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Escape Velocity

Under Siege: An Interview With Tangerines
Julian Marszalek , May 31st, 2016 08:54

Before they play Field Day next month, the London-based four-piece tell Julian Marszalek why their songs are driven by the struggle of making music in the capital in the face of escalating rents and zero security

With skyrocketing rents, the increasing chance of property developers turning your favourite hang-out into something sleek and soulless and the continual bashing of the young thanks to a reduction of benefits (with only shitty jobs with little security to offset that), you'd have to be either well off or utterly driven – and possibly mad – to want to form a band in London in 2016.

South London upstarts Tangerines fall defiantly into the latter category. Formed from the ashes of Black Manila by singer and guitarist Gareth Hoskins and childhood friend and drummer Isaac Robson at the tail end of 2014, Peckham-based Tangerines came together with the addition of guitarist Miles Prestia and bassist Ricky Clark.

In that short space of time, their two scuzzy nuggets – 'You Look Like Something I Killed' and 'Skin Dives' – are low on chords but high in energy, wit and melody, and infused with an injection of anger and sneering sarcasm. It's an unlikely yet potent combination that's seen them pick up support from the likes of John Kennedy among others, and their growing reputation has been bolstered by the band ram-raiding a number of the capital's venues with performances.

Tangerines are great company. Though Robson is absent today, the remainder of the band are a tight unit with a fierce belief in their music that's fuelled by a metaphorical and literal hunger. They're acutely aware of the environment around them, which in turn informs the anger and determination that motivates them. Let the questioning begin...

So I know how you got together but why did you get together?

Gareth Hoskins: Because there's nothing else to do!

Ricky Clark: Music is something that I have to get out of my system. It's like living, especially in a city like this.

Miles Prestia: This is going to sound lame and philosophical but it's like, why do birds sing? You do it because it's an instinct.

RC: It's the one area of life that I feel that I actually enjoy. It's above everything for me. Not many things cheer me up but playing the guitar takes my mind off everything. It's the one that cheers me up when I have nothing else left.

Is there anything specific that you're trying to say through your music?

GH: Here and there. It's not that obvious, really. I've heard a few remarks about how obscene my lyrics are sometimes and how violent certain aspects of them are. But that said, we do write some cutesy, sweet songs, but they're underlined with a rough edge and something perverse. But we're all living in London, we're all struggling with money and rent and it all comes out in a certain way when we do music. You can't even control how it comes out; it just does.

You mention the struggles with money. So how easy or difficult is it to maintain a band under those circumstances?

RC: It's actually impossible. We're all the point of having to leave London or being hungry all the time. We're literally on the brink. It's the only way you can do it unless you come from a rich family. I don't think there are many lower-class bands out there who are not struggling. We're living on the breadline.

GH: It's tough. We have to keep thinking about paying for our rehearsal space and how much money we individually have to put into it. We all have jobs as well to survive.

MP: But we have this drive. We have to do it. But it's not just music. Socially speaking, there's just too much inequality. There's been a lot of talk about the acting profession and the lack of working-class actors and that takes diversity away from the arts, and that's a problem. I don't have a problem with a band if their families are millionaires but obviously, what they've got to say is different from what we've got to say. The music is going to sound different for the same reason that an actor from a working-class background in the north of England is going to perform differently.

GH: There's a fine line between being desperate just for money's sake and playing music because you love it and that's becoming more evident. You look at posher bands like Palma Violets; they're from Wimbledon and they've got a lot of money in their pockets. Lots of money gets you great guitars and expensive gear to use but at the end of the day, it all comes from here [taps heart]. We feel there's a massive gap and it's wide open for us and nobody's really doing it like we are. I think we can go quite far with our sound.

MP: There's a lot of energy in our music – it's very substantial, it's very genuine and it's very powerful. A posh rock & roll band is going to sound polished.

RC: Our album's been done on a budget so it's going to sound different from most of these bands that are headlining certain festivals. Reading, for instance, is full of these bands.

MP: You know what? We're talking about social issues and it's delivered with the kind of energy you'll only find with struggle.

The two tracks that you've made public so far – 'You Look Like Something I've Killed' and 'Skin Dives' – are made with the minimum of chords. Are you worried that any more than two chords will find you veering into jazz territory?

RC: Someone talked to me about this just the other day. I played him some song by someone and he goes: "Well, it's better than what Tangerines would write" and I said, "What do you mean?" and he goes, "It's got more than two chords" so I replied: "Ah! But what if two chords are good and three are bad? What do you need more than two chords for?" And don't forget – we have very talented guitarists in this band.

