emma: Sometimes we try to choose music linked to the places we're going or leaving so we were listening to Tom Jones on the way back from Cardiff in Wales. Or we'll listen to some of our favourite contemporaries such as Allo Darlin' and Nat Johnson and the Figureheads.