For Folk’s Sake Interview: An evening ale with Junkboy

 

It’s been a happy new year in more ways than one for Junkboy. The three-piece, who meld a strong folk influence onto lush, whimsical songs that take in everything from post-rock to relaxed electronica, are currently celebrating their 10th anniversary, in typically modest style. “Mik posted an update on Facebook which simply said ‘Ten glorious years’,” says bassist Rich Hanscomb. “It’s been ten years since the first single came out. Ten strange years…”  

Mik, Rich’s brother and Junkboy’s guitarist, looks at the floor and attempts to explain his extravagance: “I just felt like… It started in January ’99 with a double A-side on Enraptured and here we are ten years later….”  

“Still recording for Enraptured!” laughs Rich, referring to the quirky indie label that remains their home. 

I meet the Hanscomb brothers – the driving force behind the band and founding members – one evening at Junkboy HQ in Hove, a quiet town immediately adjacent to the babbling bohemia by the sea that is Brighton. The down to earth, often self-deprecating pair are in a talkative mood, caught up in the rush of making a new album for release early next year. They sit smoking endless roll-ups, drinking organic ale (Rich) and lager (Mik), as we discuss the band, its past, present and bright future to a lilting soundtrack of proggy folk music.  

Junkboy originally got together in Southend-on-Sea, an Essex seaside town where the Hanscombs grew up. Taking their name from a saucy Japanese animation, they released several EPs and an NME single of the week before debut album The Dynamics of Modern Communication emerged in 2002. After 2005’s Lost Parade, the brothers made the move to the south-coast before recruiting guitarist Ryan Oliver, their “left-hand man”, and releasing the appropriately titled third album Three in 2008. It received strikingly positive reviews across the board with everyone from Wire magazine to Q singing the bands praises.  

Despite this success, it seems the Southend days aren’t something they look back on particularly fondly. “Three got a really good reception, it got good press,” remembers Rich.  “I think it’s funny because it’s quite pretty music and it was recorded in such disgusting conditions. The majority of it was recorded in our flat in Southend, just Mik and I, and we were just in a pretty dark place, living an unhealthy lifestyle…” He looks down and splutters as he remembers, struggling to find words to describe the horrors of their Outer London existence: “We were just… deep in the eye of the storm.”  

“We were frozen”, Mik offers. “Working all week and getting off our heads at the weekend to forget about it.” 

Experiencing the flowing pastoral sound of Three, the image of the Hanscombs losing it to the crushing mundanity of everyday existence in a dead-end town is not the first to come to mind, but it does explain something of the melancholy wistfulness pervading the album. 

“Mik and I are definitely the soul of Junkboy and, y’know, we’re quite melancholy guys,” confirms Rich. “Its always going to be weeping, sad music. Minor chords. Full of internal anguish, hahah! If you record in a bedroom you’re almost sealed off from the world. So much of what we’ve recorded over the years has been done ten seconds from where we eat or where we sleep.” 

Mik assures me the new album is going to have a few more cheerful tunes, and later on they prove it by playing a glorious, poppy Beach Boys-influenced work-in-progress with rolling drums and a beautiful, though suspiciously melancholy lead vocal. “The new album is born of a more joyous period in our lives,” says Rich. “There’s more clarity and the songs are more succinct.”  

Brighton hasn’t only been good to them in terms of the feel-good factor; it also happens to be teeming with musically-minded creatives only too happy to lend a hand. “We’ve met so many cool musicians and they all play on this record,” says Rich. “Like Oliver, he used to play in this hardcore metal band but he’s a classically trained violin player, he just came round for a couple of days to lay down some stuff.”  

He smiles, his curmudgeonly humour coming to the fore: “Or like Rachel who walked over along the seafront from Kemptown for an afternoon, played some trumpet and then fucked off home.”  

“We gave her some tea and cake and that was that,” deadpans Mik.     

