Brothers And Sisters - Pump Up The Volume With Slap Rash
Pic: Andi Callen Photography
Teenage brothers and sisters aren't typically that fond of spending time in each other's company, much less start a band together, which makes Huw and Amelia Jones something of a rarity. The list of successful Brother/Sister combos is a pretty small one, headed most notably by The Carpenters, No Doubt, Halestorm, The Corrs and The Magic Numbers [who have two pairs of brothers and sisters!]. Certainly room for improvement I feel. With Huw on bass and Amelia on drums/vocals, they've quickly made a lot of friends in the Manchester scene with their explosive dynamic sets, gaining some impressive support slots, including Japanese sonic noiseniks Melt Banana and Shonen Knife. As well as picking up lots of support slots they recently sold out their own headline show at The Eagle Inn. Their live shows are high octane, usually resulting in copious amounts of sweat shed by both band and audience. It's a little more relaxed in the cosy atmosphere of The Peer Hat as we sit down to chat. Members of The Red Stains and Furrowed Brow sit at nearby tables, reinforcing the perception that this is becoming the epicentre of the burgeoning Northern Quarter scene.
Huw and Amelia grew up in Taunton, Somerset and even played in a funk band back home, before finding themselves drawn to Manchester for University.
Was it the music scene that brought you here [to Manchester]?
Amelia: Yeah, I can't imagine being anywhere else now. Every time I go back [to Taunton] it seems smaller and smaller.
So how does it work with Slap Rash?
Amelia: It's good, because I always say that being in a band is like being in a family any way, so although me and Huw might have disagreements we work through them and then it's over. Sibling rivalry [Mmm, where else have I heard that mentioned in Manchester? Gallaghers take note].
So do you think that because you're brother and sister, the arguments that might break up typical bands don't have the same impact?
Huw: Yeah definitely, because we're very in tune with each other....
Amelia: ...and the way we were raised means that we're coming from the same place [musically]
So did you get your musical influences from your parents growing up in Somerset?
Amelia: We're the first people ever in our family to play musical instruments in bands. We grew up listening to 80's music which was always on in the house, Absolute 80's, Ashes To Ashes soundtrack, Frankie Goes To Hollywood as well, constantly on. I remember hearing Two Tribes for the first time and that was like, wow!
And a really distinctive bass line too! It can be a really divisive decade the 80's though. You ask someone what music they like and they say 80's, often you find out that it's a totally different 80's music to what you might be listening to!
Amelia: Our mum is a massive Duran Duran fan, Frankie Goes To Hollywood too. That was kind of our foundation. Then Huw went off to the explore the Joy Division side of things and I went the Alice In Chains way.
So what about the funk band you were in together?
Amelia: Yeah, it was a college project that Huw was in.
Huw: It was like a school band and then our guitarist got ill with ME and had to leave..
Amelia: ..and I played guitar, so I was like 'I'll step in for a bit, why not?' The set sucked a bit and we introduced Funkadelic and The Meters but it stumbled to a halt.
On your Facebook biog you list bands like Idles, Black Flag, Primus and Seven Year Bitch. Anybody else?
Huw: Oh Sees, massive influence on me personally.
Amelia: ..and seeing them live for me was great, especially because I'd only been drumming for just over a year or so. Having two drummers is amazing.
My only claim to fame musically is that I played drums in a punk band with two drummers. Played one gig, only had 3 songs, played a 5 track set repeating 2 hoping nobody would realise! Ahead of our time.
Amelia: I wouldn't ever say I'm a drummer, I just happen to play the drums in a band. I don't really know what I'm doing. We've been in the studio recently doing bits and bobs and I've had to play along with click tracks and it just doesn't have that fluidity and I find it hard.
How about recording live as there's only the two of you?
Huw: Yeah we're going to dabble with that and see what happens.
Amelia: We're trying to get a new EP out soon
You've had some interesting supports recently. Shonen Knife. Melt-Banana.
Huw: Shonen Knife was loads of fun, she was really great [Naoko Yamano - only ever present member].
Amelia: Melt-Banana was just the coolest, coolest gig. We only got asked to do the gig at Gorilla a couple of days before by Ben at DHP Family. Hopefully we've impressed enough to get more supports soon.
So you manage yourself at the moment. No plans to get a manager?
Huw: Not at the moment. We don't really need one just yet because we can cope with all the admin ourselves. Not ruling it out in the future.
Amelia: We just decide between us which gigs to play and which not to. Don't really need somebody to that for us but I understand that others may do.
So how does the creative process work in a duo?
