“And if anyone wants to use it on a really interesting documentary….” says Katherine Whitaker, Evans The Death’s vocalist and (even in sickness) a bundle of effervescent energy, fond of peppering our encounter with “For god’s sake, don’t print that!”. Her prime bit of prospective product placement for new record Expect Delays raises the ire of guitarist and songwriter Dan Moss who says, with a hint of despair “ Look, will you stop trying to do that?”, not that Whitaker is phased, continuing with “I also really like Apple, Burger King and Snickers.” It’s hard to begrudge this shameless attempt at profiteering though, once you delve into the circumstances that shaped the album. Having foregone higher education to focus on music after the release of their self-titled début, they’d been left with little besides menial jobs and more often than not an interminable series of unemployment benefits interviews, when the record didn’t do as well as they’d hoped.
Both Dan Moss and his brother Ollie divulge that during the making of the album, both of them would be turned down for jobs at McDonalds, while drummer James Burkitt attests that at one point, all bar Whitaker were unemployed, (Ollie Moss for over a year at one juncture). Though briefly the only band member in gainful employment, Whitaker for her part opines that the period between the two records wasn’t plain sailing for her either, adding “it had just been shitty jobs on shitty pay for ages, and if it wasn’t that then it was shitty dole pay. When you think, I was 17, 18 when that first album came out and I’m 22 now, so that’s quite a leap and a lot can happen in that period of time. You can change a lot and a lot of emotional things can happen to you in that time. It can get quite depressing.” Before things quite too morose, Dan Moss is quick to step in to assure everyone that “we’re alright now, generally. I mean, it’s not a conscious commentary on Cameron’s Britain or anything like that” with Whitaker, now in the midst of studying politics at university adding “everyone in my class is all “YEAH! RUSSELL BRAND!” and it’s easy to get swept up in it so I’m left thinking ‘thank god I don’t have any of this with the band’.”
Their 2012 début fizzed with the vibrancy that only a band with enough youthful precociousness to name themselves after a Dylan Thomas character (and their first single after a dystopian Cold War-era BBC drama) could muster. But beneath the vim and vigour lurked darker, despair-ridden undercurrents – example: ‘I’m So Unclean’s “ I haven’t washed in seven days, and I’ve got no good reason”. Speaking of that album and how they felt it was received, how it shaped Expect Delays, Dan Moss comments “I think we’ve tried to please less” with brother Ollie quick to add with a knowing chuckle “We’re making it for ourselves”. “That’s what Lily Allen said recently,” remembers Whitaker “everyone was saying how they hated her and she said ‘I don’t make music for people, I make it for me and if anyone else likes it it’s a bonus.’ So does that mean that we’re like Lily Allen?…To be fair, that first record was received very well, I think, but it just didn’t spread all that much. The people who heard it seemed to really like it, but you can’t help but wish that more people did hear it.”
Dan Moss thinks that with the new record there’s an increased level of cohesion between music and lyrics, saying “The thing with that first record is that we used that trick of upbeat music married to downbeat lyrics, whereas on this one it tends to be more a case of if the music sounds miserable then the lyrics tend to be a bit more miserable.” Ollie Moss concurs, adding “There was a conscious thing on my part to create some cohesion with the lyrics. That most recent track we released, ‘Don’t Laugh At My Angry Face’, came from an old demo I had lying around from years ago where the lyrics were totally different, so I rewrote them to fit in with the album.” “So now it’s about a break-up and two people who can’t stand each other,” chimes Whitaker “I think that there’s a lot of that on this record – that feeling of being angry or depressed. And getting drunk all the time.” Burkitt is quick to attest that it’s not wall-to-wall doom and gloom, “I think at times it also brings in the humour. It’s so miserable so as to be funny, like singing about sitting around in your dressing gown…”, to which Dan Moss quips “I mean, can you ever truly be unhappy in a dressing gown?” Pondering what her bandmates have been saying, Whitaker thinks that the record isn’t a wholly depressing listen – certainly not compared to other records – saying “I don’t think you get to the end of the album feeling all ‘uuurgh’ – it’s not a super-depressing album like Pink Moon or something. You can still get some feeling from the songs and I actually think that some of them are upbeat.”
