One of the most exciting bands to come out of Norway in recent years, The Lucky Bullets step back in time to share their views on music, cars and of course their debut album, ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’. Just don’t call them Elvis impersonators!
As I steadily walk the plank dockside in central Oslo gripped by an overwhelming sense of curiosity and genuine excitement at the prospect of being ‘made’ (a la Tommy DeVito Goodfellas), the four besuited figures standing in the distance basking in the early evening sunlight come into focus. These four characters – Tank Harvey (vocals), Jimmy Dapper (Drums), Ace (Bass) and Butch (guitar) – are none other than Norway’s answer to the Johnny Burnette Rock & Roll Trio with added swing, The Lucky Bullets. Dressed for the occasion that is more 1920s than 1950s attire (the band reassure me that such fashion is the norm in their household), The Lucky Bullets are grouped in a semicircle, chatting incessantly and surrounded by a thin veil of smoke emanating from Jimmy Dapper’s ever-present piped tobacco, as I finally reach my destination with a cheery smile and slightly nervous “Hello” due to remembering, at that precise moment, Tommy DeVito’s ill fate. Such a thought is suddenly heightened due to being ushered to the nearby Plymouth with no doubt a secluded location all ready identified for ideal dumping ground. Things are made worse when lead vocalist Tank Harvey utters to fellow compatriot Ace in a perfect mobster impersonation: “Hey Marv, we’ve got Jimmy in the back!” However, any notion of being ‘whacked’ (see Goodfellas above) is thankfully put on hold for now, as discussion immediately turns to the depressing state of the music industry and where, exactly, four 1950s-obsessed musicians find themselves.
”It can’t last, it can’t last!” cries Tank Harvey, finger prodding mid-air and in my direction. “I am going to tell you a really, really dark thought, I was watching this show about a guy who said, ‘We are entering the age of mediocrity’, and because of the technical revolution, everyone can have a whole sound system on their laptop and they can record and produce music for a very low cost. The same comes with making a movie; you can use a camera that is as good as a film camera such as an analogue camera. At some point you will be able to do it digitally and make a movie which looks photographically as good as a Hollywood production but minus the actors. It will be so cheap to make [film] that it will take over. As a result of this, there will be a shitload of movies and a shitload of music that is mediocre. It’s not bad, but it is not good either, and there is a lot of it and it’s for free! So whatever costs money, you can’t do it because financially it won’t work. It is a dark thought that we’re entering the age of mediocrity but, at the same time, I don’t think so because at the end of the day you have to be able to write a song. We’re going to win in the end because we’re going to get sick of talent competitions such as X Factor because how many times can you watch that with people singing other people’s songs?”
There is no doubt that The Lucky Bullets, and others of their ilk, will claim back some ground for genuine songwriters, but for now, at least, it would seem that the slick manufactured candy pop currently blaring from the nation’s airwaves is the dominant force for the time being. However, with such grievances concerning the mainstream, a decision to enter the syrupy shenanigans of the Melody Grand Prix (Eurovision Song Contest) by Norway’s favourite rockabilly sons ranks highly on the bizarre scale. Therefore, further investigation is required.
“The story behind it is that somebody saw us, who is big in the music industry, and he suggested it as a crazy idea and we thought, ‘No way!’ at first of course, and then we thought, ‘Well, what the hell!’” explains Tank. “So the next day we entered the competition. We didn’t dream about it being that long and laughed about it all the way through. I think that’s why people liked us. Having said that, we did take it seriously though, and we do get confronted by other bands about it, ‘Why would you do that because it’s bad!’ How can you say that? Do you think it’s easy? We have done hundreds of concerts but the hardest one, and the hardest thing I have done musically, is the Melody Grand Prix. I don’t know about you guys [refers to the other band members] but pulling that off was difficult. So you can’t really say it was ‘bad’ or ‘easy’. We got to be ourselves and play one of our songs – it’s on the record. Maybe times are changing? We’re going to go on American Idol next year!” he finishes laughing.
