Full interview from issue 38 of Clash magazine
The Enemy band photo

When Woody Guthrie thought to pen ‘This Land Is Your Land’ in 1940, he did so in response to a country in despair; it was heartening realism designed to encourage a nation to endure its debilitating recession. Nearly seventy years later, as every town and city up and down Britain witnesses the devastating effects of another financial downturn, The Enemy are uniting in the raised voices of defiance, offering encouragement and hope to everyone. ‘Music For The People’ might just make you feel alright…

It’s clear when you listen to ‘Music For The People’, The Enemy’s second album, that never do they claim to have any answers. They are not prophets nor politicians. They pride themselves, however, on being the everyman. They are almost twenty-one-years-old, but grasp the triteness of life better than most double their age. They’ve grown up through the decaying of their hometown, Coventry, and can’t bear the assimilation of every other city like it. This is fused into their music, which rails against the daily grind that is forced upon so many, with the belief that it can shine a glimmer of hope into an otherwise tedious or difficult routine. It is sustenance for subsistence.

When Clash travelled up to Birmingham, the Midlands metropolis that’s big brother to the neighbouring Coventry, The Enemy’s affinity with the local socially-minded populace was made crystal clear in not only their welcome on stage, but in the passion echoed from the audience that accompanies their considered tirades.

“You wouldn’t be the only one / To be a slave to the modern wage”, the crowd sing back to ‘Away From Here’, relishing this Monday night escape. There’s genuine compassion to see the throng resonate with the chorus of ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’. These and other songs from their million-selling debut (the similarly titled ‘We’ll Live And Die...’) have become a war cry to the masses. It’s with great surprise to Clash that although only a week after going to radio, new single ‘No Time For Tears’ has been equally embraced - it’s another chance drop the daily shackles: “We’re gonna get out the city, we’re gonna get out the way / We’re gonna cash in the kitty, we’re gonna get on a plane”.

‘Music For The People’ may surprise a few when it’s finally released. Its visions are as grand as its creators, its sound as dense as their principles. The Enemy have a lot to say, and they’re not afraid to say it.

Clash sat with the trio - the forthright mouthpiece Tom Clarke (who does all the talking), baby-faced drummer Liam Watts and the timid yet towering bassist, Andy Hopkins - to find out how fame and success had changed the old friends, and how their convictions will continue to guide them...

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The Enemy – ‘No Time For Tears’

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Is the title of the album an assumption that people are expected to like the music within?

No. It’s not a pretentious ‘Music For The People’. It’s not “This is music for the people, and here we are on a pedestal”. It’s not that at all. It’s quite a humble notion; we realised when we released the last record, all these songs that we’d written were really quite personal for us. When you release an album, it’s the handing over of songs, because they’re no longer yours. When you release that, you see people then singing them in the crowd and they’re singing them for their own reasons, and it means something totally different to them. I went to a Verve gig recently in Manchester. I realised I was stood there singing ‘Bittersweet (Symphony)’ for my own reasons, and the person next to me was singing it for some completely different reasons. It’s about that, really. It’s about how to people who buy the album, it becomes their music. Ultimately, every band is a band of the people, because you make music for people - apart from real introspective jazz stuff where they just make if for the sake of making it and for them and their own enjoyment. That’s cool, but all albums, that is what an album is. Every album, regardless of its title, is music for people that like music.

Taken literally, it sounds more positive than your debut’s title. Are you trying to remain optimistic in bleak times?

