“For fuck’s sake” Matthew Smith intercepts yet another phone call during the course of our interview. Not only is he Hot Club de Paris’s guitarist, but at the moment he is also in effect their manager and the band are in big demand.
The Liverpool-based trio released their debut album ‘Drop Till It Pops’ late last year and have been swept up in popularity from fans and critics alike. The band’s original take on quality guitar pop, a combination of off-beat time-signatures, songs structures, and lyrics, has garnered them the attention of everyone from hardened musos to tune-loving teens.
Matthew, like the rest of the band, is surprised at their rapid rise to popularity: “It bowls you over. We did our biggest show in London and there was like 700 there and it literally just blew our minds. We’d just come off stage and 700 kids were going, ‘Hot Club! Hot Club!’. It’s just not what we expected really. It’s essentially just a really humbling experience.”
Far from being the ‘wacky Scousers’ they have been portrayed in some quarters, the band are eloquent, considered and sharp. Despite having a pop sensibility, there’s plenty running underneath their music and they’re keen to talk about it.
Things began for them when Matthew met bass player and lead singer Paul Rafferty on a temporary job serving “Pimms and Smirnoff Ice” at Chester racecourse.
“It was a job that lasted three days or something,” says Paul. “And we spent the whole three days trying to figure out how we’d steal all the money.”
Failing this, forming a band seemed like a good alternative.
“We bonded over the punk stuff that we were both into,” Matthew explains. “Then we sort of went into a thing were we started listening to records and swapping records and started out going down a bit if a different route together and wanting to do different music.”
The trio was completed when Matthew brought his brother Alistair on board as drummer. “I just got used to Paul over time,” he says. “I like him more than I like Matthew now.”
Both brothers are dry as you like and conversation frequently goes off on a strange tangent as they feed off each other’s banter. The holes in my research are revealed when I ask how they first met:
“We met at the old birth race,” remarks Matthew. “Right their in the ‘ozzie I just popped out into his arms. I just shredded the umbilical chord,” returns Alistair.
What set Hot Club apart from the beginning was their desire to do things differently.
They were all out of practice as musicians when they started and so it seems they were more open to going outside tried-and-tested methods.
“That’s how we learned how to be completely democratic,” says Paul. “Because when we started we were all totally shit and I think that’s the best way to do it. I think that why we got good was because we tried, we had to try and do it properly.”
Perhaps what makes their music so enthralling, beyond the fun of their shows and the dynamic excitement of their unusual arrangements, is their lyrics. Everyday situations told in an off-the-wall kind of way, the words of ‘Drop Till It Pops’ add a richness to the record that grows with every listen. Paul elaborates on his inspiration: “I think the important thing is that real life has got value in songs. There are so many great songwriters that have hit upon describing what happens in real life. There’s kind of like Billy Bragg who can talk his way through the day-to-day workings of a relationship, but then there’s other stuff that doesn’t make sense and you have to get more abstract and metaphorical. I don’t know, real life’s dead good, but you kind of need to make it slightly more interesting.”
Hot Club have created a very unique sound, but how will they push this on for the next record?
“It’s being scaled back more than anything else,” muses Matthew, “we’ve taken it back rather than forward. I use a lot of drone tunings and I used to play like four sweet chords across the drone and stuff on top and I’m still doing that but I’m now just playing one or two notes five times as fast as I used to.”
He quips in: “So many second records are about money or fame.” and Alistair follows up once more: “But ours won’t be because we haven’t got either”
If they carry on at this trajectory, neither is likely to be in short supply in the future.
By Kenn Taylor