After five years on the scene, October Drift released their largest body of work yet, with January’s drop of long-awaited debut album, Forever Whatever. A high octane melange of grunge, hard rock, pop hooks and shoegaze; the songs enclosed offer a focussed lens on the band’s career to date: from the revelrous ‘Oh the Silence’ to the sobering melancholy of ‘Naked’ and the thrashing pomp of the title track, the record covers a vast amount of stylistic ground and emotional turmoil.
Road testing the new music on tour this February, the band is part way through a busy schedule of UK towns and cities which sees them cross and tail the country until the 18th of February, where this run culminates in London at the famed Old Blue Last. The songs take on an even wilder, more intense presence in the live shows, fuelled by blistering energy which meets daredevil showmanship, whether a crowd surfing frontman, an off-stage sing-along, or a wandering, curious climber, Kiran Roy always finds time to up the stakes every night. A jewel of the current tour is a reworked arrangement of ‘Naked’—soft, stripped and a capella. It’s a closing moment as raw as they come. The perfect contrast and relief after an hours’ worth of distortion and pedal fury.
Meeting in Manchester—the third date into the tour—we sit down for a very casual, concise conversation with two members of the band, lead vocalist and guitarist, Kiran Roy, and drummer and vocalist, Chris Holmes. We talk about the band’s journey so far, delve deeper into certain album tracks and lyrics, and also discuss wider topics such as Brexit, the economics of self-funding and self-promotion, and why it’s been essential to have grassroots support from day one.
Thanks for taking the time out to talk to me today, firstly a very necessary and much deserved congratulations. You’ve released a stunning debut album.
Chris Holmes: “Thanks.”
Kiran Roy: “Thanks so much.”
Forever Whatever is the album title. What does that phrase mean to you?
Chris: “Forever Whatever? I don’t know who suggested it first as the album title but…”
Kiran: “The song came first. So it was just a lyric in the song, first of all.”
Chris: “Somehow that phrase, for me, just seems to sum up our band quite well. Because we’ve been doing this a long time—for me, personally, I think it sums up our relentless nature and perseverance with trying to build things as a band. That’s what it means to me. But yeah. Is that what you get?” [He directs towards Kiran.]
Kiran: “Yeah, that’s a good answer. That’s better than what I was gonna say, so I’ll leave it at that.”
As we’re talking album no. 1 and the journey to reach this point, one cool fact about tonight’s show which also takes us back to where the band first started in Manchester, is that it’s a show promoted by Scruff of the Neck. Who coincidentally gave you your first break in the city at one of their nights in Chorlton.
Kiran: “Yeah, that’s right. What was it called? The Eagle Tavern or something…”
Charlotte, BSS: “No, no. The Royal Oak.”
Chris: “I remember Dan fell through the drum kit.”
Kiran: “They had a studio upstairs, didn’t they? They showed us the studio.”
Chris: “We were talking about this, the other day, weren’t we?” [To Kiran.]
Kiran: “It was early days for Scruff as well, wasn’t it?”
Charlotte, BSS: “Yeah. Yes, it was. You’ve both, like, come up together.”
Chris: “Yeah, it’s been really nice to see, because we haven’t done a show with Scruff for a while and it’s just been really nice and it’s just felt that the time’s been right to do something together again. But yeah, I mean, they’ve been great to us in the city. And hopefully, I think tonight is gonna be really good as well.”
Charlotte, BSS: “On my way in, I saw a long queue up the stairs, which I never usually see, so that’s a good sign.”
Kiran: “Especially at an October Drift gig.”
Chris: “Yeah. [Both Chris and Kiran erupt with laughter.]
“Usually there’s a lot of space.”
Charlotte, BSS: “The recent shows on this tour have all sold out.”
Chris: “Yeah. Well, you know, though, to be fair, we just got our latest ticket numbers through for the rest of the shows, and yeah, [Chris takes a long pause]. We’re really surprised.”
Charlotte, BSS: “The first two sold out, didn’t they?”
Chris: “The first two sold out.”
Kiran: “Birmingham was a real surprise, because we kind of expected Bristol to sell out—because it’s more of a hometown show for us—but Birmingham is not somewhere we’ve ever, we’ve never been like… Manchester’s always been good for us, and there’s been like, Sheffield and a few places that have always been great, but Birmingham’s never… it was unexpected, so it was really nice for that to be the second one on the tour to sell out.
“Tonight’s a bigger room than Bristol and Birmingham have been, and we’ve sold more tickets actually.”
Chris: “All of them are doing really well. Like, Leeds, and Norwich weirdly—I don’t know why.”
Chris: “We’re always still a bit surprised when we walk on stage and there is people there. Which is great.”