For a start, there are two points there. The first is that ‘We’ll Live And Die In These Towns’ depends on how you interpret that as well, because for us, we view that as a really proud statement. We might go off and travel the world, but we’ll come back to Coventry and we’ll probably die in Coventry. That’s how we viewed that. But I think that a lot of people misconstrued the first album, and I think that, yeah, it is important to tell people that we haven’t just got this pessimistic view of the UK. I think it’s something that I’ve tried to touch on recently, which is that... We talk a lot about industry collapsing, and the reason for that is quite simply that we come from a town that has relied on industry for decades and decades. The fact that the industries are going is quite sad, because you see a lot of people out of jobs at the moment and you see a lot of skilled workers not being able to put those skills to use, but the reality of that is that they will learn new skills and that it’s just the changing face of the UK. We used to be an industrial nation; we were at the heart of the industrial revolution, and I’ll always have a certain sympathy and a certain romance for that, because I just love anything slightly industrial. I love the way that bridges are made. I love cars - I absolutely love anything with an engine. So, personally, I can always relate to that, and I can see the sadness that the car workers in Coventry and all across the UK must feel when you stop being able to make these amazing things - you know, the massive ships in Scotland. But I think that whilst I’ve got that romantic notion, I’m well aware that it’s just the changing face of the UK and that, actually, already one third of those jobs have been replaced with jobs within the service industry, and that in years to come will provide a better quality of life for people - they won’t be working in factories, but will hopefully be in more comfortable service jobs. We’re just a changing nation, and people are afraid of change and they cling on to romantic notions, but you just have to go, ‘Yeah, you can feel romantic about it; you can feel passionate about industry and about what made Britain great throughout the Victorian era, but you’ve got to be just as willing to let Britain be great for other reasons and let it change and embrace the change.’

Do you think that the bigger you get, the more elevated your status, that you’ll lose that grass-roots reality and your viewpoints will change?

I don’t think so. That’s something that I’m not concerned about now, but I was concerned about it at the start of all this. We’re gonna go out on tour, you see how it changes bands. People get a bit of money and they go on tour and they have people surrounding them telling them they’re great - it’s easy for lads to get egos and start disappearing up their own arse and believing their own hype. I said at the end of last year that the biggest achievement of The Enemy - fuck all the awards, it’s none of that, and it’s not one album or a platinum disc on the wall - it’s that, at the end of the day, when you come off tour and you go home for Christmas, you can sit down and you’ve still got your two best mates. We haven’t changed a bit. The first year of going out on tour is probably quite a traumatic time for most bands. If you can get through that - if you can get through that massive change of going from transit vans to tour buses to nice hotels - and not become an arsehole, then I think you’re alright.

And then there’s the flood of temptations that come your way...

Liam: It’s a test of how strong a character you have.

Tom: It’s how well you know yourself and how well you know your mates.

Liam: I don’t think we were gonna let two years of success change who we were for the first however many years of our lives.

You all still live in Coventry?

Well, I live just outside now; about four miles out of the city centre.

Do your friends treat you the same?

Yeah. I mean, I had a load of lads that I haven’t even seen in ages - I mean, in years; long before the band - who I went to school with before I moved from Birmingham to Coventry. I went and saw them - just literally went to a pub and saw them. Totally surprised them. You’ve just got to act the same. Everyone knows we’re sound lads and it’s not gonna change us. It gives you a wider perspective and it gives you a broader view of the world - when you go around the world you obviously meet a lot more people and it makes you a more worldly person - but at the same time, we’re of an age where we’re doing the whole growing up thing, so it’s an exciting time because you’ve got all this going on and you’re just discovering life and discovering the world at the same time.

Is getting out and seeing the world what has inspired the breadth of this album?

Yeah, totally. The first album was written within three months and I always said it was a snapshot of where we were at that time in our life; we were in jobs that we hated and we just wanted to get out of. We wanted to go and see places and see the world. The second album is the realisation of those ambitions. It was written over two years, so if the first one was a document, the second one is a much more detailed document, and because of that, in the music you get a lot more light and shade in it; the loud and fast songs are loud and fast, and the real quiet poignant moments are equally on the other end of the scale. When you do it over that period of time, you just get a lot more depth to the record. And we’ve been playing every night on tour with each other for the last two years, so you improve as musicians too. It’s a natural progression, really. There was no, ‘Let’s make a bigger, more worldly sounding album’, it was just we went in to the studio and played. That’s how I would describe it.

Have you tried to put Coventry on the map?

We said two or three years ago, when we very first started, we said we wanted to put Coventry on the map. Then there was an NME piece, one of our first ever pieces, and just above the piece was a map of England with Coventry pointed out and we just went, ‘Right, we’ve sorted.’

