‘The five songs we’re putting out, they’re all different entities in their own way’
by Sara Seddon at The Bucket Playlist
In October, Barnsley, Yorkshire-based indie rock band Civic Green, released their second single ‘Nowhere Close’ from their upcoming debut EP ‘Sailing A River’, which will be released later this year.
The band comprises Danny Hall (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Andy Lowman (backing vocals, bass guitar), Matty Walker (lead guitar) and Gav Darley (drums), who formed in late-2015: ‘We’ve had more line-up changes than Fleetwood Mac,’ Gav joked. ‘I’m like the Dave Grohl of Nirvana, I’m the third or fourth drummer! Danny and Andy grew up together and have been best friends for all their lives, I’ve been best friends with Matty for over 15 years now. I recommended Matty to come in and play lead guitar shortly after I joined in November 2018, we had not been in a band together for nearly six years at this point, but I thought he was a perfect fit for this band and it was the time for us to get making music again,’ he said.
Every song on ‘Sailing A River’ offers a different flavour, according to Gav: ‘The five songs we’re putting out, they’re all different entities in their own way,’ he said. The first of the five tracks on the EP is ‘A Million Little Pieces’, which was written with three other tracks between lockdowns in October and November in the UK last year and released as a single last month. With its rousing guitar line, violin and viola and incredibly anthemic chorus, it sets the feel for what we can expect from the rest of the EP, according to Gav: ‘Matt Cotterill, our recording engineer for the EP, felt the tracks could be taken to another level. He asked Chris who he’d worked with previously on a project to compose strings on three out of the five tracks we was recording that week. He asked three women who played the violin and viola on his last recording session to come play on it – they put us to shame (laughs)! They put me to shame, these three ladies. They didn’t have a clue who the band were, they just turned up and played what the composer Chris had wrote for them on these pieces of paper. It took me two days to get my drum bits down, they got their parts in an hour! After recording they were like “So who are you guys?” We said “We’re just four lads from Barnsley” and talked to them a little about who they were and who they had worked with. The other two tracks they will be playing on are ‘Nothing’s In My Way’ and ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’. We did that as a live session on YouTube last year and it’s probably the first track we wrote together as a band, imagine it now but five times as slow!’
Dan can hold onto partly written songs for weeks before showing them to the band again: ‘We had a month to practice, a month together before everything closed down again,’ Gav said. ‘How it goes is we’ll be at practice, Dan will create a riff on the guitar, I’ll start playing a drum beat and Dan’ll say “That’s nice, let’s get a quick recording”, he’ll press record and we’ll try a few different patterns. He’ll go home, listen back to it and start getting a vibe for the song, nailing the chords down and creating the song’s lyrics and melody. It’ll be so many weeks later and he’ll say “Do you remember that song we did a few weeks back?” and I’ll say “no” (laughs). Dan will start playing it again to rejig my memory. Then after playing it a few times, we’ll either decide to keep working on it, or put it on the back burner for a later date. Sometimes if it’s going to be a couple of weeks between practices, he’ll make a rough demo and send it to us to learn.’
Next up is their single ‘Nowhere Close’, which will be released next month: ‘It’s more of a straight up rock song, when we had that month together writing, the engineer Matt said to us previously when recording our last singles that he prefers it when a song gets straight into it,’ Gav said. ‘So we wrote it with him in mind, the guitar starts the track with Dan starting to sing at like two seconds in, it’s brilliant.’
‘Dan writes a lot about escapism and getting away from bad places’
Escapism is a theme that connects many of their songs, according to Gav: ‘Dan writes a lot about escapism and getting away from bad places,’ he said. ‘In ‘A Million Little Pieces’ there’s the line “If I don’t leave this house today, I think I’ll go in fucking insane, so get me up, I’m leaving out that door”. In terms of how it were made, we started creating it between October and November, then we had a five month break due to restrictions, came back in March when we could meet up again and tried to remember what the hell we had done. We booked to go back in the studio a month later, so we cracked on and played it a hell of a lot,’ he laughed.
