Originally posted on Swizzle-Stick.com in December 1999.
It’s an unusually warm December night when The Candyskins tour bus rolls into Columbus, Ohio. The Oxford, England band, currently enjoying quite a bit of Stateside success thanks to their fluffy pop single “Feed It,” is wrapping up six-weeks of touring with a final Friday night show. The gig this night, a one-off radio station sponsored show, is an opening one in support of Love & Rockets. After the show, The Candyskins will drive to New York, where, on Saturday morning they will catch a flight back to merry ole’ England.
It was eight years ago that Geffen Records released the first Candyskins CD, The Space I’m In. Little did the British band know that as they were hitting the shores of America a band from Seattle was releasing a single that would change the world of alternative music as we know it. When it came time to prioritize bands, guess who shot to the top of Geffen’s list?
The Candyskins, despite the onset of grunge, managed to sell a respectable amount of albums to a nation that had yet to hear of a band called Oasis. But, as things go when a new trend is tapped into, Geffen decided to turn their backs on The Candyskins and focus their attention to Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and the countless other lo-fi, garage rock bands from America.
Eight years is a long time to toil in obscurity. The Candyskins actually released, Fun?, a follow up to their 1990 debut, in 1993, but by then their shot at American audiences had come and gone. The band retreated to Oxford, sorted out numerous legal hassles and returned to the business of writing great pop songs.
And now, on the eve of the last year of the century, The Candyskins return with an amazing new CD, Death of a Minor TV Celebrity. So where have the Candyskins been? And why do so many people think that they are a new band? Climb aboard The Candyskins tour bus and get the answers.
So this is really your second go around in America?
Nick Burton (guitarist): Yeah. It’s amazing how many people, every single show, have come because they have the stuff from ’91 and ’92, both albums, and they shout out every single night. We came unprepared. We probably should have re-learned a few more of the old songs. It’s a different line-up since then, not that we can remember anyway. If we do come back, we’ll learn a few more of the old songs.
I saw on the Velvel webpage that the label is going to be re-releasing all of the old CDs.
Nick B.: Yeah. That’s really good because they are deleted in England. You can’t get the first album anywhere. I remember getting into R.E.M., about ten years ago, and the first thing they released in England was Document, and that was like their fifth album. So it was really nice to stop by on the old stuff and trace your way back. Same thing with Elliott Smith.
The first time that you tried to break into the American music scene was during the whole grunge period.
Nick Cope (singer/guitarist): It was just prior to that really. We were signed to DGC. They had Sonic Youth and Nirvana. We heard this really good band, Nirvana, on the radio and it was on every single radio station as we were going around. By the time we got back to L.A., it had just gone mad. I think that’s what changed alternative music, especially with the record companies. They realized they could make so much money out of it. We did a second album on Geffen and it did okay. It didn’t sell as many as the first one. A similar thing has happened in the U.K. to Oasis.
People try to chase the success by signing bands, making videos, and putting money into promotion. And they seem to be doing quite well, but they are not selling enough records and the accountant looks at it and they are dropping these bands. When we were coming over we were hearing about all these bands that were being dropped and we thought, “They’ve been on Top of the Pops, they are on the radio all the time, they’ve done reasonably good to sell out a tour.” It’s not adding up. Obviously the record companies are still learning. It doesn’t make sense. They throw money away and the other bands suffer. These are bands on their first album. They are not going to be given the chance to progress.
What happened with the deal with Geffen?
Nick C: The guy that signed us left the company and with him were supposed to go all these bands. They had already committed to a third album with us, which basically meant they’d give us the money if they didn’t want to make the album, or we’d make the album. They didn’t want to do either of those things, so it was left in the hands of the lawyers for about eight months. We couldn’t record, tour, or do anything. And the money that we did eventually get from them, we owed it to our old manager. So we waited for this so long. The whole idea was wait, sit out, and we’d get the money.
In the meantime, he was paying bills for us, so we got nothing out it. We got rid of him and started from scratch again. One thing we had done, because we were signed too early to Geffen, was we had neglected the U.K. and not done as much touring as we should have done. We started getting out mailing lists and within a month or so we had a few thousand people on it. We started putting the singles out on a small independent label. We progressed from there. We had a Top 40 hit and a sell-out tour. It worked. It was a really good week at the end of that touring. We were on one of the top TV shows. It all came about in a week. It made complete sense all this hard work. There are people out there who like what we do. That sort of gave us the energy to carry on.