The Lucky Bullets inclusion in the Melody Grand Prix no doubt raised a few eyebrows with fellow contestants as the gulf in talent, working methodologies and of course style would have been visible to all those present and more obvious to those in the know. If anything, a melding of the past meeting the present or more frankly Elvis, Scotty and Bill arriving at the party only to discover that they’ve arrived at the wrong location and instead greeted by a convey belt of diva wannabes and substandard Dylan impersonators vying for the number one spot. One can only surmise at the banter traded between these musicians in between takes but I, for one, would have parted with good money to have witnessed such interactions.
“When we played in Skien for the Melody Grand Prix, we took all of our own instruments,” explains Butch, referring to the different approaches to music adopted by those present at the Euro festivities. “So when we were having dinner, it was suggested that, ‘Let’s have a song!’ But a lot of the other artists there couldn’t play a song, as their instruments needed to be hooked up to something or singers required backing tapes!”
”You could give them a guitar and say, ‘Sing your song’, only to be greeted with, ‘Oh no, I don’t have my laptop with me!’ I didn’t ask you to write me a f***ing email!” proclaims a very exasperated Tank as his neck muscles look fit to burst at any second.
With The Lucky Bullets’ progression being thwarted at the final hour through this kitsch minefield (God clearly has good taste!), normal service was allowed to resume with only a few surviving memories remaining and nothing but positive reactions to the band’s inclusion.
“There have been lots of bands who actually want to do it now because they saw that we could dress in our own style and play our own music. It was a great opportunity for us to do it and show people what we are really about,” says Ace at the recollection of The Lucky Bullets’ involvement in the Melody Grand Prix.
“It was a really smart decision as well,” jumps in Tank, “as it got a lot of people to open their eyes to see that we actually do exist, and that is the end of it really. I mean, why not? Do I take myself so seriously that I don’t want to show my face with this kind of glamour?”
“I thought it was cool to do as well, simply for doing something untraditional for us as a band,” chips in the rather affable Butch.
“If a [music] festival has bands which are not very good, then you change the bands and try to make it better,” adds the more aloof Jimmy Dapper. “So that’s what we tried to do with the Melody Grand Prix in a way; try to get more bands with proper songs.”
Despite their inkling for times past, The Lucky Bullets retain a fresh approach to their songwriting as there is something very current about them which is often difficult to pin down. However, such trivialities are of no great concern because this rockabilly four piece exude an abundance of energy and humour that will captivate the attention of even the most hardened of rockabilly punters. Part of this compelling charm can also be attributed to the band’s ability to write their own material, something of which does not always follow suite with other bands associated with this revival scene due to being content with a safety blanket of cover versions.
“That’s really good to hear as the whole thing about the 50s is more like an influence and a reason as to why you gathered yourself as a band,” responds Tank. “But it would be boring if it was just an attempt at copying something exactly like it was. I mean, this is 2012!”
“We’re stuck in the old days!” laughs Jimmy.
“We’re a bit stuck [still laughing] but time has moved on,” reflects Tank. “I don’t mind, as we are just a group from our time and at some point someone will say, ‘Do you remember this band from 2010 with the hair?’ and I think we’re going to belong to this time. But it seems like rock & roll, jazz, blues and even funk was really cool a long time ago but I think something happened during the 90s where, for me, everything [musically] went really downhill. I think the end of the nineties, nothing in the world was cool; the cars looked like shit, the music was shit, the films were shit. That was just the bottom of it all, and the top must have been 1945 [laughs loudly as do the rest of the band]. Coolness comes and goes in waves, it’s bigger than trends or whatever was cool last year, there are decades like that.”
“What happened to the 80s?” chips in Butch.
“Yeah, the eighties were great!” replies Tank with great enthusiasm. “That was the light in the tunnel that was!”
“The 80s [attitude] was, ‘we’re doing everything now!’” adds Butch grinning.
”Boys who looked like girls and everything was allowed!” finishes Tank laughing.
Despite agreeing largely with these rockabilly boys, the nineties was not a complete nonentity as it rolled out a succession of bands and associated ‘scenes’ that will live long in the memory. But of course there is a great sense of nostalgia on these shores, as FLW longs for the glory days of 50s rock ‘n’ roll and, of course, rockabilly. A chance to witness the King during those early years or the raw intensity of Jean Vincent would have been too much to resist even now. If anything, The Lucky Bullets is the closest living thing in recent times to help create a sense of the past while remaining firmly rooted in the present.
