Serafin – Ben Ellis and Ronny Growler

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Interview by Mark Bayross

“We’ll be throwing beer into the audience at Reading and Leeds…make sure you get that down…!” Ben Ellis, affable bass player with up-and-coming rock band Serafin, is sitting in a Camden (London) pub, an hour or so before the band are due to go onstage for the second in three consecutive Wednesdays of XFM-sponsored shows at the Barfly, London. Despite his reputation for alcohol-fuelled hell-raising, the Scot is remarkably easy-going company tonight, even though it’s his birthday (I asked – he got a BMX).

With a debut album to promote – the Dave Sardy-produced NO PUSH COLLIDE – and regular slots on MTV2 and Kerrang! TV, this mini-residency at the Barfly has come at an opportune time. “There’s so little British music making an impact, but we’re doing something quite original, and quite full-on”, says Ellis on the endorsement the band are enjoying from the likes of XFM. “These shows are to celebrate the release of the album, and the single [DAY BY DAY]. The whole idea is that we want people to come along to here every night and have a kind of party vibe”.

Given that the band may be on the brink of rock stardom, he remains remarkably down to earth. Only last week, he and his girlfriend took pity on two fans who had blown their travel money and couldn’t get home by taking them back to theirs to kip on the sofa. “We just went to bed…I think they were a bit disappointed”. But these must be interesting times, with the likes of Kerrang! happily devoting column inches to them, but Ellis doesn’t feel under any pressure: “We just carry on as normal; journalists tend to write whatever they feel like anyway, so it really doesn’t bother us”.

Pressure certainly doesn’t seem to be something that the superbly named Ronny Growler, Serafin’s shambolic Kiwi drummer, feels. He ambles into the pub, seemingly half cut, although I suspect he fulfils the band’s resident joker role with satisfaction. He grins behind a mop of black hair, as the discussion takes a decidedly surreal tone: “All our fans are all freaks”, he drawls, “FREAKS!”.

Signed to Taste Media in the UK and Elektra in the States following a hard fought bidding war, the band are enjoying the benefits of having some major record company clout behind them, recording NO PUSH COLLIDE in LA with the legendary Dave Sardy. “We thought one day he’d be able to produce our second album”, says Ben, “He ended up producing our first”.

I ask about Sardy – surely he must have some stories? “On the first day of recording with Marilyn Manson, the whole band came into the studio in red robes with hoods on”, says Ronny, “It totally freaked him out – and not just him, they scared the receptionist in the studio half to death”.

And what about Serafin? Surely they must have some tales to tell? “I love it when the bass player sucks my dick…” Not helpful, Ronny. “And apparently Iggy Pop says he really likes us”. I have no idea if he’s being serious now. At least when I ask whether they have any plans for the second album, I know where I stand: “I can’t think about number twos right now”.

Ronny disappears “to have a piss, or possibly crack one off”, and Ben and I continue chatting about music. “We played this show in Belgium in front of 6,000 people and we went on after this Christian band. God knows what they made of us, but I doubt we went down that well. Still, it’s great to play to such a wide audience, and it’s also great to play small venues like tonight”.

We venture off to another pub to meet Ben Fox Smith, frontman and main songwriter, whose last band Stony Sleep has amassed something of a cult following. He’s a quietly friendly, unassuming chap, very different from the snarling, thrashing dervish he can become onstage. Both Bens discuss the set list for the show they are about to play, and I ask Fox Smith about his former band and how it’s different this time around. “Stony Sleep was more of an indie band – it’s bizarre that we managed to build a following, but I’m glad we managed to.” If anything, it must have helped Serafin kick-start their career…

The band (now re-joined by Ronny) rush off to meet guitarist Darryn Harkness and play the show, and Ben Ellis’ earlier wish of having a “party vibe” comes good. The set is a triumphant, with the likes of DAY BY DAY, LETHARGY and NUMERICAL inciting a joyous near-riot. Ben’s birthday gets toasted, accompanied by Darryn on trumpet, before the band disappear in a cloud of guitar abuse and feedback.

It certainly seems that, for all the talk of Serafin stepping up to the Big Time, the band are – as Ellis said – feeling no pressure. Their main priority seems to be playing the music that they love, and given the reaction of the faithful tonight, it’s a love they find easy to share. With NO PUSH COLLIDE about to hit the shelves, the time is right to catch this young band on the up, while they are still having as much fun as their growing throng of fans.