(At this point, Nick Burton retreats into the club to see if Love & Rockets have finished their hour-long soundcheck. Therefore, the rest of the interview is with Nick Cope.)
Looking back, you don’t have any regrets not starting out in the U.K. and coming to America later?
Not really. You carry on making mistakes. We never stop making mistakes. That’s just part of our thing.
What are the media outlets in the U.K. that will give you exposure?
Apart of European MTV, there was a show called “The Chart Show,” that showed videos if you were lucky — if you were either on the charts or they particularly liked your video. We were on a small independent. Our videos were made for about 1,000 pounds. Unless it’s a really completely great idea, which a lot of the time it was, sometimes the money wasn’t quite enough. You couldn’t afford the editing and stuff. We didn’t really get shown on that. The other shows, you need a certain amount of success or credibility. Our idea is that we know where we sort of fit in, and we know where we don’t fit in, in the U.K. We think as long as we carry on and keep writing and doing stuff, we’ll break through.
I suppose the main outlet for us is Radio One, which is possibly the best thing. They do like us there and they have played our records. That’s the only national radio station. They did have an alternative radio station in London called X-FM, which started out as a really cool, 24-hour alternative music station very similar to stuff in America. But then it got even more similar. Someone took it over and there is sponsorship and they got rid of all the DJs and said, “You have to play this and play that.” So it’s not really an alternative to anything.
At any point after you left Geffen did you consider breaking up?
I think it was different for different members of the band. It didn’t split everything apart, but Mark (Cope, guitarist and Nick’s brother) had a girlfriend who was in Boston so he was spending sometime over there. We were like, “Look, we really have to sort everything out here.” And it was the dream to come back to America because that was where we had our initial success. At the time, we were writing for the third album, we were sending demos up to Geffen and they weren’t listening to them. They were being left on desks. By the end of it, we had a certain amount of songs that we thought were good. We started playing them in Oxford, our hometown. We started getting a good following so it was like, “This seems to be working.” So for us to end because some big, fat American that wants to be President but is not allowed to be, then we’ve let them win. We did feel good about the material that we had and we just felt we had to carry on. That was always the philosophy, the only thing that can actually stop us is us.
Lyrically, did you have the idea for “Feed It” before you started writing the song?
Yeah. That came sort of at the same time as writing the song. It was weird. It happens sometimes. We were just playing some chords and started up the first bit of the lyric and then you mumble the rest until you get to the chorus. That almost came off the top of my head. We had to finish it off, there were huge holes in it. We saw the documentary on Heaven’s Gate and I thought the song had something to do with it. “There’s a place in the sun/That belongs to everyone.” The idea behind it is that these people were brainwashed into doing something, but if you’re brainwashed you do definitely believe that when this comet comes over you’re going to get up into the tail of it and it’s going to be brilliant. This is going to be such a great place to go. And if they generally do believe it, it’s not a bad way to go. There’s a lot of worse things that can happen. The other side of it, the song is about doing what you want to do in life. You have so many years on this earth, you should be able to do what you want to do.
I didn’t know what the song was about until recently. Did you want people to know what it was about or did you want them to figure it out for themselves?
It’s nice the way some people have heard it before and could get something else out of it. A lot of the stuff is like that. I think it has to mean something to the person who is writing it, to think that far and to spend that amount of time. Otherwise you are just writing gibberish. Whether we want to say this is about a certain story or whatever, we don’t ram it down your throat. It seems like “this is a really good idea for a song,” but we do it so ambiguously that they don’t understand what it is about anyway. I suppose that’s why we do interviews, to let people know.
I noticed on a webpage that you seemed to put out a lot of singles in between albums. Were you writing songs for singles?
It started out that way. We had a few songs and we were signed to Ultimate, we still are signed to Ultimate in the U.K., and they said, “let’s put a single out.” And it did pretty good, let’s do another one. It just went on like that. By the end of it we put like five singles out, so it was like that’s half the album. So by the time we’d come to release the album, everyone had heard the singles. We had the Top 40 single. If we had done it in reverse, or had another single to put out, it would have really broken out in the U.K. But we had run out of material by that point, which was a bit depressing because it was a lot of hard work. And we did definitely raise our profile. Even the single after that got quite a bit of play on Radio One. Strange enough, “Feed It” didn’t get released as a single. That was the one we thought, we had done all this groundwork, let’s release “Feed It,” but for some reason they didn’t like it.
When you are writing a bunch of material for singles, is it tough to write material for an album?
