Over the past year and a half I have approached this review on and off; having been aware of its concept, idea, concoction (call it what you will), so I apologise in advance if this skips tense at some stage, or a thought ends sharply, like a piece by a beat poet – for a lot can take place in such an amount of time. I have opened and closed this work countless times, even if only to browse and read through my notes from months before to ensure each word I choose is enough, is sufficient in doing this record (and band) justice, and each decision rightly grants me the opportunity to review One for Sorrow, and discuss my experiences in depth – for that too, I must thank We Are Fiction eternally for the adventures they have given me, and this in return is my tribute to them.
We Are Fiction
One for Sorrow
With this review, I wish to coalesce it with a book I recently finished reading, uniquely entitled Steppenwolf, a novel by German-Swiss author Hermann Hesse. Originally published in Germany in 1927, it was first translated into English in 1929, combining autobiographical and psychoanalytic elements much like One for Sorrow, the novel was named after the lonesome wolf of the Steppes.
Its story in large reflects a profound crisis in Hesse's spiritual world in the 1920s while memorably portraying the protagonist's split between his humanity and his wolf-like aggression and homelessness. One reason I took so fondly to the story, and felt the urge to combine the two works more so than that already mentioned, was due to this struggle – before me, I visioned vocalists Barker and Kucharski face one another, defending one side of the split.
The novel has also recently appeared in the hands of many influential musicians: Kevin Devine Instagramed (is that a verb yet?) a page of the book, and Keith Buckley mentioned a character was reading it in the latest short story he posted on his personal blog, so it felt somewhat fitting that it has been accepted in the musical world, which can be used as an appropriate work of fiction (heh) to reference, and merge passages amidst the arteries and avenues of my analysis and discussion.
To begin, We Are Fiction emerged in 2008, consisting of five friends, Phil Barker (vocals), Ryan Chambers (bass), Andi Scott Shaw (lead guitar), Tom Calton (drums and percussion) and Marc Kucharski (guitar and vocals). Hailing from Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire, their name was taken from one of the first songs they wrote. Having drifted in and out of musical ventures together previously, it was in 2008 they were able to finally acknowledge each other as friends, but respectfully also ‘musicians [and understand they] must play [their] part according to [their] duties and [their] gifts’ (157). For example, Calton does not overdo his part like many drummers do just to be noticed; only after time he has been able to find the right time to slot in the perfect beat, and knows that merits such a greater rewards than trying to becoming ostentatious and ruin what music is being created.
The band has a ragged edge, the music erratic, angular and emotional. I like everything about them, their spasmodic movements, the drummer’s jazz flourishes, their disjointed, orgasmic musical structures. You feel a kinship with the members and sense their pride in their roots. Like the Steppenwolf, We Are Fiction do not shy away from where they are from, accepting the dying music scene and seeing that as their challenge to overcome, and create their own; to start a new. They try to take any negative attitude towards Peterborough and reverse it, like in ‘The Worst of It’, the song opens with the line “see I know what you’re about to say, that I hate my life and I hate where I live”. They are highly regarded locally as ‘the old connoisseurs, the reverers of Europe as it used to be, of genuine music and poetry as once they were’ (47).
Recorded at CDS Studios in Chelmsford with Mike Curtis (ex-Fei Comodo), One for Sorrow features an admirable work-rate of British melodic post-hardcore and American punk rock; a record of love, and loss, and love again. I feel privileged we have the opportunity to follow them on a journey, as they recite tales innovatively and much cooler than The Canterbury Tales, that’s for sure. Each song like a chapter, and Shaw said every song has meaning behind it; they all serve purpose.
“It’s a rock n’ roll record”, Barker declared, “every song that we wrote is about a passion that we have in our life, so we’ve wrote it all with heart. Hopefully every track will mean something to somebody out there and you can’t say fairer than that; I hope everybody likes it”.
Despite being a record that took just over two and a half years to complete, time became a valuable and trusted ally as Chambers recalls: “The songs came out relatively fast once we started writing them. Half of the album was created in Tom's parent’s garage, with the other half coming together at the Blue Barn in Ely (where we spent most of our time playing party ping-pong instead of writing: it's a real fun game involving a ping-pong table, Mansion House and The Vengaboys)”.
“The recording side was not done in the ideal way for this album - looking back, that's probably where we've learnt the most. We were all working full time jobs at the start of the recording process, so we would hit the studio for two days at a time on weekends we could make free. We spent the better part of two years in and out of the studio, but I'd say we spent a maximum of fifteen days actually recording. It was a really hard way to work, but it has taught us a lot about how we want to approach the next album”.
However, this was only musically, I remember Barker sitting in his living room furiously texting Kucharski regarding his side of the lyrics; anxious, keen and frustrated all at the same time due to the time it was taking him to pen the likes of ‘Władysław’. But Kucharski could only be described best as a lazy perfectionist, and as our mothers have all told us at some stage, good things come to those who wait.
The songs were then mixed and re-amped by Lee Batiuk at Regal House Studios in nearby Wisbech with Lee Batiuk for three days which was described as “definitely the easiest part of the process”, before being sent overseas for mastering at Turtle Tone Studios in America to become the record we hear today.
I first listened to the album or rather several half-complete demos roughly a year ago, many of which instrumentals, after a fierce drinking bout, and I prominently remembering Shaw’s ferocious and penetrating guitar solos taking charge (which would later become ‘Tilt’), leaving me eager and wanting more.
