James Herring, (seen here in the middle), singer-songwriter and guitarist with Speak, Brother chats with Kevin Cooper about having their own line of beer, performing in their fans front room’s and gardens, writing Lions Roar for the 2015 Rugby World Cup, and the release of their debut EP Light Runs After Us.
James Herring, songwriter, guitarist and lead vocalist with Speak, Brother only learnt to play the guitar at aged 15. Originally hailing from Rugby, he now lives in Coventry.
Whilst working full time as a web developer, he recently joined up with friends, Matt and Nath two years ago to form Speak, Brother. The current line-up was completed when drummer Dan joined the band twelve months ago.
They have recently released their first EP, Light Runs After Us, with the help of the fans who gave pledges to help fund the project.
Whist preparing for their forthcoming tour, James took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi James how are you today?
Hello Kevin it’s great to hear from you and I am very well thanks you. How are you?
I am very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
No thank you for taking the time and interest in what we are currently doing.
And just how is life treating you?
Life is as busy as ever. But the good thing is that there now is a little bit of breathing space for us as a band. We have recently released the EP Light Runs After Us, so we can all now breathe a sigh of relief and then start to look forward to more things, hopefully feeling fully refreshed and relaxed. Writing, recording and producing the EP was a big old project which took all the energy out of us. But I have to say that at this moment in time all is good.
Before we move on tell me a little bit about yourself?
Wow that’s a rather unexpected question Kevin (laughter). Well here goes; as well as being part of the band Speak, Brother I also work full time as a web developer. The rest of the band also have full time jobs as well. I have been married for a couple of years now which I have to say is an adventure together with being a learning curve (laughter). I grew up in Rugby but we have recently bought a house together in Coventry so we are living with half plastered walls at the minute.
No, no, no, no children (laughter). No children, not yet (laughter). All of the members of the band are childless so far. Having said that I would imagine that children are really not that far away (laughter).
You have briefly mentioned the other members of the band, talk me through exactly who does what?
Nath, who I have known for most of my life is the bass player in the band. He also producers and owns his own recording studio; Flipside Recording Studios, in Coventry. Matt is the keyboard player and he is also a self-employed music producer. So both of them are involved full time within the music business and I have to say they are both doing really well at it. And then there is our drummer Dan who is also a music producer but his genre is electronic music. He loves his electronic music which is quite interesting (laughter). Dan has only been with us in the band for twelve months now. It is interesting having three producers in the band, all with differing styles.
Does having three producers in the band cause any problems when it comes to producing your own material?
After the four of us had produced the EP, we asked an outside producer for his input and to finish it off. It was definitely an interesting experience. And I think that having all of those different styles of music and production certainly comes across in the music, more so with the stuff that we are writing at the moment.
You have mentioned Dan joining the band twelve months ago now but just how did the other three of you get together?
I actually started playing music believe it or not in a rock band but I soon stopped that (laughter) and decided to take a two year break from music. However I wrote a song on my acoustic guitar and that once again got me excited about music, so I started to do a few local gigs. A couple of years later I fortunately came across Matt and Nath who also wanted to try life in a band so we started to do a few low key things but still under my name. Fast forward two years to January 2014 and it was at that point that we all decided to go out as Speak, Brother. It is not just all about me; we as a band all have equal shares in Speak, Brother.
So Speak, Brother was actually born in 2014 and last year was when we saw Dan join the band and now the four of us are making, in my opinion, a more complete type of sound and I think that the music has developed because of that fact.
So we can take that as of now Speak, Brother is officially a four piece band?
Yes that’s right we are now officially a four-piece band. Dan has come into the band alongside us releasing the EP (laughter). It had already be recorded before he joined the band. Dan is in the band because our music needed it.
Does Dan get offended whenever he sees the PR material for the band as it only ever features the three of you?
(Laughter) yes he does, he really does. We really do need to get all of that updated so thanks for pointing that out today (laughter). As I said Dan has been in the band for a year now and plays at every gig, so yes, thanks for that (laughter).
Where did the name Speak, Brother come from?
The name Speak, Brother came from the very first song that I had ever written. We had spent ages looking for a name; we had thought about trying Everything Everything and also Everything Takes Forever but after a while we came back to this song that I had written which was called Before You Say Goodbye. The title didn’t have any relevance to the subsequent band name but the essence of the song is that the listener has assumed that there is never a comfortable place to be yourself in and almost the fact that you are treating the house that you live in simply as a house and not a home. It is a conversational song from the one person who wants a deep relationship with someone else and that someone else would like that but doesn’t know how to do that.
