During 2011, I fell in love with the debut album by Los Angeles-based retro rock and rollers The Hopelessly Devoted. It harks back to a time of Brylcreem, rockabilly riffs, trips to the fairground, hanging out in cool coffee bars and simple romantic gestures.
Ian Webber, the band’s British-born front man and songwriter, shares my passion for ‘50s sounds and be-quiffed acts including Billy Fury, Buddy Holly, Richard Hawley and The Smiths. I had a quick chat with him about how to write the perfect vintage pop song, why he’s sad about Morrissey and if he’s got any plans to play live in the UK in 2012.
Sean: What is it about ’50s music that you love so much?
Ian: My love of ’50s music comes from getting my first tape player one childhood Christmas. I was eager to record things and it just so happened that the BBC was playing a load of Elvis movies. I can remember sitting right in front of the TV, waiting for each song to start, when I would hastily switch the tape player to record.
From there I discovered Buddy Holly in the local library’s LP section, and, much later, Billy Fury, mainly due to him being one of the influences on The Smiths.
I think I heard a lot of Buddy Holly on a Butlins holiday I had when I was aged eight or nine, possibly before the Elvis movies, but I can’t quite remember. To me, Billy Fury is like a British Chet Baker, with his voice and mannerisms.
Sean: Can you tell me how The Hopelessly Devoted first got together?
Ian: I had been working on Sunset Strip, when I made the move to Los Angeles, six years ago. I got a job at The Cat Club – Slim Jim Phantom’s [from The Stray Cats] bar. My job there was bartending and running the sound and also booking acts twice a week, so I got to see a lot of live music. What actually happened was I saw this rockabilly band play, and my lord, the guitar player [Eitaro Sako) was just too good! I made sure that I got his number after the gig. While I was serving drinks, I got talking to a guy who played upright bass [Derek McGill], so I got his details, too. The drummer [Sam Gallagher] and keyboard player [Daniel Dempsey] were part of my previous band The Idyllists – a ‘60s inspired group.
Sean: Tell me about your debut album – Introducing The Hopelessly Devoted, which came out earlier this year. What was the songwriting process like? How did you nail that authentic ‘50s sound?
Ian: I had written the basis of the album – six or seven songs – and then gathered everyone together to record them before we had even played a show!
The songwriting process was fairly quick and easy, actually. I put the basic ideas down and recorded vocals/acoustic guitar and gave copies to the rest of the band. I remember immersing myself in ‘50s songs, so as to make sure I wasn’t drifting off into indie land and minor chords.
Writing for The Hopelessly Devoted is fairly similar to my other projects, in that I come up with the basic ideas on an acoustic, but the main difference is that most ‘50s songs have all major chords, so that’s kind of a cool challenge. If you listen to the great pop hits from ‘58-62, most go straight to the chorus off the top – no intro, verse etc. It’s brilliant! Oh and don’t forget the key changes.
Sean: How did you record the album?
Ian: We rented a rehearsal space for a few practices and then recorded the first eight songs in a single day, at our keyboard player’s studio. The process was that we recorded live – all in the same room – and then came back later to do another six songs and overdubs of backing vocals, hand claps etc. It was a really great way to get the band to gel, and to create a vibe. The fact that we could all see each other while recording the songs made for a really good way of creating the sound that we wanted. There were no click tracks and I really didn’t mind if we messed up a bit. It was all part of the cool process for getting songs that had feeling.
Sean: Obviously you’re a big fan of ‘50s sounds, but what new music are you currently grooving to?
Ian: I’m going through a lean period as far as new music is concerned. I am eagerly waiting on Richard Hawley’s thing with Duane Eddy and also a possible new Prefab Sprout album. Albums and acts I love include Elliott Smith, The Dears – No Cities Left, Everything But The Girl’s first album, Ben Kweller – Sha Sha, The Divine Comedy and Sondre Lerche – check out the Duper
Sean: Like me, you’re a big fan of The Smiths and Morrissey, aren’t you? Do you like Morrissey’s new material?
Ian: I’m rather sad with Morrissey right now, as I adore him, but feel his band is too heavy and thrashy for his voice. I would love him to do an album – or play live with – a band like The Divine Comedy, Belle and Sebastian or another rockabilly band. Hint, hint!
Sean: What are your plans for The Hopelessly Devoted in 2012?
Ian: We’re heading into the studio in December to do a single, so that will keep us busy ‘til the New Year, I’m sure.
Sean: Any plans to play in the UK?
Ian: We would love to do some UK dates – we’ve been selling a lot of CDs to Europe via our Band Camp website, so we shall see. If we could only get a support slot for the right band, but that could be a challenge. I’m thinking, thinking…
Sean: I’ll try and come up with some ideas.
Ian: Let’s talk soon, sir.