This week I was fortunate enough to speak to Rob Coles, lead singer and guitarist from indie band Little Comets, about setting off on tour, how much success is too much and how to change the world! Their upcoming release, The Sanguine EP, anticipates a third full length album HOPE IS JUST A STATE OF MIND, on 16th February.
Q. Hey Rob, how you doing?
Just about all right (laughs). My poor nephew's just fallen out of his seat and bashed his head.
Q. Oh no! Is he okay? Do you need to see to him?
(Laughs) He's fine, his mam is with him. He's demanding Thomas the Tank Engine as the only remedy.
Q. (Laughs) How are the band? How's tour preparation going?
We haven't quite started yet, we're starting Monday! The lads are coming down to rehearse so my head's been completely elsewhere. We just had the album pre-order launched so we've been doing that and finishing off bits of tracks. Mixing at the moment, nowhere near mastering yet unfortunately – that'll end up being done in a day most likely. The dark art. Nobody really knows how it's done. Goes into a room sounding slightly different, and you're not sure how or why.
Q. So you've not tried any of the new songs out together yet?
No, no not yet! We haven't played any of them together. Everybody knows the parts though. Cos when we record we'll end up doing everything separately, we don't actually record as a band like some people do. So Monday will be the first time we put it all together to see if it works – or not (laughs).
Q. (Laughs) I was going to ask – do you reckon there'll be anything different for you guys or the audience with the new songs compared to the old ones?
Yeah definitely. New songs always change the dynamic of the set – especially when loads of the old songs are way more upbeat, ones like Dancing Song or something. A lot of the stuff from the first album is a little bit more basic across the board really. We always have to be careful when we put in a new song. When we toured in February, we knew exactly by the end how the new songs fitted in –how the songs would flow into each other.
The difficulty is not upsetting the balance when you introduce new stuff. It's really hard to gauge in a rehearsal room how it's gonna go down. One gig last tour we started and finished with a new song and it just didn't work – we didn't build up any momentum because of where we put the songs in, and in the end we wrecked any atmosphere in the room. We're going to be really, really careful how we fit the new ones in.
Q. What's the best thing to see from a crowd for you as a performer? How do you know when what you've rehearsed has worked?
The worst thing is when you play a song and you can tell people aren't listening, or are talking to each other. You're not angry with them, you're angry with yourself for not framing the song correctly. It's such a difficult skill to make people connect with the song when you're in the moment. That's a massive part of rehearsal too.
So conversely the best bits of playing live are when you know you've got an audience for a song. Like we know when we're having a bad gig – or not a bad gig, but you know not an exceptional gig, not the sort of gig we want. We always treat gigging really professionally. We never go on the stage drunk or anything stupid like that.
If you just catch somebody's eye at the right moment in the set and they're really enjoying it, like they're really involved with singing the words, or you can see the song means a lot to them – that's what sort of makes it for me. All gigs are lovely, cos it's an amazing thing to do to get on stage and have the music and the words you've written have an impact on people that have come out to see you.
Little Comets, with Rob, centre, released their debut album back in 2011
Q. It sounds cliché and probably is as a question – but has being in the band changed your life, or the way you think about things and other people?
Not massively! I can't think of the time in the past four or five years that anybody really knew who I was. I'm just a normal person on the street and honestly it's lovely!
It's what we do, but it doesn't govern us. We've always managed to retain control of it, we make sure it's never become a thing that has taken over us. There are some bands that we know– do you know The 1975 that toured with us? If you look at their success and what it's brought Matty and the guys, a lot of the time they'll go stage and it's just the same thing every night – same lighting, same clothes, same set – their music and their success has almost defined who'll they'll be, as people, and I don't like that. I wouldn't ever like that for us.
Their success has told them basically where they've gotta go, where they'll be and where they'll end up and they've kind of – lost – lost the ability to control themselves and their lives.
