Interview: The Long Insiders

 “Rock and roll ain’t dead – it’s a zombie that won’t go away.” 

Oxford’s ’50s throwbacks The Long Insiders, who describe their live shows as ‘sweat, grease and lipstick’, have made one of the dirtiest albums you’re likely to hear all year.  
Doing just what it says on the (petrol) tin, The Sound of Cat Gut & Engine Oil  is a revved-up, rockabilly riot of a record that’s influenced by The Cramps, Johnny Burnette, Link Wray and Dick Dale. I spoke to bequiffed guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Nick Kenny to find out what’s the secret to making good, old fashioned, primal rock and roll and why Radiohead bore the crap out of him…

 

 

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What’s the appeal of ’50s rock and roll and garage rock?

 

I think the ’50s was the height of style in so many ways. Rock and roll was still pretty embryonic back then.

If you listen to some of the early rockabilly stuff, you can hear that. From the way it was recorded, to the way people performed it, it was like it was the only thing they knew how to do. Things changed so quickly, which meant that a lot of great music went unheard by the masses. By the time it got out of America, The Beatles came along and ruined it!  

What attracted us was the primal aspect. If you are lucky enough to listen to early hillbilly and rockabilly, like Hasil Adkins or Warren Smith, well, it doesn’t get anymore primal than that – that is rock and roll. It’s all about the carnal urge and the desire to get wild. Who doesn’t want that from their rock and roll music? I think it’s a lot more fun than having some toss bag rock star selling me an Olympics ticket, or a Toyota car, or some other crap I don’t need.

 

So, do you think that rock and roll is dead? There aren’t many decent, new rock and roll bands coming through, are there? Everything’s too safe at the moment, isn’t it?

 

Rock and roll ain’t dead – it’s like a zombie that just won’t go away. I think there is a great scene out there; it’s just that it’s not mainstream, and that’s because there are generations out there that think being dangerous is bursting into tears midway through a performance on The X Factor. There are some great bands in London, like The Urban Voodoo Machine.

 

You’re from Oxford. What’s your local music scene like? Do you guys stick out like a sore thumb?

 

Well, to be fair, there is quite a scene in Oxford. Bands and promoters are mostly supportive of each other, but I suppose we do stick out like a sore thumb. There’s a lot of folky-dokey stuff going on – earnest guys in woolly jumpers, strumming acoustic guitars. Radiohead, who come from Oxford, have had a big influence on a lot of bands around here, and to be very honest, it bores the crap out of me. I never got into music to be a miserablist. Life is tough enough. I don’t mean to run Oxford down; it’s just that we have very little in common with most of the local scene. Saying that, there certainly seems to be a demand for bands like ours, as our gigs in Oxford are pretty amazing. People really dig it. At last year’s Truck Festival, they let us curate our own night in one of the tents. We booked our favourite rock and roll bands from London, along with some burlesque dancing and ourselves. You couldn’t get in the place! By the time we came on, it was six people
deep outside, so there is a demand for a band like ours, in Oxford.

Who are your favourite rock and roll artists and why? I sense The Cramps and Link Wray could be big influences on you…

The Cramps are certainly an influence. Me and my brother Simon [who plays bass in The Long Insiders] got to see them a couple of times, including their last gig in the UK. It`s so sad what happened to Lux Interior [the lead singer of garage-punk legends The Cramps, who died in 2009]. I’d love it if we could get Poison Ivy [from The Cramps] to produce our next album. Dick Dale [surf-rock guitarist] is another killer guy who means a lot to us. He’s a living miracle. We went to see him play a couple of years back, and I went home and thought about giving up playing guitar for a while!

What other sounds could we find on your record player?

We listen to a lot of old rockabilly and there are some very cool surf compilations around now. The Birth Of Surf Volumes One and Two are fantastic albums. I still listen to Sun-era Elvis a lot, too. Another influence on us is the band Suicide. They were basically electro-rockabilly – really cool stuff. We have started covering their song Ghost Rider, but in a very Long Insiders style. My brother has loads of old psychobilly stuff too, from when he first got into music. Man, there is so much music out there waiting to be heard. It’s a great journey to be on. The good thing about some of the old rockabilly stuff is how great the playing is on those records. They really knew how to do so much with very little. That’s the key to primal rock and roll.

Can you tell me how you went about making your debut album? How did you capture that primal rock and roll sound?

We recorded everything at Space Eko Studios in Fulham, London, with a really fantastic guy called Alex McGowan. It’s his studio and he totally knows his rock and roll. Space Eko is the perfect place for a band like ours, as it’s set up to record a band playing live together, which is what we did. The recording was done in a couple of days. Alex knows how to capture the good stuff  – he’s all about performance – and Space Eko has a certain sound.

 

So, what’s the secret to making a great rock and roll record?

 

Rock and roll music shouldn’t have to take too long to record. It’s music from the hip, not the head.Many bands get stuck in the studio trying to recreate their “live energy”, but we just set up and play it like it is. I think the only overdubs on the album are me on bongos, and my brother on coconuts and shaker. Honestly, there isn’t anything else.

 

How do you write the songs?

 

I like watching cool films very late at night – this usually awakens my creative brain. Or when I’m driving at night, although the cost of fuel is putting an end to that. I write most of the songs on my own, but I think my favourite ones are the ones where Sarah [Sarah Dodd – vocals and vintage dresses] has come up with some lyrics, too. I really like writing things that I feel she can convey brilliantly. Writing songs for this band is so easy and fun. Things usually start off with me and my Gretsch and a tank full of reverb.  By the time the band gets their filthy hands on it, it’s become The Long Insiders.

 

What can we expect from your live shows?

 

 Well, it`s us in all our glory. We love playing live – watching us perform helps bring out the stories in the songs. There is a lot of sweat, grease, and lipstick.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?

 More gigging, hopefully some festivals, and trying to find places to sell our album. We are doing it all on our own right now, and that takes up a lot of our energy. Saying that, I’d quite like to record another album before the year is out.

What’s the most rock and roll thing you’ve ever done?

 Got up, plugged in the old Gretsch, turned up the reverb and played a dirty E chord. In the right hands, it’s devastating.

 

The Long Insiders will be headlining Quiff Paradise at Trinity Bar, Harrow, Middlesex, on June 28.

 Also on the bill are singer/songwriter Quiet Loner (playing a ’50s covers set) and Chesca Dolecka, from The Murder Barn. DJs will be spinning rock and roll, garage and surf sounds. Tickets are £5 on the door. 8pm start.

For primal, rockin’ power, visit http://www.thelonginsiders.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

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