“Anything’s A Bonus” – A Conversation With Red Rum Club
Written by Owen Hewitt on September 29, 2022
Red Rum Club are a six-piece outfit from Liverpool, England. Fronted by Francis Doran, the band has released three studio albums, with their most recent effort being 2021’s How To Steal The World. The band recently released a single “Vanilla,” and is currently embarking on a U.S. Tour. I chatted with Doran and drummer Neil Lawson before their show at Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia.
This transcription has been edited for clarity
Owen Hewitt: How did the name come to be, how did y’all pick up the name, what was the process there?
Francis Doran: We sort of stumbled upon it after six months of arguing, because the six of us were all very opinionated… we were arguing over the name because it was the most precious thing, we’d never had any songs or nothing…
Neil Lawson: No, we just wanted a good name…
FD: We were just like ‘We need a cool name, that means we’re a cool band.’ And then someone told Tom [Williams], the guitarist, ‘Go and watch some films you like,’ and he watched “The Shining,” and it was “Red rum, murder,” and we thought ‘Murder Club’s quite cool, but Red Rum Club’s quite cool as well.’ I don’t know if you know the story of Red Rum the horse, the racehorse? The most successful British racehorse ever, it won the Grand National, which is run in Liverpool. Grand National’s the biggest horse race in the world, and it lived and trained in Formby, which is not too far from us, just north of Liverpool, it ran in Liverpool, and our manager was a stable boy for Red Rum as well. So it all just lined up, it was like ‘Red Rum’s quite a cool name, Murder Club, it’s from “The Shining,” it’s a local horse, it’s a Liverpool link,’ so we all just sort of settled upon that. I don’t know why Club’s there as well…
NL: I think just to invite people in, so it was like a bit of a clique, and it sounded cooler than just the Red Rum.
OH: That’s a very interesting story behind the name, I love that. So, y’all are from Liverpool obviously, so I have to ask a very important question. Is it Everton or is it Liverpool?
NL: We’ve done well here.
FD: You’ve got the right two members. The only Evertonian is Neil.
NL: And our manager, our manager is an Evertonian as well, the rest of the lads are Liverpool.
FD: We’re proper football fans…
OH: A split decision there. I wanted to talk now about writing, and how that process goes down. It’s a fairly large group y’all have, what does the writing process look like for y’all? Where does it start, and how does it go from finish to end?
FD: It usually starts with Tom, so Tom comes in with some idea, sometimes it’s a complete song, sometimes there’s the song, it’s three-and-a-half minutes, it’s four minutes and there it is, and sometimes he’ll come in and say ‘I’ve got this chorus.’ We all then sort of add our takes on it, and say ‘Oh yeah well I’ve got this little thing,’ and it just builds from there. We used to get together and write and play the song together before we record it or anything, but now that we’re becoming more efficient, it was like, we sort of all know each other’s… because we know the band now, we’re a little more established…
NL: We know what each other does, yeah.
FD: We know what Neil’s drum pattern would be, we know the bassline for Simon [Hepworth], we know it will basically be these sorts of things, so we record the demo first and we’d be like ‘What’d you think of this demo?’ and that’s what it’d be like, but usually, it’s probably like a couple of months or a couple of weeks maybe of song ideas, and then us arguing over parts. A lot of arguing.
NL: There is a lot of arguing.
FD: And then we record it, and we use that as a reference, we leave it alone for a minute and listen, give it a couple of weeks of reflection. Some songs are much shorter, sometimes it’s like there’s the song, record it and a week later it’s there and that’s what it is. Sometimes there are songs that are just around for two to three years, like “Vanilla.”
NL: You can always tell with like the songs that are just always there straight away, it’s like you don’t actually have to worry about like, ‘Oh no, we’re happy with that.’ It’s the ones that you keep thinking about where it’s obvious that it’s not finished.
FD: So “Vanilla,” the song that we released as our latest single, we recorded that, that was going to be on the second album. That was going to be on The Hollow Of Humdrum, and we pulled it, we were like ‘Yeah it’s not quite right yet.’
NL: It was recorded, like in the studio. We’ve completely changed it.
FD: But then, that’s what got me nervous, because when we were like ‘Yeah, we’re going to bring “Vanilla” out!’ I was like, ‘Is it done? Are we sure?’
OH: I wanted to ask about “Vanilla” because it has that sort of, maybe it’s influenced by the name, but it’s got that sticky sweet chorus that really sticks in your ear…
NL: Great reference.
FD: Yeah sticky sweet…
NL: That’s great that.
OH: So how did that sort of get generated, you said that it’s been there for a while, but what was the story behind perfecting it and getting it down to what it became?
