It has been a long arduous journey so far, but Northpaw’s dedication to their craft has reaped serious dividends when it comes to critical recognition
If Northpaw never make another record again that would not be such a bad thing. It wouldn’t be such a loss because the band’s debut offering ‘Trepidation’ has set such a high precedent that it is going to be extremely difficult to match let alone surpass. Five heartfelt songs concerning a number of anxieties felt within that literally scream out of the speakers in a mix of loud crunching guitars and impassioned vocals but held together by an equal amount of restraint so as to not over-egg the pudding. Such restraint is often applied by means of guitarist and vocalist Spencer Huet’s melodic tones providing a tender edge to the abrasive qualities of central vocalist Charlie Grout-Smith and in the process giving further indication of the vulnerabilities engrained deep within.
In order to reach such a lofty summit of the sheer quality throughout ‘Trepidation’, the band spent many hours working and reworking songs to the point that the very definition of perfectionism has now been re-entered into the English Oxford Dictionary under Northpaw. Such were the levels of painstaking attention to detail given during a six month period that the band finally saw signs of daylight once the offer of a tour and a bundle of critical appraisals came flooding through the door and a collective sigh of relief could finally be exhaled.
“The lows were really low during the six months spent writing ‘Trepidation’ in terms of wanting to get something released, as it felt like nothing was happening when really we were putting so much work in,” explains drummer Andy Allen. “Going from six months of not really arguing but creatively pushing each other to an extreme that we hadn’t been to before, and then receiving a review from Metal Hammer with eight out of ten and all these other great reviews was just a massive contrast and helped rejuvenate us and made it all worthwhile. I think the writing process for us is going to be a lot easier because we’ve put in the groundwork to find our sound but obviously this will evolve and change. I think we know each other well enough now to be able to write the next one and faster. It’s not necessarily important if it takes a year, but in terms of where we are as a band, we need to keep producing stuff.”
Luckily for the band, a space was vacated so that this tour de force of an EP was given the care and attention it no doubt deserved.
“We did it when Charlie’s parents went away,” continues Andy Allen.
“We literally took over the house while they were away and recorded it there,” adds Charlie concerning his more than considerate parents.
Were there moments of friction between band members considering the length of time you were holed up together recording?
“The first EP was great and I wouldn’t change it for the world as we did everything ourselves,” says Andy positively.
“We now know, however, that we shouldn’t all be in the same room at the same time,” pipes up bassist Jack Robinson grinning. “For example, we have spent time in a practice room before and ended up standing around having achieved nothing over quite a long period of time. So we’ve now decided that as long as we have the basics for it, we’ll lay all the tracks down as Andy [Allen] demos all of our tracks.”
With such devotion to your songwriting, and this being your first EP, is it safe to assume that the band are perfectionists?
“Yes, massively,” is the immediate reply from Andy. “I don’t think we would have got the results we achieved with the EP if we were not like that. For example, the amount of times we had final demos completed and there was just one bit that wasn’t quite right. So we would change that one bit and often, after changing that one bit, it would change the rest of the song. It was a real challenge on occasions but at the same time fun.”
Now the dust has had a chance to settle is there anything in hindsight that Northpaw would change in relation to ‘Trepidation’?
“I don’t think change,” replies Spencer, “but there is so much now that we want to do differently as we want to experiment a lot more.”
“We did experiment a little bit with this, “chirps up vocalist Charlie, “but now we know how it sounds, I think we can go further.”
Do you think the anxieties you felt on a personal level when recording your debut EP hindered any desires to experiment further?
“It’s very difficult to get out of that frame of mind in terms of worrying about what other people think,” says Andy.
“Yeah, that was it,” Spencer comments in agreement. “I think one of the main reasons as well was to stop trying to please or appeal to other people and instead write music that we like ourselves. When we came to a crossroads in terms of what to do, we discussed what we’d like to listen to, and then made decisions based on this.”
“That was what we did” agrees Andy. “We often thought that if we do that, then somebody is not going to like it. But then we just thought f*** it, let’s just do it and see what [happens]. I think we’ve written the most honest music as friends because of that attitude. It took us a while to train ourselves to be less timid and nervous about what was written.”
Alongside their undoubted strong work ethic, another aspect that is appealing about Northpaw is the equal contribution all five members bring to the band as if a cog in a machine that requires all parts moving simultaneously in order to achieve the desired results. Such a notion also stems from the band’s own admissions regarding the overriding concept surrounding ‘Trepidation’ and that being one of an overriding sense of fear that has gripped all five members in a variety of ways and depicted individually through all five compositions. It is this very fear, however, that drives this Hampshire five-piece and best illustrated by the opening bow of ‘Extinction’ that is strangulating under the ominous realisation that (perhaps) some of us are not destined for greatness (apply your own definition here, FLW) when it comes to chasing dreams and leaving a trail of legacies. In fact, FLW defies anyone who does not feel remotely stirred by the climaxing vocal turn of ‘Extinction’ as it literally pours out its soul in fearful realisation: ‘I can’t admit that there might be a dim of truth, do you remember me, will you remember my life? As I’ve been swallowing, hiding, recycling thoughts in the hope it will bring me closer than this’.
