Interview – Bull

Bull are a York institution, so it’s surprising that their debut album is only being released this year, considering the size of their fanbase and how long they’ve been going. We’re very excited to hear what the album sounds like, and we reckon our readers will be too, so read our interview with Tom below for more info!

By Jane Howkins

Your debut album is coming out this March, titled Discover Effortless Living. Are you excited? What can you tell us about that? It feels like it’s been a long time coming, we’re excited to hear it!

Hey York Calling! Thank you for having us, it is! We are! It certainly has been a long time coming, in a way we have been writing it slowly for the past 10 years. The oldest song on there, Green, was written in 2012 but the band has been rocking since 2011. We recorded it (again) slowly, between about 2017 and 2020. We hadn’t really known we were recording an album. We met Remko Schouten in a bar at 3am in Berlin. He was on tour with Pavement’s Spiral Stairs (Remko was Pavement’s live sound engineer). We hit it off with Remko and we agreed to come and visit him at his IJland Studio in Amsterdam. We recorded the first few tracks (unknowingly) of the album then. Perfect Teeth, Smoke, and a later abandoned version of Disco Living. Over the next couple of years, every time we had enough money to take the DFDS ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam, (money made either with gigs in the Netherlands while we were out there or through gigging and busking in the UK), we would go and record a few more songs. Later on we had help from Young Thugs’ own Dave Greenbrown, and we went into the studio for slightly longer periods, started looking at the collection of songs as an album, and honing them/re-doing a few and basically trying to get it wrapped up. Which we eventually did last March, the day before Corona hit the Netherlands. We had to hot foot it back to the UK. But luckily had the album and the signing with EMI, ‘in the bag’.

You’ve also released a new single titled Eugene. What can you tell us about the track, and why did you pick that one for a single release?

EMI liked that one as a single, we had previously released it and they had heard it and liked it, I think it was one of the reasons they decided to work with us. So we were more than happy to take their advice, it had had relative success previously. It’s also a song we’ve had a long time, written in 2015. I think the arrangement sounds pretty polished for that reason (and it is one of our more interesting arrangements). The recording is also (I think) Remko and our own finest work production wise. The vocal is extremely close and the keyboards (Fender Rhodes, Farfisa) I think sound great. A lot of this to do with Remko’s role and the atmosphere he created in the studio. We also recorded the backing vocals late one night with Remko’s rock business partner Tim Visser and I think they came out pretty haunting!

Do you have any more singles planned for release in the near future?

We do, we will be releasing another single with the album’s release in March and plan to ‘release’ every track on the album in some way with some accompanying media. It’s our greatest hits after all.

We reviewed your EP, Love Goo, back in December, and really enjoyed it. How different was the process for writing and recording the album, compared to your previous releases?

Thank you for that! The process in recording this album, as I say has been long and incremental and we’ve not really settled for things we don’t like. We’ve done our best, we had a lot of time to do it. Our first release we recorded entirely in two days. Who’s to say which is better! Between the album and that first release we recorded many times but recording with Remko was the first time I can say that we’ve come out with anything that sounds good. Not to say that we didn’t have any good songs or whatever before but Remko’s expertise & quality of equipment and also attitude (free for all), amounted to something better than anything we’d experienced in the past.

Do you have any gigs planned for after the pandemic? Would you ever consider doing socially distanced gigs?

We do, we have a big old tour planned, September, October, November and onwards into forever (fingers crossed). We will be announcing details soon. Looks like we’re going to Ireland for the first time too! Socially distanced wise, if they are safe and the rates are low enough, we are happy to play gigs in this way, of course waiting eagerly for gigs as they were along with everyone else! We are planning another colossal live stream to coincide with the album’s release, news on that soon.. 

What can people expect from a Bull gig and why do you think people should come and see you perform live?

When we’ve been playing solidly for a while, we can achieve a symbiotic sort of state and everything just seems to get better and better. That is our greatest achievement when it happens, and I reckon a spectacle! I would also say you can expect I hope a nice atmosphere, a good time! There have been many types of Bull gig in the past. I’m looking forward to doing the kind we were getting onto pre-covid. Just trying to make blissful music and play together.

Has the pandemic affected the workings of the band much? Has it hindered you at all?

It has hindered us in our inability to practice. Musically it has hindered us in that sense. Anything outside of music there have been many positives to working without gigging at the same time. I’ve said it many times now but organising sound checks and locating strings/a rack tom and one of those small allen keys whilst trying to park is quite a lot to do without organising releasing an album, artwork, videos etc. That said it has hindered us again in our inability to get together as being together certainly helps in making any decisions we must make (9/10). Musically, I have written a lot. But again, not much practicing so we still have a lot of rock work to do as soon as we can. Rock admin is in the bag.

Your music is quite interesting, containing influences from lots of different genres, including alt rock, and Britpop. What artists would you say have influenced you as musicians? What have you been listening to recently?

When we started the band, I was head over heels obsessed with Yuck, who in turn must have been influenced by 90s bands like Pavement, Dinosaur Jr, Pixies, Yo La Tengo, Breeders, all of them! I suppose the tradition of (American?) lyrical, artistic ROCK. Also some power pop, Weezer + British stuff like The Beat, The Only Ones, The Clash. And personally Jonathon Richman, Bob Dylan, David Bowie. Dan and Rory and Louis (original line-up) were equally obsessed with this American wonky stuff. In different directions. Tom & Kai too when they joined, again in different directions. I listen to the same stuff I always have; I like pop music and blissful music. I also like lyrics. The band when we were together were listening to a lot of Arthur Russel, Ween, Steve French (Amsterdam band). But I’ve always been about the hits. Songs (I think) are generally singular things so I tend to enjoy them as such (could be the Spotify generation thing). I’m always just wanting to hear the best song for the time.

You’re based in York. What is the music scene like in the city at the moment, and are there any other local artists/bands you can recommend we check out?

Of course, there are lots of good bands in York, I’ve been marginally out of the loop for a while, obviously because of the pandemic but also because we were touring a lot before and I actually moved to Scarborough (where I still live). But I have always loved Fat Spatula, they are my ideal band. They make great rhythmic music, funny, arty, sometimes aggressive, varied, dynamic music. Love them. Perspex – I have been really enjoying all the music they have put out and they’re also a terrific live band. I like Redfern, swampy grunge. I like Pascallion, he does instrumental stuff (Jack Woods) and also some really nice sing songs and he’s a wonderfully talented musician. Luke Saxton, our friend who writes THE HITS (another pro). Cowgirl, again very varied, they can be sleezy, can be sneery, can be loving, can be up in the air, also a pro rock live band. Our songwriter friends Bonnie and Trueman are writing away with great skill. We are Hannah, ‘the hannah’s’ have great vocal harmonies and great songs and covers. The Howl & The Hum are sure to release a number 1 this year. Jean Penne, though he has relocated to Berlin, is a Yorkie deep down and his friek poetry is second to none. Oli Knight (OWL), our friend, released like 9 albums last year. Young Thugs are also recording and releasing lots of great music in York, including the Washing Machine Repair Man album.

Any last words for the fans?

Eggs Benedict