Wednesday, January 10, 2007

MJ Hibbett & The Validators

One thing that has remained constant in Vanity Project’s five years is our appreciation of MJ Hibbett both with and without the Validators. I had made the assumption that we had interviewed MJ already cos we’ve written about the Validators often in the last half decade, but although a feature on his record label Artists Against Success, and several record reviews, have appeared, there was no interview. To my mind, shocking, and needing to be put right. So I have. Skif.

>How did The Validators originally come together?

I knew Tim from being in bands in Leicester at the same time as each other and Frankie via an email list called uk-indie. I asked both of them to come and help me record a single, "Born With The Century", and we had so much fun doing that we kept on going. Tom joined shortly after that, and is the only survivor of about ten of my friends who were in the band for a while, whilst Emma came aboard a year or so later, after she and I had performed a song together at her and Tim's wedding.

>Please introduce yourself and your Validators? What qualities do you each bring to the band?

Hello, my names Mark (although, in ROCK terms, I am MJ). I'm the one who usually tries to organise things and comes up with daft ideas, although lately both of these duties (especially the latter) have been taken on by Mr Timothy Pattison, our drummer. He and Emma, our other singer, are really the heart of the band - I sometimes think that without them we'd just be three blokes who are out past their bed times. Tom "Tiger" McClure is our violinist, representative of The Younger Generation, and all round bit of CLASS, whilst Francis Albert Machines is our bass player, musical maestro and, when any of the rest of us are getting a bit sensible, our cheeky chappy.

>For someone exploring MJ Hibbett/The Validators for the first time, what one fact about you should they know before they start?
Anything you hear in our lyrics that you think is sarcasm, or meant to be taken ironically, or a half-truth, never is - everything we say, we mean. This seems to confused some people who seem to want me to say that I don't REALLY like Take That or something, but I do! Also, we're a bit older than most bands in our position and all have vivid and exciting lives outside the Krazy World Of Rock, so everything we do we do for the love of it. We're not hear for a pension scheme, we're here for the ROCK!

>Are The Validators relevant?

We try to be - we're always trying to write songs about actual real-live things that are happening now, rather than repeating the same old teenage clichés that so many people think they can get away with. We are, however, neither "hip" nor "cool", and especially not "edgy".

>What makes you VALID?

See above! Like I say, we're here because we like it, not because we want to rip anybody off or put anybody down. In this respect, and I am sure many others, we are the modern incarnation of The Monkees.

>What are the advantages of doing the songs with the band, and what are the advantages of performing them solo? Do you notice a difference in the audience responses to either?

Playing with the band is a lot more fun, because it's a lot less lonely, but it's a lot more complicated to get everybody there and have everything set up, and it's usually a lot more frustrating. We're a band where you NEED to hear the lyrics but for some reason very very few soundmen seem to understand this. It drives me mad, to be honest - when you buy a record you can ALWAYS hear the words, and yet at gigs this is very rarely the case. When we meet NICE soundmen who GET IT it is always a thing of joy, and often I am moved to HUG them, but usually the idea that you can TURN DOWN THE GUITARS seems to pass them completely by. Playing solo, then, is usually a LOT easier to sort out, and for the reasons above is usually a bit more Musically Satisfying, as people can HEAR the words.

There's a couple of other differences I've noticed between band and solo stuff - first of all people are much more likely to DANCE when you've got a band, and secondly there more likely to give RESPECT too! When most audiences see someone advancing on the stage with an acoustic guitar they are likely to think EITHER "It's a dreary old folk sod who's going to take ten minutes to sing one song about a wheelbarrow or something - RUN AWAY!" OR "Here comes someone who is going to play Quiet Jazz, COME! let us gather at he front of the stage and TALK LOUDLY." The way I play and the way I sing have all been developed over YEARS of forcing people to stay and listen in exactly those situations!

>What inspires you musically? What motivates you to do music?

