Joining an era of post-punk acts flourishing healthily on both sides of the Atlantic, Roxy Girls demonstrate their prowess on their latest, ‘Trials and Tribulations’. Released via Moshi Moshi, ‘Trials and Tribulations’ is to appear on the Sunderland four-piece’s debut ‘A Poverty of Attention’. The track marries the grit of the late 70’s with a precision that can only be the result of relentless rehearsals and revisions. The drums and bass are punchy, both guitars cut calculated stereo slices across the mix, and Tom Hawick’s vocal performance carries a sincerity and command not dissimilar XTC’s Colin Moulding. Set for release September 6th, ‘A Poverty of Attention’ should be greatly anticipated if their new single is anything to go by. Talking to guitarist and lead singer Tom Hawick and guitarist and backing vocalist Isaac Hirshfield-Wight, I discussed growing up in Sunderland, Roxy Girls’ influences, and the utter dismay that is Brexit.
Roxy Girls’ hometown is something that has drawn the attention of several music authorities. It’s justifiable, although perhaps unfairly so, as the North Eastern city isn’t often the first location that springs to mind when thinking about musical cities. As I learned, there is close-knit music community in Sunderland, and it’s a city that the four-piece want to represent. However, for the lads growing up, Sunderland was not somewhere they particularly wanted to be associated with when it came to their musical careers.
“There’s nothing particularly going on in Sunderland.” Isaac confesses. “It has been difficult. I was playing in bands before Roxy Girls, and I didn’t want to be associated with Sunderland that much. For me, I didn’t see that’s where you could be successful. By the time I started in Roxy Girls, it was really important to me to do something that was relevant to where we from. No one else is doing anything like that.”
Tom reflects on his earlier – and similar – thoughts on Sunderland. “There are creatives here, but everyone moves away. I’ve even done that. I moved to Leeds and moved back to Sunderland. I did that in an attempt to further my career. Most people do, and you can’t blame them for that. There [aren’t] a great deal of provisions in that field for people.”
Earlier iterations of the band coalesced around Pop Recs Ltd., a haunt that acts as a vital component to the Sunderland music scene. Founded by the members of Frankie & The Heartstrings, Pop Recs Ltd. is record store, coffee shop, art space, and music venue thrown into one (with no half-measure by the sounds of it). Tom quotes Pop Recs Ltd.’s tag line, ‘it’s a good thing for a good reason’, remarking that it’s “best way to put it”.
Tom describes threshing of the basis of the band in its earliest form with drummer Aidan Rowan. “Pop Recs, in return for us making coffees, and cleaning, and making paninis and just café stuff, we practiced [there] for free. If it wasn’t for that we wouldn’t exist. I don’t think we would have really gone about pursuing [Roxy Girls] in the way that we have if we hadn’t been given the opportunity to practice for free.” Alongside the cost of hiring rehearsal spaces, the time that having a free space provided, allowed Roxy Girls to form its identity at a natural pace. “With Roxy Girls it’s taken a while to get to where we are in terms of the sound,” Tom explains, “and if we didn’t have that two year period of me and Aidan sitting in the shop after 5 o’clock […] until midnight for two years, and using that time to hone the sound and get to where we are, we’d still be doing boring nonsensical dream-pop.”
And it was dream-pop that largely inspired the band’s early sound. “When we first started we weren’t making this type of music at all,” Tom explains, “we were making DIIV or Beach Fossils inspired music. I guess we wanted to be doing something that was current.”
It wasn’t until tastes changed and the band gained extra members that the band altered to their current sound. Tom describes Matthew Collerton joining to take on “four string duties” and the arrival of Isaac in the band. “At that point it wasn’t really just mine and Aidan’s influences coming through, it was all of ours” Tom explains. “This is when the music became more interesting. Collaborative music is always more likely to be interesting because you have more of people’s ideas going into the same thing.”
The band haven’t escaped comparison with many of the first wave of post-punk acts of the late 70’s and 80’s. It can be understandable why, but, like many acts, they do appear the victim of unfair pigeonholing. Though clearly informed by their predecessors, Roxy Girls’ previous catalogue, and particularly ‘Trials and Tribulations’, are refreshingly unique in sound and execution. Citing Wire, Television, and XTC, I ask the pair about their influences.
“We’ve had quite a lot of people say that to us, because of the way I sing,” Tom says. “I don’t hide the fact that we’re from Sunderland. That’s quite a memorable thing about our music. We get that Futureheads comparison a lot,” Tom adds, before laughingly confessing, “which again isn’t something I love because they’re arguably my favourite band. Television are another band I’ve had in the background for years but haven’t necessarily been something that I’d think about when writing songs. I guess that’s the best way for your influences to influence you; in a subtle way that isn’t really intended.”
Isaac describes his influences and first acquaintance with punk and post-punk. “For me, punk music has always been a big thing in music for me,” Isaac says. “I’ve picked it up from my mam, who’s a punk and into Crass and Wire in the 70’s and stuff. I picked up that since a young age. Over the years I’ve gradually got more into it. By the time I met Tom and got involved in Roxy Girls it felt like the right time.”
Returning the conversation back to Sunderland, Tom describes the less than fortunate affiliations the city often gets. “As there hasn’t been anybody from Sunderland to get any recognition for a while, the only thing people associate Sunderland with is Brexit,” Tom explains with distaste. “That’s an association I’m keen to get rid of. I’d like to remind people that there’s more to Sunderland that Netflix documentaries and casual racism. Us doing something and getting a bit of recognition for it would help with that.”
Discussing the effects that Brexit will have on his and Roxy Girls’ music careers is also a concern of Tom’s. “Well it’s gonna be detrimental, isn’t it? It’s hard enough with the expense of touring around England. The most frustrating part for me is that I wasn’t even old enough to vote. I was 16 when the referendum happened!”
Moving on from the sour topic of Brexit, the pair excitedly describe the recording and process behind their forthcoming LP ‘A Poverty of Attention’. “We’d finished [the album] before we’d been in touch with Moshi Moshi about release or anything,” Isaac explains. “We [recorded] earlier on in the year with Dave Brewis from Field Music. He had been talking about recording us for a while because he was a fan of the band.” Isaac goes on to describe their set on BBC6 Music. “We did the session with Marc Riley in January or February. [David Brewis] heard that and thought we could record live essentially. So that’s what we did. We booked two days to record with him and did seven songs within the two days. We didn’t really spend much time on it, but what time we did spend on it was time well spent.”
Tom continues, describing their choice to effectively record the LP live. “It’s necessary to capture the sort of energy of our music. Undeniably the recording is cleaner than playing live, but it’s not polished and there are mistakes in it. It doesn’t seem like the kind of thing a lot of bands do nowadays.”