Introducing Alex Rave and The Sceptical. A recently formed outfit “Straight out of the heart of Manchester”, whose quickfire debut releases ‘Itch’ and ‘Reasons’ have laid the foundations of a project which has quickly captured the interest, and imagination of many. ‘The Sceptical’ band dip into the darker realms of psychedelia, which Alex Rave pairs with his own brand of observational wordplay to paint a hyperreal, be it somewhat warped, picture of life as he knows it. We spoke to Alex and his band, consisting of Connor Scotford on lead guitar; Josh Franks on rhythm guitar; Joe Fowler on bass; and drummer, Will Metcalfe to discuss song writing, the music industry and life as an artist during the pandemic.
An unavoidable talking point at the moment is the current pandemic and the threats that the music industry faces because of it. With no live shows for what looks like the rest of the year, how do you think artists and venues can bounce back?
Alex: It’s such a tough question to answer because I don’t think anyone can predict what will come next. I think that artists will naturally adapt to survive because that’s the kind of thing that you do anyway as an up and coming band, you’re always looking for that alternative angle. Perhaps house gigs will become a thing again? It’s venues that worry me the most. Make no mistake about it, the reason that so many great venues are now in this horrible situation is because they have been living on the edge for years. This pandemic is merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s a real injustice, but I think if venues can weather this storm, then hopefully society will hold a greater appreciation for them once they’re back up and running. Even Boris has been to a gig, right?Joe: From top to bottom, we all need to support each other as much as we can. It’s hard because so many of us have taken recent financial hits, but buying merch and donating to venues where possible is all we can do at the moment.
Connor: Have to echo what Alex and Joe have mentioned, it’s a really worrying time for artists and venues alike with all the uncertainty, financially things aren’t looking good. I think ultimately there will have to be a phase of experimenting with new ways of doing things that adapt to these new circumstances we’ve all been thrown into. Bands will have to rely even more on having a strong online presence, social media, Spotify and live streams for example. Likewise venues could potentially join forces with artists and promoters to put things like this together to reach a bigger audience, which can only be a good thing, really strengthening connections within the local music community.
Josh: I think unfortunately there will be venue closures across the country, it’s just a case of supporting your local in any way you can.
Will: The times are very dark and the future looks awfully bleak. Unless a government support scheme is put in place, a lot of venues won’t be reopening again. However, I’d like to look at the more optimistic side of artists reacting by taking it upon themselves to put pop-up style gigs on- using basement/attic spaces, bring your own booze, fiver on the door sort of thing. This would not only put the power fully back in the hands of artists, but would mean they also deal with the finance side of things, not some shitty promoter.
On a more positive note – it is interesting to see how artists are interpreting the situation. Do you feel as if lockdown has altered, or influenced your creativity in any way?
Alex: I’ve certainly noticed that we have been demoing a lot more. There’s no excuse not to really plus it’s at least some level of productivity. One positive coming out of lockdown, is that we will have at least 6 new ideas that we can take to the practice room and hopefully integrate into our set.
Connor: Yeah with the influx of free time on our hands, there’s definitely been some pressure to be productive which for me personally hasn’t been a fountain of inspiration. Nonetheless we’ve been sharing ideas for songs between us and preparing demos to work on when we are able to function again.
Josh: Everyone’s different, but sometimes it’s forced me to be productive, a lot of the time I’ve felt it’s been pretty stifling though, I can’t wait to be able to practise/play normally again.
Will: I’ve still been working so it hasn’t been too drastic for me. I’ve got a skeleton kit in my living room which I’ve been jamming on but I’ve mainly been working on issue two of my zine, Propa-ganda.
How do you feel about how the government is handling the whole current situation?
Alex: It’s almost unimaginable, not only how wrong this government has got this pandemic but also the fact they continue to juggle statistics to cover their own back. Still, after tens of thousands of deaths, this government is more concerned about its own power struggle, rather than uniting the nation and combating this virus with transparency. They should be doing time after all this.
Joe: Shambolically. The statistics speak for themselves, deception and years of austerity have left us woefully unprepared and put us in the terrible position that we now find ourselves in.Connor: For the most part it’s been chaotic. Measures have been brought in that are either too little too late, not necessary or are flat out nonsensical. That being said I don’t think any government has handled the situation particularly well either, bar maybe Germany.
Will: It isn’t an easy job for any PM. But the PM has done a god awful job of moving forward with any of this.
You’ve recently released two singles in quick succession to each other. What can you tell us about ‘Itch’ and ‘Reasons’?
Alex: Itch, I suppose, is an attempt at contrasting the social and cultural differences between contemporary life and the olden days. The things I/we complain about today seem trivial when compared to the gritty realities of people like my grandad – a coal miner – who stoically just got on with things in a way that seems so hard to imagine. The song therefore, is about me trying to figure out how on Earth he managed to keep a lid on things when I struggle to control my emotions on a day to day basis without feeling some sense of dread. Does our generation complain too much? Or is this overwhelming sense of doom and gloom justified by the fact that it genuinely feels harder to survive nowadays? I still don’t know the answer, and hopefully I never will.
Connor: In August last year, I sent a demo of a track to Alex of what would later become Itch and straight away he was on it, by the next practice he had the foundation for all the lyrics, so that really inspired us all with it I think. Musically it was one of those spur of the moment things where the whole song came to me within an hour of recording the first guitar track. I like how the verses come across as kind of directionless rambling but then the pre chorus and chorus sections take a turn and it becomes more sure of itself and kind of soulful in an odd way.
Alex: If I remember correctly, Reasons was the first full song that we as a band finished together. I think it’s fair to say that this song in particular was the one that shaped the musical direction that we would eventually head in. In essence, at least lyrically, it is a love song. Somebody very close to me had written a song dedicated to me. It was very touching, and I wanted to reciprocate. It’s about being in love…but at what cost? The more I fell in love, the more aware I was that it could all go away. Then I would bring in my insecurities about not being the best version of myself for this person and suddenly I realised how fragile the whole ordeal can be. “I’m terrified of the thought of life without love” – that’s true so please, never go away.
Joe: It was great hearing what had been nothing more than a dusty old bedroom chord sequence evolve into the song that it is now. We really grabbed it with both hands and tried to make it as dramatic as possible, which is why I think it particularly lends itself to live performances.
Can more songs at this quick-fire rate of release be expected?
Alex: If I told you, I would have to kill you…but there is something coming.
Wordplay is quite a focal point within the songs. What is your favourite lyric that you’ve written?
Alex: There is a line in Itch that goes: ‘I Itch the skin and start to sink into a world of stress and panic, fuelled by big wigs who wouldn’t blink twice when they were assessing the damage’. At the time of writing it, I had recently and unfairly been made redundant with almost immediate effect, and found myself stuck in an endless cycle of phone calls that went nowhere and websites that didn’t work properly. On this particular day, I left the job office, whipped the phone out and those were the first lyrics that came to me – I think we recorded it the week after. Handy.
Anything else in the pipeline?
Joe: Fortunately, we’d been working on a few new tunes prior to lockdown which has taken the pressure to write off a little bit. With the foundations already laid, it’s been easier embellishing the songs because we know roughly what direction we want them to go in. We’re all desperate to start gigging again, but with the looming possibility of live shows not resuming until 2021, I imagine that we’ll be aiming to get back into the studio at the earliest and safest opportunity.
Photo credit: Carolina Sepulveda