- Manchester Online (05 May 2004)
- The Sunday Times (02 May 2004)
- The Scotsman On Sunday
- BBC Southampton - Music (07 April 2004)
- Dundee Evening Telegraph (07 April 2004)
- Earlash (April 2004)
Manchester Online [link]
Date: 5th May 2004
Written by: Paul Cockerton
Better and better for The Beta Band
THOSE kings of folk, indie and hip hop The Beta Band have shuffled back onto the scene with their third swoonsome album, Heroes To Zeros - but something has changed.
The record has been praised to high heaven by the music magazines as per usual, but it's also found favour with the Edinburgh band's biggest critics - themselves.
This, after all, was the band who deliberately shot themselves in the foot, Ratners style, when they dubbed their debut album 'the worst record made this year.' And given that Awake And Breathe by B*Witched also came out in 1999, that seems mightily harsh.
“Heroes To Zeros puts everything into a lot clearer perspective," says drummer Robin Jones. "I can see now why we weren’t happy with the first album and how we arrived at Hot Shots.
”There was something ever so slightly missing. So with Heroes To Zeros it’s the nearest we’ve ever got to how we’ve always imagined we’d like to sound on record. It all makes sense now.”
Jones is positively chirpy about the album, despite it being two years in the making and hampered by false starts and delays. He's certainly far removed from the image of the Beta Band as prickly customers.
"It was never completely true that we were difficult in the first place," insists Jones. "If you’re difficult a few times it becomes a tag line for the next article, whatever you do.
"When we were difficult in the past we had reason for it - it wasn’t to annoy anyone or to upset people. We just didn’t want the attention, we didn’t think we were ready as a band to be given the title of the next big thing, or saviours of rock’n’roll.
"It can be dangerous as a band to believe in that, so we just tried to avoid all that publicity. The trouble was we did a bit too good a job. It’s taken a couple of years to scrabble back."
That recovery process meant that they accepted Radiohead's invitation to join them on a tour of huge American arenas, but the decision wasn't taken lightly.
”You can’t use all your weaponry as a support band," says Jones. "Your stage set, visuals, lights, the way the evening runs before and after you play, that's all decided by someone else.
"So the Radiohead tour is literally the only support we’ve done in our whole careers. We’re very wary - we’ve been asked loads of times and it might have seemed like a good idea, but for one reason or another we decided it wasn’t quite right.
“We were asked to support U2 in Scotland at a reasonably small gig – only 4,000 people. Then we thought we could almost pull that ourselves, what’s the point of us going along?"
And so The Beta Band's jaunt around the UK to promote Heroes To Zeros sees them return to Manchester on Friday, May 7 to play the Academy 1. Has our city’s music seeped into their sonic melting pot?
“I keep catching Steve (Mason, singer/guitarist) listening to The Smiths. And The Stone Roses were a major influence – not really an influence as in ripping off their music, more that we like them stylistically and the way they approached things.
”I was always really excited listening to The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays because to me that was almost the last exciting movement.”
The Sunday Times [link]
Date: May 02, 2004
Written by: Dave Pollock
Culture: From heroes to zeros ... and back
After a disastrous debut album, the Beta Band have rescued their career. Dave Pollock finds out how
Little more than five years ago, the omens were bright for the Beta Band. With the ground-breaking Three EPs compilation behind them and an indie anthem, Dry the Rain, under their belt, a minor case of world domination beckoned.
But if matters didn’t go to form — their first album disappeared without trace — at least the band kept their sense of humour. They ironically titled their fine second album Hot Shots II. This month sees the release of a third: Heroes to Zeros.
Familiar faces around their home town of Edinburgh, the band — John Maclean, Steve Mason, Robin Jones and Richard Greentree — are amazingly still signed, which makes you think that somebody in the upper echelons of EMI has taste.
“The first album does have some brilliant moments on it,” stresses Mason, “but about 80% of it just wasn’t very good. And I slagged it off, so before you know it you have a full-blown crisis on your hands.”
This last comment refers to an interview Mason gave when he described The Beta Band (the first album) as “probably one of the worst records that’ll come out this year”. He readily admits that it was not a smart move. That one slab of vinyl is a millstone the band have had to carry around ever since. It seems particularly cruel given that their subsequent output has been strong.
“The new one’s just so much more alive and passionate (than the first). I don’t think we would have made this album without going through what we did,” says Mason.
