The Noisettes formed as the band they are now in the wilds of South East London at the infamous Brits school in Croydon less than three years ago. Consisting of Shingai on vocals and bass, Dan on guitar and Jamie on drums, the band rapidly rehearsed and recorded their debut 4-track EP, Three moods of the Noisettes, releasing it in Summer 2004, the band then went on to receive critical acclaim and some lucrative support slots with the likes of Babyshambles and Mystery Jets.
But that makes them all sound a little too conventional, look beneath the surface and you find an unusual band, doing things there own weird way but somehow making it work. Describing the band as meeting at Stage School gives the impression of a meeting of professional convenience, and their rapid rise to fame doesn’t do them any favours in that department, however the band are not only incredibly likeable and friendly but intensely genuine, not the faintest glimmer of pretension. The band’s shy and retiring guitarist, Dan Smith confesses, I started playing guitar because I wanted to impress Jimmy Page and pressed on his reasons for starting a band, I wanted to start a band to record some albums, tour the world, play in interesting places and to be like a 60’s style ‘backing band for hire’ to superstar singers like Prince, and so far with Noisettes dates including rooftops, boats and South by South West, it seems to be working. His encounters with singer Shingai Shoniwa were initially an intense and emotional affair, as she proceeded to test burlesque dances in front of him, I couldn’t be bothered with all that Art & Design shit, I just wanted to get out of my old school, they had a really bad library, she tells me. Like all the best partnerships there was an initial element of unrequited love, developing into a fruitful and productive song writing duo. We spent several years trying lots of different stuff, as a duo, at a Youth arts centre, we put on a jazz musical, all sorts of things. Finally the pair settled into playing under the moniker ‘Sonarfly’, who were apparently unsigned band of the year in 2000, though according to whom I have no idea. The same dedication to the cause of music and doing what they feel to be right seems to be prevalent in everything Dan and Shingai have ever done, but it wasn’t until meeting drummer Jamie Morrison that everything gelled into a musical unit fit to realise what they had always been trying to achieve. Jamie had spent the majority of his formative years in his parents’ attic practicing drums and then the next few years playing in a variety of bands, basically dodging any proper work. The trio instantly worked in a musical and mental capacity, rehearsing, recording and playing their first largely improvised gig within 4 days.
Whilst The Noisettes are a band who’s individual members all seem to play a key role, it does seem to be front woman Shingai with the most visible intensity, drive and passion, during a technically troubled phone call with her our conversation wandered from Beep, beep, the world’ full of beeps! To her very intriguing theories on South East and East London, There’s only a few more spots left in London to be gentrified, All the places in London that have kept their historical wealth are the one’s near the docks, they’re the mouth of London and what made the British empire. Nowhere else has that diversity that’s been created by sailors and people from foreign lands. It’s this lust for adventure and zest for life that pulses through the Noisettes music, even if the lyrical content and musical delivery may appear to be melancholic, it’s not, it’s passionate. This also manifests itself at live gigs, The Noisettes are a band that believe in putting on a good show, they are a band who celebrate live music, Shingai passionately explains, We were always forced to use our imagination, and you can’t help it when you’re like that, people might think you’re over the top, but just to bring any sense of magic and wonder to a show is something that’s gone from so many modern shows that just rely on dancers, backdrops and lights. The audience have spent ¬£10 to come and see you, they don’t want to someone complaining about the usual Indie crap, they deserve a show from people who are into what they’re doing. The band make no apologies and a band like that is always a force to be reckoned with on stage, Sometimes the crowds give it right back to us and it’s amazing, sometimes they just stand there and don’t know how to react, Dan tells me, We always enjoy it more when people give it back out.
So what of the music? It’s hard to describe, as songs vary in style, another manifestation of the bands desire to experiment and enjoy their music. There are jazzy elements, especially in the vocal delivery, but also a very modern edge, the same rock aggression that a lot of modern guitar bands posses without the bloody disco-beats. This mish-mash of sound is explained very slightly by Dan, None of us are trained musicians, we taught ourselves, and we all have our own different influences and that makes things interesting. They also make a lot of noise for a 3 piece, great seething masses of guitars, whoops, screeches, pounding, smashing drums and some incredibly powerful interplay between the guitar and bass. These are people who have spent a lot of time realising the dynamic they can produce, and exploit it fully, even in their quieter moments you are captivated and drawn in. Lyrically the same passion is there, the songs are about a sense of belonging, defining yourself in the world, enjoying life as you are and telling the rest of the world to fuck off, but there’s nothing depressing about this, it’s liberating.
The Noisettes debut album, What’s the time Mr Wolf? will be out late September / early October on the small Side Salad label, a label with a penchant for food related puns, intriguingly the band have been signed by Motown in the US, so perhaps we can predict bigger success over the other side of the Atlantic than here, I can imagine the band working better in the US, but it will be a shame to lose them. The album has been produced by Cliff Norell who has a wide variety of previous credits under his belt from REM to Henry Rollins, Mansun and, ahem, All Saints. Before Shingai disappears into a wave of static she manages to explain to me what the album title is about, It’s symbolic of the fact that you never know when your time is up, the Wolf can be anything, the bullet that kills you, the accident you have, so you have to make the most of life. There the interview ended, The Noisettes are a puzzle, but one well worth unravling.
Published in Feature for Disorder magazine