This article begins with a problem. I know there are a lot of decent East London garage rock bands around at the moment but when my friend Adam told me about Male Bonding I thought “woohoo… another one (insert measured sarcasm)”. Then I actually heard them. So there it was. Problem = not really wanting to like a band on spec – pretty shitty considering I used to be in a garage band – and hearing three people that were genuinely one of the most exciting musical experiences I had in a very long time. It didn’t take long before I figured out it was way better to let go of any unfounded preconceptions and actually enjoy discovering something genuinely new. Male Bonding are a rare thing. Starting out during the spring of 2008 (their first show was at a house party called RAGE!) and steadily clocking up a huge fan base with a series of split 7″ with bands like Eat Skull and Dum Dum Girls, the Dalston three piece eventually signed to the alternative music Mecca that is Sub Pop. Male Bonding have come a LONG way in two years, and deservedly so. This band take the punk bite of bands like Mudhoney and fuse it with the ethereal energy of the Beach Boys. With their debut album Nothing Hurts now out, we decided to catch up with drummer Robin to talk about signing a deal, going on tour and getting some stuff stolen in Canada.
Hi Male Bonding. That’s a good name. How did you come up with it?
It came to John at our friends house party on NYE two years ago. He was pretending to be Alex James around that time, turned up with a bottle of Cava and some carrots. High concept evening.
You guys have just completed a long run of tours across the US and Canada. What was it like trekking across the big counties playing your music to a new audience?
It was cool. First time we’ve been on a long trip together. We have played with some amazing bands too: V
ivian Girls, Smith Westerns, Gun Outfit, Dum Dum Girls, Lou Barlow, The Soft Pack, Happy Birthday, Nodzzz, Beaters, The Coathangers.
I’ve seen you guys play and it was insane. Any moments from the tour that stick in your mind?
Insane? We went kayaking in upstate New York with our friend Ali’s dad. We sat in the middle of the lake and he told us about his time as a policeman in New Jersey whilst we drank local 9% beer passed to us on paddles. “Growler”. Then we went to Montreal and got robbed. If only they’d nicked the bag of T-Shirts. Hell of a day.
When you first started out in Dalston what aspirations did you have for the band and did you think you’d ever get a deal with a label like Sub Pop?
Our aspirations were to have fun, and just to do a band together as friends so it wouldn’t be something we hadn’t at least tried. It went fast and we started releasing stuff ourselves as there didn’t seem to be any point in waiting for someone else to offer. Our motto was not to complain about stuff and just get on with our own thing. We have shared a bunch of releases with our friends and obviously were flattered when Sub Pop wrote us. That label means a lot to all of us and so do the other releases that we did before they became family.
Signing to Sub Pop was a pretty big deal. The label is like an incubator for seminal bands. Do you see yourselves as part of a lineage of artists being part of the history of Sub Pop?
I think some people were surprised they picked up on a UK band. Someone who works at Columbia came up to me recently and said they were embarassed that an English label hadn’t approached us!! We couldn’t be more happy to be with Sub Pop, best label in the world. As far as I’m concerned it couldn’t be a better partnership. Obviously that label has an incredible lineage of bands but the recent signings are pretty exciting too… were very happy to sit alongside Dum Dum Girls and Happy Birthday. I’m also equally proud and fortunate that we have been able to play and make friends with like-minded bands at home and across the sea. I think the internet has let everyone reach across the ocean a bit more, in both directions.
The ethic of the band seems to be grounded in the DIY culture of the late 80s / early 90s US West coast rock scene. Bands getting together and releasing limited split 7″s and touring together. Is this “team spirit” something that you think is important in music right now?
Sure, we thrive on team spirit. Its more economical to share releases and get things done. Str
ength in num
bers. My ‘ethics’ aren’t what they used to be, I used to get bogged down in copies of Fracture zine and bitchy message boards before I moved to London. Where I grew up we said “Never trust a Major Label or a Hippie”, that scene worked because it was so supportive but I soon found out we were pretty unique in U
K punk circles. Looking back I was very narrow minded. When I moved to London I was like, this guy is in an awful band on the TV but I really like him. Honestly, if we can inspire anyone to start a band, blow us out the water.. and put out a record or tape then that’s the best thing ever in my opinion. Thats my ethics.
What was it like recording the album? Bliss or pain?
Utter pain. I can’t even begin to tell you.
Nothing Hurts clocks in at just about half an hour. Is the thundering speed of the tracks intentional or did it just turn out that way?
It just turned out that way.
What do you think about being described as a “grunge revival” band?
Who said that? Probably the dumbest thing I ever heard.
What’s with the dreamcatcher logo, it’s amazing?
Oh well John is always watching ‘Coach Trip’ or cookery shows and drawing at the same time. That one came to him during Master Chef and we all liked it. We actually only made that shirt to impress Sub Pop as we heard they are all massively into dream catchers.
Ok, last one. What’s the best thing about being in the band?
Collecting memories with friends, making compromises and going deaf. Kevin just bought an American Boy Scout’s bag from Wolf Creek, we’re on the way to play with Nodzzz and it’s sunny. Probably wouldn’t get one of those bags in Dalston Oxfam.