The Ordinary Boys have been plugging away, in one form or another, for the best part of sixteen years. Formed around 1999 as a hardcore band named Next In Line, Preston and co. have released four full length LPs to date, with their most recent self-titled effort being released last month to generally positive reviews. Much of the general public will be at least familiar with them, if not for their eclectic back catalogue then for Preston’s tabloid exploits and Celebrity Big Brother appearance in the early noughties. The band has been away for a while but now they’re back, with a different line up and a different sound. I sit down with two of the guys, wistful bass player James Gregory and livewire frontman Samuel Preston for a chat about the album, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and how the band have changed from their early days right up to the here and now.

 

So how’s the tour been going so far? 

Preston: It’s been going really well, yeah. Sold out last night and the night before, had a massive one in London, it’s been going really good, it’s been brilliant. We’re always worried because we’re doing so many dates, normally we do less than ten dates so now it’s like we’re not doing ourselves any favours by doing thirty gigs in a row or whatever it is, but it’s been absolutely brilliant and there’s been people singing all the new stuff which has been great.

How’s the new stuff gone down with the fans?

Preston: Really well – like much better than I would have thought…

Yeah, when I reviewed it for Hooting and Howling I kind of didn’t know what to expect but it really impressed me to be honest. It’s like a really rigid kind of genre in a good way.

Preston: Well thank you, we hate our peers I think, which is probably why the album sounds like that.

James: Hate’s a strong word…

Preston: Well no we don’t hate them but we don’t associate ourselves with our peers…

James: We don’t associate with anyone.

Preston: This sounds like a really wanky thing to say and it’s really hard to put into words but it’s like… to use an analogy I used to be a rollerblader, I used to love rollerblading…

James: This is off the record right?

This is all being recorded!

(Laughter)

Preston: I was sponsored by like skate shops, I fucking loved it, it was brilliant, and then I was like rollerblading wasn’t cool anymore so I started skateboarding but I wasn’t as good at it. I’ve got friends now who still rollerblade, and you’re the lowest pecking order of extreme sports.You’re scum. And they love it because they’re real outsiders, they’re genuine outsiders. And I’ve got friends like my good friends are The Cribs and they’re kind of like outsiders and very kind of approachable in an inoffensive way they’re outsiders – we’re outsiders like no one fucking understands us. No one has a clue what we’re about really, like we’re genuine outsiders not even in a cool way.

Is that something you’ve cultivated consciously?

James: I don’t think we did it consciously…

Preston: We have alienated every fanbase we’ve ever had one by one. So when we first started we had a punk/hardcore base in Brighton and then we signed a record deal so we alienated all of them, then we did the first album, then we did an indie record and alienated all the people that liked us because we were like social commentary or whatever, and then I went on Big Brother and I fucking alienated all of the indie people and now I’ve done a punk record and alienated any of them, but I kind of like it that way because we’ve got careers so we don’t have to cultivate a fanbase.

I think sometimes the music has to speak for itself.

Preston: You know what, we got really good reviews for this album, but the one that sticks with me is we got a bad review in whatever irrelevant magazine, which makes me sound bitter but…

James: That does make you sound bitter!

Preston: I’m not, I don’t care, it was a very well written review but the person who reviewed it called us bubblegum grunge as a dismissive term, but that’s great, that’s perfect.

James: That’s great!

Preston: That’s kind of what we wanted it to be, I love the fact it’s singalong almost throwaway in the most positive way.

I think what I noticed about it is they’re good pop songs but with big guitars built around them and big choruses and I think it’s a really good sound.

Preston: But also album by album we’ve changed styles massively, maybe more than any band ever should, but now finally after 15 years of being in a band, all that time of stumbling around I actually feel like finally, and probably massively too late, we’ve stumbled on a sound we like and feel comfortable with, and it works live, but the downside with that it’s probably too late now.

You could say that kind of roots out the “true” fans though really?

Preston: Yeah and we’ve sold out like half of the gigs and there’s been a few where there’s about 100 people there but everyone in that room is singing along to the stuff, old and new, so to have not been alienated by the Ordinary Boys they must have really fucking cared (James and Preston both laugh) because we’ve tried really fucking hard! And it’s like a test and you need to be committed and look a little bit deeper to what the core of it is. The whole thing is worth it for the feeling of when you do connect.

So bearing that in mind, what’s the writing process like these days? Does it all come from you or is it all collaborative?

Preston: This time it’s really collaborative actually with Louis because he’s really good at writing music, but we tried to make it a bit more like “let’s show up at practise, get some beers, plug in and practise writing a song”, and it’s never been like that, but I think lyrically it helps because before I’ve been quite insular and it’s just been a voice and it was a bit patronising but now we’ve tried to make it singalong and something for people to connect to.