If there were changes in lyrical construction, there was also in musical processes, aided by Burkitt’s recruitment between the two albums. Speaking of the changes, Dan Moss says “songwriting’s definitely more 50/50 between Ollie and I on this record, whereas last time I did 11 of the 12. Also, we went into the studio for five days in March 2013, and then for various reasons we couldn’t finish it until that November, so we had loads of time to develop what we’d done. It was incredibly frustrating at the time, but looking back I think it probably helped.” “There were a lot of changes after we’d gone back over what we’d already done in that first session,” adds Whitaker “people always say that once something is released you suddenly start going ‘ah, shit! We should’ve changed this or that’ but we had that chance, which is nice.” Ollie Moss suggests that going into the studio without having everything nailed down allowed a sense of experimentation and development to permeate, “on that first record the songs were finished by the time we went into the studio, whereas this time they were mostly finished and we worked on them all so it made it more interesting, I think.” Speaking of their time in the studio and their ideas for the record at that stage, Dan Moss says “There were few preconceptions before we made it but we did try to make each song sound different. I don’t see the point in just recycling material and just doing the same permeations of the same formula. There wasn’t any attempt at consistency – I think it’s a very boring thing when someone praises a record for being consistent.” “I think a lot of it came from using different instruments,” chips in Ollie Moss “Dan and I swap between bass and guitar now, so that’ll change the dynamics. We didn’t write an album, we came up with a load of songs and the ones that weren’t as good were earmarked as b-sides. That said, I don’t think we made an album of singles either…We’re big fans of Ween. We love their total disregard for the concept of cohesion – you might have a Prince rip-off next to a Motorhead rip-off…” to which Dan replies “…but there’s always this sense of personality which keeps it together.” Looking back over the album as a whole, Whitaker maintains that although it may appear a series of disparate, differing elements, as a whole the record gels. “I do think that despite everything being different styles and different kinds of songs thematically it all came together anyway.”
I didn’t mean to upset anybody and burn any bridges – it was just the result of a lot of frustration.
Though the hiatus between the two recording sessions would allow the band to reflect on what they’d done to date, as Dan Moss would concede it also proved frustrating which when allied to a series of strange, unsuited gigs would go on to manifest itself in an unusual manner. Having been associated with the indie-pop movement upon their inception (going on to play Indietracks in 2012) the band would issue a strongly-worded statement in 2013 – since deleted – distancing themselves in no uncertain terms from the movement. The minute it’s brought up Whitaker starts pointing at Dan Moss while crowing “It was him!”. Moss, for his part, swiftly buries his head in his hands in what seems a genuine display of contrition. “I didn’t foresee it would cause so many problems, being totally honest,” he begins “we were embraced by the indiepop scene when we were very young, at a time when we didn’t even know it existed before we were welcome in by everyone. I didn’t mean to upset anybody and burn any bridges – it was just the result of a lot of frustration.” Ollie Moss agrees, adding “This was during the hiatus between the first and second parts of recording so it was a very frustrating period. Plus there was a lot of booze involved…” For Whitaker, a lot of the frustration stemmed from inaccurate comparisons and a series of wholly unsuitable gig bookings, adding “we kept being compared to the same bands over and over again that we sounded nothing like. If we’d sounded like them it would have been a fair comparison, but it seemed like everyone was reading reviews of us that compared us to bands we didn’t sound like and then putting us on at gigs it didn’t make any sense to have us playing. I don’t think people were necessarily annoyed at the fact we were trying to distance ourselves,” she turns to face Dan moss “I think they were more annoyed at how fucking angry you sounded at all these people who’d been so nice to us! It probably came across as a bit ‘fuck these indiepop bastards!’ which was unfortunate…”
Ultimately, their reactions suggests the band harbour regrets about the incident, and given that those at its heart are barely 22 it’s easy to write it off as the kind of mistake we’ve all made in our respective youths. Which, in a way, is at the heart of Expect Delays; however thrilling Evans The Death make it sound, it’s still documenting the tumultuous missteps that mark our first forays into the realms of adulthood. Speaking just before Whitaker would launch into her product placement speech, Dan Moss speaks of the record as follows: “I hope it doesn’t depress anyone! I hope it provides comfort for people in similar situations when they’re feeling a bit down or a bit lost. I think it’s quite depressing but it’s also quite resilient…”