After a year in the making, Pretend Happy release their debut full-length, ‘Tired Eyes’, this week. It’s been a long time coming for the trio who hail from the sleepy town of Barnstaple in North Devonshire. Besides the usual struggles independent bands suffer; the band momentarily became a quartet during the making of ‘Tired Eyes’, its members have had their fair share of personal problems. At the centre of the record is guitarist/vocalist Jack Brown’s self-examination of past mental health issues and relationships. Delivered with an earnest approach, songs like ‘Save Me’ and ‘I Remember’ serve as therapy for the front man whilst musically honing an encouraging emotive alt rock sound.
Through Pretend Happy’s organic songwriting, the end result is an album that thrives on its earnest tendencies proving to be a compelling and rewarding listen.
In the lead up to its release, we had the opportunity to speak to Jack Brown about the making of the record, its lyrical nature and working with producer Lewis Johns.
AH: We included Pretend Happy in last years list of bands to watch in 2015 but it’s only now the album is seeing the light of day. How come?
Jack: Well we talked about the idea of doing an album for a while. We started writing but we weren’t really happy with anything that we came up with. We started toying around with the idea of adding a 4th member to the band, and I guess “secretly” we actually started writing for the album as a four piece before we even announced that we now have a new member. It added a completely new dynamic to the band and we didn’t want to rush any aspect of the writing process.
AH: Would you say once you became a quartet the writing process quickened?
Jack: 100%. When we were a three piece the writing process usually started with me having an idea or writing a song and bringing it to the other two to work on. Whereas now me and Tim really gel when it comes to creating a skeleton for a song or moulding an idea into a song. We’re best friends, so there’s no awkward feelings or hurt if we tell each other when an idea doesn’t sound good or doesn’t work. We both want what’s best and what works for the songs.
AH: Besides becoming a four-piece, how has Pretend Happy evolved over the past 12 months especially compared to the old EP’s?
Jack: Well we’ve had our ups and downs – in our own personal lives especially. I think we’ve just learnt how to be better as a band. We’ve always stayed humble and we always make sure to be good people and make the most of every opportunity we get but we’re still very new to all of this. We love playing shows and we love just creating music together and hanging out. We actually looked back at videos of us playing our first shows and we were awful, but that’s awesome because it shows how far we’ve come. It shows that practicing regularly and getting yourselves out there and playing every gig you can really does help you evolve as a band.
AH: Definitely. Moving on to the album, ‘Tired Eyes’ sounds like it came together very organically?
Jack: The writing process couldn’t have been more laid back. We wrote and demoed every track on the album in Tims bedroom. Nearly every track we wrote made the record. We literally just wrote songs. We didn’t care about what we used to sound like and weren’t set on a certain sound we wanted to recreate, it was literally just us playing around with ideas together. When we took all the ideas to the studio, Lewis Johns made us feel so relaxed about everything. We were so nervous going in because we’d never recorded at a studio like the ranch before; but he’s just a mastermind at recording and a lovely chap.
AH: Having heard the album that natural sound certainly comes across. As a critic I have a horrible tendency to fit bands into certain genres or compare them to more established acts but with ‘Tired Eyes’ that proved impossible to do.
Jack: I think a lot of our individual influences managed to permeate to the surface when writing and recording this record.
AH: Who would you consider those influences to be?
Jack: I’d have to say Tame Impala are a huge influence, as well as Superheaven, Turnover etc. Tim is the biggest Coheed fan I’ve ever met in my life. Nathan is a big Gallows fan but also likes a lot of lighter material like Damien Rice and City & Colour – and George loves punk rock, like The Clash, Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols etc. However now George has since left the band.
AH: For new listeners how would you describe the overall sound and tone of ‘Tired Eyes’?
Jack: That’s difficult. I think the one word I can really describe the record as is personal. Every song is very personal and all written from personal experiences and I think that the instrumentation we’ve created for each track encompasses the story. A more simple answer I guess is its just alternative rock music! haha.
AH: I certainly get that impression especially lyrically as you take on self-reflective themes such as anxiety, past and current relationships etc. Could you go into more detail about the lyrical nature of the album?
Jack: I guess the main lyrical nature of the record is our personal lives over the past two years; myself dealing with severe anxiety and depression, my relationship with my Dad. We all live in a very small, secluded town which can sometimes feel cut off from the rest of the world so there’s ups and downs to that. I guess just the uncertainty of our futures and being afraid of the unknown.
AH: Would you say writing the album was therapeutic for you?
Jack: Definitely. I find it difficult to perform a couple of the songs live because of the lyrical content, but I thought I’d lay everything on the table for this record.
AH: A couple tracks from the album are already out there. How has the response been?
Jack: Incredibly overwhelming. We were terrified for people to hear the record but also insanely excited, but its been great. We really worked hard on these songs and we couldn’t be more proud of them, so it’s always really cool to see that people are into what you’re doing.
AH: Earlier you mentioned about working with Lewis Johns. How was it working with someone who’s had their hand in so many important UK records in recent years?
Jack: Lewis is one of the coolest people we’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. He’s just incredible. He really knows his stuff and really understood us as a band and got just as involved in the creation process. He actually even did a little guest vocal part on the track ‘Arsonist.’ We absolutely love The Ranch and the way Lewis works and we really can’t wait till we go back there.
AH: With the album set to be released shortly, surely we can expect to see Pretend Happy on the road soon?
Jack: Definitely. We have a few more shows to announce soon, but once the records out the plan is to be on the road as much as we physically can.
AH: With ‘Tired Eyes’, what lasting impression do you hope listeners leave with?
Jack: We just wanted to write a record that’ll stand the test of time, and we hope they think it does!
AH: As it’s a new year, other than your own record, what other releases and bands are you looking to hear from in 2016?
Jack: The new Moose Blood record is gonna be great. The new Losing Sleep record has just come out which is so good, also new music from Milk Teeth, Creeper and Muncie Girls.
‘Tired Eyes’ by Pretend Happy is out now on Tape Culture Records.
Words by Sêan Reid (@SeanReid86)