Redbrick Music Critic Tom Armstrong catches up with False Advertising to ask about their formation and their career
Where did the name ‘False Advertising’ come from?
Jen: I suggested it in a raft of loads of names we were considering. I think it’s because I was listening to Field Music a lot at the time and it’s a lyric in one of their songs.
Josh: The idea of being lied to in some way. The promise of something better, only for it to turn out to be something hollow stuck out as a general theme – False Advertising seemed to sum that out quite nicely.
Chris: For me personally, I really hate being advertised to, I do everything I can to avoid adverts, partially because they are disingenuous or exaggerated. If you need something, you do your research, anything that needs a hard sell is probably not worth buying. The weird thing with your music or art is you want it to be relevant, people to connect with it and for it to mean something, but why? We are not narcissistic characters, so we feel very conflicted about pushing our music on anyone, yet we want to be in control/DIY. Just one of life’s many innate hypocrisies, you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, so we choose to do. The name recognises this dichotomy, it’s a tongue in cheek statement because we take great pains to be authentic, genuine and deliberate.
How did you guys end up forming?
Chris: We were all friends for a few years before the band materialised. Me and Jen started dueting on Manchester’s open mic night scene from about 7 years ago, and me and Josh had a band called Travels that never left the rehearsal space, how ironic. Eventually we started a band with Josh called Blue Dot Money that folded after three gigs, then me and Jen started writing new material with programmed drums. We decided we would both pick up sticks and learn the parts. Ste and Lorna from The Hyena Kill let us use their rehearsal space and drum kit, thus False Advertising was born.
Josh: Then when Jen and Chris needed an extra member to bring it all together Chris gave me the call.
What tips do you have for a band just starting out, in terms of song writing and live show?
Chris: Find your own voice by writing/demoing a tone, don’t bother playing shows until you are really ready. Be patient, you’re in this for the long haul.
Jen: Be patient, make sure you measure your excitement for getting started against how fully formed your ideas are. We’ve been going for ages now so perhaps that’s not advice it looks like we’ve lived by. But it took us about two years of writing, recording and rehearsing before we picked our band name, put a song out and did a gig. Which I think helped us to gain some momentum in the early days.
Josh: Relax on stage. Show people what it means to you.
I saw you guys perform with Jamie Lenman in London over summer and you were phenomenal! What’s it like playing alongside other incredible musicians like Jamie?
Chris: Thank you so much, you are very kind. It really is the realisation of a dream, we have had many bucket list moments, but that one was a biggy, especially for Jen.
Jen: Crazy and amazing. Jamie is my favourite songwriter of all time so I still can’t get over that and will cherish that experience forever. We come across so many insanely talented musicians on our travels, the whole thing can give you mad imposter syndrome but we do feel very lucky indeed.
Josh: Honestly, I still can’t believe it happened. I know it did – but it’s just really surreal still. A lot of the reason we’re the band we are is because of him. Something I’m eternally grateful for, he’s such a sweetheart too. Love you Jamie.
The energy of your live performance blew me away; did it take a long time to get comfortable performing on stage like that?
Josh: Every gig we’ve ever played has been something to beat with the next in my opinion. Together we put a lot of our effort, and passion into this band, so we hope that comes across when we play!
Chris: It did take a while, at first you’re really concentrating on playing well, you can’t really let go and enjoy it until you’re rehearsed enough to spend your finite brain power on showmanship.
Jen: I remember that gig going particularly well actually. I don’t think anything went wrong which means we probably focused a lot more on the energy of the songs and performance. It’s all down to endless practice really!
What is your song-writing process? Is it always completely collaborative? Instrumentals first, melody and lyrics last?
Chris: It’s not especially collaborative, at least initially, we have found that having a principle songwriter is usually the way to go, that means structure, chords, melody, and lyrics. We try not to write each other’s parts though unless you have a really strong and specific idea in your head, which the others are always happy to try out.
