Introducing the 'Nu Madchester' four-piece set on carving their path on their own terms
For all the talk of “industry plants” going on recently, rubbish or not, it overshadows the many kinds of band being their own agents, managers and publicity teams – working full-time to become their own talking point. One of these groups are Manchester’s Afflecks Palace, who began turning heads in their home city just before lockdown, during which founding members J Fender and Dan Stapleton began their plan of action.
A few years down the line, with two albums to their name on their own label (Spirit Of Spike Island), big festival slots and a hefty headline tour of the country booked for autumn, their grassroots approach seems to have worked.
Ahead of their performance at Bingley Festival alongside the likes of Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Ian Brown and Travis, frontman and producer J gives us a sweeping look at their progress so far.
Tell us a bit about how Afflecks Palace came together?
So in 2019, myself and Dan, the guitarist, were in rehearsal studio, rehearsing with a cover band that we were mucking about with. He played a riff that I’d not heard before, so I asked him what it was, thinking it was potentially The Smiths or something, but it was something he’d been working on. I’m a music producer as well, so I was like, well, send us the riff…
I wrote the song around it and produced it, and ultimately we put it out as a single without really any commercial ambition. And once it was released, we put a video to it and did a nice release around it, but we had no motivation to release any more tunes. But there was a real groundswell of interest in that song, which then catapulted us to being more creative and putting out an EP, which then sold out and, you know, then we put a band around the release. And now we find ourselves here today. That’s how it started, really.
When you first popped up you were dubbed ‘Nu Madchester’, how did you feel about that?
I thought it was fine. I think that, you know, all music needs to be categorised and labelled for the media to digest it and for people to find you. You know, it’s annoying when things are mislabeled; I have a few friends who are music producers who have put out really left-leaning, dark techno stuff, and somebody has just come and said it’s dubstep. It was labelled that in Phonica Records in London! And I was like, what the f*ck! It’s got nothing to do with dubstep! But we’re not that kind of artist, we’re not really media driven. The media hasn’t established us, we’ve done it the other way around, where we’ve created a fan base, and then we do bits and bobs with interviews and stuff. So the labelling, you know, we can almost kind of control the narrative with that, but yeah, it didn’t bother me being called Nu Madchester. We’ve got elements of the Roses in there and all sorts, and we’re doing something different at the same time.
There are a lot more modern influences going on. There’s obviously psych rock, even a bit of math rock in there maybe. What are some of your more contemporary influences?
I’d say King Gizzard or Violent Soho over in Australia. Oh, who’s that other Aussie fella? Tame Impala? That’s him. Who else from a modern persuasion do we listen to? I want to say something that’s not too leftfield so people don’t think I’m a pretentious c*nt. You know, when someone just name drops loads of bands that no one’s ever heard about? And it’s like, Yeah they kind of existed for a millisecond then went under the radar… I don’t want to be that guy. But it’s a maelstrom of influences. My influences are steeped in American hardcore like Minor Threat, Black Flag and Bad Brains.
Dan the guitarist is very much into The Smiths and Johnny Marr, The Stone Roses and bands from that era and I love them too. But when it comes to writing, I wouldn’t say that my vocals sound anything like Morrissey or Ian Brown. But it’s nice to take reference from them and then kind of delve into that influence and maybe pick out bits that are a bit older. There’s so much good music being released at the moment that you just need to find it. There’s so much static that it’s such a struggle to find the really good stuff.
You released your second full-length The Only Light In This Tunnel recently, how do you think it sits in relation to your debut? Where did you go from finishing What Do You Mean Its Not Raining?
Well, we were really pleased with how the first album came out. But I felt like the second album, we wanted it to feel a little bit more abrasive, and a little bit harder-edged. Taking the tempos and increasing them so that we were in that headspace when we were playing live, there was maybe a bit more energy to the set. And, yeah, it felt like it wasn’t a massive departure from LP one. But I think that there was an itch to be scratched for The Only Light to have more venom in it. And I feel like that’s what we achieved.