“What is really cool to see is how people have looked at the future through history,” comments Tank who, it has to be said, passes a close resemblance for a young Sinatra this evening with his sharp suit and adorning Trilby. “For instance, Fritz Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ (1925) had this vision of the future whereby people work for the machines as the machines have taken over. You can tell from this movie that people are really afraid of the factory conditions and working 12 hour days. In terms of the future, the factories are going to be bigger and there is just oil and big cogwheels and hard days. However, such opinion changes during the war, and the way people looked at the future in the 1950s is completely different, as the whole scenario is turned around as the machine is working for the people. For example, you have the illustrations of a woman [1950s] who bought this fantastic vacuum cleaner with 16 arms that can cook, make coffee, bake a cake, clean her house and even do her hair while she is reading a magazine (FLW needs to get one of those)! It’s still people and machines, but the tables have completely turned. Look at this car [the Plymouth we are all seated in]; it looks like a rocket or something that could fly to the moon. It’s a good picture of how 1956 was. I mean, look at that one over there [points to a nearby car]; cars…what happened?!”
“He is referring to a red Nissan Primera now,” says Butch rather helpfully.
“I am going to drill a hole in it and f***ing sink it!” spits Tank.
“He says pointing at the tape machine,” adds Butch once more with useful running commentary due to no cameras present to help visualise the object under discussion and help our suffering readership grasp exactly what Tank Harvey is wittering on about.
In order to be a competent frontman and spokesperson for a group, Tank Harvey contains all the essential ingredients i.e. charismatic, energetic, knowledgeable, slightly weary, talented, humorous and so on (feel free to add your own contributions). In fact, Tank Harvey takes such a grip on discussions this evening that even by his own admissions he has to “stop talking” and let his compatriots weigh in with their own contributions. Before such action takes place, however, this motormouth is not quite ready to hand over the reins of responsibility just yet.
With their debut album released under a wild ‘slipfest’ of raw rockabilly, nicely supplemented with a sprinkling of brass instrumentation and, for one song at least, Burlesque performer, The Lucky Bullets has finally delivered a long player worthy of their talents. ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ is the product of several months’ hard labour which, judging by the artwork depicting four men awaiting trial in rather comical fashion, suggests a workload that has taken its toll.
“I think we have to let it rest a while because it was a really long process with the whole recording. It was really intense and I think we got sick of the songs, sick of each other, sick of being in the studio and pretty much fed up with the whole project. I think we just have to wait and see,” grumbles Butch at the memory of the whole recording process for ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’.
“Difficult question because it took me two years to appreciate ‘Gold Digger’ [song from the band’s debut EP]. I like it now, but I hated it when it came out,” utters Tank after some initial thought. “What I like is the additional musicians and I really want to continue doing that,” he continues regarding the band’s use of brass instruments. “But I think we’re going to go back to doing it live as well as trying different things.”
Musically, ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ expands on what has gone before, as the band decided to introduce the aforementioned brass section, which adds an extra layer to their repertoire and definitely provides inspiration for future releases.
“The thing with the horn section is that it is so hard to put together because you can get somebody who plays the guitar or the drums but for some reason people who play the horns you have to rent them or get to know them. But we have finally got a name for ourselves and that will make things easier to work with those people in the future. For that reason, ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ is really good and I love that bit of the record as it adds to the live show. ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ is the best we have done, but there again, the way it was recorded we could probably have spent the same money in a studio doing it live and that’s how you think always.”
No matter the production methods used for ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’, it is the songs which speak for themselves as the album is littered with an assortment of characters, chancers, romantic hopefuls, as well as the odd bumbling fool thrown in for comedic value i.e. ‘Name Tattoo’ (a semi-autobiographical take on Messer Harvey’s very own existence). Luckily, for our leading light, the latter part of this song remains fictitious as he explains the reasoning for this song.
“I was thinking about something and it gave me an idea to write ‘Name Tattoo’. It’s just a funny story about a guy who tattoos the name of a girl and she goes away and so on. I have a tattoo of the name of my wife, but if I hadn’t done that I would never had had the idea for the song. But she hasn’t left me or didn’t come back on a train after 50 years of having another husband as it does in the song.”
