Six By Seven
“I want my rock stars dead!” Bill Hicks and his cataclysmic reverberations have barely subsided before more comedic, burning coals rain on the lava-lust audience. “But Dad, he’s got a blood bubble hanging from his nose.”
“I don’t fucking care,” Hicks screams at his imaginary son, “watch him, he’s playing from the heart.” For Hicks it was beautifully simple, keeping it real wasn’t a platitude but a pre-requisite to entering the musical pantheon. And he mercilessly taunted those who thought they deserved entry but had pawned their artistic soul to the snake-haired charms of marketing. “I don’t care if you’re shitting Mona Lisas, you make your choice.”
In the early nineties, when Hicks was at his spleen-venting peak, Nottingham based Six By Seven were considering their first choices as a band. Over a decade later the fruits of these appear to be Edenesque. Critical acclaim has showered almost every release. The NME said of their second album, The Closer You Get, “there hasn’t been a pop record so full of overwrought loathing since The Cure’s Pornography. Before that, possibly Never Mind The Bollocks Here’s The Sex Pistols.” Following the release of The Way I feel Today in 2002, The Independent proclaimed Six By Seven, “one of the nation’s cleverest and most insightful rock bands.” Oh…and the music. Crafted layers of slashed, delicate and mesmerising sounds – encompassing seismic riffs, main line samples and hypnotic beats – crash through the paper-thin piety of organised good and evil, laying a Nietzscheian groove in the direction of existential discovery. And surely Blake’s palace of wisdom. Playing from the heart, they should be rewarded with a magic-bus-ride to that musical pantheon. But they’ve yet to reap the mainstream recognition and unit sales that currently determine tangible success. It’s time to take a closer look at those choices.
The original five members of Six By Seven met at Trent University. Sharing a diverse vinyl lust and musical ability they soon retired to the rehearsal studio. But what was their starting point? Chris Olley, the band’s magnetic singer/guitarist recalls. “The only thing we were all into at the time was Mercury Rev. What you have to work out is what you don’t want to sound like. When you’re in a band you hear something and what you hear is what inspires you to carry on…you play it live and it comes back to you. You’ve got to follow your heart and instincts.” It was the early nineties and the independent underground was about to go over-ground. By 1997, the year Six By Seven released their statuesque debut European Me, this transformation had been wholly embraced by the mainstream. But the new black didn’t sway Olley. “Britpop was about money, fashion and greed. I thought it was a joke.” Chris Davis, the band’s drummer continues, “Oasis opened the floodgates. And Urban Hymns was the final nail in the coffin. It’s coffee table music where product becomes accessory.”
Six By Seven’s reaction was to continue to follow their heart and instincts, stoking collective coals in a furnace of eclectic influences. By the time they released The Closer You Get in 2000 the band were in prophetic mood. Songs like Eat Junk Become Junk, England And A Broken Radio and Overnight Success licked uncomfortably at the creaking door marked the insipid future of the British Polyphonic Industry. Chris Olley reflects on the industry’s current state. “We got our first deal in 1997 and have since watched the whole record industry fall apart. It’s different now in the sense that they (the record industry) will grab something a lot quicker but never nurture.” Chris Davis adds, “A&R are under pressure to sign something that’ll stick.” But why? It’s James Flower, Six By Seven’s keys-man that gets to the crux. “You can never underestimate how difficult it is to get signed. What ultimately sorts it is money. In the view of the public bands can take a short cut. We’ve refused to compromise and what good has it done us?”
By the end of 2002 Six By Seven were down to a trio and without a deal. But their choices in 2003 signalled a new direction for the band. September’s single Bochum (Light Up My Life), released through Fierce Panda, was their last. “We want to concentrate on quality albums,” declares Chris Olley. As well as the title track, It contains twelve samples for listeners to do what they wish with. And despite a reputation for being misanthropic, dark and angry, “an assumption that goes with the music,” muses Chris Davis; this altruistic act doesn’t seem out of place. Six By Seven’s single-minded desire to be challenged and enthusiasm for great music is infectious.
Previewing tracks from their new album, Down Here On The Ground, Six By Seven buzz with nervous excitement. And so they should. Songs like Say That You Want Me and Ready For You Now deliver the perfect shot of medication for these meatless days. Free from an industry that is, as Chris Olley puts it, “full of cocaine hangovers,” the band plan to release Down Here On The Ground through their own label, Saturday Night Sunday Morning records. Due in March, this will be followed by another new offering in October. Over a decade ago Six By Seven chose to aim for the heart of the sonic sun, ignoring Dante’s soul-crisping shortcuts. Today, with feet firmly on the ground, they’re still riding the crest of that solar wave. Bill Hicks once observed, “freedom of expression is guaranteed…if you’ve got the money.” But surely it doesn’t have to be this way? Now it’s your turn to choose.
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- May 6, 2006 / 5:45 pm