Sheffield three-piece RALE (made up of Tom O'Hara, Dino Sofos and Sena Verdi) may have only released their debut single just before Christmas, but they're already making waves on the local music scene, winning high acclaim from the likes of BBC Introducing and Gigslutz... and listening to 'Sprinkle With Rust', it's not difficult to see why. Their music emanates a ruminating and pensive darkness, but has a refreshingly zealous 80's tinted edge to it.
They're certainly one of the most captivating bands I've ever come across, and I was extremely excited at the prospect of chatting with them prior to their hometown show at one of Sheffields' finest venues Plug, in support of The Wholls.
How and when did you first come together as a band?
Dino: Tom and I were in a band called Mother's Ruin, a post punk band, ages ago... 2010 I think it was when we got together?
Tom: 2009... and Dino, on BBC Radio Sheffield tonight, described our old post punk band material as mediocre! I pulled him up on that because actually... it was alright. It was a period of forming influences for what is now RALE!
Dino: It was a very important stage in our musical career! That came to an end... it just died a natural death, and then we met Sena who came to one of our last gigs.
Sena: Did I?
Dino: I remember letting you in! What was quite good is that Sena comes from an electronic musical background and it kind of forced Tom and I into new territory and to get out of our comfort zone which was important for us I think. We developed a new sound, and RALE was born! We did a few gigs when we first got together... we won a Spotify battle of the bands competition. We got some pretty big gigs... we got to support The Cribs and Mystery Jets. It was at The Garage in London which is a proper big venue, so for a new band that was a bit like woah! We kind of sat around and thought, what do we do now? We had four or five songs that were fully formed, so we thought lets go away and write some more songs, and an album. We went to the studio just down the road from here, which is a pretty cool space. We wrote some songs, and now we're just in the process of playing some gigs again and getting them out there. The first single 'Sprinkle With Rust' was a product of that, although it was quite an old song. We've been really pleased with the reception... and there's more to come!
What are your earliest memories of music?
Sena: My Auntie bought me a really rubbish birthday present one Christmas, and it was a PJ and Duncan album. I went to exchange it, and I saw two school friends who were way cooler than me... I was not very cool at school, I still am not... anyway, they asked what I was doing. When I told them, they asked what I was exchanging it for so I picked something up and it just happened to be 'Definitetly Maybe' right infront of me. I went home, put the cassette on and my mind was blown. From then on I wanted to play guitar... that was it for me. So that was my first album purchase, but my dad used to play a lot of Elton John, Marvin Gaye and Kate Bush... those were the only three things he ever played!
Tom: My Dad used to play a lot of stuff in the car... a lot of dad rock, like Dire Straits, Eagles 'best of'... actually he used to have a Gloria Estefan album, you know 'Rhythm Is Gonna Get You?' So I guess that's where I got my rhythm from at a young age! The rhythm did get me. I remember the first albums I got bought were as Christmas presents... I got Bryan Adams 'Waking Up The Neighbourhood' and Michael Jackson 'Dangerous'. The first single I bought, and I was singing this earlier, was UB40 featuring Pato Banton 'Baby Come Back'. Another of my first singles, which is still an influence, was 'Always' by Erasure.
Dino: I was born in Sheffield but I grew up in Greece until I was 5, so there was a lot of Greek music but then a lot of rock like Dire Straits and Paul Simon 'Graceland' was a big album for me when I was growing up. My dad played me Talking Heads and Black... 80's Rock and Pop. The first album that I bought with my own money was Parklife... I was a Blur kid at the time.
Sena: We wouldn't have got on... we still don't!
Tom: My brother was Oasis and I was Blur.
Dino: I love Oasis now, I got into them when I was about 16... but I bought that Blur album when I was about 12 or 13. Then I was into all sorts like Mansun, Manic Street Preachers, Placebo... I've always been into music.
Sprinkle With Rust' clocked up an incredibly high level of praise from so many high profile music media outlets... This Feeling, BBC Introducing... tell me a story about the track; whether that's in terms of the lyrics and what they relate to, or perhaps the creative process you went through to bring it to fruition.