Kiran: “And also, like we were saying the other day, it’s a really nice spread across the board, like in Glasgow, Norwich, Bristol, Manchester, and everywhere in between. It’s not like one place has got loads of tickets and then everywhere else is struggling. It’s actually across the board, it’s all looking kinda healthy.”
Charlotte, BSS: “That’s a great thing.”
Chris: “It’s only taken a decade. But, you know.” [Both burst into laughter.]
Charlotte, BSS: “Well, just look at Snow Patrol. They’re a classic example.”
Chris: “Yeah. The thing is, we were talking about this again the other day, and you know, people always say: ‘Oh my God, where has that band come from? They’ve blown up or whatever.’ When a band does do that. And it’s just that snowballing effect, isn’t it?”
Charlotte, BSS: “Well, IDLES were at it for ages before they cut through, weren’t they?”
Chris: “Yeah. Of course, they were. I mean, we played with IDLES in 2016, and they were tiny, we were tiny. And they’d been going for years, then.”
Charlotte, BSS: “It’s just when your moment comes, it’s there… for the taking.”
When you think about all the backers you’ve accumulated over the years, what would you like to say to them?
“It’s nice because I think the music industry, in particularly, at a lower level, everyone knows how it works, there’s no money in it.”
Kiran: “Yeah, it’s a labour of love, isn’t it? At this level.”
Chris: “Completely. And to have people believing in us and putting their time and effort, and sometimes their money, into us as a band; it’s just great. And it all just comes from the back of people believing in what we’re doing. People will always do something for money. But to do something just because they want to be part of it, just because they wanna help you, just because they like what you’re doing; it’s awesome.”
Kiran: “It’s really nice to be able to go back to… well, this tour, and it’s been building up to it, and hopefully for more tours to come, to go back to places where people have taken a chance on us and really loved our music from the early days, but we’ve not been able to really contribute tickets to the venue, and they’ve helped build us in those areas through supports, and things like that, and now to be able to revisit those venues and actually, you know, bring a big group of people. So hopefully, it comes around.”
Your music has always been very distinct, with emphasis placed on kinetic energy, visceral sonics and a strong lyrical presence. How did you find your sound, and what was involved in the process to reach something cohesive?
Chris: “I don’t think we ever ‘found’ our sound. I think it was just something that happened over years of messing about in a studio together, at a rehearsal room together. I bet if you probably ask 99% of the best bands out there, that’s just how it happens. We’ve never got in a room and gone: ‘Okay. We need to sound like this. We need to do this.’ I mean, maybe with a certain song, we’ll be like, ‘We want this song to be a quicker song, or whatever.’ But we’ve never sat down and gone: ‘Ah, let’s sound like this.’
“It’s always just been influenced by the bands we were listening to at the time; the bands we grew up listening to, the people who we surrounded ourselves by. One of the biggest influences on this band, when we were in college, was our college tutor. I mean, he was mad into things like Massive Attack and UNKLE, but also, like, Eighties stuff.”
Kiran: “He introduced us to Echo and the Bunnymen, and things like that, as well.”
Chris: “That had a huge influence on us. So, yeah, I think it is just something that has come from being in a room together, three times a week, for the past God knows how long, and just, yeah.”
What are your thoughts on your debut track, ‘Whoever,’ now, in 2020?
[Chris yelps a sporadic bout of laughter.]
Kiran: “Not mentioning the actual track itself, but just in terms of the recording, and things like that, where we listen to it now, and we’re like, ‘Cor,’ because we recorded it ourselves. We demo all our own stuff and we record our own stuff—but the album we didn’t record ourselves—but we demoed it all ourselves. We’re still quite picky about our demos, even though no one never hears them, so just in terms of recording we find it virtually unlistenable, and be like: ‘Cor! We put that out!’
“Well, you know what, with that song it was, like, we all had fuzz pedals for the first time and it was like, ‘Yeah. Cool.” There’s still like a vibe there, definitely.”
Chris: “Weirdly that is probably—going back to the previous question—that is probably the track that was like, ‘This is the direction we wanna go in.’ Because, basically, everyone bought a fuzz pedal and was like, ‘What happens if we all click ‘em on at the same time? And go from being really quiet to really loud.’ Yeah, so, in all honesty none of us are really fans of the track, but I think a lot of musicians get that—
Charlotte, BSS: “It’s just distance.”
Chris: “Yeah, I think that’s natural. And I think, like, also, lyrically, I don’t think any of us connect to it as much as other stuff. And I just think that’s cos, I dunno… hopefully we’ve got better at writing as we’ve progressed.”
