It has been a busy Sunday for Juju and Ben. This afternoon the garden was full of people helping to build a 4-metre-wide canvas for a show next week. Ben has been working on their latest recording in the garage and is now making some final tweaks to the code of a Candy Says iPhone app. Juju has put their 9-month-old son to bed and is now chopping and mixing all sorts of fresh herbs into a huge salad bowl, reading the ingredients from a text message on her phone.
Candy Says has only existed for a few months, but things are moving quickly. Juju and Ben have been recording “lo-fi chic pop” in their bungalow garage, and it seems to be catching on. Their first single Melt Into The Sun ended up in the top ten in Prague for six weeks after they played a show there. Favourite Flavour, released next week by Cool For Cats Records on a limited edition of 100 tapes, has been picked up and played by Lauren Laverne and Steve Lamacq on 6Music.
Juju’s last band, Little Fish, was signed to a major label and toured around the world supporting some big names. As Juju chops a bunch of coriander, I ask her whether her ambitions are different for this band. “I’ve already achieved my ambitions for Candy Says. The plan was just to make some music that we love and get it played on 6Music, and we’ve done that!” So does that mean it’s over? What’s next? “Of course it’s not over. It’s just great not to have any expectations, except for always wanting to create something better.”
Juju and Ben co-authored a book with their friend Miranda Ward (F**k The Radio, we’ve got apple juice) about the DIY ethos and different ideas of success. “Our main aim with this band is just to do interesting stuff – write and record interesting songs, work with interesting people, put on interesting shows and make interesting films. That’s what makes us happy, so that’s what we’re concentrating on. It’s great when Lauren Laverne plays us on the radio, because it helps us tell the story of what we’re doing to a few more people, but there wouldn’t be much of a story if we didn’t concentrate on creating.” Ben looks up from his coding. “This time round, we’ve been very careful to keep control of what we’re doing. We’ve recorded the songs ourselves and we’ve made the films ourselves. We’re not in debt and there’s no pressure to make loads of money. As soon as you have that pressure you have to spend most of your time and effort trying to be fashionable, to be the cool band of the moment. We’re not a fashion band.”
Candy Says named their band after a Velvet Underground song. If they’re not a fashion band, are they an art band? Juju likes to think so. “Absolutely, but only in the way all good bands are art bands. We’re not super experimental, but we do enjoy exploring the edges of pop music and doing things that people wouldn’t expect. There’s a great scene of artists and poets and musicians in Oxford, and it’s fun to work with people from outside the music world. Our films were written and directed by Bekim Mala who’s a painter really, and the actors are all friends of ours – Dan Norman is an opera singer, Steve Hay is an actor and storyteller, Tamsen Healey is an awesome actress. They all enjoyed making the first film so much that they came back for the second! That canvas in the garden is another of Bekim’s crazy projects – he’s going to paint a four by two metre landscape behind us as we play.”
Juju and Ben are parents now, and Ben works full time for Bandcamp. As Juju wonders how much rose water you’re supposed to add to a cous cous salad, I ask her how they have time to be a band. “It’s not easy! We grab an hour or two occasionally and record something or write a few emails. I knew it was going to be tough once we had a baby, so I forced myself to write all the songs while I was pregnant. I’d just sit at my desk with a guitar and not let myself get up until I had a song. We’ve spent about a year getting it all together – the songs, the recordings and the band. I think with any sort of creative activity it’s good to have limitations, and we’ve tried to embrace that idea. Time is the obvious one, but we also have a very simple recording setup. Two microphones and an old laptop.” Ben has been looking up rose water on Wikipedia, and thinks two teaspoons should be enough. “Apparently it’s quite potent. And as for the recording, it’s great having no gear. There’s no temptation to fiddle with stuff. I’m running Logic on an old MacBook and I have no plugins – just the standard reverb and delay. We can work really quickly because almost all the decisions are made by the limitations of the setup. All of our recordings sound like our garage, and that’s exactly what we wanted.”
The garage recordings have a real charm, but the version that’s being played the radio sounds more polished. I ask Ben whether they’re compromising their garage recording ethic for the sake of radio play. “I wouldn’t call it a compromise. It’s just a different style of production for a different medium. Our friend Narco takes the garage recordings and mixes them in a way that makes more sense for the radio. If you put our DIY mixes on 6Music everyone would start fiddling with their radio controls – it would sound weird, and that wouldn’t be much use for us. But the garage recordings are cool, and we’re putting those out too. That’s what the app is about – every month we’re going to post a garage recording of a song with liner notes. I’ve been working on it for months, when I have time. It’s been rejected by the App Store four times now for random reasons, but I think I’ve got it this time. Fingers crossed.” Juju brings her salad to the table. “We’re just going to keep putting out songs in different ways. Favourite Flavour is coming out on cassette with a bright pink case, because that suits the song. Some songs we’ll just put up on the internet, the garage recordings will be in the app, at some point we might put out an EP. I imagine there will be an album some time next year, but we’re not really focussing on that. The album is sort of the least important thing – it’s the default format for people who aren’t interested enough to get into all the rest.”
We tuck in to the cous cous salad. “It’s good, isn’t it?” says Juju. “You can really taste the rose water.”