“I don’t have the time for a graveyard of the mind that they call shame.”
“Don’t meet your heroes” they say. Balls! I say. Meet them, and let it be known it’ll be the greatest moment of your life. I don’t want to say Crocodiles are my heroes, they are more like a guide. They are a solid music connection that in short, saved me from lord knows what a few years ago. I found their music as I was hopelessly walking around a music shop. I needed something to cease the aches and find my soul. Summer Of Hate changed my world. Yesterday I got to speak with the band who changed my world, for the better. Music is my guide and I guess it is my teacher. It is my everything. And the main reason as to why I never have money. I wouldn’t be able to live with it any other way.
Luke, their tour manager walked me over to Brandon and Charlie as they were having their photos taken and being interviewed. I watched and I had a brief moment where I thought my questions were shit. Maybe they were, but I told myself I was asking what I wanted to know. Turns out, I want to know a lot because I like to write a lot. I watched their shoot, and Brandon looked over and winked in what seemed like a reassuring way. I didn’t mind waiting at all. I’m the least confident Music Writer, so I had this panic inside that my Dictaphone wouldn’t record. Let it be known that Brandon and Charlie are the most genuine and loveliest guys you will ever meet, if you’re lucky enough to do so. If you want passionate conversation about books and music- go to these guys. They’re on the same level my uncle is on, which is why the interview immediately didn’t feel like an interview but just laid back chat with pals. Let’s get into it.
For anyone like myself, who grew up in a small place that just exhausted you of anything good/positive, you need to find something to be your outlet. You have to believe there is something better out there, or you will be stuck in a rut during your entire existence. I asked Brandon and Charlie if the frustration of being in a small place made it easy for it to be placed into their music:
“It’s apparent on our first record, but I guess that changed a bit with touring and that same frustration of kinda being stuck there was pretty stifling. It’s not to say that San Diego is a bad place you know. A lot of people we know and love are still there, so its nice to go back to. But in terms of spending every day there (especially when you’ve travelled) would just get a little bit old.”
I think to fully understand this, you must have lived somewhere which in a way sucked you dry but gave you the fight to find something to work for. Those that are familiar with the likes of Dirty Beaches, Cold Cave and Crocodiles will get this straight away from their music and in a way, inspires you to do the same. There’s always a way out.
Brandon lives in New York, and Charlie lives in London. Their bond is beautiful. The friendship they have is wonderful to witness. It is obvious by the way they are on stage, their sense of humour and generally how they look at each other. You can tell the other knows what one is thinking as they answer questions- it’s the ultimate bond. So with such a gorgeous friendship yet living miles apart- how do they go about writing songs?
“If we’re together in person, we might write a few things from the ground up. But more often than not, one of us will have a skeletal idea like a verse or a chorus. And we get together when we can, it’s expensive. Maybe once or twice a year I’ll come over here (London) or Charlie will come to New York and we’ll spend a couple of weeks or a month working on songs.”
By nature, I’m not a nosy person. I don’t care what someone does. Or who someone does. I don’t care for personal lives and things, but with musicians- the one thing I always want to know is what influences them, but for the most part I don’t want to know which bands influence them because I think sometimes that can get in the way of how you listen to them. You can sometimes pick up on other bands, and it drives you away. All too often I’ve heard Crocodiles be compared to The Jesus And Mary Chain. As someone who had The Jesus And Mary Chain played to them at a very young age, I really don’t hear it. I really don’t. The only thing I can pick up on is the fact they have dark lyrics at times and portray certain subjects such as love in all its dark and haunting glory. But musically? Not at all. If you pay attention to Crocodiles lyrics you can pick up on literature being a huge influence. Touching on this was really cool because we spoke about the sordid literature of Marquis de Sade. If you’ve never read anything by him, you’re missing out. But his work is pretty twisted.
“I think on this record, Jean Genet and Marquis de Sade. We like a lot of poets like Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Patti Smith, Leonard Cohen. Richard Brautigan’s surreal take on things works its way in too. Sometimes it’s the spirit of a certain book, like, ‘how can I replicate that in the discipline of art that I do.’ Obviously we’re not trying to be as filthy as Marquis de Sade!”
There’s so many things we can take inspiration from, and I don’t think literature is given the credit it deserves when it comes to influencing music. Many want to hear the bands that influenced bands. Books are equally as powerful because they can set your mind off in so many ways. You are given a scenario by the writer, but you paint the picture in your mind with their words. Sometimes the darker the sound, the more apparent the literature influence is. Take Zola Jesus for instance.
Have you ever listened to a band and immediately could tell where they are from? Of course it is easy with the likes of The Fall, Morrissey, Arctic Monkeys- you can hear their accent in their music. Is it easy to cancel out where you are from so you don’t sound like you are obviously from there? Do Crocodiles try to not sound like a “typical” San Diego band? Do they feel they made a conscious effort to not sound like where they are from?
(At this point the interview was moved to an alleyway. It seemed pretty fitting to interview them in this spot!)
“San Diego has a weird music identity, the stuff its famous for is like Blink 182. It does have a really cool history of underground music too, and there was a point there was a San Diego sound that we didn’t want to sound like. We just write tunes we like.”
It’s good that Crocodiles never took inspiration from fellow San Diego residents such as Blink 182 or that one called Jason Mraz. Crocodiles, if you excuse the pun, have bite. They have a genuine raw sound that has that Punk DIY ethic firmly instilled in them, making them one of the hardest working bands around, Just looking at their UK/Europe tour schedule over the next few week, and also their tour of the states; but you can tell when they play live, that it is everything to them. And for the fans, it is everything to us too.