I just find it exciting to create something from nothing - the BUZZ when there's an idea for a new song going round my head, slowly falling into place, is like nothing else, and the THRILL of playing stuff with the band, or in front of new people, is GRATE. I do it because I love it, and I keep doing it because it keeps getting better!

>Do you plan to collaborate with others? Any ideal collaborators?

Not really - I tend to write songs really really slowly, I'm not very good at picking up other people's tunes, and it's been YEARS since I've really had a go at doing it, so I think that if I tried to write a song with somebody else I'd just annoy them! That said, I do of course collaborate with The Validators, who end up writing loads of the music when we have practices, and I'm working on some tunes sent to me by Frankie, but I'd be too scared of getting beaten up by enraged songwriters, driven to madness by my inability to play along with anything but the most basic chords, to even try it with anybody else!

>On an MJ Hibbett curated festival bill, who else would play?

I have thought about this a LOT! I'd like to get the people who've inspired ME on, although obviously they'd have to play after we'd been on, so that it'd look like they were ripping US off - so John Otway, Billy Bragg, Half Man Half Biscuit, The Boo Radleys, Paul McCartney, Phil Wilson and, if possible, Kenickie. Then I'd get a few in for The Validators, like The Wedding Present and The Fall, although I'd have to draw the line at Stereolab. It'd be nice to get in some bands I KNOW who I think other people would like, so we'd need Johnny Domino, Lardpony, Bobby McGees, Pete Green and, if MIRACLES were allowed, The Frightened Prisoners Of The Kraken: GRATEST live band EVER! I also saw a couple of good bands at different places last week, Horowitz from Stoke and The Dirty Backbeats from Leicester, let's get them in. We'll have Art Brut, Chris TT and Charlotte Hatherley because I REALLY like them, and I think for Sunday afternoon we'll have Take That because they were always GRATE, their new album is Dead Good (I would say "Surprisingly Good" but I'm a big fan so wasn't surprised at all) and anybody who claims not to like them needs sorting OUT!

>Has a musical event/musician changed your life? If so, how? Or describe a musical epiphany you have had.

Many years ago, when I lived in Leicester, a friend of mine asked if I fancied joining a group of them who were going up to Glasgow QMU to see Adventures In Stereo, who I quite liked, and a band called Belle & Sebastian, who'd just released their second album and who I'd heard once on Mark Radcliffe. LITTLE DID I KNOW that it was going to be the BEST GIG OF MY LIFE: Adventures in Stereo were OK, but Belle & Sebastian were ASTONISHING. Every single song they played was FANTASTIC, every NOTE sounded profoundly RIGHT, and everybody there was gobsmacked. I lost my friends in the crowd, so turned to the people next to me and said "I don't know you, but I've got to tell somebody - this band is fucking AMAZING!" and they all nodded, DUMBSTRUCK by how incredible it was.

Seeing and hearing them that night I realised that you COULD do your own thing and do it RIGHT, and that there was still fantastic music out there that could speak directly to ME. As soon as I got home I started writing newer, better songs, going out to gigs again, playing live more often, and soon I was meeting with Mr M Whitaker and Mr F Machine to start up Artists Against Success. I wasn't the only one either - just with our little group several bands started and I'm pretty sure two other labels in Leicester took on a new lease of life because of that night, and it set off a gig explosion in the area that saw loads of other new bands, labels and club nights start up.

They really had a massive effect on us and, I'm sure, plenty of other scenes around the country, and I think that's why the corporate media turned on them so quickly, as they were inspiring people completely without their say so. I was also surprised, as I went to see them many more times over the next couple of years, to find that their live act was never anything LIKE as good again - indeed, for a long time they were RUBBISH live - but then I guess nothing could ever top that particular evening.

>What other future plans do you have for gigs and recordings?

In 2007 I'm hoping to do a lot LESS gigs - I've done 50 this year, which is more than enough for anybody, and though it's been a lot of fun I've hardly seen my girlfriend and have spent an awful lot of time KNACKERED. We're aiming to do some festivals as a band if we can, but otherwise we're planning to SECRETE ourselves in a studio in Derby and getting learning up some new stuff.

