“You love pop songs about love more than being in love in the first place.”
The opening line on This Many Boyfriends’ debut album tells you an awful lot about them. For their lives are so wrapped up in the magic of pop music that untangling the two can be tricky. After all, this is a band named after a Beat Happening song. A band who reference You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever, Come On Feel The Lemonheads and Searching For The Young Soul Rebels in the space of one verse. And a band who see nothing wrong in singing about Cribs singles box sets or the noble art of scrawling “Tina Weymouth” on your shirt in permanent black marker pen.
To listen to them you’d think they take pop music very seriously indeed. But they don’t – in fact they think that the problem with pop at the moment is it takes itself far too seriously …
“Bands don’t seem to realise how ridiculous music is when they’re performing,” laughs singer and TMB founder Richard. “Too many bands think what they’re doing really matters to the world. But if you take it so seriously then the music will suffer. That’s why our mission statement is just to be as melodic and simple as possible, rather than sit there making awkward seven minute soundscapes.”
When This Many Boyfriends formed in Leeds in 2009 they didn’t have a problem with keeping things simple. Inspired by watching bands like The Vaselines and the Wedding Present on YouTube and thinking “we could do that”, Richard decided to form his own for a laugh. Pretty soon a band emerged – a six piece line-up including a reluctant glockenspiel player and a reputation for riotous gigs. Tom, who only got hold of a bass guitar so he could join the band, remembers those early shows fondly.
“They were ramshackle to the point of comedic,” he grins. “We had to be very energetic to distract people from the fact some of us were still learning our instruments back then.”
Reaction to the band’s early shows were, shall we say, “mixed”. “You were shit!” said their first producer Alan Smyth, before adding, somewhat fortunately: “But your songs were great.”
And great they most definitely are. You see what This Many Boyfriends lacked in training they made up for in taste. Between the members – a four-piece comprising Richard, Tom, guitarist Daniel and drummer Laura, as well as new recruit Ben on guitar – their record collections were stuffed with the sounds of Orange Juice, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, Patti Smith, Pavement and the Strokes. They embarked on a mission to replicate their heroes. You can hear the post-punk, C86 and some of the catchiest Motown numbers running through the likes of I Should Be A Communist or Young Lovers Go Pop!.
“Every song we write is us trying to be someone else,” admits Richard gleefully, “and we always get it wrong. But what comes out ends up being good anyway!”
The aim was to write songs with a universal appeal, although when we say “universal” we are talking about the This Many Boyfriends definition of the word.
“It’s about making people want to form bands,” says Richard. “For us, being universal is not about making everything perfect or selling millions of records. It’s about leaving mistakes and fumbles in and making people feel like they can do it themselves. I still don’t know what a time signature is but that shouldn’t stop anyone from forming a band.”
If the band were looking for a producer to combine their love of sweet melodies with a DIY rough’n’readiness then they were in luck – Ryan Jarman of the Cribs had declared himself a fan and he wasn’t going to go about auto-tuning their personality out of existence. Ryan and the band were clearly a match made in heaven when it came to recording ‘This Many Boyfriends’ although, as the band admit, it was strange entering the studio with him at first as most of the band had the Cribs down as one of their favourite groups of all time. Daniel, the closest thing This Many Boyfriends have to a virtuoso, even taught himself guitar listening to the Cribs.
“I think we share a similar ethos with them, a garage punk mentality,” he says. “They sing about stuff I can relate to, but for me I love the sound of their guitars – really catchy riffs and rhythms.”
“It was intimidating working with Ryan at first,” admits Richard. “But once we got over our fandom we saw him as a kindred spirit. He liked all the stuff we liked, and he really cared - he took a lot of time and effort over getting it right.”
Ryan performed bits of keyboard on the record and came up with a vocal melody for closing track Everything, as well as making sure the band’s shouty passages (“We all got bullied at school! Some of us just took it better!” goes one memorable chorus) ended up suitably scrappy.
If the band were starstruck at first working with Ryan, imagine how they felt seeing studio owner Edwyn Collins – someone Richard says he’s “spent a lifetime trying to be” – dropping in on their sessions ...
“He walked in while we were mixing I Don’t Like You (Cos You Don’t Like The Pastels)”, says a dizzy Richard. “He just said ‘punk rock’”
“It was pretty amazing hanging out with Edwyn,” adds Laura, who shared several tea breaks with him in the studio lounge. “And it was definitely strange sitting there watching Deal Or No Deal with him while he slagged off Noel Edmonds. I kept thinking: ‘I never really had this moment in my life plan.’”
Sharing a teapot with the same guy you’re singing songs about in the booth down the hall is indeed a pretty surreal state of affairs. But then in many ways the fact the band litter their songs with musical references to their heroes makes perfect sense. In fact, writing so passionately about a love of pop is probably as honest as songwriting gets – doesn’t every songwriter get started through a love of pop itself?
“It just came naturally to us,” agrees Richard. “We just love other people’s records so much we wanted to get them into our own. It makes more sense to sing about records people know rather than, say, straightforward love songs to some random person.”
It’s a point of pride that the vocals come through crystal clear on the whole of ‘This Many Boyfriends’, rather than being buried in the mix somewhere. And whereas the band wear their fandom on their sleeves, please don’t think they’re overly referential – their pop lust is often combined with a razor sharp wit. On the song I Don’t Like You (‘Cos You Don’t Like The Pastels), for instance, Richard muses: “I didn’t leave when you said you didn’t like Springsteen. I didn’t even flinch when you said you hated the Go-Betweens. But what you said about Baby Honey was truly unforgivable…”
Hearing these songs and reference points feels like being granted instant access to the best fanclub on earth. A club filled with people you can have a laugh with rather than lofty popstars who want to keep you at arms length. The band talk about being handed fanzines after gigs or getting into long conversations about indie records with people who’ve obviously heard the lyrics and felt a kinship with the band performing them.
This Many Boyfriends, you see, are a rare kind of band. Like the Smiths or Belle and Sebastian, they’re a band that actually mean something. A band that feel like your band. Most importantly, they’re a band you should hold close to your heart … then form your own group and write a song about them, obviously.
If anyone calls us twee or cutesy we'll knock their block off.
This Many Boyfriends’s playlists