Eventim Spotlights had the pleasure of having a dinner date with up and coming psyche rock auteurs Strangefruit at Trattioria Sapori pizzeria in Newington Green, London to find out about the bands history, influences and what is coming up for them.
HK: Thanks for coming to talk to me today! Tell me about how Strangefruit started – Pete & Jamie you are brothers right?
Jamie: We do have a similar face!
HK: Who’s the oldest?
Jamie: [no hesitation – points at Pete] He is!
HK: How long have you been making music together?
Jamie: Probably since I was about 12 – I started learning to play guitar, it was the thing I just felt like I connected with straightaway. Before that I was more interested in football and cricket, but then I picked up a guitar & I thought well you’ve got a cricket bat or a guitar – similar kind of shape right [laughs] – but there was something cooler about the guitar. I just felt like I was doing something that seemed to suit my personality. Obviously as brothers we lived together, and then there was that kind of brotherly rival thing!
HK: Who played guitar first?
Pete: Me. I started playing guitar then I moved on to the bass. It just felt more natural. My solos end up sounding a bit more like bass lines, and as soon as I picked up a bass – it’s hard to describe – but it just felt really easy, like it was my instrument.
Jamie: Yeah I mean as soon as Pete picked up a bass, this light just shone and…[Sings dramatic music] [All laugh]
Jen: It’s pretty convenient having brothers who play guitar and bass!
Jamie: It was great that Pete moved on to bass. I think he’s a really good guitar player as well though. Really good feel.
Pete: I’m more of a rhythm guitarist, and a lot of the time rhythm guitarists can move on to bass. It’s not once extreme to the other, it’s still those rhythms.
Jake: Yeah solo guitarists don’t really make bassists do they!
Jamie: Since we started playing together I suppose we were in a band.
Jake: Did you have a name?
Jamie: Yeah we used to be called The Cu*ts, but we pronounced it ‘The Cuts’. We thought that was our name because it was our dads [Peter Perrett of The Only Ones] favourite word! He swears a lot! We got a female drummer and we did quite well. We had a record deal when I was 15, but we were too young to tour. We supported the band Eater, but it was around the time of bands like Hanson and our parents thought it was a bad idea to pursue things then as we’d be seen as a novelty act.
Pete: We joined Babyshambles for a bit and then we went back to making our own music in the band Love Minus Zero.
Jamie: It was fun, probably a bit too much fun and we might have ended up killing each other…until the lovely Jenny walked in and saved us all!
HK: how did you meet Jenny?
Jamie: I met Jen at a party, we started talking about music. Jen was a jazz singer and she played me some of her recordings on her iPod and I was like wow…and from that day I realised that I couldn’t actually sing and maybe I should take more of a backseat! Well, I just moved to the side and concentrated on playing guitar. Jens voice just spoke to me I guess.
Jen: I was quite shy. I’d always sung, and it had always been my love but I’d never really had much confidence. It was quite a private thing, but Jamie is a very open guy and was very warm. He was the first person who heard any of my own writing. From there it was a bit embarrassing – they invited me to come to rehearsal and sing, but I was mute. Really shy and intimidated. It took me two hours, sat silently in the rehearsal room to be able to sing!
Pete: This was when we were in Love Minus Zero
Jamie: It was funny because I’d heard Jenny sing and knew she had a great voice, but in the rehearsal I asked her to sing a cover but she just couldn’t. The other guitarist was just slumped in the corner looking at me like what are you doing. I just kept saying ‘OK let’s play the song again, she’s going to come good!’ Then we looked at one of our original songs and Jen just improvised. That’s when we were all like woahhh!
Jen: It was never intentional actually. Pete, Jamie and I were on holiday with their dad in 2009.
Jamie: Yeah then the promoter came up to us and just said “oh you’re playing tonight”. We thought he was asking us, but he said “you are playing tonight”
Jen: We laughed because we weren’t actually a band, we didn’t have a drummer, or any instruments and we said, “If we are going to do something, we’ll just be making it up”. But then on the other hand we thought, well we are in Tokyo, nobody knows us. Why not?
