Interview: Boy From the Crowd

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Boy From the Crowd is a hard-rocking duo from the U.K. Their style of music has been described as punk, punk meets blues, blues meets punk and garage band blues. However it's described, it's loud, visceral and hits like a hammer.

A few months ago, the band released an EP called "Where the Bees Come to Die", which has received rave reviews and, more importantly, attracted fans. To find out more about the band, I sat down with Vinny Piana, the band's guitarist/vocalist, who kindly agreed to talk with me.

What is the most trouble you've ever gotten into?

I can't tell you the most trouble I got into as it implicates other people too. However I'll tell you a story of why you should never listen to me, if you don't want to get into trouble yourself... I once decided to climb the front wall of a girlfriend's house carrying a bunch of flowers inside my jacket to surprise her on the terrace, instead of knocking on the front door. Sounds like a good plan in principle, or so I thought. As it turned out, I nearly gave her a heart attack as of course she saw the shape of a guy popping up on her terrace and though it was a burglar or worse. Once she realized it was me, it was all cool and she appreciated the good side of it all. A few days later, I was in a pub having a few drinks with my mates, and probably massively exaggerating my Casanova moves, telling them what a great impression I made with my surprise entrance. One of them thought it was a great idea, that it would be doable at his new girlfriend's place. I told him I totally recommended he did it... It would go great... Could not go wrong... A total winner... And he did... Now, can you see where this is going? He gave the girl such a scare, she went manic and called the police, while he was stuck outside on her balcony. He was arrested, cautioned and put on the watch list of the sex offender register. Ooops.

What are the five things you can't live without?

A guitar of sorts, my Kindle, chocolate, tea, the sea.

What's your favorite song to belt out in the car or the shower?

"Any Day Now" by Elvis.

What kind of guitar do you play? And why?

Telecasters mostly. I'm nuts about them. To me they are the sound of Rock 'n' Roll. It's the Twang thing. Nothing does it like a Tele. I have a few, but I'm always planning my next one. One of the good things that happened recently, thanks to our little increase in popularity, is that we came to the attention of a great custom guitar pickups manufacturer in the USA called Lust for Tone. They love the band and they sent me some pickups to try and see how I like them. They are absolutely amazing and they have given a new lease of life to my Teles. It's like I've fallen in love again with the guitars I wasn't playing so much lately. I like other types of guitars too, like my Gretsch and my SG. But when it really comes down to it, I am a Tele guy. It's the sound I hear in my head and the guitar that delivers it best.

What musicians influenced you the most?

Robert Smith from The Cure, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, Bowie, Elvis, Lou Reed, PJ Harvey, The Doors, The Cramps, to name a few.

In my review of your EP, I described your musical style as punk meets blues. How would you describe it?

Yes, maybe the other way around: blues meets punk. This is still quite strange to me. I really had no idea we were making "punk music" until some people started saying so on socials and our PR agent said this is where we fit best. Yes, I knew that the song "Revelator" was a punk type of song. Of course I knew it was referencing punk in many ways. We went for that sound on "Revelator" because it came naturally, and because of the simplicity of the lyrics. The loud 3 major chord structure felt right. But I thought it was mostly a one off, or at least that the punk side to our music is more an energy than a copy of the style itself. For instance, where is the punk in the title track "Where the Bees Come to Die"? Or even in "All I Need"? I don't quite see it. When people ask me what music we make I would often say "Heavy blues" or "Garage Blues". I'm more comfortable with that personally. However, you know what? I have no issue at all if others feel we make punk music. It's cool with me. I think they may get the energy and the edge we have, and feel that we are punks in spirit. Still it feels a little weird to be called "punk" in 2016 though.

Is punk music alive and well in the U.K.? Why does BFTC play punk rather than alternative rock or some other style?

I have zero nostalgia for punk music. Really none. I like punk music, yes. I like it for the good songs that came through in the 2 or 3 years where it meant something to people who lived through it. I'm not a punk fanatic at all though. The Clash is the only punk band I really listen to regularly. I take a lot more from The Stooges than from The Sex Pistols, for example. It is more "my kind of punk". I wasn't born when punk was around and we have no connection with a current UK punk scene, if there is such a scene. In fact, once in a while I hear a local punk band playing with the same sound as in 1977 and I just don't get it. Why? I thought punk was supposed to be an energy, a spirit of creative freedom, not a bog standard formula to repeat over and over again until the end of time. So, I just don't know. And I would say we do play "Alternative Rock" but, again, it is not so much for me to say. I am happy with whatever description people give us. They must be right after all. I think when the album is ready it will give more of a chance to appreciate the scope of sounds, songwriting and styles that may define us and it may bring people to rethink the punk description thing, but either way it's cool.

