An abridged version of this feature originally appeared in July’s copy of [WAM] Magazine.
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Strangers first got in touch with [WAM] at the end of last year and we were blown away by their single ‘Hibernate’. We featured them on our unsigned feature and put them on our end of year show. Since then the three piece from Widnes/ Warrington have been busy working on a huge body of work, which was released as the mixtape ‘Midnight Driving’ on Spotify.
We Caught up with frontman, Liam McGrath to find out more. But first, the track that kicked things off.
[WAM]: How long have you known each other? How did you meet?
Liam: I met our bass player Sean when we were about 14. We went to the same high school and both played in bands so we were aware of each other. We started trying to make music together in early 2016 but Strangers didn’t exist until we met our drummer Jamie in 2017. We were looking for a drummer and he came highly recommended by some mutual friends.
[WAM]: How would you best describe your sound and influences?
We tend to struggle to describe our sound. I suppose it could be called alternative pop. We’ve all been playing music from an early age which means we’ve had plenty of time to explore different genres and I think this is reflected in the music we make. Even now we all listen to widely different stuff. A lot of hip hop and indie as well as more experimental electronic music and even some french pop and Latin jazz.
We love pop music so we always try to make what we do fairly accessible and memorable while still having interesting splashes of all the different music we listen to.
[WAM]: What is your songwriting process and how do tracks come together in the band?
It usually starts with an idea I have. Sometimes it’ll just be a guitar riff or a loop or I’ll come to the band with a more fully formed demo. We flesh these ideas out in our rehearsal room and get a rough structure and idea of what everyone’s doing.
We’ll make a rough demo of what we have for me to start writing lyrics to. This is usually when we start to lay down any production ideas and get the demo sounding how we imagine the finished product would be. Then we re-record everything at a better quality and polish everything up.
I’d say our ability to record ourselves plays heavily into how we write. There’s only three of us in a live situation but we treat the studio computer like a fourth member. It gives us the chance to layer things and create sounds that we couldn’t possibly create if we were just writing songs in the practice room.
[WAM]: You’ve just released your midnight driving mix tape, am I right in thinking It’s all self recorded?
Yes, we recorded it and produced it ourselves. The bulk of the material was written late 2018/early 2019 but a few songs are a bit older. It was quite an organic process as we recorded them as we wrote. We had a pretty clear end goal and knew what the themes of midnight driving were going to be from the moment we came up with idea of even doing a mixtape so it was really just about trying our best to achieve what we had in our heads within the time that we set ourselves to make it.
It was the mixing process that took the longest.
[WAM]: What was behind the decision to drop five news tracks in one release rather than as standalone singles? Has there been a greater freedom?
It came from a realisation that playing live wasn’t really doing anything for us.
If you’re a low level unsigned band in the current industry it’s hard to get people to know who are by just playing shows unless you can get great support slots. We decided that the best way to get ourselves out there was to just release a lot of music and try get it to the biggest audience we could.
We also knew that we wanted to make a body of work that was a bit conceptual and had a narrative and felt like a 4 track EP or just doing singles wouldn’t be enough to say what we wanted to say. Plus it felt too obvious. No other band we know around here is self producing and releasing full bodies of work so we wanted to really push ourselves.
Our previous singles ‘Hibernate‘ and ‘Big Sleep‘ felt like such inspiration to the sound of the project that it would be weird to leave them off which makes it a full 9 track project including the 2 musical passages we made to join different scenes in the story of the mix tape. I guess you could say we enjoyed the freedom of it being a mixtape.
Its almost a way to make an album without making an album.
A bands debut album is a big deal and we didn’t want to independently produce one when people don’t really know who we are yet. Midnight Driving is more of an introduction to some of our ideas. Its inspired by the way hip hop artists used to release a mixtape as a free body of work, almost as promotional material.
It worked best for that project and what we wanted to achieve. We might make another in the future but the music we are writing at the minute is naturally more geared towards singles or an EP.
[WAM]: What advice would you give to any artists who wanted to self record their music?
I’d say the equipment doesn’t matter as much as you think it does. We recording most of our mixtape in the spare bedroom of my house with about 4 cheap microphones. You need a decent pair of monitor speaker and a willingness to put in a lot of hard work and learn the technical knowledge you need.
From a musical stand point you need to be critical and objective. If you’re making a record with a producer they will act like a fresh pair of ears but if you are producing your own music it can be difficult to look at what you’re doing from an outside point of view.
What really helped us is having musical friends that we could trust. We had a clear vision of what we wanted to make creatively but it was good to be able to show people what were making and seeing what they thought.
From a purely sonic stand point I’d say that if you are planning to release your own recording, be critical of your ability and take the time to get good. I wanted us to self record and release stuff over a year ago but I’m glad we decided to wait. It gave us the chance to grown and for me to enhance my ability to mix records behind the scenes so that by the time we made Midnight Driving I was slightly better equipped to make a more professional sounding product.
[WAM]: What’s the music scene like in Widnes? What challenges are there?
To be honest there isn’t really a scene in Widnes. There is only 2 venues and there isn’t really an interest in live music. It’s strange to be a band from here. Liverpool and Manchester have got such big unsigned music scenes and it can be challenging to be from in between them because we don’t quite fit in fully with either. I suppose it’s more rare for bands to make it big out a live scene these days anyway so we kind of embrace that.
Musically we’ve never felt like we were from one place because we’ve never gotten deep into a particular scene that’s happening anywhere.
[WAM]: Who have you been listening to at the moment?
We have a lot of friends in bands that we listen to. Our drummer Jamie is good mates with the lads from Kula Bay so they’re always on our rader. I’ve been enjoying a band from Chester called Hollywood Eyes, we’ve been lucky enough to gig with them in the past. Similarly with Pink Shirts For Pale People from Wigan. Also shout out to Digital Garden Party from Runcorn, they’ve helped us a lot.
[WAM]: Would you rather fight a horse sized duck or 100 duck sized horses?
Jamie: I wouldn’t want to fight. I’d rather strike up a peace deal with either.
Sean: 100 duck sized horses. If you shrink a horse to the size of a duck it would probably explode because its insides would be too big for its outside so it would be an easy fight. (Gruesome – Ed)
Liam: I suppose in the interest of balance I’d have to take on the one big duck.
[WAM]: What’s the one song you wish you had written?
Sean: Fort Knox by Noel Gallagher. I’m not even a massive Noel Gallagher fan but I like intense music music and that does it for me.
Jamie: Let’s Dance by David Bowie.
Liam: Emerald Rush by Jon Hopkins. I wish I knew how to make the sounds he makes.
July’s [WAM] Magazine is available to read around the north west, alternatively read the digital version here.