Huw: It's a combination. We have songs that take months to write...
Amelia: ... which are usually the ones we scratch as well.....
Huw: ...and sometimes we've been in the room for 5 minutes and we just come out with something.
Live only Amelia is on vocals, so is it you [Amelia] who writes the lyrics?
Amelia: Huw writes quite a lot of the lyrics as well. Most of mine come from being immediately pissed off about something, things that make me so angry. My songwriting style is to write the entire song in one go. If it comes to me I'll write it. We might tweak it a bit here and there to fit the music but I never go back and change my words...
Huw: ...........they're usually solid and it works for us.
Amelia: I used to write a lot of poetry when I was younger and this is an extension of that, fuelled by adrenaline.
So far the band have two digital only self-released singles, The Grind and Zone A. One about the drudgery of
a shit day job and the other inspired by an alarm going off on a Western Rail train journey. What they have in common is really interesting artwork. What's behind the designs?
Amelia: Ahh, there's a really cool story about. We're both really into this animator called David Firth, who has a series called Salad Fingers [Check it out on youtube folks, brilliant stuff], his art is vile and something that really resonates with us and our dream is that he'll make a video for us.
With the artwork we thought we could either go with something which was intense, grotesque, hyper-realistic [like Firth's work] or go with something classic. In the end we didn't think that the images would reflect what we sound like at all, so we went for the latter. They were actually painted by our Great Uncle, who died......
Huw: ....19 years old in a bike crash.
Amelia: ...and we'd never seen them and then we found this big box in the attic and they are just beautiful. This was all around the same time we needed something for a cover.
So you've got your own artwork library wow. You're sorted for all your future releases. What a lovely story.
Huw: And it's great to be able to display his art now, extending the family ties into what we're doing with the band.
As you grow and get more successful his art will get more exposure too. It's a bit like the famous street photographer, Vivian Maier who took over 150,000 photographs in a 40 year period, none of which were ever published before her death and subsequently discovered by a couple of collectors. That's really sad that she never got the recognition and acclaim she has now whilst she was still alive.
I've seen a number of great reviews of your shows, but yet to read a bad one. Has there been a less than favourable review?
Huw: I've genuinely not seen one. They might be out there somewhere....
Amelia: ...I get that not everybody will like what we do and I understand that. Perhaps is just that those reviewers have chosen not to write about us at all rather than write a bad review. I think that because we use more intricate time signatures we're a bit more creative and some people won't like it. Of course Punk can be 3 chords in 4/4 time, but we're approaching it differently. I'm coming from a classical background and Huw's coming to it from a noise rock angle, totally different places but our foundations are solid. I mean we finished a song yesterday and Huw sent it back to me today in 5/4 and it sounded instantly better. We have that flexibility I guess. I want people to stop and recognise that they're hearing a funny time signature or a strange key and enjoy that non-conformity. It makes it feel fresh for me.
Huw: You know we are always evolving with our current set, keeping it fresh......
Amelia: ....sometimes I'll have been playing a song for months and then I'll set down and unpick it a bit and add or change a bit. I'm happy that our songs are constantly evolving.
So will you be looking to add other elements like keyboards into your sound? Obviously in the studio you can play around and add what you like but live you're kind of limited with only two of you.
Huw: I'm a huge synth head, I love synthesizers, I've started using more in our live performance.
Amelia: And we've previously used them in the studio as well. When we started we recorded the original EP and had a track called 'Charity Sex Shop', about a shop full of secondhand sex toys!
Have you had a Stalinist revision of your old material? I don't recall hearing that before!
Huw: It's an old song badly recorded when we were less experienced. More of a demo really.
Amelia: It's an old song, it might come out one day. It was our first experience in a studio, working with a band called October Drift.
Is that a song you might revisit in the future?
Amelia: I'd like to, it's pretty funny. We do try to inject some humour in what we do.
And with the image of old ladies browsing used strap ons and butt plugs still percolating my brain it seems like a good time to wrap up the interview.
Live, Slap Rash are a whirlwind of sound, raw, driving bass and the human incarnation of Jim Henson's Animal on drums. On record there is slightly more colour to the sound, with Amelia's excellent vocals standing proud of the mix. However, they are a band that get better with every gig, partially down to the constant reappraisal of their material I would suggest. They are still very young, Huw just 19 and Amelia 21. If they are on the bill of a gig you're going to, check in early and catch them. I'm confident they'll impress you. Both singles are on Spotify so check the links below.
You can see Slap Rash live on April 10th at The Garlic Bread Club @ Retro Bar