22-20s emerged on a wave of hype through super-cool Heavenly Records, unleashing their acclaimed eponymous debut in 2004 before imploding shortly afterwards amidst claims of musical differences and a lack of musical freedom.
Now, after reuniting two years ago and following a frantic US tour, they are back on home soil and more focused than ever. Brum Notes Magazine caught up with them for this month’s issue ahead of their headline show at the Hare & Hounds tonight. Read the full Q&A with bassist Glen Bartup below.
So, for those who aren’t aware, where have you been the last few years?
For the first few years after we split in 2005 we were all scattered around. Martin was living in New York, I lived in Nottingham and James moved down to London. Between us we collected and went through various jobs (electrician, mechanic, barman, stock controller and A&E clerk amongst others) whilst James played in a few other bands and me and Martin periodically got together when we could afford it and tried to piece together some new material and find a way into making the kind of music we wanted to. When we split there was a feeling of dismay amongst us about the band we’d become and our inability to change it, at that time it would have seemed inconceivable that we would ever reform 22-20s. In 2008 me and Martin were offered the chance by our old manager to have a bit of studio time in England. We needed a drummer and it seemed natural to call James. In truth once we did we were all pretty excited about playing again and from the very start it was a pleasure, a complete contrast to all before it. The cloud we’d draped ourselves in the first time around had gone and it felt liberating to have the chance to play and write again, particularly as no-one was watching or even aware we were. A Forever Heavenly gig (a weekend of gigs at the South Bank Centre to celebrate our old label Heavenly’s 25th birthday) was offered and playing it gave us the chance to ask an old school friend to play guitar with us. He subsequently joined, Martin moved to England and we recorded the album late in 2009. It was picked up by a US label (TBD Records) and we’ve been touring it out in the US since March.
Does it feel good to be back and back in full on touring mode?
It feels great to be back. The US is an entertaining place to tour. I hadn’t expected to enjoy it so much. As a nation it is so full of contradictions, there is plenty to dislike about it but I’ve come to realise there’s also a lot to love about it. There are a lot of great cities out here and so many avenues for interest or mischief. The sheer size of it means touring here quickly becomes a way of life. Your landscape becomes littered with motels, breakfast at roadside diners, endless spells on the freeway, the fleeting chance to stretch your legs at a petrol station, the sight of another downtown skyline looming into view followed by the sudden flutter of activity around the gig and the cramping of a city night into the few available hours after you’ve played. It becomes both habitual and addictive. We went home for a few weeks in July and as much as the break was welcome it felt dangerously like home the first time we climbed back into the van.
Are you still technically unsigned in the UK or any plans for a UK release of the album?
We’re not signed in the UK. Phil Costello (who runs TBD) is a pretty charismatic guy and came on board very early. He was clear from the start he wanted to sign the band but also that he would expect us to be committed to putting in a lot of time into touring out here. The first few labels we spoke to in the UK were wary of our history and keen on us changing our name, something which, even with our mixed feelings towards our past, struck us as a little false seeing as we were essentially the same band. We made the decision to go with TBD and get on with touring and writing and hope that at some point things in the UK would fall into place rather than scrabble around trying to get our foot back in the door at home. If we could get something going in the UK again we would love that but the main thing for us is that we can continue touring and writing. If it doesn’t happen on this record then hopefully it will happen on the next one.
When you split a lot was said about musical differences, not necessarily being able to go in the directions you all wanted. Do you feel like you’re writing and playing with a lot more freedom than pre-split?
As I alluded to in an earlier answer, massively so. There were no great musical differences between us at the time, we all agreed that we were shit (we probably have a bit more perspective on it all now). We had a lot of hype before we’d ever done anything to justify it. We only had three songs we liked. We flew to LA and New York to play industry shows, we toured for two years, under what felt to us at 19/20, rightly or wrongly, like quite a fierce spotlight, and lost any sense of what we were trying to do. It became a bit of a runaway train and we fell further and further behind it the longer we continued. We felt obsolete before we even stepped into the studio to record our first album. This time around no-one expects anything of us, very few people are even looking. I think we’re grateful for the chance to try and quietly go away and make something to force people to pay attention rather than feel we need to shy away from it. We didn’t write a song for three years at the end of the first time around, this time I think we would all be disappointed if the next album doesn’t come quickly and isn’t better than the current one.
Your first album was well hyped and got a lot of acclaim, is it strange getting back on the radar, does it feel like a fresh start?
It definitely feels like a fresh start but I’m not sure we’re even on the radar yet. Hopefully we can turn a few heads on the upcoming tour and with upcoming albums. Everything’s changed a little now and I think for most bands it’s mainly about survival, trying to keep things going well enough that someone will put a bit of money in so you can keep going. Our ambitions stretch as far as making the next album better than this one.
The musical landscape has changed a lot in the UK in the past seven years, especially with regards to the number of decent guitar bands getting airplay and exposure these days. Does it feel like a completely different challenge now?
It does but I don’t think we mind that. The wheel will come back around at some point. All you can hope to do is be making interesting enough music when it does that you’ll be a part of it.
You’ve been spending a lot of time abroad, are you looking forward to the ‘homecoming’ tour?
I’m really looking forward to the tour. We’ve been surprised by the level of support from people in England on things like Facebook. We were surprised anyone even remembered us really. As much as I’ve enjoyed the last five months or so I’d be really disappointed if we weren’t able to make an impression at home.
What will be on your rider?
Gin and tonic will be the priority, another habit born out of the last five months. I’ve lost the imagination to even contemplate ordering anything else now.
What can fans or newcomers expect from your live sets?
Fans from before can expect longer sets for a start (I think on our last visit to the Little Civic in Wolverhampton we managed a dismal 17 minutes). It’s two guitars now rather than the one guitar and keyboards it used to be which has made it all a little sharper edged. There’s more melody in the newer songs but hopefully the delivery remains loose and dirty enough.
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