It was 20 years ago today (roughly) that we first got the band together. We played a few gigs and recorded a session at the BBC’s Maida Vale studios but work, families and poor attitude meant that we never really got our act together. Our original bass player moved away, life intervened and Emperor Penguin went into hibernation…
Ripple dissolve to NOW! The band is back: four kids with three chords and a crazy dream. And a new album to promote.
Technology has made things easier. We still don’t have a huge amount of time for writing, rehearsing and recording together – but individually we can come up with ideas at home, lay down tracks in Apple’s Garageband and share the files. We each add ideas, change bits and gradually, from the murk, something recognisable as a song emerges. Then we take the home recordings to a professional studio – in a cupboard behind a baker’s shop in Morden – for tweaking and buffing.
At Wieden & Kennedy, it’s not always welcome for me to wade in with creative suggestions – as our executive creative director Tony says: "Great ideas can come from anywhere; except Neil" – so it’s fun to have an outlet through which to siphon the suppressed slop that seeps from my sensitive soul.
Today’s tech has also made it easier to release and publicise our stuff. We made our own website with Squarespace, posted our music on Bandcamp and SoundCloud, and set up our own YouTube channel to host our home-made videos. We design all our own artwork, publicity materials and merch. We can do exactly what we like without worrying about what clients or an audience might want. In 2018, we released the album Rum Pop Engineer as a vinyl LP on our own label Savage Frenzy Records (pressed in the Czech Republic, the European home of vanity vinyl) and we signed up to distributor Distrokid to get our stuff out on all the digital outlets – iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, etc.
The racket we make has been described (by TheUnherdMusic.com) as "Intellectual UK jangle pop brimming with harmonies ’n’ hooks and goosed consensually by a garage punk energy". We’ll take that. The LP appeared on a few "best of 2018" lists and last year we played at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool.
New album Walnut Fascia includes songs about yetis roaming the Underground, Tracey Emin’s tent, wombles in speedboats and Brian Blessed building a badger sanctuary on Mars. Initial response has been good and it’s been picked up for physical release in the US by Kool Kat Records of New Jersey. (We’re trying to figure out whether The Man is ripping us off – but given there’s no prospect of the label making any money out of us, we can’t see the catch.)
We may be ageing amateurs but we’re still younger than Iggy, louder than necessary and coming to a venue near you in 2019.
Neil Christie is chief executive of Wieden & Kennedy London and a musician