A Ripple Conversation With National Service

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkel, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean. It changed the way I listened to music. I've had a few minor epiphany's since then, when you come across a band that just brings something new and revolutionary to your ears.


What have been your musical epiphany moments?


My Ma and Da went to Paris for a weekend and left us in the house. When they came back, my Da had bought me and my brother a copy of Room on Fire by the Strokes. I must have only been about 13 at the time and I thought it was just about the coolest shit I’d ever heard. It came just at the time I started playing guitar - the rest, as they say, is history.


Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?


I talk and sing nonsensical bollocks all the time at home or when I’m out and about and occasionally some melody line comes out of it that I love. After that I’ll bring out the guitar, piano or whatever’s to hand really and try and sculpt some chords around the melody line or if I’m stuck, I’ll trawl through my voice notes for something I’ve previously done. In terms of lyrics, once I’ve got a sense of where the songs heading harmonically I’ll spend an hour or two garbling random melody lines and lyrics and usually something will start to form that has more sense to it. When something stands out, I’ll analyse it and what it means to me at the time and that’s what the song will form around. For me, melody and lyrics are inseparable. I think that the sound, shape, syllables, rhyme, rhythm and assonance is so important to how a song comes across. There’s often a few clangers lyrically that I’ll love the melody/rhythm of and I’ll spend hours and hours trying to craft something meaningful from them - but usually at this point the guys step in and help out with a different perspective. When the rough frame of the song’s done, we’ll spend rehearsal picking it a part and refining it together until we’re happy that it’s complete and has said what we want it to say.


Who has influenced you the most?


As a band, we listen to so much different music that it’s hard to say one or two artists that have shone out. That said, although they’re not necessarily the biggest bands in the world, when you start out in music, you constantly compare yourself to your peers. The bands we’ve shared a studio with, our friends’ bands or other bands we’ve gigged with have always been a large inspiration to me as their successes make it all look a little less daunting and make me feel like we’ve got a shot of making a living from it all - which is always comforting.


Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?


I’m always on the lookout for new music - if I’m enjoying listening to music then loads of ideas naturally flow. Even if a song ends up becoming sad, angry or melancholy, it always starts with enjoying a piece of music. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be anything current, but just something I haven’t got into before. Ashamedly, I only got into Springsteen about a year ago but his straight-talking lyrics and no-frills song-writing instantly inspired a raft of songs. Watch out for some Springsteen beats coming your way.


We're all a product of our environment. Tell us about the band's hometown and how that reflects in the music? 

I mean Matt’s from Cape Town, I’m from Derry, Iain’s from Cornwall and Dan’s from Cookham so we’ve all brought our various environments into the sound. That said, me, Matt and Dan did all go to secondary school together in Maidenhead but the most I can really say about that is that it’s near Reading. I’m not so sure that growing up in a small town influenced us so much as scared the life out of us and made us elope to London at the first possible opportunity.


Where'd the band name come from?


It’s not romantic like how I imagine other bands come up with them. We needed a name and it needed to be unique to us and something we could embed meaning into. We sat in our studio after rehearsal for about 4 hours steadily getting more drunk and just saying words at each other. Every so often we’d analyse the direction we were going in and slowly but surely the words started having more of a meaning to them. National Service eventually came out and at the time we were all working in various bars and cafes in London during that murky period of time post uni where real life begins and everything’s just a bit shit. We felt like up to that point we’d been doing what we’d been told to do all of our life and suddenly the carpet was ripped out from under us and we were staring at a bit of an abyss and ‘National Service’ just fit that mood perfectly. We were actually very close to calling ourselves National Trust but perhaps that would have been ridiculously up our own arses.


You have one chance, what movie are you going to write the soundtrack for?


Something Arthouse and cool like Sufjan Stevens’ soundtrack to Call me By Your Name or Johnny Greenwood’s score to There Will Be Blood. Iain and Dan would be all over that.


You now write for a music publication (The Ripple Effect?). You're going to write a 1,000 word essay on one song. Which would it be and why? 

Haha - I did this for my first essay at university. I chose Kid A by Radiohead and almost failed. I seem to remember late nights alone in my room listening to Kid A on repeat, drinking red wine and thinking I was the romantic academic. What a dilettante.


Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?


Oh Christ, where to start. At a gig, I once managed to convince the guys that Dan’s synth, the bass guitar and Iain’s electric were all out of tune and that I was in tune. They retuned accordingly and we played an entire set a semitone up from where it should be which was rather unnerving to sing to. After coming off stage, I realised that my tuner had been set to the semitone above - what the fuck is the point in that setting? If it says C, it should be a C.


Tell us about playing live and the live experience for you and for your fans?


We absolutely love playing live. As a band, it’s your bread and butter. You can have the best record in the world but if you can’t play it live, it’s useless. I’m always disappointed when you see an incredible band live and there’s such a heavy reliance on backing tracks and pre-recorded parts that it just comes across weak and dead. We want our fans and the people that come to our shows to experience the same thrill listening to the music as we get from playing it. You want to feel a shared experience - when you see a gig like that, it’s truly special.


What makes a great song?


Something that compliments how you’re feeling, where there’s an energy and emotion shared between the performer and those that listen to it. It doesn’t need to have bells and whistles but I think a good test is whether it can come across equally as well in another arrangement. Whether it’s rocked up, stripped back acoustic, dance remix, orchestral, solo piano or instrumental, a good song will shine through because it is just a good song.


What one single album do you wish that you'd written or performed on, and why?


This one’s tricky but I do love the idea that back in the day Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones and all of those massive bands had they’re skint mates play triangle on a track. When it went multi-platinum around the world, their mates were all on the pigs back - just think of the PRS you’d get.


What piece of your music are particularly proud of?


Our last EP’s namesake, Meltwater. As a band you all have different songs that you’re into at different points but this one was almost an immediate classic for all four of us.


Who today, writes great songs? Who just kicks your ass? Why?


So many people. A great song is no longer just the chords and the lyrics, it’s the whole thing: production, arrangement, instrumentation, sound world, concept, the lot. In terms of the full package, I think Sharon Van Etten’s last album was an absolute masterpiece from start to finish.


Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?


Vinyl for sheer escapism and digital for ease of exploration, discovering new music and dropping old school 90s garage bangers at parties.


Whiskey or beer? And defend your choice


I don’t drink anymore but I am certain that if it weren’t for Kronenberg 1664 our band would not be here today. That and wanky, hipster IPAs that cost £7 a bottle. Now we can afford them, they’re not half bad.


We, at the Ripple Effect, are constantly looking for new music. What's your home town, and when we get there, what's the best record store to lose ourselves in?


Rather ashamedly, I haven’t been to a record store in a long while. Everything’s just so easy with streaming services and you can get vinyl delivered directly to your door. It helps too that my girlfriend works for Sony and I can get free records, as it’s not exactly for the masses these days. I know Lion Coffee Records is good over in Clapton - there’s a lot of hipster record store/coffee shop/barbers/venue places all over East London now. I also saw Lykke Li at Rough Trade East a few years back which was pretty killer.


What's next for the band?


We’ve got a new single, Caving, out in November and we’re currently recording our debut album. We’re doing it all ourselves which we’re dead chuffed with. We’ve always been very in control when in the studio and we have a really clear-cut creative direction. We’re loving the ability to take our time, experiment and ache over the little things like how many centimetres the snare mic is from the hi-hats and what colour moon-gel makes for the best tone.


Any final comments or thoughts you'd like to share with our readers, the waveriders?


Stay happy, healthy and positive and if you have any good band recommendations - hit us up on insta.