Jamie: We’ve got to do this.
Jen: We borrowed instruments from The Only Ones and their guitarist said ‘I’ll play drums’. We literally just threw something together, and it was really funny. The promoter asked for a name and obviously we weren’t a band, so we didn’t have a name.
Pete: We had to think of something on the spot.
Jen: The first conversation Jamie and I had was about Billie Holliday and it was what brought us together, so we just said Strangefruit. We played a few gigs in Japan and it was amazing, such an experience and a privilege. They really respect music and by the time we got back to London, a friend of ours from Japan emailed us and said there’s a fan site for Strangefruit. So we looked at each other and thought we should get a drummer. That was the original seeds of where things started to grow. The name just stuck.
HK: Why did you make Strangefruit all one word?
Jen: It looked better, was easier to write. It helps differentiate from the song. We liked what it looked like all as one.
Jamie: It kind of stuck with us.
Jen: We’d been umming and ahhing for a long time whether or not to keep it, as sometimes people would seem quite offended. For us it’s homage and something that shouldn’t be forgotten.
Jamie: It’s a homage to the topic of the song.
Pete: Strange Fruit was a landmark for human rights because it’s the first time someone wrote about it.
Jen: It was very explicit. The first protest song.
Pete: What it does is make people think, and people question, and it’s good to question.
Jamie: We thought this name would make people think.
HK: Do most people understand the reference?
Jamie: Some people think it’s from the film Still Crazy which is a film about a fictional band and they call themselves Strangefruit.
Jen: Once people have spoken to us they realise that we fully appreciate and understand where it comes from. It shows we aren’t shy to talk about things that might make people a little bit uncomfortable. That’s something the role of music should do – open doors.
Jamie: It’s a voice for people who haven’t got a voice. If you think of Bob Dylan in the early 60’s and the civil rights anthems against the Vietnam War.
Pete: Music does bring people together. And it gets a message across.
Jen: I don’t think songs and messages have to be explicit all the time. There are some songs that can be quite distasteful, but some that connect very personally to experiences that not a huge amount of people talk about. We’re also not afraid to collaborate with people visually and make them uncomfortable. I really love David Lynch for example. I love how he sucks you in and is quite unsettling sometimes. I think art in all other respects, poetry, painting, film or music can make you question things and look twice.
Pete: Jake joined us in Nov 2013
HK: So this is a reincarnation of Strangefruit?
Pete: Well I do think different members change the chemistry of the band. It’s inevitable. We’ve had two previous drummers.
Jen: We formed the band with our original drummer Will and then things started to get more serious – we’d met our manager and were recording with really good producers…
Pete: …It seemed to scare him a little bit. He was a self confessed commitment phobe. He wanted to be free all the time which is understandable.
Jen: He left at a point where things were starting to take off and we had a lot of gigs and festivals coming up.
Pete: He did our last session, and we got some great results out of it. We all just knew it would be the last recording. It turned out really good.
Jamie: He played music solely for enjoyment. Which we all do, but I want to get our music out to as many people as possible. I want to touch people with our music. Sometimes you write for yourself, it’s quite cathartic for you, but also it can affect people.
Pete: That’s why I got into music. It was when I actually started listening to music – the feeling that it gave me. It was the one thing that gave me a sense of this is what life is. I just wanted to be able to make other people feel like that.
Jen: To connect. You want to be able to connect with people’s emotions.
Pete: I think music’s like a language. I learnt a lot from being around it from an early age. My mum was the manager of my dad’s band, so I was taken on tour with the band when I was a baby. Apparently, on one tour, I was left on a baggage conveyor belt in an airport!
HK: Wow that’s crazy! So you needed to find a new drummer quite quickly?
Jen: Yes so we started holding auditions. We were inundated with applicants. One guy turned up & he’d learnt all the parts, so we were gig ready. He was more of a session player really.
Jamie: He was more money driven, he wanted to play the right sort of gigs.
Jen: Creatively though it wasn’t right. We were looking to start gigging again. We had quite a few opportunities lined up so we started auditioning drummers, and again we were flooded with people.
