Meet Rob Coles from The Little Comets

Rob Coles finds it "euphoric" to play live Image credit: Dave Briggs

The Little Comets are an indie rock trio from Newcastle. In advance of their gig at the Cambridge Junction on the 24th February, I chatted to Rob Coles about their third album and upcoming tour.

First off, describe your sound to someone who’s never heard you before.

The music always comes first, and we’re quite positive musicians, so often the music will sound quite upbeat and happy. I think my mind is a bit darker in a lyrical sense than it is in a musical sense, so when I do the lyrics, they will often be weightier than the music. I think that’s the most noticeable thing, the contrast of lyric and sound.

Some of the lyrics you write are quite political. What do you think about the idea of popular music as a platform for political change?

Personally, as I’ve got older and written more songs, I’ve got more confident expressing myself in music rather than hiding behind a character or writing songs that don’t really mean anything. Also, I’m a parent now, so the way I see the world is very different. I care about lots of issues, but often I find that if I have a discussion with somebody, I can’t adequately represent what I want to say, whereas in a song you have to be succinct. I love being able to channel not only my passion but also my thoughts into my lyrics. In the wider sense of popular music, I think if that’s what the writer feels they need to do, then they should. Anything that gets someone to engage with an issue that they feel passionate about is a positive thing.

How do you think your sound has developed over the course of your three albums?

The first album was born from the transition to being in a band. It was written in the rehearsal room with the drummer, so new ideas were often abandoned. We’d just keep playing a song and not think about it too heavily because making changes took too long and disturbed the vibe. Then our drummer Mark left, and me and Micky went back to how we used to write when we were a lot younger, just us two in a room. The production became part of the writing process. If we were stuck on a song, rather than try and finish it, we’d really concentrate on one section and build up the instrumentation on it. It was a lot freer; we had time to explore. That’s how we developed the second album, and the third album is an extension of that.

When we were writing the first album, we were so wrapped up in getting from point A to point B that I don’t think we knew why we wrote songs. Now, there’s no pressure from a label, no need to sell a certain amount of copies. We try and serve the song, not think about the outcome too much, and not have a specific idea of the job we want a song to do.  We’ve realized that the reason we write songs is because we love to express ourselves. That’s had a very big impact on the latest album.

Over the course of 2014, you released three EPs. Do you think there’s a big difference between creating an EP and creating an album?

Our albums are collections of songs from a particular time: we don’t write songs specifically for an album. We decided to do EPs because, at the end of a cycle, we always end up with lots of songs left over that we write when we’re procrastinating. When we’re stuck on a song, instead of doing what I’m supposed to do, I’ll often pick up a guitar and write another song. These songs do link to whatever song we’re working on in a musical sense, but they’re usually quite quiet and acoustic, so they wouldn’t be right for the balance of an album. After the first and second albums, we’d written lots of songs that nobody would ever hear, so we decided to release EPs while we were working on the album instead of singles, and attach a couple of these little songs that we wrote and were inspired by that song. So we worked on the album and the EPs concurrently.

What is your favourite moment of the album?

For the song ‘My Boy William’, me and Micky set up a microphone and recorded my little boy William and his little boy George playing. They’re about two years old, so their language is really starting to develop. In a quiet part of the song, you hear the conversation between William and George. There’s no real logic to it, I just love it. I’m not sure how William will feel about it when he’s older, he might be mortified, I don’t know!

On your press release, you talk about the importance of trying to actually connect with an audience, rather than remaining in the safe and shallow territory of banality. Is touring and performing to a live audience a big part of this?

We see the touring aspect totally differently to the writing. When you record an album, it takes a long time; every aspect of it is permanent, so it has to be right. With live performance, the challenge is to connect with the audience in the moment, because once the moment has gone, that’s it. If it’s not right you have to move on straight away. Overall, we’re happier in the studio, but we’ve had our most euphoric moments when playing live. Seeing people singing our words is great. Also, we’ve toured for so long now that we know a lot of the people who come to see us, so we’ll just have general conversations about what’s going on in each other’s lives. It’s funny, the creation of music and the performance are such different art forms.

So what can we expect when you perform at the Junction?

We don’t have big lights, no big production. When you record things you can be very passionate, but it’s with controlled passion, whereas when we play live it’s a more urgent passion. There are also more vocal parts. We just try and present the songs in an honest way, and play with real emotion and hope. Hope, that’s what we want to come across. 

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