When I was a child, I remember watching The Mummy in the cinema, and in it there was a phrase that never left me, I always end up saying it: “patience is a virtue”. I love that this phrase can be applied to that emotion I felt regarding One for Sorrow. After five years without a record released, one would’ve thought they would be back at square one, but as Kerouac once said “little paradises take their time”.
‘I was swept at once into a world of noise and excitement’ (210) Hesse blurts out as One for Sorrow apertures with a high-octane, burst of energy anthem dubbed ‘Mansion House’: the epitome of fun. ‘Mansion House’ was originally demoed under the name ‘The Party Song’, which ultimately can sum the track up in those three words alone. A fury that bubbles through the speakers, foaming from start to finish; sparkling off a gloriously delicious and technical riff by Shaw, whilst Calton, Chambers and Kucharski thump away at their weapons with crashing symbols.
It was would seem out of place if Barker was not tearing himself apart whilst this ensemble took place, hammering the microphone into his chest. Thunder clouds brew amidst a southern rock projection before Barker’s enchanting, powerful (I best get this one out of the way early) bark is suddenly harmonised and capitalised on by Kucharski’s majestic and enviable vocals. It’s once the first chorus ends you’re struck by the lightening, and you realise what sort of storm is taking place.
One may feel it is not their strongest track (more so musically than anything else), and an interesting play to have ‘Mansion House’ open their debut album – in turn, potentially being the song many first-time listeners will be introduced to the band through, but it’s position in the track listing is just. If we step aside from the obvious that it allows the record to hit the ground running, and certainly not bore the listener, it lyrically and emotionally presents We Are Fiction how they wished to be viewed, a rock n’ roll band singing about friends and having good, drunken fun; letting go of the little things and letting your hair down: “now all my secrets are on the dance floor”.
This concept developed over time to be a niche the band holds dear to them; it’s seen as a little signifier, associated with the theme of happiness, enjoyment, loyalty, and most importantly, family (“you are the friends that I trust when I’ve had too much to drink”, Barker chants), that is then projected into their work, but also towards their mentality and their fans. Again and again you will hear phrases embedded in the songs from One for Sorrow that transcribe to ‘you are not alone’ or a more self-empowering ‘I am not alone’. ‘Mansion House’ alone includes “I’ll never turn my back on you”, and “I am never alone”, only to be stringed throughout and become more headstrong, like in ‘A Thousand Places to Sleep’ we hear “you should face your demons with your friends”.
The name itself, ‘Mansion House’, has a great story behind it and has helped influence the characters of the band since its birth (if you can call it that) several years ago. Calton used to work at the supermarket ASDA located in the city centre of Peterborough, and time after time the homeless and rough sleepers would seem to favour a specific alcoholic drink, all of them purchasing it; “these streets are hard to face when walking is a sober grace”. This was a dark coloured bottle, located on the bottom shelf in the corner of the store, of strong fortified wine, sporting a plain white label branding Mansion House across its body. Intrigued and beguiled, the guys and our friendship circle ended up adopting this drink as our own – once concurring its unique and powerful taste, one can guarantee a good (and drunken) time*. I remember the first time I had it, the band were playing the basement in Nottingham’s Rock City; Chambers and I sat behind the merchandise table writing ‘WAF’ and our friend’s names on a brick in the wall before Barker scaled to the rafters mid-set and spent two songs sitting above the crowd because he wasn’t sure how to get back down.
The characteristics of the song and the gimmick of the Mansion House are inviting, saying that here’s a drink you too can buy, and be one of us; again strong-housing that fantastic ideal of unity, reinforcing the ‘team’ in #TeamWeAreFiction.
The band have actually been playing the song for over two years at shows; it features heavily in their set-lists to break up the more rock sounding rocks, and help fit in at the post-hardcore and metal shows. A short snippet of the track featured in Trust No One’s spring/summer 2011 promotional video, a clothing brand established by Chambers and Calton during their off days, which can be seen here (click here). It’s mad to think they’ve held back on releasing a gem for so long; teasing their fans. Alongside the recording, which was of course later re-mastered like the rest of the record, two nights (one in January, and the other around May) saw the guys shoot a music video for the track, with the help of director Lewis Cater, myself and twenty of our friends. I can’t say there was much to the video; I turned up late in the afternoon at Chamber’s and Barker’s bungalow (called the Ron Bungalow; both avid lover of Anchorman) to find Calton cramped in the toilet, bashing away on his drum set to then drink, drink, and drink some more to have it all captured on camera – just your average party, where Kenny Bavin of All in Colours shows up dressed as Rufio with a sword made of dildos, footprints are left on the ceiling, a competition winner drinks from a dog bowl, curtains are pulled down and a gentleman named Tommie Nott re-enacts Katy Perry’s infamous squirt cream scene. Unfortunately, they say it’ll never see the light of day, and is currently hidden away on a password protected Vimeo account, for now at the very least.
The itself song contains a lot of power, spirit and intensity, and delivers the band passion in another light – their more social context, depicting their life more so off stage than the emotions conveyed on side, which helps break up the album, and transgress them to a wider audience as a whole, but helps maintain a well structured image of a band; that they are there for fun, to express their passion in different ways, and it allows them to present themselves to the listeners for how they are – true party monsters (endorsed and therefore fuelled by Monster in fact). ‘Mansion House’ is the perfect introduction, saying ‘this is who we are, and this is the music we make’ which sees the world involuntarily head-bang, less subtle as the song progresses into its empathic explosion of an ending: go out with a bang.
