THE DARLING BUDS are a guitar pop band from Newport, Wales. They released a smattering of singles, albums, and chart hits in the late 80’s and early 90’s and they are BACK with a brand new (and very good) EP called Evergreen, which drops April 21st on Odd Box Records. They have a (sold out) record release show on the 28th of April in London with the great Popinjays supporting.
Along with The Primitives, The Darling Buds helped create the template for what a lot of alt-pop would sound like in the 90’s on through today. Bands like Best Coast admittedly draw a lot of influence from them. We talked to the Buds own Matthew Gray about all of this and more, so check out the 50thirdand3rd interview, and be sure to watch the Buds brand spankin’ new video for the sparkling new tune, ‘Evergreen’.
50thirdand3rd: What was the vibe in 1986 why was that such a pivotal year for rock n roll? A It seems everyone in the UK was referencing the noisiest bits of the Velvets and combining it with these really bright melodies and harmonies or with Spector sounding stuff. There were also lots of women fronting bands, doing labels, writing fanzines, and running things. Also, What bands made you guys want to start your own band?
The Darling Buds: Yes, that was a really grim time for mainstream music, and especially in pre-internet days when we were all force fed BBC top 40 radio and Top of the Pops type TV shows. There was however a thriving underground music scene which existed completely separate, loads of fanzines, tape swapping and DIY gig promoting. UK ‘alternative’ culture was typically divided quite tribally along genre lines. In Newport, where we’re from, there was a big hardcore scene, then further North, in the Welsh valleys, there was a huge metal scene. Then there were still pockets of indie pop, mod, reggae scenes. Occasionally then you’d get the odd crossover hit and it was really weird, like The Jesus and Mary Chain or The Exploited on Top of the Pops, amongst all the Europop chart dross. That used to get people really agitated which was quite funny. The Darling Buds were a bit of a one-off in our area, Andrea and Harley started the band and as big Velvets and Beatles fans and it took off in the wake of the JAMC and everything that followed. Brilliant stuff like The Shop Assistants, The Pastels and The Primitives. The sort of bands our local DIY promotors put on though were really great touring US HC bands like Husker Du and Scream. One of the really early Buds gigs was supporting Butthole Surfers.
50thirdand3rd: Very cool eclectic line-ups. I think I have a very specific aesthetic but it can pop up in a variety of genres, so those more eclectic line-ups appeal to me. Like I would love to see The Darling Buds on the same bill with Butthole Surfers or Pussy Galore would be a cool show too. It would be cool to see some of those old gig flyers so send em over if you’ve got any!
The Darling Buds: The Butthole Surfers show was crazy. It’s on youtube (look for Butthole Surfers Newport Centre) and you can spot us all in the crowd at the end. Pussy Galore played here as well, a few years later though. This town was an amazing place to see bands. We had a venue called TJ’s and the local promoter was really good at getting all the cool touring bands from the US. He used to make sure the bill was really eclectic too. We played there with No Use For A Name once.
50thirdand3rd: Let’s talk about John Peel a little bit as he was a notable early Darling Buds convert, one of his fave tunes is also one of mine (‘You’ve Got To Choose” b-side “Mary’s Got To Go”). Was Peel taking an interest in the band the thing that changed things for you as far as how things progressed?
The Darling Buds: It was all down to John Peel. Harley took the first single and hand delivered it to his office at the BBC in London. Luckily he liked it and became a huge champion of the band. You have to remember, as I said before there was next to no outlet for non chart music in the UK, and for people who craved something different, John Peel’s nightly 3 hours were essential listening. If you were in a band who played any sort of non-mainstream music, all you ever wanted was to be played by Peel, so his support was a huge leg-up. From there it was a whirlwind of touring and record deals.
50thirdand3rd: I can relate to this. I started a label in 2002 and John Peel was an important person to get in your corner as a small label. I got his home address in the countryside from a friend and sent him a note with a Coachwhips/Trin Tran split 7″ that I put out on my label and he played it A LOT and it was one of my big dreams, having that happen. I was like welp, I guess I can quit doing a label now. That was basically my ambition at the time was to do get Peel to champion a record on my rinky dink imprint. This was 2004 and he passed away later that same year which was such a huge loss and i’m still not over it , he’s irreplaceable.
The Darling Buds: Irreplaceable is right. He’s been gone 13 years now and there hasn’t been anyone like him emerging, and I don’t think there ever will now. I probably heard Coachwhips first on Peel.
50thirdand3rd: So Pat Collier from The Vibrators produced a ton of Pop Said-era stuff, and one of my favorite tunes on the follow up (1990’s Crawdaddy) called “Honeysuckle“. How did that union happen and what was that experience like? Did you pick things up along the way from people like that? I’m also curious to learn about your engineer on a lot of recordings, Jessica Corcoran can you tell me about her as she has quite a resume as well. Who did you guys work with when you recorded the new EP, Evergreen?
The Darling Buds: That happened just because the label booked the band into Alaska Studios which was owned and run by Pat Collier, and Jess Corcoran was the engineer there. She also did a ton of other indie bands of the era, like the Senseless Things and Mega City 4. Everyone really got on well and they did a brilliant job of capturing the bands sound at the time, but we didn’t keep in touch unfortunately. Jess has gone on to do some great stuff. The band started evolving quite quickly musically after that and songs like ‘Honeysuckle’ were a definite progression. We love playing that song live but it’s really hard to do! Stephen Street who worked with the Smiths and Blur amongst others, produced the second and third albums and he did an amazing job too. For the new EP we went straight to our old friend Richard Jackson, who’s a bit of a legend on the music scene in Wales. He used to be the guitarist in the band Novocaine but gave it up to become a live and studio engineer, working with The Wedding Present, Super Furry Animals, and Cate Le Bon. We used a small studio in Newport called Junkyard which is pretty compact but has a good live room and loads of great gear. Rich gets some killer drum and guitar sounds, and again I think he really captured the sound of us as we are right now.
