Crisis Talks – Nothing To Do With Brexit!
Crisis Talks are a three-piece band from the Newport area made up of singer Dave Merrick, guitarist Mark Squire and drummer and sequencing guru James Clement. Using a sequencer for bass parts instead of having a bassist, the band are very comfortable as a three-piece band but don’t EVER accuse them of using backing tracks! As Merrick explains: “People have preconceptions that just because we use sequencing for the bass parts and James hits those when we need them, they will say: ‘Oh, you use backing tracks!’. Even bands like Metallica will use sequencing in their sets!” Clement continues: “Sure it would be nice to have actual musicians to fire off those parts when we can afford it rather than Roland over there, as we’ve affectionately named him; but doing it this way gives us the sound we want while keeping the dynamic we have with the three of us.”
The band feel it is more important to retain the musical and creative dynamic they’ve developed than add another member and potentially change what they have. Merrick talks me through how the band came together and how their range of different influences seems to work: “James and Mark knew each other before I met them. They played in different variations of groups and I was in a group called The October Country. When we split, Mark ended up playing in a group with their bassist and asked for my contact details.” Squire takes up the story: “Actually, I’d met Dave several years before pi**ed up in a pub, which he doesn’t remember!” he laughs before continuing: “He just talked at me for an hour! But when I asked for his details, I’d never heard him sing – I’d just heard really good things about him so I sent him an email.”
What followed was a very unusual initial discussion, as Merrick describes: “We had the weirdest first meeting ever in a pub in Newport and they thought I was off my head – totally wacky!”
Despite the first impressions, the band’s creative dynamic has led to them creating a collection of alternative guitar-driven songs that the band are (quite rightly) very proud of. A strange dynamic of diverse musical flavours seems to mesh in a united direction to produce songs that are not only good alternative rock songs, they are also extremely interesting, nuanced and peppered with hints of the unusual. Merrick talks about how this dynamic has developed: “We come from very different musical backgrounds – I like some industrial music, electronic music like Nine Inch Nails, Mark is more standard alternative like Biffy Clyro and Deftones and James has a background in classic rock.” Clement interjects: “But also I did play in a jazz band for years before I strayed into Muse and more digital stuff” Merrick continues: “There is some slight crossover but some of the stuff that happens when we’re writing or jamming happens BECAUSE of the diversity in our backgrounds.”
Squire adds: “Say I play something that just seems standard rock, Dave will take it in a different direction vocally and vice versa”
Merrick bounces back: “With my interest in electronic noises and samples, I’ll be there in metaphorical science goggles saying: ‘Let’s have some weird noises’.”
Clement chimes in: “And we’ll be like ‘Step away from the Korg!” he laughs.
This bouncing off each other in conversation is indicative of the relationship between the guys and is reflected in the process by which they create songs that seem to be a little bit of each of them. And this is very much an organic process as Squire explains: “A lot of the early songs we wrote just happened. I would just be playing around with a guitar part and James will jump in with a beat – often unorthodox but it seems to fit and then Dave will put something over the top and it all just feels right.”
Of course, the creative process is not always that simple, but the way the band currently do things allows them to create a library of ideas. The rehearsal room we are chatting in is effectively a large attic space above a sign shop that Squire owns. The large space means that the band can not only have room to play, but it can also accommodate some recording equipment so they don’t need to relocate for writing or recording. Merrick explains that the band like to take advantage of the set-up to capture ideas as they happen: “I think we have a built-in barometer for whether something works or not. What we do now is ‘bank’ any song parts that may be worth revisiting.”
Squire describes how this longer process led to the writing of the band’s recent single: “Actually, ‘Undone’ started as a guitar part I’ve had for around 4 years.”
Clement jumps in to show how their different backgrounds can lead to unusual inspirations: “One particular day, Mark was playing it and I wanted to have some fun and we never play drum & bass so I just threw drum & bass beats at it and then it evolved really quickly. By the next rehearsal, the song was done”
Merrick says: “Some songs just need to marinate and develop and that’s cool. Others are just – ‘BANG!’ – and it’s all there and takes you by surprise. But either way, it’s a dynamic that seems to work for us which is why we’re happy to stay as the three of us!” he enthuses.
It is this dynamic that allows a creative freedom and has built a real synergism with the band that is reflected in their live shows, as Merrick begins: “Some of our songs even have a kind of pop sensibility to them but we’re not afraid to go in that direction if that’s where the song is taking us. We always seem to meet in the same direction because there are no big overarching egos so everyone has had an input.” Squire continues: “And this dynamic really seems to transfer to how we play live. I’ve seen bands that have no real interactions between members during shows but we have a real camaraderie and really bounce off each other.”
In terms of live shows, the band are fiercely proud that they are playing self-penned music but equally, at a time where the number of live music venues seem to be dwindling, they see the need for tribute and cover bands though they do add an important key point for bands in the future – Merrick says: “We play all original songs. We have 12 songs ready and about 3 more that we’re still working on. It feels better to all of us that what we’re playing is ours.” Clement jumps in: “We’ve made songs for US and if other people want to jump on our wavelength then great but we play what we like and enjoy!” he enthuses before Merrick continues: “I think we’re all proud of what we’ve done in making songs that we find interesting. I understand the need for tribute and cover bands and I hate musical snobbery that they are not as valid because they’re copying something else, music is for everyone and for venues, those bands have more of a guaranteed audience because people know the songs. Venues need acts like those to bring people in otherwise venues will close. If we have an audience, we’re confident we can impress them, but we need the people there to begin with. When we play live, I think people see we’re invested in what we do and can usually win audiences over. Tribute and cover bands have a place, but it makes me think – where are the next generation of tribute bands going to come from? Who are they supposed to copy? So there needs to be balance between original music and cover bands.”
And before we wind up this chat for my personal Crisis Talks performance, I really need to know: where did the band name come from? Squire remembers with a painful smirk: “God, we went through so many names! I think each of our early recordings had a different band name on it!” he laughs before Merrick continues: “Nothing seemed right and I was in the car with a friend and said: ‘Christ! We need to find a bloody band name! If we don’t get one soon we’ll probably have to have crisis talks!’ and my friend looked at me and said; ‘Crisis talks?’ and I started thinking and nodding and said ‘Crisis Talks!?’. For some reason, it seemed to fit for the three of us, plus it gives no hint of a musical direction so it still gives us the freedom to go wherever the songs take us!” he smiles.