Andy: Bands come to Cov now a hell of a lot more. There’s a venue called The Casbah, and loads of bands come down, but before we started playing there, nothing really happened.

Liam: And the Ricoh Stadium. The Chili Peppers played there and Bryan Adams. It’s drawing a few more people in.

How do you balance being patriotic to the city but without appearing parochial?

I’ll be honest; I thought exactly the same thing when we first wrote these songs. I thought that no one outside of the pub that we drank in would understand it, and I thought that no one outside our circle of friends and no one that didn’t work at Peugeot would get it, but then you do some gigs and people in Cov start going, ‘No, no, I get it’. I honestly then never thought that anyone outside of Cov would get it, and we went and did some gigs in Manchester and Liverpool and I was going, ‘They ain’t gonna get this. It’s about Coventry’. But you go round and people identify with it all over the world, because the situation that’s going on in Coventry - the change that’s so evidently occurring in Coventry, this changing face of Britain where the industries have taken a back seat and other jobs are being prominent - is going on throughout the country. You go and chat to people and they all see it. Coventry is a really typical city, so when you travel about the UK - you could be in Coventry or Hull or Leeds or anywhere - and it is so stereotypically British, and without being extraordinary - without being one scale or the other; it’s not really, really, really fucking grim, it’s just normal and average, which is probably why it relates to so many people when we sing about it. The same goes for us - we’re not extraordinary people. We weren’t brought up in the depths of poverty - I grew up in a three-bed semi in a normal street in a normal place, not spectacular, just a little three-bed semi. Because of that, we related to a lot of people because there’s a hell of a lot of people that have come from exactly the same place as us.

What’s the worst mistake you could make? What would make you ashamed?

I think I’d just be gutted if any of us started developing massive egos. We did a thing with a magazine recently when they wanted to put us behind a lectern for a photo shoot. That’s total bollocks; that’s when people start losing it. We’re not preaching to anyone. Why is what I’ve got to say more important than what anyone else has got to say? I’m just a normal person. And I’ll never accept us being pigeon-holed, because that’s fuckin’ awful when people back you into a corner and put you in a box and go, ‘That’s your band. That’s what you do’. I mean, the second album is gonna surprise a lot of people - it’s probably gonna piss a lot of people off, but equally there’s gonna be a lot more people that’s gonna love it. But I just don’t wanna ever be pigeonholed, and I don’t want any of us to develop egos and start thinking that we’re the be-all and end-all. We’re not; we’re three lads from a normal place.

You’ve previously said that getting into politics was not something you were interested in, but would you want to follow Will Young’s example and go on Question Time to put a few opinions across?

Not particularly, no. I did love the Jeremy Paxman / Dizzee Rascal interview though. It was quality. But I think that we’ve got a really, really satisfying job. We go out every night on stage, we play songs that we’ve written in a room about the size of this, and people go mad to ’em. You get to chat to people afterwards and have an amazing night and just enjoy talking to the people that have bought your record and come to your gig. It’s a really fulfilling job. Politicians, on the other hand, people view politicians as these evil people. They’ve got into politics because they wanna change the world, because they’ve seen it and gone, ‘I think we can make it a better place’. They’re not evil at all; they deserve a lot more credit than they get. They’re some of the best people going. I think when they get into the job they then find how difficult it is to actually change the world and just become totally delusional.

Andy: Once they change something, it affects someone else in a completely different way.

Tom: Basically, as much as politics interests me, and as much as I enjoy watching what goes on with it, I would never, ever wanna dabble in it, because it just seems like one of the most unfulfilling places to be.

How many fifteen-year-olds are gonna go to a political party conference? Not a fraction of who’s coming to the gig tonight. Being on stage is a much more effective platform.

Yeah, definitely, but I’m not naive enough to think that musicians change the world. We’ve been through various different musical phases - punk and the whole hippie revolution in the Sixties - they all thought that they could change the world and they can’t, but what you do get is a movement, and when you’ve got a movement it becomes significant. It might not change things overnight, but it will affect the direction of society.