FD: So the pre-chorus, the ‘She said “My darling, my dear,”’ that bit was always there, because that was the premise of the song. That was the theme of the song, someone said that to you… someone said, a lover, whoever it was said ‘I’m bored of you, you’re vanilla, you just live a basic life and you do this and you’re boring.’ So that was always there and the ‘Vanilla, vanilla, vanilla,’ the chorus, that was there, and then the verses we had so many different melodies and lyrics we must have had over 10-15 different versions of verses and lyrics and whatever.
NL: That was the one thing that was never… not all six of us were ever happy with the verses…
FD: And then we did, we got it didn’t we, and when we got it, then it was like production, like ‘Okay, should we chill it out or make it dead cool, should we thrash it out,’ so… I’ll never know, I still don’t know now, whether we got it right, but that was how it was, those two parts were the, ‘Yeah they’re good, they’re okay, they can stay,’ and then the verse.
NL: The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” was like the biggest thing of going and looking at, and it was like those verses are like f***ing amazing and iconic, so how do we get verses like that? And the ones that we had at the time, I don’t think that all of us felt that way about the verses.
FD: We were trying too hard weren’t we? We were trying to sing it and croon it, whereas all we had to do was like, be a bit more chilled with it.
OH: I wanted to ask about where you guys find inspiration, influences, where those things sort of come up in your music, both in the writing process and in the actual musical process… where do you guys get the inspiration and influences to write?
FD: We’ve always said film haven’t we? Basically, it was always film, we’ve got the Red Rum from a film and then like, because we’ve got the trumpet it was always a little bit spaghetti western, a little bit Tarantino, a little bit L.A. We were always looking at films and I think Tarantino does play a big part, but every song is different because we’ve probably got three or four songs for every song as reference haven’t we? We wanted this song to be like this band and this band and this band. So it does vary, and because there’s six of us, it’s a bigger collective.
NL: It’s very rare that all six of us will be listening to the same thing all at once. Even going more specific, I remember Tom talking about that Billie Eilish thing, that she sampled, you know the sound of when you’re crossing the street in Australia, there’s like a sound that the lamposts do, and she sampled that for one of the tracks, and it’s like, ‘How do we get something like that?’ That sparks a little bit of something, like that’s amazing, is there anything that we can take from that? Any other sounds that we can think of that we could kind of be influenced by. I think it varies very very much.
OH: I want to talk live shows now, I believe this is y’all’s second American tour, how’s it been going across the country and playing shows, and what’s that experience like?
FD: It’s bucket list stuff. The first time we got the opportunity to, we were like ‘Yep, okay, we’ll go, we’ll play anywhere, let’s just do it and we’ll make it happen,’ and then we met the agent who was the person who made it all happen, he made it all possible for us, we met him in L.A., I think it was the last show of our last tour, we were like ‘We love it, we want to come back.’ He was like ‘Are you sure, you know, it’s a long way, and it’s a big ol’ place, you’re going to have to forge out a couple of months to come here, might have to sacrifice some stuff,’ and we were like ‘Yep, we don’t care.’ It’s an experience, this is another horizon, keep pushing, keep extending. Really we just wanted the holiday, the gigs are just bonuses. That’s what it feels like, not in a bad way, not in like an unprofessional way, it’s like a… we’re all going to experience this all as individuals and as a group of mates, and then if something comes of the gigs… we’re not going to expect too much of the gigs, we’re not going to get too disheartened if there’s five people in the audience, you know what I mean, there’s going to be five people at a Red Rum Club show… so what, that’s what it is. We’re not expecting much of anything, anything above that is a bonus. In the meantime, we get to experience America and meet new people. Anything’s a bonus. That should probably be the tour.
NL: Our motto.
FD: U.S. “Anything’s a Bonus” tour.
OH: So what’s the energy you guys typically try to bring to a live show, what is your motto when it comes to that?
NL: [Francis] always says drunk uncles at a wedding.
FD: We’re the d***heads… sorry, can’t say profanity probably, can’t square. Can’t square?
NL: Can’t square? I definitely can’t square!
FD: We’re the divvies that sort of make fools of themselves before everyone else does. We’re like ‘We’re doing it, you can jump up and down too!’ Like that sort of thing. We’re getting better at maybe pulling moments, we’ve realized over the course of playing gigs, you can’t just be drunk uncles for 45 minutes because people… it’s like drunk uncles, they do your head in after a bit. So now and then you need to simmer down and maybe have another meaning behind it, you know, put a slow one in here, or put maybe a ballad or, I don’t know, you can’t be too over the top all the time. We try and start fun and end fun, we want people going out smiling and speaking to someone or experiencing something with someone they’ve never met before, and being like ‘Oh that was good, wasn’t it!’ and bonding over that thing, and then once it’s done it’s done. It’s like, ‘Well that was what it is,’ and everyone experienced it. We feel like live’s our biggest thing as a band as a force that is our biggest thing. Everyone talks about Spotify playlists and looking good on magazine covers, we don’t really… even though we want to, live is our thing, this is what we like doing. Setting up for a gig, playing in front of people and hopefully giving them a good time.