‘The Writing’s On The Wall’ marks a first for Gav as it is the first time he has sung on a track: ‘We have a choir effect at the end, I even sing on it and it sounds like a crowd,’ he said. ‘Matt the engineer even sings on it too! Matty the guitarist pressed record and we’re all huddled together like Queen in Bohemian Rhapsody, haha! Matt said “I can change the sound of the guitar or the drums but I can’t do much with your vocals so sound good (laughs).”‘ He describes ‘Nothing’s In My Way’ as ‘an upbeat, happy song’: ‘It’s my favourite of the five but all the lads will probably say a different track, that’s who we are as musicians. We all listen to different kinds of music but come together and make what we do, people say we sound like Stereophonics and the DMAs, that’s ace!’ He describes another track, ‘Surrender’, as ‘seeming very slow but the lyrics are very powerful’: ‘All the lyrics really mean something. Dan never mentions love, he’s not a lovey dovey kind of guy (laughs), so you won’t get the stereotypes, you know a boy meeting a girl, falling in love, etc.’
However, when it comes to singing along to one of their tracks, his favourite is their single ‘City Streets’ (2020): ‘The lyrics really sat with me in that little room all on my own recording drums, my grandad had died a few weeks earlier. The lines “As I walk these city streets, with my shadow all alone, I don’t need nobody here, I can make it on my own” really drove me, I felt so down at that time, so those and lyrics from our debut single recorded the same weekend ‘There Is Always A Light’ really helped me. “Harder times have been and they’ve gone, faces loved and lost will live on, oh for now I’ve no words to say, take me back just for a day” and “You’re the sun in my sky, where there’s always a light”. I’ll always love and feel that way when I hear those songs.’
‘I think about how the parts of a song are intertwined’
He is very analytical when it comes to other people’s songs: ‘I think about how the parts of a song are intertwined when I listen to it,’ he said. ‘Some people just listen to the lyrics or the melody but I listen to all aspects of it. You might have heard a certain song for years and an event will happen that you’ll associate with that song and you’ll start to see it so differently. I had that with the Foos’ ‘Best of You’, my fave of theirs. I listened to it for years and then I had a break-up with an ex-girlfriend and thought “Is someone getting the best of me?” That song has so much power and passion, the Foos are my favourite band.’
I say that I love the Foos and we chat about how brilliant they are and the chat turns to Nandi Bushnell, the incredibly talented 11 year old drummer in London who had drum offs with Dave Grohl during lockdown last year and whom he invited up on stage to perform with them in LA last week. ‘Nandi, she’s fantastic!,’ he exclaimed. ‘I wish I’d learned the drums at that age, I didn’t learn until I was 17, 12 years ago. She’s got so much talent and future ahead of her. When she first challenged Dave and he replied to her, then he wrote a song for her. Everything he does is so positive, there never seems to be any negatives about him. He’s a such a good filmmaker as well. In the Foos’ documentary ‘Back And Forth’, he’s recording a guitar part to ‘These Days’ and Violet (his daughter) comes up to him and she asks to go swimming, he starts laughing and says to just let him finish this guitar part and then they’ll go, so funny! I’ve got a jumper with Dave Grohl’s face superimposed onto Jesus, haha!’ I tell him that I need one of those and he says he’ll send me a picture of it. (He does and it’s awesome.) ‘When you have someone like that in music, it gives you drive and something to aim for. Some people are in it for the fame or the money but he puts all of that aside.’
Civic Green have put all of that aside too, and he tells me a funny story about their sometimes paltry earnings from music: ‘Our first ever paid gig, Andy came up to me and gave me a ten pound note – I’ve still got it – and I go to put it in my wallet and he says “We earned seven quid each, you owe me three quid change,” he laughs. ‘We don’t do this for the money or fame – those things are nice if they happen, though. If you work together and make a song you’re proud of, someone presses ‘play’ listens and enjoys it, that’s what it’s about, we do it for love of it, not profitable gain.’
