“It’s gonna take us a little while to shake off that tagline of ‘Winners of MobileAct Unsigned’, but what we can do? We did win it after all,” says Jarvey, keyboard henchman of Envy and Other Sins, who are actually way more than their initial reality TV moniker/curse. According to Ali, he of the delightfully bright vocals, guitar and post-Morrissey quiff: “We’ve got to convince people with our music so they say ‘right, they are twats’, but the music’s quite good.” The delectable few will have earmarked this band for bigger things a while back, where they could have been found fluently supporting various artists ranging from The Sounds to Mew – indeed if you were one of those, you’d have remembered their Victorian grandeur and occasional lampshades on stage, eclectic pop, and unmistakeably tight repertoire. And not only that, they list Isambard Kingdom Brunel, horse power, damsels in distress and ancient pornography as influences, and have done since their creation a good while back.
“It’s fairly early days, isn’t it?” poses bassist Mark. In fact, the Birmingham four-piece were only signed in December, and are amidst a whirlwind thus far after landing their deal with A&M Records, beating 1500 markedly less popular bands en route – and this is only their second proper interview ever. It couldn’t have been a greater shock for Envy and Other Sins to come through as winners, having been voted back in as a wildcard after their early eviction from the contest. Gigwise sneaked into the studio for a chat with Ali, Jarvey and Mark – drummer Jim AWOL – in a rare break during the recording of their debut album, ‘We Leave At Dawn’, with Coldplay/Kylie knob-twiddler Danton Supple on production duties.
So how does it feel to be signed, and part of the madness? “Nice!” according to Ali… “The massive thing is not having to do other jobs that we hate anymore. And to be able to devote ourselves fully to coming into the studio.” Since the band’s formation roughly three-and-a-half years ago, its members all had day jobs “to fund being in a band”. “That’s gonna be a massive difference – everywhere we go there’ll always be people who are singing the songs back and that’s great.” And how have things changed since getting their deal, does being signed to a major mean the loss of the creative control which seemed so crucial to a band who’ve always done their own artwork? “They seem quite content to let us do what we do,” says the vocalist. “There’s people around us helping out but it hasn’t changed that much in that we’re still doing it all,” adds Jarvey. “The website, the artwork, all the stuff we were doing before.”
The band have just finished playing the last of the dates they’d booked before they won the competition, including a noteworthy snippet of surreality at Camden’s Purple Turtle (during said part of London burning down, it must be added), complete with naked men, bondage gear, burlesque and a Southern ‘belle’ singing Patsy Cline to her husband’s corpse. Eek. “We’ve literally gone from doing a bit of work on the TV to coming straight into the studio – we’ve yet to do our first tour as a signed band,” says Mark. Talking about the future, he almost disbelievingly adds that “people will actually be there to see us”, not quite taking it in because of the ridiculously quick transformation from being an unsigned band to bumping into Mick Jagger in the studio where Elton John records regularly.
“When I was at school my room always used to be plastered with pictures of…” Ali then interrupts Mark: “Guys who looked like chicks?” Ha. “What?! I have a hair metal background!” says Mark, perhaps to his own defence, then continuing: “It’s ok; I’ve been renewed by people like Bob Dylan.” “Before where we are now, I was working in a doctors’ surgery for the last few years to try and earn a living,” adds Ali. “We were all pretty much unemployable”, Jarvey pipes up. It’s all part of the modesty with which the band are tackling their new found fame. And what’s more, that surprise revelation on Mark’s musical background is a welcome addition to the notion that Envy and Other Sins are far from your referential two-a-penny throwaway band. “I guess we’re in the pop/indie bit where it crosses over from one to the other,” the keyboardist continues. “A lot of people are afraid to say that they’re a pop band.” It is certainly a ridiculous stigma, these days: “There is that of perception in some of the ‘indier-than-thou’ communities, but we know that we’re a pop band, only in the same way that The Kinks are, and The Beatles are, and Bowie was – they’re all pop artists, it’s not a bad thing.” And as it goes, the band’s single ‘Highness’ somehow brings to mind ‘Lovecats’ by The Cure, with a hint of said Kinks and perhaps recent Flaming Lips.
Seemingly the main spokesperson, Jarvey elucidates on his perception of music industry trends. “There’s two types of band: there’s the one that looks at who’s been successful in the past and goes ‘right, that’s what I’m gonna do’, and there’s the band that looks at who’s just been signed and goes ‘that’s what we need to do because we need to get signed and that’s the whole point of being in a band’. It’s not.” This point of view is heartening from a band who’ve just scored their first massive record contract. “You’re not in a band to get a deal; it’s an incidental thing that you need to be able to do it all the time. But it’s not the be all and end all to being in a band – making music is.” And how do the splendidly catchy, jangly songs come together? Jarvey enlightens: “We don’t have a prescriptive way that we do things. Sometimes one person might bring a complete song and it’s done, other times we bring bits and pieces together and it just evolves.”
The songs are simply magnificent even just based on the demos, and it’s not difficult to see them being chart/radio botherers with the addition of expert production. The album will be fully recorded by the end of February and the next step is a UK tour supporting The Hoosiers. So what’s the grand plan for 2008? “With our experience of what’s been happening recently, it’d be dangerous to make any predictions!” Mark resumes: “We’ll get the album finished, get it out and try and get some good reviews.” “This time next year, album number two,” offers Ali, “and increase our live following and build up our own community.” They’re not doing so badly thus far - it’s just been confirmed that they’re playing Summer Sundae this summer and the band are undoubtedly looking forward to playing to people who can sing their lyrics back to them – it’ll be novel.
“We want to make it clear that we’ve been a band for a lot longer that we’ve been on TV, and that the songs weren’t written on the TV show,” declares Jarvey. “Though it is quite interesting, it’s an unusual way for things to have happened.” Mark similarly verbalises: “There’s not been a massive drag between us doing something on TV and then waiting a year for some music. The album’s coming out in a month’s time.” Jarvey continues: “There’s this mentality that the industry’s evil anyway, and if you’re struggling and working away as an unsigned band, all you want is just to not have to do that day job stuff. And that’s what the record label’s doing for us. So the fact that we happened to get there via the TV show didn’t really make a great deal of difference. And we’ve got the same issues and worries about record labels as anyone who reads Gigwise… at the end of the day, how else can it be?”
It’s a fitting and accurate point to end the interview. Envy and Other Sins are coping admirably with everything’s that been thrown at them, there’s little mention of cabin fever, and with the exposure they’ve so deserved for at least the past two years, the world had better be geared up and waiting for a pop album of the finest calibre. Get ready, Sinners…