The debut full length album from the addictive indie-hip-poppers Bad Sounds, woozy and summery jams that are so infectious and will have you nodding along. Fans of Superfood, Gengahr, Ten Tonnes and Cage The Elephant will be into this.
They’re yin and yang, good cop and bad cop, Andre and Big Boi. Distinct and opposing characters that shouldn’t compliment each other, but undeniably do. Ewan Merrett, the pessimistic hip-hop junkie and documenter of everyday miseries, and his brother Callum, the happy-go-lucky hook lover with dreams of a Flaming Lips-level stage spectacular. Together they’re the magical dichotomy at the heart of Bad Sounds. By which, of course, they mean good.
“Ewan can be kind of a sulky bitch and he can get caught up in the mundane,” Callum explains. “I guess I’m more escapist when it comes to being creative. I find the everyday kind of boring, but Ewan finds it fascinating. Somewhere between the push and pull of those two outlooks there’s a balance that defines what we’re doing.”
As sibling musicians growing up in a house in Chippenham full of the sounds of Beck, De La Soul and Sly & The Family Stone, the pair first dabbled with playing together in school bands, but found themselves on very different paths. Ewan was keen on making hip-hop beats, Callum was more engrossed in the soul, pop and R’n’B of Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye and D’Angelo – “I’m into all the original music that early hip-hop sampled,” he says. So they started making music separately, but would often play each other their songs for support and advice. It was only when they saw the 2010 film Scott Pilgrim Vs The World, though, that they got serious about playing in a band together. “The band in the film is so cool,” says Ewan. “Beck wrote all the songs for it, and it’s got that vibe of young kids in a band - it rekindled my love for bands.”
Their first song was called ‘Bad Sounds’ but only the name remains. As they wrote, they found that they each had their individual aspects to add; Ewan was the musical wunderkind while Callum had a knack for earworm hooks and visual pizzazz. “I’m a child that gets too excited about a cool hook or a dope sound,” Callum says, “and a lot of the visual stuff, the branding, the art, the stage performance. That’s something I'm massively passionate about.” When they struck musical gold with ‘Living Alone’ in 2013 they knew they were on to something – a hip-quaking amalgam of Jungle, Beck, Metronomy and 70s disco about how the Instagram generation fake lives of “wild circuses of excitement” online to seem more alive. “Everybody looks as though they’re doing something better than you on social media,” Ewan says, “but you know deep down that everyone’s putting on a façade to make it seem like their life is better and just showing you the best bits. At the same time you can’t shake that feeling that you’re the only one in on a Friday night.”
Pulling together a full band from local friends in September 2014 – first drummer Olivia Dimery came on board, followed by Charlie Pitt (guitar) and Sam Hunt (bass) - they quickly recorded the track with producer James Dring in Hackney and started playing live. They didn’t feel like an overnight success; their first gig involved spraying a crowd of five people with a home-made glitter cannon that Callum had fashioned from a leaf-blower. But once ‘Living Alone’ emerged that November, they very nearly were. The track was picked up by Radio One and hit the blogosphere like a hip-pop hurricane.
Then, for a full year, no Sounds. Realising there was work to be done to make the most of such a big break, Ewan and Callum set about writing a song a week for the next two years, while learning to play as a band and recording more songs at Dring’s studio in Hackney and with Duncan Mills at Shoreditch’s Strongrooms. The idea was to release songs as and when they were finished with no set plan for an album, so come November 2015 they unleashed the euphoric fuzz-pop of ‘I Feel’ and then, in March 2016, their breakthrough track ‘Avalanche’.
Sounding as though it had wandered casually off the back of Beck’s ‘Midnite Vultures’ album talking about its boring day job, ‘Avalanche’ was about someone Ewan used to work with “who came in one day and told me about this thing she watched on TV with her dad about some people who got stuck in an avalanche”. According to Annie Mac, though, it was the scintillating sound of the future, and her support of the song catapulted Bad Sounds onto the Glastonbury bill (they played dolorous disco on the morning of the referendum result and “the Brexit blues were very apparent”) and into action.
September brought the fanfare-festooned glory pop of ‘Wages’ – part Charlatans shuffle, part peak Blur, part A Tribe Called Quest and hip-hop horn breaks, part being too sober to dance at a wedding disco – a riotous UK support tour and a sync on a Google Pixel advert for ‘Living Alone’ that has allowed them to continue recording without the need for label interference for now. “We felt like the luckiest band in the world,” Ewan says. “Everything has led into the next thing very organically, getting bigger each time.”
Rounding off 2016 with their first headline shows in London and their spiritual hometown of Bristol showed them just how far they’d come. The shows were sold out, and their stage show had evolved to include their own light-up dancefloor, balloons and party-poppers - “We want to throw a party and invite people, rather than say ‘come and watch us play in front of you for half an hour’,” Callum explained in their first NME interview. And the pair made schizophrenic hosts, Ewan the chilled focus while wild-child Callum flailed gleefully across the stages.
2017 is set to be bigger still, with a five-date UK tour in March and the release of next single ‘Meat On My Bones’, a song about, well, a dead dog tattoo. “All the lyrics are conversational,” says Ewan. “I’m a big fan of small talk. It started from my friend telling me about this tattoo she got when her dog died. I struggle with death in general.”
So there is some deep emotional stuff going on in your songs?
“Yeah,” Callum nods, “but don’t tell anyone…”