You talked about the intended difference for the second album. What did you want it to be? How did you want to change it sonically?

The first album’s got its place and I love it to bits, and now we’ve made the second I love it even more, but I think that we always knew that we were bigger live than we were on record, and we wanted something really that sounded like we do live, or as close to. We didn’t really know how that was achieved, and I didn’t know what the reason was, why the first album didn’t sound as big. I got talking to Mike Crossey, who’s made the majority of the album. He’s really, really passionate about old school recording techniques - using mic techniques that haven’t been used for ages, and using tape as well, specifically - and I really wanted to do as much live, rather than fuss over correcting minor mistakes. I love mistakes in songs on albums. My favourite bit of [The Who’s] ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is there’s a little slip-up on the organ right in the middle where it breaks down - it’s the best bit of the song; I wait for it! I just wanted something that was a better representation of a live sound, but also a more honest representation of what a band sounds like. There’s hardly any bands on the radio anymore - there’s hardly any bands in the charts - and people need to be reminded what bands are about and what great music has always been.

Liam: And what a guitar sounds like!

Does being a trio limit your creative parameters, or does it give you room to experiment?

I think it enhances it. I’ve had to devise ways of writing guitar parts where I can keep a rhythm part going and do a little lead bit. If we had two guitars it’d be a piece of piss, cos you’d go, ‘Okay, you play the chords and I’ll play the lead’, and you’d sound like every other band going. I think when you get a good three-piece, it’s the perfect good combination. We’ve now got somebody who plays keys on some of the tracks that have got strings on it. When we were doing the first album, I played violin. There were certain bits where we were like, ‘Right, it needs strings’, so I put ’em on. Somebody plays those bits now, and we’ve got Emma who sings on ‘No Time For Tears’. I don’t think that you should allow being a three-piece to limit you, and if you need to bring another musician in for a certain bit, then yeah, do it, but I think it’s a good basis to have because it enhances your creativity and it makes you play notes you wouldn’t.

There are some nice atmospherics and sounds on the album - for example, the backwards sound of the snare in ‘No Time For Tears’. Where did the ideas for these finer details come from?

‘No Time For Tears’, I think, is a production masterpiece. Matt Terry is a local producer - well, I’m not gonna call him a local producer because he’s not - he’s local to us, he lives near us, but he’s one of the best fuckin’ producers in the UK at the minute and no one knows. He did our first ever demo, ‘40 Days And 40 Nights’, so he’s pretty much responsible for us being signed in the first place. We went back to him and went, ‘Right, we’ve got this monster of a track. We don’t know what the fuck we’re gonna do with it, but we want you to work on it and see. Basically, we waited around all day - he’s got a studio in a barn; it’s a little brick building within this massive steel agricultural barn - we waited until everyone had gone home from work in the offices around, put the drums in the barn, and Liam did two takes of ‘No Time For Tears’ and we just left. We said, ‘Do what you want with it.’ He rang me up really excited a couple of weeks later going, ‘It sounds fuckin’ amazing. I’ve done all sorts of weird reverse delays and stuff on it. It sounds great.’ He played me a bit down the phone and I couldn’t hear anything, and then we went in and just went, ‘Fuckin’ hell, this is amazing!’ Then we pretty much gave him free reign. We finished the track in probably a day - we started it, left it for weeks, then came back to it and it was pretty much done within a day.

There were references made to other bands that you sounded like with the first album, and this album has got some cheeky nods to other songs’ melodies. Does people pointing these out detract from the song itself?

