Like so many bands before them, Forward Russia! has massive buzz and some high-charting singles back home in the UK. But who in the US knows them outside those in the know? Not many. To change that, Forward Russia kick off their introductory US tour tomorrow (Oct. 25) and will play a number of showcases during New York's CMJ music festival, including a spotlight set at the Brooklyn Vegan party on Nov. 3 at Fontana's alongside The Thermals, Oxford Collapse, Chin Up Chin Up and the Changes.
Following relentless touring, the band released its debut album, Give Me A Wall, on its own indie label, Dance on the Radio, which was started by band member Whiskas. The foursome, who are all in their very early 20s, launched out of Leeds, England and found themselves quickly skyrocketing up the UK singles charts with the familiar post-punk bravado taken up a notch with hyper experimentation and grating guitars.
I caught up with lead singer Tom Woodhead when the band stopped in Bordeaux, France for a show there earlier this month. For someone who reportedly has one of the most spastic stage presences in music today, Tom was surprisingly relaxed and level-headed. During our chat, we discussed, among other things, avoiding hype, touring America and auto-asphyxiation.
Read the full interview below or just stream it.
Q&A with Tom Woodhead of Forward Russia!
SomethingGlorious: You've been touring Europe – how have they responded to your music?
Tom Woodhead: People have been receptive. We're still starting out in Europe – and have had a good response, but Scandinavia was weird. I think Scandinavia is notoriously bad for British and American bands to go over and try to crack it. It was really Sweden that was a bit shit, Finland was a bit shit, but that's not technically in Scandinavia. Sweden for some reason is notorious for being hard to crack.
SG: You'll just have to keep going back – and wrapping the cord around your neck.
SG: You're going to have to switch to a cordless mic!
TW: No no – I wouldn't have anything to do with my hands!
SG: I haven't seen you live yet, but do you intentionally wrap the cord around your neck or does it happen in your frenzy?
TW: It kind of bit of both. It's not really by design. It's how I'm moving. It feels comfortable to have it wrapped around your arm – it feels good to do that. It's not some grand design or anything. But I couldn't stop it if I tried.
SG: So you say it feels good -- are you into kinky shit like S&M and being tied up?
TW: [laughs] No not really. [Wrapping the cord around my neck] doesn't feel good in a sexual way. It's purely a platonic thing!
SG: Have you ever tried being tied up?
TW: No, maybe I should when I get back to my girlfriend in England.
SG: You gained a lot of attention pretty quickly in the UK – was it a
weird feeling all of a sudden going from a bar band to showing up on
the UK singles charts?
TW: I think sometimes it's been exaggerated. It wasn't really that quick – we didn't get that big that fast. We were always touring. All that happened was the shows got gradually better and there were more people at the gigs. It wasn't like this sudden feeling of "aw, shit we're all of a sudden bigger than we were."
SG: Something similar happened with the Arctic Monkeys, so do you think
that sort of phenomenon is fewer and far between or does the English
press and fans get behind a band – and is that something you would want
to happen to you?
TW: I don't know … a lot of those bands are quite fooked. Artctic Monkeys have gotten past that stage but other bands who get a lot of hype, like the Bravery, who got quite big because of the hype and then everyone realized they were shit and stopped writing about them. It's definitely better to build gradually. If you don't gain it overnight then it won't disappear overnight.
SG: Do you think a lot of your attention had to do with touring with Editors or just from the live shows and your music?
TW: It came from a combo of all the gigs we've done. We've also toured with We are Scientists and did the NME new music tour. It comes from working hard and doing a lot of gigs. There's no substitute for gigging hard and getting people to notice you.
SG: You all are pretty young and the fact that you have a strong work
ethic and know what it takes to get things done – as opposed to being a
bratty young band …
TW: Nothing's ever been handed to us on a plate so we try to appreciate it. It's not like you're all of a sudden a pop star and you don't have to do fookin' do anything. Every last gig is just as important as the one before it. If you start doing shit performances, I mean, what's the point?
SG: You haven't really toured in the States yet – do you fear it? What's the feeling?
