Until now Rutland may only have held claim to being England’s smallest county and birthplace to the fabled band, The Rutles but now it can rightly be called the home of the nation’s natural successors to Depeche Mode. Centre Excuse have cultivated their electronic-rock hybrid over the last ten years, honing their song-writing skills until they achieved perfection… that time is now. Their debut album, Favourite Soul, is preceded by Joy Joy Joy, a track which delivers exactly what it says on the tin. Released via their own label, New Motion Records, they capture the epic drama of bands like Depeche Mode and The Cure yet have a vitality and deftness of touch which sets them apart from their contemporaries. Prepare to be stunned.
Interview Meikee Magnetic
Where were you all born and where are you living now?
Teddy: I was born in the Eastbourne District General Hospital on the south coast of England, my family moved around a bit until I ended up in Empingham, Rutland as a young kid. I moved out a few years ago but I’ve spent a lot of time back in our home lands of Rutland for Centre Excuse rehearsals with Alex, while I do now live just outside London.
Alex: I was born in Hertfordshire but moved to little Rutland when I was a young boy. I’ve lived here since and I love it. A very peaceful area and it’s definitely made me realise that I’m a ‘country boy’ at heart.
Who are the members and what are their musical tasks?
Teddy: My name’s Teddy Lewis, I’m the songwriter, producer and singer of the band. I also play the guitar, synthesizers, and bass on our records. The bass I play on the debut album is my prized Blink-182-signed Mark Hoppus Bass, with not only the signature of Mark Hoppus, but Tom Delonge and Travis Barker too! The story behind how we got that is probably for another day though. Judging by that you can probably tell we were massive Blink-182 fans growing up and to this day, which we pronounce in the typically British way of ‘Blink – One Eight Two’.
Alex: Traditionally I was the drummer but I’m a bit of a hard hitter and the small music venues were not ready for my big beats. We’re all about having the best live show possible and unfortunately drums are a tad (I say ‘tad’ loosely) too loud for most grassroots venues. This pushed me onto learning the synth which is a whole different live experience but it does mean I can dance while performing (I say ‘dance’ loosely).
Recent music video ‘Joy Joy Joy’, tell us about this track:
Teddy: I wrote Joy Joy Joy in the summer of 2013 before moving from Rutland to London to go to the University of East London in an attempt to try and gain Centre Excuse some more traction. It’s got a lot of energy and some dark toned riffs from how I was probably feeling at the time when you’re in a limbo state between two different stages of your life. This coupled with the sarcastic-at-heart lyrics I was writing on this idea of the person that goes out to clubs actively looking for a one night stand on a regular basis and the unhealthy habits that I’d seen people form as part of living their lives solely in this culture. The ‘happy, happy, joy, joy, joy’ lyric really came from referencing a love for the 90s cartoon I grew up watching called Ren and Stimpy, where a variation of this line was one of Stimpy’s catch phrases. Really though this was expressing that feeling of things just piling up and getting worse but you stand up and face it with a sarcastic positivity. The video was our first time working with young Nottingham-based director and short filmmaker, Alexander Hitrenko. I’d seen how confident he was posting his work in some groups on Facebook we were both a part of and the tone of his work seemed to fit perfectly with what we were doing visually with Centre Excuse. I messaged him one day, he liked our music and we began to discuss a collaboration.
Alex: This was the first music video where we had used a third party for creating the video. Traditionally we have done everything ourselves and teamed up with Agnieszka Slobodzian or Nilay Kumar. When it came to actually shooting it took 2 days, 1 day live shots the other narrative. Unfortunately we have an awful habit of filming music videos in the winter and this did not disappoint. Cold, rainy, windy, in fact it was one of the windiest weekends of the year! We had people help us out for the first time so what do we do, stand by a lake or in a field with 60mph winds. I accumulated a total of 3 hours sleep across the whole weekend too. I’ll put together a behind the scenes video at some point and you’ll all be able to watch too, check our YouTube!
Your sound has all the musical goodness of days past and a current 21st century freshness. What would be top inspirations be that make you up who you are now?