A fantastic, focused album, Heroes to Zeros bursts with confidence and sentiment. The first single, Assessment and Out-Side, whips through rich, positive riffs (imagine a cross between the Beatles and the Stone Roses with an anarchic dose of the Super Furry Animals) while the likes of Wonderful and Troubles glisten with a tenderness that Mason’s spaced-out, floating vocals perfectly complement.
“The lyrics are more direct than previously,” considers Mason. “There’s less left to the imagination. There are also more guitars on there,” he adds.
Mason doesn’t hold much with popular opinion, favouring UK hip-hop outfits such as Roots Manuva and the Streets over most modern bands. There’s so much “fake passion” around, complains Mason, “sweaty, amphetamined-up rock’n’roll, which would be cool if it was 1967. But not now.”
By contrast, Heroes to Zeros has passion. It sounds just like the Beta Band always should have.
The Beta Band play Glasgow Barrowland tomorrow
The Scotsman on Sunday [link]
Date: Sun 25 Apr 2004
Written by: Aidan Smith
GREAT music, lousy PR - that’s the Beta Band. With the world at their pixie-booted feet, they decided it would be a wizard wheeze to slag off their records and be as surly as possible. Such perverse behaviour prompted calls for the group to be awarded the title of "the most charmless in rock", so it’s with a heavy heart that I trudge along London’s Caledonian Road to meet them.
The three-quarters Scottish Betas are in King’s Cross, rehearsing for a tour showcasing their new album, Heroes to Zeros. It’s 10.30 in the morning, not very rock’n’roll, and certainly not grumpy rock’n’roll, but one by one they arrive at the darkened studio, more or less on time.
First is John Maclean, a son of Tayport and the bearded Beta who in demeanour most lives up to the band’s hip-hop hippy mythology that they co-habit a cave and make music with sticks and shells they find in the dirt. With a journalist for a girlfriend - she and I share an office - he may be more sympathetic to the hack’s predicament than the others. In a shameless attempt at ingratiation, I tell him how much I enjoyed the DJ set some of the Betas did with Maseo of De La Soul in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, even though I didn’t recognise a single record. So far, so good; no one has thumped me.
The last time I saw Robin Jones he was wearing his older brother’s brown pinstriped suit at a Felix Da Housecat gig in Glasgow. Actually, he may not have a brother, but being so small, all suits must dwarf him. Despite this, he’s the biggest rock star Carlops has ever produced.
Next to show is St Andrews-born Steve Mason, and I admit I am dreading this moment. He is the Betas’ leaders’ leader, and the majordomo of their mumpery. My only previous professional encounter with the band was in his Brixton flat. Remember the TV sketch show Big Train and its cartoon-strip, the World Stare-Out Championships, where the competitors eyeballed each other across a table until one of them crumbled? Mason won, and today he begins by imitating my nervous laugh. After the silent treatment, this has to be rated as progress.
And then something strange and wonderful happens. First, Maclean says they are very pleased with Heroes to Zeros, a bright, shiny work with lots of references to love. "We owed it to ourselves to make this record," adds Mason. He removes his shades and sunny vibes - the kind you get from listening to the Betas’ music but rarely from them talking - envelop the room.
But surely there must be times when Richard Greentree, the English one, stops to wonder how he came to be involved with the band? Greentree it is who admits that previously they did not break a leg trying to sell themselves. "Right from the start, we had a strategy," he says. "Our record company assumed we just wanted creative control, but we also wanted to control how we were marketed, and how quickly we grew. That’s when the problems started."
Some bands would kill for their "problems" of being soundtracked and namechecked by the Hollywood version of Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity. After record-store nerd John Cusack declared: "I’m now going to sell five copies of the Beta Band’s Three EPs", the label understandably fancied flogging a few thousand more.
But the business plan was far too business for the creators of the pastoral, pot’n’pan-banging charm of those early releases. "We just weren’t ready," adds Greentree, "so we had to take avoiding action. We got ourselves onto the cover of the NME and announced that our first album was ‘shit’ and we started bugging out journalists."
It occurs that the Betas, who have always ploughed their own furrow, are again flouting rock convention. Cynicism should be kicking in with the third album, but the band appear to have got theirs out of the way early. I mention Franz Ferdinand, the latest sensations to emerge from Scotland’s art-school scene. "We don’t envy them," says Mason. "They’re getting Top Fives whereas we got all the praise, but sold hardly any records. I wouldn’t like to be them, going into the studio to make their next album. That would be terrifying.
