Interview // NORTH AMERICA
“When you’re with a band and you have the same sonic goal and you achieve it, it’s the most satisfying thing”, North America discuss the experiences that have shaped who they are today.
Sitting down with London-based quintet North America on the bassist Sandro’s birthday, everyone seems to be in a celebratory mood. The band has just released the reimagined version of their single ‘Your Lips Are For Kissing’ and is set to play a couple of London shows in the next two months. Plus, we all have finally gotten a well-deserved pint after a long day of promo.
With a retro tinge to their sound, North America balance on the verge of old school rock influences and hook-laden modern pop. Blending the best elements from both worlds, the old and the new, they have already built a world of their own. And although their journey as a band has just begun, they seem to have many intriguing stories to share. Between the nostalgic tinge and emotional maturity underpinning their music, and an infectious indie-pop edge added to the mix, there’s a big chance they will land on your ‘favourite bands’ list.
Being described as “a mixture of hopeless romantics and gear freaks combined” in the past, the band confirms that this is quite an accurate depiction of their music. Releasing two singles last year, ‘Call Me By My Name’ & ‘Your Lips Are For Kissing’, the tracks smoothly illustrate the variety of their sonic explorations and inspirations. Whilst ‘Call Me By My Name’ brings in the melodic glimmer and shimmering upbeat instrumentation to the forefront, the latter creates a more tender and melancholic mood. With no bigger compilations in their catalogue as of yet, 2019 shapes to be an exciting year for the band.
“The first EP is something we thought of initially”, vocalist P.F. Philip explains. “The first two tracks that we released, they came out almost one year apart from each other, but they’re meant to be a part of one body of work along with other tracks. Last year when we got our manager Adam on board we started making loads of plans. We’re putting a couple of standalone singles in the next couple of months.”
We just try to express ourselves and, in this band, everyone gets to do that
On the songwriting practices, P.F. adds in: “I write the songs in this project. I just try to write stuff that has a meaning to me and then, because I know that they [the band] like the songs that I write, I can bring them in and they bring them to life with their own input. I guess we just try to express ourselves and it feels like in our project, in this band it’s great because everyone gets to do that.”
However, trying to find just one word to introduce their music to new listeners appears to be quite a challenge. After a lively dispute, guitarist Jack Rennie settles down for ‘expansive’ and the band agrees. “Not expensive though; expansive”, he clarifies categorically with a laughable tone. Summing up, P.F. elaborates, “If we were to use more words; intimate in the lyrics but also expansive in the sound.”
When deciding on a band name, there’s no doubt that it’s always an important matter that will determine the future of the whole project. Puzzling and ambiguous, North America is sure to raise questions, and as it turns out it’s not the first option the band went for.
“We changed our name recently because we felt like the other name that we had was too long and random and was holding us back”, P.F. sheds light on the story behind their current moniker. “We wanted to get something more concise and that [North America] was more straight to the point. We thought about a lot of names, we made a huge list and, in the end, the one we went with was actually the first one that came up. We all liked it for the sense of scale and grandeur that evokes. We think that conveys well our sound and also we could see it on a billboard. That’s one of the main reasons why we chose it. In the end we thought ‘it is what it is’, we all liked North America and it is a bit controversial but still, you can’t get it to be perfect. There’s always gonna be some kind of obstacle.”
“It’s a lot more descriptive and representative”, Jack comments. “Before it was very unclear”. When asked about their first name, he says “it doesn’t matter what it was”, and as I can’t really recall it, the guys confirm that’s exactly why they changed it.
In fact, the list of names was quite long as bassist Sandro Giacometti mentions, but Jack makes it clear: “It’s a name that none of us hated which is a sweet spot when you pick a band name. Any other names someone hated. It was the least terrible. But in the end, it worked. Once you detach the initial meaning from it and it starts being associated with what you’re thinking, it takes on a different definition.”
We could see ‘North America’ on a billboard
Even though the band jokes they initially met on Grindr, there’s much more to the story.
“Me and Gabe became friends whilst doing a songwriting course in 2015”, P.F. recalls. “Sandro was working there at the time, and then at the end of the course we wanted to start a band and we asked Sandro if he wanted to play bass and amazingly he said Yes. We didn’t expect that. By that time, Sam [drummer] had played one show with us and he was getting into it. That was the initial formation of the band, the four of us. And then our friend Tom was in a band with Jack and a few months down the line we were like ‘we should be in a band’.”
“Actually, it was when Gabe was going away for months and they asked me to come and play. And then he came back, but I didn’t leave”, Jack laughs and says further: “It’s quite settled now. It’s good dynamic.”
