With a debut album full of original compositions with attitude to match, The Bullets is out to prove that nice guys can come first.
Expecting a trio of cocksure attitudes and sneering looks of dissatisfaction often associated with the true spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, The Bullets demeanours on a rain soaked afternoon at the tail end of Bristol’s city centre couldn’t have been further removed from such associations. A more fitting description, in fact, is that Western Star’s recent recruits is probably the nicest band on the planet as they proved to be extremely affable and accommodating interviewees, so much so that they nearly made FLWs task redundant due to their willingness to talk and genuine enthusiasm for their subject matter.
Such misleading associations seemed to be the order of the day, as FLW found itself taken aback during an earlier pit stop visit to one of the UK’s leading supermarkets and hearing Billy Lee Riley’s ‘Flying Saucer Rock ‘n’ Roll’ blaring…well, squeaking from the sound system, leaving one to ponder how such a decision was made when Justin Timberlake has a new album to plug. The point being, the openness on display this afternoon from The Bullets seemed at odds with the wildly thrilling and, at times, dangerous rock ‘n’ roll stemming from their debut album ‘Sons Of The Gun’. In other words, how does one go from the petulant fit that is ‘I Don’t Wanna’ or the domineering attitude of ‘Jump When I Want’ to a condition of exchanging pleasantries in a manner that suggests nothing except politeness and genuine respect for others?
“Personally, when I write songs such as ‘Desperate Man’ or ‘I Don’t Wanna’, I’m not writing about myself because I’m quite shy and introverted at the best of times,” explains The Bullets’ drummer Gary Griffin. “So that isn’t me, as I always write in the third person whereby I find myself writing about other people. With ‘Desperate Man’ for instance, I was in Las Vegas and I was just wandering round the casinos and I watched this guy and he was playing Craps and he was winning. You could see all of these people becoming sucked in as they encouraged him, and of course he was getting into it. However, the moment he lost, everybody just disappeared and I found it absolutely fascinating. So I wasn’t writing about me, I was writing about this guy who has no idea he was being written about, and probably never will unless he buys the album of course.”
“That’s a good point,” jumps in lead guitarist and vocalist Brett Waters, “as the songs aren’t necessarily about us. I love the rockabilly scene, but I’m not interested in writing love songs. So many songs from days gone by are about love, and they’re great, but the songs I write are about not being pushed around and living your life your way, and if there’s anything to come out of that is that’s how the scene lives its life. For example, we’re all [rockabilly scene] covered in tattoos and we all grease our hair and wear clothes that make people look at us in a really weird way, but when you get inside a club or a party you feel like you belong. So when I write songs, and as a band when we write songs, most of the time they’re anything but love songs.”
Considering the brazen attitude and driving thrust of many of the songs stemming from The Bullets’ ‘Sons Of The Gun’, there remains, however, some nagging doubts of the existence of at least a few drops of the intimidating nature found throughout their debut album in the band members themselves, such is the conviction held in every song.
“We’re not particularly angry guys, we’re just songwriters looking for new avenues,” suggests Gary. “Ninety-five per cent of all rock ‘n’ roll songs are about love; all about meeting someone, arguing with someone, breaking up with someone and there is only so much you can write about,” he continues. “I have written all about that subject and I’m really proud of some of the songs I’ve written in the past, but meeting these guys opened up a new seam for me, as I was mining for new song ideas. I’ve actually written more songs in the last couple of years since I met these guys than I have written in my entire career.”
“I do think that we hit on something though,” says Brett, “without meaning to do it. For example, one of the songs I wrote ‘I Got The Green’ was inspired by a Carl Mann song, which says I’ve got money and I don’t have to do what you f***ing say. In addition, Gary wrote ‘I Don’t Wanna’ and Tony [Nihill] ‘The Beast In Me’ and it wasn’t until shortly afterwards that we realised we’d all written songs that are rebellious and a bit aggressive.”
Perhaps The Bullets is more attracted, therefore, to the notions behind such behavioural attitudes than actively participating in such behaviour themselves?
