Sometimes--especially after listening to “A Hard Day’s Night”, we long for the '60s pop days of old: catchy hooks, vocal harmonies and hand clapping sequences.
Locksley is the latest modern-day act to attempt to fill that musical void. The songs on their first album, Don’t Make Me Wait, reissued September 9, are heavily influenced by groups like the Kinks, and, yes, the Beatles, and they're all about girls and having fun.
But don’t let the homage fool you: With shades of punk and '90s garage rock, and modern influences like the Hives and the Rapture, Locksley may be a product of the past--but they’re leaving themselves room to evolve.
The band, whose music you’ll know from television commercials for Payless, Starz, and MTV, have remained unsigned but stayed pretty busy nonetheless. Currently traveling the country in a bus dubbed the Straight Rock Express, as (first time) headliners for MTV’s Choose or Lose tour, the group will stop in at the studio to start work on their second album before heading back out on the road as the backing band for Ray Davies--yep, that Ray Davies.
We caught up with guitarist Jesse Laz for a phone interview as the band stopped in for a show at its hometown of Madison Wisconsin.
So how'd the band get together? I mean, I’ve read that y’all met in high school but it never really says when you became a band. Well we just all played together in high school and then we went to college. Tried that for a year and we were like, “Hey guys, you wanna, y'know, move to New York and try and be in a band?” We played around and didn’t make much money--still trying to figure that one out. We rehearsed in this space that Guy [the band’s producer and manager] owned. We rehearsed in this space, and Guy owned the studio and started producing our stuff, and he asked if we wanted him to be our manager and we were like, “Well, who have you managed before?” and he was like, “Well, nobody,” and we said "Alright." He’s just been amazing. He’s taken nothing for doing all of this. Literally nothing. I think he’s actually put his money into the band. We’ve become really good friends. We have a joke that, whenever something particularly good happens, Guy says “See, this is what you’re not paying me for.”
Originally you were known as the Philosopher Kings. How did you come up with the name Locksley? I was really into Robin Hood growing up. I’ve read all the books, seen all the movies. And we kind of liked it, y'know, like Robin Hood and his merry men. Because, actually, he doesn’t just rob from the rich and give to the poor. The actual story says that he doesn’t just take everything from them. They’d throw a big party and invite the bishop or whoever to sing and drink and do archery and then afterwards they’d charge them 50 percent of whatever they had. We kind of figured that we’re still independent but we’ve managed to do that. We’ve managed to keep going because we’ve been doing business with all these big companies. And we really want to stretch that metaphor. You know, they give us a whole bunch of money to do this commercial and because of that we can go back out on the road and keep doing our thing.
The band has become increasingly well-known but still hasn’t signed to a major label. Is this something you're open to? Are y’all wanting to be signed? We’ve talked about it a lot and the answer is yes. But we don’t just want to sign someplace stupid. The nice thing about all these corporate entities is they’re actually looking for an unheard of group, stuff that’s not heard on the radio. We like being independent but we’re realizing now that doing it all ourselves is really hard. You know, performing and booking and trying to make sure that all the stuff gets done. We do all the web stuff. We design all of our merchandise, you know, pick the colors of our shirts, set up the tours. It’s a lot, and it’d be nice to be able to concentrate on just, you know, the music.
One thing that I think, and I’ve talked to a lot of people on major labels and a lot of people on indie labels about this, is that indie labels love the bands that are on their labels. They’re all like “These bands are good.” These are the bands that they listen to. Anyone I’ve talked to, the vast majority that are signed to indie labels like the artists that are on their labels. It’s not based on the sound of what’s being played on the radio. It’s just what they like. So we’re really interested in something like that.
So how did the band get involved in the Choose or Lose thing? Actually, what happened was that they asked us to do an artist choice thing and we looked at it and we were like, well what about politics? Can we do something like that? We’re really into politics and you know our favorite show’s The West Wing. So we did this video in front of the White House and it worked out really great so we’re getting two weeks out of this because they liked it so much. Then they were talking about doing some sort of a tour thing which seemed logical because we almost started the ball rolling with all this stuff. We were happy to do it, though. We’ve never really done a headline tour before. So far, it’s pretty good.