*Perhaps we are to blame for its influx in price: what once was only £3.00 is now £4.00. To the homeless, if you are reading this in the public library, I am truly sorry.
We begin with an infectious lead riff that is awfully enjoyable, and once Kucharski’s vocals kick in, I’m completely engrossed by this home grown, uplifting song with an emotional chorus about the passion We Are Fiction have for the music and decisions they make, and life on the road – essentially doing what they love: “I feel most at home when I’m on the road, but I have never felt alone”. They are living their dream with their best friends and they couldn’t be happier. Rather than scream it from the rooftops, they do so on stage, recalls tales of being stuck “in between four walls and broken wheels”* or sleeping on some knackered sofa, it’s all part of the experience.
But to add to this lovely ideal, the friends are also making new friends along the way. It’s only so fitting that ‘Bright Lights’ should then feature guest vocals by not one, but two soldiers in the same fight: Sam Douglas of Mallory Knox and Marc Halls of Hey Vanity!. The guest vocals pull no punches as they oscillate back and forth throughout, toying with Barker’s and Kucharski’s vocal melodies amidst an American punk-rock filling sound with a British twist.
The simple song encompasses a positive attitude towards the hardships of being in a band, and expresses that the ends always justify the means; a motivational and encouraging song for any aspiring artist.
*Continuing with the love of Anchorman, the band’s van is called Brian Vantana.
My Dreams Are Haunted
I first listened to this beast in the summer of 2011 in Chamber’s bedroom, on his laptop, two months before it was released on Halloween; through those tiny, red speakers my first big reaction was the cross over vocals (i.e. “all of the blame that you just could not take”) that was never addressed or take advantage of in previous single ‘Sail On’. I remember saying something along the lines of “Oh, that’s good. I like that”.
The voices of Barker and Kucharski don’t fight one another; they blend like the characters of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, musically joining to create something higher and more impactful: ‘In spite of this apparently clear division of his being between two spheres, hostile to one another, he has known happy moments now and then when the man and the wolf reconciled with one another’ (70).
Fully utilising the fact they now have a flamboyant guitarist with an undeniably soothing, majestic voice, ‘My Dreams Are Haunted’ allowed the band to go down difference ventures with their sound and after the success from the likes of Her Words Kill, Dividing The Line, Hondo Maclean and even early-Funeral for a Friend, Kucharski’s presence in the band felt utterly, vitally new and refreshing. It allowed Shaw to work on more technical guitar patterns and explore new settings with pedals; it opened his creative door also.
The song’s placement in the track listing, but also countless reviews, suggest that ‘My Dreams Are Haunted’ is the band’s signature track, mostly favoured for its soft harmonies and gamut of guitar harmonics which later crash through any expectation to emphasise the love lost and significance of the words sang, as it merges beauty with power and fear. The song discusses an inner-struggle (‘if life scorned my beautiful dreams, I argued, it was my dreams that were stupid and wrong-headed’ (176)) between the “heart and [the] head” of someone unsure what they ‘want’, and the consequences of tearing another apart, spear-headed with the graceful key phrase “if you dream of me, say so”.
‘My Dreams Are Haunted’ is ‘a bold and unrestrained body of work which is unafraid to push their more experimental, electronic tendencies to the fore and feature lyrics of a highly personal, bluntly confessional nature’ (176). It catapulted the band from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to suddenly feature for a week on BBC Radio 1 – reaching a listening audience of roughly six million sets of ears worldwide. I remember discussing this with Barker and he jokingly commented “I feel really bad. People tune in expecting Adele, and they get me screaming at them”.
In an interview with Peterborough’s local and grammatically appalling (the staff don’t like me and have since blocked me from commented on articles featured on their website) newspaper, Chambers said “being played on daytime Radio 1 is a huge achievement for an independent band like us [...] and we’re ecstatic to be given the chance of being part of this”. Their main focus was then highlighted not on themselves, but other around them, “hopefully [this] open[s] the door for other unsigned local acts to have a great opportunity like this”. The aim was to bring their family and friends to the foreground, not themselves, which was incredibly generous and just plain lovely to read.
Following the phenomenal achievement of national airplay, Tom Young of the BBC described ‘My Dreams Are Haunted as “the perfect shot of adrenaline for those days you just can't get out of bed”, as the sublime and bewitching guitar solo becomes the pinnacle to this delicate and emotionally driven track – Shaw deserves a hefty pat on the back for his efforts in this song.
Many charts song have that repetitive nature to get stuck in heads and be successful; it’s the quick fix and the cheat – however, here, each chorus here is not overused and recorded separately. With each time it comes around, you hear the passion and desperation in Kucharski’s voice increase tenfold. This song allows him to become the advocate of Davey Havok he truly is (donning his AFI sleeve tattoo), imitating AFI with a note of hope, a singular and obdurate thread, woven in the timber of his voice before its low-faded tranquil ending, reminiscent of Deaf Havana’s ‘Waves’ (Meet Me Halfway, At Least, 2009).
‘And then I saw you. And I knew my dreams were right a thousand times over, just as yours had been’ (176).
