It’s a freezing cold October afternoon in Hull. And I mean freezing; the sky over the city is cloudless and grey, the teeth of people walking past are visibly chattering, and icy-white clouds of breath swirl in front of the faces of the five people I’m standing with. I find myself clutching a camera bag, around which my fingers are slowly turning blue.
The bag isn’t mine. In fact it belongs to one of those five people, namely Hull-based but internationally-published photographer O-Ten, who has come armed with his vintage Leica camera. The other four people are the members of Liverpool-based band MiG 15, a brashly fresh-sounding electropop outfit who draw from a melting pot of musical and aesthetic influences. Just a few days before they had released their first EP entitled ‘Bite The Bullet’, comprising four songs including the title track, ‘Dials’, ‘Cellophane Girl’ and ‘Well Oiled Machines’ (the last two labelled as ‘demos’). They are currently halfway through a photo session, and despite it being only their second-ever shoot, they seem to be taking it all in their stride.
After some group shots against a suitably industrial-looking background, O-Ten signals that it’s time for some individual shots of the band. First up is Adam Bray, whose green and black smoking jacket, chiselled jawline and sunglasses will, even on first glance, leave few in doubt that he is the band’s lead singer. I find out later in the evening he has already begun to hone his style as a live performer, and that he makes up half of the band’s current songwriting team.
The second half of this team is James McCluskey, who sports a distinctive mohawk hairstyle and (rather sensibly, I thought) a long, dark green winter coat. He is also the group’s bassist, somewhat reminiscent of his father Andy McCluskey- singer and bassist for seminal synthpop group Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (aka OMD), who MiG 15 are currently supporting on the UK leg of their lengthy ‘40th Anniversary’ tour.
Thirdly there’s guitarist James Morris. His shoulder-length hair indicate someone that could have been plucked straight out of a renaissance painting, but add in his sharp sense of style and it’s more a member of a late ‘60s/early ‘70s rock group that might come to mind. Musically, his guitar playing beefs up the band’s live sound, elevating the music from the perhaps simpler status of ‘synth pop’ to that of something with a bit more attack.
Finally there’s drummer Martin Gordon, who, like most drummers I have encountered, is relatively quiet, making it even more surprising and entertaining when he comes out with an amusing remark in his broad scouse accent. He is dressed simply and in black, indicating perhaps that he prefers to let his playing (intuitive and intriguing) speak for itself.
Making sure to avoid the typical ‘Liverpool band’ photo (you know which one I mean), O- Ten finishes the outdoor session with a few more group shots, and we head back towards the warmth of MiG’s dressing room in the Bonus Arena- one of Hull’s newer venues with a capacity of around 3500, and where the gig tonight will take place.
We sit down and warm up- or get the feeling back in our fingers, at least...
The Sound of the Crowd: So I suppose the first thing to talk about is being on tour with a band [OMD] that has quite dedicated fanbase. What were your feelings about that when you found out about it? Were you excited? Daunted?
Adam Bray: [To the band] Well, firstly we weren’t even sure we were going ahead with it, were we?
James McCluskey: Yeah, whether that was down to losing two members from the get-go [the group’s original guitarist and drummer left before the tour had started] or just time constraints of the whole thing. But yes, there were a lot of mixed emotions...definitely a lot of excitement, obviously there still is now. It’s certainly been a whirlwind.
AB: There was a lot of trying to find the pieces and glue them all together before we could actually even think about doing it.
JMcC: Certainly more positive [feelings] than negative though.
TSotC: How have you found the two gigs you’ve done so far?
James Morris: Both nights have been very different.
AB: Yeah definitely. We’re still trying to get used to a bigger stage as well, obviously the first gigs we played were on stages nowhere near as big as these.
JM: That we had to put together ourselves!
TSotC: You prefer the bigger stages then?
AB: Well we’re trying to go for that big sound, so...hopefully it converts onto a big stage, that’s where we want to end up.
TSotC: The sound certainly opens out when you’re on a big stage anyway.
The next thing I wanted to speak about was the origins of the band really. James, obviously with Andy McCluskey being your Dad...
JMcC: [laughs] Who?
TSotC: [also laughs!]. Is that why you become a musician, do you think?
