Thursday, 21 May 2009
To gig or not to gig: Paddy Considine interviewed
"Before I had a band I called myself Riding the Low," Paddy Considine growls in his elusive midlands accent, explaining the genesis of his recently-formed group's moniker. For a man who made his name in film - perhaps most famously as Richard in Shane Meadows' 2005 classic, Dead Man's shoes - this switch to music will come as a surprise to many. Yet Considine is at pains to impress that the area of artistic expression to which he has now turned his focus was within him all along. "After my wife bought me a guitar about 15 years ago I just started writing songs. I didn’t know how to play guitar but I learnt and started putting things together and ended up writing about 50 different songs and sketches, different bits and pieces. Now I'm at a point where I just wanna do what the hell I want."
History is littered with actors who've turned musicians with just as many singer/songwriters making the reverse journey; from Russell Crowe's 30 Odd Foot of Grunts to Keanu Reeves' Dogstar and back again with Madonna's numerous cinematic attempts. For the most part these film/music translations are failed - or at least short of the heights climbed in the initial profession - with only a few maintaining credibility in each domain. With this less than successful track record behind others like him, Considine reckons he's fighting a battle for recognition.
"People come to these shows and think, 'Oh it's Paddy Considine. It's the guy from Dead Man's Shoes, let's go'," he says. "Let's be honest, actors who say they're in bands, you know, the bands aren't very good. You know nine times outta ten the band ain't good."
While the motivation for people to attend Considine's musical performances may be rooted in his success as an actor, and not how the band would essentially want to attract fans, it unavoidably grants them a ready-made following nonetheless. But is this predicament a gift - with a level of interest acquired before any songs are played - or a curse - with a stigma attached that is difficult to get away from?
"It's inevitable people do come along for that reason," Considine concedes. "I'd be lying if I said people didn't come through the door at first and think, 'Here's the guy, will you sign this? Can I get an autograph? We've done a gig before and someone used a picture from Dead Man's Shoes on a poster. I said, 'Dude, you gotta get rid of that picture because it's the wrong message: we're a band. Don't kinda use that film angle because it's not there. It's non-existent when we play and sing all together," he says before struggling to verbalise the difficulty of coming to terms with some of the crowd's pre-gig expectations. "There's quite a satisfaction... It's like they're all dumbfounded when they say, 'We didn't expect it to be'... I honestly don't think they expect it to be any good; they think it's gonna be crap!"
It seems quality is the only way to persuade observers of his authenticity and generate a more genuine backing: "Now we're getting a following cause people are getting past that thing of 'it's an actor in a band' they actually just think, 'Fuckin' hell, we really like these songs.'"
Hailing from Burton-upon-Trent in Staffs, Considine made his name through a string of stirring - and at times disturbing - performances in highly-acclaimed movies. He starred as an Irish immigrant in 2002's Oscar-nominated In America; a psychotic killing-machine out to avenge his retarded brother in Meadows’ Dead Man’s Shoes (which he co-wrote); and a born-again Christian in the 2004 film, My Summer of Love, which was set and filmed entirely in West Yorkshire. He has also appeared as a Guardian journalist in Hollywood blockbuster The Bourne Ultimatum; as a comically inept small-town cop in Hot Fuzz and; and interestingly, due to its musical significance, as Rob Gretton, Joy Division/New Order’s manager in the fantastically trippy 24 Hour Party People. This year he played the police officer in charge of the 1980s hunt for the Yorkshire Ripper in the grim Red Riding trilogy. It was a performance which was sure to send a chill down the spine of anyone who lived in Leeds at the time.
At various times in his career Considine has also starred in a handful of music videos, most notably for The Arctic Monkeys' track Leave Before the Lights Come On and Coldplay's single God Put A Smile Upon Your Face. According to the actor these ventures came at a time when he hadn't worked for a while and was "skint, sitting around doing nothing." After receiving the treatment for Sheffield band’s video Considine decided a new one was in order. He wrote it and the whole thing was shot in a day or so. “It just gets you out of the doldrums a bit,” he says. “I've been offered a few stints but I wouldn't do any more unless they were for Riding the Low.”
While these projects came about through circumstance and weren't linked to his own musical efforts they still publicised his involvement with the industry. So, now that he could be required to act in his own band’s videos soon, what is their music like?
