I had an absolute blast talking with Puppet Kings! This is a crew with a great head on their collective shoulders and they’ve given some supreme answers here in our latest interview at the homepage – fully recommend you take a moment or two away from your phone and just have a read-through what Tom, Harry and Neil have to say to the world and us here at SBS. We get the details set in stone throughout this interview as the Puppet Kings take us through what life has been like post-release of their first record Timebomb and their more-recent line-up shift in adding Harry to the drums. Lots of cool info on a great band of completely solid people that it sounds like I’d have no problem having a beer with, any time.
As in…*hint *hint…read up on their final thoughts and you’ll know that statement is a 100% open-invitation. Puppet Kings are on the move and they’re recently recording yet again in addition to playing roughly 1.5 million shows a year…wait…my numbers might be off slightly…allow for at least 3% margin of error on that, but the point is, they’re always onstage and playing shows…so keep an eye out, they might be playing near you next!
And who knows? Maybe this summer I’ll be able to con them into a stop by somehow after all!
Enjoy the interview music-fans!
– Jer @ SBS
Interview with Puppet Kings
SBS: Puppet Kings! Thanks so much for being with us today – stoked to talk with you guys. Though I’ve been away making a move with the studio over five provinces away from my hometown in Canada – I’ve still kept an eye on what’s been coming across the ol’ desk and reading the messages coming in. In checking into the Puppet Kings correspondence…something caught my eye…that was the comparison that people have been making to the music you make, bands like Alice In Chains, Foo Fighters and even Megadeth apparently! It went on to mention…that the band themselves might not exactly hear those comparisons in what they do, or maybe don’t agree or whatever; I wouldn’t blame you guys – I didn’t hear that stuff either! So…set the record straight Puppet Kings – what defines your sound? If YOU guys had to pick three bands that you would reference to your sound in exchange for what the people have come up with – what would you say…and perhaps more importantly, why?
Tom: Thanks very much for checking us out. That’s a good question; to be honest I don’t think we are exactly sure either! I think there is a lot of bluesy classic rock stuff in the music and band influences would be the usual 70s behemoths like Led Zep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, that kind of stuff, which we always come back to. Then my fave guitar players are guys like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Slash, blues rock kind of players. Then again I like a bit of Dave Mustaine and some of his thrashy riffs as well. And then when it comes to singers Layne Staley’s voice just gets me every time and I definitely went through a big grunge faze in my early teens. I don’t think we necessarily sound like any of those bands, hopefully we sound like our own thing. We are trying to do our own thing. But if you like Rock music or metal music then hopefully you will like some of our stuff.
Neil: My biggest influences musically are Foo Fighters and stuff like Pantera, Metallica and then more modern US southern tinged bands like Maylene and The Sons Of Disaster. But really the list is endless, Monster Magnet, Clutch, Mastodon and I think our music is a result of all those influences combined as we share a lot of those in common.
Harry: Hey, thanks so much for this! I wouldn’t necessarily agree with those who compare us to the Foos or Megadeth but I still use those bands as examples because, 1) everyone knows them, 2) they’re awesome bands to be compared to! And 3) if we sounds different to any other band then surely that’s a good thing! I personally am influenced by drummers such as, Thomas Lang, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan from Avenged Sevenfold (my favourite band), Dennis Chambers (he’s a big guy too!), Buddy Rich, and Ray Luzier from Korn. All amazing drummers and something I aspire too!
SBS: Now…as far as I know, we’ve got two original members, Tom and Neil…and a recent addition of Harry to the line-up on the drums. What else has changed from the moment that the Puppet Kings came into existence in terms of the direction of the band? The sound that you’re putting out now…how does it compare to where it all started and how has the most recent change of adding Harry to the band furthered the music of PK?
Tom: I think we have always wanted to play a kind of ballsy music with some attitude. Big riffs, chunky, head-banging stuff but with a catchy tuneful melody to pull it all together. That’s the kind of thing I like listening to. It’s taken some time to get there though, and Harry coming in to the band has definitely helped. He’s a great drummer and a great singer and he has brought a really positive energy. And now we can get the harmonies really tight as well which has always been the dream!
