go mad with the rhythm method
With their first show of the year taking place tonight at Holloway’s indie mecca, Nambucca, open your curtains to The Sound of Young Wandsworth.
"I want to get one of those arse jabs," says Joey, settling down behind a pint of Guinness. "You know, like, when pops stars are on tour." The lyric and singing half of South London's The Rhythm Method is umming and ahhing the hypothetical benefits of direct action in the wake of an oncoming cold. And while it's not your typical start to an interview, woe betide anyone that mistakes The Rhythm Method for your typical band. Naming Ronnie Barker, Dennis Waterman and growing up under the flight path as their main, if not sole, influences, listening to The Rhythm Method is like entering a parallel universe; one in which The Style Council are more revered than The Jam, Kilburn and the High Roads better loved than The Blockheads and Madness won out over The Specials. They are the sound of a kinda subversive suburbia (a subversia, if you will); with Rowan, the band's keyboard and music half, crafting a aural pastiche that matches the artificiality of rolling lawns and lovely flowers, streets with nothing to do but hang around and form a band.
Where in London are you both from?
Joey: South West. Sort of inner-city suburbs. That's the way I like to describe it. Kind of out but still ten minutes from Waterloo.
Rowan: South West Trains, basically. That's our arterial route. Every journey starts at Waterloo and that's how a lot of it started; us going on journeys together, out or on the night bus back. That's where the conversations start.
Where were you going to?
J: Well, funny enough it was Nambucca where it all started really. The golden age of indie. Well, the golden age of millennial indie when everyone was in a band… We were both in ones of differing qualities. His was slightly better. He's always been a good songwriter. It was just the presentation.
R: It was sort of Haircut 100 almost. Ties tucked into your shirt sort of thing. Very New Romantic. Whereas Joey's band was more…
J: It was a Libertines rip-off band. Not so much in the sound, just in sort of messy hair and slurring… I'm still pretty much like that to be honest.
Your music does sound suburban, in a way…
J: Yeah, we always felt like outsiders to some extent, because the hub of the scene was in North London and we're from South West London. I spent a lot of years hating people from North London, just on the basis they were form North London. The sort of people that wear snapbacks at parties and things like that. I've grown out of it now, I don't want to be as negative as I was when I was an angry 17 year old, but I think that sort of outsider mentality is where it all comes from really. And what we've realised is that, what were thought were just our in-jokes and our mentality, goes across the country. Everyone gets it.
You mean in terms of the references you use?
J: Yeah. Like, all our jokes come from 70s sitcoms. Obviously the politically correct ones. But, yeah, I remember when we were living together, one of our flatmates, said, "I don't know who you guys are, you seem to come from the 70s". We just thought it was normal.
Do you think that's because you grew up, sort of, one step removed from the epicentre?
R: Yeah. We never really wanted to be part of that London, cool type of thing. We slightly revelled in our outsider status. Even though we were in London, it's such a big place you can still be quite far from where it's at. And that's what we like about it… But the London-ness of it is very important. In the very early days of me and Joey starting to write songs, we wanted to almost write a song in every, what we called, "London genre". So, Local Girl was like a pub rock song, which goes back to our Dads' background in that sort of world...
J: My Dad's from Glasgow but he moved in to London in the 70s.
R: And in a way, that's the most London thing you can do.
J: Living in a bedsit in South West London.
R: So, that was something that we had in our minds. Then there was UK Garage which, again, we were too young to experience, but every party we've ever been to has played Oxide & Neutrino. So that became Ode to Joey.
J: It's about not actually being in those scenes… I don't think we've ever actually committed, apart from the initial indie-ness, to anything else since then. Because they're so transient. They move so fast, there's no point in committing to them.
Your position, on the outside, allows you to cherry pick more, I guess…
R: Yeah. We don't have to be influenced in that very old-fashioned way anymore. So we're influenced by, like, TV. Parties we've been to. Cab rides. Things like that. One of our favourite things to do is get the cab driver to turn on Magic. For me, that's one of the ultimate London moments. Careering through wherever with Magic on. So we're influenced by things like that, rather than, "Oh, we're influenced by Squeeze". It's much bigger.
J: It's just more natural. This debate around originality, I don't believe in it. I don't believe in originality. I think that to truly be original you just have to be honest. That's what makes something original. And it doesn't have to be, like, overtly pioneering or anything because then you end up like Thom Yorke. And the music Thom Yorke makes now, in my opinion, is the sound of a man that's forgotten how to write a song. So he's just disguising it in this sort of chin stroke-y nonsense. Whereas, imagine if he came out and wrote a timeless song again.
R: That's what we're trying to do. Whether we succeed or not is up to people but it's what we're trying to do. It's very much that middle ground, you know? The Style Council were a band in the middle. Prefab Sprout were a band in the middle. The Streets were a band in the middle. Massive songs that everyone can relate to but also very niche ideas. We're missing that in British music right now.
Do you run the risk of sounding overly knowing by trying to do that?
R: That's another middle ground. Being self-aware and being very carefree and emotional and really passionate.
J: It's all based on humour though really. The best British humour is irony, really. It's tongue in cheek. Some of the lyrics in Local Girl. I never actually call my Dad, "My old man". It's not a phrase I use. It's just a colour in a painting, I suppose. It's a mishmash of things we've grown up around. And within the irony and the knowingness, that's where the honesty is.
R: That's definitely confused some people. People wonder if we're sincere in what we say. I think a lot of people just can't believe that we're saying these things. They think it must be a joke.
And is that because there's such a lack of bands that are offering something more nuanced?
R: Exactly. Without blowing our own trumpet, I think we are completely left-field of what's going on right now, in terms of having that kind of approach. So it's a badge of honour for us that people are asking. We want people to think, "What the fuck is this?". That's the response that we're after.
J: We want to be a sort of… Well I actually don't want to be like them at all but an example that just came into my head was Chumbawamba. They had I Get Knocked Down, that big huge hit, but they're actually quite an arty band.
Those quite subversive pop acts that don't insult the listener's intelligence…
J: Yeah. I mean, he's [Rowan] quite academic and everything but I'm not at all. I read my first book when I was 21.
What did you read?
J: It was the The Grapes of Wrath. Because I don't have the attention span mostly, and the only reason I read a book was because I was living in a flat with no internet and no TV so it was either that or masturbation. So, I'm not incredibly well read or anything. The stuff I know I've learnt off the TV mostly. Like, I learnt how to shave off The Simpsons. I'm sure a lot of people did. I think there's a big section of this generation that has been educated by things around them.
R: The internet as well. I mean, I can sympathise with what Joey just said. I'm not a trained musician so I learnt a lot of the chords you hear through, like, Steely Dan Youtube tutorials and weird related videos that taught you how to play Gospel piano. I think we're proud of that route of influence.
Who do you want your music to speak to?
R: As many people as possible.
J: This is always going to sound like I'm trying to make one of those statements, a Johnny Borrell type thing. But I do genuinely only say this, only want this, because I think it could happen. I think we could be an era defining band. We want to be the biggest band in the country. And I don't see why we can't do it.
R: We want to try, you know what I mean? They're are a lot of people that aren't even trying or aren't interested in that or are pretending they aren't interested. It's like step up to the plate! Give it ago. Why not?
J: I want a gold swimming pool! I want to be Rod Stewart, know what I mean? In some respects, I am Rod Stewart. And to be honest, it's an open goal.
The Rhythm Method perform at Nambucca, London tonight (31 March).