Despite songwriter Howie Payne’s Liverpool pedigree–from the congenial ‘pudlian lilt of his voice to his unwavering dedication to pop-craft–his band, The Stands, sound downright American. Their debut, All Years Leaving (Echo) instantly recalls the dirty blue-jean-clad folk-rock declarations of the Byrds, Bob Dylan and Neil Young–or the contemporary reverb-drenched jangle of bands like My Morning Jacket or Beachwood Sparks.
Is rainy Liverpool trying to soak up some warm California sun? Not exactly … but turn about is certainly fair play. “Everyone thinks all the bands from Liverpool are trying to sound like the bands from California,” explains Payne. “The Byrds were playing folk music but eventually tried to sound like they were from Liverpool after the Beatles came along and went electric!”
Payne, 28, is a musical sponge who writes songs without boundaries, constantly in search of the ineffable elements that make a tune truly meaningful; finding inspiration for his ageless pop from the masters: Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Woody Guthrie, Burt Bacharach, Charles Mingus, The Beatles, Fred Neil, The Band, Curtis Mayfield, The Buzzcocks and countless others.
The Stands are a part of the ever-erupting “Scouse” movement, a tightly-knit posse of bands congregating at Liverpool’s Bandwagon club and creating new creatures with song-based stitches. But while bands like The Coral, The Zutons and The Bandits have one foot turned towards the Beefheart/Zappa school of avant-pummel, the pop-oriented Stands are a strictly melodic affair–becoming the outsiders in a scene made of outsiders. Their meticulously constructed tunes, however, are far more intricate than their giant, gratifying hooks imply.
“There’s a great Brian Wilson quote, when he said that Beach Boys harmonies were so confusing and so complex that it took them months to learn them–but the trick is to make it sound easy. My brother, the drummer for The Zutons, thinks we’re the most complicated band out of everyone. But it just doesn’t sound that way. The only time people notice that ‘The Way She Goes’ is in 5/4 is when they try to clap along.”
Payne honed much of his eclectic, elusive and exceptional tastes when he left his “draconian” Liverpool school at age 13 and moved to America, getting by on demolition jobs, delivering groceries and spraying perfume. He devoured Smokey Robinson and Nirvana on American radio and returned to Liverpool seven years later–gigging around with a few groups, slowly building his on-stage confidence and eventually finding people to start a band of his own. The Stands stood tall once Payne hooked up with drummer Steve Pilgrim through a mutual friend, met guitarist Luke Thompson during a football game in the park and was approached by bassist Dean Ravera after he saw an early Stands gig with a spare Zuton holding the low end.
In fall of 2002, a Scouse epidemic had Brit labels signing anyone with an accent (“You just had a drumstick and they’d give you a record deal,” says Payne). The cautious Stands recorded demos on their own time and on their own terms–holding out as long as possible so their songs and creative inertia wouldn’t be compromised by label demands and executive requests. The band convinced people to lend them money for studio time and fan/tour-mate/Oasis songwriter Noel Gallagher invited The Stands to record in his magical, mysterious Wheeler End studio. The band laid tracks with whatever spare time they could wrangle–bouncing between some of their 2003 tours (The Coral, Oasis, The Libertines, Jet and The Vines) and some 250 gigs in 2003 alone.
“Every time we’d get a day off, we’d come back from Switzerland or something, I would run to the studio and start trying to do some tambourine tracks or something,” says Payne, who ended up recording the majority of All Years Leaving before signing with Brit indie Echo (home of Feeder, Moloko and Ray LaMontagne)
Since the album’s release in February, The Stands have garnered critical accolades and fan adulation. And on January 25, 2005, in a slightly remixed fashion, it will finally appear in America. Just like those songs on American radio that burrowed into an adolescent Payne’s heart through some indescribable prestidigitation, he hopes The Stands can capture the same mysterious wave that turns great songs into timeless ones.
“It’s all just playing with music, isn’t it? Chord changes that go where you don’t think they’ll go-or doing the obvious thing. But I really don’t understand what I’m doing. I just write songs and sing over them… If I could pinpoint it, I’d be a musicologist, go to university, study,” Payne laughs, “which I’m not gonna do.” Late last year The Cribs signed to the highly regarded Wichita label. The first fruit of this relationship was the very limited edition single “Baby Don’t Sweat” / “Another Number”. Both the single and the album were recorded at East London’s now legendary Toerag Studios with the band producing. The sessions were completed in eight days with some chemical assistance.