GH: Those are the songs that are already out there but you should hear the others. You should listen to 'Uptight'. It's mental. It's a fucking mess but a good fucking mess. But there's a lot of different stuff going around.

MP: Because there's not much of our stuff out, you really need to come and see one of our gigs. What we do is very much rock & roll songs, but a little but jazzy.

There's a drawl and laconic sarcasm to the new single. What can you tell me about that?

GH: I got a lot of sarcastic humour from dad, he's very witty. But the song came out of nowhere – I guess it's me being annoyed and how things and people piss you off and you're quite close to flipping, so I thought I'd write a song about that.

MP: The lyrics to 'You Look Like Something I Killed' kind of remind me of Bob Dylan's 'Positively 4th Street' – [sings] "You gotta lotta nerve…" It's coming from that area but more punk and with more violence.

RC: We're not really a punk band but I like what punk stands for. I like a lot of old '70s punk but that's just one area that we cover. I feel that, at the moment, this county is a very, very frustrating place to be in. It's not that we're from underprivileged backgrounds, but it's frustrating seeing people going blindly through life. It's quite scary.

GH: And things are quite fragile, too.

RC: It's especially frustrating when you feel powerless to change anything about the situation that we're in, you know, Cameron, Johnson and all of that lot.

So where does rock & roll fit into 2016 for you? Is it simply entertainment or is there something more to it?

RC: I've always used music as an outlet. But as I've grown older I've realised that it's more than just something to use for venting my frustrations.

MP: I think that today it is considered as entertainment, as background music and it's sold as 'content'. But the way we do it is different. For us, it's an emotional discharge. And it's art. Look, if you're being honest about your music then it's art. That's what we try to do. When we record a song, we know that it's going to be incorporated into these huge content-suckers, but we do it because we feel like doing it.

You went into the studio to record a single and came out with an album. What does that say about your work ethic?

RC: Well, you've got to strike while the iron is hot, I guess.

GH: Yeah. We recorded about six or seven songs and liked what we heard so we went back in there and ended up recording about 12 songs in two days. But our work ethic? I don't know. Right now, we're working towards the second LP already and we haven't even finished mixing our first. We're letting it out naturally rather than waiting to do it later.

To what degree would you say that your neighbourhood of Peckham informs your music?

GM: Quite a lot. We rehearse there and we've got a really sweet spot for a studio that we built inside of a room. It's quite homely and warm and all our gear is there and that instantly affects how we write. But it's not just Peckham but the whole of south London; it's our hub.

MP: Part of the energy that we have comes from the sense of frustration that we get when we live in south London. I love the culture and the diversity and the vibes that you get but there's also this feeling that we're under siege from gentrification and all that kind of stuff. There's always a feeling that you're going to be kicked out of some place that you really love. That's a feeling that I have all of the time. I live in Brixton and it's so difficult to lay down any roots. You really don't know where you're going to be tomorrow. It's beautiful and it's scary at the same time.

GM: It's ridiculous because there are so few places to play in Peckham. You've got spaces that could be used but aren't or these shitty pubs that won't have live music.

MP: You know, today I went down to the Brixton Arches and when the sun comes out I'm always there. You can get a good Italian coffee there for £1.20 and there are sound systems outside and all these great, crazy people there from everywhere, Portuguese and Jamaicans, and then you think, three months from now, they're gonna shut down this place. All of these cafes will be gone! Where am I gonna go for a beer for £1.70 if not Max's? Where am I going to have my studio? Will I still have my house with its relatively cheap rent? That's the thing and I think that all of that is in our music.

GM: It's a shame there aren't more places like this but maybe that's what makes our music interesting. But it's good to be involved with people who feel the same way. There are only a handful of bands who are really bothering these days. There are so few bands that are passionate or have a bit of anger about them and it comes down to that. It's strange.

Why, then, should people come and see Tangerines?

GM: Come and see something exciting!

MP: Come and see a good fucking live band that gets wild on stage. We'll get you out of your comfort zone.

GM: Yeah! Get out of your daily regime…

MP:...and come and see a band that knows how to put on a show. You want showmanship? We got it! A lot of music out there is cold but our stuff is more communal. It's about getting together, having fun and communicating with people. It's a warm experience. Actually, fuck that – it's hot!

'You Look Like Something I Killed' and 'Skin Dives' are out now on RIP Records. Tangerines play Field Day on June 12; for full details and tickets, head here