OH: Speaking of live gigs, I wanted to talk about the festival circut, because I know that’s a big thing in England. Y’all played Glastonbury, how was that experience? What was that like for y’all?
FD: Unbelievable wasn’t it? Bucket list stuff, again. We come off, and we’re like ‘Oh, that was it.’ Not in like a… It was like we’d done it.
NL: We got through it.
FD: We got through it. You always build it up as this thing in your head, as this thing, this mountain top, and then we come off and it’s like ‘Oh actually that’s just a stage in a field,’ like we’ve done them before and that’s what it was, and then I spent a week on the couch crying about it.
OH: I wanted to touch on the pandemic, and how that affected y’all’s story as a band, because obviously, it affected a lot of musicians working, not being able to tour, not being able to write as easily. But I mean you guys produced two albums in the span of the pandemic, what was that like, how did that production go?
FD: Luckily we had one recorded already.
NL: Yeah the second one was pretty much finished, and we weren’t going to bring it out until after, we were like pretty undecided, but then our management were like ‘No, this is actually a really good idea.’ Give people in lockdown something to kind of cling onto, kind of like ‘Look, we’re still here, there’s a new record, we’ll be back soon.’ And I think it actually turned out pretty well.
FD: I think so yeah. I think we got some good UK press and stuff because a lot of the big bands and artists didn’t take the financial risk, like ‘Oh you’re not doing that, let’s wait.’ So looking at the checkbooks and the balancing sheets and thinking ‘No we’re not taking that risk,’ as where luckily our people were like ‘Yeah put it out.’ It was a big risk for us because we had to go and write another one, go and do it again. I think when the live shows came back we realized we had come back as a bigger band, we were like ‘Oh, it worked, people listened,’ cause sitting in your room and going ‘There’s a new song!’ and then not knowing whether it reached people’s ears, that was a tough mental thing… But it worked. I wouldn’t change it.
OH: And bringing up that aspect of not being able to know whether people are really feeling it or not, I assume that was incredibly difficult in the span where you couldn’t play a live show, and get that live feedback. I wanted to move now to the thing that caught my ear, the horns. Because I think that’s really interesting and especially in a song like “Come Back, Anna Marie,” with the horn lines. Was there a decision to integrate the horns, was it always there?
NL: It wasn’t like a specific… We didn’t sit there and go like ‘Right, we want a trumpet player,’ It was like, we were just a five-piece, and we wanted to make it more of a film soundtrack, spaghetti western vibe, we weren’t sure how to do it, and then Mike [McDermott, guitar] was in a pub one day and he’d seen Joe [Corby, trumpet] and he used to go to school with Joe. Joe had been out finding himself in Thailand, he wore baggy pants and no shoes.
FD: It was Joe’s hippie phase.
NL: It was literally just a little bit of a happy accident, Mike was telling him about the band, and that we want something else, like maybe some trumpets, and Joe was like, ‘I play trumpet.’ So we invited him down…
FD: And he didn’t play trumpet.
NL: No. He brought a trumpet.
FD: He had a trumpet in the loft.
NL: And yeah, it was one of those moments where like we played a song, I can’t even remember what song it was, and like we added his part in over it and it was like ‘Yep. That’s better. That’s the thing.’
OH: I wanted to ask something along the lines of how you guys float the line between electric and acoustic, because there’s a lot of acoustic sound in some of the tracks but then some of them have that little bit more electric sound, how do you guys balance that line? Is it just individual, song-by-song, what feels right…?
FD: Yeah, I think there was a more conscious move on How To Steal The World, I think that was more conscious to be like a little bit more chilled and laid back. It lends itself to the acoustic a little bit. It was a conscious effort for those songs to be like ‘No, instead of electric guitar, play it on acoustic,’ and see if that will push it the way we want it to go. But you’ve got to take it track-by-track, “Anna Marie” still needs a bright, light Telecaster or whatever…
NL: And then “Eighteen” wouldn’t work if it wasn’t as acoustic as it is. The more heavy sincerity of the song would probably be diminished a bit.
FD: Probably Mike’s decision, and Tom’s decision as guitarists. They’re the ones who are like ‘Probably want to play this on this,’ I don’t think we’ve got it wrong. What do you think Tom, have we got it wrong once?
Tom Williams: Once? Yeah. Not too many times.
FD: No one’s ever brought it up. Until now.
NL: When we’re three weeks into this tour then we might bring it up like ‘I always wanted to play a f***ing acoustic on that!’