Regular visitor to the Black Flag will no doubt recognise the name Electric River, the four piece from Ashford Kent have been featured on TBF about a million times now and for good reason, Electric River are an extremely hard working band who have put the work in and broken through into London and beyond, playing a string of shows across the country as well as recently releasing their album ‘Faith & Patience’. I jumped at the chance to interview the band and sat down with vocalist and bass player Sponge to discuss their upcoming gig at the Boston Arms, ‘Faith & Patience’ and Van Diesel….
The Black Flag – You guys have had quite a year so far from touring with Lit and being chosen to open for New Model Army amongst other things. How did all this come about? And what’s been the highlight?
Sponge: It’s been through persistence. We’re basically a DIY band. We don’t have a booking agent or any help on that sort of level. So we’ve had to go out and book our own shows and do our own tours and what not. And it’s just really come from persistence of playing live shows and honing our craft so to speak, playing as many gigs as we can and trying to improve our show every time. And eventually we picked up a manager, who we’ve been with for a few years now and he opened a few doors for us and introduced us to a few other bands and whatnot.
Obviously opening for Lit and New Model Army was fantastic. Especially with New Model Army gigs. I’ll be totally honest and say that I didn’t know much about them. When we were introduced to the band and their music and obviously I really liked it. And then when we ended up playing a few shows with them, I just couldn’t believe how nice and welcoming they made us feel.
We’ve played with quite a few bands over the years obviously and they’re definitely regarded really highly. Those guys are a really good band and really good people to be around. And the Lit thing as well, it’s all come from similar persistence. Just playing gigs and getting a manager on board that can open a few doors and he introduced us to other people and you know now we’ve actually got a new record out and people have been watching us progress over the last few years. People have started to take note and that’s how we got on the Lit tour.
The guys from Live Nation, you know the big booking agents. We’d been sending stuff to them for years, showing them how we’re doing and how we’re progressing and they finally offered us the opportunity to open for an established band, which was obviously Lit. We went out on the road with them for a week and it was absolutely fantastic. I couldn’t say what the highlight was because it was all so good. When you’ve been working towards something for so long like that, it’s all a bit of a thrill.
TBF: It must feel like it’s all coming together
Sponge: Yeah it definitely feelsthat way, I mean don’t get me wrong, we’re never going to be top of the charts but it feels like the band is progressing, we’re starting to play to more people and get a larger fan base. We just put a post-up on Facebook today saying ‘if there’s any towns or places that you want us to play, name them in the comment box’ and there’s something like ninety odd comments up there already and that posts only been up a few hours, so it’s really nice that it’s not just localised now.
We’ve broken out of Kent and London and explored other places in the country and had a really warm reception from all over the place so yeah things are definitely moving forward…..
TBF: Your getting ready to do an album launch at the Boston Arms on July 3rd. How are things looking for that?
Sponge: Yeah we only announced that a few days ago.The album we recorded last April and we had material for a good six to eight months before that, in order to get the album ready for the studio.
It’s taken all this time since last April to get together a proper release campaign and get the album out to the public and to our followers. And the Boston Arms things is the first chance we’ve had to let our hair down to a certain degree and celebrate the fact that we’ve done this.
Even though we have the label on board, it’s still very much an independent label on a small scale, but we seem to have generated a real buzz for ourselves, through again hard work. So it’s going to be a real big celebration of that hard work and hopefully people who are digging the album at the moment, will come down and help us have a great evening.
TBF: You’re a Kent (Ashford) based band. Is it very different playing London than back home in Ashford?
Sponge: It’s really hard for any up and coming band to build a substantial following in London because there’s a million bands…. You could walk into most popular places in London any night of the week and there’s a band and they’re from god knows where around the country, and then you also have tourists coming to London.
In all the years we’ve been doing it I can’t think of a venue that has a predominantly London based following, that goes there because it’s the club to go to. It’s not like that, it’s like you rent the venue and then you have to promote the gig yourself and even if you do get on a show with a promoter, it’s the same sort of deal, your dragging your fans up from Kent or from different areas of the country to make sure the venues are buzzing when you play that gig.
It’s sort of a bit of a love hate relationship with London as you’ve got to do those shows there, as obviously anyone that’s involved in the music industry is generally based in London, so if you want to get people down to a few shows, even A&R people, you’ve got to play shows in London.
It’s just that much harder to actually generate your own thing down in London but it can be done. Finally slowly for us we’re slowly beginning to get a London following but its taken years, it’s taken absolute years and obviously getting these shows with New Model Army and Lit and various other bands we’ve played with all helps towards getting that fan base. But it’s definitely different playing in London. Some of the venues are fantastic.
On the Lit Tour we played the Electric Ballroom which has got so much history for all styles of music and whatnot. And there’s so many venues like that in London, where there’s history of bands playing and various things that have happened.
On one end of the spectrum, the shows are really hard for up and coming bands but on the plus side you get to play some really great venues and when it does work and you do get a few people to come up from London, you feel like you’ve really achieved something. So yeah we’re kind of split on opinions of London but we’ll play anywhere. It’s just part and parcel of being in the band.
TBF: Yeah I’ve noticed that not only do you guys seem to be playing a hell of a lot of gigs over the next few months but you’ve also got a UK tour lined up. Tell us a bit about that.
Sponge: Yeah well we’re in the process of booking a tour for the end of August. We’ve got a few dates. We’ve been really busy throughout May, what with the Lit tour and going up to Manchester for Strummer Camp which was awesome, we went to Cheltenham and Southampton.
