Following the premiere of their second EP ‘New Feelings’ on XS Noize in March 2017, Useless Cities are currently touring a string of national headline shows. Despite their demanding schedule, all four members have taken time out to give Michael Barron an exclusive XS Noize interview of the band’s latest exciting undertakings. Useless Cities are Conny Bent (CB), Tom Argent (TA), Claire Caldwell (CC), Sebs Brebu (SB)
Where does the title Useless Cities come from? Is it a reference to the fact you are an international band who came together in a studio (formerly a disused public toilet) in Kentish Town. For example Conny is from Austria, Tomis from Sussex, Clare is from Belfast, Sebs is from Romania.
SB - That is partly true. We all do come from different cities/countries and we thought it would be nice to somehow reflect that in our band name.
CC- I’d like to add we are not saying that 'useless' describes those cities.
You only formed in 2016 and all have demanding professional full-time jobs. How have you been able to write, record, release singles ( your second EP ‘New Feelings’ premiered on XS Noize in March 2017), as well as headlined many shows as well as secure a festival appearance at Gig in the Goil Festival, Scotland?
TA - To be honest, it hasn't been easy. One thing we ensure is to have regular band rehearsals and invest time to work on our sets, but also continue to write new material.
CB - Most of the time we have a new song on the go, as it keeps our music fresh.
CC - We love both playing live and recording, and the last experience recording with Paul Tipler has definitely been a highlight so far. Additionally, creative collaborations with photographers and filmmakers excite us a lot too and keep us going, despite our full-time and often demanding jobs.
SB - We are always trying different things to get our name out there and get noticed by the industry. We’re getting a lot more headline gigs and festival slots; it’s just continuing with the good work and dedicating the time. Like any other aspect of life, social media is also key to keeping our fans updated.
Useless Cities have received critical acclaim, described as “Somewhere between indie and post-rock”. Do you think this is a fair and accurate description of your sound?
CC - We would agree with that. Our earlier tracks especially have been described in this way and to a certain degree, both these genres are definitely reflected in our music, also given our influences. However, lately, our music has also been described as 'shoegaze' and we are happy with that too. At the end of the day, a broader genre helps us to also broaden our fan base which is great.
It is fair to say that Tom’s vocals are distinguished. Tom, how did you find your vocal range and use it to work in harmony with Useless Cities arrangements?
TA - I have never put as much thought into it as people seem to think I do, it is just the way that I sing. I think it works well with music the four of us write and it contrasts well with Conny’s vocals. I sound quite low and deadpan, Conny’s vocals are much higher and more ethereal. We think it makes for a good combination”
Whilst there is something timeless about your sound, there is also something very modern about Useless Cities. Tom and Conny’s chance meeting online led to an ongoing songwriting relationship. Do you think the way you met affected the development of the band?
CB - As with online dating, trying to meet fellow musicians you get along with and share the same vision with can be very challenging. If it wasn't for modern technology, most likely our paths wouldn't have crossed, so in that sense, we are very lucky. And although we knew from the beginning that we aimed for a band sound, we put in the effort of meeting up regularly and started our songwriting process straight away and in person.
TA - We also found Clare and Sebs online; we were all strangers, to begin with. Luckily they liked what we had written so far and also shared the same vision. Two years later, we can definitely say we know each other quite well and musically, we all contribute to the songs which we all feel is very important for our sound.
Who are your favourite bands and artists and how much have they influenced Useless Cities sound?
TA - Arcade Fire, The National, Mogwai, The Cranberries are all some of our favourites. A lot of people who have listened to our songs can hear those influences too.
SB - All of these bands have definitely influenced our sound, but then we get also comparisons to artists such as Cocteau Twins and Editors and that's great too.
Festival season will soon be upon us. You are due to play Gig at the Goil Festival, Scotland. Which three festivals you would like to headline and why?
CC - Glastonbury – the atmosphere there is like no other.
CA - Primavera Sound – to hang around Barcelona.
CC - Bestival - it always has good vibes.
What are the most important causes to you?
CB - Three areas where we all feel very strongly are Human Rights, Animal Cruelty and NHS/Mental Health funding.
Do you have any political messages in your music?
TA - We definitely don't set out to send political messages via our music. However, our latest song 'Couldn't Ask For More' does tap into the subject of modern technology and impact on our society and dangers that can come with it.
SB - We do love supporting campaigns, such as a recent one we have been involved with - Free West Papua - and charities such as Oxfam, and we are always happy to be involved, both playing sets during events and spreading the word about their great work.
What does the future have in store for Useless Cities?
CC - We look forward to a little tour of the North in May. We are playing in Newcastle and then on the indie stage at Gig in the Goil Festival up in Scotland. Our track “A Little Too Obtuse” is scheduled for release in June and our music video is in post-production. We are also excited about our next recording session with Paul Tipler in July.
CB - We are going to record two new tracks we wrote over the last few months, plus one of our older songs called ‘Closed Eyes’. Two of our songs ('Stay' and 'New Feelings') are featured on the soundtrack for TV pilot 'Girl on a Rocking Horse' which will be screened in the US at Hollywood Boulevard Film Festival!
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