Jen: I stagger every stage of writing songs so that I can hear what I’ve written with fresh ears as much as possible as I can really overwork and obsess over things otherwise. So it normally begins with a brief idea popping into my head recorded on my phone, then I’ll revisit those ideas later and develop anything that I like the sound of into a proper song with a structure and parts in a demo. Then the others get to hear the songs I’ve recorded and say which ones are best. Then we develop them together and improve them in rehearsal ahead of them being finished.
What are your biggest musical influences collectively? Do you have any particular influences beyond the rock genre?
Jen: I’m a big fan of syncopated rhythms in everything, especially in rap music and vocal delivery. I think rock and guitar music in general is where we align and what we tend to listen to when all together. But individually we do have varied tastes. I’m currently going through a metal phase, for example!
Chris: Yeah, a lot of our venn diagram cross over is definitely in Rock, outside of that we all enjoy Beck, Bjork, Run The Jewels.
Josh: We do have loads in common. It varies quite a lot from Radiohead, QOTSA, Bjork, to The Lord Of The Rings soundtrack, To Deftones, Courtney Barnett, Demob Happy etc.
Best/worst gigging experiences?
Chris: Best would include supporting Bob Mould at Academy 2 Manchester and playing 4 shows at SXSW and our TGE shows this year. I can’t really remember ever having a disaster show, low attendance in the early days, particularly our first attempt at a tour, but we have never had to cut the set short and start a song a again, so I count us pretty lucky.
Jen: Best experience, 2000 Trees was immense and I loved it so much! Worst experience, either having to do a gig shortly after getting a migraine in Hull, or having to go onstage after someone tried to flush my head down a toilet – also in Hull. Ironically Hull is actually one of our favourite places to play and any bad experiences have been far outweighed by positive ones, such as playing with Idles and Life and playing Humber Street Sesh last year which is the best.
I’m extremely excited for you guys to have a full album on Spotify this coming month! How long has it been in the works, and what should we expect from it?
Chris: From writing to release date the whole process will be about two and a half years. It’s definitely a rock album, but the song writing has pop sensibilities, hooky and short, we try to avoid being too self-indulgent and deliver something as enjoyable to listen to as possible.
Jen: We were so lucky to have had the opportunity to record and release it in the way that we have. There’s a fair bit of variety in the songwriting and themes on the record. I think Chris’s more politically minded tracks are hopefully the antidote to my more personal, dark lyrics and visa versa.
Josh: It’s actually been weird that we’ve been working on it for so long. Prior to us starting work on this album [Brainfreeze] we’d released several singles and EPs at a frantic pace. We had to take time out to really focus in on this album and give the opportunity that we had the time it deserved. You don’t get invited to record at a studio like The Church every day do you?
Do you think it’s harder for a rock band to be successful these days?
Chris: In a word yes, rock is definitely in an all-time slump, but the only way is up right?
Josh: Anyone can find reasons to say things are difficult it hard if they want to though, there are bands out there that are making it work.
Jen: There are certainly more bands out there than ever before. I think it’s harder to stand out unless you are something incredible and unique, or get caught up in some sort of trend or cultural wave. I think this is partially why we’ve out so much effort into the visual side of the album and artwork, because we wanted to ensure that every aspect of our record was presented impeccably, we want it to stand out.
Your early single ‘Wasted Away’ from your first album remains one of my favourites, and uses a 7/4 signature. How important are progressiveness and experimentation to your music?
Jen: Well noticed! That one I wrote in the very early days of our band and it just came out of my guitar like that! I wasn’t trying to do anything particularly complicated but equally have always had a love for idiosyncratic music. Simplicity is arguably a more pleasing and successful route for a songwriter but I’ve always wanted to write in a way that sounds unique and brings forward unexpected ideas and makes them accessible.
Chris: If we do it, we still try to make it accessible to non-musicians, we do what serves the song, we are not trying to show off, but hopefully there are enough musical Easter eggs in there for the more discerning listeners to enjoy.
Josh: We’re big fans of bands that use more experimental time signatures (early Biffy, ASIWYFA,etc etc.) but we’re not gonna pick a particular idea over another one just because it’s in a weird time signature or anything like that.
