I met up with The Heebies Jeebies in the historic Stag Works, Sheffield, an area of creativity and craftsmanship , formerly full of little mesters workshops and now boasting countless rehearsal rooms used by the likes of Reverend and the Makers and Joe Carnall’s Book Club, it’s home to Hiem and Headcharge plus several recording studios perhaps most famously 2Fly, the magical place where Alan Smyth and Dave Sanderson played host to Arctic Monkeys, the Reverend, Hawley, Long Blondes and countless others.
Bassist Del greets me in the car park and leads me through the maze of staircases and corridors to their own rehearsal room. Waiting are vocalist / guitarist Owen and drummer Thom, in a compact space full of amps and drums. They are known as off the wall, zany characters on stage and their music was described by one critic as ‘like a breath of sonic fresh air’ but whatever words people use to try and describe them, their gigs are always fast paced, highly entertaining and a wonderful experience. In person they are very welcoming, constantly joking and despite their carefree image are obviously very proud of their music.
“Then Owen came back and things happened like he said, I probably wouldn’t be in a band now if it wasn’t for these guys.”
So how and when did the Heebie’s begin? Owen offers “It was about two and a half years ago, I’ve known Del and Thom since I was about 17, we all went to Psalter Lane School Of Fine Art, then after that I went to live in Spain for a few months. When I came back there was a practice room next door and someone had dropped out of a band, I’d just got a guitar for my 21st so I thought I’d give it a go. I’d not been in a band before, and Thom hadn’t played drums before but he got involved then we asked Del who said ‘yes’ so we had a band.”
Del played with the acclaimed Fights previous to that, from being aged 16 until he was 20, he explains “we used to practice in here as it happens. Fights had Dan Whitehouse (Rossman Frister/Mabel Love), Paul Littlewood (Fallen Trees), Joe Newman (Reverend and the Makers) and Shippers (The Hosts). When Owen was in Spain me and Thom did a noise band, doing 10 minute sets where anyone would let us play, just doing ad libs of noisy horrible shit, it were good.” He smiles remembering “then Owen came back and things happened like he said, I probably wouldn’t be in a band now if it wasn’t for these guys.”
Thom then adds the final piece of the jigsaw “I played in my first band called Neo Tokyo with Laurie from Hey Sholay and Richard Sides who plays in Forest Creature, but I grew up on experimental stuff and I started off singing but as it progressed all I was doing was processing stuff using electronic gear. As we came towards the end of it Owen had written some songs and though I thought I was too old to learn I got a drum kit. I was mostly self taught though I’ve had a couple of lessons with Ross Orton (Producer and drummer with Jarvis Cocker). He taught the basics and I watched loads of videos.”
So the Heebies were formed two and a half years ago, though on a very relaxed basis, but after more and more practice they gelled, Del takes up the tale “we lived together, Owen doesn’t drink so we didn’t go out much so it was like something to do, making daft songs up.”
Despite living in Sheffield now, the lads are really a Rotherham / Swinton band according to their myspace. Owen is from Meadowbank, though he admits ‘proper’ Rotherham residents call that area Sheffield to his disappointment, Del then pipes up “I must be from Doncaster then, we’re nomads, a transient band.”
Their creative process is haphazard, Owen starts by bringing in a composition and the others add the flamboyance to it and see how it works, some being a progressive story running through the song. They confess, due to their artistic backgrounds they don’t want to do anything conventionally. Owen, having never had guitar lessons feels unrestricted in how he plays and Del is also untrained so they write with freedom and with no rules.
They try to shoehorn as much music into a song as possible. Their influences must surely be unusual? Owen says “mine was listening to my Dad’s prog rock collection” then they add Captain Beefheart, before Del adds “asking about influences is a bit like saying who are you ripping off, we like bands who do something different and stay true to themselves.”