As a touring band still breaking ground on the live scene, freedom of movement is a very important factor in how you reach new audiences. Now that Brexit has impacted, how are you feeling about the future?
Kiran: “It’s yet to affect us head-on, yet… so we’re just kinda unsure of how and if and what, it’s going to affect us.”
Chris: “That’s the biggest issue though, the not-knowing. Because not knowing and uncertainty in markets is not good. So, yeah, the uncertainty is probably gonna be worse than the reality. But the fact of the matter is, is that out of all the things that the Government have got to talk about, touring musicians is gonna be quite far down the list. So how long until they actually come up with some kind of answer to it, is unknown.
“But, I mean, we’ve done European touring before, and it’s great. But we’ve also done touring where we’ve had to go into Switzerland mid-tour, and for a band like us, who are basically maxing out credit cards to go on that tour and just making the money back through merchandise, um, to find the money… you have to get this thing called a carnet, to find the money to get a carnet—
Kiran: “They do a border control in and out of Switzerland, and they count your merch going in and out and then tax you on what you’ve sold, and if it’s like that everywhere in Europe for a UK band, then it could be really tricky. I mean, we had an amazing time to tour, a relatively easy into Europe, so we would all like that to stay the same, if at all possible. But yeah, it is a bit of an unknown.”
Chris: “The thing is the artists that they’ll actually get the tax on, the big touring artists, it won’t affect them that much. I mean, okay, it will take some money off their profit margins, but to a band that’s at our level, it could be the difference between being able to do the tour, or not. Because we’re just not at a level of profit and loss, we’re at a level of ‘how much money are we gonna lose on this?’ Particularly in Europe. It would become pretty unfeasible if it all went to that, so hopefully it doesn’t.”
These are your first headline shows since you released the album, how have the crowds been reacting? Have you noticed a difference?
Kiran: “I think putting out the album, we knew it’d be a big stepping… well, it’s felt like a stepping stone to us, and we knew our fans, for example, would be really into it but it’s been widely, like a lot more—
Chris: “It’s reached more people than we thought.”
Kiran: “The reaction’s been a lot greater than we thought it would be, and I think that’s come across to the ticket sales and the responses in the crowds during the gigs. So, we’re only, what? Three gigs into the tour…”
Chris: “Well, yeah. This is our third. I mean, its weird people have been belting out the lyrics and stuff, and we’re just not used to that kind of thing.”
Kiran: “It’s been really nice.”
Chris: “It’s quite overwhelming, isn’t it?”
Charlotte, BSS: “Well, I know from my standpoint I’ve been seeing a lot of people clicking through to read the review that we posted on the site.”
Chris: “Oh really? Oh nice. Nice.”
Charlotte, BSS: “It’s a good thing to see it continuing after the album has been out for a few weeks, the reaction usually drops off.”
Chris: “That’s awesome.”
Kiran: “We weren’t sure how much an album was still relevant to the audience. It’s relevant to us, and we still listen to albums, um, but with Spotify, and things like that, the whole way consumers listen to music [nowadays] we weren’t entirely sure how much an album, how much weight that still carried. But I think it does still carry a lot of significance, especially to a muso crowd, which a lot of our audience is. I think a lot of the people who are into our band are also music lovers, who are more likely to listen to albums in full.”
I’ve been hearing a lot of ‘Album of the Year’ chatter amongst fans about your album, does that give you confidence going into album two?
Chris: “Yeah. Well, I think with anything… do you know, we got asked in another interview about a week before the album came out, they said: ‘Have you thought about the reaction? Do you think people will like it?’ And we just sat back and looked at each other, and we were like, ‘Well, no. We haven’t even really thought about that.’ And I don’t think we ever really have when we’ve put something out. But before it has only been singles… we thought our own fans would love the album but we didn’t expect them to love it as much as they are doing, and the response that we’ve got, which is great.
“Um, we’ve got a lot of songs written and we’re constantly writing so, I think, yeah, come to when we record album two, I think we’ll be in a good position.”
Kiran: “It’s really nice seeing ‘Album of the Year’… seeing that phrase knocked around, but also this album two thing is now on the cards, because there was a point, where it was like, ‘Well, you’ve got to sell some albums’—this is the label—‘Otherwise you’ve bankrobbed our label and we gotta do album two.’ And we were like, ‘Oh yeah, better then!’”
Chris: “And so, then we found out from them: ‘The sales have been better than we thought!’ And we’re like, ‘Ah, sound. We might get to make album two then.’”
With the album being built around familiar tracks that have either been released previously in a different light or have been prominently part of the live set for some years, how did you decide on the final tracklisting? Because it comes across very natural as a whole, to me.