Harry: Yeah I agree completely with Tom on our sound. Just all guns out rock ‘n’ roll and I’m absolutely loving it. I’m really not used to singing in a band or singing live but I think it’s going well so far, along with great compliments from the guys, and we’ve just played an awesome gig at Camden Barfly (27/3/16) and a couple of my friends recorded the whole thing so I listened back and it sounds pretty tight! We’ve still got a long way to go before we know each other musically inside out and I know I personally have a long way to go in my development as a drummer and within the band but at least the guys and I know that and it’s something we’re striving towards.
Neil: Our songs are more refined now than back when we first started and Harry has brought a lot of good opinions with him when it comes to new songs and writing new ones. His singing has definitely added another dimension too.
SBS: Any hardcore initiation stories for us? Is it an easy thing to just walk right in, be Harry, sit down at the drum-throne and BE a member of Puppet Kings – or did you make him pass some sort of series of rigorous tests whereby he barely survived to still exist and play drums for the band today? How did the switch happen? Are you able to feel secure in your place in the line-up now Harry?
Tom: We met Harry when we played with his band Death Ape Disco a few years back. Awesome band and one of the stand-out acts we played with when gigging in the Brighton scene. We put on a few shows with them as well and got to hang out with Harry and see what a super nice guy he is. So when our previous drummer Jake decided he needed a break from the gruelling and financially draining life of a hard working rock band, I got in touch with Harry pretty much straight away. Turns out he was a fan of the band and knew half the songs anyway. So it was all pretty seamless. I think we were lucky!
Harry: Haha I’m with Tom in the sense that I think we’re all quite lucky really! When my other band broke up I had a few offers from other bands asking me to join but it just didn’t feel right but as soon as Tom asked me to join Puppet Kings outright I was gobsmacked really as they are just a handful of bands that I not only enjoy but I also bought their music and listened to it a hell of a lot. Now I find myself playing the music I love! As for me feeling secure, well I’ve been welcomed into the band almost immediately really. And obviously liking the music to begin with just made me wanna nail them even more. Jake is a great drummer, an incredible drummer in fact, so I have big shoes to fill but things are going very well at the moment and I’m very happy. Funny Neil and Tom didn’t mention the “head in stock throwing mud pies” initiation though?
Neil: We did force him to drink gin and tonic until he liked it though.
SBS: I should have mentioned to you guys…the original province I lived in was BC…in a city just outside of Vancouver…aka, ‘Vansterdam’ – so…gotta say…it wasn’t lost on me to see that the Timebomb EP was actually released on 4/20 2015. I see weed references every which way I look; it’s just the way I grew up. Obviously Clapham is a long, long way away from Vancouver…but 4/20 is a pretty damn universal thing these days…and then you see you’ve got songs like “Spirit Of The 60’s” and it gets a guy wondering…what role do drugs play in the music of the band – or do they? Overall – is there a set of unwritten or unspoken rules that govern their place in music do you think?
Tom: I spent 6 months studying abroad in Amsterdam when I was at uni and had the time of my life. It blew my mind. 4/20 in the Grey area coffee shop in Amsterdam was always a really good place to be. So I think weed certainly has some influences on the lyrics and indeed the music. But as a general rule I don’t play when I’m stoned or drunk. I can’t sing properly and my coordination goes to pot. It’s nice to do after a show or after recording though and an excellent way to relax!
Harry: And I’m just about to go to Amsterdam for the first time in 3 weeks’ time! Dead excited and interested to see what all the fuss is about. Maybe some inspiration in the colour of green will appear while I’m there…
SBS: Timeline-wise…it looks as if you guys added Harry after the Timebomb EP was recorded…is that correct? Harry – what was it like to learn the material and what do you feel that your own style was able to add to it to give it a new strength? Tom & Neil – what was it about the way that Harry played the Timebomb songs that gave you every reason to believe you’d found the right person for the band?
Harry: I seriously love this EP. It’s just three songs that are quite diverse so as soon as it finishes you want to hear them all over again! I try and play all Puppet Kings material the way it’s recorded as it sounds awesome and suited enough as it is. I’m very much a groover and I thrive on hard-hitting stuff so I’d like to say I add to the band in that way and will do with all the new tunes coming up! I think the guys were pretty happy to find out I knew a lot of their stuff anyway and when they unexpectedly announced on their Facebook after about 1 or 2 sessions together that I was their new drummer… I kind of guessed that we were officially a new 3-piece!
Neil: We already knew Harry was a good drummer from gigging with his old band Death Ape Disco so when Tom suggested we contact him when Jake decided to leave I kind of knew it would probably work out. He has some similarities to Jake in his playing but also has his own unique style.