“I think it’s more fun for us to write stuff like that because when Tony brings songs to the table as ‘The Beast In Me’ I just think f***ing hell!” enthuses Brett and understandably so considering the central character’s devil in the bottle attitude expressed via a driving beat (listen for Gary’s pounding drumbeats in particular) that owes a debt of gratitude to Johnny Burnette & the Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio. “So, if you have a couple of hundred people in a venue and you’re singing about those exciting, rebellious, aggressive things, people do identify with it and I think that makes for a better night than singing a load of songs about, ‘F***ing hell! My girlfriend has left me and I’m all on my own’,” he finishes in a comical, self-pitying voice.
It sounds as if The Bullets is still young at heart, do you agree?
“Maybe it’s a way of us subconsciously staying young,” ponders Brett, “because as long as you’ve got that passion and fight in you, then you’re still young in your mind. We still go out clubbing and still go dancing, so we’re doing the things that we did when we were 16-year-old musicians and, in that respect, nothing has changed.”
“I still sleep in the micro Mini outside the venue to get drunk!” says Tony laughing.
“There was a quote from me on the inside sleeve of our album that says, ‘As a teenager I gigged all over the country travelling around in a s***** old camper van and to be honest, nothing has really changed! He’s asleep most of the time no matter where we are,” says Brett pointing the finger at Tony. “We have to wake him up to put him on stage! So we’re still very young in our minds and I think that’s a great thing because the scene [rockabilly] lets you be like that. I wear the same clothes now as I did when I was eighteen and you can on this scene and nobody judges you for that, so that’s another great thing.”
Having established a standpoint in terms of the inspiration behind their songs, further evidence of The Bullets’ well-mannered behaviour being an admirable quality was duly noted by Alan Wilson at Western Star Records, who not only liked the band as musicians but also for their genuine honesty when trying to seek help in order to assemble the nuts and bolts of debut album ‘Sons Of The Gun’.
“We were talking about recording and I said to Brett and Gary that I’d like to record at Western Star as that would be a lovely place to record,” explains Tony. “A couple of days later, Brett phoned me up and said that he had spoken with Alan and that we’re going to record there. So I was really excited as I had only mentioned it two days previously.”
“What happened was that I emailed Alan Wilson and sent a link of one of our tracks that we recorded a year or so before,” continues Brett regarding the band’s initial contact with Alan Wilson. “I sent a very polite email asking if he would consider recording us. I phoned him up the next day to see if he’d received the email and I just caught him on the off chance. I explained the email and he mentioned that he hadn’t had chance to read it. However, we ended up talking and Alan said that we sounded like honest, decent people who are really committed to making quality music. We won’t compromise on that because we want to make the best music we can, and hopefully the scene will embrace it because we’re genuine people. I think Alan picked up on that and that we’re not arrogant and we don’t have egos as all we want to do is play. So he agreed to do it and invited us to his recording studio. We travelled down a few months later and within half an hour of playing, Alan stopped us and sat us down and mentioned that he liked what we were doing and wanted to sign us.”
“We went down there with the purpose of recording and I wasn’t even thinking record deals at the time, as all I wanted to do was record and take away some great material and think about how we could release it,” recollects Gary of the first excursion to Western Star. “When we got to that point of approximately half an hour into the recording session and he [Alan Wilson] said I actually want to sign you guys, then that really blew us away because it was all of our Christmases coming at once! We never expected that kind of outcome, even though we have a certain amount of belief in what we do, because we still lack that confidence to think that somebody else thinks it’s great as well.”
“I was so excited because I thought someone is actually going to record my double bass and it will sound like a double bass!” adds Tony sounding as excited as the day news broke of the band’s invite to record at Western Star. “It was quite an honour for me as well because I actually bought Alan’s records when I was younger, so I had The Sharks albums and all the stuff he’d recorded.”