In my opinion, ‘Old Wounds’ is the dark horse of the record. I’ll mention Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die again. If he felt he was “bitten by the party animal” (‘We’rewolf’, The Big Dirty, 2007), then We Are Fiction were devoured. ‘Old Wounds’ is like ‘Mansion House (Part II)’, only this time it packs more of a punch and further stimulates the mind to discover its meaning, for it is a lot deeper. However, I feel it’ll be rather quickly over looked and unappreciated. It’s twisting bridge and pop-tastic chorus sees the track just like Steppenwolf; Hesse wrote that Steppenwolf was ‘more often and more violently misunderstood’ than any of his other books. Hesse felt that his readers focused only on the suffering and despair that are depicted in Harry Haller's life, thereby missing the possibility of transcendence and healing.
Barker comments: “‘Old Wounds’ came about when I started to notice both my grandfathers become frail and both have since passed away. These two men raised my family, buried their wives, lived alone and still showed an amazing amount of love for my family and me”.
“Their strength inspired me and made me think about all of our elders, from all families, backgrounds and generations. World wars were fought and won, loved ones came and went, mental and physical scars developed. Yet these elder generations still managed to create the world we live in today and pass on their experiences, knowledge, love and care”
‘Old Wounds’ transcribes to scars we have to live with and what came before us that have had/made an impact, and with that, the nature of the song is to be hard, fast-paced and lively to really take your attention; as if it were to metaphorically grab you by the back of the head and force your head to look down at these details Barker is trying to share and, if nothing else, expose in honour.
I urge you to listen to the heartfelt words of this, and in fact every song; it distinguishes the different from a music-maker and an artist. Alongside this, ‘Old Wounds’ motivates spirits, encouraging us to “live every day to the full” in honour of those before us, and in order to do so, Kucharski begs “teach us how to be kind and strong like you”.
Musically, nonetheless, Calton and Chambers work seamlessly well together, curving round the track to ensure every ‘I’ is dotted and every ‘T’ is crossed; they play a big part in this song, carrying it’s weight, which cannot be ignored – it’s the tempo of the track that gives it such character and sovereignty.
Barker adds, “Whether these woes belonged to my friend’s grandparents or my own, they all shaped the people I surround myself with and I long to be that courageous. I wish those that have passed a beautiful eternal rest and those that live comfort, happiness and love. This song is a mark of respect to all those loved and lost”.
One could argue that this song is what made We Are Fiction the band that they are today; the one song that single-handedly saw them soar to the top, and beyond. Released to the public in January 2011, after a stint of not releasing marital for over two years, ‘Sail On’ also remained their only release for the following ten months, yet managed to obtain the attention of near-enough everyone in the UK underground scene and consistently opened doors to the young pioneers. Shows, tours, record label interest and even slots at festivals began to emerge; as Hesse recalls, ‘for me too, its raw and savage gaiety reached an underworld’ (47).
I remember first listening to it roughly the day after it was released over Facebook, when my relationship with the band was only kindling at the time, and Chambers was my sole friend; shivering in the cold squalor of my then girlfriend’s living room with her housemate darting in and out to listen also. I suppose it’s funny how I can still remember the feeling of it all, audio squawking from the laptop speakers as they ricocheted against the high ceiling and cascading curtains, very faint very audible to distinguish the progression made and striking differences, emulated elements of A Day to Remember and Underoath: ‘at many moments the old and the new, pain and pleasure, fear and joy were quite oddly mixed with one another. Now I was in Heaven, now in Hell, generally in both at once’ (157). I was severely impressed.
An integral and pinnacle chapter in the We Are Fiction story, the song itself is their benchmark which acquired them the boots to wear for that ‘first step’ – it was the recognition and criticism they received which made them realise, through the release of this song, that they were on to a winner, and that they could change their lives, becoming musicians. That hard work was paying off and this was something they could do – they could make it; their fiction could become a reality.
From what starts as a singular struck chord progression and sweetly sang melody, which we later discover is the addictive chorus, ‘Sail On’ begins like a classic rock song the likes of Fall Out Boy in their underground heyday and Taking Back Sunday have learnt to perfect. We’re then met by a hammering and thunder of the drums and guitars with sudden lightning bolts of flare, and a fast-paced, chaotic hardcore meets punk-esque verse that somehow comes across so soft, mixed with pop style vocals to follow.
As the second chorus builds another layer, featuring a vigorous vocal overlap, the words “I’m sorry, I’ve got to let you go” ring out and begin to tug at the listener’s heartstrings - and there we see the final nail in the coffin. Kucharski takes full advantage by stripping the song right back down to how it began, humming “how am I supposed to stand there next to you, and know this isn’t love?”, before a gargantuan, climactic instrumental accompanied with epic gang vocals. Then, the distorted fade out. So you’re left to take in a grand, captivating and monumental song that you just didn’t realise We Are Fiction had in them – to come out with such a track after a lengthy absence, it all makes sense.
Speaking to Kucharski on a night out drinking, he told me he wrote his lines unaware of what Barker had penned, which is why they may seem to be different sides to the same story; it’s what two minds are able to bring to the metaphorical table. We spoke of loved ones and relationships, and he said he was inspired by his muse, his partner of many, many years. He said, thinking of his now wife, then girlfriend, he never wanted to cause her harm or let her down, even during their early days when there were fights and weeks of separation. Even then, when he would see her, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget these words, he said “I couldn’t keep my hands off her; I didn’t want to”. It made me think that that was what true love is, and it added that extra impact to his words in this song.
