Rob Coles, lead vocalist for Tyneside quartet Little Comets, chats to Aoife Valentine about disastrous record deals and gigging in bingo halls
Newcastle-born indie-rock group Little Comets are a band best known for their impromptu gigs and a slightly rebellious attitude. Not willing to back down and accept changes to their sound demanded by the major record label who had signed them, the release of their debut album, In Search of Elusive Little Comets, was delayed considerably.
Perhaps not quite the start the band had expected when they signed the contracts, but it was certainly a learning experience for them, as singer Rib Coles can attest: “I think we were pretty naive going into the arrangement thinking we’d be able to do everything ourselves – which is what we’ve always done.
“I think they were pretty naive as well though, because I think we made it pretty clear in meetings we had before we signed with them that we did want to retain a lot of autonomy over it, so we had kind of a year of mutual head-scratching.”
After eighteen months and an acrimonious split with Columbia, the band signed with indie label Dirty Hit and released the album in January. The experience has left them wary of major labels.
“It’s really funny actually because Columbia possibly want to sign the album in Australia,” he says. “They want to pay more money to get fewer rights to the album again. One side of me is like: ‘if they’re daft enough to want to do that then why not’. I suppose that shows how daft major labels are. I definitely wouldn’t work with another one in this country [England]. Except a whole load of money, they don’t really bring much.”
Having made a name for themselves doing spontaneous gigs in odd places like the Metro, lecture theatres and the bakery isle of a Marks and Spencer store, it seems like the band’s cheeky attitude allows them do exactly as they please. However, Coles is less than sure.
“We were going to do a bingo hall,” he says. “But I spoke to my Nana about it, and she’s a big bingo fan and she basically said if someone did that in her bingo, then they’d get killed. So we decided lecture theatres are probably as quirky as it’s going to go.”
Strange places aren’t just reserved for impromptu gigs, however. Little Comets have something of an aversion to recording in studios, and rehearsing in conventional spaces just doesn’t work for them. “It’s nice to rehearse in a place that isn’t a sanitised studio environment. If you’re in an area that’s a bit dishevelled, then you don’t feel the necessity to behave as well. So it definitely strips back your inhibitions, rehearsing somewhere that is pretty run down.”
In a lot of songs on their album, there’s an interesting contrast between Coles’ dark lyrics and the rather simple, light-hearted instrumental backing; a slightly peculiar, yet apparently unintentional, combination. “When we’re playing, I think we’re all quite happy musicians, so if we’re jamming it’ll naturally be quite upbeat.
“When I go to write the lyrics, the framework of the song is often quite happy, but we can’t make every song about something fluffy and light,” he explains. “So if I’m in a sadder mood, the lyrics will tend to reflect that.”
The band have been touring pretty much non-stop since the beginning of the year, and once they’ve completed their dates in the UK and Ireland, they’re kicking off some American shows by playing SXSW in Austin, Texas. The annual industry showcase for all things indie has kick-started the careers of many fledgling bands in the past and is something Little Comets are understandably very excited about.
“Me and Mickey [Rob’s brother and the band’s guitarist] have never been outside of Europe before, so that’s going to be an experience for us.” However, Coles will be proceeding with caution until the band gets past airport security. “I just want to make sure I’m ahead of Mark [Harle, Little Comets’ drummer] in the customs queue, because he’s got a habit of saying something which is intended as a friendly ice-breaking comment, but could end up landing him in a lot of trouble.
“It’ll be interesting to see as well if Americans can understand our accents, we might have to try and speak the Queen’s English for a week. I think it’ll be lovely.”
It’s obvious that the fiasco with Columbia is not about to stop Little Comets. They are seemingly much happier having found a supportive label that allows them total creative control and the group are now looking forward to getting some new music out.
“Hopefully we’ll spend the summer playing festivals and then I think we’ve got about eight or nine songs that are ready to be recorded over the summer and hopefully get a new little EP out there. It’s been quite a while since we’ve released any music that’s brand new, so we’ve got a backlog of songs.”
Presumably they’re hoping the process moves a little faster with the EP than it did with the debut, though? “We’d like to get it out there as soon as possible. It lends to being more creative the quicker you can exercise the process, so the sooner we get it out we can get on to writing and recording more stuff. So I think it’s important not to kind of stagnate.”
Little Comets play The Academy 2 on March 4th. Tickets are €12. In Search of Elusive Little Comets is out now.