In Conversation with… BULL

York four-piece Bull are back with a new track – the skittering alt-pop of ‘Disco Living’ which gleefully pours out of whichever device you happen to be listening to. It’s another instantly memorable belter, following on from the well-received Britpoppery of ‘Green’ – their first release after signing to EMI Records in conjunction with York-based label, Young Thugs.

Formed in 2011 by vocalist and songwriter Tom Beer and guitarist Dan Lucas, Bull’s mission is simply to make the music they wanted to listen to, inspired by their ’90s heroes Pavement, Yo La Tengo and Pixies.

The rest of the band came together through a mix of friendships and fortune. Drummer Tom Gabbatiss joined after he and Tom jammed together in bars while they were backpacking around Thailand, and Kai West had previously used to jump up on stage with the band before they eventually let him play bass.

The band will be returning to the stage in October with a gig at London’s Shacklewell Arms, followed by another gig in Portsmouth in January.

Paul Cook caught up with Tom Beer to talk influences, the York scene, and signing for such a world-famous label.

First question is the obvious one, how have you been coping with lockdown?

“I’ve been coping ok, honestly it was nice to have a bit of forced time off, [it has] given me the opportunity to do lots of writing which has been good, as well as a lot of time at home which is also nice in many ways.”

What sort of stuff have you been listening to, to get you through?

“I’ve been listening to lots of music, mostly via Spotify and when I listen to Spotify I tend to be like a miner of hits, I find the best hits ever and then I listen to them over and over again until I find the next one. Just heard ‘Hippy Elite’ by Billy Nomates this morning so that’s my current smash. Also been enjoying playing my record collection at home.”

What effect has it had on you as a band, particularly not being able to play live?

“We had been touring pretty solidly for a while before lockdown and when it hit we were in the Netherlands and had to make a quick dash back to the UK (luckily the day after finishing our album). So in a way at first, I can’t speak for the rest of the band, but I was happy to have a little break from gigging and as I said above, spend some time at home. But pretty quickly I started to miss playing gigs and I know we’re all extremely revitalised and ready now to get back to it in a big way!

“With gigs out of the window I do think it could have been worse for us in many respects too, as we’ve been able to get to work and deal with a lot of the admin, coming up with ideas, making videos, mixing and mastering of the album, album artwork, extreme marketing strategies etc. that we are currently in the middle of. I think if you’d thrown soundchecks and broken strings into the mix it might have been a bit too much!

“So lockdown has allowed us to get a lot done, write, rehearse and get excited about playing live in the future with an album we’re proud of. Not too bad!”

How exciting was it to sign with EMI, a label with an incredibly storied history?

“It was incredibly exciting and certainly still feels like a dream. It was not something we expected would happen. The label’s history is of course infamous and thrilling to us. I don’t dare say it, or think it, but it feels as though we might be a small part of rock history.” 

‘Green’ seemed to come from a fairly traditional place, but with the hallmarks of classic guitar band songwriting; who are your own songwriting inspirations?

“It’s a simple song; five chords, I think? Comes from pop music, ’90s especially but also maybe some ’60s in there. My songwriting inspirations include Bob Dylan (my favourite songwriter), Stephen Malkmus, whose lyrics are some of my favourites, Lou Reed because of his attitude, Elliott Smith because of his melodies. Pixies for their arrangement, Bowie also for diverse and incredible pop production. When I wrote ‘Green’ (in 2012) I think I was listening mostly to Elliott Smith but I’m not sure that comes through.”

By contrast, your new track ‘Disco Living’ adds a few interesting, underlying twists. Do you like to keep people guessing?

“I think you may be referring to the mad key change, which was our producer Remko’s idea haha. We definitely like to do what we think are interesting things, mix it up usually aiming to cater to what the song seems to be asking for. ‘Disco Living’ is quite different. Our album is full of different songs, I nearly said styles but I think songs is better.” 

Who of your contemporaries do you always listen to?

Canshaker Pi I listen to all the time, a band we are lucky to call buddies, they’re from Amsterdam. I’ve been listening to Aldous Harding recently, Phoebe Bridgers, Romeo Taylor, The Klittens, Lewsberg, The Stroppies, Happyness, Hinds.”

How healthy is the current scene in York and who should we be keeping an eye out for?

“Very healthy! Fat Spatula about to release an album and they’re one of my favourite bands ever. Perspex! Cowgirl! Jean Penne, Luke Saxton, Bonnie & The Bailers, Trueman, Eugene Gorgeous, The Howl & The Hum of course! The Black Lagoons. Many great bands from York and I’m sure there are plenty more I have yet to see as I’ve been out of the game (along with everyone else) for a while!”

What are your plans going forward, and how easy is it to make those plans at the moment?

“As I mentioned earlier we’ve made many plans involving our album and the videos and stupid marketing gimmicks which we have in store. So that side is great. So expect lots of new music and weird stuff from us. Gigging wise unfortunately less clear, though we are booking for January. I really hope these can go ahead!”

If you had one wish for the band in 2021, what would that be?

“I think that has to be to play at Glastonbury Festival! Fingers crossed Bitter Sweet Symphonies + readership. Lots of love from us xx.”

Bull’s latest single, ‘Disco Living’ is out now, Stream/Purchase here. The band is also booked to play The Shacklewell Arms in London on 9th October – tickets are on-sale now.

Photo Credit: Amy D’Agorne Craghill

Find Bull on Facebook and Twitter.

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