SBS: What did you learn throughout the recording process of Timebomb that’s going to help you when you go to record new songs in the future? And hey! Speaking of that…with the EP now creeping towards its first-year of being released and all…can we expect some new tunes from Puppet Kings coming out in the near future? Like…as in…2016 near future?
Tom: Well we have just recorded 2 new songs for a charity release for teenage Cancer trust. These are definitely more laid back acoustic based songs. We did them both in a day as time was a factor but think they came out pretty well. The plan is to get some more songs recorded later this year so we have enough material to get an album out. That would be the dream!
Neil: I learned that playing to a click while recording isn’t the be all end all and that tracking individually gets a much better result than recording live all together. I’m sure we’ll get something else recorded before the year’s out.
SBS: You guys put a lot of music onto the live-stages of the UK in the early quarter of this year – any memorable highlights? Seriously…I always think about just how many shows the average musician or band plays…and I certainly know from the audience perspective as to what makes a show ‘memorable’ – but what makes a show truly standout and last in the memory over years of playing from the band’s perspective?
Tom: We’ve been busy gigging since Harry joined, mostly in the South East of England. We played at a Lord of the Rings themed pub in Southampton called the Hobbit, which was a lot of fun, Harry fell for a really a hot elf. We have been getting some really positive feedback from our live shows and want to play more and more. London is tricky because there are so many bands here it’s hard to stand out and get people’s attention. But that is what we are trying to do. We are hoping to play at Camden Rocks festival in London this summer.
Harry: She is a pretty hot elf for sure. I felt like I belonged there as well with my ginger Gimli beard. But yeah, it’s been great gigging with the PK’s!
SBS: Now that you’ve had a year to examine the way the songs came out on the Timebomb EP – from a critical perspective…what would you say you felt went ‘right’ and, if anything at all, what went ‘wrong?’ From concept, to recording, to production…did the songs change much throughout the recording process? Does it become more important to hang on to the original ideas and concepts of the song, or would you say it’s more important to allow that song or idea to breathe, evolve and potentially change? At the end of it all…how on earth do you come to a conclusion that the song is truly ‘done’ – and ultimately, who’s making that call?
Tom: I would say that I’m still really happy with how Timebomb turned out. After recording, there are always things I look back at and wish I had changed but with this EP I don’t have too many complaints. I think it captures the band’s sound pretty well. It was recorded live without a metronome and has plenty of groove. We did a lot of pre production before we went in to the studio. So we were well rehearsed and well prepared and we got a good amount of time to really polish the tracks. Being a 3 piece we like to keep things fairly simple and want the record to sound like how we sound when we play the songs live. So apart from the odd lead guitar overdub, once the bass, drums, guitars and vocals are down, it’s done.
Neil: I still really like Timebomb and I love the fact it was just three of us with no outside influences, just three songs exactly how we wanted them.
SBS: The main reason I personally wouldn’t agree with the notorious three comparisons to the Foo Fighters, Megadeth and Alice In Chains is because I hear a lot more melody in what Tom brings to the band in terms of the vocals. Don’t get me wrong…Grohl has many melodic moments and I worship the dude overall…but there’s a stylistic, controlled approach from Tom here that really suits the music of Puppet Kings extraordinarily well. There’s a blues-pop-edge that seems to find its way into the tone and writing of his melodies that keep the music extremely accessible to pretty much everyone, no matter how hard it gets. I can hear the Foo Fighters argument on a track like “Timebomb” – but I can hear so much more from “Spirit Of The 60’s (Wonderland).” How much freedom do you have when it comes to the vocals and lyrics of PK Tom? Do you accept, or maybe even seek out input from the other members when it comes to the words or melody-lines – or is that all on you?
Tom: Well that’s very kind of you to say so! I do like all kinds of music. Rock and hard rock is my favourite. That’s what I will always be passionate about and what gets me excited. But I listen to loads of Jazz, classical, and indeed pop music as well. My Dad got me in to people like Van Morrison, Steely Dan, JJ Cale, The Beatles, The Stones, Mozart, Bach, Django Reinhardt, Miles Davis. Pretty eclectic stuff! The first bands I got in to on my own were those Britpop bands like Oasis, Cast, Blur, Manic Street Preachers, Supergrass etc. So Maybe there is a bit of British pop influence in the music. I’m not sure to be honest! But in terms of writing music and penning lyrics I definitely take my time doing it and have complete freedom. It’s something very personal and I get lost in my own headspace for a little while and don’t really think about anything else. If Neil and Harry like the songs I bring to practice then we jam them out and see what happens. They usually evolve from there.
