Playing their first ever show in August this year, 60s psych experience The Exploding Sound Machine are making incredible progress having played with the legendary Arthur Brown in recent weeks. And rightly so – with a fantastically throwback look and sound which they manage to keep taciturnly contemporary, they’re injecting a unique and flamboyant splash of individuality into Birmingham and they’re doing it entirely in their own way.
Ahead of their headline set at the Brum Notes November Issue Launch Party, we visit their Bubble Factory studio tucked away under the arches of Digbeth and chat to Joey Smith [lead vocals, guitar] and Lewis Spink [bass] to find out more.
You formed in June this year – how do you all know each other and how did you come to be in a band together?
Joey: Me, Simon [Lee – drums] and Sarah [Zietz – organ] had been working on things for a while and until we found Lewis, it had kind of been going nowhere.
Lewis: I came along and whipped them into shape.
Joey: It was kind of a fluke that we met but once we had it was like we’d found the missing piece that we’d been looking for because we’d tried other people and it hadn’t worked. Obviously because we’re trying to do a thing with both the look and the sound, it was hard to find somebody else who related to and understood that. Once Lewis had come in, it clicked right away and everything fell into place. Before he joined, we were a little bit rough around the edges, it always felt forced because we couldn’t find anybody who was into the same things as we were and wanted to do what we wanted to do. Sarah is my fiancé and we met at a Brighton 60s do. Somebody put me on to Si when I first moved to Birmingham; said he was a drummer who was into what I was. We became as thick as thieves and went from there.
Who are your musical influences?
Joey: I think there’s a real mixed bag.
Lewis: Though it’s all mainly 60s…
Joey: Yeah, a lot of it is underground 60s stuff. Lewis has a big soul influence and Si is into real 60s garage. Sarah is into her deep psych and prog – Hammond stuff, and then I like my prog and underground. One of the biggest influences for me when I first started getting into it all was early Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett – I loved the whole structure of how he wrote songs – not that I can ever do that because it always ends up sounding like pop when I do it.
The thing with the band is (and you only have to look at where we’re sat now, the gear we use and the clothes we wear), we’re all massively influenced by that 60s scene. But on the flipside, we still want to be a modern band and I think that we do try and give it a contemporary edge – a lot of the structures are pop structures. There’s no point doing it exactly as it was done then because we might as well be a covers band. But anybody who looks at our band will instantly see what we’re inspired by.
What is it that attracts you so to the 60s?
Joey: For me, it was the fashion and the clothes but I think the one thing that often gets forgotten is how revolutionary and rebellious that period was. There’s been very very little since that period that’s been that revolutionary – at the time there was such a feeling in the air that anything was possible and that drained away in the 70s and 80s. The only thing that I can think of that was as rebellious in the 80s was Public Enemy.
Lewis: I wasn’t into psych before I joined, but being exposed to Joey and Sarah and Simon allowed me to get into it a bit more.
Joey: We are like that, we just exposed ourselves to him…But for me, we’ve been to nights and that, in fact we’ve been all over the country and me and Sarah have been all over the world to go to psych do’s, and I feel like there’s a bit of a community spirit there – you feel like you’re part of something. It’s an underground within an underground and I quite like that. I run an event in Birmingham which seems to be taking off called The
Exploding Bubble Club, and that was just an experiment because people kept coming into Urban Village where I work and saying ‘there’s just nothing for us to do here.’ It was just a chancing thing really but it seems that with the band and the nights, we are really starting to build a bit of a scene in Birmingham and Birmingham’s getting known for it. Which is cool because Birmingham’s the second city and it deserves to have some individuality here.
The Sensateria night in the 80s inspired me to begin The Bubble Club – I’d known Jim and Mack for a long time and they now DJ The Exploding Bubble Club as well. I think it was hanging out with those guys as well that pushed me towards doing the Machine.
You’ve played a handful of live dates so far – how have those gone, do you have any favourites?
Lewis: It’s been quite varied…
Joey: The Sensateria gig was great because of where it was and who put it on, but it was a shocking gig for us as a band – it collapsed every five minutes and everything that could have gone wrong did – however everybody was so out of it by that time that it was cool. We played a gig for Rob Bailey down at The Blues Kitchen in London which was good. The first gig we played (at The Actress and Bishop in August), my voice was totally shot and I just couldn’t sing anything…I really enjoyed the Arthur Brown gig to be fair though, just to play with him. The ironic thing was that that was my birthday and I had tickets to see him anyway. Through the management guys, we managed to play it. For Arthur to come and talk to me after and tell me that he’d listened to some of our stuff and he really liked it, that was the biggest birthday present anybody could get me.
You’re based in Birmingham – do you take any inspiration from here, musical or otherwise?
Joey: Everybody always goes on about the Mersey scene in the 60s but the Brum scene was so much more varied – there were so many different bands. You had Fairport Convention doing folk, Black Sabbath doing heavier stuff, bands like The Idle Race, The World of Oz – all these cult bands have always remained as such and that’s always been the coolest thing about Brum.
Lewis: That’s why our cover is Nights in White Satin by The Moody Blues, because when we said we were going to do a cover, it had to be a Brum beat band.
Joey: It shows that we’re still paying respect to the guys before us.
You have a distinct and brilliant look. Do you have any fashion icons?
Joey: It’s gotta be Brian Jones, the main man himself. Again, Syd Barrett…I could talk about boutiques for hours – we’ve got into it so much that we look for stuff from certain boutiques like Take 6 and all that…
What makes a good frontman?
Joey: Not me. It’s hard to say, I never really wanted the job, it was just a case of that we couldn’t find what we epitomised as a good frontman so I had to do it. There are two types of frontman; the mean, moody and mysterious one or the guy who wants to interact and be the entertainer. I think I probably fall more into the latter category. Because I want to build a scene, I don’t want people to feel like it’s us and them, I’ve always wanted to share it. The problem is that you sound like a right pretentious cunt when you talk about trying to be a good frontman don’t you? Because we’re still progressing as a band, hopefully that will come and I’ll be able to get people involved because with the look and the lights etc, we try to build a show and a performance as opposed to just coming onstage, standing still and playing songs; we want it to be a spectacle, an experience.
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Who would you play with if you could play with anyone past or present?
Joey: This could be a big list. Because of the Brian influence, to me it would have been amazing to play with the Stones in 66 – 67. I still really want to play with The Pretty Things and they’re still going so that could happen. Kaleidoscope we’re good friends with and we’d love to play with them. The Brian Jonestown Massacre as well, just for the chaos that would ensue.
You play the Brum Notes November Issue Launch Party at The Bull’s Head on November 7. What can people expect from the show?
Joey: There’s loads of new songs that we’re bringing in – because we’ve got the studio now (what we call The Bubble Factory), we’ve been really honing down and writing some new stuff. There’ll be a light show and it’ll probably be a bit more mental – we’ve been trying out new ideas on vocals, trying to make the sound weirder and we’ve got a guy now who comes in and makes stuff sound weird – Quad pans it and puts delay all over my voice to make it echo around.
Do you have any plans to record?
Joey: We’re doing some more independent recording here in our studio tomorrow and then towards the end of the year when the label’s ready, we’re going to record an EP and do some videos which will all be released next year.