"Look, we’re a million quid in debt and my phone has been disconnected. But there was no commercial pressure to make this kind of record. We knew if it was shite, the label would have dropped us and we would have had to go work in shoe shops. To be honest, we don’t know why that hasn’t already happened."
Mason jokes that he wrote outlines for the 12 new songs while his bandmates "sat watching Trisha for six months". These basic structures were embellished by the other three, each contributing lyrics. "It reflects our mood just now," says Maclean of the new album’s loved-up feel. "The sentiment has always been in us," adds Greentree, "only now we’re expressing it more blatantly."
The Portsmouth-born bassist was last to join the Betas seven years ago and remembers being astonished at how "weird" the Scots triumvirate were. But theirs was a shared weirdness. "Our backgrounds were pretty similar," says Mason, "because there was nothing to do growing up in these places. In St Andrews there was a youth club but it closed. So you’d wander the streets getting pissed and invite the next town over for a fight."
The man has chilled out - maybe the sea air on the Fife coast that as a teenager he couldn’t wait to leave is responsible. While the other Betas are based in Edinburgh, Mason has relocated back to Pittenweem, where the former Mod collects classic scooters and looks forward, some day soon, to fatherhood. He suffers from depression which kung fu helps to overcome. "I was in the gym at eight this morning. Exercise is better than drugs; endorphins are my happy juice now."
Maturity. Playing the game. Four-way smiling! These are not normally associated with the Beta Band, but the new album is proof that musically, they have compromised nothing. Not yet Zeros, they are still Heroes.
Now it’s time for them to get ready for an important lunch engagement. With their girlfriends? "No, our bosses at the label." I walk back down the road until I’m a safe distance before muttering "Corporate freeloading surrender monkeys!" The Betas of old, at their most perverse, would surely appreciate the sentiment.
From Heroes To Zeros is released tomorrow, the Beta Band play Glasgow Barrowland, May 3, and Aberdeen Beach Ballroom, May 4
[thanks to crewe for the link]
BBC Southampton - Music [link]
Date: Wednesday 07 Apr 2004
Written by: Indy Almroth-Wright
The Beta Band - interview with Robin
After hiding away to work on their third album for 18 months The Beta Band are back - BBC Southampton's Indy Almroth-Wright phoned drummer Robin at home in Edinburgh to catch up on all things Beta...
I haven't heard from you for a while... is there any Beta Band gossip to catch up on weddings... holidays...
Yeah, there's all sorts of things. There's been weddings and births and holidays and we've recorded an album as well!
Richard the 'ginger prince' has married a princess from Streatham in London and he's had a baby, he's called Reuben Gonzalez Greentree - so that's exciting.
Where do you all live?
We were all in Edinburgh with one slightly further North because he [Steve] likes to be different and live in a remote fishing village. But now Richard being married and with child has moved back to his hometown of Portsmouth where he's bought a house.
The album took 18 months to make...... did it change a lot in that time?
Yes it did and we used an astonishing process to arrive at the stage we're at. Basically Steve writes the majority of the songs - he gives each of us a demo which will be just a vocal and guitar with the chords. Then, we go off to our respective caves and sit hunched over our computers and whittle away at the demos - we each do a version of the song, so you can go absolutely crazy.
Then, we get back together, compare notes and draw from each version's strong bits - it might be a beat, a whole verse or a chorus. Then we collectively join them all together to make a fifth version which we attempt to play live to get yet another version. Then, once we're happy with that we go into the studio.
It's a long drawn out process, but at the end of the day it's utterly fulfilling coz you get to try all your ideas and there's no time constraints.
I'm so glad you've recorded some of it live - I think more bands should, it makes a big difference.
It's taken us seven years to realise that it was a good idea! And there is an 'X' factor that you get when there's the four of you playing in the same room - you get an extra soulful factor. Always when we go out and play live people say 'Oh the records are so mellow but you seem so aggressive live!' So that was something we were trying to capture on the record.
What's the most bizarre sample you've used?
Well, we generally sample ourselves so on this record there's a sample of some spoon playing by John. There's the sound of Steve's shoes beating on a kitchen table and there's the sound of me screaming through a distortion pedal - there's all sorts!
