Standing in the middle of myriad guitar cases, cables and frantic looking roadies the members of This Town Needs Guns cut unassuming figures amidst the ritualistic pre-gig chaos. After a seven hour drive down from Scotland to York they could be forgiven for a certain sullenness, especially in reaction to a gig that is rapidly disintegrating around them. “Shall we find somewhere a bit quieter?” I venture tentatively as a man that looks like an extra from This is Spinal Tap begins a raucous sound check on drums. We end up by the bins out the back, surrounded by the detritus of the recent venue refurbishment. It seems that nationwide tours, this time around as main support to Manchester natives Oceansize, aren’t as glamorous as you would think.
Despite the inauspicious surroundings This Town Needs Guns are in good spirits. The Oxford based four piece have experienced the difficulties of an industry where their music ticks almost no commercial boxes and have come out of the other side with their sense of humour and integrity still intact. I can’t help wondering though if there is any semblance of frustration or anger lurking beneath their amiable exteriors at the way in which their beautiful, conceptual LP Animals, released in 2007, failed to translate to increased exposure. “Not really” says lead singer Stuart Stone “ I think the kind of music that we play, we have always been aware of the fact that its not going to appeal to a mass market. All we want to do is write songs that we like”. Tim Collis, lead guitarist and architect of TTNG’s mathy, intricate sound, is also philosophical about the limitations of a style that has its roots in Chicago’s underground: “ If a band that is very underground suddenly, still playing their own music, becomes massive and does it three-hundred days of the year its going to lose a bit of how special it is. It sucks a bit that we can’t do this as much as we thought we wanted to but it’s not too bad. We don’t tour as much as a lot of bands but when we do we really enjoy it.”
“All I’d like to think is happening is that we are being true to ourselves and putting forward our music for people to see that it really means something to us” seconds Collis’ brother and drummer Chris. When I ask if the band feel that an outfit of their ilk inspire a greater loyalty amongst their specific audience the real joy of being in a band like TTNG seems to become more apparent. “We’ve seen so many bands get hyped and then just disappear or split up and it’s really sad. We’ve been doing this for four years now and I’d much rather that the people who like us really like us and the people who don’t never get to hear us.” says Stuart Stone with a smile. So can touring save bands that have a niche or selected audience? “ I think that it is the only way that artists can make serious money nowadays. If you have a loyal audience then they’ll come and see you and buy your records because they know it helps you out.”
TTNG’s personal investment in the band as a project is startling. Whether its touring, whilst maintaining their day jobs, or fighting tooth and nail to get a record out there (their second album is slated for release next May) being in a band of a certain size in this day and age is seemingly an attritional slog. “Writing for this next record has been really hard, every time we seem to have got into our stride we’ve had to go on tour. It just breaks it up and you have to start all over again. We’ve got quite a few songs that we are really happy with though.” says Stone. I ask if the traditional template of releasing albums is redundant in the modern age, if their efforts to create full-length records are untenable. Chris Collis’ answer is unswerving and passionate, perhaps giving a glimpse of the fuel that powers bands in similar situations to TTNGs : “An album is a document of how we are feeling at the time. All of the songs on Animals were written over a couple of months and that was where we were at. We could write a song and release one a month but I think it would be shit.”
Behind their affability and genuine decency then it seems that there is a certain steel to This Town Needs Guns. Here are a band up for the challenge of preserving the ideals that they entered into this project with, of creating affecting music truly for themselves and those whose support they value so highly. They stand and chat for almost 20 minutes despite the tightness of their schedule and the absurdity of the cluster fuck unfolding in the venue behind us, which has seen their sound check pushed back by over half an hour. After the gig they will start on the four hour drive back to Oxford and normality before hitting the road again later in the week. I head to get a drink before the gig starts, hoping that they are as startling playing live as they are obliging in interview, thinking on how their story forms a compelling narrative of the modern pressures of a fraught industry. When I come back the gig has been cancelled and technical issues are being blamed. Stuart Stone apologises profusely and offers me a free ticket for the show in Leeds two days after. I thank him and wonder if he realises that it is actually him that has done the favour tonight by taking part in the interview, not the keeno with the dictaphone. He heads back into the venue, shoulders sagging slightly under the weight of hours wasted on a gig destined to never happen. It’s going to be a long drive home.By Jake Farrell