It’s all about timing. Or for Five O’Clock Heroes' lead singer Anthony Ellis, it’s about improvising lyrics and getting a good album out of having a good time. Taking their name from a song by The Jam, you’d expect something by Paul Weller, but no, Five O’Clock Heroes would have a better chance being compared to Elvis Costello in a dance club. Smashed Chair got a chance to sit down (on the phone call) with Ellis to talk about white girls, becoming a robot when touring, loving his job, and the reason why he won’t get himself an iPod. Bend to the Breaks, the newest album, is out now.
Smashed Chair: Howdy Anthony. Where about in the world are you today?
Anthony Ellis: I’m in New York at the moment. And yourself?
SC: The lovely Los Angeles.
AE: Probably all sunny over there.
SC: It’s the type of day to stay indoors. So, Do you guys frequent your fan forums?
AE: You know what, I haven’t been on a forum for months. Although we’ve been on tour, I don’t really check it, which is probably a bad thing, right?
SC: No, not really. I just wanted to see if the fame has gone to your head.
AE: Luckily, I think we’re old enough to handle it alright. But you know, I never really do check up on our forums. The last thing I heard was that there was a lot of porn. We were all like “we’ve got to get that porn off!” As long as people are saying good things, that’s OK.
SC: You guys have a pretty cool job. So when does it feel like work?
AE: We’ve been on the road a long time. When you first start, you’re bubbling with enthusiasm and you’re happy to go along with anything and go along with anyone and go along to any venues, because it’s all new. And that’s great! That’s what it’s all about. And if you ever stop thinking like that, then you have a problem. That’s when the problems start - when you have doubts. Some bands play one show, two shows a month – and don’t get me wrong, because it’s not that easy, to go out and get four or five people to sing the same way. Then to have to do that on the road for fifty dates. We would play a lot of shows, but we were lucky, because we enjoyed it. The more shows you play, the better you get at it and then you become more of a machine. You’re literally just playing. I know it sounds terrible, but you’re just playing. Day in, day out. And everyday can be different. Any day you can be tired, or more drunk that day. It’s just a strange way of living. If any musician doesn’t agree with me, then they’ve never toured very much.
SC: Is there a difference in each place you tour from your fans?
AE: It’s definitely very different. You know when we’re in Japan. It’s a crazy place – they’re just insane, it’s nothing like England. You know, it’s England. There is just something about it that makes me want to play a little harder. Then I play a bit looser when I’m in the states, because it feels right, it feels good. Then when you’re in Europe, you can just feel different. Holland is great for us, Germany is really good for us. We played some great shows in France. Anytime in a different place, you have to know that you’re together as a band and you have to forge. You know, you’re a long way from home and there is nothing wrong with that – there are certainly different places and we’re not a big band, we’re an indie band. I think there are much bigger bands that get caught in the whirlwind. They get caught up in that chaotic vibe and it’s tough. It’s definitely tough. It’s one big machine.
SC: You mention the term indie. How do you feel about labeling bands? Does it come across as pretentious to label one band indie and another band something else?
AE: I think there are problems. I guess I say indie, because it’s a natural term for us. I really don’t know what NuWave means, I really don’t understand it. All I know is that there was rock and roll and there was R&B. Then after the 80s, sort of minority music, different genres and different labels came. You know I don’t really have any specific genre that I listen to. That is crucial to me, because if you can’t appreciate a certain aspect of music. You know, I like some songs on the new Justin Timberlake, some Destiny Child’s and then of course I’ll listen to Michael Jackson. After that I’ll listen to The Smiths “Queen is Dead.” I’ll listen to Joe Jackson or I’ll listen to Boston or Steeley Dan or Fleetwood Mac. You know, it doesn’t really bother me, because all that music feels like it has a bit of soul and for that reason it feels like it works. It keeps you connected to something different. I listen to everything. Labeling can be a bit weird.
SC: What are you listening to right now?
