“Wait a minute, can we just google hypoallergenic cats?”
We’ve been trying to start an interview with Juju from Oxford band Candy Says for a couple of hours now, but she keeps managing to steer the conversation away from our questions. So far we’ve helped her plant some very nice potted shrubs in her front garden and been given a guided tour of her living room, which is crammed floor to ceiling with handmade soaps.
“Sorry. What was the question again? I’m here now. Let me just make a quick cup of tea. Anyone for tea? Tea? Tea? No? OK. Just me then.”
We’ve come to talk to Candy Says about their new album Not Kings, which they’re about to release. Since Juju’s last album, with her old band Little Fish, was released by Universal we’re interested to find out how the DIY experience is different from releasing on a major label.
“Well, the main thing is that you have complete control over the music, the artwork, the release formats, everything. Maybe other people have that on a major label but I doubt it. I never did. If they do, they are lucky. We get to make music that we are proud of, music that we enjoy listening to and have a say in how it is recorded. If we want to dress up in space suits and play pop music one week and record a spoken word drum machine manifesto the next, we can. It probably means that we make some terrible art from time to time, but we make so much more and the good stuff is really good.
“The downside is that nobody is paying for it. Most of the traditional ways of making and promoting an album are crazy expensive, so you have to be creative about how you work. We’ve recorded everything in our garage, which really helps. Ben has a day job working for Bandcamp, and the soaps that I make with my friend Louisa are starting to take off, so we don’t need to worry too much about the music making loads of money. But we try to make sure it breaks even. Ironically, that’s more than the Little Fish album ever did, although having said that, I did get a good advance that I never had to pay back, some great clothes, super expensive, vintage instruments and travel the world…”
I tell Juju that it sounds like hard work and wouldn’t she prefer to be swanning around all day writing songs and hobnobbing with celebrities?
“It’s really hard work. We spend every spare minute working on band stuff, and that doesn’t usually involve actually writing or playing music. We’re building websites, sending out merch, stamping CD covers, filming documentaries, writing blogs, keeping in touch with people. And that’s when we’re not doing any gigs or releasing an album. Then everything just kicks into hyperdrive. Is that a word…?”
Whether it makes sense or not, it’s clear that Juju isn’t one to take a back seat. Her thoughts flit constantly from one idea to the next, a whirlwind of creative ideas and nervous energy.
“It’s a lot harder to get any sort of press or radio play. We have a PR guy and a radio plugger, but their jobs would be so much easier if they could say “these guys are signed to Blah Blah Records, they’re the next Mumford & Sons”. Of course, if we were signed to Blah Blah Records they probably would have made us record in a big studio with the guy who produced something or other that was a hit last year and we would have ended up with an album we never wanted to listen to. It’s all swings and roundabouts, I suppose.
“When it comes down to it, I think we’re just too hippie for the major label game. Some bands seem to be able to survive on press buzz alone, without any real fans. They get huge, then they get not so huge, and what happens after that? We’re much more interested in making music that’s going to directly affect the lives of real people, and we want to know who those people are. Otherwise what’s the point? We had 12,000 plays of one of the Little Fish singles on Spotify in a month a couple of years ago. We got a couple of hundred pounds from PRS and thought it was really exciting. But then the next month it was like 100 plays and we realised that we had no idea who those 12,000 people were and we couldn’t talk to them. It may as well never have happened.
“Someone once told us that he’d heard the head of Universal say ‘bands are like pebbles on a beach’. And that’s exactly why we want nothing to do with that industry. We actually value music and musicians; society needs musicians and artists and poets. It really doesn’t need more major label bands. There’s so much music being published now that the idea of everyone liking the same handful of bands is ridiculous. We like the music that we like, and we don’t expect you to like it or even to have heard of it. And not in a totally hipster way, like ‘you haven’t heard of it yet because we’re so cool and avant-garde’, but in the way that there’s this guy that records songs somewhere in Virginia and we happened to find him on Bandcamp and we like his music as much for the context in which we discovered it as for the music itself, and it wouldn’t make any sense for you to have also discovered this same one-in-a-million person and had the same experience.
“All we can do is carry on making music that we think is awesome and hope that every once in a while someone in some part of the world will dig it. That’s why we keep playing shows and making documentaries and putting stuff out there. When people relate to what we’re doing it’s great. It’s great to connect. It feels human and we greatly value the connection.”
I pack up my laptop as Juju googles hypoallergenic cats.
“Not the hairless wrinkly ones. They’re a little weird. You can get other breeds that are almost entirely hypoallergenic. I think it’s because they don’t moult. There’s a Russian one that looks a bit sneaky and the Oxford Blue, which is sort of woolly. And probably really expensive.”