Neil: There’s definitely a slight britpop influence in there too I think, just because we grew up through that era when it was all Oasis and blur etc.
SBS: I dig the music of the band guys, truly do. I think Timebomb worked out pretty damn well and I’m excited to hear what you’d potentially come up with next. Get combinations of rock, metal, melody…it’s all there; complex and meaty enough for a real musician to enjoy, and catchy enough in the hooks for everyone else to find something to like. Hell guys…I even dig the artwork on the EP! Who was responsible for that? And as far as the EP’s title goes…same thing I suppose…but really – I suppose what I want to know is what’s the decision process behind that as far as the band is concerned and who has the final say on what the title/artwork are going to be? Settled by gentlemen’s agreement? Arm-wrestle? A quick game of Connect-4 winner-take-all? How does it all go down between you to make these potentially career-defining & crucial decisions?
Tom: If we settled arguments via Fifa football on the Xbox then Harry would win every time. If it was by who had the bushiest beard it’s between Harry and Neil but I think Neil probably wins it. We are all pretty laid back about band stuff so if someone has a good idea about something then we go for it. The great thing about 3 people is that if 2 people agree then we run with it! A friend of mine called James Hayball did the art work. He does some really cool illustrations so check him out! The concept for the cover was to subvert the whole Puppet King name. So instead of a stuffy old King on a throne we have a hip Queen kicking back enjoying a glass of wine and owning it!
Harry: Yeah FIFA’s my jam man. I go by the logic of, if I win… fair. If I lose… well the excuses are endless… BUT TRUE! As for career-defining decisions and whatnot, I don’t think I’ve ever met a band who’s just happy to go with the flow and grab each opportunity with both hands without questioning and doubting the situation so much. We’ll do whatever feels right and make sure we’re having fun while doing it. What’s the point otherwise?
SBS: What do you feel that Puppet Kings can offer the world that the rest can’t, or aren’t, or should be but just don’t…you know what I mean…what truly separates you apart from the rest out there? What might we look forward to as both fans and new-listeners when it comes to the next record?
Tom: As a song writer I feel like I have some great songs yet to write, and some songs I have already written that people will enjoy listening to. Songs that are tuneful and original but don’t sound like anyone else. As a band I think we are starting to find our own voice and if people dig that then great. I don’t think there are many bands out there rocking it at the moment. Guitar music in general seems pretty quiet. So maybe we can fill that gap with some big juicy Rock and Roll. We will give it a good go anyway!
Harry: Tom really is our secret weapon here. His guitar playing skills are through the roof and it’s such a joy to play alongside him. Linking up on vocal harmonies with him is a lot of fun too and he certainly has the knack of putting things in the right places. Neil’s absolutely solid as well and has also got a great sounding voice. From Tom asking Neil if he wants to play bass in a band a few years ago to now is a pretty awesome achievement for anyone. I just hope I can do my bit and add to the band in some way!
SBS: Puppet Kings…Tom, Neil, Harry…thank you guys so much for your time today. You have officially made it to the end of the interview…you’ve survived the onslaught of ramblings I somehow call ‘questions’ – so truly, thank you for putting up with my stream of consciousness here on the pages. Take a moment here, in the good ol’ final-space, the ‘SBS Open Floor,’ to say anything else you’d like to, anything at all on your mind. I didn’t ask you specifically as to ‘where’ you might want the people to find your music or more about you online…so you might want to mention that too…but I fully encourage you, take this final space for a real ride and say anything else at all you’d like. Cheers guys!
Tom: Thank you for the interview. If you like our stuff please spread the word and share the tracks. There is a lot more to come for sure. If people want to check us out then please do head to the usual places.
Give us a like on Facebook – www.facebook.com/puppetkings/
Neil is driving up to Toronto from New York in the summer. Any chance of playing a gig in Canada?
Harry: Yeah basically thank you for your very detailed and not-so-typical questions! It’s clear you enjoy doing what you’re doing and we really appreciate your time. Next up for us is just getting out there and doing everything properly and at the right times. No use in rushing things but we’re ready for whatever comes our way. And yeah, I’ve always want to go Canada!
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