Interview by EDF
Every once in a while, along comes an unsigned band that have created their own sound that is quite hard to pigeonhole. Houdini’s Influences are wildly diverse, from pop through to jazz. Some say their music could easily fit into a David Lynch movie – and there are perhaps elements of Portishead… but overall, their sound is very much their own.
Houdini comprises Coo on vocals, Andy on guitar and Guido on drums.
During a hot but pleasant mid-July’s evening, PHASE9, interviewers Steve Sinclair and EDF, met up with Coo and Andy in a pub in London’s Shepherds Bush with the cricket on the telly and the jukebox lashing out those classic 80’s tunes we all know and love. As an unsigned band waiting for the right company to sign them up, what do these three have to offer? Read on.
Have the three of you played together before?
COO: The three of us were previously in a band called Feast and when that came to an end, we wanted to do something different.
What type of music was it?
COO: It was indie guitar rock really and we were just getting bored playing that type of music. The bass player had enough too and wasn’t on the same wavelength anymore, so we just called it a day and started to experiment with other things.
ANDY: Working with three people made it a lot easier in some ways too – less things to disagree on for a start! In the past, either Coo or I would have written a song and taken it to the band to work it out. Now with Houdini, Guido might turn up with a drum-loop first and this might suggest a guitar melody or a vocal line. The songs more often come together now as a group.
COO: We were lucky to find Guido actually because we had been through five drummers in four years.
Live, the music seems to allow the drummer to stretch a bit.
ANDY: That was a deliberate thing – primarily for the vocals. The previous band had the guitar sound up front. Coo was playing guitar at the time too and it was always a struggle getting the vocals over the guitars. One of the things we wanted to do with Houdini was open the music out.
That’s one of the reasons why we were impressed with the gig – because you could hear the vocalist.
ANDY: Most people do focus first on the vocals and it is easy to lose sight of that. Having fewer musicians on stage also makes it more interesting visually; you’ve got more room to move around and more room to play musically too.
You’ve put a lot of work in getting your sound together. Is it difficult to categorize your sound and do you view this as a hindrance for getting the right people to hear your music?
ANDY: It can work against you a little bit. We had an e-mail from someone who wanted to know if were funk, jazz, rock or whatever. The last gig we performed at The Spot in Covent Garden was in front of a cross-section of people though and the response we had was quite positive.
COO: I think the majority of people that were there that night don’t usually go to see bands either.
When a new band comes along who cannot categorize their music, it makes it difficult for an A&R person to say “you’re going to be the next big this or that”. How do you prove what you’re good at?
ANDY: Although we have a variety of styles in our set, hopefully it still gels! We think we have an identifiable sound to keep it together.
At least when you gig you know which material works and which to discard.
ANDY: When you play in London, you’ve only got maximum half an hour to play. Any new material you write means you have to chuck some stuff out. You can then fine tune it though and get a cohesive sound of your own. Better to have too much good stuff than too little!
How long has it taken you to get your material together?
COO: It’s taken about six months to put it all together, from writing, rehearsing, photos and the website. We wanted to get it ALL ready before we started gigging.
ANDY: When the last band finished, the three of us decided to do a project using backing loops and it was something we’ve never done before – so there was a learning process involved too. We had to figure out what equipment to get, how to use it and this took about six months. It was actually quite fun.
COO: That’s what made it exciting. It was totally new and we didn’t set any limits either. We decided to play around and get it focused.
On your single NORMAN, your engineer played bass. Would you consider having a bass player for gigs or would you stick with being a three piece?
COO: We’d tried out a couple of bass players and it didn’t work so Russ, who engineered the single, played bass on those recordings. Musically he knew what we wanted and it worked really well. He wanted to pursue his production career so he was just helping out. The bass you hear on the backing tapes is his playing. This meant we could gig without stopping to audition a new bass player. Before, we had done a couple of gigs with a bass player and people that have seen us with and without a bass player reckon it works better now. If the time comes when we get the chance to get some money to finance a tour, we could get a double bass player and other instruments, which presently we can’t afford to do.
Some of your music I would identify with Portishead, production wise.
ANDY: Portishead was an extraordinary success story. They virtually came from nowhere, it was all so low key.
You cannot criticize Portishead because they are doing things their own way. They don’t follow trends. Is it hard to copy what they do?
ANDY: It’s hard to imagine what they will come up with next. The first album was phenomenally successful. They came from nowhere, it seemed and did everything right. They almost single-handedly created a new genre – this trip hoppy type vibe. I think there is an element of that in what we do, a moody soundtrack kind of feel. Portishead lean much more on that than us though. We’ve got more of a rock side in what we do.
Coo’s vocals give another element to your music, do you feel that Houdini would be in good hands if someone like Dave A. Stewart or Anne Dudley could take your live sound and reproduce it in the studio with their own style.
ANDY: It should be easier to reproduce the songs we’re doing live. We’ve got the formula, it’s just to get a chance to do it properly.
Coo, vocally, what are your musical influences?
COO: Debbie Harry was the first one that made me say, “I want to do this!”. Then other influences were Siouxsie and the Banshees followed by The Pixies and the Throwing Muses.
ANDY: It’s similar influences for me. You change over the years though and I think my taste is broadening considerably. It was punk in the 70’s. When I met Coo we were both into the Banshees which got me more into the moody and atmospheric stuff. Common ground with Guido was the Pixies. Although we all keep up with contemporary acts, I buy loads of 50’s R&B and Rock And Roll and also 60’s Jamaican music, Ska and Reggae.
What influenced your guitar playing?
ANDY: The first influence guitar wise, was Siouxsie and the Banshees. I liked the way the guitarists were trying to find new sounds that weren’t 12 bar blues. I suppose some of the 50’s sounds have had some influence on my playing with this band though.
If an A&R person were to approach you and ask why you should have a recording contract, what would your answer be?
ANDY: We believe in what we’re doing and we feel we’ve created something that excites us and hopefully excites other people. Hopefully they would be excited enough to say, give me a reason not to sign you up.
If you had the chance to be in any established band, which one would you want to be in?
COO: It’s difficult as a vocalist to answer that because most bands I like would depend heavily on the existing singer – if I was to replace them, it would be a different band! So I can’t think of any really.
ANDY: It would have to be something that is different to what I’m doing now. I would probably join a rockabilly band for fun – it’s a different style and so it would be exciting.
Your drummer Guido, who could not be here for the interview, set up your website, I believe?
ANDY: That sort of thing is part of his day job! We wanted it to look slick but also minimalist. There is quite a bit hidden away on it though. If you were to click on one of the dots under Houdini’s name, it will bring up a picture of a band member with a quote. If you then clicked on a word from the quote, it will bring up a lyric.
At present can you order the single from your website?
COO: If someone wants to buy it right now, they can either send a cheque to our website or order it through peoplesound.com if they want to pay by credit card.