Know your enemy. Or so the saying goes. A foreboding phrase that truly encourages us all to divide and conquer, leaving only a few remaining partisans to reign supreme.
That’s the tagline, but just who is the enemy these days? For three-piece band The Enemy, the reality is a little less introspective: Rage Against The Machine may have penned a song against their elitist foes, but for 2007’s Coventry collective, the name was merely a way out of conformity, not a protest against it.
“Everyone thinks there’s loads of meaning behind our name,” lead singer Tom Clarke explains as his phone line buzzes and crackles somewhere abstractly on the road between Norwich and Nottingham. “But we just needed a name.” Geography and reasonings are lost to the hum of the tour bus as the band makes their way to Nottingham’s Rock City to support none other than returning statesmen of rock the Manic Street Preachers. Waxing lyrical about the headliners, Clarke gushes, “They’re fantastic. They’re really on it live – James is an absolute perfectionist and it’s a cracking show every night. They are amazing to watch.”
The musical landscape has altered dramatically since James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire and Sean Moore unleashed ‘If You Tolerate This’ into a politically heightened atmosphere. Footage of Bradfield strumming his guitar in front of Fidel Castro seems far removed from the onslaught of Converse-gazing bands who have exploded onto the scene in the past few years. For The Enemy, their story is a newly penned one. Formed in their hometown of Coventry in February 2006, signing to Stiff Records in September of that year. Fast moving, in any band terms. “It’s been really quick for us,” Clarke admits before recalling his reasons for forming a band in the first place. “To be honest, me and Andy were sitting in a pub one night and thought, ‘this is rubbish – going to work every day, coming home, going to the pub, spending more than we’ve earned, then getting up in the morning and doing it all again.’ We said, ‘let’s just try writing some songs and see how it goes.”
Like fellow contemporaries such as The View, Arctic Monkeys and Hard-Fi, small-town sensibilities and suburban conformities are 2007’s staple comment – in stark contrast from the Manics lyrics of yore. Personal favourite for Tom Clarke is his own album track ‘This Song Is About You’, due for release later on in the year. “It’s my favourite song that we’ve ever written,” he muses enthusiastically as the phone line reception to and froes. “It was inspired after a conversation with someone I went to school with, who I haven’t spoken to in ages. I was asking about the people we went to school with and she was like, ‘well Laura has a baby, Sarah’s got a baby, Natalie’s got a baby…’ and I’m going, ‘oh for fuck’s sake…’”
The core spirit of The Enemy lay in their refusal to subscribe to expectation and their reluctance to accept the “real world” as anything other than fiction. Reality for Tom Clarke, bassist Andy Hopkins and drummer Liam Watts, roots itself firmly in rock ‘n’ roll. And the bass line doesn’t lie. “It’s the school lad’s dream. If you ask a 15-year-old lad what his dreams or ambitions are, he’ll say he wants to be in a band or be a footballer. If you ask him after he’s left school, all of those dreams will be gone. You think you’ve got to join the real world – but it’s not the real world, it’s just a pretence. You can get what you want, it just takes a moment of realisation to go, ‘well fuck it, I can do it. If I put my heart into it then I can achieve it.’”
You can get what you want, it just takes a moment of realisation to go, ‘well fuck it, I can do it. If I put my heart into it then I can achieve it.’
Their philosophy is perfectly summed up in recent top 10 single ‘Away From Here’, a rock anthem that packs a punch against the 9 to 5 of conformity. Infectious choruses and unaffected harmonies are what The Enemy do best – their unashamed optimism and post-punk spiked spirit peppers each song. ‘40 Days And 40 Nights’ is a soaring example of simple grinding guitars, frame worked by Futureheads inspired vocals which also takes its lead from Britpop idols Oasis. But it’s the classics that the band will cite before any others – it’s not difficult to pick up the mod call influence of The Jam within Clarke’s gut-wrenched vocals on ‘Had Enough’ (out now). For the band, musical influences stretch far and wide: for Andy, The Jam and The Clash take precedence, whereas Liam bats for the “weird” sounds of bands like Brand X and Genesis. For Clarke, it all began with The Rolling Stones. “The first time I ever became aware of rock ‘n’ roll was finding my mum playing ‘Honky Tonk Women’ loud in the kitchen. I just started dancing to it and I didn’t know why. After that, Oasis came along. But then you start looking at the people who influenced Oasis and you find T Rex and Sex Pistols and The Who.”
Escape for The Enemy was guitar-shaped. Now set on a path that swerves any such conformity, they’re putting their newfound melodious rebellion into action. Which begs the question: Who needs friends when you have The Enemy…?