A couple of years ago we felt the need to tweet a song from The Open, an indie band with a Liverpudlian-sound. Curiously a band none of us had ever seen play live but we all adored the only 2 albums they had released; debut The Silent Hours in 2004 and Statues which followed in 2006 – they split six months later. Following this, we’d heard nothing and there wasn’t much online to explain why. Finding lead singer Steve Bayley via Twitter we were glad to hear he is still making music, and our Alix interviewed the musical genius (he really is, you just have to listen) to help fill in the gaps to find out what he is up to these days and why the hell The Open aren’t selling out stadiums across the globe…
Alix: We tend to find it’s usually in the family but what made you first pick up a guitar?
Steve Bayley: So I started playing guitar when I was about 12. I’d had a guitar for a couple of years but it seemed a bit daunting at first. Then I just decided to get into it. I had a book called “Instant Guitar” that taught you the first 6 chords and I kind of went from there. No one in the family is musical really but I remember listening to The Beatles a lot when I was a kid. I think my Mum and Dad had the early stuff up to around Rubber Soul and then I went on and discovered the later stuff for myself.
I first started writing probably around 16. You had these little bands you were in at school and I was bass player in one. I wasn’t the guy who wrote the songs but I had written one and I showed it to the guy who wrote the songs who said it was rubbish! It might well have been but I decided to go my own way after that and started another band where I wrote the songs. Again, probably not very good but it was a start and it gives you good experience of actually finishing a song, arranging for a band and stuff like that.
A: Where did you get your big break?
SB: I suppose as far as a break goes, I moved to Liverpool to go to Art School where I met the guy who would end up managing the band. He saw something in me and helped nurture the writing, got me into tons of great music that I would never have heard like The Cocteaus, Magazine, The Blue Nile. Left field music that made you think about approach and that you don’t always have to go straight down the middle. After that when we got The Open together we did a gig at the social in Nottingham and a great guy called James Baillie saw something in us and told his mates at Heavenly, who told their mate James Oldham which ended up eventually to us getting our deal.
A: So what happened there then? Did you sign for 2 albums, did you get a load of cash to record in the Bahamas or did you already have an album packed for distribution? I believe you had a good level of control over what that first album sounded like but is there anything you’d change now looking back?
SB: Like pretty much everyone does, you sign for a certain amount of albums but after each album, the company get an option on whether they want you to make another one. Control wise, we always had a lot of control. Too much. Guidance was lacking and basically someone to tell me what was required of me! I just did what I wanted really which was good in loads of ways but I always think with proper guidance it could have been so much more. It is what it is though, and you make the decisions you make. I don’t really have any regrets other than maybe not enjoying it a bit more and making more use of the contacts you’re exposed to in that position.
A: There’s such an emotional tie to that album for me personally and I’m sure I’m not alone with that. Some dark tones too, can you still relate to how you felt when you wrote those songs?
SB: The songs were all written and demoed in full by me before the album session. The exception being Elevation which I wrote after the initial session and was recorded afterwards. I played drums on that one! Yeah I can relate to it for sure. The themes are universal really, and they don’t go away.
A: As an impressionable teenager it was an NME review (both albums got 8/10) that brought you to my attention with comparisons made to Doves – and I wasn’t disappointed! Did such things add a pressure to you that wasn’t felt before? To be honest, knowing so little about the band added a level of mystery I’ve always liked about your music, but was that intentional?
SB: I thought the comparisons were all a bit OTT to be honest. We had only done 10 shows when we got the deal and were very very green. We could have done with about another year to develop. Our 10th gig was supporting Muse at the NEC. It was a really really steep learning curve. I think the air of mystery always stemmed from the fact that we couldn’t be shoehorned into some kind of scene. We weren’t from Liverpool but formed in Liverpool. But we sounded nothing like that scene so I think we always felt a bit like outsiders and that came across. I remember doing an early photo shoot with NME and there was a bunch of those bands who were literally so pleased to be having their picture taken, I just thought it was ridiculous. There were a few bands we were mates with but we were never ever on “the scene”.
I think I’m naturally an introvert, less so now I guess but it was never intentional to be mysterious or anything. Anyone close to the band would tell you the band was actually really down to earth and self critical.
A: That wall of sound you create seems to encompass the listener, it’s easy to lose yourself within it. Have you ever worked on soundtracking a movie or been approached to? I guess art school gave you chance to experiment on that side of things?
SB: I have worked on some soundtrack stuff but it didn’t get used. It’s something that I would love to do and would be a natural medium for the type of music I make. Art School wasn’t very experimental really. It was kind of geared towards the more commercial aspects of the industry. I just like drawing but really, I think I was searching for something and that thing was music. The best thing about art school was that it was in Liverpool which was amazing. I love Liverpool. It has a real magical quality. I used to dream about it all the time. Nowhere else is like it really.
A: Have you released or reused any of the soundtrack stuff? Can you tell us anything about what it was for?
SB: One was for a film called A leave taking which I did with Pete, a mate of mine who used to be in Shack, Cast, The Bunnymen. I’m not sure what happened with that but it was at the pitching stage so I guess someone else did it. Same with the others, you get a script, try some ideas and if they don’t like it, you don’t get to do it. It’s hard to become established in that world, but you just have to keep going. I’ve never reused any of the bits in songs or anything. Instrumental and soundtrack stuff I can almost just sit and start to write and it will happen. Songs come when they come. Or not!
A: That sounds like a very organic process. And I guess that’s where you’re at now, no pressure from a record company to put out a new record but very much still in the music business we hope? The solo stuff is great, is there more new material coming soon?
SB: Glad you like the solo stuff. Yes hopefully. I don’t tend to put anything out in a rush anymore. There’s no point. So I have another EP coming but as I’m doing everything myself including mixing which isn’t my most natural field, it could take a while!
A: Liverpool is clearly your spiritual home, but it’s pretty special here, we’re just down the road you know…
SB: Loads of great Manchester experiences. Tons of brilliant gigs at the academy – seeing other bands. Gigs wise for us, one at Manchester academy 3 when the sound man failed to turn on my mic til halfway through Bring Me Down!
A: What inspires you these days?
SB: The inspiration is the same as always really, things that happen, things you see, and things you think about. I can’t really do that “in character” sort of stuff. Although I admire people who can. It’s just not my thing. It’s got to be about me or someone I know. Listening wise, not much new stuff. I can’t stand the sound of most pop. It’s horrendous. I really feel the growth of writing teams has sucked a lot of the individuality out of pop. You kind of get these identikit sounds and melodies even. It’s grim. Hopefully bands have a resurgence and start writing great songs again. It’s just not there for me at the moment. Having said that, I don’t think the industry or life in general is set up in a way where we are going to get the next David Bowie, Prince or Kate Bush. You get these artists who try to rip off bits of the image of these guys but it’s never the real deal. The idea of an artist growing through one or two mediocre poor selling albums into this amazing artist has gone. They would be out before you know it. Besides, most of them are too busy tweeting or sticking shite on Instagram to properly take the music seriously. Anyway, that’s my old fart rant over!
A: What are you listening to at the moment?
SB: Your very own Everything Everything are probably the only band who are on that “Radiohead” tip at the moment. Progressing organically while still having great melodies and brilliant, relevant lyrics.
A: We cover movies, video games and books on here too – any recommendations?
SB: Don’t do video games, never have. Haven’t been to the cinema for a while but been reading a great book on Talk Talk called Spirit of Talk Talk, and looking forward to James O Briens book – how to be right in a world gone wrong, out start of November
A: Cool, we’ll have to check it out!