Tom: The main progression, riffs and stuff came from mine and Dino's old band actually. We fished it out when we started RALE, and Sena got on the synths and turned it into the synth pop song that it is now. Lyrically, it's a bit of fun... one of the big differences between us and a lot of the post-punk bands we get compared to is that there's a lot more dark humour in our lyrics and it's not just 'this is shit and we're going to be miserable about it'. It's sort of about how you project identity and the feeling of loss of identity but from Napoleon's perspective... so there are a lot of little nods there to the iron fist and the velvet glove, the hundred days war and stuff like that. We recognize that it's a pop song, because it's in a certain tempo and it's got a certain progression... a lot of bands and artists would dumb it down lyrically. Obviously there's a catchy chorus, but we wanted to make the verses a bit more interesting and a bit surreal in parts.
Is there anywhere, whether that's a particular venue or perhaps a city that you've just always wanted to visit, that you'd really love the opportunity to play but haven't yet?
Tom: We want to play Glastonbury.
Dino: The one venue that I want to play is the Herodes Atticus Odeon at the Acropolis in Athens. It's the most incredible venue. You look down from the Parthenon and there's a huge amphitheatre with staggered seats and amazing natural acoustics. If we ever do a live DVD or something, we're doing it there.
Tom: It'd be like Pink Floyd when they played to no one in Pompeii...
Sena: We'll just play to no one in Athens!
When you're on the road, how do you fill your time inbetween shows?
Sena: I mainly moan, sleep, and buy stuff then walk around with carrier bags.
Dino: We're quite a productive band. Yesterday we combined the gig with a day in the studio. We wrote a song and produced the next single... it sounds great! We don't arse about really, we're serious about what we're doing. We were in Prague this week meeting the Czech National Symphony Orchestra about possibly recording some songs with them at some point. We did a bit of promo while we were over there, came back and got in the studio. It's not just the music, it's thinking about artwork and videos... the whole process for us is something we spend every waking minute doing.
Tom: This morning I had a bath, but it turned into a bit of an odyssey! I'm staying in a B&B and there was no plug for the bath... I had to walk up and down the road looking for a convenience store for a plug. I found one though! The hardest bit though is between soundchecking and the show... sometimes you are just in the venue and because you've got all that adrenaline, you can build up a bit of anxiety before you go on.
What's been the biggest learning curve for you as a band since you started out?
Sena: For me, it's been a transition because I have always self produced and self written all of my stuff... everything I've released, I've pretty much taken full control of so over the past few years I've had to relinquish two thirds of my control.
Tom: Which is why he moans all the time...
Sena: Exactly! However, we've had spectacular results. I've learned to not be so precious about it all.
Dino: There's a creative tension which is pivotal to our process I think.
Tom: Yeah, we all hate eachothers' influences!
Dino: Tom and I probably like a similar sort of sound because we were in the band together before, but at the same time we do like different music. Sena has come from a completely different background which is great because it forces us to get out of our comfort zone. I was watching that David Bowie documentary recently and that's what he was talking about... whenever something is feeling too safe, always push yourself and always take yourself out of your comfort zone. That's why on his last album, he worked with a completely new group of jazz musicians that he'd never worked with before and they forced him to do something new. Always mix it up, always challenge yourself... that's why its good working with other people who push you. To a certain extent, we're still finding our sound.
Tom: Because of how different we all are in terms of our influences, it means that every song we write is different. It means that hopefully we won't just fall into a stock bracket of band and it won't be 'these are the new Editors' or whatever, because we don't want to be like that.
Festival season is coming up, which is undoubtedly the best time of year for any music lover... if you could curate your own music festival, who would you have on the bill?
Sena: If us three curated a festival together, it'd basically just be a riot. Fans of the bands I like would hate fans of the bands they like!
Dino: Bowie in the Ziggy Stardust guise, The Smiths in their peak, Nirvana... Radiohead, always. If we did put on a festival we'd have good sound and good staging.
Sena: Smashing Pumpkins in the Siamese Dream era and Green Day in the Dookie era. Sade because she is the Queen... she's incredible. I would love to see her live.
Tom: Tears For Fears, but they're playing this Summer so hopefully we'll see them then anyway.
Finally... what's next for RALE?
Tom: More songs, and there'll be an EP out soon. We're doing a UK tour around April hopefully. We'll do the festival season, and do a European tour in September. Probably sometime in 2017 we'll have our debut album coming out, and we're already writing our second album. We'll just carry on working hard and hopefully building fans and playing shows.