On stage they are very animated and dynamic, described as both wacky and edgy, Thom confesses “If you are a bit embarrassed to be sat there on stage you look a bit weird so I try and fill it out as much as possible, if I played something simple I’d have to look at the audience, so I get into a bit of a trance.” Thom explains further “we’ve watched a lot of bands who are shit, there seems to be a standard formula, we have a disregard for the audience, not in a bad way but to break down any barriers and say we’re just like you.“ Del laughs “our every move on stage is choreographed.“
Have they got a masterplan of where they want be, after producing quite a lot of great songs, recently touring Europe and next they heading to Japan and China? Del says “we go where anyone asks, any opportunity to get a foot in the door. We’ve got a couple of guys managing us now down in London, Danny Keir and Chris Armstrong, we have a press agent and radio plugger too, so there’s a team building up now.” Thom adds “we’ve done pushing 60 shows in Sheffield but now it feels like its only just beginning.”
How are they finding audience reaction out of Sheffield? Owen chips in “often we just get people staring at us, about 1 in 5 gigs are good, well they are all good for us, but there are times when if feels like its going over people heads. Then you get amazing gigs like Barcelona last year, that was a weird experience with people crowd surfing” Thom continues “the Tramlines gigs last year were good too” but then they played Proud Gallery in London and Thom admits “when people are stood there with their arms folded, it brings you back down to earth.” Del explains a typical reaction to their set “we played for about 150 people this week at this Guardian philosophy and literary festival and it was quite an odd crowd but we started giving flowers out and they were getting into it in the end, singing” Owen agrees “that’s a successful show for me, they (the audience) come and don’t know who you are, for the first few songs they think ‘ what’s going on?’ But by the end they are all with us and into it”
A lot people have said the Heebies bring the party with them, to which, through experience, I’m in full agreement!
To define their sound is virtually impossible, the band, almost as one, say “we sound like the Heebie Jeebies” though I thought their myspace address of heebiefuckinjeebies summed them up.
The Heebies pride themselves on being unorthordox, many of their compositions are like 3 songs in one, with the various changes of speed, intensity, rhythm etc. Tracks may start quite poppy and danceable then a drum fill comes in and everything changes, very avante garde, to their fans delight.
Del recalls when in Fights he didn’t have the same freedom of musical expression, quoting a band member criticising him for ‘having too many notes in that bass line’ Del adds pointedly “that was near the end of my time with them, I thought what am I doing here. Then I met these guys and without blowing smoke up their guys arses I thought why can’t I do something like that, they are much freer to express themselves.” Owen smiles as he adds “yes he crashes basslines all over the place like a lead guitarist” and Thom adds “I just try and keep a solid kind of pulse behind them on the drums “.
We discuss gig frequency and I mention bands like Mabel Love play locally about every 6 –8 weeks to keep their audience hungry and Thom adds tongue in cheek “that’s the antithesis of what we are doing, we practice pure saturation musically” to howls of laughter.
“That’s the antithesis of what we are doing, we practice pure saturation musically”
Visually too the Heebies are different, I recalled skeleton costumes for one gig, Del explains “that was a Halloween gig, when we first started we used costumes as like a mask, to say we weren’t taking it seriously, so we couldn’t lose really” and he adds with a smirk” we started with about 5 songs, the bigger enjoyment for me was seeing Owen as nervous as he could be.” Owen admits “I’ve always had bad shakes, feeling like my hands turned to wood when I tried to play but I’ve just started to enjoy gigs more, I think I was scared of people judging us, but now I just think if they don’t like us they’ll have forgotten us in a few hours.” Del says “the dressing up thing was just to add an extra dimension, we’d just got a suitcase in here where we’d amassed lots of stuff from Uni and Thom working at a vintage clothing shop. He’d say ‘that’s horrible… get it in the box’ so then for gigs we’d just throw something on so its looks a bit unreal.”
Owen adds “I think we were saying please don’t take this too seriously.”
Some of their recorded work was done with legendary producer Ross Orton, who whilst recording The Fall’s album in Castleford had a day spare so he got the Heebie’s up, then they had a session with Glover (formerly of Tiny Dancers) who’d done the Slow Club album, then later more with Ross. They have good relationships with both, Ross they say is very direct, Glover gives them more free reign and added to that Rob Gordon is mastering the tracks, quite an impressive support team.