One of the first bands he heard was Def Leppard: ‘My dad brainwashed me into liking ‘Hysteria’ when I was like five having the cassette on in the car. You’d think I’d become a pervert listening to them, all those songs about sex when I was a little kid,’ he joked.
He has also shown real dedication to trying to get their music out there: ‘For our first single (‘There Is Always A Light’), I was on furlough from work and really wanted to get our first single heard, so I spent two weeks researching different radio stations around the world, I spent then a further two weeks sending it out to around 1,300 stations. Then, magically, replies starting coming back, it was such an amazing feeling. I remember sending it to a radio station in Vanuatu, it’s a small island near Fiji, and a few days later they replied, “Thanks, could you come in for an interview?!” They can’t have read our bio, can they? It’s mad, it’s such a small remote place in the world but they listened to our song.’
‘Dan’s nan always come to watch us, she’s in her 80’s, this little old lady in the crowd, she’s amazing’
He acknowledges that getting a break in the music industry is incredibly tough: ‘Local venues will say “Do you do any Journey or Bryan Adams?”, he said, looking frustrated. ‘Or they’ll say you can do 70% covers and 30% of your own songs max, but that’s not who we are. It’s hard being where we’re from sometimes, venues in cities like Sheffield or Leeds will always let you play what you want any day of the week. Dan’s nan always come to watch us, she’s in her 80’s, this little old lady in the crowd, she’s amazing.’
Dan, for his part, has been exploring other avenues: ‘He got in touch with the guy who runs match day programming at Leeds United, they said they’ll play our songs before the next home game, but we don’t know if it’ll be five minutes before kick off or earlier – if 30,000 Leeds fans heard it, that’d be a dream come true.’
Recently, he’s been listening to a lot of the Lighthouse Family, particularly their last album, Blue Sky In Your Head. ‘There is some fantastic song writing on there, with some brill orchestral parts, they’ve been away for so long but came back in 2019, and their songs still connect, like ‘Live Again’, ‘Light On’ and ‘The Streetlights And The Rain’.’ We chat about powerful tracks on albums and I tell him the theory that a friend of mine has that the third track on an album sets the tone for the rest of it. ‘Actually, ‘Best of You’ is the third track on the Foos’ album In Your Honor and it’s so powerful, that does set the mood for the album,’ he said, clearly mulling it.
He’s had some hilarious moments at gigs and he tells me a couple of stories about a Frank Turner gig he went to at Leeds Direct Arena in 2017: ‘So Frank Turner says to the audience: “There’s a guy that always comes to watch me in Leeds and ends up getting naked and I expect to see him tonight”, then out of nowhere he appeared crowd surfing!,’ he said, in stitches. ‘Another time, Frank Turner picked a little kid from the audience, maybe 10 years old, who was wearing a Frank Turner tee. Frank said to him “Do you like my music?” but the kid must have not known who he was, his dad must’ve bought it for him. So Frank gives the kid an harmonica and tells him to play something on his cue, which is “Fucking play it”! He says “When I say that, you blow on the harmonica” and the kid’s like, ok. It gets to that point of the song and you can hear Frank saying the cue and then the kid does one flat meeeeeee note for like 20 seconds! Priceless!’
(Photo below story headline from left to right: Andy, Dan, Matty and Gav.)
Eric Weissinger was a journeyman bassist and guitarist backing up singer-songwriters, until he met L E Kippner, cellist and singer of Swedish synth-pop duo Neobox. They formed a rock band called Hitchcock Blondes in Ohio, but left to try new ideas as I Am a Rocketship. In 2016 they polished up a collection of demos to release as an album called ‘Mission Control’. Encouraged by the response, they released ‘Mind […]