For an even more in depth interview with The Mighties check out this fantastic Rocktopia article by Steven Reid!
An Evening with the Mighties
As we were about to release the first two parts of our album, Still Sitting in Danny’s Car, we, The Mighty Handful, sat down with ourselves, to give ourselves some background, share some thoughts and argue about who’s buying the next round …
Can you explain a little of the background to Still Sitting in Danny’s Car?
Matt [Howes – lead singer and guitarist] – Still Sitting in Danny’s Car is the biggest project we’ve ever taken on as a band by some distance. Apart from Chris [Harrison – the band’s newest recruit on lead guitar] we’ve worked together in various guises for well over a decade, and we’d got to a stage where we could quite easily have gone our separate ways, or continued as an occasional function band, or decided to push ourselves as a collective. Thankfully we chose the latter option!
Gary [Mackenzie – drums] – It started as an idea for a story that I’d been toying with for a while, and then developed over quite a few drinks in a pub in Shepperton one night … the rest of the band got more and more involved, and then it just took off. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, but although I knew that we had the musical ability to pull it off, I really didn’t know if the whole band would be up for it or if we’d be able to write and work together in a very different way from how we’ve done in the past.
Tom [Halley – bass] – We’d discussed it loosely, but once we realised it was feasible, the range of influences within the band and the extent to which we’d got to know each other as musicians over the years suddenly made it a very exciting project indeed.
So, how would you describe what the album’s all about?
Chris – It’s an album of songs about pubs, death, friendship, life, loss, comics, and a time-travelling Vauxhall Cavalier. I wasn’t involved right from the beginning, but I adored the idea immediately. The balance of humour and sentiment was instantly appealing.
Matt – Yeah, it deals with a lot of things that are important to me, and that have I think been important throughout the ages – friendships, pubs, booze and girls! It’s a musical journey through time that deals with fundamental themes that are integral to all of us, and it’s also about how we deal with death in its/his myriad forms and the importance of life, and, perhaps more significantly, the value of living well.
Tom – It’s an epic rock album exploring life, death and the lessons of the past through an eclectic range of musical and lyrical influences.
Ralph [Blackbourn – keyboards] – And it’s got something in it for everyone – 3/4, 4/4. 5/4, 5/8, 6/8, 7/8, 9/8 … sometimes in quick succession.
What is the band trying to achieve with the album?
Matt – We were simply looking to articulate something that is in all of us, but maybe doesn’t get said enough, for whatever reason. The connections we make, and the friends we make, and the things that we can all do when we put our minds to it are what it is to be alive. This album is both a testament and a homage to that.
Ralph – And we wanted to make a bloody good album of great songs which occasionally go in unexpected directions, whether that be musically or lyrically.
Chris – Also I think it’s about demonstrating that short songs are okay, even in prog. Obviously, a sprawling one and a half hour collection of short songs is even better!
Tom – I think we’ve tried to produce something that rocks, something that gets the prog whiskers a-twirling, and something that we can all be bloody proud of.
Gary – We’ve put a lot into this album, but we’ve all got a great deal out of making it, I think. If we can get just one person to feel part of our journey and the journey of the album’s narrative, who understands and appreciates the material, who “gets” the humour and the ideas and connections we’re trying to communicate, that will be a major achievement for us.
What have been your individual challenges or achievements during the making of the album?
Ralph – I’m hoping to achieve becoming a big fish in a small pond! And it’s been a challenge for me to take my own lyrics seriously … a challenge I’ve so far failed in!
Matt – Production has definitely been the biggest challenge for me, although there are a couple of tracks that are extremely challenging from a musical perspective as well – I tend to try not to actually play on those ones live! When we started I honestly had no solid expectations for myself. It was a strange one for me because up until this point I had been the primary composer in the band, whereas this was very deliberately a collaborative effort between all of us, and a good friend was supposed to be taking on the producer role. So, maybe I thought I’d be letting the others take up some of the slack. Unfortunately, my friend had to withdraw due to unforeseen circumstances, which meant I had to take on the mantle of producer as well, so I ended up in a far more central role than I expected. And it has been amazing! Being freed up from being the principle songwriter, I have been able to learn so much about production, and that in turn has probably made me a better songwriter as a result.
Chris – It’s been a challenge for me to do my best to bring to bear with my guitar work, all the wonderful qualities already evident in the songs.
Tom – To balance the needs of the songs with my playing, I suppose. With great prog comes great responsibility! It’s been great to be able to be more expressive musically, but that means keeping a greater focus on what everyone else is doing.
Gary – For me, getting so far into the project and finishing off the first two parts of the album have been both a challenge AND an achievement!
With so much music being produced, not just in the world of prog, why should anyone listen to this album rather than any other?
Tom – With a variety of ‘non-prog’ backgrounds between us, we’re coming to it from a different angle to most bands, and I think that will be interesting.
Gary – I think our whole feel, sound and approach to song-writing and arrangement is quite unique – it’s hardly stunningly new or truly “progressive” (though that’s up to others to decide, I suppose) and it’d be foolish to make any such claims – but I would go as far as to suggest that the listener will get something that is both quite different yet strangely familiar at the same time. And, the more you listen, the more you’ll start to hear … there’s loads of interesting stuff going on in the background most of the time.
Chris – I have a suspicion that, at heart, many prog fans are nerds. Sentimental nerds perhaps, who don’t mind having a good cry every now and then? Or self-reflective nerds, who want to understand the universe, and themselves, a little more clearly? Still Sitting in Danny’s Car provides ideal material for both camps! As a self-confessed nerd myself, I’m constantly finding more on the album to enjoy … and I’m on it! The tunes are good, too, if you like that sort of thing …
Ralph – It might just be the most exciting thing you have ever heard. Or it might not. Either way if you don’t like one particular bit something totally different is probably just around the corner.
Matt – I’d like to think that we’re offering something that, whilst tipping its hat to both classic and modern prog, is the sort of concept album that could only have been produced by this group of people at this time in history. Plus, you certainly couldn’t accuse us of lacking in ambition!
Can you identify any notable memories of writing and/or recording the album?
Ralph – Every time we got a contribution from a guest artist it pretty much blows my mind and expands the concept of what might be possible. Also, meeting up as a band on a regular basis, which we’ve had to do to get everything done, has made me appreciate why other bands think in a more tribal way than I had in the past. Other than that, our first proper experience of going away for the weekend and writing together was an exciting nod towards what could be achieved.
Tom – For me one highlight so far was definitely the two-day writing session we had out in the country. The ideas were just flowing so brilliantly, and by the end of it we’d gone from having a loose concept and handful of ideas to the bones of an album and a really strong idea of where it was heading.
Chris – I remember one evening in the studio was spent working on the middle section of The Beacon, which opens Part 2. The whole band was there, the sun had just set, and we were working by the light from the computer screen and my pedals because the studio lights interfered with the electrics too much. That was magic, utter magic.
Matt – My favourite memory of recording thus far was the evening we recorded the wake sounds for Not A Dry Glass In The House, which basically involved members of the band (and my lovely wife Rachel) having conversations as fictional attendees at a funeral, interspersed with boozy sing-a-longs. One day we’ll release the individual conversations as separate stems … most of them are absurd and hilarious in equal measure. But, as the CD for Parts 1 and 2 is just the start of the Still Sitting In Danny’s Car story arc there will be many more great moments in the future!