The enthusiasm shown in The Bullets memories of their time at Western Star Records reflects just how much respect they hold for label boss Alan Wilson for not only providing a platform for their first album, but also adding his years of experience as a producer that proved instrumental in finding the right ingredients for ‘Sons Of The Gun’. Once a few difficulties in terms of reaching certain required sounds had been ironed out, both band and producer worked to a tight schedule and in the process a productive relationship developed as The Bullets explain.
“I don’t want to quote Jack Rabbit Slim when they say he’s the fifth member of their band,” comments Brett about Alan Wilson, “but he is the fourth member of our band because he is so funny and inspiring but also extremely serious about stuff. For example, if one of us is singing out of tune he’ll just march straight in and tell us to stop because we’re singing out of tune and therefore he doesn’t compromise on that. So he’s got the full package whereby he puts you at ease when you need to be at ease, but he’s also not shy to say something if it’s not working. He put his heart and soul into our album because he believed in us.”
“We were just kicking it [‘Mean To Me Baby’] around the studio thinking how we were going to do it,” explains Gary regarding one song in particular. “He [Alan Wilson] was in the toilet at the time when all of a sudden he came marching back in and suggested another approach and that we should start with the hook instead. So when he recorded it, we played it that way for the very first time and it worked out really great. So from that point onwards, every suggestion that Alan made we’d take on board.”
“When the four of us got together, the ideas were simply flying out,” continues Brett enthusiastically. “There was an on-going joke whereby Alan would ask what kind of guitar sound did I want for a certain song, and I would mention various ideas and then he’d try and find a sound that replicates such a description. But he must have understood what I meant because so many of the tracks are different, and there’s so many different guitar sounds on that album and that’s what I love about it.”
The input Alan Wilson had with ‘Sons Of The Gun’ helped bring the final touches to a few of the songs. This led to the quite sublime ‘Desperate Man’ finding a home on The Bullets’ debut once the final jigsaw piece was found not under the sofa, surprisingly, but in the Western Star attic with a rather old bass guitar.
“On one of the tracks Gary wrote, called ‘Desperate Man’, we wanted a Johnny Horton sound and we just couldn’t get it on the guitar,” explains Brett mimicking the same frustration felt when this predicament occurred. “So, Alan had an idea and went up to the loft and brought down this old decrepit bass and asked me to play it. I mentioned to Alan the fact that I’m left-handed and the bass was right-handed. So I decided to turn the bass up the wrong way and played it upside down and still managed to get it [sound] out a bit! What’s important for me when I’m playing Tony’s or Gary’s songs is that I follow exactly what they want because we’ve all got vision in terms of how we want to do things. When I hit those notes [‘Desperate Man’], and the low note in particular, I’ll never forget the back of my neck going frosty and I looked at him [Gary] and he had this look of, ‘Oh my god, that’s it!’ So we achieved that by playing a fifty-year-old bass upside down! But that’s what Alan’s like, and what we’re like, as we’re not afraid to try different things. You get a lot from it when you’re open to those kinds of ideas.”
Despite The Bullets being a relatively new band, all three members have accumulated enough experience of their own due to performing in various other bands over the years, and yet another reason as to why ‘Sons Of The Gun’ possess all the confidence of band on their third or fourth album rather than it being their first. Such chemistry between this rockin’ trio also stems from friendships built some time ago and therefore an advantage when trying to relay ideas during any creative process due to the history between them and their years of experience.
“We were friends before we were a band,” comments Brett. “Gary and I go back several years in terms of our friendship. Gary used to be in a band with Tony – The Persuaders – and I was in a band with another guy. Once that band had split, Gary and I said that we loved playing together and therefore we decided to start writing together. I didn’t know Tony at the time, but Gary mentioned he knew the perfect bass player, so the three of us got together and it worked instantly as sometimes you can be in a band and another person will come in and the chemistry isn’t right. However, the three of us know what we want and none of us have egos as we’re not kids any more. We just want to create great music.”
“What I’ve noticed with it as well is that it’s a tight unit,” says Gary. “I’ve been in bands where sometimes the musicians have been out of this world and it’s like they’re almost virtuoso musicians but they just don’t gel as a unit. It’s like having a football team of all-star players but they don’t play as a team. I don’t consider myself to be the best drummer, and I’m sure these guys are modest enough to say they’re not the best at what they do, but collectively it seems to work really well.”