50thirdand3rd: Let’s talk about chart success and being in the kind of pop machine that was the NME and Melody Maker and performing on Top Of The Pops and making videos in the days of big budget Mtv vids. Any notable run-ins with Tiffany or Bananarama? I ask because i’m possibly extremely jealous. Also was the whole ‘Blonde’ “scene” fabricated to sell papers or were you influenced by other bands that might have been mining similar territory such as The Primitives?
The Darling Buds: It really was a machine, and once you’re caught up in it, everything moves so fast, there was very little time to stop and think what was actually happening. You’re in a small indie band with average aspirations of being played on Peel or getting mentioned in the NME or Melody Maker, and doing a tour and suddenly you’re signed to a major label with all that entails. The feeling was though, being young and naïve, that everything was just a bit of a laugh and since opportunity was knocking we’d just go along for the ride! Making videos and going on TV shows was all part of that. People used to question the band’s indie credentials after the Sony deal but there’s no regrets, they actually stayed faithful to us longer than most people predicted.
The only sour note was the indie label we were on just prior to the Sony deal encouraged us to sign it, and as it turned out they made off with a shit ton of money out of it.
We’ve never had run-ins with anyone though, sorry to disappoint, we seem to get along with most people and bands we run in to. It’s still one of the greatest things about doing this, just going to new places and hanging out with other bands and fans.
As for the ‘blonde’ thing, I mean yes obviously it was purely a music paper thing that went too far. Thing was, you had 3 weekly music papers all desperate to be the first to catch the next wave, and if there was none, they’d make it up. I think it got to the point of parody and ended up being quite funny some of the things they’d fabricate, but every now and again something which should have been a laugh for 5 minutes gets picked up and run with. It was all massively cringe-worthy to be honest. There are only 3 bands ever supposedly in it as well! The Darling Buds, The Primitives, and Transvision Vamp. Transvision Vamp we never thought were remotely anything like us, but we were big Primitives fans.
50thirdand3rd: So let’s talk about Evergreen, when was it decided that you wanted to start writing and recording new material? Is the process any different now than it’s ever been, was it fun being in the studio and how are you feeling about the initial reaction from fans? As a fan I can tell you I am 100% on board with the new EP and really pleased it’s fresh new material but it’s also that classic Darling Buds sound. I’m really excited about it.
The Darling Buds: The process of writing new songs has really just come about naturally as the band have slowly and steadily been reactivating over the past few years. When we initially started gigging again the reaction was unbelievable, we were just amazed by the amount of people who wanted to come and see us play all the old songs after all these years. We’ve sort of found a level where we can sustain the few gigs we do every year around our other lives, but it gets boring playing the same songs every time, for us and we’re assuming the audience. We happen to all live close to each other so getting together to work out new stuff isn’t too difficult. Time is just the problem for us as we all have busy lives outside the band. Being in the studio was really enjoyable too. A few of us are involved with other projects and bands and are more used to studio work, but for Andrea she had hardly been in a recording studio for many years – not since tape machines were used! She loved getting back into the recording process though.
The reaction to the new songs has been superb as well, we’re all really pleased. We’re very aware that as much as the band for us may just be a hobby (albeit a brilliant hobby) we really care about it being able to stand alongside the old stuff, for the bands legacy and for the fans. It’s a massive relief to see we may have achieved that. Trev who runs Odd Box, the label who are putting the record out has been amazing making it all happen, and it’s great that people like yourself are getting in touch and being enthusiastic about what we’re doing. Makes it all extra worthwhile.
50thirdand3rd: So the title track ‘Evergreen’ is one of my immediate favorites off of the new EP. It’s a top-tier Darling Buds song. I know that like angry protest music or even nihilistic hardcore are going to be relevant over the next few years but I think while all that has it’s place, there’s something to be said for something that sounds hopeful and joyful and unabashedly pop, as the world descends into utter chaos. For 3 minutes the world is a happy place. I think ‘Evergreen’ is a song like that. I understand you’ve just shot a video for it, can you tell us about that?
The Darling Buds: Thanks, we’re really pleased with it. You’re right though, the world is going through massive changes politically and people are saying that music is going to get angrier and more political. Maybe. I think if you look in right places there’s already great angry political music. In the band our musical tastes vary massively. From Hardcore punk and metal through reggae, country, hip-hop, classic 60’s stuff, Beatles, all the way to twee indie pop. It’s just like a Peel show! Plus we’re all quite political, but we all realize how odd it would be if the we started writing overtly angry, political songs. We’re known, as you say, for making a joyful unpretentious pop noise, and we’re going to keep it that way.
We shot the video out in the countryside outside the town where we live. It was just a bit of fun really. Andrea owns an old VW camper van and there’s lots of shots of her driving us around in it. And then we filmed us playing the song in our practice room, standard stuff, but hopefully it’ll look good once it’s edited.
50thirdand3rd: So what’s on The Darling Buds agenda for the rest of 2017? Any plans to gig at the moment?
The Darling Buds: Yes, we have the EP launch show at the Water Rats in London, with the Popinjays supporting, which we’re really looking forward to. I’m sure there will be others, we’re always open to offers and we’re always willing but unfortunately not always able.
50thirdand3rd: Well thanks for talking the time to talk to us here at 50third it’s surreal for me to be doing this I’m such a big fan, and best of luck with the new EP.
The Darling Buds: Thanks Courtney, it’s a pleasure.