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City Reign Interview

City Reign are a Manchester-based indie-rock band who have three singles under their belt – ‘Making Plans’, ‘Out In The Cold’ and now ‘Daybreak’, all released on their own label Car Boot Records.

City Reign’s debut EP, also named ‘Daybreak’, was recorded with Grammy-nominated producer Dan Parry (Adele, Corinne Bailey Rae, Rihanna, Lady GaGa, to name a few), and the guys have been championed by the UK’s Radio 6 DJ Steve Lamacq. Not surprisingly, City Reign have been garnering an ever-increasing fanbase with their earnest, melodic, guitar-driven sound.

At present, the enterprising four-piece are playing dates around the UK.

MVRemix: You established your own label Car Boot Records to release your own music. How has that worked out so far? Is the freedom of that a breath of fresh air?

Chris: The label thing has helped us a lot. For a start I think it’s quite a cool name for a label which kind of catches people’s attention a little bit which is always good. Our friend Dave Euinton designed a great logo for it too! As far as the freedom goes, it’s hard to say as we’ve obviously never had a label to free any pressure from. We formed a band and started writing songs cause we wanted to, the label idea just helped us to get our songs heard by more people than would have been possible if we hadn’t done it.

MVRemix: Yourself and Chris had played music for quite some time before forming City Reign. Did each of you take anything from your past band experiences to make City Reign exactly the band you wanted it to be, or were your actions simply instinctive?

Chris: A bit of both I think. Like anything, the more you do something, the more you understand what you do well and what’s not so good. I think when you spend a long time playing and writing music you think in more different ways about the music you listen, which in turn helps influence the music you write. I think something changed in the way we were writing when we formed City Reign. We had known each other for a couple of years and been writing together, but almost writing songs we thought we should be writing, rather than just relaxing and letting things come naturally. So it was a definite break from what we were doing before, but in a way that made things more instinctive.

MVRemix: City Reign are named homophically after Ryan Adams’ song ‘City Rain, City Streets’. I know you and Chris first met at a Ryan Adams concert, but what was it about that particular song of Adams’ that made yourself and Chris borrow from it in creating your band name? Or did the word play of it just appeal to both of you?

Chris: Finding a name is always the most frustrating and annoying thing about forming a band. You spend weeks coming up with names that each sound more ridiculous. We ended up picking up CDs and reading the track listing. We read down the list of Love Is Hell until we got to ‘City Rain, City Streets’. It just seemed to fit.

MVRemix: You has described your new single ‘Daybreak’ as having that “typically youthful conflict between despair and restless hopefulness”. What sort of situations have arisen for you personally that have brought these feelings into play simultaneously? Is it easy to express these through song?

Chris: It’s about being young and energetic and full of ideas and ambition, but spending large amounts of time feeling like you can’t be bothered to do anything. It ties into the theme of Making Plans a bit, in that I was basically coming to realize that all these dreams and ambitions I had weren’t going to fall into my lap as I’d kind of always imagined they would. It was a bit of a wake up call to think that if we don’t start taking control of what we’re doing then we’ll never get to where we want to be.

MVRemix: Are there are artists who you think make good songs out of personal misery? Either touching upon it in a heartfelt way or a sarcastic or amusing way?

Chris: It’s a bit of a cliche but Morrissey is the king of misery, but in such a bizarrely uplifting way. He is so sardonic that he seems to make light of all the misery that everyone feels at some point or other. A lot of people say he’s a miserable git but I end up with a broad grin when I listen to his lyrics because they’re just so funny.

MVRemix: Although yourself and Chris are from London, Sam and Michael are from elsewhere – have you ever found that there has been any divisiveness in terms of the music you all like, or the approach you have to your music? Or do you feel musical tastes transcend mere geography?

Michael: None of us are from Manchester and we are very careful to say we’re a Manchester-based, rather than just a Manchester band, otherwise we would feel a bit fraudulent! But they’re not from London so the question still stands!

Michael: Glaze has probably the most different music taste to the rest of the band, he listens to a lot of hip hop, hence the ridiculous tweets he sends out. It’s quite good to have someone like him in the band though, it stops the rest of us descending into boring middle of the road indie and being too introspective, Glaze is the one who always brings us back to the beat, and makes sure there’s always something catchy about our songs.

MVRemix: On that note, have you noticed different crowd reactions in the various areas (mostly London and Manchester, I gather) in which you’ve played to date?

Chris: Er, it’s hard to say for definite. I don’t want to alienate anyone that might be reading this, but you do get more attention and sincerity from Mancunian audiences. Even if the hall is almost empty, there’s always a least one or two people who come up to you afterwards and let you know they really liked you, which is great. Mancunians live and breath music, which is why Mike and I moved here in the first place. (M) That’s not to say London crowds don’t listen to you, but I think we have a fondness for Manchester that we’ll hold for a long time.

MVRemix: As a currently Manchester-based band, how do you feel about inevitably being lumped in with all of Manchester’s musical illuminati, such as Oasis, The Smiths and Joy Division? Do you feel any pressure, or do you just focus on doing your own thing?

Chris: To be honest to be even mentioned alongside any of those bands is just an honour. In my mind, more than any other city, certainly in the UK, possibly the world, produced the greatest music of all. Again, that’s a massive reason we moved here in the first place, these bands are what we both grew up listening to. So no, we don’t feel any pressure, but not do we try to emulate any of them. I think the thing that makes all of those bands great is that the did their own thing, and that’s what you have to do, and hopefully that’s what we do.

MVRemix: What is your first single ‘Making Plans’ about?

