A chat with Richard Archer, lead singer of Hard-Fi, Hard-Fi interview

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In 2005, when we first spoke with Richard Archer, the singer and principal songwriter of West London quartet Hard-Fi, he didn’t have, to quote Michael Rapaport in “True Romance,” a pot to piss in, or a window to throw it out. Two years later, he has two number one albums, and just notched his second Top 10 single with the insanely catchy “Suburban Knights.” Archer recently spoke for a third time with Bullz-Eye’s resident Hard-Fi fanatic about how more money enables you to record less sound, and how the first tour date listed on a band’s MySpace page can sometimes be the last date of a tour.

BE: How are the plans for world domination coming along?

RA: They’re not bad. They’re coming along pretty well. We’re Number One in the UK with the album at the moment, so that’s a nice little thing to get, so, so far, so good, you know?

BE: Yeah, and tonight is the first night of your new tour?

RA: Tonight’s the last night of a tour. We’ve done a club-level tour, a 1,000, 1,500-seat places. And tonight’s the last night. We’re down on the south coast of England, we’re in front of the sea now. It’s a beautiful, sunny day, we’re number one, it’s the last day of this tour, and we’re gonna get hammered, I think, tonight.

BE: And at the end of the year, you play Wembley. How pumped are you for that?

RA: Yeah, that’s going to be amazing. I mean, we’re going to play there, and it’s going to be the end of the year, Christmas, everyone’s going to be up for a good time. That’s going to be, I hope, a real special night. It’s a bit of a strange venue, it’s one of those places where to try and get the sound right is important, since it’s one of those big old sheds. So if we can really work on that and get that sounding great, and try and find a way to make it a bit special, then it could be a really phenomenal experience.

BE: Do you have any surprises cooked up for the fans for the live set?

RA: Um, we’re always trying to bring the new songs in, but obviously we don’t want to take people completely by surprise. We’ll keep the ones they know and love in there as well. But we’re kind of expanding things. We’ve got some ideas on what we’re going to do on that tour in December. I’ve always wanted to try and get a few more musicians in with us, to try and make the whole thing sound like a big, sort of jam thing. We’re still in the early stages of whether that’s going to work. We brought a keyboard player into our lives, which is great, because it frees you up to do a lot of things. So we’ll see if we can work it out and get it together and try something really incredible by then.

BE: My first impression when I heard the new record is: this thing sounds absolutely huge.

RA: Yeah, it’s just kind of came about. I think one of the reasons it sounds bigger to me is because we left stuff out. Our first record, because of the way it was made, is very lo-fi. You almost have to have sound in there to paste the cracks, or you’d hear the guy walking in the door outside (the studio).

"Our first record, because of the way it was made, is very lo-fi. You almost have to have sound in there to paste the cracks, or you’d hear the guy walking in the door outside (the studio)."

It was quite fuller and intense, whereas this one, because we had the time to fix up the studio so that it worked more like a proper studio, we could leave space. And that space makes (the album) feel bigger.

BE: What was it like making the record that you wanted to make as opposed to the one you were forced to make due to your budget restrictions? You had, what, 300 pounds to make the first one?

RA: Yeah, yeah. This time around, we tried to think, what was great about that first record? What was it about that record that had something special? And basically, it didn’t sound like anyone else, and part of the reason is how we recorded it. And while we were recording it, we weren’t worried about anything; we were just in there messing around. And we wanted to keep that element to it, which is one of the reasons why we decided to keep our studio. And it was also a bit of luck that a unit next door to our studio was vacant, so we managed to knock through (the wall) and make it bigger, and therefore usable. But we wanted to use real strings…we used strings and brass on the first album, but that was just a sampler. Now we had an option to use the real thing, and that was a bizarre thing, it literally was. We went to a proper studio to record those parts, and there’s a bloke wearing headphones and there’s 20 guys in the string orchestra. I was fully aware that this bit cost more than the first album, about 10 times over. So that was interesting, but it was great as well, because you hear them play stuff that would send a shiver down your spine. But then you’d say, “Yeah, that’s good. But you know what? It sound better played on a sampler.” Same with the brass tracks, they sound fantastic over the top of the tracks, but you know what? That sampler works better. So it’s discovering, really, what works.

BE: I see you’ve added the title of producer to your list of credits. What was it like not just being the primary songwriter, but the producer of the band?