"I just think it's quite immediate,” Considine states laconically. “We did a gig the other week and a guy came up to us from the support band and said, 'You sound like you're some sort of American based rock aesthetic'. But that 90s indie rock place, that's where it comes from. It is lo-fi but it's not kind of twee. What we are basically is a rock 'n' roll band. Chris [Baldwin, guitar] likes the Smashing Pumpkins and Justin [Chambers, drums] like Metallica. All these influences seem to come in the room and, I don't know, it seems to work."
Considine says the initial spark of creation came from listening to American indie rock band Guided By Voices. "I really started to get into [songwriter] Robert Pollard's work. That was really the main inspiration for me getting up and wanting to start a band. It was like the punk thing. In 77 when people were saying, 'Man, I can be in a band. I don't have to have been playing guitar for years and know all the scales.' It gives you the courage to get off your ass and go and do something."
As well as starting the band Considine christened it. In fact the name can be seen as a symbol of relief from his films, a reaction against his acting career yet inextricably entwined with it.
"The name is from a fantastic book about Lee Marvin, written by his wife,” Considine says. “Marvin was an amazing, amazing actor. Reading it I found I was having similar symptoms to him. He would do a movie and when he finished he'd find it quite difficult to get back into normal life. Just because of the characters, just because film sets are not very normal environments to be in - it's quite concentrated. You're under the microscope for a couple of months and the rest of the world don't exist. You've got people around you all day then all of a sudden you go from that to being back at home again. You're relived but somehow there's an adjustment period where you start to feel a little depressed.
"I got it really bad after doing my first film, Romeo Brass [in 1999]. I remember reading this book and Lee Marvin having this same thing. He was talking to his psychiatrist who said, 'You should call that period in your life 'riding the low'.' It's when you should go out and do the things you wanna do. I just remember reading it and going, 'That's the name of my band', despite not having one at the time."
Considine seems fuelled by a desire to spread his talents, unfettered, across a variety of platforms, with originality and creativity being the driving factors. Yet this uninhibited abandon is something that, for him, public stereotypes can limit.
"I think there's too much pressure on people, there's too many restrictions. It's only other's cynicism that doesn't allow for people like myself to say, 'I wanna write this year. I wanna direct. I'm gonna be in a band.' I think people kinda see it like all this stuff's done on whimsy. Riding the Low's a part of everything. It's a part of anything I've ever done, anything I've ever written or anything I'm ever about to direct." He explains before adding categorically: "If something happened with Riding the Low and it took off tomorrow then I would have no regrets about never making a film ever again."
It’s intriguing to contemplate the comparisons between acting for a director in front of a lens and delivering a song on stage to a crowd of revellers; each is a performance requiring varying degrees of persona and characterisation. For someone who has done both, is there any overlap between the two?
"We're a band and it's truthful. I think that's the only thing that overlaps. When I act I try and find something truthful. It doesn't always make for spectacular acting all the time but it's truthful. It’s the same with the band. We're not bullshitting; we're there cause we mean it. I'm not in a band because I fancy bein' a rock star for the weekend and I get an ego buzz. It needs to be done.”
"Someone saw the band once and thought that I was acting. And then someone said, ‘You should do more acting on stage.’ And someone thought that I was doing it because I was gonna do a film where I play rock star. It's none of those. It's not an act. It's me playing these songs. Paddy Considine singing these songs. Just putting across some of the vibes about how I feel about these things. It's just myself, within this rock n roll package.”
Riding the Low come to Leeds to play The Cockpit on Saturday May 30 and Considine is anticipating a clued-up audience who will give as good as they get. "We're really looking forward to it. We've played a few times up in the North and the crowds have never had any inhibitions. We’re hoping Leeds is the same."
In terms of physical product and the band hitting the mainstream, Considine is uncertain. “We'd love to have something people can go away with at Leeds. We’ve released our own label and put together our first EP made up of gigs and that'll be available in shops but we haven't got a release date yet. We've got that creative control which is important. All we need is someone who can record us well. But we can do whatever the hell we want. We want the freedom. We don't want a record label to tell us to tick boxes.”
Can he see it becoming his profession?
"If the boys wanna quit their jobs and I wanna quit my job then we need to make money and that's the catch 22. I'm married with three children and I'm not gonna sacrifice the roof over their heads because I'm in a rock n roll band. I'm watchin’ my ass like everybody else is.
“We'd love to play these songs to big audiences if they caught on. Selling out is a teenage notion. We just wanna be a band. We've just gotta roll the dice on it a bit and see where it goes."
Originally published in Leeds Student on May 15 2009