“It’s going happen!” pipes up Jimmy Dapper from the front seat of the Plymouth, which causes everyone to burst into a fit of laughter.
“Yeah, maybe it will,” laughs Tank nervously.
Such hapless tales can be heard throughout many rockabilly records from the 50s but it is the humour which often shines through, as well as the ability to project a compelling tale often concerning unrequited love. This is something The Lucky Bullets have adopted, and adapted, in their own unique manner with a mixture of sounds infusing a range of periods dating from the twenties to the fifties.
“When I think about old movies, it’s always the storytelling in terms of how you could take your time in telling a story. You don’t have to cut the movie in half and tell too much. You can have this one story and tell it properly,” reflects Tank. “People ask us about whether we always dress like this and yes, we do as it’s natural to us. At the Melody Grand Prix people asked us, ‘How did you come up with this?’ We didn’t come up with anything! Even people meaning well thought it was a really good concept, but it’s not a concept because it’s a natural part of our lives.”
As discussion begins to tail off along with the setting sun, The Lucky Bullets, by their own admission, felt like “little piglets being brought to the butcher’s house!” after accepting an invitation to perform at this year’s Rockabilly Rave. Such festivities, however, resulted in a storming performance with a fresh batch of supporters clamouring for their attention and an invitation to attend next year. But it was the experience itself that seems to have left a lasting impression with the band, due to performing to a wider audience and participating in an event catering to their needs, which meant being understood.
“From my point of view, the Norwegian music business doesn’t know much about our style of music, they don’t even know that it exists. It’s frustrating!” says Butch.
“You can tell about journalists as well because you’re foreign and you’re asking all the right questions and you understand what we are doing,” is the thumbs up response from Tank. “For example, previous Norwegian interviews that we have done are all about, ‘Oh, it’s so cool with your hair! Are you influenced by Elvis Presley? How long does it take to do your hair?” he continues between gritted teeth. “You can inform an English person about what we do, and they know it instantly. A Norwegian person, who is really into music, wouldn’t actually know all that stuff, and probably dismiss rockabilly as an Elvis impersonating thing or something that has to do with country and western which, for some reason, is looked down upon in Norway. We are doing better overseas as we played at the Rockabilly Rave and there are roughly 1,500 people who know about it and understand it.”
Despite such grievances held by The Lucky Bullets, rockabilly has steadily become fashionable once more but only in very subtle ways, something of which is not lost on the band.
“It’s [rockabilly] in fashion,” is the immediate reply from Tank. “So I thought we’re trendy now, cool! You know, The Baseballs from Germany…why not? If it gets more people into some ‘proper’ music we could finally get over the 90s and forget about the whole thing. It’s strange, as well, because modern rock bands seem to take a lot of style and stuff from the 50s and 60s, and they look like a rockabilly band, but when the sound comes out, it’s more like punk rock. It’s a struggle, but I think we’re going to win in the end.”
Look at this car; it looks like a rocket or something that could fly to the moon. It’s a good picture of how 1956 was. I mean, look at that one over there; cars…what happened?!”
The Lucky Bullets
FLW - From the Tapes
Tank Harvey of The Lucky Bullets recollects a very strange experience concerning a gig the band were invited to perform in Sveio, Norway.
“We met the guy who arranged the concerts and stuff in Sveio. We met him outside and we introduced ourselves and he replied, ‘I lost all the bread! I lost all the sandwiches on the floor!’ So I thought, I have just introduced myself, and now you have just told me that you have lost some sandwiches on the floor! What?! What the f*** are you talking about? He was completely way out! The best thing was when we went inside [the venue] and asked about when the sound check will happen and where’s the gig, only to be greeted with, ‘Oh, you don’t have any amps and stuff with you or a sound guy?’ He had no stage! There was no stage! There was just a big empty room with enough space for at least 2000 people. That was not the only thing, as there were no posters or anything, and he hadn’t told anyone about our gig. So there was basically us and him knowing that we were there and out in the middle of nowhere. It was actually one of our best paid shows!”