Folk music has always been a big influence on the band, and it’s not long before talk turns to the genre, but not before the pair try their hand at defining it. Or not. “Folk is a very broad term isn’t it?” says Mik. “I have an Afro-Cuban drumming album and that’s a folk album, it’s music made by common folk made with whatever they’ve got to hand to make music with.”  

“Bruce Pavitt from Sub Pop has said that it was a folk label,” Rich cuts in. “Basically music of the common folk. They were doing early Nirvana press shots and they wanted them to be as ugly as possible!”  

But for all their love of Nirvana, it was seminal folk-jazzers Pentangle that were the key to the band’s folk awakening, their influence clearly audible in Junkboy’s sound-world with its echoes of the 60s folk revival. Rich reels me off a list:  “Pentangle got me into Bert Jansch and then from Bert Jansch I got into John Renbourn and from John Renbourn I got into Davy Graham. From Jacqui McShee, the singer in Pentangle, I got into vocalists like Shirley and Dolly Collins and Anne Briggs.” 

Mik stumbled upon Bert Jansch after reading a review of late 90s Chicago post-rockers Pullman which mentioned the revered but humble singer-songwriter. “It’s amazing what he can do with just a voice and guitar,” he says. “The first album I bought was Nicola, which is funny because it’s nothing like anything else he has done- a very layered, joyous, poppy album that is in keeping with the Summer of Love. Then I got his first, self-titled, album and that was fantastic, every note. It’s just really beautiful folk music in the traditional sense.” 

The band have recently got pally with local folk collective and record label Willkommen, and enthuse about seeing their band Sons Of Noel and Adrian play at a church in Brighton last month. Playing live isn’t something Junkboy themselves are going to be doing anytime soon, though – a halt has been called to all gigging in order to direct energies into writing, recording, engineering and producing the new album. It’s something they’re becoming very proud of – not a typical Junkboy trait. 

“I think in the past, with everything we’ve done we don’t feel that we can genuinely compete with anyone,” says Rich. “We’ve always been quite down on ourselves. Like, our music is good enough to release and for people to like it, but I don’t think it’s good enough to compare. But with the new album we’re finding that we’re au-fait enough with the technology and have kind of progressed as musicians.” 

“The great thing about this new album is that we plan it all out before we actually go into the studio and lay it down,” says Mik. “Historically speaking it’s just been- ‘here’s a chord sequence’, put other stuff on top of it and try and form a song from there. But with the new one it’s been about having songs fully realised before they’re committed to tape. It stops you losing track on a song, just overdubbing another instrument for its own sake.” 

The studio-happy band will be, perhaps a little reluctantly, venturing back into the live arena at some point, however. “We’ll have some vocals, some flutes and violin, Mik Hanscomb’s fat beats. I’m up for fleshing it out,” Rich assures me. In Brighton they’ve been getting a name for their Perfect Sound Forever nights, where they curate a night of top bands (characteristically putting themselves at the bottom of the bill), DJing and projections. What kind of projections? “The first night was 70s existentialist road movies,” says Mik. “We pick a visual theme and go with it. You can’t just put on Diehard 2 and some kind of art-house movie.”  

“Which is what Mik would want to do, put on Diehard 2 and just watch that over [delicate ambient pop act] Piano Magic!” laughs Rich.  

“Double the pleasure,” says Mik. 

I leave the pair debating early Genesis albums, which apparently have the kind of gentle whimsy that Junkboy like. They got into Genesis because someone’s mum told them they sound like them, and “because no one else likes them, which is a plus point”. It’s this stubborn, defiant spirit that so characterises Junkboy far more than their modesty. They are unwilling to concede to the fleeting vagaries of fashion or cool, able only to continue in their own unique, warm and soulful direction. I can see them still doing it in another 20 years time, let alone ten, quietly putting out home-recorded gems and arguing good naturedly about the finer points of folk music and late nineties Chicago post-rock. 

Words: Adam Bambury  

 

 

 

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