INTERVIEW: BLEACH SWEETS
Absolute fear, WWE rivalries and a certain Guy
Liverpool's Bleach Sweets are a noisy, sarcastic band, and even if they didn't want it, they demand you to listen. Birthed on January 25th 2017 by Allan Myers (guitar and vocals) and Tom Shand (drums and vocals) in a University of Liverpool practice room, they crashed onto the scene, and have since become one of the best yet highly underrated underground bands in a city that can't untether itself from its Merseybeat roots and struggles under the weight of bloated modern indie bands. Highlights in their short career so far include their 45-second clip of Shand shitting to promote their debut single 'Get Into This', selling a t-shirt celebrating 100 Facebook likes, and a hilarious WWE style rivalry with fellow punks Salt The Snail that culminated in a live battle at Wrong Festival 2018 with a finale of both bands laughing through Nirvana's 'Smells Like Teen Spirit'.
Today, I'm sat with Shand for a chat in Peter Kavanagh's as Bleach Sweets gear up for the release of 11p Mixtape, an anti-aesthetic cut of punk drenched in feedback and pumped with sardonic commentary dropping on 25th August via Society Of Losers.
TCP: Hello there Tom. 11p Mixtape is finally releasing this week. How're you feeling about it?
Tom: The main thing is relief, because we've been sat on it for about three years. So it's kind of like, "Oh, we can finally get it out to people and move on with our lives!" We can start playing gigs and bothering to record new stuff, like going to into a new phase of the band. But I think beyond that, it's just absolute fear, because it's like, are people gonna get it? Are people only gonna half-listen to the lyrics and think, "Oh my god, this guy's a prick!" Or are they gonna listen to the whole thing and go, "This guy's an idiot!" (laughs) It's just relief and fear at the same time!
TCP: It's been a long time coming. On your Bandcamp, it says that's because of 'life'. Care to explain?
Tom: Well, I don't wanna speak for Allan, but we've both got jobs and Allan moved a few years ago, so there's a distance thing. And I was working nights for a long time, so it was purely just trying to time in the schedule, and then there's mental health things and family issues; literally everything you can think of. We can put it on pause though, because for me and Allan, we see this band like a stress relief. We turn everything up to 10, scream and shout for half an hour, then politely go on our separate ways until the next month.
TCP: How is it to be on a label like Society Of Losers?
Tom: Honouring. It's just nice. I've known the guys who've run the label for ages, and I've known most of the bands on the label for quite a while as well, so it feels reassuring to be in good company and have someone like Krystian (label co-founder) help out a band like us is a big shot in the arm.
TCP: Your debut single 'Get Into This' appears on the mixtape. Did you expect it to cause as much conversation and buzz as it did when you played it in Sound Basement and then brought it out later that year?
Tom: I kind of was and wasn't, like when we played it in Sound, it caused an instant shitshow. I was expecting the subject of that song to get out some anger, but I wasn't expecting certain people to be like, "You can't say that! You can't do that!", and it's like, someone should! I wanna make it clear that I'm not laying claim to making him go away, because I didn't, it was a citywide group effort. I remember being at a family event months later and Mike (Michael Edward, Shand's bandmate in Elevant) calls me up and says, "Look, I've not given him guest list for Wrong and the shit's hit the fan, what did you do?!" And I was like, "I said this and I said that!" And then it was just one thing after the other, it was chaos.
TCP: It's funny you mention that. Now that it looks like gigs are coming back, who do you think will be the next tastemakers?
Tom: I think there's a bit of an absence of that right now in Liverpool. Like Dave Monks at BBC Introducing, he almost exclusively plays sweet lovely indie pop, is very singer-songwriter focused, and there's just one sound. I'm not saying that the artists are bad or anything, there's just no diverse range. I was sat listening to it with a friend the other week and throughout the whole thing, it just all sounded the same, but he had a co-host who plays her three picks of the week, and instantly there was a change in sound. All of the songs sounded different and our ears perked up and we started actually listening, and it's what we expected from a radio show, a variation of music, so there is hope there. I think we're kind of beyond the monthly tome of artists and blogs being cherished bibles of who to listen to, and I think algorithms are the new tastemakers. They've shown me some of my favourite new artists, and I'm too small and stupid to fight against that.
TCP: How do you feel about the current scene in Liverpool?
