changing perceptions
With guitar bands increasingly back in favour, one continues to divide opinions. Don't believe all you read - check SULK out for yourselves.

Jon Sutcliffe talks to Adam, Photo by Lilly Creightmore

If you've kept one eye on the music press over the past couple of months you may be wondering if SULK are an up and coming young band or a criminal offence. For not only have this London-based five piece allowed themelves to be influenced by British pop music of some two decades ago, they haven't hidden their faces in shame and rung warning bells as they approach in the street. It's all a bit strange. It was fine when the punks, mods and Britpop bands showed an obvious love for The Kinks and The Who and a whole host of stars from the sixties. It was fine when Howler released an album of near-pastiches last year and were rewarded with rave reviews and media-sponsored national tours. But exhibit a fondness for British music of the late eighties and early nineties and apparently it makes you a pariah, mere copyists, with little to offer but enthusiasm and a longing for days gone by.

So, when SULK released their debut album Graceless last month, it was difficult to find a review that didn't patronise them by name-checking the Stone Roses and half a dozen other bands of the era. The one thing the press seemed to overlook was the music and that SULK, far from being a bunch of regressive historians, had actually produced an album of stunning vibrancy and purpose; an album of singing guitars, fantastic hooks and melodies, and pretty decent lyrics. And quite clearly one of the best albums of the year so far.

With the band about to release their new single 'The Big Blue' on 20th May and kicking off a national tour in Bristol on 24th May to promote their album, singer Jon Sutcliffe talked to Isolation.

First albums are the culmination everything a band has worked on since they started so how do you feel about Graceless now you can sit back and reflect?

We feel good, man. It is sort of true that it is a culmination of your work and that’s why with a lot of bands their debut is their strongest album, but you know we’re quite a prolific little bunch and have continued writing so there is actually songs on there that are quite new and there’s other things that have been held back. I’m big into my records and my vinyl and I believe tracks have to be picked carefully and be right. An album is a journey and it’s a journey of two sides. This album was all planned, the whole track listing is on purpose. These are the right tracks, I thought, to make it an album where you don’t have to flick between the songs. I think the concept of the album has died over the last few years because it has become about hit singles and things like that.

Since you put your first singles out ('Wishes' and 'Back In Bloom' were released in 2011), it has taken quite a long time for the album to arrive?

Yeah, it’s taken too long. There’s been a lot of false starts but we’ve done it ourselves. It’s taken a while but in a way it was quite quick as there was no sponsorship and no support. Unfortunately we are not rich gentlemen and the whole thing was done completely off our own backs. In some ways it’s quite an impressive achievement.

You hadn’t been together very long when you started putting your singles out?

Well originally we were a band called The Ruling Class who quite a lot of people seem to remember. In this outfit it was pretty quick, but these songs have been nurtured since 2006. It was easy because we already had the songs when we started Sulk. The three main members of The Ruling Class decided to form Sulk and get some like-minded minds to join. ‘Wishes’ was a late Ruling Class song but that band was a lot more twee. C86 pop. Sulk is the Ruling Class with more bollocks if you ask me. It’s a bit of a natural progression: you want to get that fine balance between polished and raw. I think we've managed that quite well.

wishes and back in bloom
How sick are you of reading a review and seeing the word ‘Stone Roses’?

I quite like it. If you’re going to get compared to a band, you may as well get compared to a good band. Loads of people are getting compared to bands who are poor, you know. I think it’s lazy journalism. I do hear bits of it, of course I do, because we do wear our hearts on our sleeves and we’re kind of proud of it. But it’s nice there seem to be a lot more reviewers now who are delving into the record a bit more and realising that, yeah, there is a nod to all that but there is also something that I think’s pretty fresh in there. They seem to get Stone Roses confused with Britpop. We’re not Britpop but we do have those Britpoppy elements because we’re a British band doing pop. I think it’s a mixture really and anyone worth their soul will realise that. To me, it had got to a point where I felt I wasn’t hearing the music I wanted to hear and I was given an opportunity to write that music. I’m as a big a fan as a person who comes to a Sulk gig. I’m the biggest Sulk fan. I find it kind of easy because we’re performing and writing the music we want to hear. No one else was doing it. We’ve waited and waited. I’ve waited for years to hear this kind of music. It wasn’t happening so we’ve had to go out and do it ourselves.

This music that has influenced you is nearly twenty-five years old, so you get to wonder how long does it have to be before you are allowed to be influenced by something.

Exactly. It’s fine to be influenced by Joy Division. There doesn’t seem to be a problem with that. There’s more bands out there that just sound like a poor Joy Division than anything. For some reason that’s not allowed with the Stone Roses and the Charlatans. It’s stupid. I think it’s short sightedness. At the end of the day it’s just British music and if it came round at another time I’m sure they would call it something different. They’re just trying to tie things in. I’m happy to go with it as we’ve never been led by these things, we’re just led by what we like. Let them be lazy. They won’t last long being lazy. We’ve all got bored of lazy journalism. Everything comes to an end. I think it’s a new time, I think things are changing. I think music’s changing positively.

