Something Men
Not an American Band
by Kevin J. Elliott

Editor’s note: As we’ve done in the past, for the month of January, our features will be focusing on up-and-coming artists, what we call “rated rookies.” These musicians are making what we feel is the cream of a new crop, and we think you will (sooner or later) agree. Enjoy!

Timeless is an adjective that gets bandied around a lot by music journalists, but rarely do records possess that quality. Going blind into Something Men’s debut single, though, there was little else I could say about “Birdy Roof” and “Mud Brown Mistress,” as I couldn’t place either the where or when it was created. By going back to the basest of rock & roll ingredients—blues scales, loud room noise, locomotive rhythm—the single could’ve have been The Troggs for all I knew. Maybe it was a lost nugget by some twanged Velvets copy schilling in a bar south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Perhaps it was a Sun demo by some teenage rebels in Memphis, who never had the money to pay for pressing. Or a gnarly outlier wholly influenced by the Black Lips in the dawn of this century. Be it The White Stripes or The Kinks, who most inform the Worcester, England quartet, the single (and all the other odds and sods I’ve heard so far) retains the intangibles that made both those bands’ retreads anything but rote.

Contrary to popular belief, not every inch of soil in the United Kingdom is a fertile environment for fresh ideas and soulful music. Living in the Midlands, as explained by Something Men’s vocalist and guitarist Joe Thomlinson, can be mind-numbingly dull and devoid of like-minded peers, even though the area is the geographic center of England. Along with guitarist Matt Crawford, bassist Sean Gandy and drummer Joe Booth, Thomlinson naturally formed the band out of a need to fill that hole. Perhaps it’s Something Men’s earnest ambitions that are most endearing, especially after spinning “Birdy Roof” for the 100th time. Something Men don’t even have an album planned, and through a series of e-mail exchanges with Thomlinson over the holidays, I learned they are perfectly content releasing singles as they come, allowing each new song the time to hook—like the way they used to do.

Were you in bands before Something Men? What did that stuff sound like in comparison to what you’re doing now?

Joe Thomlinson: Our drummer Joe hadn’t been in a band for a good five years, but he and I had been talking about starting a band for years. Matt and I used to be in a band called The Dissolutes, which was pretty similar, but a bit more punk. It was our first band and we basically learned to play our instruments in that band. We ended up playing a couple of the last songs we wrote with The Dissolutes in Something Men, but we don’t really play them now. After that band, Matt and Sean started The Beat Sayers, which was basically first Kinks album–style rock & roll, but some unfortunate events led to the band being put on hiatus before it really got going. I’d been trying to get another band going for a while and when those two became available, we just thought we’d get together and play for a bit of fun. We never really intended for it to go any further than that.

First thing I notice about “Birdy Roof” is how American it sounds, from the blues scales to the classic Sun Studio vibe of the recording. How did you decide on your influences before starting to write songs?

JT: We never sat down and talked about anything. We’re all really into Chess Records and The Beatles, The Kinks and the Stones, who are basically English bands imitating the American music they were hearing at the time. So the sound that we’ve got came naturally. We listen to a lot of In the Red bands too so it’s inevitable that it will sound American, really. The first songs we played together—“Birdy Roof” being the very first—were basically just ideas I had that we played until they were songs. Everybody knows the style well enough to be able to play songs I’ve written without me really having to teach them, which is good because it makes practicing a lot more fun.

To that degree, what I really thinks sets this single apart from the thousands of other garage bands is how authentic it feels. Did you do anything deliberate to arrive at that vintage sound?

JT: We recorded the single ourselves in the warehouse where I work very quickly and with shoddy borrowed equipment. I think when you listen to the music that we listen to one thing that really stands out about it is how much character the recordings have, and I think that gets lost when you start caring about every note being right and getting the perfect sound. If you spend all day trying to get the perfect take you lose the energy. “Mud Brown Mistress” was recorded in one take and I think it was probably the third time we’d even played the song.

How does this sound translate to what you do live? Do you do anything differently? I can see “Mud Brown Mistress” becoming like a “Sister Ray” jam in the live setting.

JT: Yeah, there’s definitely room to improvise with that song. It depends on how the shows are going. I think what we record is pretty much what you hear live. We’re not bothered about the songs being played note perfect live, but when we record obviously it’s a little more refined.

Are you planning the first LP? What do you want a full-length of Something Men to sound?

JT: We’re planning a few more singles before we move onto an LP, but whatever we do, I think we’ll stick to the format we’ve got until we’re not happy with it. I think we’d like to do a really classic sounding LP, like an early Kinks or Stones record.

Is there a particular album from the past that you feel is untouchable, an artist that you strive to replicate or top?

JT: There are too many to name! I think Revolver or Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks are the kind of albums bands make when they’ve really had a lot of time to write and gain experience in the studio. For now, I think just making a good sounding album with the little time and resources we have will be enough of an accomplishment.

Being termed as “retro” has a lot of negative connotations these days, though everyone is doing it. Are there things you are doing to distance yourselves from becoming one of these types of bands?

JT: I don’t think so. There’s no master plan or anything, we just play to have fun.

What’s the scene like in Worcester? Is there a lot of music being made? How does Something Men fit into it?

JT: There is no scene in Worcester—at all! Seriously. When we were in The Dissolutes, we used to put shows on regularly and had bands like Lovvers and Mika Miko play. But when The Dissolutes finished, we just sort of stopped. It was always hard work getting people out to shows anyway and we kept losing money. If you want to see middle-aged men play wanky blues or Kings of Leon cover bands, then there’s plenty going on.

You mentioned the Kings of Leon cover bands playing Worcester, why do you think the crowds where you’re from prefer this to original music? (That said, a lot of American cities have the same problem.)

JT: I don’t know, really. I think maybe people want to listen to stuff they know. They’re not willing to risk a fiver on bands they’ve not heard before. I also think younger people are too cool for their own good these days. They’re more interested in talking about bands on Facebook than actually going to see new music. When we were young teenagers, there were punk and hardcore gigs every Saturday and we’d go every week religiously. We didn’t even know who was playing half the time.We just went because we wanted to get drunk, watch bands and have fun. I couldn’t imagine 200 kids queuing up to pay £5 to watch a bunch of bands they’ve never heard of these days.

Are there bands from your region that you feel a certain kinship with?

JT: There are a few bands about the Midlands, but we’ve not played with any of them yet. We’ve not really played any shows here, except for a few shows in Worcester.

Any plans to tour the US? Any preconceived notions about how crowds in America will respond to what you do?

JT: Touring America is definitely high on the agenda this year. Hopefully some opportunity will arise that allows us to do so. We really have no idea what to expect from American crowds. I guess that’s down to how good the booking agent is.