The Manhattan Love Suicides are a leather-jacketed fuzzy noise-pop band from Leeds, consisting of Darren (guitar), Caroline (vocals), Alex (bass), Rachel (drums) and Rob (guitar). They’ve been around for only two years but have already released material on Cloudberry, Magic Marker, Lost Music and their own Squirrel Records. Their second album, Burnt Out Landscapes, is a filler-free 27 track collection of singles, radio sessions and brand new material, bringing to mind the Jesus and Mary Chain, early My Bloody Valentine, Ramones, the Ronettes and the Shop Assistants, to name but several cult and classic influences. All sunglasses and dark clothing, their compact sets are purposely designed to be “a short, sharp shock”. They take their name, if you’re interested, from a series of short films by Richard Kern (1985), reflecting Darren’s interest in underground, schlock and cult movies. Despite the forbidding look (out of 15 poses on the Squirrel Records MLS page, there are two smirks, 12 scowls and just one smile), they’re bright, funny and engaging company. We spoke to them at Indietracks at the end of July 2008.
SXP: Every time we see you, you play for about 15 minutes but you’re down in the Indietracks programme for 30 minutes; are you playing two sets?
Darren: No. If we put gaps in between all the songs and fill it with feedback then we could probably stretch it out to about 20 minutes.
Alex: We decided from the start we weren’t going to bother with any between song banter, just turn on and play six songs. Plus, I can’t imagine Caroline doing Bernard Manning jokes in between songs.
SXP: Are there any slow songs in your set?
Alex: We don’t play them live because we want the impact of just playing six songs right through and not stopping.
Darren: If we start to play slightly longer, we might be able to incorporate slower songs but at the moment it wouldn’t work. That’d mean there’d be silence for a few seconds - we can’t be having that!
Rob: The live set and the recordings stand on their own as two different things. We don’t really feel the need to replicate everything on record live; we’re quite comfortable it being two different approaches.
SXP: Does it annoy you that reviews of the band always mention the same bands: the Jesus and Mary Chain and Shop Assistants, etc?
Alex: We love all those bands.
Darren: It’s a complement: especially the Jesus and Mary Chain. We really do wear our influences on our sleeves, don’t we?
SXP: With the Jesus and Mary Chain reformed, and My Bloody Valentine back playing live, do you think there’s going to be a wave of young noiseniks coming along?
Darren: I’ve noticed a lot more of that lately, bands like A Place to Bury Strangers, just that noise thing coming through. I wouldn’t want to get caught up too much in that – basically you get lumped in and we’re just doing what we do.
Alex: We got lumped into the twee scene and we’re not really sure why.
Darren: I think it’s because of the Shop Assistants influence and things like that. There’s some Primitives in there, who we sometimes get compared to. I don’t like the twee tag – it’s just awful. I think it’s quite lazy when people try and pigeonhole you because we’ve got fuzzy noisy pop songs – but, you know, they are pop songs. That’s what we want to write - catchy pop songs - but not all the time.
Alex: We just enjoy putting loads of noise over the top. That’s the sort of music we listen to.
Rob: There’s this sweet side to the band, quite sort of poppy, and there’s this really dark, heavy, noisy side and they balance each other out so there’s no focus on one more than the other.
Darren: It’s that Mary Chain kind of thing where they have a lot of noise on their stuff but strip it down and it’s very melodic, it sounds like a girl group from the 1960s. You’ve got your Shangri Las and your Ronettes influences in there. And with us the Velvet Underground are also a big influence.
SXP: Who writes your songs?
Caroline: We all do. Sometimes I’ll come up with a lyric and I’ll say that I want a song to go with those, sometimes Adam writes a song, sometimes Darren does that and then sometimes we even all write together!
Darren: That’s why there are so many songs. Because if Adam’s written four or five songs and I’ve written four or five songs and Caroline’s got lyrics for four or five songs that we’ve got music to, before you know it we’ve got 15 new songs.
Rachel: We’ve got quite a lot of different influences so we come at songwriting from different angles.
SXP: You’re particularly prolific – the Burnt Out Landscapes compilation has 27 tracks.
