We spoke to The Carnabys about trying to make it in music
‘There’s no fucking way I could put a suit on every morning, and go and sit at a desk’
For most people in their twenties, life is pretty formulaic. From school, to university, to graduation, to life in London’s concrete, graffiti and glass.
Young band The Carnabys, on the other hand, left school with designs on being the next big thing. And they’re doing alright. I met Jack and Mike, the lead singer and bassist respectively, at the Hard Rock Café in London to chat taxidermy, tours and writing.
This pair left school after their AS levels at 17. “Yeah, it was risky, sure, but we didn’t see the risk in it,” Mike says. “We just started doing it and it was fun and we had a great laugh”.
“It’s almost like we didn’t have a choice,” Jack adds. “None of us had anything in particular we wanted to study at uni and so we thought fuck it, let’s just go on tour.” Hard Rock funded the boys’ first tour – a world tour – after they became the first UK band ever to win a spot on the Hard Rock Calling line-up, beating over 12,000 other acts to support Bruce Springsteen.
Unsurprisingly, they don’t have any regrets. “If we had gone to uni we would have just done what everyone else does and got drunk for three years,” Mike says. “We just did a uni tour at the end of last year and yeah, it was fucking amazing, but you do look around and think ‘fuck me, how are you lot going to get a degree?’. Harper Adams [an agricultural college in Shropshire] was the most ridiculous one.”
“It’s not to slag off uni,” Jack adds. “I’d love to study writing, but there’s nothing I’d rather do than be on tour.”
The band takes its name from London’s Carnaby Street in Soho. “It’s a place that has taken influence from so many different things,” says Jack. “That’s like us. We’re inspired by different genres, film, art, music, fashion, everything. It’s a place that absorbs as much as we do”.
“What’s cool is that we tell people ‘we’re The Carnabys’ and they say, ‘Ah, I think I’ve heard of you’ – and they definitely haven’t,” says Mike.
The boys live at home, and are managed by the lead singer Jack’s dad, Simon. Jack describes the set-up as “fucking great”, then laughs and says, “no, it’s actually fucking bollocks. It’s nice because we spend all day plotting and scheming about how we’re going to take over the world. It’s just that as a young lad, you want to have your own space, don’t you?”
Simon’s both proud and pragmatic. “I’d look out into the audience and see the same people,” he says. “Then they would bring their friends, and their friends would bring their friends. There’s nothing about the boys music that is exclusive, the audience has always ranged from kids their own age to people who say ‘I saw The Who when I was young’.
“As a parent, you are torn between allowing your child to pursue their dreams, and guiding them to settle down. [But] they pour their souls into this, and therefore there is the opportunity for it to turn into a career.”
The boys all have part-time jobs in pubs and retail. They have a regular gig at Patchworks – the music venue attached to The Cabbage Patch pub in Twickenham – and Mike works at another pub, The George the Fourth. Jack jokes that he sells his body on the street (“you wouldn’t know it but he’s missing two toes, 50p each,” says Mike pointing at his foot). In fact, he works at Lizard, a men’s store, selling “things he can’t afford”. He also teaches guitar. “We’d like to do music full-time. It’s just beer money we need, basically. It’s not like we’re working so much we can move out of home”.
On the (slightly generic) question of who inspires them, Jack offers, “our influences are a mixture of Spice Girls, Little Mix, Drake… No, I’m joking. In general the Kings of Leon and Arctic Monkeys. From a lyrical perspective, I’ve got John Cooper Clarke, Hunter S. Thompson, Charles Bukowski – from literature. Not in terms of topic but style – I think a little bit of madness goes a long way”.
He adds: “I’m sure it will change for the next album. Lyrically, [songs are] all stories about things I’ve heard about or have happened to me”.
“I like to stray away from writing about girls all the time. Write about something fucking real, do you know what I mean? You don’t fall in love 12 times a year, it’s not real.”
A waitress then comes over and tells them she has a present for them, offering them some Hard Rock cocktail jars. They joke that they slipped her a tenner to make them look good.
Mike said if he weren’t part of The Carnabys he’d “probably get stuck in a bar for a while and go travelling. Fuck – no way would I do city life. When you get on the train and see all these people flooding through with suits on – city wankers”. Jack agrees. “There’s no way I could put a suit on every morning, go and sit at a desk.”
Jack continues. “If I were working now I’d probably be a professional taxidermist. I did a hare recently.”
It’s not all screaming fans and sold out gigs. “After tours it’s a bit depressing,” Mike says. “When we supported Kings of Leon in Barcelona, we flew back and I pulled my case off the belt and went straight to the bar to do a shift”.
But broadly, things are good. “It’s come to the point where people we don’t know are rocking up,” Jack says. “It’s gone from us begging our mates ‘please come and pay a tenner to come see us, please’, but now every show we play in London is sold out. It’s really cool”.
The Carnabys have just embarked on their first UK headline tour, following the release of their first single, Peaches and Bleach, and are playing at The Borderline off Tottenham Court Road on Thursday 24th March.