When I first saw Personal Best play the legendary punk den Cavern in Exeter they immediately caught my attention. The Bristol 3 piece play with an energy and confidence that cuts through any immediate competition. This shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise as I soon learnt that Personal Best is made up of seasoned road warriors, featuring members of Caves, Attack! Vipers! and Bedford Falls.
Their debut album Arnos Vale is a wonderful mix of power-pop melodies and punk snarl. At an almost unbelievably quick 21:99 minutes, Personal Best blitz through their debut album. While the songs may speed by what they lack in length they certainly don't in catchy appeal and universal tales of love and life. With the lyricism of The Posies, a touch of Superdrag quirkiness and a smidgen of Superchunk cool, Arnos Vale is a mighty impressive debut. It may only be March but I'm calling it, Arnos Vale will be a standout album for many in 2015.
Below you can read an interview with Kate from Personal Best and hear a stream of their track Song For The Failures' Union:
1.Personal Best are bringing power-pop back to the fore with Arnos Vale! This is super exciting. What was the song writing process like when writing the record?
Thank you! Really glad you're enjoying it. Well, usually I go to practise with a little nugget of an idea and then we just jam through it a few times to get the vibe. A lot of the songs seems to write themselves because we stick fairly closely to a 'classic' song-writing formula. Maybe one day I'll write a 32 minute prog-rock opus, but it won't be for PB. (Just kidding, I hate prog.) For now, it feels right to have a verse-bridge-chorus-solo-everything-times-two structure. I love pop songs and I don't think they need to be reinvented yet.
2.With underlying hints of great American indie bands, were there any record you were listening to that influenced this record?
Superchunk - I Hate Music comes immediately to mind. They have such wonderful melodic clarity, even in their heavier punky moments. They're one of those bands that just sound so bloody happy to be playing music, and I definitely wanted the album to have that positive energy about it. It's a Shame About Ray and Come On Feel The Lemonheads are also never too far away from my ears; The Lemonheads make it sound so easy. Call the Doctor was another big influence in terms of getting in the mood to write some righteous riffs and cut loose a bit more on guitar.
3.Tell me a little bit about Song for The Failures' Union, how did it come about?
The Failures' Union are an amazing band from Buffalo, New York who my other band, Bedford Falls have toured with a few times. So we've become pretty good friends and I miss them very much. The title was meant to be temporary but it stuck, as they always do. It's called that because they have a bunch of lyrics with the word 'sweater' in, and so does this song. It's a tribute! Or a rip-off, depending on how you look at it.
4.A lot of the lyricism on Arnos Vale revolves around everyday events that are universal to everyone, was that intentional?
Not particularly. I hate writing lyrics. Often a catchy chorus lyric will come to me and then I work the song out sideways from that. I have tried and spectacularly failed to write lyrics that are particularly poetic or metaphorical. It makes me feel really pretentious and dishonest, though I absolutely admire lyricists who can pull that off. So I think they end up being universal by default; two feet planted firmly in the mundane rather than the sublime.
5.You're about to set off on the road, as a DIY band, how integral is the touring side of music for you?
I think for what we want to achieve - which is to help sell some albums, play lots, have fun, and meet people - it's pretty crucial. Lots of bands I know aren't interested in touring, which is also fine - people should just do what makes them happy in their band. Touring is always more glamorous in theory than in reality but getting a bad back and eating dry-ass pasta for two weeks is all part of the experience. I certainly would never have been able to see as much of Europe and America as I have if it wasn't for being in bands. I have to mention the amazing hospitality we received in Turin when I toured with Bedford Falls. Just beyond generous, to the point where we all felt really unworthy! It was at a place called Alla Vecchia Maniera a little outside of the Turin main city area. Please go there and give them your business if you are ever able to.
6.Lately we've seen increasingly small independent venues put under pressure and some even being forced to close. How does that impact a band like Personal Best and the broader music culture?
I'm trying to think how my musical direction would've gone if I didn't have my local indie/punk bar to meet people in (that's Le Pub in Newport by the way). It almost definitely never would've gotten off the ground. It gives you that space to make connections with people who you otherwise may not have. So yeah, I feel sad that people might not get to have a central hub for local music and small touring bands.