Kiran: “So, Justin who recorded the album—who’s in Editors, Justin Lockey—we sent him about forty or fifty tracks, which is basically all the songs we’ve ever written, and he picked out the ones he thought were the best contenders. We basically thought not to save anything for future releases, let’s just put what we think would be the best body of work we could put out. There was a couple of curveballs in there, but we basically went more or less with what he thought.”
Chris: “Because it’s the first time in a long time that we’ve worked with an outside producer—it’s usually just us four—so we were really keen to just have someone else’s opinion on it. When he came back he had chosen 13 tracks, and we were like, ‘Okay.’ And we had a few conversations with him, and he had a real clear image of how he felt it should be, and we were like, ‘That sounds cool. Let’s just crack on and do that.’”
Kiran: “It’s nice to have a fifth pair of ears, because sometimes you can be too close to things as well. So, we recorded 13… it’s interesting when you go to record, like even the demos sometimes they sound drastically different, and it’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t know what’s different there,’ but for whatever reason the 10 that made the album worked the best.”
Chris: “The three that didn’t make the album felt… it wasn’t that they were any worse, I don’t think. It’s just that they didn’t feel right for that album. They might come out on the next, or the one after, or, I dunno.”
Kiran: “And I think like you said about this album, we wanted to try and include songs that had been released, and a few new ones, and some that had been in the live set for ages, which we always wanted them to be on that album, it’s just that they never came to be released, so it’s nice for that all to be now there. But, I think, album two will probably all be new, pretty much.”
What’s the story behind ‘Just Got Caught’—who are you talking to with that song?
[Chris immediately lets out a belt of laughter.]
Chris: “Can you remember the lyrics?” [He says to Kiran.]
Charlotte, BSS: “Well, I feel it can be read in so many different ways. To me, it’s the distinction between touring life and home life, and the re-integration into day-to-day life and how difficult it is on the head and the body. But you know, who knows!”
Kiran: “That’s a good interpretation.”
Chris: “That’s a very good interpretation.”
Kiran: “Um, a guy the other day came up, and he was like, ‘That’s gotta be about a war. A war story, isn’t it?’”
Charlotte, BSS: “Because it mentions war, yeah.”
Kiran: “Yeah. Yeah, maybe that is it.
“No. I remember writing the lyrics, and the flow came quite easily. I fell off my bike and wrote the lyrics around that time, and it was around Christmas time, as well. The intro bit was about falling off my bike, and I’d cut my head, and I think it was about that, and then I’m not really sure, it was more of a felt the flow and wrote stuff that felt like it fit the vibe of it. A lot of the time when I’m writing the lyrics, for example, it’ll be like summing up an emotion or a vibe that fits that, as opposed to an actual storyline or anything like that.”
Charlotte, BSS: “Well, that makes sense. Listening to Forever Whatever it goes in so many different directions, you just don’t know.”
Kiran: “Yeah, it’s often not about a very specific event.”
Chris: “I think sometimes, as well, until you’ve written something, you kinda sit back and go: ‘Oh that was written then. Maybe that’s got something to do with this that was going on around that time.’”
Also, every time I listen to that song I’m drawn to the lyric: “I might be a lightyear behind but I see a setting sun with my very eyes.” When was that written? Is it in any relation to The National’s ‘Light Years’?
Kiran: “It was before we had ever heard that song. Yeah, no. It was definitely before that song ever came out.”
Chris: “We got there first, right!
“When did we write ‘Just Got Caught’?
[After a bit of debate, they settle on:] 2015-2016, it was written.”
Kiran: “I think that’s about technology. Like, I’m pretty useless with technology, and things like that, and I think that line was about that kind of thing. I don’t know.”
‘Naked’ is one of the key moments of the record, in my opinion. It also features some delightful backing vocals from Chris Holmes—
Chris: “Thanks. Thank you.”
A voice we’re very accustomed to because of the live shows. What’s your background in singing, Chris? And same for you, Kiran?
Chris: “I used to be in an AC/DC covers band, and I was the singer and the drummer—
Kiran: “Before your balls dropped.”
Chris: “Before my balls dropped and I went through puberty, and I couldn’t’ be in the band anymore. So yeah, I don’t really have a background in singing. I’m just one of those people who loves to sing in the car, loves to sing in the shower; loves to sing wherever I am. I’m just, kind of, that guy.”
Kiran: “I think you were in a band before I was, perhaps? Or around the same time. But we were both in bands at school. Chris was the singer and the drummer of a band. You were pretty good at your AC/DC covers and things like that, you know.”
Chris: “I could do a good Brian Johnson. I could.”
