10 for 2014 Interview: Graeme Thompson of China Rats

By on Friday, 13th December 2013 at 12:00 pm

After the announcement yesterday that Leeds band China Rats landed at #2 in the TGTF 10 for 2014 readers’ poll, I had a cheeky chat with the Rats’ frontman Graeme Thompson (lead vocals and guitar). We talked about their hometown, where their name came from (come now, you were dying to know this too, weren’t you?), what it’s been like working with fab producer Matt Peel, and their American baptism by fire at this year’s SXSW.

So you’re from Leeds. How important is being from Leeds play in the story of China Rats?
We all met in Leeds and have lived here ever since. Leeds is very important to us, as without it we wouldn’t exist. There are so many great bands and venues in the city as well, everybody’s feeding off each other and being inspired, there’s lots going on, it’s impossible to ignore.

Ok, I’m Chinese, so I have to ask…why China Rats? How did you arrive at that name? Were you known by other monikers prior to it?
Luke and me kept a pet rat a couple of years back whose cage was made in China. We named the band in memory of our rat, RIP. We’ve been playing together in various guises since we met but only formed China Rats when we wrote new songs, which weren’t working with what we were doing before.

Your catalogue, songs like the earlier ‘To Be Like I’ seems to be almost like from another band. Was there a moment when things “clicked” to your current sound?
I think when we decided to work with a producer instead of self-producing our own music was when our sound became closer to how it is now on ‘Don’t Play With Fire’ [the band’s latest EP, which I reviewed here]. Matt Peel helped us see that we didn’t need to spend hours recording songs to finish them. We just set up and played through the songs adding bits here and there, it felt quite organic doing vocals in 1 take rather than 100, and nothing had to be perfect.

From what I’ve read, a lot of people have noted that your sound seems to be channeling the spirit of great past punk bands like the Clash and the Ramones. Do these comparisons make you uncomfortable, or do you think they’re appropriate? Explain.
We’ll never feel uncomfortable being compared to such highly regarded bands, but I (think) these comparisons give us more of a push to change it up a bit next time. Influences are always going to shine through, but we don’t want people to feel we’re just ripping (from) the past.

Besides those two bands, what bands that are active today do you look to as influences?
Everyone’s getting influences from all over the show, there’s a lot of cool bands coming out of Leeds, like Soulmates Never Die and Eagulls, who are setting the bar high so we’re getting a lot of inspiration from the local scene. We’ve been listening to a lot of The Feelies and The The lately as well.

The first time I saw you gig was at this year’s SXSW, at a British Music Embassy showcase. Tell us what it was like to go to America and play there. How different was it playing there, versus back in Britain? Was it your first time visiting the States?
It was my first time visiting the States, so to go to play a gig in Austin was unreal. There’s a lot of industry at SXSW so it can be a strange place to be, sometimes your playing to a of room stony faces, sometimes there’ll be loads of locals and people just there to enjoy themselves. It’s pretty similar to Britain in the way that the crowds aren’t easy to please, but then I guess there’s a lot (of people) from all over the world at SXSW. Hopefully, we’ll go stateside again sometime and play our own show and feel more of an authentic U.S. vibe.

There is this wonderful story about your band having to step in to headline Benicassim in 2012 out of necessity and it was entirely unplanned. Can you tell us what happened? How did you go over?
We played the campsite the night before the festival kicked off, and I guess the promoter enjoyed us as he asked us to fill in for Bat for Lashes when their bus broke down. The show was madness, it was about 2 AM (when we played), so everyone was well oiled and it looked like there were about 10,000 people in front of us. We were getting texts all over the show from people back home.

Your EP ‘Don’t Play with Fire’, released on Once Upon a Time Records in September, was one of my favourite releases of 2013. What can you tell us about the writing and recording of the EP?
Glad you like it!! We wrote the entire EP at our practice room in Leeds, we then hooked up with Matt Peel who produced it for us at Cottage Road. It was the first time we’d recorded anywhere other than our own home, so it made a real difference having someone else’s insight. We recorded the basis of the tracks live and quickly, which felt a lot more raw and organic compared to past recordings.

What’s on tap for China Rats in 2014? Can we expect a debut album soon?
The albums basically written we’re just waiting to record it now, which should be early next year. Then 2014’s going to be a lot of touring and putting the album out at some point!

Cheers Graeme for answering our questions!

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3 Responses

12:03 pm
13th December 2013

New post: 10 for 2014 Interview: Graeme Thompson of China Rats @chinarats: http://t.co/0iq3uCYd9L

3:09 pm
13th December 2013

RT @tgtf: New post: 10 for 2014 Interview: Graeme Thompson of China Rats @chinarats: http://t.co/0iq3uCYd9L

1:00 am
14th December 2013

RT @tgtf: New post: 10 for 2014 Interview: Graeme Thompson of China Rats @chinarats: http://t.co/0iq3uCYd9L

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