It was a troublesome time during the writing stages of ‘Sail On’; both Chambers and Barker both lost ones they loved, and this song helped reflect that – Barker’s choice to let go of someone he held so close, and with his words to help council and comfort Chambers. Incidentally both parties rekindling for periods; Chambers to this day still with his partner (I personally could not see it any other way).
It was around this time we became close friends, and I would annoy Barker to high Heavens hoping for advice as I went through the same emotional hardship (a little weaker than the two), spending Saturday nights at their little insurance-supplied flat, whilst maintenance and repairs went on (for months) at the Ron Bungalow due to a burst pipe and flood. Shaw shortly after the success of the song suffered a similar separation, and the words helped motivate him to struggle through the hard time, fully sported by his army of friends.
Kucharski on the other end, trying to protect what is his, his love with his partner almost like a Ying and Yang effect; two ends of the poles. He remains stoic – yet through song he reveals his vulnerabilities without shame. In reflection, when the endearing line “remember me when your future starts” is cried out in the second verse, I cannot help but feel it is one of the most sincere lines I’ve ever heard.
The emotional chains are held ever tighter through tattoos that the band sport, hailing ‘Sail On’s significance and meaning: whatever stormy sea you may approach, you are never alone, you will always have your friends and family with you and you must keep your head above the water at all times and sail on through. Chambers was the first to get ‘Sail On’ tattooed on him; it’s visible in latter part of the original music video on his wrist. The work supplied by tattooist and good friend Leigh Tilbrook (the same handsome devil that features in the video for ‘My Dreams Are Haunted’).
Shaw later got the same words on the back of his neck, as did Kucharski on his leg. Calton has an anchor on his arm, if that counts, and Barker a galleon upon stormy waters as part of his sleeve. As for myself, Tilbrook branded ‘Sail On’ across my heart – I look at my chest and smile; it means overcoming struggle and it signifies friendship.
Kucharski explains that “the original inspiration for ‘Sail On’ came from the contemplation you get of your own mortality, and that it could be sooner than you'd like, and how important you then realise it is for other people to keep their and your love going. It finished as a deeper contemplation about situations in life where people tell you you're not strong enough to do something, or that moment when you have to stop everything you're doing to think ‘how am I going to get through this and move forward’? ‘Sail On’ is an anthem for that moment”.
Depicting these inner-battles of teenage angst and misunderstanding, a winsome music video was released two months after the single to help solidify the bands new found form, to great effect. This was also my minimal claim to fame. I remember receiving a call from Shaw’s then girlfriend whilst I was aimlessly wondering about the town centre with my then girlfriend, and we were asking to head down to a local bar (Club Revolution, sadly no longer open) and play some pool in the background whilst Chambers shot his ‘stood up’ scene. I recall shouting out jokes the entire time as I cracked ball after ball into each and every pocket, whilst my adversary attempted to catch up. But I just could not for the life of me pot the black. I began swearing profusely, yet somehow Chamber kept a straight face the entire time, solemnly drinking his beer and looking at his phone. I ended up losing, too caught up in the moment and coming from a gene-pool where any pub related activity is a no-go, my fifteen seconds of fame were over.
A Thousand Places to Sleep
‘A Thousand Places to Sleep’ was the first or second song the band ever wrote together with their current line-up, to feature Kucharski, and yet from its name alone, they set themselves a mighty task and outlined their goal from day one. It expresses a desire to travel and play music to every city, every town, every village, and on every stage. I feel through its musical tone and structure, eager fans would be able to decipher that it is an early song by the band, and as a tribute, listeners are thrown back to memories of ‘This Life We Lead’ from the self-titled EP, as a megaphone effect is applied to the vocals during the instrumental breakdown late into the song, adding another layer; more texture; more substance.
A marvellous effort that is gripping and tinged with awe from start to finish, which reminds me of an early Before Their Eyes, especially with its rare southern-rock breakdown at the end to polish the track off. Their debut self-titled album was infectiously devilish; a well mixed blend of rock, pop, and aggressive post-hardcore that ‘A Thousand Places to Sleep’ seems to emulate fantastically. Harrowing drums and a gifted techno riff open the ears up to a world of excitement that’s booted with optimism and up-beat tones. The song resembles this sense of hope and mirrors the positive phrase “maybe the grass is greener on the other side” but with a dark twist that could only be believable and agreeable with the nature of the rock n’ roll music that accompanies.
The track was demoed under a slightly longer name. ‘A Thousand Places to Sleep (But There’s Only One Home)’ which gives the song’s theme away once more, and played live quite often in the early-Kucharski days alongside ‘Mansion House’ to help create a lively and party-esque atmosphere during shows to display the ineffability of their passion; the ideal to ‘live long in every good deed, in every brave thought, in every love’ (179).
If the song couldn’t be any more complete, the harsh, abrupt ending rolls off striking the same note of the guitar picking to follow in next song ‘Tilt’ – they flow into one another as you turn the page to uncover another new chapter.
The sexy side of We Are Fiction comes out in this grunge-inspired track built around a heavy groove, smooth solid sound and dirty jazz noise – soundtrack to fill up any American pool hall or classic bar swarming with neon lights, beer mats and barflies.