We just play as much as we can. This isn’t our profession, it’s all still just a serious hobby. We’d love to make it our career but at the moment we’re just not in that position. We’re all still working day jobs and trying to squeeze in as much band stuff as we can.
Every weekend that we have free we’ve just been booking gigs and driving around the country and playing as many shows as possible really. Like I say we’re organising another tour for August. Hopefully we’re gonna go out on the road with some good friends of ours called Colt 45, who are another really good up and coming band who are in a similar position to ourselves, they have a record coming out in July. So we’re in the process of doing that and we’re hoping to go over to Europe for the first time at the end of September, but it’s all very early days at the moment. But any time we get off we just jump in the van and go and do it…
TBF: Is it true that you guys have blown up your van twice? And how, not once but twice?
Sponge: Yeah and we’ve actually broken down 3 times, but for some reason it just keeps going….
TBF: Is it the same van?
Sponge: Yeah it’s the same van. Luckily enough, we have a few mechanics in the family who keep it going and the people who we got the van off have been really good, they just helping with little bits and pieces as well. We call it Van Diesel, a bit of a word play on Vin Diesel (laughs).
TBF: Your track ‘Hold Your Nerve’ has received a hell of a lot of airplay on Kerrang. That must be a great feeling…
Sponge: Oh yeah. It’s really cool actually because we haven’t actually approached many radio stations up until recently.
When we put out the first taster EP, which was at the end of 2012, which was the original recording we did of it, again we managed to get a little bit of a buzz going about the EP and quite a few of the internet radio stations picked up on it and then all of a sudden we started to get plays on Kerrang Radio and on P Rock and other stations. That’s been really cool.
It’s actually weird because we’re not really a scene band either. You know there’s a lot of music at the moment that people like to put in boxes or label, or put it against a scene. We’ve never been like that, we’ve just sort of done what we wanted to do and do it with as much passion and energy as we can. And just try and do what’s right for us so to speak and the fact that peoples starting to pick up on it is obviously really brilliant and now with the new album finally being out and having fantastic reviews and comments on our social media and stuff. People are really digging the album and the material. It’s really quite humbling when we’ve been through so much as a band and still managed to keep it together. It’s fantastic!
TBF: You’ve been described as “The Gaslight Anthem/ Green Day style punk but with added grit”. Is that an accurate description?
Sponge: I’d say that’s fairly accurate, though I’d say we’re a lot more predominantly English sounding than those bands vocally and lyrically. But the actual essence and the drive behind the music were influenced by those bands and a lot of old punk music. We’ve never hidden the fact that we’re Clash fans but we also like a lot of American stuff as well.
I also don’t think a lot of people like admitting that they like commercial bands but we’re a fan of song writing, good songs, good melodies, good lyrics and it’s always been an idea in our minds to bring that to our music but then again we like a lot of underground music, stuff that’s a bit rawer and would never get played on the radio, so yeah those influences are spot on and the fact that people picked up on a few of them is great.
TBF: So as well as the release of your album Faith & Patience, a string of gigs and a uk tour, what else is on the cards for 2014, a little rest maybe?
Sponge: No (laughs), no. There’s never a rest when you’re in a band that is trying to create a buzz….
We’re not trying to say that we’re the best band in the world or anything but like I said, we want to make a career out of playing music. We want to go to as many places and play to as many people as we possibly can and if that does generate a living for us that would be like a dream come true. Like I mentioned we’re hoping to get out on tour at the end of August, tour Europe for the first time at the end of September/October, we’re playing at Guildfest, which we’re really excited about and we’ve got a couple of local festivals like Dover Music Festival and Ashford Beer Festival, which we’ve played every year for seven years on the trot or something ridiculous like that. It’s always a really good one and because that’s at the end of the summer it’s I guess, a bit of a celebration of what we’ve worked on over the rest of summer.
There’s no plans on having a break at the moment. It’s just full speed ahead and try and play as many shows as possible and try and get the album into as many people’s hands as possible as well.
TBF: Any major Festival appearances coming up?
Sponge: No, no cause we still haven’t got a booking agent at the moment. We’re all working towards that which is why we continue to go out there and do our own stuff to show people in the music industry that we’re not afraid of hard work.
To be honest even if we did never get an agent it wouldn’t really stop us because we’re so motivated as a band, it’s what we love doing, it’s our absolute passion, it’s what we get out of bed for in the morning, so it’s always look forward, look forward, look forward. We have been lucky enough to play some of the bigger ones, we played Rebellion festival up in Blackpool, Beautiful Day Festival down in South West, and we actually went over to the Czech Republic and played a big festival which was phenomenal.
But again a band like us that hasn’t got a booking agent, those opportunities do not come around on a regular basis. At the time when the festivals were getting booked, obviously we didn’t have the album out or anything in the pipeline. To the general public it probably looked like we were quite Quiet but behind the scenes we were planning obviously the album launch and touring, so now with the album being out and a few tours under our belt, hopefully that’s something that we get to do next year.
TBF: Our famous last question. Where do you see Electric River in five years’ time?
Sponge: Like I said, our outlook on the whole situation is if we can make a living from playing music, I don’t mean we want to be famous or rich beyond our wildest dreams. I just mean if I can make the same amount of money that I make from my day job through playing music, which is what makes us happy as a band, then that’s what we want to achieve. That is the goal for any long period of time.
Obviously we know that now that the album is out, eventually the buzz that that’s created will die down but we’ve already started writing music for the next album, so like I say we’re always looking forward and just looking at becoming a better band, better performers, better musicians and better songwriters, it’s just a continual process….