Since forming in 2005, the duo of frontwoman Su Sutton and guitarist Stan Howell, better known as Insect Guide to you and me, have certainly made the most of every opportunity that has come their way. After releasing their debut album ‘6ft in Love’ in 2008 and a remix EP later that year, they were fortunate enough to tour New York, Poland and Norway. Not a bad way to start.
Fast-forward to 2010 and Insect Guide; now a trio completed by former Pale Saints drummer Chris Cooper, have released their superb sophomore effort ‘Dark Days and Nights’. There’s also an accompanying DVD providing an intimate insight into the band, as well as the videos they recorded for each of the album’s ten tracks.
Creativity obviously isn’t an issue.
“We didn’t want a full expose on the band. It’s not really a film about Insect Guide; it’s a film about the scene that we are in. We’re a very audio / visual band anyway” Su explains.
Stan adds, “I was just a bit bored of band documentaries I’d seen. There are a few classic ones, but a lot of recent ones had just bored me: just showing the bands in rehearsal rooms, and some moody shots of someone looking at their lyrics. You just don’t want to see that”.
He may have a point. But that’s another conversation for another interview. “Is it any good? I haven’t seen it”, Chris confesses, to much amusement.
So how would the band describe their music?
On appearances it’d be easy to mistake their sound ranging from any gothic sub-genre you’d care to imagine, to DIY trash punk – frontwoman Su is the missing link between Siouxie Sioux and the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O, albeit a lot more feminine and a lot less confrontational than either.
“Just noisy, light and shade, dark poppy tracks” Stan responds, with a calm humility despite much greater musical aspirations.
What about your strong sense of style and image, a deliberate choice or purely accidental?
Su’s first to respond, admitting; “It comes kind of natural to us. At the same time, we’re not boring people. We like to talk about style, those are fun conversations”, with Stan continuing; “We’ve always liked bands that have a strong image, I love them all the better for it. We like the clothes, we like our image on page, we like our videos”.
Of course, with the addition of Chris begs the question if this has changed Insect Guide’s sound?
“I think they’re much more exciting live now…” jokes the drummer, later quipping about how he is always trying to push up tempos.” Su comments; “It works though, there is a chemistry between us… and we’re now like a little triangle on stage”.
“A triangle is the strongest shape. And they can’t do without a drummer now”, Chris boasts, gleefully adding, “There was a gig I couldn’t make, and they had to draft in a replacement”. “He was better than you”, teases Stan, “ But yea, it’s changed the way we work, and changed the way we write songs. We used to just work on ideas separately and then take them into the studio. But since we got Chris we spend a lot more time in the rehearsal rooms. He’s got strong ideas”.
Clearly there is chemistry. Whilst Su and Stan remain at the core of the band; presumably bound by their shared experiences from the beginnings, Chris adds an extra dynamic, bringing a fresh enthusiasm and energy, as well as some light relief during times of tension.
‘Darks Days and Nights’ also marks a blossoming relationship between the band and Squirrel Records; the Leeds based label famed for giving artists more creative control than most.
“They’re great because they give you so much freedom.” Su enthuses. “You get this real sense that you can do whatever you want when you’re on Squirrel. And they’re our friends as well now. They weren’t when we started working with them, but now they come round for their tea all the time. I feed them a lot!”
One of the key themes conveyed by the ‘Darks Days’ DVD is the band’s love of Leeds; in which Su talks fondly of nights at the Cockpit, and how she finds so much inspiration from the city at night. Yet interestingly, none of the trio originally hails from Leeds; Su the closest having spent some of her childhood in Huddersfield.
“We never were a Leeds band”, states Su, ”Leeds did not like us with the first album, so we ventured off elsewhere. It’s only with this album we’ve started playing Leeds and Manchester gigs and they’ve started to embrace us.”
Despite the slow start, but with Leeds now firmly established as their home from home, I’m curious as to what the band aspire to. Would they be content with the diverse choice Leeds has to offer, or do they have much bigger things in mind?
“I’m happy in the rehearsal rooms, I don’t have any aspirations. It’s better than sitting at home watching TV. I’m always happy to be working on music but I’m not desperate to be recognised” Chris admits.
There’s a brief pause, before Stan weighs in. “I’m total opposite to that really. I’m not just happy to stay in Leeds. I want to take it out and play it to as many people as I can.” Despite the conflict of interest, things still remain friendly, with not a hint of awkwardness between the guitarist and the drummer regardless of the contradictory responses.
“We like travelling. But we’re not sitting here saying we want to be superstars. We just want to make music and not have to do anything else. The masterplan is just to make music and then fall asleep… next to my mic stand” Su tactfully adds.
Having already travelled to much more distant shores; touring ‘6ft In Love’ in America and Europe, what have the band learned on the road?
“People seemed to like that; it became kind of an event going round that area for a while. It was fun; I want to do it again, for longer. I don’t want to come home next time!” Su comments: half joking, half serious.
“They were great. At the time it was just Su and me with the drum machine. The album did really good for us at the time, opened lots of doors. Just really good gigs” Stan recalls. ”We get a lot of support from Europe and America. And we’ve released our two albums in Japan this year, we want to go out and play there as well”.
Alongside a hectic few years of touring and recording, they’re also developed quite the knack for creating memorable cover versions, including Dinosaur Jr’s ‘Freak Scene’ and Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi’ – both of which have been championed by Steve Lamacq. More recently they’ve covered Simple Minds’ iconic ‘Don’t You (Forget About Me)’, and Big Star’s ‘Nightime’: the latter for Scandinavian label Eardrumspop, to accompany new single ‘Bats’.
“It was fun to begin with, just a fun thing to do in-between recording our own stuff. We just like pop songs in whatever style, in whatever genre. It’s good if it’s got a good chorus” explains Su.
The band will be rounding off what they will no doubt reflect on as a successful 2010 with somewhat of a Leeds homecoming at Milos on December 9th. The perfect excuse for a festive cover?
“Definitely no festive covers!” Su quickly states. “If the last gig at Milos is anything to go by, it’ll be sweaty and trashy to be honest. It’s a struggle. I had a soundman holding the floor monitor for the whole gig”.
“It’s like playing in a sardine can” Chris adds, before Stan reasons, “It is a great atmosphere though, just a bit too sweaty”
And what will 2011 bring for Insect Guide?
“Another album, we don’t want to dilly-dally”, Su fires, before mentioning the possibility of more London gigs thanks to a new promotions company they’ve started working with.
And of course, I couldn’t leave without asking the obvious: where does a name like Insect Guide come from? “I used to work in library when I was a teenager and a man came in and asked for The Insect Guide and it was like a button clicking in my head” Su recalls. “I’m pretty sure he thought I was mad but a few years down the line and it’s a good band name!”
Proof that sometimes the best ideas come from the most unlikely of places.