Young, Liverpool guitar band Sugarmen are one of the most exciting, new live acts I’ve seen in ages. Think early Arctic Monkeys, but with a Scouse charm and the thrill of The Libertines. And if that isn’t sweet enough, they’ve got cocky songs about scene queens and eating dirty kebabs. I spoke to their 19-year-old lead guitarist – and Roddy Frame/Edywn Collins look-a-like – Chay Heney to find out more…
It was great to see you play live at Alan McGee’s 359 Music show at the District club in Liverpool recently. You were the best band of the night – you blew me away…
Chay Heney: It was great. We have been together for about nine months, but in the last few weeks we seem to have settled in to ourselves. When we started, we had so many ideas and they were all floating around, giving us a sort of identity crisis, but it’s all glued together into one thing now. As a band we’re surer of our sound and a lot tighter live. I’m sure our sound will continue to develop, but it’s a lot easier to take control of it now. At the 359 gig, it just all seemed to come together for us. We were all buzzing after it.
What was it like to play for Alan McGee [ex-Creation Records head honcho]? Is he someone you admire?
CH: Yeah, completely. I think out of all the bands he has been involved with – signing or managing – we all love a few each. I’m a big fan of Creation. For me, Primal Scream are a band that really changed what I thought you could do with music – and I’m not even of the same generation. Screamadelica is genius. I know our bassist Ali is a huge My Bloody Valentine fan. It was really nice [at the District gig] because I could see Alan nodding along to the songs when I was on stage and he came and said hello after we played.
Can you tell me how the band formed?
CH: We’re all from Liverpool, except our token Southern member, Ali, who is from Hammersmith. Before we formed Sugarmen, me and Luke, who was my dad’s friend’s son, had been hanging round for a while. We both had a bunch of songs, so we started recording them in my house and working on each other’s.
The guys who now run District [Milk] had these nights in the top floor of a building on Bold Street – it was packed and sweaty and it had a kind of anything goes vibe. It was brilliant. They would have bands on – they put Alt-J on long before anyone else did.
We started hanging round with Ali there and we would stay until the early morning and get on the instruments together, playing The Clash and The Stooges after everyone had left. I bumped into him in The Grapes one day – not the one on Mathew Street – told him about starting a new band and he was in… A few weeks later at another Milk party, Luke introduced me to Sam, who he had met a few times at Milk, and then we had a band…
We found this really cheap, huge room above a computer shop and below a private kebab shop, where these guys would just sit around playing backgammon and occasionally rowing and breaking each other’s noses! But they were pretty good landlords overall… I nailed up loads of old sheets and fabric and then we had a place to practice and eat Pot Noodles.
When I saw you play live, I was struck by the amount of great songs that you already have. Dirt was a highlight for me – I think it would make a great single. It’s a killer pop tune. Can you tell me more about that song?
CH: I’d been humming a melody that I thought could be played on trumpets – maybe on another song – and then it just seemed to make its own song. I guess you can take what you want from it, but it’s half about doing something you shouldn’t and getting in a bit of shit for it – or going in search of a bit of trouble maybe – and half about good and bad and things not being black and white.
Circuit Queen is another good tune. Is it about anyone in particular, or can’t you tell me?
CH: Ha ha! Aye. Well, you would have to ask Luke about that one. I’m not saying I know if it is or it isn’t … but if it is, you would have to ask him… There’s something a bit glam about it, I think.
Who writes the songs?
CH: Well, when we started, we had a set of songs that me and Luke had written, but, over time, we have started playing some of Ali’s songs and I know that Sam has a few, too. We all contribute our own thing to each other’s songs anyway. We’re in the middle of writing a load of new songs.
You’ve just been doing some recording, haven’t you? How did that go? Can we expect a single or an album soon?
CH: We have something on Soundcloud that we did when we hadn’t been together for too long and we did a demo in London, too. I think the session you’re talking about was for a single – yeah. We have just had a few days working with Steve Levine [The Beachboys, Culture Club]. That was great.
Who are your musical influence and heroes?
CH: We have thousands. Everything – The Clash, Dylan, My Bloody Valentine, Orange Juice, Bowie, Lou Reed and The Velvet Underground, Phoenix, The Kinks, The Beatles, Arctic Monkeys, Aztec Camera, Mott The Hoople, Rodriguez, Foals, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Nirvana. My heroes are The Clash, man. I was lucky enough to get to play with Mick Jones and hang out with him a few times. The Clash made me want to be in a band.
Looks-wise, Chay, you remind me of a young Roddy Frame (Aztec Camera) or Edwyn Collins (Orange Juice)…
CH: Well, they are two of my favourite bands, so maybe I’ve pinched something from then…. I love that whole look. The way Edwyn Collins came back after what happened to him was amazing [He had two strokes, which left him unable to walk, talk or sing].
What’s the music scene like in Liverpool at the moment? Is it a good city for new, young bands?
CH: It’s really good at the moment. It feels as if there is a bit of a scene building up. Liverpool has had quiet periods in its musical history, but every now and then we catch the attention of everyone. I can feel something bubbling up. It shows something that Alan McGee has decided to start a night here and with the development of the Baltic Triangle housing; there are plenty of creative, arty farty types, including ourselves. It’s all good news for Liverpool. All the bands seem to know each other and we’re all doing slightly different things, too. No one is treading on anyone’s toes. It’s a good time to be in a band here.
Luke Fenlon – Lead vocals & guitar
Ali Horn – Bass & vocals
Sam McVann – Drums
Chay Heney – Lead guitar & vocals
For more information, visit: https://soundcloud.com/sugarmenuk