June 9th saw the release of The Tricks’ debut album Safari Inn. The Hertfordshire four-piece, now based in London, consist of brothers Joel Hodge (lead vocals/bass guitar) and Ash Hodge (drums), along with guitarists John Bisset and Eliot Crabtree. After two successful EPs and extensive touring they have established a dedicated fan base and due to their electrifying live shows, true passion for making music and their unwilling-to-die attitude this debut is highly anticipated. Chris Hawkins from BBC6 Music said “The Tricks’ big break is within touching distance” and he couldn’t be more right.
Safari Inn is a collection of 11 tracks, contrasting brightness and urgency with darker, more reflective moments. The sharp guitar lines and intense vocals of album opener ‘Better’ are followed by the gutsy energy of ‘49 Mercury’, an open love letter to South California. The punchy force of each song continues to the close, brooding tracks like ‘Eleanore’ and ‘Back Home’ still maintaining the invigorating restless momentum. It’s a record that hooks the ear with catchy lyrics, solid drum beats, infectious guitar riffs and layered vocals.
The Tricks are without doubt the band to look out for this year. Ahead of their album release launch show at Camden Barfly (this Friday, June 13th), I had a chat with frontman Joel to discuss stressful recording processes, ‘True Romance’ and their brand new album ‘Safari Inn’.
Tell me how the band started?
“We all went to school together. We all grew up in the same town in Hertfordshire. The drummer, Ash, is my little brother; the guitarist, John, was my best friend in primary school, so I’ve kind of known him since I was like four years old; then Eliot, the other guitar player, he joined our secondary school. So we’ve all known each other for years and years. Me and John started playing a bit of guitar when we were really young, and then about four and a half years ago, I guess, El and John moved in together in Hackney and started playing guitar together, writing some tunes and me and Ash started to join in. It kind of grew quite organically from that point really.”
How have things changed for the band in the time between releasing your first EP and the new album?
“I think within any band you change and develop naturally. Between the first EP and now, I think the main difference is that we’ve kind of got a darker, deeper element to our songs now than we did, which is really because when we started The Tricks, our intention was to be a good fun, live act that people can dance to and enjoy the live setting, but as we went on, the songs we started to write became a bit more challenging. Lyrically, I wanted to do things that were a bit darker and less kind of… throwaway, and the sound of the band in general kind of moved in that direction – a bit weirder, a bit more experimental. ’49 Mercury’ [see below], for example is one of the songs that are really upbeat and positive, whereas some of the songs on the album are a bit darker and have a lot more depth to them, and explore different things like being depressed and things like that. But generally, I think our sound is still a positive one.”
What was the recording process like?
“Great, yeah – the album has come out [this week] so I’m really fucking happy. That all comes from the way that we approached it all. The guys on the label are music producers, so they always had our music at the heart of their interest. It wasn’t like a business deal; they weren’t signing up thinking ‘we could make some money out of this band, that wasn’t their main intention. They liked our sound, they liked our music and they wanted to capture that so during the recording process we were all on the same level with Bruce Witkin and Ryan Dorn. We were all working towards the same goal really. We went in with the mentality that we wanted to make a record with four guys, just playing songs that we’d written, so it was all quite steady from the start. We spent a lot of time in the studio, and it does get tough, a bit over the top and when John’s in there doing a guitar take and he can’t quite get it… You have all those things and those moments… I can remember ‘Not Too Young’, there’s a vocal right at the end of the song that is right at the top of my vocal range and I couldn’t fucking sing it. We went in, recorded it and I didn’t nail it, came in the next day and I didn’t nail it, then we went in on the third day and I finally did it. So you know, there’s all those kind of frustrating elements when you’re recording, but the overall riding thing is that if what you come out with is a great record, you can only think of the process being a success, I think.”
What is the concept behind the album artwork?
“Well, the artwork [see below] comes from the title. We went to LA to record the album, and we were staying at a place called Safari Inn which is kind of like a motel with a swimming pool, like a typical California motel. It’s in the film ‘True Romance‘ which is one of our favourite films as a band, so that felt like kind of fate… That sounds a bit pretentious, but there was a moment where we were all like ‘wow, this is one of our favourite films, and now we’re staying in the motel that was in the film’, so that was always in the back of our minds. So when we came to name the album, Safari Inn was one that just kept coming back to us, so it made sense to go with that theme. Our designer is called James Brad and he’s brilliant; he’s an old friend and he does everything artwork-wise for us, he does our flyers and all our single artwork has been by James. We went to the pub with him and sat down and said ‘the record’s gonna be called Safari Inn’ and we just went through that idea. The front cover itself is an animal’s head and that directly goes back to the title, and all the colours kind of linked in with that as well.”
For people that haven’t listened to the band yet, how would you describe your music?
“That’s a hard one. I think it’s very real music that we make. The album is real, the songs are real. It’s four guys that write collaboratively, so it’s not, you know, one person’s vanity project… so in that way it’s kind of like traditional and kind of old school – like bands used to be, you know, like the Stones were and the Beatles were. They sat in a room together and they wrote songs and then they got their guitars and they went out and played those songs. And that’s what we are, we’re almost like a throwback. Especially with modern music now obviously developing and there’s so many different genres of music, and in a way we’re almost kind of traditional. It’s songs written and performed by a real band.”