As for recordings - hopefully a single in the Spring, and MAYBE another one towards the end of the year, depending on if we can find time to record it!

>What do you consider your best achievements in music?

SOPPY ANSWER: getting The Validators together, seeing them get on together, and meeting so many lovely people at gigs.
ROCK ANSWER: doing a session on Radio 1, that was REALLY exciting!

>What are your ambitions?

I don't know - apart from idle thoughts on the train about what song I'd like band to play when I'm poncing down the stairs on PARKINSON I tend not to think of it that way. I'd like to reach more people, just because I love it when I meet someone that my songs MEAN anything to, but generally I've found that the best thing to do is NOT to have any kind of Career Plan of ROCK, but to see what Adventures become available to you and after them. JE SUIS UN HIPPY.

>What does ‘success’ mean to you?

In the lower case, success in ROCK is coming away from a gig feeling happy with what happened. It doesn't have to be a sell-out crowd or a lot of sales or even getting paid - very often it's none of these things - but it can be seeing an old pal, having some nice BEER, doing a new song, or just seeing a couple snogging because they're happy. Any of those things make for a successful night.

In Title Case, of course, Success is signing your self up to a massive corporation, hating the people who buy your records, thinking you're better than the people at your gigs, and believing that the best song you can write is the one that makes the most money. Here at Artists Against Success that's the sort of thing we're AGAINST!

>What makes you cry?

The older I get the more sentimental I become. Documentaries, adverts for Hovis, The X-Factor, anything really!

>What makes you smile?

Living in London turns you into a CURMUDGEON, which gives you AMPLE opportunity to be proved wrong - getting on the tube thinking "GAH! Everyone is an IDIOT - get out of my WAY, FOOLS!" as one does, it only takes the sight of someone helping a harassed mother carry her pushchair down some stairs to make you realise that, actually, people are ALL RIGHT, and break into a grin.

>What, with regards the UK music scene, upsets you?

When people in bands WILLINGLY sign up for the lies peddled by the corporations. For example, promoters who put on "UNSIGNED" nights and the bands who play them, somehow thinking it's ROCK AND ROLL to get tied up in a complex legal contract with a massive money making machine who'd rather have 15,000 Shayne Wards than 1 Elvis.

>What, with regards the UK music scene, delights you?

The enthusiasm of the thousands of people who go out to see gigs all the time. I so rarely get to go and see a band just for FUN that it always amazes me how many people make the effort. Without them NONE of it would happen. Also Promoters Who Aren't In Bands: I can never understand WHY anyone would want to go through all the hassle of putting on a gig and then not even PLAY it themselves, but I'm really glad they do!

>What’s better, singles, LPS or downloads? Why so?

Albums! You can LOOK at them and hold them and READ them and carry them around, and it's a SPECIALLY SELECTED batch of song chosen by the people who wrote and recorded them, and put in a SPECIFIC ORDER to make the experience better. It's like the ultimate home made mix-tape, why would anybody rather leave it to a machine?

>What are you passionate about in life, apart from music?

My Mrs, constitutional politics, the works of Stan Lee and Alan Moore, being Veggie, ludicrously pointless Beatles trivia, and proper BEER. Yes, I believe that would mean I am a bit of a GEEK.

>What is/was your favourite book, and why?

Emma, by Jane Austen - it's funny, it's clever, it's exciting, it always makes me cry, and it was the first book I read when I finally finished HAVING to read books for qualifications, and realised once again that they can be fun. It's bloody GRATE!

>Any other words of wisdom for VP readers?

Be very careful mixing money and friendship, don't dislike something just because someone you hate likes it (The Lesson Of The Smiths) and always ALWAYS make sure you've got a pen to hand and a clean pair of pants in the drawer, then you'll never go far wrong.

Oh yeah, and hug your friends whenever you get the chance, ESPECIALLY if they pretend not to like it- they LOVE it really!

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