Jamie: We’ve had auditions with about 40 drummers contacting us from all around Europe. We had people flying in from Belgium and Italy!
Pete: Ironically the drummer we ended up settling on was someone from my university. You look back at bands like The Rolling Stones, they all meet like that, and they’ve all grown up together.
Jamie: I’m not saying there’s some kind of force that’s guiding us, but it felt like when we first met Jake & played with him – and we’ve played with some great drummers, especially this time around when we held auditions – but we realised that this is what we’ve been missing, and I can honestly say that I think he’s the best drummer that I’ve played with, and I’m sure we’d all say that.
Pete & Jen: [nodding, in unison] Yeah.
Pete: You read stuff like that when people say “oh this person is The One” like being in a relationship, but it’s true – you just get that feeling that it’s the right person.
Jen: I think it must be difficult as well though to come into a band later, because of course Jamie & Pete are brothers, they have a connection, and have always played together. It’s an unspoken sort of thing
Jen: But I feel like us three have a very sort of strong musical connection. We all do contribute, it’s very natural very easy, we have a certain dynamic and we needed someone that could slot into that dynamic to help support it. Literally as we are now, it’s been about 4 months.
HK: You’ve been signed to Rondor (part of Universal Music Publishing Group). Were you under pressure to get the recording done quickly?
Jen: Fair play to Jake – in the back of our mind we were thinking about the fact we’d been offered a publishing deal and they offered us some free studio time. This was great, but we obviously couldn’t go in until we had a drummer! So we’d auditioned Jake and decided, but we were quite limited to the amount of time we had. So we had to say ‘Erm how do you feel about going to Universal next week..?!’ but he was great, he took it all in his stride. We had an audition, 3 rehearsals for the 6 songs and then we were recording at Universal.
HK: How did this come about?
Jamie: Someone found our music on MySpace or Facebook. Then we got a manager and were concentrating on other things. We got offered other deals but we were writing and rehearsing, doing videos, we had line up changes.
Jen: I used to work as a part time art teacher, and I’d handed in my notice, but on the last day of term, we got an email from our manager telling us about the deal so that was quite funny! This guy had been in touch with us and he knew the head of Rondor. It was off the back of the EP! It was the end of July that we found out that they were interested, but it wasn’t until November that we saw anything on paper and then we went in to go and have a meeting with them. From then until February all the legal stuff was being sorted, and now it’s official. We’re not superstitious, but we don’t like telling people about things until it’s 100%. There’s so much in music that is fluid – you have to go with the flow – people will promise you the ocean but until it actually happens….it came out in Music Week.
HK: Tell me about your creative process.
Jamie: It can be quite different, but mainly because Jen and I live together we will write quite a bit at home
Jen: Sometimes we’ll do stuff in rehearsals but it’s mainly melody led.
Jamie: or I’ll start playing chords and everyone will follow.
Jen: Sea Of Fog came from a drum beat
Jamie: We don’t always say “ok its lyrics first”. We have got a song called The Bell which came from a guitar riff, and some lyrics Jenny had and I remember Pete saying ‘what’s this song, we need a story’
Jen: I was like ‘I’m f*cking telling a story, but you’re not listening!’ [Laughs]
Jamie: I’d printed off the lyrics, and we turned the vocals up so we could hear what she was singing and that’s when we constructed the parts around that song.
Pete: I think what was happening in rehearsal, was that the song wasn’t coming together so we had a few rehearsals around that.
Jamie: Some songs take ages.
Pete: So we really listened to the lyrics.
Jen: We ended up arranging the song around the lyrics.
Jamie: Lots of songs go through an evolutionary process.
Jen: Tell Me started off as a piano riff I had from when I was about 14. It was just a doodle, something that I’d always play when I went to the piano. I never knew where to go with it.
Jamie: Then a song I wrote from Love Minus Zero had the lyrics [sings] “tell me that you love me, tell me that you need me”…
Jen: …and we ended up marrying the two.
Jamie: Then Jenny wrote this other part which was the chorus section.
