From west Wales an exciting new band has arisen called The Last Republic. I met them a while ago in a session they recorded for BBC Radio Wales, and their stories and adventures were captivating, their songs are epic, and their new album Parade was recently released. So let's meet The Last Republic.
Can you give me the story so far?
Since winning Road to V in 2009 we decided to record our debut album at Monnow Valley studios. It seemed to be the natural thing to do as winning the competition gave us a platform to build from. We had over 20,000 votes and a healthy amount of national press from it. After completing the album we were asked by our good friends the Levellers to go on tour with them (the band was my greatest inspiration growing up) around the UK. The icing on the cake then followed when we were chosen by Kerrang! Radio to play at the O2 Arena to 24,000 people a month before our début single was released. The timing couldn't have been better.
Are there interesting past stories or previous bands. I heard something about some musical family connections.
Our drummer Aron's dad played bass for Welsh language punks Y Trwynau Coch who I believe were the first Welsh language band to be aired on national radio by John Peel. The Trwynau Coch (the red noses) recently had a re-union and in true Trwynau Coch fashion drunkenly interrupted one of our pre-tour rehearsals and played a load of their classics. So the Last Republic equipment is now blessed with Welsh rock 'n' roll royalty.
It's not music-related but I'm apparently related to Howard Marks. My mum met him at Beautiful Days festival in the summer and our family paths cross.
The Last Republic
Up till now, what have been band highlights - the tour with the Levellers perhaps?
For me personally playing with the Levellers was an amazing experience. I lost my father when I was 10, a really difficult time in life as starting comprehensive school was around the corner. I was searching for release, and I found that in the Levellers when my brother accidentally taped them off the telly. Their lyrics and messages, packed with a punch of folk punk really spoke to me and still do. My family and friends can't believe this personal achievement, especially when I take them to meet the Levs who I'm now very good friends with. They're great supporters of the band and such a good laugh.
Tell me about recording the album. Would you say this is your lifetime on record?
Hmm, I suppose it is a compressed journal of my life. The songs are most certainly snippets from my early memories as a kid to present. So much has happened in the last few decades that I've found it difficult to ignore certain events. (C'mon) Flood the gates, discusses my early memories of my parents and their friends struggling during the miners' strike period and how it still affects the community that I live in. There's a certain look on the old mine workers' faces that suggests their pessimism has had the better of them and that they'll never recover from their defeat to Thatcher's reign.
Other songs discuss the constant taking away from our privacy and human rights, paranoia and mass media manipulation. Let's Make Bombs is the first war protest song I have ever written. The title is inspired by a newspaper article written about Sigmund Freud in the 19th Century, the quote read: "The bourgeoisie making bombs in his living room," which ridiculed one of his papers which due to its sexual content relating to mental illness stood against the cultural norms of the period. Sigmund Freud is the most studied and famous psychoanalyst that we know. In relation to Let's Make Bombs, a million people marched through our capital among endless world protests yet our government still went to war with Iraq and murdered many innocent civilians along with many deaths due to friendly fire.
The Road to V was an early achievement. It must've been hard work.
It was a lot of hard work but well worth it as the results gave us an immense platform to work from. We gigged constantly, got the local press on our side and even went back to our old comprehensive schools which was a lot of fun. It was a four-month slog but if you asked if I'd do it again, I'd certainly say yes. We got to play to approx 15,000 people over two days and played on big stages. The weather was great, the crowds were fab and the lager was cold and constantly flowing, a great weekend and well worth the work. Oh and we got to see some of our favourite bands too, Elbow, Biffy Clyro, British Sea Power. Can't fault it.
So you've played the O2 arena with Bon Jovi. It's hard playing these big venues; how did you prepare for it?
I don't think you can actually prepare for it apart from all the rehearsals. We rehearse intensely as a band before any big gig or tour. There's obviously a lot of pressure because of the scale of the gig alone. It was most certainly an alien environment for us.
To put in perspective we played to a packed Bull & Gate gig the week before to approximately 120 people, and then the following week we got the call and was told we had a few days to prepare to play to 24,000 people. It was incredible and the audience were fantastic and got behind us from the start. We even had a proper stadium gig moment when we got the crowd to sing along to one of our sections of the song. I swear the force of 24,000 people singing my lyrics back at me not only blew my hair back like an 80s rock video but sent the greatest shivers down my spine. It was incredible.
Kerrang Magazine has just given you a great review, chuffed with that then?
The album is already having some very positive press and KKKK from Kerrang has made us all so so happy at TLR HQ. We had a lot of drinks when that came out. We are on tour at the moment and we woke up in Manchester and rushed to the shops to get the magazine, then spent most of the day in the pub until sound check. We were so pleased to have such support from a highly acclaimed magazine so early in our careers. In fact the overall support has been overwhelming in the last 12 months.
Tell me more about the ingenius idea for the Augmented Reality band t-shirt. Will the idea catch on as a business model?
The Augmented Reality t-shirt - or AiR Guitar as we've nicknamed it - came from a brainstorming session with the band & the guys who were making our website. The idea is that the t-shirt, which is printed with a guitar, is recognised through a webcam by a computer running the AiR Guitar application. When you pass your hand over the guitar, you interrupt the webcam's view of it and the application plays a note. This basically becomes the 'strum' that simulates the playing action.
Within the app there are two separate mp3 tracks, one which is the backing track and the other we recorded separately as the lead guitar. This guitar track is sliced into sections and locked to a graphic timeline that tells you the points when you should make the strumming gesture. If you get the timing right the corresponding guitar chord is played, if you get it wrong, a bum note sounds and they are locked out until the next chord. You can also record your performance which then shows up on our video wall and link it to Facebook etcetera.
When we first came up with the idea we thought it would be something fun for our website, but as we've worked on it and become more involved we're hoping that we can develop it into something we can roll out to other bands. These days, you can't just be a musician, you have to know about the business side of things and at the moment, as we've opted to put this album out ourselves, we're learning all the time.
Fingers crossed, it will catch on - it makes our fans feel a part of the band and gives them more than just a bog standard t-shirt. We've been running demonstrations at gigs and people have been queuing up to beat their mates' scores - it all got very competitive at one point! We've been having a laugh watching some of the performances back on the video wall too - maybe we'll compile a video featuring everyone's best bits.
What are the plans for the next few months?
We are on tour at the moment until 20 November. We have some Christmas shows too. Now that the record is out all we want to do is tour it as much as possible, we have always been about the gigging, it's where we feel at home. We have also been one of the first bands to be chosen for SXSW in Austin Texas next March so that is very exciting. We have just taken American management on and they have already started the ball rolling for us out there so to be chosen for SXSW is a great place to start with introducing TLR to the US.
We are already in discussions with US tours and European tours so there's a lot of busy scheduling work for our management, press and booking team to work out. Tour, tour, tour, tour, tour. See you on the road.