TW: We're just looking forward to it. We haven't properly toured it yet. We don't know what it's going to be like -- that's what the last month's been like – we don't know how each night's going to go. We don't know how many people like us in that city. We've gotten quite used to that on this tour and America will be an extension of that but in a shittier van.
SG: But when you tour in England, I saw pictures that [drummer] Katie [Nicholls] took of a big beautiful bus.
TW: We have a bus for the European tour – you get paid more for shows in Europe as a new band than you do in America. The cool thing about the bus is that you can sleep in it and wake up in the next place. I'm sure it will be hard [traveling in America].
SG: I read that people would go crazy at your shows and jump on the stage – did you ever have to take anybody out?
TW: There was this one guy when we played at the Garage in London who crowd surfed and then started doing this insane dancing on the stage, really just jerking around everywhere and he wouldn't leave. Our guitar tech tried getting him off the stage and he wouldn't go so one of the bouncers had to physically take him from the stage. he was knocking synths over and stuff. That's about as crazy as it gets, but it was pretty crazy.
SG: Musically, you are hard to categorize. Vocally, I hear the Rapture,
but musically it's like a wilder, harder form of Bloc Party. It's been
described as post-punk; post-hardcore; funk punk; dance punk then
there's what you say: Math rock influenced pop miniatures wrapped in a
coating of chaos disco – whatever the hell that means [laughs]. Does that really
point to the fact you can't be categorized?
TW: Yeah, I guess so … there's not really any point in trying. I don't think we can be put in one genre – it's not really possible to do that. I wouldn't want to be either. That’s one of the things that's good about our band – we can't be easily categorized.
SG: I know you just numbered the songs instead of naming them, but if
you could go back and name some of the songs like "Nine," "Twelve" or
TW: I guess titles is a hard one. I don't like titles that just use a line from the song as the title. They would all have to have something that relates to the song that's not actually in the songs. We are naming songs for all the new stuff, like we have a new song called "Don’t be a doctor."
SG: "Don't Be a Doctor," what's that about?
TW: It's about inadvertently contributing to your own downfall. It's hard to explain … there's so many people who make things worse for themselves and not realizing they're doing it. The more thinking you're making things better when you're making things worse.
SG: I know that Whiskas started the label, but did the label come first or the band?
TW: The band and label sort of started at the same time. Whiskas – the band existed – and he wanted to release a single.
SG: Do you feel like you needed to have your own label?
TW: The thing was, we wanted to release the record and didn't have any offers and thought what's the best way to do this and it worked. We got with Mute just before the summer.
SG: Are there any new bands you want to sign?
TW: We've worked with the band Yes Boss, a hip-hop band, and they're releasing an album next year. Also the Pigeon Detective, which is kind of Strokesy indie and they're also releasing next year. Another band – Shut Your Eyes And You'll Burst into Flames. They're all from Leeds.
SG: Is Leeds the next big music center?
TW: I hope it's not in that gimmicky way, but there's a lot of good bands in Leeds who realize you can get better and release albums yourself – as long as you don't think in that clichéd way: "I'm in a band to get pissed and get signed." Sometimes you make things happen for yourself if you get off your ass and do something.
SG: Did growing up in Leeds have a big influence on your punk vibe?
TW: I think it came more from a musical thing – we wanted music to show our passion and aggressiveness does that. We wanted to make music that was aggressive that coming from any one particular source
SG: So you weren't a particularly angsty child? You don't sound like you're too angry.
TW: I don't think more than any other kid. You can't go around your life being angry. The best thing to do when you're angry is to do something about it.
SG: I read you like to whip out the travel Scrabble and get crazy on the bus?
TW: We have done a few times on this tour. None of the band are that into it but me – I'm not that great at it and I find it a bit confusing trying to think of these great words and realize I don't have the letters.
SG: Do you think playing keeps you creative?
TW: I hope so. I haven't thought of it in that way. Little things always pop into my head and I write them down. It's hard not always having a lot of time to sit down and be creative. We'll have some time in January to write some new songs. It's hard to finish things on the road. You need that period of four hours in a room together to hammer it out.
SG: Anything fans in America need to prepare themselves for your live show?
TW: Bring your dancing feet.
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