All that they know what to do is to get through life by working really hard but doesn’t really know how to have a deep connection with anyone. I think that the essence of Speak, Brother is to connect with people and in a way, being able to add value to someone else. The music is the important thing but I think that is essentially what a lot of our songs evolve around. It is pretty much what is in our hearts and our heads when we come to write songs. So the song Before You say Goodbye is pretty much what that conversation is and Speak, Brother is the invitation to have a conversation and to listen to each other’s stories, knowing that you can trust each other and that you can build a relationship together. And that’s the long story of how the band became to be called Speak, Brother, but you did ask (laughter).
Who is responsible for the song writing within the band?
At the moment the best way that we have written songs is that I would bring a theme and a set of lyrics which would also often come with the melody to the guys who would then work out parts which they would add to what I had given them. It’s the guys who put the meat onto the bones that I bring to them.
How would you describe your music?
I think that the essence of our music ranges from the anthemic song which is quite big, loud and singalong right through to the barebones story songs which are really just to communicate a specific story. In terms of musical styles, I would say that revolves around an indie folk pop theme (laughter). It is most definitely an indie pop sound but with tinges of the folky sound on top of it in the sense that it is acoustic driven with lots of harmonies which are more folk inspired. I hope that helps as that is my standard answer (laughter).
I have been playing Light Runs After Us for a few days now and I have to say that I really do think that it’s a great piece of work.
Thank you, thank you so much.
You involved the fans with pledges to help fund the project. Was it a good feeling when it was finally all done and dusted?
We had all of the material recorded already and so we used the pledge money from the fans to get it all mastered and to produce the CD’s. The good thing was that we actually succeeded our target which was a fantastic feeling, as at this moment in time we don’t have a massive fan base. It really was quite awesome to smash our target, it was really cool.
Do you see having the fans pledge money as the way forward for the band?
Yes very much so. The service that we used allows us to do repeat fan funding in order to help make the band more sustainable. It encourages subscription fan funding where we the band would provide monthly rewards for doing that. We the band would get a monthly sustainable income which would then encourage us to connect with our fans in a special way. It is a mutually rewarding thing which we want to try to develop and grow in the future. It adds value to the band and also allows us to reciprocate that to the fans via more video blog posts and similar things.
Are you all pleased with the end product?
Yes absolutely, it’s our baby and it has been for a while now (laughter). As you know it is just a four track EP; it’s not even half an album (laughter) it’s little more than a single almost. It’s a small release but because these sorts of things are expensive, we took the decision to sacrifice on the quantity rather than the quality. We really did put our life and soul into making it the best that we possibly could.
You have put Lions Roar onto the EP. That song holds special memories for you doesn’t it?
Yes it does because we released Lions Roar last year specifically for the rugby World Cup and that really was a very special moment for us. I have to say that track was a journey within itself because it was actually commissioned by an external source and so it was something that we had to write. We had to really work on that song as it didn’t just come out of something, if that makes sense, which for me was really strange. Because of that not only was it strange but it was also a unique journey both writing and recording that song. It took a lot of soul-searching together with a lot of time and expense. We recorded a hell of a lot of instruments on that track, more than what we would usually record including a whole string section. It was a unique journey but one which we are all very proud of.
You are about to set out on a rather unique tour of the UK. Are you looking forward to it?
Yes absolutely and yes as you say the nature of the tour is a bit different to a normal type of tour in that it is focusing around people’s living rooms and back gardens which is really cool (laughter). We are considering extending it throughout the whole year and spend time dipping in and out of it if that makes any sense. What we are trying to do is to get our fans who like our music to open up their homes of varying sizes and we will pack down into a line-up of varying sizes if we have to (laughter). We did two gigs as part of the launch of the EP; one before which was a grand release gig and the second one was in someone’s living room in Sheffield of all places which we streamed live on Facebook so that the rest of our fan base were able to see us playing live.
I think that it is a nice thing to do because normally a living room is inherently comfortable and has a really homely feel. People’s faces are right there in front of you and because of that you can connect with them far more easily plus it is just a bit of fun. People can have their neighbours over, work colleagues, friends whatever. We do all of that on a donation based agreement and let me tell you, it is great fun. We are able to organise it all ourselves so it is an interesting concept, especially during the summer where we can perform in peoples back gardens, perhaps round a campfire or whatever (laughter). It really is fun to do that.
