by Kevin J. Elliott

Put the needle down on the Pheromoans’ second proper record, Does This Guy Stack Up? and you will likely confer that the turntable needs some adjusting, or you were just sold a wonky piece of vinyl. The suburban London—based sextet is the sound of a band passionately falling apart at every turn or scrambling to pick up the tattered remnants of rank and file English post-punk. But don’t let that sway you, the Pheromoans take great glee in making shambolic pop which plays as a fragile mess. Piecing it all together is half the game. Though they take from the time of the British DIY watershed—evoking everything from the Fall to Desperate Bicycles to the Durutti Column—these aren’t covers. They aren’t even dabbling in homage. Led by Russ Walker, who sits atop it all mumbling self-deprecating tales about the “truly restless boredom of everyday life,” the group began as a skeleton crew, almost as if Mark E. Smith drug his first incarnation into Sun Studios decades back. After a series of line-up changes and singles for various labels, the Pheromoans you hear today—especially on Does This Guy Stack Up?—is a fleshier beast. With Chrissy Boy on bass, Lex Garran and James Tranmer on the skittering guitars, they’ve branched out by adding James Hines on drums and Dan Bolger on keyboards and violins to give the band an increased sense of pop, at the same time retaining their more avant tendencies. This is fascinating music indeed, even if you’re just in it for the slight whiff of Messthetics-esque nostalgia sorely needed in the vacant world of indie rock. I had the delight of talking with Walker and Boy to discuss just how the Pheromoans came to be and find out exactly where they want to take this bloody bugger. Cheers, mate.

How did the Pheromoans get started? Where you trying to find an outlet for your poetry or was the intention to record and play in a punk group?

Russ Walker: It’s a bit confusing as Chrissy Boy writes a lot as well, and I was in his collective Mad Headed Octogram. James and Alex and I separately put together the Pheromoans, which was primarily a normal band, but it just happens that I write the lyrics.

Chrissy Boy: I think a lot of bands get asked this question and, most of the time, to be honest, the answer is just that it’s something to do.

I’ve read you say that you didn’t know you could start a band until you heard Swell Maps and The Fall. Can you expand upon what it was about those bands in particular that prompted you to start Pheromoans?

RW: Jane from Occupied Europe was a big catalyst, but I’m not sure if that’s just because I was listening to it a lot at the time. I think that era of post-punk generally is just sort of year zero for us, in that you had a lot of druggy ’70s albums, ’60s stuff, and all that being played by low budget bands. Once that happened, it was sort of impossible to ignore.

You also say that starting a band because of those bands might sound cliche, but I find few British records these days that tap into that late-70s/early-80s DIY spirit. Do you think that is music that is lost on the youth?

RW: I would actually say the DIY sort of ethos is incredibly strong, least in London. But for me it’s too much. I think people could probably do with doing it themselves a bit less and having a lie down. I mean, we get praised or dismissed as being DIY, but I don’t really know what it means, as I am really quite ambitious for the band. But people who pay attention to music say to me, “Oh, you’re not very successful, but it’s okay because you are not trying to be.” Well first, I don’t really know what this definition of success really means, and second, I do have a lot of ambition for people to like us. Maybe others seem more ambitious, as they have more of a flirtation with the fashion side of it, but I wouldn’t really call that success personally, being briefly fashionable, even if you were to do it repeatedly in different guises as the fashion changes. Those people are more DIY than us, I would say, in that they are still putting on shows, creating scenes, promoting themselves and their peers, and you can’t really accuse them of being after money, as I’m not sure there is much about, certainly not in music at the moment.

Have new and current bands in Britain abandoned that heritage or did they never find it? I like the term “oversexed grunge revivalists.” Can you elaborate on that one?

RW: Ha, I think that strange line is just referring to general macho behavior, which is not really limited to one genre. I suppose as I am not really into guitar pedals and things, I find grunge revivals particularly hard going. But generally I think whatever genre or medium you work in, your personality or imagination will come through. I’m not a genre-snob, but I always get the feeling everyone is waiting to see what the next big thing is, and when they get an inkling, they are online straightaway reading up on it. It must be frustrating for someone if they have been in to industrial music for awhile and possibly been ridiculed at times for it to go on Twitter or whatever to find out that everyone is ticking it off their list of interests. I mean, the music was always there wasn’t it, so why the sudden interest? But I think ultimately this sort of crafty mentality often misses the point anyway, in that going off the deep end about one thing doesn’t usually turn out to be very interesting.