RA: Actually, I co-produced the first album as well. There’s no way I could have done it on my own. Wosley White did the lion’s share of the work, and we’ve been friends for ages. We just work really well together. When I’m kind of flagging, he’ll be in there driving things forward, and when he’s stuck, I’ll say, “Well, what about if we try this?” There are things that he’s good at that I’m not so good at, and there are things that I know my way around, whereas he’s not so strong in that area. So we just work together and it’s…I think I’m a little bit of a control freak, to be honest with you. You write these songs, you know exactly how you exactly want them to go, and then Woz will come in and go, “You know what? I think you’re wrong about that bit. I think that bit’s great, but that other bit could be better. How can you make this better?” He’ll get the band to perform it. That’s where Woz is brilliant, he’ll get the best performance on tape. So it’s very much a team effort, but I was always doing that side of things anyway. I think I was credited as co-producer on the first album. I better have been. (Note: the interviewer’s copy of the album contains no liner notes, but a quick check of Wikipedia confirms Archer was credited as co-producer on Stars of CCTV.)

BE: The most intriguing song to me from the new album is “I Close My Eyes.” It sounds like the Stones by way of the Soup Dragons. Is that fair?

RA: That is one of those tracks where we had a collection of songs that were down for the record. We had about 50 songs, rough sketches of them, and then they come down to about 15, 16 that worked for us at the moment. And that was one of those songs that was there, and it’s so nuts, so let’s just record it and see how it sounds. But others would say “I don’t know,” because it’s a bit strange. And we had a day where we were stuck on something, so we said, “Let’s try and do (‘I Close My Eyes’).” And we whacked it out and it sounded great. And like you said, there’s bits of the Stones all over the album, and there’s a Beastie Boys angle as well. So we said, “Let’s not worry about it, let’s just do it, and see what happens.”

BE: Did you actually get the chance to take some time off between touring the last album and recording this one?

RA: Not really. We’re trying to think back now. We came off the tour, and we had a couple of weeks off in August. We went to Miami, actually, of all places. And then we had to do some festivals, and then we did a tour of Japan. And then we came back to the studio and started working on songs for the new album, and then we (started recording) in December, so there hasn’t really been any length of time to not be thinking about (the new album). And since the album took longer than expected, because we built our own studio, that took longer, and then we had to learn how to use it, really. So when the album was finished, we went straight out into promotion and on the road. So it does feel like we haven’t stopped. It’s a bit nuts, like that. But we’re also aware that we’ve been given an opportunity and we don’t want to let it slip. We’ve got a chance that not many people get, so you’ve got to keep pushing it. Going into the studio after being on the road for so long, we were really excited about it, because the studio was a new thing, and being our own studio, it was really exciting to us.

BE: How conscious were you of the dreaded sophomore slump while you were making the new record?

RA: Um, I don’t know, really. People said to us, “Here’s the difficult second album” scenario, and…I’m not gonna lie, this album was very hard to make, but not for the usual reasons. A lot of people, they have this thing where they say, you have all your life to write the first album, and then you tour it, and then you’re so busy touring and enjoying that, and all of a sudden it’s time to write another album! And we didn’t have that (problem), because we already had quite a few songs, for instance, “Can’t Get Along” could have been on the first Hard-Fi album, but it just didn’t feel right. We always thought it would be a number one record, but it didn’t feel like it fit in on that album, whereas on this one, it did. And we had a rough demo of “Suburban Knights” and “I Shall Overcome” – well, going into the chorus of “Suburban Knights” and those choral chants, the (starts singing) “Whoaaaaaa” – and a similar kind of thing for the verse to “I Shall Overcome,” and the chorus with the strings in there. So we had those rough ideas just at the time when the first album was taking off. And there were bits and pieces of ideas that have been knocking around. So having those half-songs in the bag took the pressure off, so when we did come to write new ones – for instance, “Television” and “We Need Love” – it wasn’t like you were staring at a blank page.

So the actual writing of songs, that wasn’t (the problem). But we did have…there just seemed to be questions from everywhere. We went into the studio in December. We felt like we had just gotten off the tour, and the record company is already saying that they want the (new) record yesterday.

"We felt like we had just gotten off the tour, and the record company is already saying that they want the (new) record yesterday."