Jen: Before we went into the studio it used to be more of a ballad
Pete: I remember Jen playing that riff in Stockholm and it stuck because it was so catchy.
HK: Jen do you always write the lyrics to the songs?
Jen: Yes I think it’s to important write the words when you’re singing them, otherwise it’s like you’re acting.
Jamie: You’ve gotta have the emotional attachment to the words.
Jen: If you’re going to do a cover, you have to be able to connect the song & make it your own.
HK: Tell me more about the new tracks you’ve recorded.
Pete: We recorded the new songs in Ray Davies’ studio Konk, in North London. It was great because they’ve got some good quality vintage equipment, like an Ampeg B15 bass amp, which is one of my favourite bass amps. It’s the bass amp that the Motown bassist James Jamerson used on most of those Motown classics. They’ve also got a Mellotron keyboard, which was used by The Beatles on songs like Strawberry Fields Forever. We tried to use it on all of our new songs, but ended up only using it on one or two.
Jake: The sound in Konk studios live room was really inspiring and made me want to play big open sounds. So I think the drum sound is pretty big and spacious. Some of the songs were a lot of fun to record in terms of really exploring the band’s dynamics and interacting with Jen’s vocals.
Listen to Strangefruit “Tell Me” recorded at Abbey Road Studios
HK: Are you looking forward to playing at AAA gig? Can you give us a sneak preview of the set list?
Pete: to be honest, I look forward to playing at every gig that we do. I can’t give you a sneak preview of the set list, because we’re still debating over it. It always takes us ages to decide, and then we end up changing on the night anyway!
HK: What is the vision for the band in the future now you have found the right drummer?
Pete: I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re happiest when we’re making music. This is our vision. There are so many distractions – like trying to survive – sometimes it can be difficult not to lose focus.
HK: Which artists inspire you, or would you dream of collaborating with?
Jake: For me, it’s John Mayer as he’s such a great guitarist.
Jen: Billie Holliday, she’s incredible. For me anyone who really means it. There are so many artists I love, the list is endless. It depends as well what you are in the mood for. I loved The Smiths and Blur when I was growing up.
Pete: I got into Bob Dylan when I was young. That’s the first artist that I really loved. Mainly because my dad listened to him and we had lots of records & memorabilia.
Jamie: When I first heard Jimi Hendrix play, that’s when I decided I wanted to play guitar. When I started writing music I was listening to the old 60’s mod bands like Small Faces, The Kinks early The Who. The Doors are one of my favourite bands, and Neil Young.
Pete: My favourite song of all time is Be My Baby by The Ronnettes.
Jamie: I love that sound. Also Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Otis Redding. It was incredible signing our publishing deal and realising they own a lot of their songs like R.E.S.P.E.C.T and Dock Of The Bay.
HK: What would be your dream venue to play?
Pete: Royal Albert Hall. I think it’s an unusual venue for a rock band to play.
Jamie: For me it would be headlining Glastonbury. I think that seeing up to 100,000 people singing your songs would be pretty special.
Jake: The Phones 4U Arena in Manchester as it was where I saw my first arena gig when I was younger and I was just blown away, so therefore its one that I want to play just to go “yes I did that!”
Jen: I don’t know! I enjoy most gigs, even the ones where there are only a few people there. I don’t know that many venues to compare. I like smaller venues such as Bush Hall. I prefer watching bands in smaller intimate spaces. I prefer being personable. Anywhere really – I just enjoy playing music.
Shared: Bruschetta Melograno
…All washed down with house red wine, coca-cola and cups of tea!
You can be in with the chance to win a signed EP (DJ Copy), a Strangefruit bag and lighter. All you need to do is answer this simple question;
Which punk-rock band was Jamie & Pete’s dad in?
Email your name and answer to email@example.com
Winners will be picked on the 05 May. Good luck!
You can catch Strangefruit tonight at Easter Extravaganza at AAA in Kensington at 8.15pm. Keep up to date with all Discovery 2 new music events, sign up to a TicketAlarm here.
You can also catch Strangefruit at Camden Rocks.