So far you’ve tended to sell more records on this side of the ocean than on your own. Why do you think that is so?

CB: The Atlantic has always had that effect on pop music, I think. Things seem more impressive and mysterious if they come from “across the pond.” In England, people see us and we look and act very familiar. In America, I think we fulfill what certain people think of as “what’s happening in England” or a certain idea of Englishness. Also, in America there are maybe a few more people that are a bit more studious about music. London, at any rate, strikes me as very faddy.

Speaking again of The Fall and Mark E. Smith, I think a lot of the fascination with him, especially here in America, is the misinterpretation of his lyrics, the oblique references, the thick shouts and slogans, more than what he’s actually writing about. It’s exotic and proletariat at the same time. Do you ever worry about audiences having the same experience with your prose?

RW: Someone recently told me they didn’t understand any of the Pheromoans’ lyrics, which was weird. I thought they were coming through clearly, but maybe not. But yes, mishearing and accidents are part of the fun with a good record. I suppose it’s more likely to be interesting if you are creating a vivid sort of scene with the music and the words, the ones that can be heard. I wouldn’t say we are very similar to The Fall, though obviously they are an influence. We’re from opposite ends of the country to Mark E. Smith, and he’d probably regard us as being students or something as I for one am not from a poor part of London. I mean we’re not posh by any means, but still we can’t really be defined as working class, which is sort of irrelevant as you don’t want to fall back on playing the working class card or anything. Ideally, I think you want to sort of transcend whatever start you had in life, in art or whatever else you do. Not financially, but mentally I mean.

That said, what are the dominant themes in your lyrics? Are they just as integral to the music as the chords and rhythms?

RW: Just everyday life, I suppose, or just thoughts that come into my head.

CB: I would say the lyrics are deeply integral. I think if we didn’t have Russell, we wouldn’t have a band. There are too many bands that are sort of good enough as far as it goes, but fail by not finding a frontman, lyricist or vocalist figure with any sort of clout. They don’t even have any particular skill or craft with words. Why are they there? It can’t be your mate who likes to show off, but can’t play an instrument.

My first impression of Does This Guy Stack Up? is that it’s more tuneful, more pop than your previous releases. Was that an intentional decision or has the band naturally headed in that direction?

RW: I seem to remember there being a quite unhinged atmosphere a lot of the time on the previous records, whereas with this one I think there was a lot less alcohol involved and maybe a bit more focus. Before our recording set-up was more primitive, so there was a lot of frustration and a lot of drinking as I said. With this one, we were recording in the spring and turning up quite early, taking our time with it. But to answer your question, it was probably subconsciously a bit more tuneful just from wanting to explore that side of it, but definitely not an attempt to sell more, which is just as well as melodic indie isn’t really the latest craze at the moment.

CB: It’s funny, a few people have said the new album is very “pop.” If you listen to the first record, I think that’s incredibly pop. It’s not that the new one is more pop, but that it’s less closely associated to garage in people’s minds. Partly because there’s keyboards all over it and partly because everyone’s got bored of the garage tag so it’s less on people’s minds.

You’ve been pretty prolific in terms of releases since the start of the band, so is songwriting a faucet you guys can turn on and off or does it come in spurts?

RW: Again, we just don’t think about it. The danger of that is that I suppose it is harder to improve at something technically, but that sort of depends on the myth that playing music more often and being “better” at it is the same as being creative. I would always prefer to release what we have done. I don’t really have any concept of whether it is any good or not. I just think this is what we were capable of producing so we might as well document it.

Are there other bands in your circle that you have a kinship with or are the Pheromoans the odd men out among your peers?

RW: I really like some things, but they tend to be more experimental so we don’t get asked to do the same things. I’d like to think there’s some sort of empathy between us and people working on the avant-garde scene, but I don’t know. I hear some really terrific albums, but none of them tend to be made by guitar bands I hate to say. I just feel very confused about the whole thing. Maybe I am getting too old. I saw a band called Foyles on TV the other night, for example, and they had this quite impressive guitar sound, very clever. The singing was really good and everything. I was quite into it for a moment, and then I just sort of felt quite depressed. It was as if, by making a good song, they had actually devalued music, instead of the other way around.