I was supposed to take two weeks off over Christmas, and I was told, “You can’t have Christmas off.” It was just ridiculous, and then the same man that told me that went on holiday for three weeks, but that’s another story. But we’ve never actually sat down to write an album (before the new one). The first album started off with a single, and then it was, “Let’s make an EP,” and then “Let’s make a full-length album.” No one ever said, “Right, get in there, make an album.” So there is the time pressure, there’s the pressure on yourself to come up with something really great. We all felt that for all the stuff we achieved with the first album hadn’t gotten some of the credit that others have, so we wanted to come back and say, “OK, well, listen to this.” So all of that was piling on, and it wasn’t all that pleasurable an experience. But if you don’t have that pressure, you can sit on your ass for months, and never get anything done.

BE: So it’s not like you were sitting there going, “Don’t be the Stone Roses, don’t wind up like the Stone Roses.”

RA: (chuckles) No, although that was mentioned. One of the last things we watched while on tour was the Metallica documentary, “Some Kind of Monster.”

BE: I still haven’t seen that, but I hear it’s fantastic.

RA: Yeah, it’s excruciating at times, but it’s well worth a look. It tells the story of them recording an album, and they basically hire some ex-military base, and they’re in there for a year. And then they decide that it’s not working, and they scrap it and go somewhere else. But we were all laughing at them, going, “Ha ha ha, look at Metallica.” And then we stared at ourselves, wondering, “Are we turning into Metallica?” Fortunately, we didn’t.

BE: Speaking of other bands, who have you been listening to lately?

RA: I almost try and avoid (other people’s music), a little bit, but the one band that always popped up was The Good, the Bad & the Queen. We got the album when we were in the studio making our album, and we went to see them a few times.

BE: I was going to ask you if you had that record, because I know you’re a big Damon Albarn fan.

RA: Yeah, yeah. We were sure not to listen to stuff like, say, the Kaiser Chiefs or the Killers…you have this thing where you start thinking like it’s a Formula One race, where everyone has different strategies. Are they going to change their tires once, or twice? The one influence that really comes through on this album, for me, was soul music. The whole Ennio Morricone sound, down to the name of the album, but also in the strings. One of the early reference points was Massive Attack, so there is the moody, expansive, dark influence on one side, but there was the whole soul music thing that was kind of keeping in touch with human emotions.

BE: Do you guys have any plans to come back to the States?

RA: Yeah! Our plans aren’t set in stone yet, but we want to see how the album goes down. I’ve heard talk of coming back in February. We’re really excited about it, and we’re hoping this time that we can go out there pretty loaded, i.e. our bass player, he’s come over once for a short trip (Note: bassist Kai Stevens had trouble acquiring a visa for the band’s first tour), so that bodes well for the future. But if we have to wait a month to do that, we’ll probably do that.

BE: Our local radio station is already playing the daylights out of “Suburban Knights.”

RA: Oh, fantastic.

BE: I don’t think you’ve ever been to Columbus, Ohio, but the modern rock station here loves you guys.

RA: Oh, that’s great. You never really know, so it’s nice to hear that people are getting it, you know? You never hear how people react to it, so it’s nice to hear people appreciate it.

BE: Well, I don’t want to keep you. It sounds like you’re having a wonderful holiday somewhere outside. Hopefully you’ve got a drink in your hand and enjoying yourself. I appreciate you taking the time to talk with us.

RA: Oh, my pleasure.

BE: Congrats on getting your second number one, that’s awesome. How is the single doing over there?

RA: It’s doing OK, actually. It went in…it peaked at number seven in our charts, which we were happy about, because there were about five previous U.S. number ones ahead of us, like Kanye West and Sean Kingston, those were out in front. And it’s hanging around, it’s still in the Top 20 three weeks later. One of the things we’ve noticed now as well is when we’d play these shows, when we play “Suburban Knights,” people would say, (dismissively) “Oh yeah, this song was played on the last tour.” And when we play it now, the place just goes crazy.

BE: That’s a festival chorus if ever I’ve heard one.

RA: Yeah! It’s great, because I don’t have to sing it now, just sit there and get on with it.

BE: Well, I apologize for the fact that a bunch of American singles kept you guys from going to number one on the singles chart.

RA: (laughs) Well, you know how these things go. Maybe one day we can knock Kanye off number one in America.

BE: That’s the spirit! Thanks, Richard, always a pleasure.

RA: All right, speak to you soon. Cheers.

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