Sugar Coat are going about business on their own terms. The UK based three piece band are about to release their debut album in early June. Radio 1 described them as “The best British pop group of the year without a doubt”. Nick Triani catches up with Billy from the band for a Q&A.
I’ve known a couple of the people involved with Sugar Coat for a very long time. It’s no surprise to find out that the band is causing ripples in the UK music scene on their own terms – no compromise, no bullshit. It’s the least I would expect from those involved. Happily for me a group have arrived that understand the draw of mystery. That’s before I tell you that forthcoming album Excuse The Mess is rather special.
There is a sense with Excuse The Mess that cinematic noir really can work within the context of pop music. A great example of this in practice; ‘Me Instead’ could have been recorded by Elvis in the late 1950s but still comes across as knowing and modern all the same. The best description of the band I’ve come across came from Death In Vegas who described Sugar Coat as “Martin Hannett hits Nashville”. I’m humble enough to say that got me excited. Sugar Coat could be a UK alternative to Lana Del Rey‘s weary and dreamy, blue collar 1950s Americana – but bringing with it a Lewisham perspective. It’s that English inner-city edge that gives Sugar Coat extra relevance in these post-Brexit times. Excuse The Mess is very modern, but also – essentially – there is enough familiarity in the sound to draw you in.
The best description of the band I’ve come across came from Death In Vegas who described Sugar Coat as “Martin Hannett hits Nashville”.
Improbably Sugar Coat could be the activist band you’ve been waiting for. Of course, they’re not going to be fronting your latest anti-capitalist demonstration (at least not yet), but there is a political attitude within Sugar Coat. They have principles that mean something. In itself, this is rare from a pop band in 2017. Very little biographical information is available on Sugar Coat (other than glowing praise). A back story in this instance seems irrelevant, and that lack of any certainly on my part influenced the often searching questions I put to band member Billy Brentford Reeves.
Nick: Sugar Coat seems very unconventional. Is this a real band, a production project, or a virtual group? Does Sugar Coat exist outside of normal band conventions?
Billy: What is a band these days? The idea of the ‘last gang in town’ is such a false one. There’s usually a main songwriter driving stuff, different characters with different attitudes, and lifestyles getting in the way. Increasingly in the UK it can only be kids whose parents can afford the gear and the rehearsal space that can be in groups. No signing on for unemployment benefit and using the band’s gigs and demos as proof of looking for work – which drove the 1980s indie scene. The Darkness thanked the Camden dole office on their album – it had a special member of staff to deal with groups: if you could prove you were properly looking for a deal and playing shows for a fee you were given a rolling six-week clemency.
N: I’m interested if all three of you have ever been in the same room at the same time? How do you do the basics, like writing songs?
B: No, we are all far too busy doing things that working class parents have to do, plus we live 200 miles from each other. We make music rather than watch YouTube or television, to prevent ourselves from despairing at social media and the hypershamblefuck that is UK parliamentary politics. We are addressing parenting and the health crisis in our music, but always with a positive slant. ‘Moon’, for example is about your first night out after giving birth and is dedicated to babysitters everywhere.
We make music rather than watch YouTube or television, to prevent ourselves from despairing at social media and the hypershamblefuck that is UK parliamentary politics.
N: How did you come across Danielle Quinn? She’s obviously the public face of the group – what were you looking for in Danielle?
B: Danielle ‘Sugar’ Quinn is that unusual thing, a fabulous singer-songwriter that isn’t wasting time in a group. I saw her perform her song (‘His Hands’) accompanied by herself only on bass at a fundraiser for a local hospital. After a year or so, it’s the opening track of our LP Excuse The Mess.
N: Is the past important to Sugar Coat or do you see yourself as modernists, with a future outlook?
B: Bands with instruments are dinosaurs, bands with laptops are incredibly unsexy. We are ‘music as premium product’.
N: Echoes of the 1960s abound in the sound (‘Come and Get Me’ could be an alternative Bond theme) – yet the production hits anywhere from the 1990s onwards. Was this conscious? Was the preconceived notion as to what Sugar Coat would soundlike already in place? Or has this been a happy accident? Excuse The Mess to my ears is very focussed yet somehow all over the place.
B: It’s not focused, it’s totally all over the place. We’re not the cynical Velvet Underground DM-wearing band that pretends to be rebellious. Capitalism sells you back the idea of outlaw life (Jack Daniel‘s, Ramones t-shirts, fucking U2 big hats). We are unfocused, thrashing about trying to make sense in an unordered, chaotic world; capitalism likes chaos so only the owners can seem as only they are making sense. Well, there’s a beautiful disorder in nature, and in our music. But always with Socialist discipline, the right don’t *OWN* discipline.
Capitalism sells you back the idea of an outlaw life (Jack Daniel‘s, Ramones t-shirts, fucking U2 big hats). We are unfocused, thrashing about trying to make sense in an unordered, chaotic world
N: Do you listen to new music? Can you name any contemporaries you admire? Or does Sugar Coat tap into different pop cultures?
B: Danielle has a weird mix of listening habits, either bang up-to date R’n’B on the radio, or 50s jazz singers. She seems to have missed the 60/70s/80s out completely. I only listen to military marching bands. Pylon listens to birdsong in the open air.
N: Lyrically, this seems a very personal record, with big heartache going on under the pop sheen. Again, due to the mystery, it’s hard to be clear if this is one voice and whose perspective this is from. Are the lyrics by Danielle, or have they been specifically written for her? A bit of both?
B: Lyrics about Motherhood = Dan, lyrics about injustice = me and Pylon.
N: I want to return to the subject of convention. Sugar Coat aren’t on any of the big streaming services, haven’t played any gigs (as far as I know) and release ltd edition vinyl of your music. More amazing for these all access times, there seems to be a genuine mystery surrounding the band. Are you trying to make a statement on the current state of things with how you interact with the music business? Has this also been a conscious decision to eschew current conventions in how you get your music out there?
B: Streaming = satan. If you want our records you have to pay attention. Buy them from us. We write on the envelopes. Cameron Allen at Royal Mint Records hand-makes our aural product in real-time. His artifacts are not “copies”. A LOT of time went into the recording of the fuckers, and just as much time goes into the manufacture of the hardware. This isn’t ephemera. Having said that we’re NOT bowlie-DIYers, there HAS to be a profit, or the whole project is a Bourgeois indulgence.
Having said that we’re NOT bowlie-DIYers, there HAS to be a profit, or the whole project is a Bourgeois indulgence.
N: What’s next for the band once the album is out? Live shows? New stuff? What happens with Sugar Coat in phase two?
B: We have been joined by Neil Conti of Prefab Sprout on drums, which is exciting and terrifying. Our ambition is to get ourselves to the position where a state-educated, unsigned band whose records only 35 people can get hold of onto Radio 2‘s playlist. Then we’ll split up.
Sugar Coat are:
Pylon King – instruments
Sugar Quinn – vocals
Billy Brentford Reeves – decks/vocals
Excuse The Mess is out as a re-mastered download via SugarCoatOfLewisham.Bandcamp.com on June 2 for 1 week only. Punters will also be given the option of downloading artwork so you can make your own CD.