What do you yourselves consider your greatest release to date?
Jen: Not taking into account our new album which has to be better obviously, I really like the Brainless EP. We recorded it over a weekend in my dad’s garage and it sounds like exactly that! Chris produced and mixed it and did an incredible job within a tight set of creative restraints.
Chris: Of my songs specifically I’m probably most proud of the song Honest. Releasing an Album in Japan was a pretty proud moment too. But I think we are all most proud of this new album, it’s the culmination of a lot of things and is a real landmark in our lives.
Were you always confident in your musical abilities, or were there uncertainties and barriers you had to push through to get to where you are?
Chris: I was a lot more confident as a teenager which is funny with hindsight because my music was utter crap.
Jen: While being in the band I tend to temper my confidence with self doubt, and self doubt with confidence. I’m forever both pessimistic and incredibly ambitious. I feel like to not lose focus you’ve got to think really big but then keep your feet firmly on the ground in this game. I could be playing the best gig of my life on a massive stage at an amazing one day and then struggling to play drums in time the next and questioning why anyone would want to listen or watch me do anything ever. It’s weird.
Josh: I still don’t feel like a musician. There’s so many people I’ve met and that I’ve seen play that I think “damn, I need to be that good”. It’s an ever ongoing thing. I think if you ever feel like you’re “good enough” then you’ve lost your way.
What would you say are the most pervasive themes in your lyricism and song-writing?
Chris: I’m joining the political chorus for sure, elitism, psychopathic leadership, media etc etc, you get the picture.
Jen: I’m just trying to come to terms with all the annoying things that have happened to me really. That’s me on this album!
For Jen, as singer, songwriter, guitarist, drummer, as well as a digital designer for some huge names in the music industry, do you struggle to balance your workload? And is it exhausting being so talented?
Jen: Hey that’s so nice! It can be tricky seeing as I’m a poor manager of my own workload, especially when it comes to band-related things which can often escalate into working through the night routinely to get right. I’m very lucky to have gotten such amazing opportunities to work with some of the bands that have inspired me the most recently, and everything surrounding the album I’ve also seen as a once in a lifetime opportunity kind of thing.. So it’s difficult to let anything slide when you look at it like that, but some things definitely have slipped as it’s really difficult. I’m sure people will want to stop working with me soon and I’ll be able to have a rest though!
For Jen, what is your guitar of choice, why, and what gear do you use to achieve your sound?
Jen: I love the sound of my telecaster and Fender Twin but generally how I’ve arrived at my sound is quite a boring story. I got a telecaster after being inspired by a band called The Mascara Story back when I was 15, then eventually fell in love with the guitar sound on Siamese Dream by The Smashing Pumpkins and bought a Big Muff guitar pedal. After that I ended up being given my amp by my dad and then being gifted some guitar pedals over the years and Chris basically designed the pedal board and sorted it all out! I’ve added to it over time a bit and sometimes play other guitars in the studio to get different sounds but that’s pretty much the whole of it.
For Jen, how long did it take you to master playing and singing so proficiently?
Jen: I don’t remember ever struggling too much with co-ordination between singing and guitar, as I always knew through playing violin and stuff when I was younger that you can train yourself to do any combination of things at once with enough practice. But what I did struggle with at first was stopping my voice from being effected by nerves. I used to find that although I didn’t feel especially nervous before going onstage, as soon as I’d start singing my voice would start to waver a bit. It took a while to push through that but I seem to have got there in the end.
What’s been the highlight of the tour so far? Have you played in Birmingham before?
Chris: We have played the Sunflower Lounge a few times, supporting Dead once actually who are unfortunately disbanded, but we are looking forward to coming back, it’s a perfectly formed small venue.
Josh: We’ve played the Sunflower Lounge twice before. Actually getting to see the album take shape as a live show is still humbling to me. This album started as demos on a google drive and a long shot of a PRS funding application. Taking a step back to realise the fact we’ve got to this point is still a big deal.