Beginning with a tickling riff, ‘Tilt’ absorbs you entirely as soon as the other instruments are introduced in this piece: the buzz of the bass, the distortion of the rhythm, and most notably, the whirl of the lead guitar which showcases the talents of the Prince influenced Andi Scott Shaw, one of the UK’s most talented riff-masters. Dispatched with venom, his arms are the serpents of my joy, slivering up the neck of the fret board. You become the oar in the water, with his guitar the steady hand; swooping, gliding, in and out, up and down along the currant.
Like a blind man’s bluff, Peterborian rapper Xidus Pain’s appearance at first surprises you, only to fill the missing gap left in ‘Tilt’, completing the track. He brings something new and refreshing to the album; the listener rocking back on their chair now shoots forward (or falls off) – the song is different enough as it is from their normal rock sound, but they blend up all the elements more so, by introducing hip-hop infused tongue-twisting lyrical class, a stark polar opposite, but worked so timelessly well, it is the (not icing on the cake, but) ice in that glass of whisky.
In ‘Tilt’, the band mention home repeatedly; when you take into consideration previous songs like ‘Bright Lights’, you can’t simply assume they mean where they rest their head at night and where they keep their frozen chicken, if anything ‘Bright Lights’ tries to see them as far away from that place as often as possible. By home, We Are Fiction is talking about a state of mind and a place in their heart – they’re talking about music and everything about it. Take the chorus, Barker screams “I find myself on this lonely path […] despair! Despair! I’m breaking down! [...] can’t find my way home”. He’s not with his companions, he’s not making music, he has to stray away from his dream because he needs to make ends meet in order to currently survive and support himself in a place he does not wish to be. Having to work the horrible, mundane 9-to-5 jobs many of us creative souls find ourselves stuck in is miserable and heart-rending, one cannot live their dream and be, essentially, happy.
‘Tilt’ is another way of expressing how much they love music, what they do as We Are Fiction and naturally the passion they have – thankfully portrayed so original and visionary, which is where, I believe anyway, the name derives from, on verge of breaking point. Xidus Pain raps “I can’t quit”, listing the sacrifices he’s made, and “this music we make is more than an addition”, he has to make it, music has to be his life, it is his esse; and that’s why Kucharski bonded so well with him over time whilst he used to work at Peterborough Music, a local music shop. They acknowledged each other’s passions and connected over the love they share, only to later (now) harness raw aggression and raise Hell together.
With this attitude, they create music for the right reasons too as they “fight to keep [their] sanity”: ‘then it isn’t fame. Fame exists in that sense only for education, it is a matter for the schoolmasters. No, it isn’t fame. It is what I call eternity. The pious call it the kingdom of God […] and this is the kingdom of truth’ (179). The dark and gritty song (with an immensely optimistic hidden meaning, might I add) is then counter balanced by...
The Worst of It
...telling you exactly what to do when you are down, or things are not going your way.
An uplifting pop-punk style song tie-dyed in a positive mental attitude and philosophy of hope, encouraging you to get back up on your feet, dust down and take on the world: you can do anything you put your mind towards, like the band have time after time in order to get where they are; in order to make this song!
This track wipes the floor with the likes of All Time Low; it’s certainly more masculine and British and works to a greater advantage is getting a message across – it’s not music for the sake of music, it’s there in order to change an attitude, much like what is discovered at the end of Steppenwolf. It is argued that Hesse does not define reality based on what occurs in physical time and space; rather, reality is merely a function of metaphysical cause and effect. What matters is not whether the murder of a character actually occurred, but rather that at that moment it was the narrator’s intention to kill Hermine. In that sense, Haller’s, the narrator, various states of mind are of more significant than his actions.
Without the ‘correct’ mentality, no action can follow. It is that fact alone We Are Fiction penned “we’re about to let you in to a philosophy from the worst of it [...] try and smile through the worst of it”.
‘The Worst of It’ was the first time the band utilised social media and networking. Instagram began hitting its peak, and with it, the guys began releasing previews to the single and video over their official account (@wearefiction) to their 700-odd followers. A simple video to emphasise the words more than the action of five guys playing their instruments together and having fun with balloons and glitter against a plain white background. Another app proving to be very popular is Snapchat, and with it Calton sent me a stop-motion clip of the video; a shot of Barker simulating aural sex – quite possibly one of the funniest things you will ever see. One could say that throughout ‘The Worst of It’ Barker’s aural sword is still as sharp as ever...
The song is truly effulging, immensely catchy, ‘and though there was no chamber-music to be had nor a lonely friend with his violin, still that lovely melody was in my head and I could play it through to myself after a fashion, humming the rhythm of it as I drew my breath’ (46) for its danceable nature is held tightly by the unbreakable rhythm and should no doubt feature in at least one of your playlists every summer from now on.
Chambers sites this as his favourite song to date that the band have, created on and surrounding nothing but love amidst one of their hazy Blue Barn nights. Named in honour of Kucharski’s late grandfather, Władysław (pronounced ‘vla-di-slav’ – or as Chambers puts it “pretty much ‘what is love’… That’s how Marc says it anyway”) translates from Polish to English to mean ‘possessor of the glory and fame’, which subtly encapsulates this remarkable hidden depth the band embed within each song; the further to dig, the more you find.
The name was borne by four Polish kings, and later, a true gentleman who “grew up in the south of Poland through the Second World War, where he was torn away from his family and forced to fight”, Kucharski recalls.