“It’s about my fear of dying and not leaving a legacy and not having something that people will remember me by,” clarifies Andy Allen. “In a way, the song has quite a vain meaning because I don’t want to die and for people just to forget as that’s my [greatest] fear because life’s short and that’s what motivates me through everything I do. Working in my day job is something that I enjoy, but doing this is a lot more fun and something I’d love to do, and I’d love our music to be my legacy as I just don’t want to leave this planet and feel that I haven’t contributed anything. I think a lot of people can relate to that and have that fear.”
If anything, FLW has been gripped by the five incendiary tales making up ‘Trepidation’ to the point whereby an entire journey to complete another interview assignment, concerning an altogether different musical genre, was subjected to an almost non-stop playback in an attempt to piece together the intricate details and get to the bottom of these compelling narratives. For example, ‘Habitus’ is an absolute beast of song with its howling declaration, ‘There is nothing wrong with me’ and clearly deep in denial. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that there is much tragedy at the centre of this song as Charlie Grout-Smith explains.
“‘Habitus’ is one of my songs, and is basically about having a habit that can drive you pretty much to the end. I had an experience concerning a family member of mine, and basically it concerns a habit such as smoking whereby it can bring so much on to a family and just destroy it. It is something that people enjoy a lot whether it’s drinking and/or smoking, and unfortunately it’s something that has affected a part of my family.”
If that wasn’t enough in terms of a sonic assault on the senses, then FLW favourite ‘Oil, Gratular’ literally batters down the door in a raging fit full of desperation and flailing in its frustrations, ‘Do you see anything past your covered eyes as I’m scrapping for teeth’. Equally impressive, however, is the manner in which lead vocalist Charlie Grout-Smith moulds his vocals to bark out these deeply personal lyrics, which is a feat in itself especially when the contents concern another band member and that being guitarist Josh Irvine.
“I have been in bands since I was 15 – 16 years old and it has always been something my parents have always disapproved of as they have wanted me to go out, build my life and get a real job,” comments Josh. “So the song is pretty much about that really.”
There remains one nagging curiosity regarding ‘Oil, Gratular’, however, and that is the possibility of a Scandinavian influence in terms of the actual title.
“The name came from a poster I had in my room which said ‘gratular’,” explains Spencer. “So, I looked it up and it said ‘congratulations’. I decided to link it with his [Josh’s] song because continuing to do something that you know is probably not going to have a good outcome, such as being in a band, is a huge risk due to the possibility you’re not going to make it.”
“There’s also the striking gold element by means of striking oil in the sense of making it big as a band,” adds Andy.
Despite the graveness of the subject matter throughout ‘Trepidation’, there is humour at the heart of this band and something of which was expressed when trying to drum up ideas for the artwork.
“We got pretty excited about ideas for the artwork,” remembers Spencer enthusiastically. “A prototype was produced outside and I’ll show you a picture of it as this is quite funny [reaches for his mobile]. This is what we were going for [photo displays one of the band members wearing a bed sheet and the faintest sight of a pair of white trainers] with sunglasses and a little briefcase as well,” he finishes laughing.
“The idea of the artwork was that you carry that fear around with you the whole time and we wanted it to represent when you’re going to work or somewhere else as it’s [fear] always with you,” elucidates Andy with equal enthusiasm. “We were trying to convey the idea that even when you’re young and innocent these are the things that make you, these fears and how they form, but you get on with it as you have no choice. It is how you deal with it, personally, and that’s sort of carried on to the trepidation, which is the fear of what’s to come.”
Such memories are imperative for a band such as Northpaw if they are to remove any lingering issues of doubt from their songwriting process because there is a real inventiveness at work here that deserves all the plaudits registered so far. If ‘Trepidation’ remains the one and only recording to come out of Hampshire from this five piece, then the irony of the band’s plight has already been answered because even though Northpaw may not fully realise it themselves at this point in time, any notion of leaving a legacy of some sort has been achieved with the five tracks listed under ‘Trepidation’.
It's about my fear of dying and not leaving a legacy and not having something that people will remember me by,"
Andy Allen, Northpaw
FLW - From the Tapes
Northpaw shared their thoughts with Famous Last Words regarding an invitation they received after a gig in Newark, only to find things were not quite what they expected.
“When we stayed in Newark, we had nowhere to stay. So a fan put us up for the night and she said there was a party or something. When we got back there [to the house] there was a lot of older people in the front room pretty drunk with a buffet laid out full of finger foods such as Scotch eggs and other similar stuff. They were showing us their family, and one of the brothers was outside and showing us how to
lift weights in the garden whilst wearing a vest!” finishes Spencer with a look of utter bewilderment.
“We we’re thinking what the f*** is this! There we were thinking that we’re going back to some bangin’ party and it turned out to be a 50th birthday party but for close family! And then the dog bit me and I think I tried to kick it but it was a really awkward situation. We kept to ourselves and left wondering how we ended up there,” adds Andy.
“We’ve played Newark since then, but we stayed in the Travelodge this time!” concludes Charlie laughing.