Darren: Yeah, it’s quite good going! Within the next year there’s probably going to be a Burnt Out Landscapes 2 with another 27 tracks, I’ve no doubt.
Alex: And we’ve always had the approach where we’ve never been into a studio to record, we just do it ourselves or at a friend’s house so it’s very easy.
Darren: But it’s because it sounds raw live so obviously we want to replicate that on record. We don’t want to clean it up too much, we do like that fuzzy approach.
Alex: The releases have all just happened; they’re just the songs we’ve got knocking around.
Caroline: That’s how we work with everything. Once we’ve got a song and we think it’s ready to record, we record it or sometimes as soon as we write it we’ll record it.
Darren: When Magic Marker got in touch with us to put out the CD, we’d recorded 12 songs, and in the time between recording the 12 songs and the vinyl version coming out, we’d written and recorded 2 new songs so we just thought we’d add them [to the vinyl].
Caroline: And it distinguished it a bit from the American version as well. It gave people an extra reason to buy it - if they needed one!
SXP: How long has the band been going?
Darren: A couple of years. Basically me and Caroline and Adam got together and we started knocking a few ideas together. And we had a drummer called Eddie - he’s in another band called Downdime; he left and Rachel came in and then Rob came in as well and that’s when it all completely gelled.
Alex: It’s so much better live now. We learned to pay a bit more attention to how it sounds rather than literally turn up and turn on.
Darren: It’s still a bit of a mess – but it’s a good mess.
SXP: What else do you put out on Squirrel Records?
Caroline: We used to say, if we liked it, “oh, go on then, we’ll put that out”. We got a bit of a girl-punk thing going on for a while.
Darren: I’d say five or six releases in a row were just girl-punk stuff and then [we released] The Real Losers.
Caroline: That was garage punk so on the garage punk scene they were all thinking: “wow! Squirrel Records!” Then we put out the Manhattan Love Suicides album and they were like: uh?
Darren: That’s when the punk scene left us ‘cos all of a sudden it’s not 1-2-3-4 any more. There’ll be other things on Squirrel. It’s not just become a label to release our stuff.
Caroline: But at the moment we’re concentrating on our stuff.
SXP: You play a lot in London and people seem to like you but do you play often in Leeds?
Alex: There’s a horrible cliquey music scene in Leeds.
Rob: It’s funny the different reactions you get in different cities. In Leeds there’s always a strange expectation, people analysing you and expecting you to go wrong or something. Other places we’ve played, we’ve been really welcomed. We played in New York and people really enjoyed the shows there, jumping around and singing along. You’d never get that in Leeds.
Alex: We try not to play there too often because there’s not really an audience for what we’re doing. I don’t think many other bands know who we are.
Rachel: I think it’s quite nice. There are some bands in Leeds who play every weekend and you don’t bother going to see them because you know you’ll probably end up seeing them anyway.
Alex: We just wait for gigs that we want to do to come along. There are a few bands in Leeds that we have an affinity with.
Darren: There’s a band called The Insect Guide. Apart from that, nobody I can really think of.
SXP: Rob, we’ve seen you at other London gigs…
Alex: Rob’s in another band as well.
Rob: *sheepishly* Pulled Apart By Horses.
Alex: *mock-outraged* Oh, don’t make it all about Pulled Apart By Horses, Rob! *general hysteria*
Rob: *defensively* I don’t like talking about them separately, ‘cos they’re very different.
Alex: They’re very good though.
SXP: You’ve got a great look and your haircuts are very cool. Does a lot of thought go into that?
Alex: It’s just ‘cos we slept in a tent! *laughter* I wear this to work. It’s not for the band.
Darren: If you see me walking around the streets of Leeds I will be dressed all in black with shades on, with a leather jacket. I’ve always looked like that!
Rob: It’s what brought us together.
Darren:: We frequently get mocked in the street by strangers: I can’t believe they’re dressed in that manner!
Darren: I wish I had a pound for every time I walked down the street [and people said]: “take your shades off! Get yer fuckin’ hair cut!”
Alex: Yeah, we are very stylish.
SXP: “We are very stylish” ought to be the way this interview finishes…
Alex: Don’t have me fucking saying that!
Darren: “We are very stylish”? Well, I am anyway…