Kiran: “So, when we actually came to first do this band, Chris had been in his band, drumming and singing, and he specifically didn’t want to be the singer, just wanted to be a drummer. And I was singing anyway, so we did that. It works great for us that Chris can sing and also [with] the way our voices work, Chris can hit all the notes that I can’t hit, so it opens up new things that we can do with songs because I’ve got quite a narrow vocal range.”
Charlotte, BSS: “The two of your voices together is such a distinct part of October Drift as well.”
Chris: “Yeah, I think it’s become more prominent. I think when we started, we didn’t use it as much as we are doing now. Whereas now, I mean, Jesus Chris, I’m singing in every song. Some of its knackering. Like, ‘Just Got Caught’ live, is horrific. I think I enjoy playing the set way less than I used to.”
Kiran: “Why, is it harder?”
Chris: “It’s way harder now.”
Kiran: “I’m sorry.”
Charlotte, BSS: “Well, we’re thankful anyway. In the audience.” [They laugh.]
Right, I’m going to reference one of your lyrics now because frankly, it’s stunning and I feel it sort of symbolises the integral essence of the record and its themes: “Why is the dark so dazzling?” How did this lyric come about?
Kiran: “This is going to sound mental… there was a TV programme that I was watching. Sometimes TV programmes and films, and things like that, can inspire lyrics, like, in a really weird way. So, there’s certain songs that we’ve written which haven’t been released where, like… Stranger Things, we were watching that, and there’s bits of that that are really, it might not be ever noticeable to the listener or anything like that. Even just back to the ‘vibe’ thing that you pick out bits like that. I can’t even remember what this TV series was called. But it was from that. I’m not even sure if they said something along the lines of that, the dark being dazzling, or something like that? It’s a shame that I can’t remember what it was called because that would’ve made the answer more interesting.”
Chris: “Was it one of those weird things?” [To Kiran.]
Kiran: “They did a dance that then took them into parallel universes. I can’t remember what it’s called, I’m sure someone might know.”
[Post-interview, I realise this sounds exactly like a plot line from The OA. And I can confirm that after speaking to Kiran since, it is in fact The OA he was referencing here.]
Chris: “We’ve had a few people say about that lyric, that they really like it. There’s something that connects, isn’t there? There’s two ways that I look at it: one, the things you know you shouldn’t have or shouldn’t do, why are they the things that always tempt you?—
Kiran: “I think the whole song is a bit of a nostalgia thing, and a longing for youth and childhood, and then it’s got this element of growing up and looking back and longing for your youth. That’s what I think is, like, the themes of the song.”
To wrap up, because I feel like we’ve been getting quite reflective in tone during this interview and I’d like to bring it back to the now. After everything that’s happened, do you feel more accomplished now because of it? What’s the ambition going forward into 2020?
Chris: “Yeah. It’s taken us a long time to get here, to the debut album, but I think it’s been worth it, so far. For sure.”
Kiran: “Also, because it’s been a slow build and we’ve now built a really solid foundation for us to then build upon, it’s not been like a flash in the pan. Because it’s taken a long time and it’s been quite a bit of graft… cos the way we’ve done it is very organic, like, we’ve not really had a whole lot of radio, a whole lot of press, or a lot of coverage [from] mainstream media, or anything. It’s been going out playing small gigs, winning people over person by person, and we’ve built it very organically, so I think, we’re now in a position—which we maybe felt like we should’ve been in sooner than we were, maybe naively—but it now feels like we’re in a good place where we can build upon this.”
Charlotte, BSS: “It means a lot more because of that, I guess.”
Chris: “Yeah. It’s amazing because some of people that are now at the shows, like, the past two shows that we’ve been to, particularly at those shows, they’ve been seeing us since 2015, and like, people are coming up to us and saying, ‘I saw you at Dot to Dot festival and there was three of us in the room!’ So, yeah, it’s really nice. We were chatting to some guy at the Bristol show, and I said: ‘Oh, it’s been years since you’ve been following us.’ And he goes: ‘Yeah, I first saw you on April the 6th 2016, and then I saw you on May…’ And he knew exactly when he’d seen us, and he’d been to so many dead shows. Like, so many shows where it’s pretty much just him in the room, and it’s just great to have these people… they’ve been that into it that they’ve stuck around for that long and now they can actually have a room full of people, kinda like, belting out the lyrics.”
Kiran: “Yeah, we’re really enjoying this point, now, cos it does feel like, maybe, the first tour where it’s all clicking. And then moving forward, we can hopefully just build on that. Tour this album as much as possible and then work towards doing the next one.”
October Drift’s debut album, Forever Whatever is out now on Physical Education Recordings. Various formats and bundles can be purchased here.