Chris: It kind of goes back to what I said about Daybreak, it’s about talking a lot about what you’re going to do but never following through. I think we’ve all been guilty of that at times so hopefully it’s something that resonates with people.

MVRemix: The video for your new single ‘Daybreak’ is a Spaghetti Western extravaganza. From which movie is the footage taken, and what was it about that footage that you thought meshed well with ‘Daybreak’?

Michael: The ‘Daybreak’ video features four old films ‘One-Eyed Jacks’ (which was Marlon Brando’s directorial debut), ‘Rage At Dawn’, ‘Under California Stars’ and ‘The Cisco Kid’. We wanted to continue with the theme of using old movie footage in our videos and the Spaghetti Western theme for daybreak came from watching ‘Blazing Saddles’ one Sunday afternoon. I had an idea that horses running would fit well with the pounding drums of the song intro and I think it came off.

MVRemix: Previous single ‘Out In The Cold’ was similarly focused on the high-octane actions of other people. R.E.M.s early videos also featured footage devoid of the band. Are your videos a middle finger to the current music video ethos, where it’s commonplace for people to be posing and pouting at the camera? Or do you just like to avoid the hassle of having to ‘act’ for videos?

Michael: Sort of, but not quite as consciously as that. It’s a few things really. 1, we’re not really into writhing around, posing and pouting at a camera. 2, we just thought we’d rather people judge us on our music first before they see too much of us doing too much prancing and posing. We do plan to be in videos in the future, but thought it’d be a good idea to let the first few be about the music. I edited the footage to sit with the music, so hopefully they’re quite engaging in a way that watching us stand around playing our instruments wouldn’t necessarily have been.

MVRemix: Do you ever think that music videos that are direct illustrations of the meaning of songs kill off the mystery and intrigue of how people can visualize something when they simply hear a song, without being spoon-fed what it’s about?

Chris: I do think you can over explain things. You wanna be able to engage with a song rather than have everything laid on the table for you.

MVRemix: You recorded ‘Daybreak’ with Grammy-nominated producer Dan Parry, who’s worked with Adele, Paolo Nutini and Corinne Bailey Rae. How did that collaboration come to pass, and what was it like working with him? Did Dan understand your music and the direction you had in mind from the outset?

Chris: Just to clarify, the current single was recorded in Manchester with our mates Pete Fergie and Steve De Sarasola who were really great. We worked with Dan a couple of years ago when we did the Daybreak EP back in 2009. My cousin Alison was working at the studio and Dan offered to have us in to do some sessions with him. It was very rushed and all live and not really mixed properly but we learned a lot from it. We’d never met Dan before but got on with him straight away. He’d heard a couple of demos from earlier bands but we’d never recorded as City Reign so it was impossible for him to know straight away but he seemed to click fairly quickly and was a real pleasure to work with. We’ve been lucky to work with some really great people, all of them have been totally relaxed and a dream to work with, and it’s definitely helped us get a set of recordings we’re really happy with.

MVRemix: In many respects, City Reign are a guitar-driven band. Do you find that you prefer a certain sequence of chords or tuning that also tends to make a good song? For instance, Keith Richards has said he prefers to keep the E-string open, leaving him with a five-string guitar: “Five strings, three notes, two fingers and one arsehole to play it.”

Michael: Haha, well if Keith says that then maybe we’ll have to start playing that way.

Chris: Not really, we have a few songs that haven’t been recorded yet where we’ve played around with the tunings, a couple of songs with Capos to change the sound a bit. You just have to experiment with different sounds and keep what sounds good and ditch what doesn’t really.

MVRemix: On ‘Out In The Cold’, you sing the line “I want you, let me go”. What does that mean? Is that a reference to feeling you want someone so much that you feel it’s best to just abandon ship for fear it won’t live up to your ideals, or is the meaning less prosaic?

Chris: You’re not the first person to mishear that lyric, so I’ll let you off! Perhaps I should pronounce a little better! But I like lyrics where you can’t quite work out what people are saying, because you can decide for yourself and come up with your own meaning. So I’ll just leave it at that!

MVRemix: Your debut single ‘Making Plans’ had a strong vocal harmony in its chorus. Do you think vocal harmonies fortify a chorus to make it that little bit more singalong-ish when playing it live?

Chris: It’s something we’ve not been very good at but it’s definitely the thing that makes that song. My favourite Idlewild songs are those that have great backing vocals, either harmonies or vocal melodies that move in and out of each other.

MVRemix: You’re planning to do more touring this year. Are you rehearsing a lot in preparation, or have the gigs you’ve been playing served as enough of a rehearsal, so to speak?

Chris: Obviously you need to rehearse, and it’s something that we’ve been very conscious of. The more you play together as a band, the better you’ll be, it’s as simple as that. But there’s something different about playing live that you can’t replicate in rehearsal. But we’re looking forward to getting out and playing more shows, we were asked recently if we would go over to Amsterdam in the autumn, so hopefully that works out.

MVRemix: What are your ambitions or goals for City Reign? Where would you like to see yourselves in a year from now?

Chris: Again, it’s a bit of a cliche but we just want as many people to listen to and enjoy our music as possible. We’re planning to release a 4 or 5 track EP in the Autumn, probably on Car Boot Records. We’ve got the material for a full length album, so if we could get the rest of it recorded in the next 12 months that would be amazing. And obviously we just want to keep playing live and building up a fanbase so that if and when we release an album a few people might go out and buy it!

By Sheila Ring

Sheila lives in Ireland, and has written for a number of local, national, UK, and online publications.

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