Band interviews are tricky. Once you get past the typical ‘who are your influences’ line, it can a bit of an uphill struggle. Each member has their own opinion, and rightly so, but it’s always nice to have a general trend in answers. More collective nods and agreeable murmurs, less shouting over whom the girl behind the bar really wanted to go home with that night – sorry to say it wasn’t any of you lads.
This is a fast paced, gritty look at an emerging north east punk band
Playing it safe is always an option, but by the time you’ve covered the angle of ‘scotch eggs or sausage rolls’, the guitarist has nodded off and the bass players mum has been sat outside beeping her horn for twenty minutes. In short, it’s rare to find a new band that is heading in roughly the same direction. They’ve simply not had the time to work out their differences, or at least time enough to pretend everything is cushty to nosey journalists like me.
I’m pleased to say this interview has nothing of the above. This is a fast paced, gritty look at an emerging north east punk band from the perspective of their drummer, who’s only priority above making music is his family, surfing and work – in that order. Led by front man Fletcher Stewart, The Subterranean Gentlemen are thrashing out a new wave sound cold water surf mecca of Scarborough. Forming a major part of a music revival in the town, Shaun ‘Prawn’ Thomas took the time to give me a glimpse in to what makes a surf-punk band tick. All three are Scarborough locals, but have a world of experience and travelling under their belts. I was keen to get to grips with their influences and general views on life, kicking off what is best described as a ‘slap-dash’ interview with local charger Shaun Thomas. The band are busy putting the finishing touches to their first EP, which is out now and can be found on iTunes.
A quick glance over the boys’ sound cloud page and you’ll see some pretty diverse hashtags to describe their style and sound. I’m interested by the hashtags on your sound cloud. New wave and Yorkshire punk are sub-cultures most people would find hard to pin down. Where do you think you stand in terms of your sound?
There’s nothing really too sinister behind the hashtags, they are just internet worms we use to bait the hook of our little musical traps
Our sound is such a mishmash of styles that people often struggle to attach us to a particular genre. Noel comes from a punk/progressive rock back ground and I am much more of a rock/pop type of person. Fletch comes from a much more violent and tribal hardcore scene back in Knoxville TN, so there is definitely an aggressive edge to our sound because of that. Fletcher’s love for 60s surf instrumental, electronic, early dub and new wave has also shaped the type of material we are working on right now. There’s nothing really too sinister behind the hashtags, they are just internet worms we use to bait the hook of our little musical traps.
As a new band, live gigs are a huge part of your current schedule. What is it that you most enjoy about performing?
I had been made redundant from the surf industry and had a lot of spare time to kill so initially I started drumming to prevent boredom from setting in. I also needed another hobby/second interest to take the emphasis away from surfing for a time as I felt a little burnt out with the whole scene. I was also finding the inconsistency of decent swells very frustrating which is something I know a lot of East Coast surfers share and can relate to heavily.
I’m not sure at which point this changed but I really wanted to push myself from being a bedroom player into a band/performance scenario and see if I actually conquer an inner fear of being out of my comfort zone.
I also had confidence and self-esteem issues that had sprung up from losing a few jobs back to back and it was something I definitely wanted to put right. Contributing material for songs to perform live is something that all three of us absolutely love and the anticipation, adrenalin and reaction we get from a show, although very cliché, is where it is at for us as a new band.
Our songs are lyrically relevant to everyday situations and Fletch’s need to therapeutically purge ideas about life is the most genuine thing about our sound. We much prefer to belt it all out human to human with a wall of living sound behind it as opposed to venting it through social media.
Your band name is more reminiscent of Oscar Wilde than the East coast of Yorkshire. Where did the idea for the “Subterranean Gentlemen” come from?
Noel (bass player) had just left a progressive rock band and was looking for a new project and Fletcher (Guitar, vocals) had just moved up from London. They literally bumped into each other in the local guitar shop and immediately hit it off through their shared taste in music.
We actually got thrown out of our second rehearsal room for being too loud but it wasn’t until we started practicing at our third room that we started thinking about our name and our identity
Noel knew I was desperate to get into playing properly so we organised a Jam through Facebook and started quickly getting some ideas down. We actually got thrown out of our second rehearsal room for being too loud but it wasn’t until we started practicing at our third room that we started thinking about our name and our identity. Our first song Random Example was a song that Fletch wrote whilst travelling to work on the tube in the big smoke spending most of his time underground to and fro in the rat race.
We were also rehearsing and recording underground in Vivas nightclub Scarborough (RIP) for over a year so the subterranean bit was an obvious choice. We have always gravitated towards sub-culture music and The Sub-Gents sounds like a neo-noir crime thriller as well as it being a more media savvy second name.