Are you looking forward to getting back on the road?
We can't wait, we love touring it's my favourite part of the process. I just love the sheer heroic angle where it's do or die every night - if you stop playing there's no sound anymore.
Do you still swap instruments when you're playing live?
Yeah, there's a technical reason for that. So we can play the sounds that are on the record we have to be moving around and it makes it fun for us as well - it gets boring staying in the same place.
Will you be dusting off your space suits for the gigs?
We've got new space suits, they've been busy getting weaved for the past year so they'll be fresh and clean but they may be a bit smelly by the time we get to Portsmouth! They're not crazy this time, they're just smart.
The ones we had before with the lights in them were good, although halfway through the tour we started getting electric shocks. It might have looked like part of the stage show but when Richard was leaping 10 foot in the air ripping his clothes off it was because he was getting slowly electrocuted!
What other bands do you keep in touch with?
ZZ Top. Steve's dad is good friends with the drummer - but apart from that there's no-one really quite as famous. We are taking The Magnificents on the tour with us - I would describe them as an industrial moog band but they'll probably punch me in the throat for saying that - but it's live drums and very chunky synth noises. It's loud, aggressive and in your face!
Dundee Evening Telegraph [link]
AMBITION can be a dangerous thing for musicians.
One minute you're planning on changing the face of music and before you know it you are staging King Arthur on Ice with full accompanying Prog Rock score.
The Beta Band have ambition in spades but, fortunately, they're staying on the right side of cool.
Take new single Assessment, released on Monday and, in particular, its video.
There aren't that many bands that could get away with trying to recreate the entire history of human warfare and then film it all in a single tracking shot.
"We were thinking about using West Sands at St Andrews but it was shot on Camber Sands, which is where that little man from Coldplay did his Yellow video," explained drummer Robin Jones.
"The video is supposed to show the stupidity and futility of war and starts with a glittering object being coveted by a caveman.
"Then, a Cro-Magnon man comes along and starts fighting for it and it moves right through the Vikings, the First and Second World Wars and on to the future before going back to the very beginning again."
In case you hadn't guessed yet, or sampled any of their earlier work, The Beta Band have more ideas before breakfast than most other groups do in a lifetime.
Their reputation was cemented when they were name-checked in the John Cusack film High Fidelity and supported Radiohead on tour in America to great reviews.
However, they won't be resting on their laurels and are now working hard promoting new album Heroes to Zeroes, which will be released at the end of the month.
There will still be plenty to draw in fans of earlier material, but Heroes to Zeroes also introduces a more aggressive element to The'Beta Band's sound.
"We've been trying to get that live feel, with the four of us playing in the room there is that X-Factor," said Robin.
"Every album we've done we've never been able to play the songs live first.
"They were very interesting but the songs change when we play them live and people say it's a shock because on record it's so mellow."
The Beta Band spent the last year in America to a growing fan base and , according to Robin, radio stations in the UK should look to their counterparts across the pond for a few ideas on programming.
"They seem to be more open-minded and, of course, there is more choice, with college radio and so on," he said.
"Here, Radiohead can't even get played on the radio because someone decides the play list and says that people won't get it or, if they do hear it, will start running out raping and pillaging!"
The group head out on tour in support of the album at the end of the month and will be stopping at the Glasgow Barrowlands on May 3 and the Aberdeen Beach Ballroom the next day and fans are being promised something special.
"Usually we make a film to go with each track but we are trying to stay away from that — people just stand there hypnotised," Robin said.
"We're working on visuals which will be exciting but I can't say what they are as they're not finished yet."
The band are hoping to squeeze in festival appearances after the tour ends although nothing has been arranged yet.
"Hopefully we'll get something lined up. I think it's a possibility people are waiting to see what the merchandise is like but we're definitely open to the option," said Robin.
[thanks to Arab for transribing]
By Scott Lapatine
Having graduated from cult seven-inchers to industry darlings faster than any band in recent memory, the Beta Band should be huge by now. The psychedelic folkies’ debut (1999’s The Three EPs) was an eclectic collection of sing-song hooks wrapped in layers of kitchen-sink instrumentation. Its sonic experimentalism and genre-hopping sensibilities garnered a diverse group of hardcore fans -- for a short time anyway. An uneven sophomore disc was ravaged by fans and critics, ultimately informing the slicker but no less playful sound of the follow-up Hot Shots II. This spring’s From Heroes To Zeros is the Beta boys’ most accessible work to date. The rollicking, funk-infused first single “Assessment” is a solid bet for more mainstream airplay.
