WE’LL STILL BE FRIENDS
Words: James Frostick
Michael Fletcher of Running Gun Sound talks about their new album, Friends, and wrapping things up.
Seeing a band split up is kind of like seeing a close friendship fizzle or a relationship disintegrate. Not in a bad way exactly – it’s just one of those facts-of-life scenarios that occur. Things end, it’s gonna happen, you can’t do anything about it but it still sucks.
When a band wraps up for whatever reason, you realise you no longer have new things to look forward to – releases, tours, etc – only the memories and relics of the relationship as it was before the split. Old releases and their nostalgia-inducing remembrances are all you have and sometimes reminding yourself that there will be no new memories to add, hurts. So you move onto something else to take your mind off the fact and soon enough you are in love with other bands – cultivating a new fondness for new music.
Of course, it’s not really that bad, bands aren’t the same thing as ex-lovers. You will still probably listen to the music of a band after they split, but there is some element of bittersweet sadness when a local band calls it quits – you wonder what could have been.
Running Gun Sound is a local band that has been steadily performing since 2008. Originally a two-piece consisting of Michael Fletcher and James Boyd, the group expanded to a hefty five-piece after the addition of Julian James, Lauren Jenkins and Jeremy Neale. Their back catalogue is littered with numerous, short DIY releases and some long-play gems, showcasing an enthusiastic vintage sound that reflects strongly on the influences of its two founding members.
The band is going on an indefinite hiatus as Michael is moving overseas. Luckily I managed to have a chat to him before he bailed to Europe – when I met him I had no idea he was leaving. My ‘oh shit’ realisation didn’t show, hopefully.
Anyway, if the names of the band members sound familiar, it might be because each and every one of these musicians play in Velociraptor, as well as appearing in other local bands like Tiny Migrants, Tiger Beams, James X. Boyd and Jeremy Neale’s solo output. While there are many bands that split off the Velociraptor family tree, disregarding Running Gun Sound as a simple splinter-band does the group a disservice. Running Gun Sound actually formed at the same time as Velociraptor (when the ‘Raptors were a three-piece, remember those days!?). The friendship that formed between the two groups ultimately led to the expansion of both, but the overwhelming mass of talent accumulated in Velociraptor over time tends to overshadow the simple facts of genesis.
Michael and James became friends thanks to a shared love of sixties-era music made predominantly but not exclusively in England. Their mutual tastes led to a mutual desire to write music together so, in 2008, Running Gun Sound was formed.
“James was the first guy I knew who played music,” says Michael. “We were in our own separate worlds and we got introduced to each other by a mutual friend. We were kind of forced together to be friends. A couple of years later, I said ‘We are starting a band, we are gonna start playing now.’”
“So we thought, ‘Okay, we are going to start this band. We’ll do it as a two piece and see what comes out of it.’ That was 2008, it keeps changing and evolving.”
The latest output from Running Gun Sound is their second long-play record, Friends. This is a decidedly more polished effort – it’s a bit cleaner, a bit more melodic but still has the punchy, driving, good time rhythm of previous releases.
Their highly entertaining early catalogue was recorded through a mostly-DIY process, aside from a few recordings where they enlisted outside help. This was an example of DIY idolisation meeting genuine ignorance of other options. The band had to figure it all out themselves from the start.
“We wanted to do a lot of DIY releases, because we were just figuring it out as we went along,” says Michael. “We didn’t know anyone, didn’t know anyone who could record and I didn’t know anyone who played music who had put out any songs. So I just thought that we’d record some songs put them onto a CD somehow and hand them out. We’ve mostly been putting out lazy home recordings ourselves for free. ”
For the uninitiated, Running Gun Sound thrives on creating joyous garage pop that does have discernible elements of early sixties flavour, the smooth rock ooze that made Velvet Underground and the like popular. As much as Michael and James enjoy the golden era gems, Running Gun Sound has always had a different edge that comes from the always present influence of contemporary genres and tastes as well as some early inexperience. Michael and James wrote what they knew, and went from there.
“It never really came out that (sixties) way,” says Michael. “I think in my ham-fisted way of trying to write like all those bands it comes out really half-baked and amateur and really minimal. I really had no idea what I wanted to do, how we were going to do it. I just wanted to start the band and get playing.”
With Friends, Michael and Co. have created a great record of re-listenable music. Although the band may be wrapping up soon, Michael admits he is never exactly satisfied entirely with his music, bringing about a desire to push on and add new twists to his songs.
“I never think that I’m finished,” says Michael. “I think that’s why I keep kind of changing. You get to a point where you think ‘this is it’, but soon after you think that it needs to change a bit. I don’t think I’m ever really happy and I think that’s a good thing. For this record I was trying to write songs differently to how I’d written them previously and to try and put more space into the songs instead of doing short songs that aren’t very melodic. Now I wanted to write songs that were a bit bigger, bit more melodic. Each time I am picking on things that I think I want to try and do better. I’m never really, not uncomfortable, satisfied.”
