INTERVIEW: Drifts

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Formed from the ashes of Rivals, a raw and abrasive trio consisting of Dan Shannon, Tom Skilbeck and former Futureheads man Ross Millard, Drifts are something of a north east England supergroup made up of some of the best purveyors of rock subgenres in the region. The band have just released their debut EP Blue, a three-track collection of melodic post-punk and indie with a distinctive north east twang that’ll keep any fans of their previous incarnations happy. Before it was released I had a natter to Dan and Ross about the EP and what it was really like to work with MJ from Hookworms.

Why did you first decide to form Drifts?

Dan Shannon: Drifts came together following the split of our previous band, Rivals. It’s pretty boring really… Tom moved to London for work and we agreed that the long distance thing wouldn’t work so… Me, Ross and Hub wanted to continue playing music together but because Tom was such an integral part Rivals’ sound, it wouldn’t have worked as that. Cue admiring glances at Graham Thompson who we’d gotten to know and love a little through playing with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaind. Pretty glad he was up for it because we’ve been having an all ’round lovely time since.

What music have you been listening to that has informed the sound of Drifts?

DS: A lot of British post-punk and American indie-rock… The usual, really. There’s a common thread, a core of bands or artists who we all love and then there’s extended venn. It’s funny, two people in the last month have mentioned that they thought we sounded a lot like a particular band. When it came up, none of us had actually ever given that band much time… So, I’m not sure it has too much of a bearing, for us. We definitely take more direct influence from other forms of art and our locality.

Listening to the title track, there’s a lot of tight harmonies and taut guitars that made me think of your past projects. Did you want Drifts to have that element of familiarity without being too radically different in sound?

Ross Millard: No, I think that after having done Rivals, doing something that is more musical and less heavy was important to us. I think the familiarity of the sound is something that’s hard to avoid because I guess all musicians have their own style and that seems to be ours. I think the tone of the songs and what I’m singing about is quite different for me, to be honest.

How does Drifts differ from your other projects?

RM: I think this band is lighter, and the songs are more personal than in, say, Rivals.  I think with Drifts we’re still defining what we are so writing is good; you can try a lot of things without the thought of whether it ‘sounds like us’ even coming into question.  And we can tour in a car, which is nice.

What overall sound and feeling were you aiming for on the EP? 

RM: I think a mixture of that 90’s indie/emo/punk crossover with the guitars playing in harmony and making dissonant noise. Lots of rhythm. Slight dreaminess. You know , when an artist has an exhibition it gets considered to be a ‘show’; a body of work all coming from the same place, evoking the same kind of feeling.  I wanted Drifts to be like that with this first EP, where the songs are more than the sum of their parts, that all go towards explaining that mess of blue paint on the cover of the record.

You’ve said that XR3-i is about the street in Sunderland where you first rehearsed as a band. What specifically was it that inspired the track?

RM: And She Was, by Talking Heads.

What else has inspired this EP? Is it personal experience or something wider?

RM: I’d like to think all sorts of stuff has filtered down into the songs. We’d (Dan, Hub and myself) wanted to be in a band with Graham for a really long time because he’s a great, great drummer so that was the first thing that felt really good about doing this. The simple of joy of getting together and playing music made writing a lot of fun and quite instantaneous.  Personal experience, fictitious experience, idols, heroes, politics, gloom – it’s all in there.

Ross, you’re in Frankie & the Heartstrings too now and their last LP was produced by Hookworms’ MJ – why did you want to work with him again?

RM: Matt has a great studio in Leeds, and when you already know how someone works and what the rooms sound like etc it’s a big help in terms of being able to imagine what the final ‘record’ will sound like. He’s sympathetic to our kind of sound and we all have a similar cultural taste.  We didn’t have much time to spend in the studio and I knew Matt would be able to deal with that.   He gets the drums sounding really good, and the studio is inside a cake factory – who wouldn’t want to go there?

How has working with MJ informed the sound of the EP overall?

DS: Matt likes:

  • Coffee
  • Pizza
  • Faraquet [influential post-hardore band from Washington DC]
  • Jokes

Luckily, so do we. I fear had we not agreed on these cornerstones, we would not be having this conversation.

Have there been any challenges in recording and producing Blue? I imagine with all your other commitments elsewhere that things might not have been easy to organise here and there!

DS: Not really, it was pretty cool actually… Making plans on deciding how to get it out, what format etc. and booking some gigs have been the main focus. We’re pretty self-sufficient so putting it together has been a lot of fun. Establishing various roles, outside of playing the instruments, is an important feature of any band if it’s to work and we’ve slipped into those quite naturally. I do sometimes wonder how Minor Threat got shit done without Whatsapp though.

After the release of Blue, what have you got planned? A tour? More new music? A rest?

DS: Ha! I don’t think we’ve done enough to earn a rest just yet. We’re planning on getting out as much as possible in the UK and we’ve got a little trip to Scandinavia booked for late winter so that’s exciting. Other than that, we’ve started on the next batch of songs so we’ll be making plans to get them out just as soon as we can.

Blue is out now.

This originally appeared as a shorter article in the November 2015 issue of NARC. Magazine.

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