Right, I always view it exactly as you’ve just described it, as a “nod”, because whilst I can listen to those songs and go, ‘Right, there’s a bit of The Clash in there’, and you can and whoever else, if you go to the gig tonight, the whole front three rows are of an age where actually they’ve probably never listened to The Clash. I watched The Sex Pistols play at the Isle Of Wight and just thought, ‘Most of these people have never listened to The Sex Pistols’. They’ll buy that record because it’s The Enemy and they like The Enemy, and they’ll go home and they’ll put it on and their mum will go, ‘That’s The Clash, isn’t it?’ And they’ll go, ‘Who’s The Clash?’ I did it with Oasis. Listening to ‘Definitely Maybe’, my mum went, ‘It’s just T. Rex isn’t it?’ And I’m going, ‘Who’s T. Rex then?’ Then I put T. Rex on and I went, ‘Yeah, this is alright’. You discover so many bands through little nods like that.

So, is it an unconscious nod?

Yeah, I think so. In places it’s a conscious nod though, definitely. In places, I want people to be reminded of that and I want people that haven’t heard it to go and listen to it.

Is it hard to sustain originality as a rock band?

No. You just have to be clever about it, because there are only so many notes and there are only so many chords. People have been writing songs for decades upon decades upon decades, you’ve just got to find clever ways to write songs so that they are original. They can be done. I think the reason ‘Away From Here’ was so massive when it was released was because it sounded like nothing else, but it’s such an obvious melody - it’s two notes. You’ve just got to be clever.

What’s your relationship like with the press, is it alright?

In general, yeah. I never get wound up by it, but there is stuff out there. There’s definitely times when people take segments of quotes and then purposefully blow them out of all proportion to sell magazines. I don’t really care - that’s their business. At the end of the day, I think that the British press is actually some of the best in the world - we’re very lucky to have it - and I really haven’t got a problem with them. Certain magazines need to focus a little more on the music, but for young people who just can’t buy magazines, we’ve got some of the most informative press in the world.

How have your musical tastes changed over the last few years?

Massively, actually. But the thing is, what people don’t realise is...I think people have ideas of what we listen to, and actually me and Liam have sat around his for hours listening to Frank Zappa and Genesis and Bill Bruford, Brand X, Earthworks UK... That to most people is just a list of random words - we’re into bizarre stuff - but equally, if I show you my iTunes, I’ve got The Sex Pistols on there, I’ve got Mozart on there - I’ve got the whole of Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ on there - I’ve got Ralph Vaughan Williams... I just love every type of music. I can appreciate every type of music from the most over-produced Eighties stuff to The Velvet Underground. I think that in recent years of being on tour, because you meet so many people, they put you on to new stuff. Like, even now, last year I discovered ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. I mean, I’d heard it before, but I properly discovered it and just went, ‘This is the best album ever.’ It’s probably my favourite album now.

Who’s your benchmark for songwriting?

I think David Bowie is probably one of my songwriting heroes. Most people write songs and I can listen to ’em and work out from hearing it what they’re playing and just sit down at the piano and play it. David Bowie is just fuckin’ incredible. I have to take quite a bit of time to work out where the fuck he’s going with it, because he just doesn’t play by the rules and I really like it.

David Johansen talked elsewhere in this issue about his pride of influencing other musicians is greater than his regret of never achieving huge success in the ’70s. Which do you think is more important, influence or success?

I think it changes from person to person, but I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s key to just hold a tight balance between it, because you’ll always be able to make music, even if you’ve just got a shit guitar - that’s how we fuckin’ started. We had to save up the money to be able to rehearse each week. But being successful is nice as well! (Laughs) It’s nice walking out on to a stage in sold-out venues - that’s a massive buzz. I think if you’re in it for the money, you’re in it for the wrong reasons.

If this album flopped, what would your next move be?

Just write another one. That wouldn’t be a choice or a decision, it would just be that throughout my life I’ve written music as a form to express myself, and I couldn’t stop.

You wouldn’t consider any other options? You wouldn’t go work in a bank?

Well, I dunno. You might have to. I worked in a Co-Op when I was writing songs, and I did it because you have to eat. Yeah, I probably would end up working in a bank, you know, but the fact of the matter is that there’s people who work in normal jobs every day that are potentially the greatest song writers in the world - it’s just a lucky break, isn’t it; that’s all you need.

What do you hope The Enemy’s lasting legacy is going to be?