Despite some minor differences, as in any relationship, the band seems very close. And although they all, including their manager, point out that P.F. is first to start a fight, he cares to explain: “The thing is, me and Gabe lived together, and so did Sandro for a few years, he moved out recently. We’re very close people. When you live with someone and you play in a band with them, and you’re best friends with them, it becomes this intense relationship where anything can escalate pretty quickly. Even when we argue in the studio, we’re really good at not letting it become something huge.”
Sharing a couple of interesting stories about them crying to silly videos – a reference to being called ‘hopeless romantics’ – and the fact that Sandro is ‘the man behind their sound’ as he mixes and produces their music, it becomes obvious that if there’s any arguments between them, they never last long.
As we start to drift towards the subject of bands that changed their lives and role models in music, P.F. quotes The War On Drugs as a huge musical influence, emphasising the importance of themes such as self-doubt, depression and obsessions songwriters experience very often. “It’s a little bit of a cliché, but I think The War On Drugs is such an amazing band. It’s the hard work they put on craft and trying to get better, that’s what I admire.”
With Sandro going for ‘the old man’s choice, Wilco’, Jack ponders: “I can go older. My favourite musical influence, inspiration as a guitar player is Jeff Beck. He’s got the most individual voice as a guitar player. I find that so cool and inspiring.”
“Travis Barker got me into playing drums”, drummer Sam Roberts tells. “I just loved the way he played, he’s quite versatile guy. I want to do that, play loads of different styles. He’s my biggest influence.”
You have to do your best to be faithful and loyal to your own truth and to your intention whilst making something that people will want to consume in this modern age
Exposed to technological advancements and innovations which impact every sphere of our lives, we can naturally find pros and cons in being a young band in the XXI century. With the digitalisation of music and constant reshaping of musical landscape, adjusting to current trends is something you cannot avoid.
Discussing their least favourite things about internet culture, Sandro says: “No one listens to albums. I like the idea of having a piece of work that is not just a single. There’s short attention spans, songs are getting shorter and shorter. We’re not saying it’s a bad thing. The focus is placed so much on a single that immediately grabs you, just to have a constant streaming of it.”
“There’s no point of being too bitchy about it”, P.F. reflects. “That’s how things are, you have to accept it, get on with it and do your best to be faithful and loyal to your own truth and to your intention whilst making something that people will want to consume in this modern age.”
“It’s important to address the problem though. Things are constantly changing. That’s always been the way”, Sandro concludes.
Reaching further into the future and sharing their dreams as musicians, Jack allows himself for a deeper reflection: “My ultimate dream is to be able to survive on music, not just financially, in every way: stylistically and emotionally. If you can do that in a creative content, so you’re making your own stuff and you’re surrounded by people who you value on the same levels, that’s it. That’s pure fulfilment.”
“To me, it’s the constant trying to make a mark, to make something that matters”, Sandro adds in. “Something that in the future people will still remember, hopefully. That’s the goal.”
Bringing a more light-hearted tone to the conversation, we oscillate between topics such as Harry Potter and our Hogwarts houses, celebrity crushes (the list goes on and on), and hypothetically getting drunk with the Queen of England, until I find out that the guys have code names in the band. P.F. says: “Sam is Spider, Sandro is Cobra, Jack is Dragon, Gabe is Scorpion and I’m Alligator.” What’s even more interesting, everyone who works with the band gets a code name apparently, as Jack explains: “We have Jackal, Falcon, Bumblebee, Cheetah, and there’s Eagle.”
Music has been the joy of my life
If you’ve ever been passionate about music, there’s one question that falls a cliché at times, yet it is the kind that tends to have the most personal and significant connotation. Discussing the meaning of music, Jack comments: “For me it’s the art form which is the most relatable, you can touch the most people with it and it’s more accessible especially now. It’s the most expressive form, and for me it’s the most joyous and amazing experience I have in my whole existence. It’s my No. 1 favourite thing to do. When you’re with a band and you have the same sonic goal and you achieve it, it’s the most satisfying thing, without a doubt. It’s so personally fulfilling.”
“How do we not give a cliché answer…”, P.F. ponders. “I really enjoy exchanging experiences with other people and sharing moments, sharing in a real way, and music allows you to do it. I can express myself, share live experiences, get a thrill, it’s an emotional thing. Music has been the joy of my life.”
“It’s another way of communication”, Sam adds in. “People latch onto message you want to share.”
“And that’s incredible that everyone can actually connect with music”, Sandro comments.
“And everyone is so open to it”, P.F. sums up. “People love it. And this is the good thing about the digital age we were talking about, you can get on social media, post it, people will see it and they might love it. Connect with what you’re saying.”
With a chilly breeze and dusk shadows creeping up on us, we realise we have talked for the last hour. Choosing the words ‘it’s cold’ as their last statements, Jack takes a moment and ponders: “But this conversation has warmed my soul.” Looking at a band sharing such passion and understanding, and with bright future ahead, I simply couldn’t agree more.