We did try to do this a lot because you tend to write singles. We listen to a lot of pop music, it goes from the Beatles to punk rock. A lot of it is three and a half minutes. We did actually sit down and write a majority of it as an album for the first time rather than it be our live set or a collection of things that we’re using to try to prick up the ears of the record company. It was like, “These are the songs we want to do. These are the songs we’ve written.” It wasn’t anything more than that really. It wasn’t “this is a single, this is a single.”
I haven’t heard the old material. However, on the new CD there is a vast difference is sound between the first song, “Feed It,” and the second song, “It’s a Sign.” Is this indicative of your older material, kind of mixing styles?
To a certain degree. We’ve always been fairly eclectic in the way we do things. But then again, if you really listen to some of the Beatles records, especially the later ones, there is a ballad then there is someone screaming. That was always the philosophy, if it’s a good song, you should do it. It’s like the Flaming Lips is something we would despise if it wasn’t done in such a quirky, lo-fi way. The intention is to get that sort of album, though we haven’t done it quite yet but we’re definitely getting there.
“It’s a Sign” sounds quite a bit like the Pixies.
That’s really good. When you are writing songs, you’ve got another album to come out, it always comes a little later than you think. We had a single out, “Wembley,” ages ago and I wanted it to sound like Dinosaur Jr. It doesn’t but people caught onto it and they really liked it. It got quite a lot of airplay. We were probably trying to be the Pixies about two or three years ago, trying to do stuff like that and Pavement or whatever. That’s great because you try to write some songs and it doesn’t quite work but it stays inside you. “It’s a Sign” was just a song and we did it. That’s really good that people are getting that out of it. That’s a lot better than some of the stuff that we’ve been likened to.
Although “Feed It” has a very poppy feel, it sounds like you are more into the indie guitar type bands.
Yeah. I like a lot of stuff at the moment. Nick, as he said, is into Elliott Smith which makes sense because we’ve always been into ballad, acoustic stuff. But, we’ve always been into Sonic Youth, Led Zeppelin, and all the punk stuff. I think it just stays inside and the more stuff you listen to, you draw on that as well. You just keep learning and when you hear stuff, you say, “I want to write something as good as that.” It always keeps you on your toes I suppose. You always want to write the perfect, not necessarily pop song, but something that is really cool. It could be something like, “This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven.” Something that is poppy and cool and will live forever.
Do you find that American journalists are lazy when they compare every new British band to Oasis?
They do have their pigeonholes, and that is the one at the moment. If you are British, it’s Brit-pop and Oasis. We sounded like Oasis before Oasis were around. We were a punk band when we started and then got into the Beatles and listening to Nirvana. Heavy guitars with Beatles influences. It’s not that far removed. The songs are not as good as Nirvana but that’s another story. I think journalists have to write something. We get ignored a lot of the time in the U.K. In America it’s nice to actually have people that are sort of bothered to talk to us and make up their own opinions about us.
In the U.K. all the journalists don’t compare American bands to Pearl Jam or Nirvana, do they?
They probably do, they probably do if it’s American stuff. If it’s lo-fi, they sound like Pavement. If it’s a bit grungy, they say Pearl Jam. I think it’s much the same. The British press are notorious for going mad about something one week, putting it on the front cover even if they’ve sold only one record. Then it’s up to the NME to bring it down again. They started the idea for Brit-pop and then they said Brit-pop is finished. I don’t see or hear it. I mean, Pulp, Radiohead, Oasis, and Blur are completely different bands. Where do you draw the line?
I noticed one American band that the British press seems to be embracing is the Fun Lovin’ Criminals. I’m not even sure they do that well in America, so it’s surprising to see the praise they are getting in the U.K.
There are a few things like that. The Dandy Warhols, as well, do really well in the U.K. I think their guitarist is doing guitar teching for Love and Rockets. That’s weird. I don’t know which is stranger. I would have thought the Fun Lovin’ Criminals would be huge (in America). You get that impression because if anything comes over the water you think they’re obviously doing quite well in America.
Have you done any sightseeing in America?
We’ve had a few days off and we’ve done some proper sightseeing, like the Grand Canyon. But when you’re playing, you do soundcheck, get something to eat, then you are on stage and you either have to drive out that night or go to the bar and get drunk.
Do a lot of people think you are a new band?
We’re getting a mixture. Like Nick was saying, we’re getting a lot of people who know the first two records. We’re out a little bit early for how long the album has been out. I think the idea was not to say we’d been around before but not to deny it either. But if anybody knew the name, they know we’ve been here before, so it’s not like we’re trying to hide and say we’re a new band because I don’t think we could get away with that.