Having witnessed The Bullets perform live at this year’s Western Star 10th Birthday Party, the ‘tight unit’, as Gary described, was definitely evident as the band oozed with confidence, cranking up the tempo the deeper they progressed into their set, proving that ‘Sons Of The Gun’ was no fluke. Even legendary singer Vince Eager joined in with the band for a few numbers that earned further gold stars due to one music legend peeling back the years but also for the temporary backing band showing great versatility. Despite this well-received performance, The Bullets remain humble enough to accept that the road to further glories may require considerable patience, considering their fresh status on the rockin’ scene. There is one thing, however, this three-piece band remain adamant about, in their attempt to win over further audiences, and that is their belief in their own song writing rather than the tried and trusted method of plying their trade with numerous covers.
“I’ve played in bands for many years where I played a lot of covers and I just didn’t want to do that anymore,” explains Tony. “The Bullets is therefore my great opportunity to do this in terms of our own songs.”
“I guess the only tricky thing though, if I’m honest, is that a lot of bands start as cover bands and they become quite a big fish in the rockabilly scene before introducing their own numbers and become even more popular,” considers Brett. “But we’ve done that from the very first day whereby we’ve said we are not a covers band as we’re mainly playing our own material. That’s always going to be tricky as when you get on stage people, more often than not, if they don’t know who you are at least want to hear something they know. So we’re a band that maybe people haven’t heard of, and they haven’t heard our songs either, but that comes down to time as once we’ve played enough of the right venues and to the right crowds who want to hear what we’ve got, then the rest will hopefully follow.”
Do you think you will alienate a considerable number of people in terms of the rockin’ scene due to a lack of familiarity, and possible lack of patience, with predominately new material?
“Don’t get us wrong because we love playing covers as we’ve got stuff in our set by all sorts of rockabilly artists,” points out Gary in response to the question. “So from an audience perspective, when you’re doing a live gig you need to do a couple of covers as you want the audience to recognise songs and then you’re judged on how well you’re doing that cover. So you can’t always do your own stuff. But we thought that if we’re going to do a recording, there’s no point doing ‘Honey Hush’ because when you get home what version are you going to play? You’re going to play Johnny Burnette’s as you wouldn’t play ours…I wouldn’t play ours! Therefore, it made sense to record our own songs.”
Well said that man. FLW is firmly rooted in The Bullets camp when it comes to such arguments regarding the pros and cons of a set loaded with cover versions or one that is predominately made up of original material with only a light sprinkling of the past. Despite all of this, The Bullets remain ever respectful when it comes to other preferences and fully aware that trying to appease everyone in the rockin’ scene when it comes to a live set or completely original material when it comes to cutting your first album is problematic.
“We’re a new band with quite a new album,” explains Gary. “People know us from other bands, but nobody [else] knows what this band’s about. We’ve released an album pretty much cold, in many ways, so that side of it has to build up because you can’t go up to promoters and ask to be booked because they will need several reasons why , especially if they haven’t heard the album and with us being a new band.”
“We’ve kind of done it back to front,” adds Brett to the discussion. “A lot of bands gig for a couple of years, building a following, and become well-known and then record an album. We did that back to front, not on purpose, but we got a band together and got some good songs together and got signed by Western Star and recorded a quality album. As Gary has said, everything else now has to build up.”
“It seems a weird thing as well,” jumps in Gary once more, “because if you take your average rock ‘n’ roll club they may have twelve nights a year with a gig a month, whereas there are more than twelve bands out there. So it’s getting into that environment and getting people to book you on merit. I dread to think how many rockabilly bands are out there at the moment, but there’s a darn sight more rockabilly bands than there are places to play. So it is just trying to get that balance and hopefully, as people get to hear the album, we’ll get more and more work and that’s what we’re happy to do.”