I don’t really care, to be honest with you. It’s not about leaving our mark or anything like that, we just keep writing songs because that’s what we know how to do, that’s all we’re really good at. I remember a conversation with Liam going, ‘Well, we’re not fuckin’ good at anything else, so we may as well write songs.’ There’s no master plan, really. It’s just write songs and as long as people like ’em... Like I said right at the start, I never thought anyone outside our local pub would appreciate it, so as long as people are appreciating it, that’s great.

What’s the best thing a fan has said to you?

It was when we released ‘It’s Not OK’ on 7” vinyl and it got played on radio. Someone I know said to me that it had made them re-evaluate their life and they’d jacked their job in and changed their job. People always ask you, ‘When did you first know you’d made it?’ and THAT was the point. It’s one person’s life, but you’ve changed someone’s life - you’ve made them re-evaluate everything, and that’s priceless and amazing. Even if you only do it once with one person, you’ve made it.

Do you think public opinion could sway the direction of The Enemy?

Ultimately, every band has got a debt to your fans. They put a roof over your head, at the end of the day. If there was a massive revolt - I don’t think there will be - and every single person hated something that we did - if we went off our heads and made a jazz album and everyone went, ‘We fuckin’ hate it’, we’d probably go, ‘Okay, we’ve done it now. We got it out our system. Sorry everyone!’ then write music that they’d like. Again, it’s a balance between what you want to do and what people want to hear; there’s got to be compromise on both sides.

You’re going to be supporting Oasis over the summer. Buzzing?

Oh yeah.

Have you played with them before?

No. I’ve never even seen them live before!

Liam: We met Noel briefly two years ago. I said, “Alright, I’m Liam”, and I think he thought I said ‘Leon’, and he said, “Oh, you’re my name backwards”, and I thought, ‘No I’m not’.

Looking forward to the gigs?

Yeah, totally. Kasabian, as well, are one of the greatest live bands in the world.

Are support slots intimidating?

No, I love ’em. It makes you raise your game. But also, when you get a crowd that’s not your crowd, it’s fuckin’ brilliant watching - literally within minutes - changing people’s opinion about your band.

Your own stadium gigs are coming up later this year. Is that what you had in mind with this album - writing something that could fill the space sonically?

Not really. We could be doing stadium gigs this tour. The fact of the matter is I love these venues. This venue is like fuckin’ home. We wanted to do another one of these tours. If you look at the number of gigs that we’re doing this tour over the time that we’re doing it, we could easily have done stadiums. But it’s not intimidating at all - we’ve done it with the Stereophonics, we’ve done it with The Rolling Stones; we can fill stadiums anyway, we know that. It’s stupid though, because you end up making an album that’s not natural. This album’s been really organically created - it’s just two years on the road and what happens on the road, and you write songs.

What gig that you’ve been to has made the biggest impact?

I hardly go to gigs. I don’t enjoy going to gigs, because I just feel like I’m on the wrong side. But I really love little gigs. There’s a band called Exit Calm that a lot of people won’t have heard of yet, but it sounds really like early Verve, like ‘A Northern Soul’ and ‘A Storm In Heaven’. I saw them in a little pub in Rugby - I’d just come off a big tour, and going back and watching a really little gig and the intensity of it was amazing.

Tonight is almost a homecoming gig. Does that mean there’s more pressure or less on the performance?

A bit of both. More adrenaline, but probably less pressure. [Phone beeps] And that as well, which is just people texting you going, ‘Can I get a guestlist?’

So, what are your hopes for the album?

A positive response is what I’m after. I honestly couldn’t give a shit about chart positions - that’s not our territory, that’s Simon Cowell’s territory. And the fact that we fuckin’ smashed the arse out of it on the first album was quality. Even if I don’t like the band, I love seeing bands doing well in the charts because it’s just two fingers up to the pop society. If we have any chart success then bonus, but all I really care about is that the fans like it and that it goes down well.

And then on to the jazz album?

Yeah, jazz album is number three. (Laughs)


Photo by Ellis Parrinder


This interview appears in the June issue of Clash Magazine, out now. Read all about the issue HERE

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