Teddy: Depeche Mode have been and are a particularly huge influence on us with the incredible writing of Martin Gore and Dave Gahan’s iconic vocal. Alongside them, I think for me our passion as kids developed in a couple of core places. We loved exploring the incredible catalogue of 80’s and 90’s synth music which was predominantly in the form of bands, where strangely we both had a shared taste. Adding to Depeche with the likes of Nitzer Ebb, Duran Duran, The Human league, New Order and Tears For Fears. We then loved a lot of the pop punk and alternative rock and even metal that was predominantly coming out of North America in the 90’s – mid 2000’s, like Blink-182, Smashing Pumpkins, Slipknot, Green Day, Sum 41, Foo Fighters, Nirvana, The Offspring etc. I think in finding our own sound, which has been created from such a wide spectrum of influencers (that I wouldn’t be able to include all of them here) over a long time period has enabled something to naturally evolve and exist within us now. These days I listen to a wide variety of genres but my go-to right now is usually some sort of Electronic Body Music/Industrial Electronic/Techno etc from different artists across the world that I seem to just stumble upon.
Alex: I believe what makes our sound what it is, is the broad catalogue of artists we listen to. We have the combination of retro bands combined with newer bands. I’ve always loved artists which push the boundaries of traditional genres, how bands like Enter Shikari combined electronics and rock, Linkin Park combing rap and metal, Pendulum adding guitars to drum and bass. I think those types of artists and the ones Teddy has mentioned allow us to have a ‘no rules’ approach, enabling us to create the music we want to hear. My musical tastes tend to change every week; last week’s playlist was ‘power ballads’, this week it’s ‘clubland classics’.
It seems your switching it up with a new image, any reason for this?
Teddy: I don’t think there’s ever been a conscious decision to change the image, it felt more like a representation of where we are as people at a particular point in our lives. That’s not to say before we setup a new photo or video shoot that we don’t discuss it, because we do. We know that we want to visually look like a tight unit.
Alex: The most important thing for me is for the new photos to not look exactly the same as the old photos. It’s very easy for bands to take cliché photos and everyone have the same “style” or location. The photos this time needed to match the album art, we also needed to show the world Teddy’s new haircut.
Tell us about a few topics you write about in your songs:
Teddy: I generally write experimentally, about things that have happened to me, things I’ve realized in thought or observations of the world around me. It usually comes to me in the form of a feeling that I’m experiencing in that present moment more than anything else.
What coping mechanisms are you using during this difficult time?
Teddy: I’ve still been working as normal before the situation but from home, so that’s meant I haven’t had a crazy amount of change to deal with luckily, it’s still been busy. I don’t mind spending a lot of time at home so I’ve actually been enjoying it in some ways with more time to focus on the band taken back from commuting, but I appreciate that some people haven’t had a good experience during it all by any means. As well as spending the time pushing the Favourite Soul album as our first big campaign like this, I’ve been focusing on writing new songs and experimenting for the next wave of Centre Excuse music to come at some point.
Alex: My “day job” as I’ll put it is in the cycling industry. In the UK you currently can’t leave the house without seeing a push bike at the moment. Even the Guardian said “Bicycles are the new toilet paper”, so “day job” wise I’ve been working flat out, non-stop, silly hours and then I’ll come home and work on whichever CE task needs doing. I appreciate this may sound like I’m complaining but being ridiculously busy and not having a minute to even think has actually been a really effective coping mechanism.
Where do you see the band two years from now?
Teddy: We’ll hopefully be releasing another record and back to doing what we love the most, playing live to our growing audience. If we could be doing shows in more and more new countries, that would be very exciting.
Alex: In the short term I’d love a successful album launch, so many people have been reaching out to us on socials from all over the world begging for this and we can finally deliver. In the near distance future I’d love to be selling out good size music venues and hopefully getting a UK and European tour going. 2 years will fly by though so we best get a move on!
What does Dark Beauty mean to you?
Teddy: I’d like to think there’s an element of dark beauty in our music, it’s finding the love and the light in your darker moments, presenting a character that flourishes in these environments.
Alex: Dark Beauty sounds almost mysterious. A tricky question this, but I feel it’s a more complex beauty, more than meets the eye at least.