So have you been playing only smaller venues throughout the tour?

Preston: Except for the ones that were empty, yeah.

James: It’s like a mixed bag of when you can play 150 max. capacity they’re the good ones, because at heart we’re a punk band and we wanna play small spaces.

Preston: We got too big, we got bigger than we should have been.

James: Yeah, when you’re playing to 3000 people there’s no connection, I’d much rather play this (Night and Day Cafe) or where we were in Stoke yesterday, the Sugarmill. You’re literally in spitting distance, you can spit at them and they can spit at you!

Preston: I like to run down to the crowd and stuff like that so if I can’t do that I don’t know what to do, I start to worry that no one… you know when you’re talking to a girl and you don’t know what to do with your hands, kind of putting them in weird positions and stuff?

‘The Ordinary Boys’ – “a real triumph of musical maturity”

Totally, happens all the time. So what’s the next album gonna sound like?

Preston: Probably pretty similar, we’re trying to write it now.

James: (Laughing) A bit stressful, thinking about that…

Preston: Louis really likes Basement, and they’re really good, they kind of remind me of stuff I used to really like, our plan is to try and be a bit more bubblegum grunge…

James: We’re just gonna see how it goes, it’s difficult to take influences from people who are already around because then you just get accused of copying people.

So what were you listening to during the writing and recording of this album?

Preston: Pity Sex are really good I think, and Nothing, been listening to a lot of that sort of stuff, and a lot of like C86 and indie stuff that doesn’t really come across, the original plan was let’s be like a mix between hardcore and C86/Sarah Records kind of thing, but that sort of got bullied out because we drink while we write, you have all these ambitions of this nuanced sound and the perfect balance and then you’re just a bit like “durr durr durrrnh” and it all sort of goes out the window.

One last thing then – did you ever consider a name change, seeing as how different your style is in this record and the line up change?

Preston: Yeah, we were gonna call it “Ordinary”, we’re still considering that now.

James: Yeah, still thinking about it.

Preston: We actually thought about it properly, people suggested it a few times, but I just felt it was apologetic…

James: Yeah, it’s like you’re embarrassed of what you’ve done before.

Preston: And I’m not, I’m really proud of our albums and I like playing these new songs, I like playing the old stuff as well and I’m proud of it and I haven’t got a single bit of regret or shame about it.

Well I think even in your earlier work you can hear the beginnings of what’s happening now in some of the tracks. 

Preston: Well I like to think what we’re doing now, we were originally gonna go back to the sound of the first album, but I think we’ve gone kind of about five years before that, back to Next In Line, which was our first band. Do you know what’s funny? Saying “Next In Line” now feels like “pfft this shit band, some crap that no one’s heard of”. But at the time we were like a local band and it felt great, we were 13 but we played with some decent punk bands at the time, so I do look back on that fondly and I think of this as a bit like pre-Ordinary Boys stuff. When you get past 30, everything’s just nostalgic. Parents are our age now. Parents now take their kids to Transformers movies because they liked them back in the day.

James: But Transformers now is not what Transformers once was. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is not what it once was.

Did you see the film?

Preston: Yes! It was so sad.

James: No, I didn’t thank God.

You’re a lucky man.

Preston: They’re so muscly, it’s a fucking piece of shit. I really like the anime, it’s brilliant. Really well written.

So you mention nostalgia, is that something you were driving for with this sound?

Preston: It’s not as carefully planned as that, I think. It’s like, I love Lookout Records, a 90s record label which had the Queers and the first couple of Green Day albums, and the Donnas and The Mr. T Experience and stuff like that, just brilliant music that was completely forgotten by time somehow, but that’s always been the sort of music I like, I just fucking love it. I mean, I don’t like The Jam really.

I’ve got a theory that no one really likes The Jam.

James: I like the songs but then the fanbase are awful and then when you’re watching them you’re like “You kind of look like dicks!”

Preston: And do you know what, a lot of us alienating our fans has been like the people coming to the gigs then were just a load of fucking aggressive, misogynistic, horrible mod “lads”, and that doesn’t make sense, we sort of made this fanbase for ourselves which doesn’t suit us, so everything since then has been an attempt to get rid of them. I mean I like older punk and stuff but we’re not The Jam, we’re not…

James: Yeah, we’re not the mod revival movement or anything.

Preston: That music says nothing to me at all.

 

‘The Ordinary Boys’ is out now on Treat Yourself Records. Read our review here.

 

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