Having been raised in the same area, I’m interested in how your environment has shaped you as a band. Do you judge your music to be a reflection of Scarborough and the east coast, or is it deliberately a step away from what people expect of this area?
Both really. It is absolutely a step away from what was already going on in the local area. We definitely wanted to sound completely different from the other great original bands and we certainly never wanted to go down the cover band route.
There is a strong music scene in Scarborough itself but there is a much stronger scene outside of it and that is obviously something we would love to be a part of.
I do think that we have somehow managed to capture the rawness, rugged nature and extreme conditions of the east coasts beauty in our sound and our live performances
Our main goal was to have a point of difference and a unique sound that we feel confident about playing anywhere and to anyone. I do think that we have somehow (whether accidentally or subliminally) managed to capture the rawness, rugged nature and extreme conditions of the east coasts beauty in our sound and our live performances have been described as honest, passionate and energetic which are exactly the attributes you need to be a regular hard-core surfer on the East Coast of England.
Fletch has also spent a lot of his life landlocked so the romantic and hypnotising effect of the moody North Sea has had a direct influence on the type of delay and effects that he uses for both his live and recorded guitar sound.
The imagery you associate with your music is eye-catching. What has the significance of the black and white photos of the tigers? Are the animals symbolic?
Most of the imagery we are currently using on our Facebook page is from favourite artists including Harry Clarke and Beardsley as well as Fletcher’s dad whose “woman and the lion” charcoal piece you are probably referring too has raised interest and intrigue in equal measures.
We think the images stand out against the drabness of various social media sites but we also think it fits our music pretty well – dark, hilarious, beautiful, satirical, honest and striking.
The juggling act of parenthood; working; surfing, and playing – this is something a lot of our readers can relate to, trying to balance family life with a career and still finding the time to jump in every now and again. How do you find balancing gigging, recording, and the everyday family and job duties?
It can be a real challenge balancing the family, job and band fairly for everybody concerned and it’s something that we have found quite tricky over the last two years. Being organised but committed is the secret for us, however, we need to make obvious sacrifices on a regular basis and for me personally surfing has unfortunately taken a bit of a hit.
We rehearse religiously every week and try to keep the writing process as fresh as we can. We have a belief that we are only as good as our next gig and they tend to drop out of nowhere pretty quick so we have to be ready when they do. Fletch has had to learn about recording and mixing tracks which has been incredibly time consuming for him but he made that decision to keep both the financial costs associated with studio time to a minimum as well as having complete control over a finished set of tracks.
Hopefully people will enjoy our very raw, live and home grown upcoming EP which is out now!
I am the only member of the Sub-Gents on a part time income (although I’m a full time dad) so that’s been a huge challenge for our family. Noel and Fletch both work full time as well as having young families and so they both have hoops and hurdles to jump through and over to get to where we are right now, but we are really pleased with the results so far.
As a cold water surfer do you feel a connection to the sea? Is there a comparison between a good east coast session and playing for a packed
North Sea is cold and forgiving at best but the frigid conditions, rawness and the inertia behind good swells always leaves me completely invigorated and energised
Yes definitely, the North Sea is cold and forgiving at best but the frigid conditions, rawness and the inertia behind good swells always leaves me completely invigorated and energised. I get as much satisfaction and sense of achievement from a good surf as I do a good performance.
As a three piece we need to have energy, power and brashness as well as volume and style at our shows. I’d like to think that most of the people that are our audience also leave satisfied and in some way affected by the movement behind our set lists.
Surfing in and around Scarborough can be a challenge but I think this has helped me massively with handling pre-show nerves although I’d still rather take an icy 6ft set on the head than deal with a frosty crowd.
Last question I promise. What’s the influence of surf on your music? Are they linked, and if so, which dictates the other?
Fletch spent most of his musical life playing in a heavily influenced surf music band and toured most of the United States. Although he has never actually surfed as yet he has been skateboarding since the late 80s so the individual style and aggression associated with that movement has definitely influenced his particular style. It’s a very futuristic and unique beast which has a really infectious feel, this coupled with really hooky riffs gives our sound a really original element that hopefully people will enjoy.
Noel and I both surf and we have grown up with all the amazing surf videos that are synonymous with the sport for nearly three decades. Soundtracks from Pump, Bunyip Dreaming, Momentum, Campaign, The Drive Thru collections, Young Guns and Trilogy are all ingrained in our saltwater DNA so it’s fair to say we are absolutely influenced by the incredible images and sound we all know and love.
Words Owen Edwards