The bands live reviews are not surprisingly varied to say the least, from Ralph Razors (Razor Stiletto) quote ‘ the best / worse band you’ll see all year’ to ‘ sonic joy’ to ‘ a goddam shouty mess’ to ‘wonderfully misunderstood’, how would they review themselves? Owen admits “its so hard to judge, one gig I thought I’d played really bad, supporting Hot Club De Paris in London, I told the lads ‘I’m not cut out for this’ then the guys from Hot Club said we’d played great and would we support them on tour.”
The Heebies gigs to date this year have included venues in France and Spain and they continue to blaze a trail with Vietnam, China and Japan to come. But what’s their best gig to date? They all cite Liverpool as a good place to gig and Paris also features highly, memorable perhaps because after playing their pre booked gig at Fleche D’or. They were approached immediately after to play a club night elsewhere, so Del asked if he would be allowed to take his top off to which the smiling promoter agreed, but when they arrived it was very obviously a gay bar, so Del kept his top on after all!
They are now doing their own videos and setting up a TV channel, which they see as a way of getting work and networking with other bands. They do graphic design too, so allrounders or as Del put succinctly “we’re like a swiss army knife.” They have even had their photo in Vogue magazine, so trend setters too!
Going out of Sheffield to do more gigs is important to them, Owen, sounding like he finds it hard to believe says “we somehow have managed to get a bit of a fanbase in Sheffield, though we are still scared we’ll play and no-one will turn up, but out of town we’ve nothing to lose really” Thom adds “I know this Japanese guy cos I buy clothes for him, so when we play Japan near Tokyo there will be people there, because he’ll get the word out.” Owen also highlights the power of the press, with their lack of attention having an effect “most people work 9-5 and don’t spend time searching for music and just digest whatever is fed to them, that’s why major labels make so much money.”
They discuss the merits of various cities, Liverpool being at the head, and a desire to tour Scotland but Del and Thom have more precise ideas “I’d like to play art galleries and places like that, find a new audience who get where we’re going, like a remote island no-one has discovered yet, reight good, it won’t happen but we’ll take the opportunities to play wherever we can.”
Who do they thinks are the best bands and ones to watch out for? Variously they chip in “Slow Club obviously, they are more punk than twee as some think, their progress has helped bring through bands like Mumford and Sons, Chapman Family and The Crookes. We played with The Crookes a few times recently, they are good lads. We like White Denim, an American three piece who we can relate to, plus locally Hey Sholay, Skeletons, we like the Heartbreaks too, plus Blackjacks, South African guys.” Del adds with a smile “I like a lot of American stuff at the minute, tropical and punky like No Age, Abe Vigoda, Waves, I was listening to some of it the other week and thought, shit we aren’t that original after all.”
They named another 10 bands at least, none of which the interviewer had heard of, but shows how they love music and take time to search out and listen to many different sounds.
Very much a live experience, their recorded music isn’t doing badly either with their Death Party limited edition ep selling out. They don’t feel comfortable pushing merchandise at gigs though Thom explains “we always take a box of stuff but its paranoia thing, we don’t want to be that band saying ‘come and buy teeshirts from us’ we put an amp on the merch box at one gig” then Del adds “we do need to make money put petrol in the van though.”
Thom can feel them moving forwards though “I think the songs are good and we are coming into our own now, credit to Owen for his lyrics and stuff. I do think recording wise we have a loads of work to do and need to refine things a bit. “Owen in more serious mode for a minute grasps the nettle “we’re enjoying ourselves, having a laugh and living in the moment but its maybe time to realise we’ve got a bit of talent going on and we maybe need to analyse things to a degree, which we hope doesn’t take any enjoyment out of it, in fact I’m sure it won’t” Dels as usual sums it up “we are lazily proactive enough to enjoy it.”
Their ep captured the feel of their live set so they are now writing an album, but first they have just released single Misery Guts along with Murderous, available on download but also in limited edition hard copies with an origami cover available at gigs.
Truly original talents, the Heebie Jeebies blaze an uncharted trail, leading to who knows where, but make sure you get on board because it’s going to be an amazing journey.