Having played various weekenders such as Shakedown and a slot at the Ace café, The Bullets have been added to the bill at next year’s Hot Rod Hayride and such gigs seem the perfect set up in terms of where the band find themselves due to other responsibilities of the everyday variety.
“In terms of gigs and stuff, we don’t gig every week and wouldn’t try and pretend that we do as I think the days of us gigging every week and playing at venues across the country is not necessarily what we’ve aimed for with this band,” says Brett.
“We love playing, but the days of us performing at a local club for fifty quid somewhere in Bolton one hundred miles away isn’t possible because we work and have got families, so you have to be more selective,” explains Gary in agreement with his bandmate.
It’s probably not worth your trouble at the moment travelling one hundred miles to a gig due to being a new band. It’s likely only one man and his dog will turn up if the PR hasn’t been too prolific, as you alluded to earlier, in terms of building up a reputation on the live circuit.
“The dog may love it!” laughs Gary. “If we’re good to dogs, then that’s it!”
“Yeah, that could be a niche market – music for your dog,” jokes Brett.
“We could get our album in pet stores across the country…Pet Smart!” laughs Gary in further jest.
“Mate, now you’re talking, I like it!” adds Brett grinning.
‘Sons Of The Gun’ will definitely find a place in the FLW end of year poll when it comes to best albums of 2013 because quite simply it is that good. The band remain one of the most promising prospects when it comes to new bands on the rockin’ scene because as frontman Brett Waters commented on Alan Wilson of Western Star Records being the complete package, the same definition is fitting of this magnificent trio due to their ability to write outstanding rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll songs and the priceless quality of having experience on their side. Most of all though, it is all three band members genuine modesty and affability that is most endearing, and one hopes that The Bullets truly succeed in their quest to gain a considerable following.
“We love doing it [making music] and we’re great friends and nothing is ever going to change that as we’re friends for life,” says Brett honestly. “I’ll never see the band ending because there’s no reason for us to stop doing what we’re doing when we love it so much.”
“That’s very true,” agrees Gary. “The point is that we’re not doing what we’re doing right here and now to be rich and famous as there are no delusions of grandeur. When we stop loving it, we’ll stop doing it, but I suspect when we stop doing it we’ll suddenly become thirty years older overnight. That’s the philosophy, doing what we’re doing is keeping us young, and while we’re doing it we’re staying young and we’re happy to stay young for a very long time.”
I'm not interested in writing love songs. So many songs from days gone by are about love, and they're great, but the songs I write are about not being pushed around and living your life your way."
Brett Waters, The Bullets
FLW - From the Tapes
Brett Waters of The Bullets provides a bit of detail behind two of the band’s songs – ‘Moonshine’ and ‘Desperate Man’ – from their debut album ‘Sons Of The Gun’.
“I had in my head for a long time the subject of bootlegging when it comes to liquor during the prohibition era in terms of our song ‘Moonshine’. This [idea] was also before the film Lawless with Tom Hardy as I was thinking what a brilliant time that would have been. So, I wrote a song about a guy who doesn’t want to work for a living as he makes moonshine liquor. At night, he drives it across the border and he sells it to people at the risk of getting shot and killed. So it’s just [about] life as a bootlegger, and all the problems you face with it, while other people are working hard, he’s sleeping all day. Only when they all go to sleep that’s when his day starts, and he spends his time making moonshine and mixing with all the wrong people and that’s his life.”
“In terms of our song ‘Desperate Man’, I went to Memphis and Sun Studios a couple of years ago. One of the tour guides explained that when Johnny Cash would perform live on stage, in the early days, they wouldn’t let him have a drummer because it was thought of being a bit too much and a bit obscene. So he got one his guitarists to get an acoustic guitar and tape a dollar bill through the strings to give a certain sound. I suggested to Gary when he wrote ‘Desperate Man’ that I wanted to do that [tape a dollar bill]. I got my acoustic guitar and an actual dollar bill that I got in Memphis and stuck it to the guitar. We had drums on ‘Desperate Man’ but you’ve got this certain sound all the way through, which came from such a simple idea. When I suggested it, the guys loved it and it worked really well.”