You mentioned earlier about doing things your own way when you sort of started out. You’ve got your own label and you coordinate the WhatsApp groups… What are the pros and cons of doing it yourself?
I think you need to have your own conduit in the modern music business. When you’re starting out, you need to be able to release your own tunes, because record labels that are established aren’t really taking a risk on acts that aren’t developed, unless it’s like, a huge pop act that they’re going to roll the dice on. What are the pros and cons? Well, you have full creative control, and you live and die by your creative decisions. You don’t have to wait for a multitude of A&R types to give the green light on bankrolling a music video or an album. And you also don’t go into the next album cycle with your fingers crossed, hoping that you get to make another. We’ve managed to recoup what we’ve spent, and we can have another go at it. It’s fun, it’s a great thing.
What are the downsides? There’s a lot of work, from my perspective, because I run a record label. And there’s a lot more admin, so you don’t only get to truly focus on the creative aspect. You have to consider the demographic you’re appealing to and you have to consider your marketing strategy. And you have to consider artwork and vinyl pressing and making sure your stock is in shops. There’s a myriad of things, you know, radio pluggers, press and blah, blah, blah. So yeah, it’s a lot of work. But ultimately I feel like it’s a worthwhile endeavour to be able to do yourself.
If your goal is to get from having your own little setup to then maybe upsizing and signing a major deal, you will have a lot more leverage. And you will have a lot more experience. You’ll know how ideas will work and how they might not. But also, the only reason I started doing it myself is because nobody else wanted to sign us!
I read that you were getting people on WhatsApp groups to listen to the EPs at the same time to get the attention of Spotify and streaming sites?
That’s right. It’s kind of like trying to spike the algorithm to ensure that you give yourself the best opportunity to be put on playlists. But let’s be completely real – the numbers that you get from an editorial playlist on Spotify, unless it’s Best New Music on a Friday, are almost inconsequential. I know people at Spotify that would f*cking set me on fire for saying that, but we’ve had songs put on that editorial playlist with hundreds of thousands of people on it, and it’s had like 17 plays in a week.
But, you know, don’t get me wrong, I want my music to be included on playlists and I’m happy to jump through a few hoops to get my music on the roster. There are so many moving parts… Trying to spike the algorithm, getting people having a direct line to your fan base, keeping them updated so you don’t have to rely on Instagram posts and Facebook posts reaching your audience. And also just being consistent and positive and creative with how you reach out to fans – not just saying, ‘Oh, we’ve got music’, or ‘blah, blah, blah buy this, buy this, buy this…’ It’s more like a part of the community. It’s ‘Let’s hang out after gigs…’. ‘Let’s have photos…’ and all that sh*t.
It’s interesting hearing you talk about this, because it does sound like you’re living two lives – being in a band and working in the music industry.
Yeah, I think they can run side by side. I think there’s as much fulfilment for me putting out an album as there is for me writing a song and playing a gig to people seeing my music. Being at the genesis of Afflecks Palace and then signing Pastel, who’ve just supported Liam Gallagher at Knebworth… Their first tour has just sold out pretty much. When I started managing and producing them, and they signed to the record label, they were playing Revolution bar to 10 people, who were all their friends. To see them go from there to trending on Shazam, supporting Liam Gallagher to 80,000 and selling out tours, there’s as much satisfaction in that as there is with the music.
And what have been some of the biggest landmarks in your band’s career? You’ve got some big shows coming up this summer…
We recently played the BBC6 Music Festival in Manchester and supported Razorlight on tour. We played some remarkable venues all across the UK and Ireland. What else? I was interviewed on 6Music by Mark Radcliffe and John Robb, and we gave Chemical Brothers one out of ten for their new single! And, yeah, then we’ve got this big tour coming up in October where we’re again playing the biggest venues we’ve ever been booked for and we’ve got Jealous Nostril supporting us. We’re really, really excited to get back out on the road after playing some festivals this summer.