I was really interested to speak to them about this tour particularly because they are playing some really small venues and in some places where you wouldn’t think would know what to do with a band like Crocodiles with their delightfully rambunctious sound.
Their tour started in Chester. A quiet Roman town where I suppose nothing really happens. I’ve only been a handful of times. So how did they find it?
“There wasn’t many people there. I mean, I wouldn’t call it a turkey. There wasn’t that many people there but it was also our first gig so it takes a few you know. We played Manchester last night. And we wanted to play a few small places first. Chester is a beautiful place. We’ve played Wrexham before, and that was really good.”
Purely from a selfish point of view here, I got to speak to them about playing Italy. Crocs will be playing Turn soon, and that’s where my stepdad is from. A beautiful city that I think everyone needs to visit at least once in their lifetime. I wanted to know what made them want to play somewhere like Turin (why not of course!) And also, Brandon knew I had an Italian last name (my dad’s side.) Not many pick up on this/pronounce my name correctly. You give up after a while, ha!
“We’ve played Italy a few times. We’ve spent a lot of time there, and a few of our shows are there on this tour. Our main shows on this tour are England and Italy. And also it’s the first city you come to if you’re coming in from the North. We get chance to have a look round too, we come back for vacations. I got to spend some time in Naples which was really cool and different to other parts of Italy.”
FORZA ITALIA dear reader, Forza Italia!
What I love about Crocodiles is that they make it easy for you to just feel so free. When you listen to their music you can’t help but sing along and move your body about in a questionable fashion (it’s exactly what I did at their show at Sebright Arms.) It is like they just set something off inside of you. I looked around when I was at their show, and there were people who had come to watch them on their own but they didn’t hold back. It was like a sense of freedom just took the crowd over. It was truly beautiful to be part of something like that, you don’t get a band like this often, which is why fans of Crocs just treasure them. I wanted to know if they act the same way their fans do when they go to shows because they make their fans feel free with how raw their sound is.
“You’d be surprised, we played Norwich and they stood still! I would assume we have similar tastes to a degree to our fans. I’m a music fan first and foremost. It depends. Naturally..a bit shy.” -Brandon.
“It depends on how drunk you are. I saw The Stone Roses and of course I was cutting loose. You have to when they’re playing some of the best songs ever.”- Charlie.
“Big cities in general people are bit more reserved. New York crowds are similar to London crowds. The cities are quite similar anyway.”- Brandon.
Some people are afraid to let go at shows, some will just go for it. Sometimes though, it is the band you are seeing that just go for it. I mentioned seeing Alex (Dirty Beaches) a few months back at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, and when watching him it was like seeing someone unleash a wealth of emotion and also healing at the same time. I asked them if they have a similar way of performing, and sort of just letting go. I mentioned their set at Rough Trade last year where I first saw them, and it seemed like they had to hold back a bit because it was in a store.
“That’s what I love about him. His whole presentation is a complete 360; it’s just amazing. In terms of someone who has a record label, that’s the kind of thing I’m attracted to. We put out a record for a band called Punks On Mars, it wasn’t that successful. But they had their own look. They looked like oddballs but they just did their own thing. We love playing at record stores because they support us, but it feels weird. It’s bright and in an awkward environment. It does feel pretty cathartic on stage. Going forward and letting it all out.”
I asked Brandon and Charlie was about two of my favourite songs off their new record, She Splits Me Up and Me And My Machine Gun. I mentioned they had a “dreamy” feel to them, which I apologised for using that word because it is overused. I wanted to know what was behind these two songs (when I really love a song I do like to know what inspired it.)
“She Splits Me Up started with a chord production. It came together in bits and pieces. Charlie had the riff; and in soundchecks we played round with it.” – Brandon.
“We collaborated on the lyrics and one of us had the idea, about a girl who is mean to you, but you like it. Kind of like Marquis de Sade.”- Charlie.
“We wrote some of it in Mexico City and finished it in New York.”- Brandon.
The last question I asked was about I Like It In The Dark which sounds quite like early Primal Scream and possibly Happy Mondays. Was it an influence?
“The song came out with a Baggy influence, a lot more than we intended. We were really thinking like Hey Bulldog by The Beatles, the piano part. And soul music too. We started to do it, and it didn’t sound complete without a Gospel kind of sound. The song is about Atheism and we thought, how are we going to find a Gospel singer who’ll sing on a song about Atheism. My brother plays in a Soul in LA, so I asked him ‘Do you think Aphrodite will do this?’ Her full name is Aphrodite The African Goddess Of Love.”
So there you have it. I could have happily spoken to them about their music, music in general and dissected Marquis de Sade’s filthy literature with them in-depth. It was an absolute pleasure to spend some time with them; in an alley discussing what we did.
At the end of the show, as I was leaving outside I saw Brandon and he gave me a hug goodbye. I always said my interview with Warpaint was my favourite, but I think Brandon and Charlie surpassed that. This felt like talking to old friends, and as someone who is a bit awkward and shy; I felt perfectly at ease in their company. As I’ve said before, they are truly two of the most humble and genuine people I’ve ever met.
Meet the bands/singers you love and the next time you’re at a gig, let it all go.
I’d like to thank Nita and Luke for arranging this. And also to Brandon and Charlie for their time.
I think my grin sums it all up!