There’s nothing wrong with a healthy burst of pent up rage and the anger emanating from NARCS performing ‘Head Boy Sonnet’ on stage is something to behold. Wilko as lead singer is giving it full throttle – screaming out his fury about the behaviour of right wing politicians – sufficient to send a shiver down your spine, Stanley on drums is shirtless and glistening with sweat, John on bass is playing from his guts, and Jo on guitar is focused and intense.
You can tell these aren’t hyped up let’s-pretend-we’ve-found-a bit of angst guys within a few moment of listening to them. This band from Leeds care passionately about their messages and they care about the quality of their music. And if you could bottle some of the energy they’re creating on stage, you could fuel your own political campaign.
Earlier in the day I’d met the band to find out what makes them tick musically, so it was interesting to contrast the four friendly laid-back young men I’d sat around a table with to these fury-fuelled performers on stage. But what was clear from this earlier discussion was that NARCS are committed to a keen sense of justice and are not some casual, whip-up the crowd into futile frenzy type of performers.
‘We all have jobs where we see stuff that’s happening to people on the front line, and it’s good to have an outlet for those feelings. But we can’t tell anyone else what to think, which is why we don’t want to preach,’ says Joe, who by day, is a primary school teacher, and together with Wilko does most of the song writing.
‘I’m stupidly laid back most of the time,’ says Wilko, ‘So our music is a great way for me to get my feelings out.’ But he’s also very clear that the band have to feel committed to their songs, rather than using them as a way to simply stir up their audience’s emotions. ‘We might write a song and then find our feelings about something have changed – so it doesn’t feel quite right to perform that one any more,’ he says.
The band get their inspiration from a wide range of sources, bring new ideas and each other and then thrash ideas around.
‘We’re not into producing meaningless pop songs,’ says John. ‘If we discover any new idea or new music we always share it with each other.’
‘I think at first we were a bit precious about developing our songs – but now things fall by the way side if nobody digs an idea,’ Joe says.
It’s not just contemporary political issues that influence the bands choice of topics. The powerful track ‘Blue Bags’ which the band performed at Long Division is all about the Killing Fields of Cambodia, and they’ve recently been working on a song called ‘Mongol Death Methods’.
Joe says ‘People tend to think about the Genghis Khan and how important he was in opening up the trade routes but they were incredibly cruel in the way they treated individuals. During one siege in Russia they promised the soldiers that if they laid down their arms they would pardon them – but instead they stripped the guys bare, and laid them on top of each other and used them as a road…’
So often, Joe says, people want to focus on the longterm benefits of actions which actually cause a lot of suffering at the time. ‘It’s the same with research that came out of experiments in concentration camps. And now it’s a case of many people not recognising the effect of Tory policies on people’s lives.They consider it collateral damage but we don’t think it’s worth the cost to individuals,’ he says.
‘In many ways ours is a bit of a hippy message about thinking about other people – we’re not asking our audiences to go out and smash up the streets,’ Joe assures me with an earnestness that is compelling.
So where do the band get their musical influences? You can’t help but be reminded a bit of Alex Turner when you listen to Wilko’s voice, but I’m not sure how keen the band would be to be compared to the Arctic Monkeys. Instead they’d rather be linked to bands like Radio Head – because of the politics and Fat White Family because they are constantly pushing musical boundaries. ‘We’ve also been quite influenced by Nick Cave – because we’re miserable bastards,’ John says.
Stanley, who is also a DJ, says he’s more into drum and bass and jungle than the other three, and brings inspiration from this into the band’s sound.
Wilko reveals that he recently spent a holiday discovering the Unknown Mortal Orchestra, and Joe professes to currently being into ‘Girl Band – an Irish noise rock band – and Kendrick Lamar. I like the more journalistic rapper stuff and how they take on the government and the police.’
Our conversation was also joined by Scott, from Clue Records, who signed up the band two years. Scott says he was attracted to NARCS because they were ‘Angsty, angry, wordy, passionate and political without being overtly politcal. – they reminded me of the early Manics, and they’re quite Smith-ish in their word play.’
NARCS state boldly on their website that ‘apathy isn’t something we aren’t into’ and that’s a maxim that seems to apply to all aspects of their work. They tell me proudly how they recorded their first album in just two days ‘We started recording round the time we got signed,’ Stanley explains ‘We wanted to do it as a live recording – to give it an urgent feel.
They’re also keen to point out that their set list for Long Division contains a lot of new material. ‘Last year most of the stuff we played here was off that album but this year there are only two from the album,’ Wilko says.
The band feel that recently they have become more flexible in their approach to creating sounds. ‘We got very caught up in the idea of honest, but we realised that unless you use not pedals at all, then you can’t really get too fixated about never using any effects. So these days we’re more experimental,’ Joe says.
So how do the band picture their future? ‘We have an agreed sense of the direction we’re going in,’ Jo explains. But we’re not focusing on being world famous – just doing what we do, what matters to us.’
‘We have a very DIY attitude,’ says Wilko, ‘And we intend to keep doing what we’re doing for as long as we want to…’
NARCS website: http://narcsband.com