Q. Is there something too surreal about that, is that the thing that makes it a bit dodgy for you?
(Laughs) I don't know – if you're in that situation it is a bit unreal and it makes you look for solace in different places – I guess your life there has been changed you know and – (thinks)
When we're on the road it's nice to know that what we do as a job doesn't necessarily define us as people. We're in a nice place at the minute. We get paid enough to support ourselves and we get to see our families and make the most of everything. When you tell people you're in a band they have a huge preconception of what it must be like and I think – for better or worse – for quite a few bands it is like that, and there's a lot of clichés that they actually do live up to. But I think we're far from that sort of world really – not as rock and roll as you might think.
Q. Do you reckon becoming a family man has changed the way you view touring?
Yeah it definitely has. Even before we had little ones we never wanted to be away from home for crazy periods. Since I've had my boy it's gotten harder. Initially I thought I'd get used to it and it'd get easier as time would go on, but the more he grows up, the more he understands that Daddy's going away – and that's hard to deal with.
Luckily we're based just above Birmingham and most gigs we do we manage to get home at night. And even if it's 2 or 3 in the morning, we're still there and I think it's important our kids know that.
If for whatever reason we had great success with the music, I don't think we're a band we're ever gonna go on massive tours. You look at a lot of bands and their touring schedules means they're effectively away from home for like 18 months or 2 years, and we're just not gonna do that – we'll end up just having to turn round and say 'nah we can't' (laughs). We'll have to plan it I guess, you know? Think of childcare and all that. But yeah the emotional impact on ourselves and our children would just get a bit much, and I don't think we could deal with that like some bands can.
Q. Some of your lyrics talk about modern social and political issues –'Violence out tonight', 'The Blur, The Line…', 'Coalition of One', etc. Do you hope your live music is a good way of getting people engaged with social issues?
[Sighs and laughs] that's a good question and ultimately I really I don't know. It's so hard to say. All I know is that I have a lot of opinions on things, and I do get passionate about issues.
We've always been quite natural as songwriters, it's very rare that we sit down to write songs about this issue or that issue. It gives me comfort that I don't have to sit down and have a topic that I need to tackle – it just tends to happen naturally for me. I'll never write lyrics before a song. The melody has to be there, and I end up writing the lyrics later.
And I don't feel like I'm a very eloquent person. I can't have a debate with someone face to face. The other week I was going to the train station near me and there was some guy parked on the pelican crossing – and – I tried to have a rational conversation with him about – you know – why he's an idiot, why can't you move your car – that type of thing – but I found very quickly that I was losing my temper, losing my ability to be rational (laughs).
With a song I like that there's always a structure that I have to work within – lyrically it has to fit within the syllables. I can't just rant. And it's that structure that lets me put my opinion across in a way that's not blemished by losing my rag, losing my ability to communicate in the moment. It's not quite cathartic I wouldn't say, but I do love the fact I can be passionate about things, it's a release.
Yeah, I'd definitely say that I want to change peoples' opinions though. There's loads of stuff I'd like to change in society. It's hard though sometimes because I know some people are of the opinion that if I want to change things, why am I writing songs? Why don't I do something concrete about these bits0 that I don't like? You can end up psychoanalysing yourself to the point where you wonder 'well am I just subconsciously writing songs about issues just to be different?' And I'm scared to some extent people will end up thinking that.
I don't do that, I just write songs. I never hope kids go out and march in my name – I love that people have opinions on things and want to change the world, but I don't know if song writing is necessarily the way to do it. It's more for me than anything! There are a lot of wrong things in the world, but I don't think I would ever sit down and write a song to spark some insurrection (laughs) or change the world or whatever – I don't know if it can be done.
Preorder The Sanguine EP, and HOPE IS JUST A STATE OF MIND now from http://www.littlecomets.com/. Look out for TCS's review of Little Comet's Norwich gig at the Waterfront on the 30th October.
The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton Tue, 21 Oct 2014
The Leadmill, Sheffield Wed, 22 Oct 2014
Leeds Uni Stylus, Leeds Fri, 24 Oct 2014
53 Degrees, Preston Mon, 27 Oct 2014
O2 Academy, Liverpool Tue, 28 Oct 2014
The Sugarmill, Stoke-On-Trent Wed, 29 Oct 2014
Waterfront, Norwich Thu, 30 Oct 2014
Concorde 2, Brighton Fri, 31 Oct 2014