Though you seem very interested in politics, your songs aren't political at all. Is the band going to move into a more political direction with their material? We’ve written political songs and things, but the reason that we wanted to be in a band and started playing music is that it’s fun to do and we liked to hang out and play video games and play music. That album is a little bit older and it’s all about girls and having fun and that was where we were at.
But we love the stuff [politics] and we’ve worked on campaigns and we’re always trying to get that message out to get involved. We also feel like, at this point in the career of the band, we have very strong feelings but we decided that it doesn’t do us any good. We’re not a big enough name that people are going to change their vote because of what we think, and people are more likely on the other side to be offended that we’re using that platform to push something. So what we decided to do was saying “Well, you know what? I think we can make a difference." We have some pretty diehard fans and we just tell them to get informed, and we ourselves try to be as informed as possible about both candidates. It’s really hard to do that, but we try to encourage people to get information, and vote. Sometimes I can’t help myself, but it comes across a little better at this stage in our career. I would think later, if we have a larger platform, we may be more vocal but I don’t think it’ll necessarily be in musical form.
So no John Lennon “Give Peace A Chance” moments in your future? I don’t see us writing an album about that or anything. Though I wouldn’t rule that out--and I can see us getting there, but kind of more naturally. Like this tour: We’re promoting the Bill of Rights for American Veterans which we chose because it seemed like a really bipartisan issue.
How did the band get involved in the Bill of Rights for Veterans issue? That was MTV. They wanted to base [the Choose or Lose tour] around something and there were a couple different things. We chose this because we’ve always been really frustrated that "Support Our Troops" has become a slogan that doesn’t mean anything. It’s the kind of thing where, on our part, we’re definitely anti-war in most circumstances, but we also understand that we need a strong military and we think that something like this--it's always talked about in very broad terms but you never think about them as individual soldiers. Every so often, we view the casualty count, but even then, it’s not a huge number so it’s enough that you don’t think about that one person unless you know that person and he comes back without his arms and no medical benefits.
Is it hard to keep bipartisan with all of this politics going on? If someone asked me flat out, I would tell them my opinions. But we try to keep it even. Though the other night, this girl told me that her entire family was voting Obama but she was voting John McCain because she’d heard that 70 percent of Democrats weren’t Christian. Which is insane considering that the percentage of the country that’s Christian is really high.
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Locksley get’s a lot of British Invasion and Beatles and Kinks comparisons. Is the band OK with this? Are there other influences outside of the Limeys? What direction will the band be moving towards when you head into the studio to record the new album? I think for now, y'know, it was that album. Making that album, we were listening to pretty much all the British invasion stuff and the Libertines, with the Beatles, Ghoststreet Preservation, [Kinks album] Village Green Preservation Society. We listen to the Kinks all the time. Actually we’re going on tour with Ray Davies after Thanksgiving. We’re actually going to be his backing band for all the Kinks hits.
Coming up playing at CBGB’s we really got into all that New York stuff. You know: Richard Howe, the Ramones, Iggy Pop, that kind of punk, though we’re not that into the British stuff. For the next album, we’re on kind of a Motown thing, a very American sound. This is not a conscious thing because the British stuff, we love it, but we’ve kind of done that and now we’re going towards stuff like the Rapture and all that. Though it’s on the backburner because of the Davies thing. We couldn’t pass that up.
I hear that Tom Hanks is a big fan of your music. He even has you listed on Myspace as one of the cool people he has gotten to meet. How’d that come about? A girl who’s an assistant to Robert Zemeckis sent our album over to his [Tom Hank’s] assistant because she knows he likes Beatles kind of stuff. He really liked [the CD] and he wrote back saying how great he thought it was and said if you’re ever out here, come on over, I wanna meet you. He had this Shakespeare benefit and we got invited out to it—or I did. I went with a guy I know and we actually met him. It was really crazy. We went up and we didn’t know what to say and we didn’t know if he really remembered the band and that he’d invited us. Then he said “Oh my God! Locksley!” There were all these big famous people around us and he talked to us for at least five minutes. That was really cool. I’d love to meet him again.
Locksley, Greater Good and Hymns perform tonight at House of Blues' Pontiac Garage --Dianna Wray