When their single 'Big Sur' dropped in April, Sheffield group Children of the State were feeling optimistic. Released only weeks into quarantine, the song captured an escapism that quickly became much needed. Inspired by the Beach Boys and Jack Kerouac, 'Big Sur' was a piece of modern surf-pop that genuinely felt uplifting and joyous. “Then everything sort of went to shit,” added Children of the State’s guitarist/vocalist Nathan Keeble with a laugh.
A unifying sense of negativity is clearly documented on 'Hot Money', the opening song from the band’s new EP. It’s a grimy, Beck-esque tune that illustrates the icky seduction of capitalism. “I wanna turn you on while the world is up in flames,” sings John McCullagh right as the song explodes into a second chorus. With a snarling post-punk guitar riff and coldly driving percussion, the song is a seedy underbelly in audio form. Paired with a music video that appears like a satanic parody of The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine film, it’s a sneaky and darkly appealing cut.
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The five-piece, made up of Nathan, John McCullagh (vocals/guitar), Corey Clifton (bass), Harry Eland (keys), and Conor O’Reilly (drums), spent quarantine indulging in their influences and writing their second EP, 'Tragic Carpet & The Magical Wasp Gang from Notre-Dame'. And despite the lead single’s sinister mood, this isn’t an EP of downer songs. Using a combination of landfill indie, psychedelic influences, and 60s garage rock, the group pulls together a thrilling reintroduction.
Most of all, it’s a release born out of sitting at home and digging into pop culture. The hesitant, Last Shadow Puppets-esque 'On A Clear Day You Can See Forever' takes its title from the Barbra Streisand 1970 musical, while 'Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?' is “actually a fictional song from Stephen King’s The Stand. It’s like the number one at the time when the whole world gets destroyed,” noted Keeble. Details like this prove that the band are students of 60s and 70s aesthetics.
As soon as they safely could, Children of the State shacked up at Parr Street and Elevator Studios to record the EP with Ian Skelly of The Coral fame on production duties. “We got there with demos, which were probably 50% identical to how the songs sound now,” explained Keeble, but Skelly contributed a lot to the song’s arrangements. From the squealing saxophone on 'Hot Money' to the bongos and timpanis of 'Give Up The Ghost', a whole new layer of these songs was uncovered in the studio.
“It was really hard work, but we tried not to take it too seriously. Like in the bridge of ‘Hot Money,’ it’s just me speaking faux-German. We just had a few beers and thought that’d be funny to put in,” shared Keeble. The need to keep things lighthearted comes across on the EP, especially with the title. “We’ve had this fictional band name, The Magical Wasp Gang from Notre-Dame, for quite a while. We were listening to Captain Beefheart, and thought, what would we [be] called if we were some sort of acid group.”
Considering the last year, the band deeply misses playing live, and we ended up talking about what a show for this EP would look like: “We like it to be as theatrical as possible...during the 90s, it became uncool to be crazy on stage. Now it’s accepted again, and I think one should embrace that. Everybody should be allowed to express themselves however much they want to.” Hopefully in the near future, we’ll see Children of the State embrace that on stage again.
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Words: Ethan Gordon
Photo Credit: Liv Kenny
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