On the subject of raising funds, whose idea was it to produce your own line of beer?
(Laughter) as I mentioned earlier we released Lions Roar last year for the rugby World Cup and at that time we were in touch with a local brewery and we had used their ale in the video which accompanied the song. Basically they gave us some free ale which was nice of them (laughter). We got on really well with them and they liked what we do and they are in fact looking to open their own small venue here in Coventry. They are very musically minded and they love local music and they kindly offered to produce some ale for us. We quite naturally agreed and we actually gave bottles away free with our CD which I thought was a really cool thing for us to do (laughter).
Was it always going to be a career in music for you?
The simple answer to that is no (laughter). I actually only started learning to play the guitar when I was fifteen years old. So I really got into the music game quite late. I see kids who are five years old playing the guitar and they are already far better than I am now (laughter). I have always been a teky nerd and so that was the path which I originally chose to follow. I love being creative and music gives me that opportunity. I love to do it and that is why I work very hard to be better and I am a big believer in the fact that if you want to do anything you can, if you want to do it enough.
Music is something that really didn’t come naturally to me at all. I simply like the idea of it and I like to do it. It feels good to sing and what I would say is that you shouldn’t just sing because you can sing. So as you can see I got into music rather late on in life but I am really loving it now.
Who has inspired you musically?
There have been lots of artists who have influenced me along the way. With regards to the oldies that would have to be the two Bob’s Dylan and Marley. I really love Jazz, the old 60’s and 70’s Folk Movement stuff, but I actually grew up loving Rock music. My first introduction to proper music would have been the punk bands of the 90’s and I still think they have an influence on my song writing now. I would have to say that both Metallica and Green Day have massively influenced me simply because they formed a lot of my teenage years. These days I absolutely love the work that Kate Rusby does. So in truth all sorts would probably have been a far easier answer (laughter).
What was the first record that you bought?
(Laughter) I just know that this is going to be embarrassing (laughter). Actually it was a cassette tape by Aqua and in my defence I was very young (laughter). That was my first purchase. It’s terrible I know because after that I then went through the whole boy band territory (laughter). However I can attempt to redeem myself by telling you that the first real album that I bought was by Blink-182. That is when I started to get into what I would call proper music.
Who did you first see playing live in concert?
I can vaguely remember it but my mum always reminds me about it and it was when I was six years old. She took me to a church gig and I saw a Gospel singer called Ron Kenoly. Apparently I loved it, good old Gospel (laughter). To be fair I still do like Gospel music quite a lot.
What was the last song that made you cry?
That is a great question and you have really put me on the spot. To be honest with you there are quite a lot of songs that make me cry but none of them in a bad way.
Do you have any thoughts regarding releasing an album?
Yes we have many thoughts and we have been talking about it for quite a while now. I would love to release an album but at this moment in time it simply doesn’t make financial sense. We could put thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours into a project which if things didn’t go as planned, would simply become a dead horse in such a short period of time. Perhaps when we have a larger fan base in let’s say a year or eighteen months’ time we may, just may, start a campaign for the fans to fund it. So maybe an album in two years’ time but right now I just don’t know if I am honest. It is something that we have to be realistic about and not just go ahead and do it.
Did I mention that the band, including myself are all-over thinkers (laughter). In the meantime we are considering doing a limited vinyl run on both EP’s because we are always being asked for copies at our gigs. I love vinyl and am myself a vinyl collector.
Where would you like to see yourselves in five years’ time?
Good question. I think that firstly I would like to see our fan base grow but ultimately I would like to see the band in a place where we can reach people through tours throughout the continent and beyond. I would also like us to be financially stable enough to sustain the recording of an album where we take in a proper retreat to somewhere lovely where we could stay in the studio for a whole month writing an entire album in the one go. That would be so cool (laughter).
Whenever you are writing what comes first the lyrics or the melody?
I know that most writers have their own way of writing and for me it is always the lyrics first. Generally, wherever possible, I think of a theme first which gives me a feeling of just how the music should represent the theme. I tend to look at song writing as a film if you know what I mean; if I were writing a film score I would find the music that went with the film. Once you have got certain dialogue that would be happening throughout the film the script would react to it in a way that dictates the emotions and feelings. So I would come up with a theme first then a musical feeling followed by the lyrics and then melodies that work with the melodies.
On that note James let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
No worries Kevin, thank you for taking the time to be interested in what we are trying to do. You take care and bye for now.