JMcC: Well it certainly inspired me a bit. But funnily enough, no...it was more of a mistake to be quite honest! I used to be really into film back when I was living in California. Basically the last film I ever did was a film with my friends, just miming music videos. And then one of us just went ‘let’s actually write some songs!’. And then that just exploded. Then when my Dad found out he said ‘what are you going to play?’. I started on drums, then moved to bass...it sort of went ‘bang’ from there really.
TSotC: Adam, what about you, how did you come to be a musician?
AB: I bought a guitar for Christmas ‘cos me and my mates decided we were going to learn to play when we were about 14, 15...turns out I was shit at guitar! So instead I decided I was going to shout over what they were playing...! Then we ended up making a little band and we got signed to Deltasonic [a Liverpool-based record label founded in 2000]. We were about 16 or 17 then. I got hooked as soon as we played the first gig really, that’s all I wanted to do.
TSotC: James [Morris], what about yourself?
JM: Well my Dad was a musician back in the day...not on any big level [but] there were always guitars in the house. He tried to get me to learn when I was a kid but I never really took to it...it was really when I started high school, it sort of blossomed from there.
TSotC: And Martin?
Martin Gordon: Erm...I was an angry child! [laughs]
TSotC: So you liked to hit things?!
MG: Yeah...I used to break stuff on the desks at school all the time, they said ‘why don’t you have drum lessons?’ as a bit of a joke...and that was it!
TSotC: So how did it come to be that you’re all in a band together then? Obviously you mentioned earlier that two members of the group left [before the tour]?
JMcC: Yeah, so, meeting him (gestures to Adam) was certainly just, you could say extraordinary. The timing of it too.
AB: It was perfect really. James’s Dad phoned my old record label and asked if they had any songwriters that James could work with. I got a phone call, met James, and from day one really we hit it off...I think we wrote ‘Bite The Bullet’ and ‘Cellophane Girl’ in the first week? It was just an instant connection. And yeah, then obviously the other members didn’t work out. But the guitarist that left ended up recommending James [Morris] to the band. We struggled trying to find a drummer for quite a while...and then I was on one of those ‘band dating’ websites...and ending up finding this little peach! (Gestures to Martin). He slotted right in really.
TSotC: How long as this current line-up actually been together then?
AB: Erm...two months, three months? (To James McCluskey) It was after you got back from America, wasn’t it?
JMcC: Yeah, so around three months.
AB: It’s come together quite quickly.
TSotC: Definitely! So talking more about songwriting then...is it all of you that write the songs together, how does it tend to work?
AB: Well because it’s been such a short amount of time, me and James have written this catalogue [of songs] between us.
JMcC: Yeah pretty 50/50 really.
AB: We haven’t had a chance to bring in anyone else yet really. We’ve all had ideas though where we’re playing different parts, messing with synth sounds. So it’s kind of come from what me and James have started and then been built up to where it is now.
TSotC: Is there someone that’s more responsible for the lyrics and someone that’s more responsible for the melody?
AB & JMcC: Yes!
AB: I’m mostly singing the melody and writing the lyrics and James writes a lot of the synth sounds and music.
TSotC: Thinking more about the songs, listening to the EP it seems like there’s a lot of imagery in your lyrics. Even just titles like ‘Cellophane Girl’ and ‘Bite The Bullet’...you hear those and it conjures up an image in your mind. Where do the influences come from for that?
AB: Well what it is with that is that James [McCluskey] will literally make a piece of music on the laptop and he’ll give it a mad title...and then I’ll come in and he’ll be like ‘I’ve got this...’, and then whatever the title is I’ll write a song around that.
TSotC: It’s the music that comes first then?
AB: Yeah, it helps you know where the feel is with the melody and delivery.
TSotC: So when you were getting the songs together was there a specific concept you had in mind for the EP then, or was it just whatever songs happened to be around?
JMcC: I’d say it was just what was around. But obviously the two underlying topics that we have in our songs I guess are ‘love’ themes and ‘the future’.
TSotC: Yes, it definitely seems like there’s a bit of a sci-fi edge to the EP.
AB: We’ve certainly got a curiosity to see what’s out there.
JMcC: AI [Artificial Intelligence] technology, scary stuff like that...
