by Dee Massey
There are few bands out there so close to their fanbase that they’d actually raffle off a member of the band, but then The Crimea aren’t your run of the mill holier than thou rock stars, however more of that later..
Rising from the ashes of successful band ‘The Crocketts‘, Davey McManus and Owen Hopkins formed ‘The Crimea‘ alongside Andy Norton, keyboardist Andrew Stafford and bassist Joseph Udwin, reinventing themselves and endlessly grafting over the last three years whilst they recorded a series of demos at their East London house, whilst constantly gigging and forging a secure solid fan base both in UK and US.
But hard work has its payback, and after a showcase at SXSW 2004, they signed to Warner (a US deal which has been reciprocated by UK Warner) and this week sees the release of their debut album ‘Tragedy Rocks‘ things are definitely looking up.
Sitting down in a pizza joint in Chalk Farm on the eve of their UK tour drummer Owen Hopkins and keyboardist Andy Strafford seem relaxed before their Enterprise show to celebrate John Peel Day – (the DJ was incidentally was a huge supporter of The Crimea, describing ‘Lottery Winners on Acid’ as “one of the best songs I’ve heard in years“).
With the album just released they’re setting off on a 25 date tour of the UK taking in all the main cities, “places like Tunbridge Wells and Harlow.” Andy adds wryly. It’s their first tour since getting signed to US based Warner’s, which seems at first an unlikely choice of labels after releases on indie labels.
“Well, we were always trying to sign simply with the right label, we wanted to go with someone who was prepared to put some money behind the band, to really push the band, to really try and break us – and I know there’s a lot of independent labels that are capable of that now, we ended up going with Warner’s because they seemed really really keen.” Andy counters. Their big break happened at SXSW, having spent their last funds on getting over to Texas; they played a set in an Irish pub at 1am in the morning which was, as Owen puts it .. “fucking disastrous!” Andy had hired the wrong keyboard, “pedals were going wrong, the drum kit was going flying, but it was passionate on top of that and it really turned heads and we ended up getting a deal…” he shrugs.
Having already recorded ‘Tragedy Rocks‘ on their own 16 track, the band went into the studio in the deep South, Mississippi (surrounded by “country music..we listened to artists like Blake Sheldon, Gretchen Wilson and Toby Keith.”). It was time to hand the reins over to someone else, which is never an easy thing to do – but was it as hard as they’d thought? Owen concedes ” ..to an observer..absolutely” Giving creative control to an outsider after three years “grafting morning noon and night, Davey specifically… to hand over the reins to a “producer”.. with his own creative agenda, it didn’t quite work. The songs were fully formed already, we didn’t need someone to put their oar in, and there was a little bit of friction did arise, and that’s probably why it was so miserable” Owen explains diplomatically.
But their savior came in the form of Chris Shaw, known for engineering Weezer and Wilco specifically, who was assisting in Mississippi, and the band and Shaw relocated to NY to finish the album.” We got on really well with Chris, we knew he could do the job and it just seemed like the natural decision to use him to mix the album..”.
With the album in the can, they quintet took to the road in US with Ash and then Billy Corgan. Having supported a wide range of acts both here and over the pond (including The Get Up Kids, Dashboard Confessional and Kings of Leon) the band secured a support slot on the Billy Corgan tour through a friend of a friend. “The Billy Corgan tour was excellent, we managed to get an album to Billy and he heard it, liked it, and decided to take us on tour. We were there giving it some, turning the amps up ..and rocking out..and Billy’s there giving it his Depeche Mode impression, so I think people reacted well to our gnarly rock!”.
The US audiences were quick to accept The Crimea (the countless messages of support from American fans on the bands my space page lays testament to their success over the pond).”The American crowds are a little less jaded than we are in the UK because I think fans in the UK are so used to scenes coming and going within five on ten minutes, they’re just a little bit blasé about it.[In America], they’ll be with you for years and years, [the] crowds aren’t really waiting for you to impress them, they’ll take you on face value and if they like your music they’ll come again, whereas a UK audience can be a little bit..you know..with their arms folded ‘impress me’ type of thing ..” Owen explains.
Touring the states was a rite of passage for the guys, “we’d sometimes do 6 or 700 miles in a day, stuck in this RV, this summer we were touring with Billy Corgan in over 100 degrees heat with no air conditioning, seven blokes, in a fucking RV, 12000 miles in 7 weeks, believe me it gets a little steamy!” Andy smiles, “we have our fair share of arguments!” Whislt Davey writes inspired, winding blogs on MySpace, Owen spent the last tour learning French ” there this course…Michel Thomas…you don’t need a book and you don’t need to write anything down, you just need a CD player, I’ve stuck it on my ipod and you just talk along to it.”. Back home he’s well know for his freelance writing for various magazine, including NME, Kerrang and The Fly, whilst on the road the band keep in constant contact with their fanbase through their often hilarious group emails. Hopkins’ emails throughout the last years give fans a sense of belonging, as one fan described them when asked ” you feel like you’re part of the family – you’re really 100% behind the band because they make you feel like you’re part of it.”
The summer was neatly tied up with appearances at Leeds Reading Carling Weekend and Bestival. “I fucking love festivals” Owen grins when recounting his Reading experience. “I love them..in particular I really love Reading , because I’ve been there since I was like 15 or 16, so to play Reading, having always had such a laugh there over the years was special, I’d played there with The Crockett’s and that was amazing, and now I’ve played there with The Crimea, it was amazing, I mean it never disappoints.”
When asked about Leeds he grins. “I hate to sound snotty but we played Leeds on the Friday and Leeds was just a bit of an obstacle before we got to Reading. We were like ‘fuck this’ let’s just get down to reading and act like twats backstage! To play it and be there..was just amazing!” Their enthusiasm is contagious, and anyone who caught their slot at Reading would agree, Davey’s vocal gymnastics drew in the crowds and made it a highlight of the last day.
And so having finished a pre gig pizza the guys wander back for the John Peel Day set, fans new and old pile upstairs in The Enterprise, a homecoming for The Crimea. And what of that raffle – Owen was raffled off on their Myspace site, but through a random twist of fate his sister won him. So not romance there? ” No!..But a lot of beer and drunken dancing like a freak!”
‘Tragedy Rocks‘ (Warners) is available in the shops now.
Catch The Crimea on tour, for further info check out www.thecrimea.net