“I always remember him telling me stories about the things he had seen. I look at them now and think how very disturbing some of them are, but in contrast he was such a loving happy man. He and my nonna were a big part of my upbringing including my faith, we both shared the same chronic illness and I grew very close to him as he and I started to get older. Though he was taken away from us under the care of professionals where he should have been kept safe and well, but sometimes life happens to you and doesn't consider any of your plans or feelings; this was one of those moments. I only learned after he left that I was never the one who told him much, he gave me so much of his life stories his time and his love and I suddenly at this point felt I never really reciprocated that. So, this song is an ‘ode’ to my grandfather if you will. It's a very intimate personal struggle I needed to have out with him, every time I play it, I play it so he can hear it, trying to make it reach his soul every time”.
As a result, this excruciatingly beautiful song took Kucharski ages to write (“and I think of everything that I wanted to say”; “I think of all the things that I need you to know, I’ll have to wait until I’ve earned my own headstone”), to perfect in pen, to ensure every word was as important as the last and to ensure no other word could replace it to justify his grandfather’s legacy and ensure his story is told the way it should be; ‘of all literature up to our days the drama has been most highly prized by writers and critics, and rightly, since it offers (or might offer) the greatest possibilities of representing the ego as a manifold entity’ (72), as Hesse adds.
Barker takes a back seat in ‘Władysław’, as the song opens with a comforting yet eerie, atmospheric guitar pluck-of-strings and solemn, slow-tempo drum beat. Kucharski’s poignant, touching story unravels over his lips before concluding with its impassioned crescendo of a chorus, spurring “I never got the chance to tell you how much I love you”, which lingers in the mind. Chambers recalls the writing process of this musical piece quite well: “we were all drunk and literally just hammered away as fast as we could”.
This song also holds a true delight. Kucharski shows his flare and Michael Jackson fuelled passion two and a half minutes in that is so eye-opening one must take a step back. After this gorgeously pleasing display, only then Barker enters reasserting the strength of ‘Władysław’ – to me, great timing. However, it is Kucharski that strikes the match to ignite this candle, and truly light up this song, transforming it into an incredible ballad and angelic medley of talent. He was the missing piece of the We Are Fiction puzzle. With no disrespect to Adam Lewis, former backing vocalist and guitarist that Kucharsiki replaced, Chambers said to me once “Adam had a killer voice, but Marc has this passion that just can’t be matched”.
The name Władysław is composed of the Slavonic elements volod (rule) and slav (glory); hence, ‘glorious rule’, a perfectly fitting coincidence.
A stand offish, stand-out track, ‘Earth Medicine’ is infectious and addicting, named on behalf of natural drugs and dedicated to overcoming adversaries. You do not want the track to end; you must hit replay. Or at least I do time and time again. It was my first reaction when I listened to it first in Barker’s car after a night out at some Chinese restaurant, me in the backseat secretly praying that the journey would last long enough to ensure I heard the entire song – and thankfully it did, engaged entirely by the thrilling, almost engine fuelled riff that builds up for the first verse, well into the song at roughly a minute and forty seconds, that made me want to pray at Sainte-Jeanne-d'Arc in Paris for absolution.
‘I stood for a moment on the scent, smelling this shrill and blood-raw music, sniffing the atmosphere of the hall angrily, and hankering after it a little too. One half of this music, the melody, was all pomade and sugar and sentimentality. The other half was savage, temperamental and vigorous. Yet the two went artlessly well together and made a whole’ (47) – the duality of the vocals and guitars are compelled to recognize one another, locking horns to create this apocalyptic anthem with its doomsday styled ending; the howling of Kucharski’s thundering guitar – drastic heavy chords whilst Shaw’s wails his weapon in the distance; swept away by a tornado like a ‘hectic struggle between desire and dread’ (116).
Lyrics “take a flame, start a fire, light the darkness and inspire” shows that ‘the music [has] merit of a great sincerity’ (47). It’s stunning and inspirational like every other One for Sorrow song, but finally the aggressive background gives that meaning the extra push; you recognise you’re approaching the end and it becomes your turn to make a move in order to acknowledge such comely aesthetics yourself.
The single came along with a music video, the bands fourth. On a rainy Thursday night, I headed over to a local club in Peterborough where they were shooting a scene. I was mere background noise, but good looking and charming background noise, as I sat at the bar and had a few drinks, walked off, and came back, etc. in a sped up montage as we see the rapid decline of the video’s protagonist. Unfortunately, however, due to television law (or something along those silly PC lines) we could not actually drink alcohol, and were substituted cheap cola and water.
The story line itself is somewhat of an Easter egg for fans of the band and their recent videos, tying in ‘Sail On’ and ‘My Dreams Are Haunted’ together in a very clever, touching, and very subtle way.
‘Earth Medicine’s release made timelines on Facebook standstill with constant sharing, linking and discussion with its stronger sound than previous two releases and darker video content, along with new features and effects. Chambers mentioned “we had the chance to use brand new technology lasers in the music video which have never been used before, filming our videos entirely ourselves it’s a massive privilege to be able to get our hands on stuff like this”. Every opportunity the band have had, they have put to good use, and roughly two minutes in, you can spot myself portraying the ‘most miserable man in the world; drinking alone at the bar’ look. I think I nailed it.
Forget About Me
‘Forget About Me’ is unique. What originally started off as just an introduction with drums, the wonders of mixing allowed the pristine work of Gerrard “Gerry” Harrison (drummer of Turn & Run) to add original piano and atmospherics to beautiful perfection; dramatising the opening instrumental to sway with a powerful presence. You can just picture Kucharski and Calton hammer away at their weapons as Shaw takes centre stage with his dynamic and fabulous skill.