AB: ...things seem to be advancing very quickly, it’s interesting to see.
TSotC: Let’s talk about musical influences. You were saying earlier about how there are a lot of different influences within the band, can you take me through those?
AB: For me it’s people like Johnny Cash, Frank Sinatra...I’m a big Killers fan as well, the first time they headlined Glastonbury I think that was when I decided I wanted to play gigs. Bruce Springsteen is another big one...U2 as well.
JMcC: I love The Clash, Joy Division, Sam Cooke, Buddy Holly, Jackie Wilson...the list goes on and on really! But I’d say primarily I like that late ‘70s, early ‘80s era...when punk’s really just starting to hit but also synths are coming into play. I mean, the great thing about meeting Adam is that we’re both very rock’n’roll oriented...it’s that ‘50s with synths type thing, the two blend together so well.
JM: I started listening to loads of blues when I first started playing guitar...but it’s a bit warped really because right after that I had a massive ‘80s phase, listening to bands like Talk Talk, Talking Heads...
TSotC: (Nods in approval)
JM: ...so a bit of a mixture really!
MG: Well...mine are completely different really. I like hip hop and soul and R’n’B...but just good music in general too if you know what I mean. It doesn’t have to be specific.
TSotC: There’s certainly variety in the band then! So do you think your influences reflect on the way you present yourself as a group? Or do you think you try to keep your image more stripped back?
JMcC: It’s quite broad to be honest, we try not to give ourselves any limitations. We just try to express ourselves, what we don’t like in the world, what we do like...
AB: What we find cool really.
TSotC: Let’s talk about your current single [‘Bite The Bullet’ released 2nd October]. Where was it recorded?
JMcC: ‘Bite The Bullet’ was recorded at The Motor Museum, and ‘Dials’ [the b-side] was recorded at Parr Street Studios.
TSotC: And in terms of the style of the music video for ‘Bite The Bullet’ [an animated video by artist David O’Byrne], is this something you want to do more of, do you think?
AB: Yeah, I’d like to see where we could go with it. But we’d like to explore different styles too, I hate nothing more than seeing four lads in a room smashing instruments for three minutes, you know?
JM: Well some bands do have an appeal where they’re not just known for their music, they’ve got interesting visuals to go with it too.
AB: Definitely. And it’s better when it looks like there’s been some thought put into it.
TSotC: And presumably you’d like to do some videos with yourselves in too at some point?
JMcC: Yes, we’d love to!
AB: Well we’ve got some fun ideas for a couple of the songs already.
TSotC: Sounds interesting. And what about any other future plans?
AB: Conquer the world! [laughs]
TSotC: Well ‘Everybody Wants To Rule The World’, right? [laughs at own bad joke]. How about, for example, the last two tracks on your EP [‘Cellophane Girl’ and ‘Well Oiled Machines’] which are labelled as ‘demos’...were there any further plans for those?
JMcC: I hope so, yeah. Those were the two that were actually just sort of ‘beefed up’ a little bit, but those were mainly recorded in my house in the little studio room. And as much as I think they’re pretty decent demos I definitely like to think there’s plans to take them to [the same point] as ‘Bite The Bullet’ and ‘Dials’.
TSotC: And then an album, perhaps?
JMcC: Because its early days we’d definitely like to do another EP [first]. We’ll see how it goes after the tour, see where the band is at as a whole. But yea, putting the idea of an album out there, we’d love to, hopefully in the near future.
AB: We’re just going to keep writing and writing and writing really...until they make us stop...!
We discussed one or two other things- plans for summer festivals, aspirations to one day headline Glastonbury. But looking back now on the interview, perhaps one of the most intriguing things was Adam Bray’s remark about MiG 15 setting out to ‘conquer the world’.
Although made in jest, it did strike me that the rather flamboyant attack with which MiG 15 deliver their music is an indication that, though they might not be ready for world domination just yet, they are certainly more than ready to conquer OMD’s fiercely loyal fanbase.
And after that? Who knows...
Interview conducted by Imogen Bebb for ‘The Sound of the Crowd’ Blog.
Photos by Oten Photography
For more information about MiG 15 please visit: https://www.mig15.co.uk