Tom: (smacks lips and laughs) I could be really pleasant and I could be really cruel, but the truth in the matter is that I don't know. The big artists that are getting a lot of 'oomph' always in Liverpool, it's always pop. I don't if it's attributed to The Beatles being from here or something like that, but it's predominantly pop. Outside of pop, it seems that any celebration of Liverpool in the music is non-existent, and the best example of that is Loathe. They're from Liverpool. Have you ever seen their name on a poster in the last five years? They're huge now, they're colossal. They've done away with Liverpool and found another way to make it, and lo and behold, it's really worked. There's a lot of bands under that alternative umbrella term from Liverpool that have become big, but no-one makes a big deal about it. Before I came to Liverpool, I didn't know The Wombats and Echo and the Bunnymen were from here, and if you wanna get really spicy, nor The Christians or Deaf School. It's weird, the city seems to have a self-celebratory nature, but all of the big artists that are known outside of the city don't really mention Liverpool in press releases or anything like that, beyond The Wombats. However, there's a cultivated punk scene through the likes of Society Of Losers and Yeah Buddy, and then in turn there's a good post-rock scene through itself, then there's been a psych boom over the last few years, the likes of Mugstar and Clinic. At the end of the day, there's great venues and a great quality of talent, but I'd say to bands that want to gain some power: don't box yourself into your home city.
TCP: What would you personally say the pros and cons of being a two-piece band are against being in a four or five-piece?
Tom: Absolute number one pro is that it's easy; decisions, writing, it's easy, and if we both like something, it's sorted. You can get everything in one car without any faff of going to a gig, one of the easiest things. I'd say the downside is if one of us doesn't like something, the idea's kind of vetoed, and as a two-piece, you can't be hard-headed about things, because then it becomes a civil war of ideas and approaches and you end up hating each other. The main thing is sound-wise; there's not much of a low-end to our music, and we've always tried to combat that with sheer volume and punish the audience into thinking there's a bass there! (laughs) We've recently compromised with an octave pedal, and for the next stuff, I've been dreaming up bass parts and two of my favourite bands, Dope Body and Fugazi, both have set-ups where there's two drummers playing slightly different stuff, and I love that idea of more depth to the sound, purely adding another me and another Allan kind of thing. You don't want to end up sounding like Royal Blood or The White Stripes. You've got to keep it sounding fresh, which is a struggle as a two-piece.
TCP: The "rivalry" with Salt The Snail is still one of my favourite social media campaigns to this date. Was it very off-the-cuff or did you plan it meticulously with the band?
Tom: The idea came from two different places; one was Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, where there's two bands playing at once and I thought, "Damn, two bands playing like they're having a fight? That's cool!" And then the other one was something at Threshold Festival, and I sadly wasn't there, but how it was told to me was there was one band at one side of the room, and one band at the other end, and they went song-for-song, kind of two sets at once. And it made me realise that Scott Pilgrim is possible! So I pitched the idea to Mike and Krystian for the second Wrong Festival, and Salt The Snail were still a three-piece, so it was a similar instrument palate as us, and I said, "Guys, let's play at the same time, let's fight each other!" Krystian's a big fan of wrestling, so he had the idea of making it like a title match, and me and Allan had a set sorted, but beyond that, it was chaos. A lot of the banter and insults were off-the-cuff and then the stupid 'Teen Spirit' ending, that we didn't even know! And when we went off-stage, I said, "Why didn't we do 'Killing In The Name Of'?", and all of us were kicking ourselves. We've had the idea for ages to do a rematch, a kind of friendly pally squash the beef situation. We'll see.
TCP: What can we expect from Bleach Sweets at Crapfest this year?
Tom: A set.
TCP: Finally, you're booked for a show. On the bill is yourselves, your nightmare artist, your favourite artist, and your guilty pleasure. Who's playing?
Tom: First of all, I can't imagine a worse gig on the planet. We'll go for the hero band first, so probably Shellac, since they've had the most influence on our sound. For the guilty pleasure, it'd be Metallica playing St. Anger in full. I was horribly hungover the other day, to the point where I was sat in the shower, and I thought, "I know what'll help: 'Frantic' by Metallica'. I have a soft spot for that album and that sound. I don't know why I love it; it's like a study of rehab from trauma and alcoholism, but at the same time is a guy trying to write about that with a clear struggle of conveying what he means. I mean if you saw Shellac and Metallica playing St. Anger, you'd go to that gig. And for a band I hate? I've recently got over shitting on people for their tastes, so it's not someone I hate, but the worst thing a band can be is boring, and it's Foreigner. 'Cold As Ice' is fucking boring.