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Escape Velocity

Breaking The Curse: Wild Fruit Art Collective Interviewed
Patrick Clarke , March 19th, 2018 15:16

Patrick Clarke meets Liverpool outliers the Wild Fruit Art Collective to talk defying their city's expectations, shopping centre shows and not being a sex god. Photos by Kirsten Roberts

Liverpool’s Wild Fruit Art Collective very nearly didn’t make it to our interview. Myself, their frontman Jamie Roberts and bassist and backing vocalist Ben Cowie are crammed onto a corner bench in the Brixton Windmill’s rickety shed of a smoking area, their destination after a chaotic 6-hour drive through the worst blizzard the Beast From The East had to offer. The brakes of the tiny car carrying the foursome, their unofficial tour manager and all their gear buckled under the pressure; it’s a miracle they lived to tell the tale, they say.

They’re in the capital to play two consecutive dates here at the Windmill, their second attempt at London shows after the first went quite grimly awry. “Everything we do goes horribly wrong,” says Roberts. “The first time we came to London we had three gigs booked, places to stay and everything. We got there, had a bevvy and a good time the night before, then I got the norovirus. I was shitting so hard that the force of shitting made me vomit, then I was vomiting so hard that the force of vomiting made me shit myself. I went to soundcheck and thought ‘I’ll soldier on’, then got there and fell down the stairs immediately, and the smell of stale air in the basement made me vomit and shit myself again.”

“We didn’t play a single gig, we just had to drive home with Jamie in tears,” Cowie recalls, between bouts of laughter.

“We’re cursed as a band,” Roberts continues. “Nothing I want will ever happen. [The band’s new single] ‘Fabric’ got played on BBC Merseyside the other day and [presenter] Dave Monks somehow got hold of the old demo version, the one we submitted two years ago. Fucking hell, we’re never getting anywhere!”

“And there was that time Connor’s lung collapsed so we had to get Angus from No Friendz in on guitar,” adds Cowie, as Angus from No Friendz heckles him from the opposite corner of the shed. “Another time we had to play a gig without a guitarist at all, we just did a 30 minute jam.”

“The review called us three ket wigs and a twelve pack of Carling.”

“Which is fair enough.”

“We haven’t had it easy yet, but it’ll come!” says Roberts with a sudden bounce of forced positivity. There’s plenty of cause for optimism. ‘Fabric’, the completed version, is a stonker of a single, a lolloping and lurching cut of twisting, twisted goth, emitting out the occasional glimmer of light before sucking it back in to the current of consuming gloom. From Roberts’ slight and shaggy frame comes an opaque, low groan of a vocal that calls to mind a sliver of Scott Walker’s latter-day intensity.

Their live show is tremendous too. The first of their two dates at the Windmill, in support of Chupa Cabra and No Friendz, sees them play early on and to a crowd of around 20, but the Wild Fruits are combative and intense, boldly mischievous in their patter but uncompromising when they play. The following night’s set, as part of Patrick Lyons’ album launch, for which tQ is sadly absent, sees them play late with a crowd duly warmed by Meatraffle, Sasha & The Shades, Madonnatron and more, and is by all accounts masterful.

In Liverpool they can command a sizeable audience, but there’s an impetus behind Wild Fruits to defy the limiting expectations of their home city. “Liverpool bands have a tendency to take a modicum of success there and not bother to venture out,” Roberts says. “You’ll see them bopping about in their leather jackets as if they’re the king. It’s not that we’re that special, it’s that we’ll go anywhere and play anywhere. We never wanted to be kings of a self-celebrating scene. I’d rather play to four nans and an uncle in Birmingham. In Liverpool it’s all music, music, music. You can sell out a venue there and people will tell you you’re great, but I kind of want to play in front of people that don’t necessarily know us. It’s integral, really.”

This isn’t to say the group stand in any sort of opposition to the Merseyside scene. Along with fellow Scouse outliers like off-kilter pop powerhouse Beija Flo and lurching rockers Jo Mary, the band spearhead a collective record label, Eggy Records. “It’s not really making any money or doing anything formal,” says Roberts, “but we want to get under an umbrella and share our love, share our resources.”

Adds Cowie: “The Liverpool scene is really good now, for years it’s been really dry, but now there’s all these acts coming through and they’re all our friends, they’re all really good and everyone’s helping each other out. We want to formalise it a bit.”

“And also we’d like some money from the Arts Council.”

The Wild Fruits’ first shows were in Sheffield and Huddersfield – supporting “a shit metal band with wireless guitars in front of four people” – but the most memorable have been in Liverpool. The finest of all, Roberts says, was in the middle of the city’s flagship shopping centre Liverpool One, outside John Lewis to a crowd of heckling scallies, while “the worst was definitely Liverpool Music Week. It was raining like Jurassic Park rain and coming through the ceiling, you couldn’t feel your fingers.”

“We got there five minutes before we were on, we played the shittest possible thing ever because we were cold and wet and then the next day online it was just like ‘Wild Fruit are shit!’” Cowie says.

“My vocals were described as ‘considerably off-putting,” adds his bandmate to an eruption of laughter.

Self-deprecating he may be, but there’s a lot to be said for the sense of foreboding and dread that Roberts can convey. “I fucking hate singing,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a singer ever, but I wanted to do music and you’ve got to have a frontman. All singers are bellends so I thought, well, if I’m the bellend, at least I don’t have to deal with it. It’s a learning curve. I kind of hate it and it causes me lots of grief in terms of being a mentally sound human being, but I think it’s worth it. The alternative is to rely on someone else, but then they might be a diva…”

There is a certain anxiety that seems harnessed by the Wild Fruit Art Collective, and particularly Jamie Roberts. “I’m just really really fed up of everyone taking only the positive aspects of their existence and presenting them to the world. I think we’re all a bit fed up. I just want to hear someone be like, ‘You know what, this is shit.’ It’s not complicated, just, fuck it. Look at a band like Blossoms, they’re portraying a false reality of ‘I’m pretty and everything’s great and this girl’s sucking on my dick’, but I’m just in debt all the time, I can’t pay rehearsal rent, I can’t afford to do anything except sometimes meet a friend, but then when you play a gig you have a bit of an escape, a bit of fun.”

As with just about everything they say, the band temper themselves with deprecation: “I mean essentially it boils down to this: Life’s basically shit, innit? I’m not a sex god, and I’m not rich. Surely people would want to watch some little gimps standing on stage and saying ‘I’ve got no money, we’re all going to die, and I’m sad, and I’m not having a good time’?”