When I caught up with John Maclean (decks and samples) during the band’s two-day press onslaught in New York City, he had come straight from the Whitney Museum’s Biennial Exhibit. The DJ who loves hip-hop and puzzling conceptual art was bound to have some interesting insights for EARLASH.
Earlash: Your first full-length was an instant classic. Were you surprised by the underwhelming response to the self-titled follow-up? Did the group really disown it?
John Maclean: Yes, though part of it was media hype. It didn’t really affect us as a band. You have to expect a backlash in the UK. They’re doing it now with the Strokes.
EL: Can’t wait to see what they do to Franz Ferdinand.
JM: It’s all part of the game.
EL: Listening to The Beta Band years later, I hear a number songs that rank with the band’s best.
JM: We came in with five or six tracks. It was rushed because we didn’t prepare, but there are some great moments. It could’ve been the fourth EP. We were actually thinking that it would be. But people ask if we could do it again, would we do it differently. No, we wouldn’t have.
EL: Even the rapping?
JM: We didn’t do much rapping … well, “The Beta Band Rap” wasn’t so popular. But we love hip-hop. Love De La Soul’s 3 Feet High And Rising.
EL: Your next album was more pop, more concise … mainly, it was just less weird. Do commercial concerns come into play during the songwriting process? Like, “This song might be a hit if it weren’t ten minutes long …”
JM: [Laughs.] Yes, well we did try to reign it in a bit [on Hot Shots II]. We don’t want to be in debt! That’s one of the reasons we license our music. But we’ve rejected offers … from the Gap.
EL: I read that the new album tries to capture the band’s live energy.
JM: We tried, but obviously that changes a bit in the studio. Compared to the last two albums, it is definitely a return to The Three EPs-style.
EL: On previous albums you’ve used some left-field samples as a jumping off point to do something new and original.
JM: Yeah, we’ve got Siouxsie and the Banshees on this record. It was Robin’s idea.
EL: Do you ever have any problems clearing samples?
JM: “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” was difficult to clear. We thought they’d never let a bunch of Scottish rockers use it. We did a version of the song without that bit, but once they heard it, they allowed us to do it.
EL: There are some political messages on Heroes. That’s new territory for you guys.
JM: It is a more aggressive album. When we were writing it, and seeing images of the Iraq war on TV, we had to comment on it.
EL: You’re not a fan of our president?
JM: [Laughing.] Uh … no comment!
EL: It’s interesting that you supported Radiohead on their Amnesiac tour. You guys can get pretty silly, at least on record, and I think of Radiohead as completely humorless.
JM: The crowds were very responsive, though. Radiohead selected us because they were fans.
EL: Is that how you met [producer] Nigel Godrich? Is he a control freak like people say?
JM: We’ve seen Nigel around for a few years. We actually produced this album ourselves. Nigel didn’t change our songs. He mixed them and made them better.
EL: Is the band passionate about other forms of art in addition to the music? During concerts you wear costumes and show homemade films.
JM: We are a visual band. We’re making two DVDs for this album: a “making of” and a compilation of videos, one for every song. They’re all going to be different. I just directed one.
EL: It’s ironic that the Beta Band is so into visuals, because I don’t think fans know what you guys look like! Is the idea to let the music speak for itself?
JM: Yeah, I think so. I don’t want to be recognized on the street. I prefer the myth.
EL: Consequently, there are misconceptions about the band. Is there one you’d like to clear up?
JM: Yes! That we’re stoner, hippie freaks! We’re not.
EL: I’ll spread the word you’re not a stoner freak. But speaking of Jack Black, tell me about the “Dry The Rain” cameo in High Fidelity.
JM: John Cusack was a fan. He and his writer friend. We were so excited to see the premiere. We left right after our part in the movie we were so excited. Great soundtrack.
EL: What are you currently listening to?
JM: On my turntable right now? Serge Gainsbourg, some ragga. But mostly OutKast and Buddy Holly.
EL: OutKast and Buddy Holly -- that would make a great mash-up!
JM: Yeah it would, wouldn’t it?