Produced by Richard McNamara from those similarly minded peddlers of BIG anthems, Embrace, and mixed by magic-fingers himself, Dave Bascombe – a veteran of albums by Depeche Mode, Peter Gabriel and Tears For Fears – the record was made with all the urgency, passion and craft of a band who know, says Johnny, that “you just don’t get a second chance at this thing.” Operahouse have built a sound that towers over their young Britrock peers just like Babel would’ve done over Eiffel – and if that sounds preposterous it’s just what Johnny and the band want. “It’s got to be fucking out there,” he says. Their educational building blocks were Radiohead (listen to the ‘No Surprises’ squiggles on ‘Machine Palace’), The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Blur (the lairy ‘Down in Electric’) and Velvet Underground. These foundations are strengthened by a rare kind of ambition and total, indefatigable belief in what they’re doing.
It means that when the band are asked who they wouldn’t mind being compared to Johnny immediately fires out names such as Thom Yorke, John Lennon and David Bowie (“Just his greatest hits, mind”) without even a hint of sarcasm. “If you don't have dreams and ambition,” he says, “what's the point of doing this? We could go and start another band tomorrow and not put the effort in, but only if we were happy gigging at The 333 every night. We’re realistic about where we are. We know we're not the biggest thing in the world. But we want to be.” “There’s a lot of indie pop out there,” adds Alex, “like The Wombats and The Enemy, and it’s all, like, two-chord verse, four-chord chorus.
We try and sculpt songs and make them more like a piece of work, more like a piece of modern music. Not just another indie pop song.” Much less dramatic than their fizzing, euphoric rock would suggest is the band’s formation. The story goes like those of a hundred British bands before them: Johnny met Jimmy Cratchley (on bass) at school in Rugby before hopping on a train to London where he met Alex in a north London café and the three of them, now in their early twenties, set about following their dreams. Ben Niblett, only just out of his teens, was brought in to wield the sticks, while mutual friend and keyboardist Dan White was drafted in more recently. They’ve already built an impressive live reputation, stealing the show when they toured with The Automatic at the end of 2008, and their early singles were hailed by Zane Lowe.
But Operahouse are really only just arriving. After an initial burst of interest in early 2008 they took stock of things. Johnny and Alex realized that they didn’t want to be “just another indie rock band.” In fact, being called indie rock pains Johnny; it’s something he thinks has become a capture-all misnomer for any young band with a guitar, no matter how big their dreams. Starting again, they hid away in McNamara’s Halifax studio and worked on a vision that’s got wider and more glorious, taking in the off-kilter punk-pop of the Pixies, Britpop sing-alongs, a cosmos exploring Klaxons, the swinging, angst-ridden anthems of Modest Mouse and Bright Eyes, and the ecstatic, soar-away songs of Arcade Fire. It’s a sound that has already had remixers Jagz Kooner, Sam Vandal and Filthy Dukes using its rich palette of possibilities. But what did Alex mean by “sci-fi thing”? The clue is in ‘Change In Nature’, a song about both climate change and the first monkey to be sent into space.
As you might expect from a band with such wild, untamed ambition, it’s not for them the confessional, kitchen sink drama. “We love sci-fi films and books,” says Alex. “With everything that’s going on in the news,” continues Johnny, “like global warming, Richard Branson trying to come up with a way to save the planet, it’s everywhere, man. We’re genuinely interested in it. It opens people’s minds. If you hear about a new topic on the news that might sound a bit sci-fi now, then the people watching will already be starting to think outside the box, which is only good for the future.” Cue a photo shoot at Leicester Space Centre with Andy Wilsher, a video for their next single, ‘Genius Child’ (released March 30), that sees them getting knocked about the heads by pretty ladies dressed as Barbarella and, of course, a brand spanking new, fully interactive, futuristic website, www.escapefromthesun.com.
Involved in its making, the site is cryptic and warped just like the band’s lyrics, comprised of games, sounds and images inspired by their songs. It’s an attempt, says Johnny, to offer a bit more. “We want to offer people more than just the record. It’s not just about buying music anymore it’s about buying into the band in different ways,” says Johnny, who explains how the site works in lockstep with their music: “It offers escapism, sort of futuristic, looking for better and weirder things. The whole idea is to do something that holds your attention for more than five minutes – you get into the band and then there’ll be lots of different things for people to come across and experience.” New experiences are coming thick and fast for both Operahouse and their legion of fans who are yet to see them play live.
In February they make their US debut, playing shows in New York and Boston, then it’s SXSW in March, followed in April by the place Operahouse seem most excited about – a place that will suit their ridiculous aspirations well – Los Angeles. And so, even in these grim times when every band and their dog are singing about deserted and violent British high streets or economic ruin Operahouse are heading in just one direction – upwards. They promise, says Johnny, to offer a diversion from the inescapable this year. “We want to set ourselves apart from all these bands singing about recession. That’s just so depressing.” Thank goodness for that. Read more on Last.fm.
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