On the other hand, I don't really think that The Kids are ever going to stop being interested in and making music, but the way it happens might change. Who am I to say that every teenager should be coming up through the same pathway I did? There's all sorts of amazing underground things going on that I might not know about because maybe I'm the one who's stuck in that old traditional route of be-in-a-band-record-then-tour cycle. Brilliant new music will always break through. I'm wary of not becoming snobby if things aren't always like 'the good old days', because, frankly, there's no such thing. I think there's a misconception that bands should go through a certain route in order to be considered 'real' but what has that route always traditionally meant? Men with their shirts off taking up lots of space. The internet is creating new avenues and new spaces for different kinds of people to get together. Does that mean they don't have the right background or whatever to be in a punk band? No way! You've got to trust the Kids to make it their own. So in general, venues closing down is definitely A Bad Thing, but perhaps other collaborative spaces will emerge. A good example from Bristol is Roll For The Soul; it's a bike café where a promoter called NT YRS puts on loads of brilliant gigs. It's not a traditional music venue but those people work hard to make it welcoming, safe, and fun, so I don't think we should dismiss it because it's not 'a real venue' in the typical sense.
7.You recorded Arnos Vales with Gethin Pearson, what was it like working with him and how did he help shape the record?
Gethin is incredibly energetic and instantly 'gets' what you're trying to do which is really important for a band like us, who can't afford to spend weeks and weeks in the studio. It's also important for me because I get really, really bored during the setting up process. Some people geek out about the technical bits but I just want to get on with making noise. So I think Gethin helps me to, er, appreciate just how important getting the technical stuff correct is. I'm more of a 'yeah that'll do!' type musician, whereas Gethin will keep encouraging a better performance. I really hope the energy comes through on the album; it's a snapshot of the band over one weekend and I think he captured what we're about magnificently.
8.Personal Best is made up of members who have all been in bands before, how did you come together and how has that history impacted what you do now?
I knew Lou through Caves and them being involved in the local touring circuit. I had a bunch of songs that I knew I wanted to sing and play myself (I play bass in Bedford Falls), so I asked Lou to jam with me and we went from there. We had another bassist for a while, Livi from Twisted, and when they had to leave to get on with Uni work, we asked Tom, who I'd known from Attack! Vipers! and who is, conveniently, Lou's housemate. I think working with people who have been in bands before is cool; they get how things work, know promoters and friends in other cities, and have their own gear. Both Tom and Lou have big strengths in the band. Lou is really experienced as a touring musician, and Tom is amazing at organising things and taking responsibility for merch and driving etc. They're both great sounding-boards when I have doubts about band-related stuff. Above all, they're really enthusiastic! You need people that want to do it.
9.Finally after the tour what's next for Personal Best?
We are saying goodbye to Lou, which I don't want to think about too much because I am really upset about it! It's due to musical differences. Not really, they're moving to America to find the streets paved with gold. We are going to get a replacement, and hopefully from that, someone along the way will want to fill the position permanently. I definitely want to do another album, but I think the sound could change a fair bit depending on the style of the drummer. Whatever PB does is always going to be under the indie/punk/pop umbrella, but I'd like the next drummer to bring something new rather than feel like they have to entirely copy what Lou has done. I'd love to do an American tour! If anyone wants to offer some help with that then get in touch. I also want to end by saying this: listen to Alimony Hustle.
Personal Best are about to hit the road and you'd be a right fool to miss them:
27/03 - Roll For The Soul, Bristol UK
28/03 - Edge of the Wedge , Southsea UK
29/03 - The Stillery, London UK
w/ Lemuria & Dads
26/05 - Soundcontrol, Manchester UK
27/05 - The Harley, Sheffield UK
28/05 - Audio 16+, Glasgow UK
29/05 - Key Club, Leeds UK
30/05 - Stuck on Name Studios, Nottingham UK
31/05 - Epic Studios, Norwich UK
01/06 - Junction, Plymouth UK
02/06 - Clwb Ifor Bach, Cardiff UK
03/06 - Exchange, Bristol UK
04/06 - Joiners, Southampton UK
05/06 - The Dome, London UK
06/06 - Fighting Cocks, Kingston UK
08/06 - TBC, NL
09/06 - Cassiopeia, Berlin DE
10/06 - HafenKlang, Hamburg DE
11/06 - Tsunami, Cologne DE
Arnos Vales is out on Specialist Subject Records on 30th March, you can pre-order the album here