Let’s cut to the chase and at the risk of sounding like an M&S advert, categorically state, Let’s Buy Happiness aren’t just a good band, Let’s Buy Happiness are a great band. However there has been some debate as to whether they qualify as a ‘thrilling’ band? Drowned In Sound editor Sean Adams once described the band as “One of the most thrilling new bands I’ve seen in years” whilst over at the Guardian, Paul Lester stated that ‘their music’s nice, some of it really nice, but thrilling? Hardly?’ So allow me to step into the fray and provide the definitive answer as to whether or not Let’s Buy Happiness score highly on the musical ‘thrill-o-meter.’ I’m resolutely of the view that music doesn’t necessarily have to be incendiary or explosive to be termed ‘thrilling’ and will yield to no one in my view that understated is often underrated! For example, many may find a gentle punt in a gondola exploring the meandering sprawl of canals in Venezia a far more thrilling experience than a white knuckle ride aboard ‘Nemesis’ at Alton Towers. Besides the dictionary definition of the word is ‘to cause a sudden wave of emotion’ and really, if Let’s Buy Happiness’ gorgeous shimmer of flanging guitars allied to Sarah Hall’s beautiful, bewitching, winsome vocals can’t induce sudden waves of emotion, well I really don’t know what will. So there you have it! Non-scientific, totally subjective proof that Let’s Buy Happiness are indeed a ‘thrilling’ band.
Formed on Tyneside just over a year or so ago it wasn’t until James Hall bit the bullet and admitted, actually, his older Sarah was pretty cool, could sing a fair bit and really should join the band, that they became a fully formed entity. They self-released their debut EP, ‘No Hot Ashes’ in late 2009 and it wasn’t long before the plaudits came flooding in with Sarah’s ethereal, haunting voice drawing comparisons to Liz Fraser and Harriet Wheeler . Since then the band has supported Idlewild, Sky Larkin, The Temper Trap, HEALTH, Vivian Girls and The Futureheads, whilst playing The Great Escape, Evolution, In The City, T4’s ‘Outside In’ Festival and the John Peel stage at Glastonbury. Their debut single, the exquisite ‘Six Wolves’ was released in October 2010 and served to confirm that the steady swell of praise that had been growing in the bands wake was more than deserved.
Ahead of the release of their new single ‘Fast Fast’ we spoke to Sarah Hall, and in an unusual first for us, conducted the interview with Sarah sitting on her doorstep, locked out of her house.
VP: Hi Sarah, initially the band consisted of the four lads, I’ve heard one version of the story about how you became the singer. So what’s the truth? Did you really demand to join the band or in reality did the lads beg you to join, desperate to utilise your undoubted lyrical genius?
SARAH: Ha, ha, really it came about after I did one song in the set. Initially, it was that whole thing with my little brother that it wasn’t really cool to have his sister about, so I’d do the one song and then go about my business. But people seemed to like it and it developed from there, it was a gradual thing rather than my saying ‘I’m going to be in your band!’
VP: And is it also true you design all the bands artwork and direct the videos?
SARAH: Yes, but at the moment we’re doing a new video and everybody’s having a bigger say in it, making it a much more mutual experience. And of course it’s far less hassle for me, because last time doing all the art work, directing the video and appearing in it, meant I had to be in five different places at once!
VP: Where did the band name come from? Is it an indictment of the modern consumerist society we live in or something even more profound??
SARAH: Mark the bassist came up with it; I think it’s from a book. At the time we needed a name and so we went with that one. To be honest we had arguments about it, because I really don’t like it! I do think it sounds like a kind of soapbox statement, and I’d much prefer a name that’s more abstract or decorative, but we are stuck with it now![laughs]
VP: Who writes the songs and how do you go about the song writing process?
SARAH: We all write the songs, a bit here, a bit there, and then I come up with the lyrics, so everyone has their part to play.
VP: So do you have like, artistic differences, whereby somebody may come up with something and you say’ erm no!’
SARAH: All the time! We have so many conversations along the lines of ‘ Nah, I don’t fancy that’ But that’s normal…it all depends on how passionately someone feels about the song and how far they are prepared to fight for it ! But we do compromise because we all like different styles of music, we are quite eclectic. At the same time I think the differences benefit the music. So yeah when it comes down to fine tuning a song, there is a lot of debate, friendly debate though!
VP: What have been your highlights so far as a band?
SARAH: It has to be Glastonbury to be honest, even though I was drunk at the time because I was so nervous. We were on the John Peel Stage which was amazing and meeting Michael Eavis was pretty cool too, he’s a really nice guy. It was so hot last year at Glastonbury and I don’t really ‘do’ summer clothes! But it was a great experience, even with the drunkenness!
VP: Is being in a band with your brother difficult, any sibling rivalry and fisticuffs ala the Gallaghers ?
SARAH: Ha, ha no actually it’s really nice because when we were young, growing up, me and my brother were best friends. I was conscious that things would change as we got older and we wouldn’t see as much of each other, so it’s really nice to have this opportunity to spend time with him. Obviously we have the usual sibling arguments, but it’s more over who sits in the front of the car than anything major. I really enjoy working with my brother.
VP: You’re vocal style has been compared to Harriet Wheeler of the Sundays and Cocteau Twin Elizabeth Fraser, do you find such comparisons flattering? Are these the sort of artists who have been an influence on you?
SARAH: They have been an influence but to be honest I never thought I sounded anything like them! I suppose you never really know what you sound like as it’s coming out of your own head! It’s definitely a compliment even if I don’t really see it. When I was young I really wanted to sing but was told my voice was too weird! I’d be told stuff like ‘you’re hitting all the right notes but you just sound a bit odd.’ So when I was in the school choir I never got any of the main parts.
VP: You’re releasing a new single ‘Fast Fast ‘on February 28th , what’s the song actually about ?
SARAH: The song is basically about somebody over-thinking any given situation. I have a tendency to over-analysis things and dissect every tiny detail – ‘What did he mean by that’ etc and people will say ‘oh don’t worry about it!’ So yeah, basically it’s about anybody over- thinking something to the point of insanity! But I’ve analysed things by writing a song about it so I’m over it now. [laughs]
VP: Do you enjoy performing live, I saw an interview in which you said you didn’t really make eye contact with the audience, is that due to nerves?
SARAH: Well, I do still get nervous, but I’m getting better. Initially I’d enjoy the song writing process and rehearsals more than anything because I’d get massively nervous and be sick before performing live, but it’s getting easier now. We support each other and if I keep eye contact with the boys in the band then I can sail through it.
VP: As a young band staring off did you find local promoters helpful or were they more interested in how many people you could guarantee to bring along, than the quality of your music.
SARAH: It’s always a bit hit and miss, some were really good and would go all out and promote you and do the job properly, whilst others basically expected you to make money for them and go out and do their job for them. I decided that dealing with promoters wasn’t really my forte and so I thought I’d just concentrate on drawing pictures and turning up to sing !
VP: Finally five words to describe your music?
SARAH: Well everyone says ‘ethereal’, oh, erm, actually this is quite hard. ‘Multi-faceted’, can that count as two ? Erm, ‘abstract’ . . .I can’t think, can you think of another one ? [laughs]
‘Six Wolves’ By Let’s Buy Happiness.
‘Works Better on Paper’ (live at Maida Vale for BBC Introducing) by Let’s Buy Happiness