The Broken Family Band are the best musicians you’ve never heard of. Singer Steven Adams talks to Time Out
The Broken Family Band, eh? Listen to their earlier albums – particularly the excellent Welcome Home, Loser – and you’d think that they’re a sharply sardonic country band complete with banjos and hollering backing singers. Listen to their latest, the equally splendid Please And Thank You, and you’d think they’re gloomy rockers from somewhere in the American Midwest. And if you actually called lead singer and songwriter Steven Adams to chat you’d realise that they’re just four blokes from England.
So, at risk of sounding like a vacuous US talk show host, who are the real Broken Family Band? ‘The nice thing about us is the same thing that’s prevented us from achieving any degree of success,’ he laughs, ‘and that’s that we don’t feel beholden to anybody at all. We don’t feel any responsibility to do or be anything in particular. We just want to amuse ourselves. So as we gradually got heavier we just assumed that was the right thing for us to do. The only thing that’s really changed is that my accent got less American. Or that’s what I thought, but people keep saying I still sound American. I’m stuck in the mid-Atlantic.’
It’s not for want of trying though. ‘[On Please And Thank You] we wanted to do a very British album. The song ‘St Albans’ [named after an English city] started off about a guy seeing this girl in Saint Petersburg but we changed it for that reason. This kind of thing, making things more British, annoys some people. But f*** ’em, frankly.’
Steve’s ironic tone makes it awfully difficult to tell whether he’s joking or not – something that has caused trouble for him in the past. ‘I’ve written really serious songs and people have said, “That’s really funny.” And I’ve thought: what’s the point? Everyone thinks I’m being sarcastic. I wrote a song years ago – a song about being in love with a Satanist [‘Living In Sin’, sample: ‘The sun would come in nearly every day/Now the drapes and the altar and the pentagram get in the way’] – as a self-parody. But, of course, nobody gives a s*** about us as much as we do so why would anyone realise it was parody? I think people assumed I was drawing on personal experience.’
We hope for his sake that he’s not, especially on the new album. Aside from ‘St Albans’ – which lays out in excruciating and hilarious detail the grimmest date in the history of mankind – there’s also failing relationships in ‘Don’t Bury Us’, requited (but potentially unwanted) love in ‘Cinema Vs. House’, and the unspecified horror in ‘You Did A Bad Thing’. Is there something he wants to tell us? ‘I honestly thought it was going to be a cheerful album when we started. I don’t know what happened.
I thought if you got the drums going and used louder guitars it would sound more cheerful. But maybe you need to be a bit more major-key about this stuff.
‘We called it Please And Thank You because there was supposed to be this aesthetic of the olden days, the days of our childhoods when people were a bit nicer than they are now, when you were expected to say “please” and “thank you” and you got a clip ’round the ear if you didn’t. Obviously that gets lost down the way, when you start arguing about guitar solos and stuff, but we think the theme’s still there, even if no one else does.’
The idea that Steve and the other members take different things from the band than pretty much everyone else is a recurring theme in the conversation. And, it seems, one of the other things keeping them from breaking out into the mainstream. ‘We had an unprecedented level of success that has remained exactly the same for years and it’s our fault. It’s not a lack of ambition – creatively we’re very ambitious but career-wise… There are things you’re supposed to do to get super-famous and I’m just not interested in doing any of that.
‘Like singles – there isn’t really a single on that album. The songs have swearing in them, or the chorus comes too late, or we have the wrong drum sound for radio. I’m not being negative about it – that’s just not us, that’s not the way we do it. What we do makes us happy and if we did it any other way it would make us unhappy. Why would we change?’ Please And Thank You is available on www.7digital.com or to order in stores.