Cult lovers the world over, rejoice, Happyness are back on tour with a new EP, a fresh energy and an undiminished love of cake. Prior to their cracking show at Manchester’s Sound Control supporting Twin Peaks, I grabbed a moment (and a beer) with the band’s guitarist Benji Compston, and queried him on the subject matter of their wonderful debut album ‘Weird Little Birthday’, their lyrical prowess, and what to expect next.
Hi Benji, so as it turns out, Bitter Sweet Symphonies have interviewed you before, so I wanted to follow up on a question from that previous interview: do condiments still titillate you?
Yes, absolutely, so much so that we’ve taken it a step further; we now have a medicine box with mayonnaise, tea, and variety of other things.
You’ve just put out the ‘Tunnel Vision On Your Part’ EP, was there a conscious decision to move back to EP format after the release of ‘Weird Little Birthday’?
After the first album we started writing a bunch of new songs and wanted to get as much stuff out there as possible, as opposed to just drip feeding tracks. We wanted to release an EP, then an album. It’s also to do with having a shitload of songs we wanted to get out there.
With ‘Weird Little Birthday’ there was this running theme of birthdays. Would you say there’s an overarching vibe or theme to this new EP?
Probably a theme that’s crept in is where a band ends up after a couple of years on the road, and how you work around that. Just being on the road a lot after the first album affected us a lot, and we got into a lot of different music we weren’t into around the time of the first record. That’s definitely shaped the EP. I think for most bands there’s an interim period between first and second albums, and this EP is definitely connected to that period.
So it sounds like album two is well on the way then?
Yes it is. It’s kind of hard for us to talk about the EP without talking about its relationship to the album, given that that’s the way we wanted to record stuff. The EP was recorded during the same sessions as the album, so in answer to your question, yes, there is another album!
Well that’s great news.
Now I wanted to talk about lyrics. Your lyrics tend to vary from the odd to the avant-garde, what sort of literary sources do you draw from?
We all read quite a lot, we like reading. A lot of modern American stuff. Like, I’m really into Kurt Vonnegut, Ash (Happyness’ drummer) is really into Phillip Roth. I haven’t quite got my head around him (Roth) yet, but I’m sure I will. It leans a lot towards modern American writers, though not exclusively. Partly because a lot of the bands we’re into are American and we get into books off the back of their recommendations. At the moment I’m about to start The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson, so I’ll let you know how I get on with that.
Do send us a book report won’t you?
Yeah I will!
Following on from lyrics, for me some of the most captivating lyrics from ‘Weird Little Birthday’ are from Pumpkin Noir. The line “pull out the pins on me babe, I’m a 21st century hand grenade”, where did that evocative image come from?
Um… that’s a good question, no-one’s every asked about that lyric before! It’s a hard one to answer, I can give you a bit of context as to how it came together? We were jamming out that song, had a bunch of lyrics and chords falling around, and it’s one of the only songs where we basically wrote the lyrics collectively in one night based on a handful of ideas that me and Johnny (Happyness’ bassist/guitarist) had. It all just kinda fell into place. On the first album, Pumpkin Noir was definitely an integral part.
The album certainly turns an emotional corner once it reaches Pumpkin Noir…
Yeah, I don’t think we realised when we did the first album how (inverted commas) “deep” it was. There’s a lot more melancholy feeling than we intended. We were there thinking ‘oh there’s some upbeat stuff here’ but in hindsight there’s a lot of introspection. I think in a way we were trying to slightly alienate ourselves and kind of be more inward looking. I think we’re maybe over that side of things now, we may move forward onto something else now. Sorry, I haven’t really given you an answer!
What’s the obsession with birthdays on that album?
Coincidentally, me, Johnny and Ash all share a birthday within a month of each other. There’s a period from January 8th to February 8th where we all have our birthdays. And it always seems to be a time of year when people come out of the woodwork, you get to put on your princess dress and be like ‘hey I’m me again, look at me’.
Do you think of it as a time when friends get less sincere?
Or more sincere? But friends just appear, and weirdly I think it can sometimes be quite a solitary time. My grandmother used to hate her birthday, and I don’t hate mine but it’s definitely a more thoughtful time of year for everyone? Maybe? I think we found some interest in that. Also we love baking cakes.
I mean, who doesn’t?
Cakes are fun. Ash bakes a great cake. He baked a cake for an album launch; it was actually inedible (laughs), but it looked nice!
Do you have a song that you think doesn’t get the credit that it’s due?
Yes, I do actually. We did a song vaguely associated with Rough Trade records in America called ‘Full of Minnows’. It’s a song we feel really close to that seemed to pass most people by…
Something for the second album perhaps?
We did think about it for the second album but actually we had a bunch of other things we were excited about, so I think it will remain as something that happened in the past.
What is it about that song?
Well mainly, and it sounds trivial, but I don’t mean it to be, we got a harmonium, and it’s the only song we’ve done on that harmonium. It came together in a really organic way.
Because it’s something a lot artists are talking about at the moment, what do you think about Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize?
I don’t have a strong opinion either way, I don’t think it’s the most thrilling or exciting choice, not because I don’t like Bob Dylan; I think he’s wonderful at his best. But my heart didn’t leap when I saw he was the choice. A lot of people think it was a brave choice, I personally don’t think that, if anything it’s an easy choice, but again I don’t have a massively strong opinion about it.
Prior to this we were talking about radio shows, pirate and underground stations specifically. Given how left-field the bands’ sense of humour can be, could you ever see yourself doing a goon-show style radio show, or maybe a one off in the way some artists now do on Apple Music?
If someone asked us to, definitely! There’s a bunch of music we’d be really up for playing people in a radio format, and kind of talking shit about it.
Alright well, finally, any closing remarks to those reading this?
It’s nice to back in Manchester, and uh, wait for the next album!
Happyness are currently on tour with Twin Peaks, check them out in a venue near you. Seriously, they’re superb. Their latest EP ‘Tunnel Vision On Your Part’ is out in full on Spotify and Apple Music.