City Reign interview and review


The 90s are back. To be honest, after the 80s revival it was just a natural evolution, I guess. We started with the heavy shoegaze-nostalgia (dreamgaze, chillgaze et al), and now the sound is shifting towards a more rock-oriented approach: representative of this category are City Reign.

City Reign are the songwriting duo of Chris Bull and Mike Grice along with Duncan Bolton on drums; their debut Another Step just came out for Car Boots Records: “The album was an absolutely amazing experience. We’ve been writing and recording for a long time, but to be able to go and record in such an interesting place with a really top producer was a real privilege. Sam pushed us pretty hard sometimes, but he was as driven as we were to make the record sound as good as possible. The sound of the massive valve amps he procured for us reverberating around the big hall was pretty awesome and I think it makes for a great sounding album.”

Another Step follows the bullet-proof formula of clear-sounding vocals, upbeat drums in the background and occasional electric riffs, avoiding any sort of heavy fuzz (“Out in the Cold”), in order to keep the catchy sing-along structure in line with a slight Brit-pop aftertaste. On the one hand, there are some occasional hints of a more happy-go-lucky indie-rock a là Casimir, with echoing backing vocals and delayed solos in the single “Daybreaks”. On the other hand, the melancholic ballads are more minimal in the structure, led by vocals, violin lines and a slight Editors-esque reverb on guitars, which somehow enhances the feeling of intimacy and emotional rapture (“In Line”, “Retaliate”). Having Sam Jones on production helped City Reign to be guided throughout the recordings: “We learn an awful lot from working with Sam, about the discipline and dedication you need to have when you’re recording. We were always ready to go in and get our heads down but having Sam there with his experience really helped us to get the most out of the short amount of time we had to record.” The band, who played an acoustic session in Sacred Trinity Church (Salford), recently had to pick up some tracks recorded in odd places for Q magazine. I asked them in return to pick for me 3 weird places in which people performed live music (like Beatles playing on a rooftop in 1969): “Weezer have been doing this cruise festival thing, which seems pretty bizarre. I hear R Kelly has done a similar thing in the Med. Can’t imagine the Saga customers were really getting into that too much. U2 copied the Beatles for one of their videos I think. Sound must have been awful, can’t see the point myself.

Cover Album
Another Step
Similar Artist: Athletes in Paris, The Courteneers

Have you got any anecdote to share with us about your recent outings on the road, instead?

It’s funny, you read all these rock n’ roll stories about these massive bands touring and getting up to no good and all sorts, but the reality is touring is pretty tough. You spend your time either stuck in a van, loading or unloading gear, sound checking, hanging around waiting to play or playing the gig itself. We did get to hang out with bands from different places and chat about music which was cool, but nothing more rock n’ roll than that I’m afraid. Oh, apart from Grice sliding down a cliff on his arse in Bristol, but I think I’ve leave the details of that to the imagination.

Talking about the life on the road: how was playing at the launch issue gig for Clash Magazine in Manchester?

Yea, that was great fun, Deaf Institute is the most luxury backstage area we’ve experienced so far. Our friends at Northern Noise put the night on, so it was great for them to have us on. We shared a bill with Silverclub who are a Manchester band we’ve seen a couple of times and really like so it was great to be able to play with them. And Jim Noir, well what can you say, he’s a crazy guy but he’s got some damn catchy songs.

How was the feeling of hearing your single Making Plan on BBC6 Music? Did you know about the plugging or was it an unexpected surprise? 

The first time Steve played it was totally out of the blue. It was a couple of years ago, we’d just recorded the original version of the track and decided to post some copies out to some DJs. I wrote a note to Steve because he’s crediting with helping break Idlewild who are one of my favourite bands. I was driving home from work and my sister is calling me non stop. She never calls me so originally I thought, oh god she’s got bad news, but when I rang her back she told me her mate had heard us on the radio. That was pretty exciting, but a bit annoying I never heard it live. God bless BBC iPlayer. Since then, a friend of ours Liam Walsh from AskMePR has been helping push the record and managed to persuade Steve to play us another couple of times, so it’s great that he’s kept supporting us.

All in all, Another Step is an album that grabs you without necessarily following the current trends, and focusing more on blending different influences into a cohesive release. Using indie rock as main leading point, the band shifts from a richer Oasis-y sound (“Stay Where you Are”) to a noisier Naomi Punk-like grungy approach (“See What is Worth”), adding every now and then some booming guitar solos. In the meanwhile, the band seems to have the agenda full of appointments for the rest of 2013:We’re just finishing up this tour to promote the album now. Hopefully we will get another couple of singles out by the end of the year and do some more touring to support those. With luck we might get a festival slot or two, but we’ll have to wait and see. We’ve been writing loads of new stuff recently, so hopefully we can continue that and get some demos done in preparation for recording the second album maybe early next year.”

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