“We knew we were coming back with no expectations…” - Mallory Knox talk life without singer Mikey Chapman and their new album
For most bands, losing your lead singer would be a blow from which they would never recover. The face of the band, the voice and the heartbeat is gone. What do you do then?
In the case of rockers Mallory Knox, you look within. That’s what they did when singer Mikey Chapman announced that he was going, with bassist and key songwriter Sam Douglas stepping up as the new frontman.
As the band return with their new self-titled album today, Douglas told us all about the journey to make it and why Chapman’s departure was almost the end of the band…
Your new album is out today, how are you feeling as it finally hits shelves?
“We actually thought we were going to be promoting this album a year ago. But we ended up doing the album in fits and starts. We recorded in five sessions rather than just one and that just put everything back.”
This is your first album without Mikey, are you surprised that you’ve been able to get back to work quite as quickly? You were on tour a matter of weeks after he left…
“It could have derailed a lot of bands, but for us, it didn’t change things creatively. When we write songs, I’m the sole songwriter. I’ve written every single song we’ve done. That didn’t change. I didn’t need to change songs I’d written to suit his voice anymore, so it actually made writing more straightforward.”
But playing the old songs less straightforward…
“Exactly. It was going back through the old songs and actually going back to how they were when they were first written. The bigger challenge is me stepping up and being the frontman. Creatively, I knew we’d be fine.”
Did you ever consider getting anybody else in? Just finding a new frontman?
“We did think about it. Mikey was umming and ahhing for about a year about leaving, and, after he finally decided that he was going to go, it never crossed my mind that I’d be the frontman. I’d presumed we’d have to look for someone else. It was our management who suggested that I be the frontman. I was writing songs and doing the singing, but it was always my intention to hand them over.”
How did you react?
“I said that we should write some more songs and see how the dynamic worked. We wrote six or seven more and it started to feel right. I was more worried about the older stuff and making that work. In the end, we were so into writing the album that we never thought about anyone else. It ended up happening rather than there being this big decision.”
How did that year of Mikey umming and ahhing affect things? It can’t have been healthy for the band…
“It was frustrating. I like structure, I like to know what I’m doing and where the band is going. Even before Mikey left, I went through a period of time where I wondered if a life in music was for me. I wasn’t as far down the road as Mikey was, I was just burnt out from two years on the road. It did give us a time to take stock and we’d just left our label.”
That was a headache you didn’t need…
“It gave us time away, but straight away we had interest from two or three record labels who wanted to pick us up, with or without Mikey, so that gave us a lot of confidence. With no label support for another record, I think that would have been that. We’d have been all over. The only reason I’m in a band is to create. I like live shows, but the sole reason I started a band and am still in a band is to write songs.”
And writing them just for you…
“I was never writing for it to suit Mikey, I was always writing for me. I wanted him to sound as good as he could, but it never held me back. The change gave me more freedom to try new things. I felt like our last record was a bit confused, we had songs like ‘Wired’ and ‘Better Off Without You’, which were rock songs and left behind the emo sound we had. Then I feel like we bottled it and went back to what we know. This time, we knew we were coming back with no expectations and we could write the record we wanted to write. We didn’t have to worry about being that ‘Lighthouse’ band’.”
You worked with Adrian Bushby, what did he bring to the process?
“We had a meeting with him to do Wired and we ended up going with Dan Austin, but we got on well. When we knew what kind of record we were going to be writing this time, he was the Number One choice. We didn’t want to over polish this record. That was our big gripe with Wired, I think we overdid it. We wanted to push the simple stuff, to make the guitars as good as they can be. We didn’t want to be laying synthesizers over everything to make things pop. Adrian just needs a good room and he’ll get the best out of you. It helped that we’d met him already, that got the initial awkwardness out of the way.”
You ended up doing the album across four different studio sessions, why was that?
“When Mikey told us he was leaving, we wanted to make sure that after we announced it to people, we had a song ready to go the next day. We didn’t want people dwelling. So we went in to record ‘Black Holes’ and we ended up recording four songs. That was supposed to be the first singles. Then we discovered that when you stop working for two months, you end up writing more songs that you think are better and you want to record them. It becomes a domino effect. We’d do four, write 10 more, then go again. I don’t want to do an album like that again, but that’s how it ended up working.”
What kind of record is this lyrically? Last time with Wired you were keen to talk up the effect technology was having on society, does this have a message like that?
“I don’t even think Wired really had a theme. It was the first time I’d written about my anxiety, but it wasn’t a concept record. I didn’t have a plan this time, I let the music guide me and dictate what the song should be about. Now I’ve listened back to the record and it’s pretty f**king angry. There are no ballads.”
What are you angry about?
“I’m not political, I can’t sit here and pretend I’m Rou from Enter Shikari, all I can do is tell things from my perspective. I do think society is a bit f**ked at the moment. I don’t like being a part of it and I don’t want to be in the social media brigade where people can so freely comment on things they don’t understand. When Mikey left, so many people piled in. It means nothing to them, but to me, and my three mates, that takes a massive toll. It’s the same with everything with sport, with politics, with Love Island. People are so quick to criticise and be outright nasty. And then some of the songs are me being angry at myself about getting worked up about it.”
Was it always going to be self-titled?
“Not always, but we didn’t toy with too many record names. We decided to call it Mallory Knox because this is so much about the four of us. We’ve been through so much s**t. We almost called it Four, but then You Me At Six called their album Six and it was way too similar. In the end, we went with self-titled because we knew people were pissed off about Mikey leaving so why not piss them off some more?”
How are you finding being the frontman?
“I’ve had to change a lot in how we do things live and I don’t really like it. I always liked being in the background and being the songwriter. I didn’t want to be the guy who leads the show. There’s a stronger bond between us all and we know we have something to prove. That all feeds into it.”
How’s your live set going to go? Will it be heavy on the new material?
“I think so. I want to go in hard and do half the set at least. We’ve been waiting for a long time to play these songs live. Some of the songs we just can’t play anymore. The key is too much of a drastic change. I think we should be allowed to play these songs on this tour at least.”
You’ve got a new label set-up for this album and you’ve left Sony, how’s that going?
“With Sony, we had a great time on Asymmetry. I think that was the best 18 months of my life. But with Wired expectations were too high. We felt that halfway through the campaign and we wanted to leave that side of the label. Parting ways was a mutual thing. We didn’t like being a small fish in a big pond.”
“We’ve been very simplistic this time around. The artwork is much more basic. We didn’t want to come up with some big metaphorical front cover, we just wanted a cool photo. There’s no need to be so over the top.”
Finally, how are things between you guys and Mikey? Do you still talk? Or has he gone his own way?
“I didn’t speak to him for nearly two weeks, but I spoke to him a few weeks ago. I got his number off a mutual friend. I wanted to touch base. I don’t know why. I woke up and I wanted to talk to him. We were friends for a long time and we saw the world together. I know how people treat each other on social media and me and Mikey were never like that with each other. It was good to talk.”
With the band back out there, you don’t want it festering when you’re going to be talking about it a lot...
“I did actually say that to him. Every time I did an interview, people would ask if I’d spoken to him and I’d have to say ‘No’. I just wanted to change the answer…”
Mallory Knox’s self-titled new album is out now in hmv stores.