How did you come to work with producer Ed Buller?

Tomas (Kubowicz - lead guitar) is a big Suede fan and when we were trying to work out how to take our sound to the next level he was thinking especially of Coming Up, he liked the production, he liked the sheen on it, and he thought some of the songs would really benefit from Ed’s work. We just had a word with him and sent him a demo of ‘Back In Bloom’ and he loved it so next thing you know we’re in the studio with him doing it. It can happen. You can have anything you want. If you’ve got the songs that will happen and that’s what bands don’t seem to get right. If you’ve got the songs you know people will want to work with it and you can make these jumps. I believe that.

You’ve also worked with Marc Waterman (Ride, Elastica, Swervedriver producer)?

Yeah, Marc’s become a good friend of mine. His work is very, very, very strong. He likes working late at night, he likes to get on it a bit like myself. We got on very well and he taught me a lot actually. He’ll be involved in the next record as well. We also worked with a chap called Jonas (Verwijnen) who actually mixed the record and changed a few things that we weren’t so keen on. Jonas is really good and he put the record together. He’s sort of young and fresh and we thought it was a good mixture to get old, experienced people who have done it before but then also mix it with fresh because I feel that’s what our music is. It may be an interpretation of an older thing but it’s done with a fresh mind, a fresh outlook.

You’ve obviously got a totally clear vision of how you want it to sound?

Yeah. I think that’s been one of the problems with Sulk. Record companies realised they can’t push us to deliver things. We’ve been asked to do all sorts and declined and that’s why we’ve had to pay our own way really. I don’t think we’re a band that can be moulded, a band that can be pushed in a direction we don’t want to go. We are so focused in what we want and how it’s got to be. Hopefully, that might pave the way for other bands to be able to do the same. The amount of people we know, big names who have become friends through our music, and they have told us all sorts of horror stories; we’ve kind of side-stepped the horror stories but as a result things have taken a bit longer. Record companies sign you because they like you and then they try and change you, it doesn’t make any sense. And if it doesn’t work out then it’s the band that suffers. I don’t knock anyone for it, it’s just the way it is, but if you do your own thing you can find a niche. We’ve always had labels sniffing round. We’ve had all those meetings at a table telling you you are going to be the next big thing, you can have anything you want, but you soon realise it’s not true. To be a successful band and a band that is going to produce something good you’ve got to put your blinkers on pretty quick, see your goal and go for it, and not be influenced or phased by it all. If the music is good I believe people will find it. Obviously the more money behind you the quicker they’ll find it.

flowers and graceless
Are you happy with the reviews Graceless has got?

Yeah, I’m happy with the reviews. I'm just happy they reviewed it. There’s some that are questionable in what they say but it’s all relatively positive. I’ve not seen anything really horrible. I believe you either love us or hate us and that’s going to be the way it is and it certainly doesn’t influence what we do. Some people have really got on it and really got the point of what it is.

Why 'Graceless'?

It’s a bit of a joke really. We have a song called ‘Graceless’ which didn’t make it on to the album and I just like the idea of it, what it means. I think it’s quite funny really because if anything we’re the opposite. Maybe there’s more connotations to what we feel about everything around us, I don’t know. It seems pretty apt. When we were deciding names, it was the one that ran true with us for various reasons. I think that’s like everything, though. You ask a different member of a band what a song means and he’ll tell you something different. That’s why we didn’t want the lyrics on the record. It’s different for different people.

Do you share in the songwriting?

More so now but I’ve got to be honest, Graceless is more Tomas’s record. A lot of these songs he did on his own. Normally he does the demos and he brings them to the band and we kind of put the band stamp on it. The majority of the album is him, Andy (Needle, rhythm guitar) has done a bit and I’ve just put the odd line in here and there when I had something in my head I thought was better than what they’d done.

Is it not odd singing someone else’s words?

No, not at all, because he’s like my brother. We come from the same place and we think the same way. We were only born two days between each other. Tomas and I, he’s the quiet one and I’m the mouthy one maybe; but we are opposites and the same person at the same time. We seem to be able to make up for each other in the things we don’t have, so I don’t mind him giving me words; they become my words when I sing them. He’s amazing, there’s no one out there like him. I’ve got a really good band. I’m very happy and very proud of them.

Looking forward to the tour?

I can’t wait. We’re not a big band by any stretch, we’re a long way off it, but people are starting to get the idea now, starting to work it out, starting to find out about us. I think we’ve chosen a very good tour. I like the venues they are small and I like small venues, so it’ll be good. We haven’t played Brighton before but I know the venue; I think I’ve been out there before. We’re a tiny band with a big vision. You are what you are at the moment.

the big blue
Sulk will be playing Start The Bus Bristol, 24th May; Electric Circus Edinburgh, 27th May; Castle Hotel Manchester, 28th May; Monteys Harrogate, 29th May; The Shacklewell Arms London, 31st May, The Joiners Southampton, 2nd June and The Prince Albert Brighton, Monday 3rd June. Tickets are available on-line here. You can order the album Graceless here and the new single 'The Big Blue' here on either seven-inch vinyl or download.


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