With Friends, Michael has constructed a solid record-worth of songs, written and refined over a two year period. Although he might not want to be, Michael is now commonly identified as the leading man in Running Gun Sound, so the onus is on him to make the record shine. As a principal songwriter in a band full of great song-writers, there would naturally be some pressure to produce the goods, not just for your own sense of satisfaction, but to make it worthwhile for the other members of the band.
“You always wanna write the best songs,” says Michael. “Normally I’m like, ‘these songs are cool, here we go’ now I’m genuinely thinking that they really good enough. If I don’t think they are good enough at the start I make sure that they are as good as they can be, so I can say ‘these are the best songs for this record – these are the best songs I’ve got’. I put more consideration into what songs I actually want to play – are they in the direction I want to go? Are they a part of the sound I want? That has definitely influenced our later output. Each recording has traced the evolution of the band.”
The construction of Friends was a lengthy process, mostly because writing and demoing took a back seat to study commitments. This process seemed to take a toll on Michael who, since picking up most of the writing responsibilities, was in charge of the overall direction and approach to the record.
“I didn’t have the luxury of churning out a few songs and picking the good ones,” explained Michael. “I had to use bits I had come up with. I was demoing a lot through those two years, choosing bits I like and writing the lyrics, the melodies and refining them. It took two years to get 12 songs to make into a record. I think there is a different side to the record, maybe. I was definitely writing to a kind of feel I wanted the record to have.”
“The last song I finished when we were recording it or the day before we went to record. It started at the end of 2010, but we had other plans to do the Beasts of England 7”. I had to wait to slot it in after that. I knew we were going to release another record; I didn’t need to rush it. I wanted to write a record that wasn’t our set cobbled together for 2010 to 2011. I spent 2011 and 2012 writing songs and I started studying during those two years. It was really intense and difficult, because of that the amount I was writing decreased. That is why it took two years.”
It was probably at this point that the enthusiasm started to wane. Of course, Michael is as committed to the band as anyone, yet the process of putting the pieces together, going back and revising, editing, creating from scratch would be tiresome. Michael also assisted James Boyd with his record, adding to the work load.
Like a relationship that is nearing the end of its life, the feelings change and perhaps the spark is lost.
Like a friendship that has been maintained long after the common ground disappeared, perhaps the commitment has become more like a chore.
As proud as Michael is of Friends and Running Gun Sound as a whole, it’s not surprising if the bloke needs a break.
“It still pains me to listen to it,” says Michael. “I guess I just listen to it and it reminds me of the last few months of last year where it wasn’t a very enjoyable time. That said, I put a whole lot of effort into it and I want people to hear it now. I’ve sat on it for a long time. I’ve spent so long writing the songs and working so hard to get it all finished, I’m a little bit burnt out by it. I can’t wait for it to be out and for people to take it home and listen to it though.”
Before I kill the metaphor entirely, the relationship Michael has with Running Gun Sound might be ending, but it is still an amicable split. A lot of good times were had, no bridges were burned – it is just time for a new start. But who knows what the future holds.
“That’s probably it for now,” says Michael. “I feel that we are accomplished for the moment. I’m sure sometime I will get itchy feet and imagine what else we could do. At the moment it is hard for me to make any plans. It is almost like a bookend, because after the tour I’ll be moving overseas. It is kind of a culmination of our time together as a band. A lot of the songs are about friendship. It kind of relates to us as a band and the tumultuous times we have had together.”
“It feels good but the band kills me sometimes,” says Michael, laughing.
Now that almost everything is said and done (Michael is probably half way packed to go overseas), I asked him what he thinks Running Gun Sound brought to the table that made them enjoyable and what he hoped people got out of the bands most-likely-final statement.
“I’ve always wanted it to be an enjoyable band to watch, says Michael. “Not having throwaway songs, just for a party or that type of thing. I wanted that energy, but have songs that are interesting, lyrical. I think now more than ever I’ve stopped writing songs about girls. I just felt that sometimes there are other things to write about, just to push myself. “
“Hopefully everyone thinks Friends is our best record. A lot of the things I always wanted to do with Running Gun Sound – direction and all that stuff – where it is now is where I am happiest; this is the most Running Gun Sound thing out there. I hope people think we are a good band, proficient musicians who write some mean songs. Ones that make you want to have a good time – that record that you put on because it’s good and it makes you feel good.”
Any fond memory is one that makes you feel good. It might be a memory about a good time, an amazing experience, a person who helped shape who you are; you reflect on those times because they were good times.
In much the same manner, you listen to records because they make you feel good, they bring back good memories and warm emotions. Though it is a shame that Running Gun Sound won’t be as active as they were before (Michael hinted at maybe one more release, around mid-year), you still have the records and the memories.
All the members of Running Gun Sound are old friends; they are all in Velociraptor still anyway. Soon enough, Running Gun Sound records will seem like old friends or old flames but with a key difference; they cherished and remembered fondly – yet are forever listenable.