AE: I’m a very big supporter of new bands. Hot Melts who we played with in the U.K. They’re kind of like Weezer. Then there are Mystery Jets, a little bigger, but they’re just so good. That’s the best shit. There are underrated bands like The Paddingtons who get a bum rap in the U.K. People are swayed by the NME (New Music Express Magazine), I don’t have a huge respect for the NME. I really don’t believe that the NME is good spokesman magazine for fucking music – especially in the U.K. I think it’s a marketing engine that puts together five or six bands together. I think if you like music, then that’s it. I think that those are some new bands that are going in some good directions. Actually a friend of mine threw onto some bands from South Dakota, who have this theme. Then there is this band called Hot IQ.
SC: Do you own an MP3 player?
AE: No, actually I’m not a big fan of those. The rest of the band like those type of things. We’ll be on the tour bus and they’ have the headphones. I’ll just zone out. I can’t read on a bus, you know you can’t read on a bus. You know, I was on the streets of New York today, and I saw all these people with earphones on. I just like to take in the sound of the street, the wind, I kind of like to take more in, because it makes me more creative in my writing. We were in Amsterdam for five weeks and one night and I was obviously high. We were in this bar, and a couple of hits, I don’t know why I just walked out. I walked around Amsterdam, and I just kept thinking of these melodies. The next day at rehearsal, I just formulated the song around it and it’s one of the songs on the next album. You know, that happens a bit. By the next morning, I got the structure of it and we rehearsed it out. It was kind of fun! That’s what I like.
SC: Weird, I was just going to ask you if you stay away from certain sounds so you don’t sound like another band.
AE: I don’t think so. I try and hope that there are good enough musicians out there that play what’s right. You kind of just have to go with the flow. If it feels natural to walk in that direction, then you have to do it, because it feels comfortable. And that’s what our first album was like. We worked on those songs like the way we performed live. It’s the same thing every time. You’re just trying to enjoy what you’re doing. That’s what we try to do, to just try and stay as close to that equation with the four of us. I don’t give it too much thought what other people are doing. I do listen to other stuff, but I never consciously take it into rehearsal.
SC: Where did the inspiration for the song “White Girls” come from?
AE: We basically done the whole album, I had been kicking around this idea. It’s not something – I just took a title and said, “I think White Girls” would be a great title for this song. You know, fuck, I just remember strumming this chord that became. I remember thinking how am I going to make these lyrics around white girls. I formed the whole song psychologically, and music wise – it was all based around five lyrics until right to the end. And we went to the studio and I wrote the lyrics as I was singing. That’s why they’re somewhat kind of crude. You know it was kind of unsubtle with “I see you from behind, you know what’s on my mind.” I think we were just having a bit of fun. We were definitely having fun, because I remember being in the studio with Elliot, “white girls, don’t bother me.” I remember thinking what am I going to rhyme in the next line. I just made these rhymes that made no sense. That was the only song that we tried that was a dance song, because it has those high hats. That’s a lot of what’s going on with songs right now. Kind of like The Rapture–ish thing to do. I’m not actually a huge fan of that type of sound, but it worked out and we kept it.
SC: Are you a big reader of novels or more into magazines?
AE: I just finished reading Graham Chapman from the Monty Python crew - I just read his biography. I’m currently reading Phillip Roth’s “Plot Against America” and anyone who knows me knows that I’m a huge Kurt Vonnegut fan. That’s really my favorite writer. I’ve been first reading him since I was twenty. I was dating some girl and she told me, “You have to read this, he’s nuts.” I was on the subway, reading his stuff and I was cracking up and people were looking at me like I’m insane. He just had the best humor – to me that type of dark humor to me was so fucking funny. I just read all of his stuff.
SC: Would you rather be a pirate, an astronaut or a gypsy?
AE: I’d love to be a pirate. Cause you can take it all, burn the seas. Pirate with a patch over the eye, crazy hair, bandana and a wooden leg. Definitely a pirate.