What would you say, in terms of lyrics, has inspired the album?
“Lyrics is a funny one, I was talking about this the other day… sometimes nothing inspires the lyrics and it’s off the top of your head, like a phrase or something that you run with, and with inspiration there could be something philosophical and bullshitty about it. You don’t really think about what’s inspiring you when you’re writing the song or writing the lyrics. I don’t think it’s necessarily in the forefront of your mind. It’s more when you look back on the lyrics after you’ve finished them. For example, with the song ’49 Mercury’… that was written after we’d been out to America for a bit, and then we came back to the UK to write some more songs before we went back out to finish the album. In that gap, we wrote ’49 Mercury’ and I wrote the lyrics specifically about going back to America and feeling like LA was a kind of new home almost – a home away from home. In hindsight, there’s like this thread of James Dean because at the time I’d watched ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ and the 49 Mercury is the car that James Dean drove in the film. So there are little inspirations and influences throughout the album that you don’t necessarily have them in the forefront of your mind when you’re writing the songs, you just look back and think ‘oh yeah, I was watching that film and that time’. Another thing with lyrics, and this is one thing that me and John have talked about a lot, is that you almost don’t want to tell people what the lyrics of the song mean because the brilliant thing about music is that you can interpret it in different ways, so in a way you want people to listen to it and get their own meaning from it. That’s why I’ve always loved music.”
What artists would you say are your biggest influences?
“I think when we first started… like I said earlier, the reason the band started was because Eliot and John were living together in this warehouse and at that point they started writing songs that were very much guitar themed. They didn’t say ‘I’m gonna be the rhythm guitarist’ or ‘I’m gonna be the lead guitarist’ so they had this kind of duel guitar thing going on, which was very much inspired at that point by The Strokes. They are a massive influence on us, we listened to them all the time growing up so I think that was a big influence guitar-wise. And I think Elvis Costello, that kind of songwriting style influenced. I mean, El listens to completely different music than I do, I mean we both love The Clash, we both love The Strokes, but then individually, he doesn’t listen to much Springsteen whereas I listen to Springsteen all the time. El is influenced a lot by bands like Television, so everyone brings in their own little angle which kind of adds to the overall sound. But yeah, I’d say the Clash and the Strokes are kind of the blueprint, almost, for us and for the sound of the band. I think those two bands have a real excitement in their sound and that’s something that we really want to have.”
What would you say are your biggest highlights from previous tours?
“We’ve played some great gigs actually, we’ve been quite lucky. The whole experience of touring I quite like to be honest, because you play a show in London and your friends and your family are there as well as your fans, and it’s a great experience playing to a room where you don’t know anyone. And we’ve played some shows in America which were absolutely mind-blowning. Playing at Whiskey A Go Go on Sunset Strip felt like a kind of surreal experience to be honest, in hindsight I guess it doesn’t really feel like it happened because it’s such a legendary venue, so you never think you’ll get that opportunity. But the weirdest thing about that gig is that there were a couple of guys there from England who we’ve known for years who came for Coachella music festival and they came to our gig in Whiskey A Go Go, so you’ll go around the world and still see people you know [laughs]. So yeah, we’ve played some great gigs, uh… Manchester Academy was brilliant, it was just 900 people, everyone going mental. The thing about touring and playing gigs, especially when you’re a band like we are – we’re on our way up as opposed to ‘being there’ – so when you go on tour, I suppose you do have some shit gigs, inevitably. But that only makes the good gigs more exciting. So yeah, we’ve been very lucky as far as that’s concerned.”
What’s next for The Tricks over the next couple of months?
“Well, we’re obviously promoting the record now, so we’ve got some radio shows to do, we’re gonna go in and do a few live acoustic shows. We’ve got our album launch gig on Friday at the Barfly in Camden which will be really good and give us a chance to see everyone, and it’s really exciting to have the record out. We’re still writing as well. We continued writing throughout so even though we’ve finished recording the album we didn’t stop writing, so we’re ready to go as far as new music is concerned. You know, we’ll do this album, promote it, play some shows – we’ve got three shows next week. We’ll do all those gigs and then it’ll be a case of you know, ‘when are we gonna get this recording done?’ We’ve got all these new tunes, they’re exciting, fresh… so we will want to get them down as soon as possible. so hopefully, we can release something pretty quickly. Obviously, we’re not gonna blow off this album, it’s a big deal since it’s our debut, but there’s plenty more to come. We’re happy to go with the flow and see what happens.”
The Tricks’ upcoming live shows include (more to be announced):
JUNE 13 – Barfly, Camden
JUNE 17 – The Slaughtered Lamb, London (Balcony TV London Live)
JUNE 18 – Sticky Mikes Frog Bar, Brighton (BIMM Student Live And Amplified)
JULY 24 – Sebright Arms, London
AUGUST 8 – The Hope, Brighton