Where do you find inspiration for your songs?

In my life mostly. I'm not politically driven. It's more about me and emotions I don't normally express in daily life. My songs are often a reflection about choices we make and how they lead us to bliss or sheer disaster, how we so often make the disastrous choice despite every fiber of our being screaming at us not to.

What is your songwriting process? Does the music come first and then the lyrics?

Mostly the music first. Usually a guitar riff or a drum beat gets me started. The songs "All I Need" and "The Road", I wrote the lyrics first, but somehow this is not the norm. Once I have a tune, I then often get the basics of the lyrics quite quickly, but then it usually takes me weeks to finish them off completely. I don't think I have a process as such. I do like going to a rehearsal studio on my own or with Vegas to play and sing loud. I tend to get new ideas this way; it gets my creative juices going. But most ideas seem to come while noodling on the guitar at home, wearing my pajamas and slippers. {laughter}

Will BFTC be doing a full album in the future?

Yes, the album is almost fully recorded and we are about to start mixing. It's really good, if I may say so myself and we're very excited to bring these songs to completion.

Was 'Where the Bees Come to Die' well-received by the critics? By listeners?

It has been incredibly well-received. If you Google it, you'll find so many great reviews, it's been amazing. I try not to get too focused on reviews but, if I'm honest, I'll admit I do pay a good deal of attention to them. I'm really pleased when the reviewer gets what we are about. I have a lot of respect for music reviewers these days (I'm not saying that to get a good review, I swear!!). Even on the major sites, most of them work for free. They are in exactly the same situation as musicians whereby everybody wants their work and appreciates it, but few can/will pay for it. So, I think when a magazine or blog reviews you and gives you thumbs up, it's something to appreciate and be grateful for. I'm conscious that the person reviewing is probably getting no money for their time and work so it's great they chose to feature us. We are on a small label called Public Pressure, and they run their own blog/magazine too (publicpressure.org). I got to understand this world better.

And yes, we are getting great feedback almost daily from people who are discovering the band and the EP. We get lots of DMs, mentions and retweets on Twitter etc., for example. It's the best thing really. We really need to play live soon and get a more direct and human feedback that way.

Will you be touring in the near future? If so, where?

Yes. It will be from March or April. I can't confirm where exactly yet, but a UK tour will happen for sure. We hope to go further afield too. We are getting a lot of invites from the States, but in various cities hundreds of miles apart from each other. I'm not sure we could sustain a full tour there, unless a good band would have us as a support.

It's presumptuous to ask at this point, but are there any new songs on the drawing board? If so, when do you plan to go back into the studio?

In a way, we haven't left the studio since doing the EP. We've been told a few times it is a mistake and we should be out there playing live to promote it. I get that. However, we felt we were on a roll in terms of creativity and how we work in the studio and we decided to push on and do the album before going out live again. Because we have day jobs etc., it is taking longer than we would have liked this to take. But when I hear the rough mixes, I know we've done the right thing. We've captured a slice of life of what we are now and it sounds great for that reason.

I'm a sucker for good drumming. BFTC's drummer impressed me. What drummers influenced his style? I also like the manner in which he uses his crash cymbals and extends the snare. Is he just pounding the heck out of the snare or was extending the snare a deliberate decision?

Well, thank you! Vegas loves Zulu/African music as well as blues and rock stuff, so his drumming is probably a mix of it all. Regarding the crashes, it's funny because this is often our only point of disagreement. I keep saying "Can you do this again but with less crash cymbals please?" As a singer, crashes can be so intrusive and I often find them too much. So, what you are hearing now is our little compromise... {laughter}. Some stuff is done on the snare, sometimes at the mixing stage with compressions and reverbs/room recording to make it bigger. This is probably what you are hearing but, yes, Vegas hits them hard!

What kind of drum kit does he play?

We're not fussy. A lot of it was recorded with a great sounding little jazz kit and we used a Gretsch kit too.