I feel as if I have heard this guitar riff flow through my mind a thousand times before, but never so clean and embracing; never so stylish and devilishly good, and I am knocked for six when I take a step back from this ocean I’ve found myself submerged in and remember that this has been created by five regular guys that I see week in, week out; five normal people have made something so extraordinary and fulfilling.
Likewise, the emotive “woah” we hear is reminiscent of Deaf Havana’s Veck-Gilodi singing “I got you, I got you” (‘I Will Try’, Fools and Worthless Liars, 2011) and à la Alexisonfire in ‘Control’ (Watch Out!, 2004), two acts that highly influence the band. Kucharski suddenly backing up that flare up with his gospel-like vocals, only to then be backed by the rest of the band – only the second time too that we hear Shaw.
Chamber’s bass echoes in and out, like twinkling stars, swimming naked in the sky; a tiara in our favourite dark haired lover as Barker howls at the end, tearing himself apart, tearing away, gasping, gnawing, desperate for the climax, literally giving it his all to his last breath. It’s enough to give one goosebumps and have every hair stand on end: ‘its effect [is] immeasurably enlivening and delightful – as though one were filled with gas and no longer any gravity’ (204).
Now the gauntlet is laid; take them up on their challenge and find your home, your outlet as the band call out “just follow the light home”. They’ve showed you their love and their passion, what they call home; mimicking their previous vocal chant from their self-titled EP, “never let go of your dreams”, and craftily, they’ve repeated themselves with a well developed phrase, seeping with meaning and oozes inspiration, surging you forward to still not let go, and now chase your dream like they have; the same theme that they began exploring in ‘Bright Lights’, now more emotional as you sense the desire and seriousness in their voices. It’s thriving with urgency, and is a powerful ending to the record.
With an emergence of American pop-eqsue post-hardcore, this record could not come out at a better time to help affirm British position and stature amongst the ranks; a similarity One for Sorrow now holds with the Steppenwolf is the loneliness and isolation, it’s a stand-alone album, ‘[its] appearance unmistakeably as a separate and single entity’ (72). Along with this, there’s not ‘too much’ of any one track, and nothing is repetitive; each song is entirely different and defined, which is rare for any record these days. I remember it was why I held Brand New’s Deja Entendu so fondly and highly, and One for Sorrow is now no different.
Becoming contemporary but honourable and humble to genres before, and ‘despising the bourgeoisie, […] they add it its strength and glory; for in the last resort they have to affirm their beliefs in order to live’ (66). From the locker room to the sea of possibilities, these stars of electricity make you feel almost jealous that someone else other than yourself could right this instant be listening to this treasure, finally breached from its chest as the hard work has finally paid off: ‘the few who break free seek their reward in the unconditioned and go down in splendour’ (66).
However, no good poem is ever finished until it has been read, and therefore no good record can ever be finished until you’ve listened to it.
I have argued several times in previous reviews that a specific artist deserves praise, recognition and respect, and here where I suppose I stress it quite a lot, I have been extra benevolent and almost philanthropic for I know the hardship We Are Fiction have gone through, all the time they have put away, and how their lives have been completely taken over for the arts.
Aside from the fact that they are good artists, they’ve gone that extra mile for us, the public; the fans, and never once for themselves; you know ‘most intellectuals and most artists belong to the same type. Only the strongest of them force their way through the atmosphere of the Bourgeoise-Earth and reach the cosmic’ (66) where they belong to be.
Looking back on the journey, I asked Chambers what memories he would cherish about this record, and how the experience could be summed up:
“Personally, I think it's more the things this album has led to, rather than the record itself. Having the opportunity to play at Leeds and Reading this year, and being a featured artist on Radio 1 - both of those are things I’ve dreamt of since I started playing music at 13. I never thought that, even before releasing our debut album, it would lead to so many dreams coming true for me.
To answer a bit more direct, one memory I will cherish from the making of this album is one of Blue Barn nights. We were doing some live tracks over Skype to a select few fans when our best bud Stevo (Stephen Best, bassist of All in Colours) turned up. Within 15 minutes of his arrival, our nice little live acoustic sessions for fans just turned in to us dancing and singing to ridiculous songs, and Stevo puking after nailing a bottle of Mansion House - we woke up the next day to see the barn chickens eating Stevo’s stale sick...”
All that is left is to address the name of this piece: One for Sorrow. Kucharski gladly informed me that “One for Sorrow was an attempt to tie in our music with something real and physical, like the magpies you see in everyday life, and the superstition that a single magpie represents, sadness, pain, and sorrow - a lot of this album represents the same feeling, so it felt fitting”.
The music is heartbroken, and yearns for young close hearts, lips of girls in their teens, lost impossible chorus girls of eternity dancing slowly in our minds to the mad ruined tambourine of love and hope to now embrace this unapologetic powerhouse of emotional conflict. And suddenly it’s absurd to think that in a flash, three years are over; they passed by in the space of forty minutes, and you’ve experienced an entire story, the whole process of being, revealing to the world that there is beauty in sorrow, and poetry within the magpie. To conclude, ‘whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, [and] passion instead of foolery’ (117) can find home in this album.
Hesse, Hermann. 1965. Steppenwolf. London: Penguin.