When you’re tired of London, you’re tired of life, goes the cliché. But in the city of endless possibilities there’s a deafening roar of sound and music; it takes something special to cut through the melee of the metropolis.
Tall Stories (vocalist and guitarist Rob McCabe, drummer Scott Vining, and keytar synth-bassist Stu Maxwell) are a band who do exactly that. Within their ostensibly simple setup of guitar, vocals, drums and synth bass lie songs of rare clarity and intelligence, both musical and lyrical, that marks them out as something special.
“Writing a good pop song is a bigger challenge than many people realise,” says McCabe, the band’s frontman and a New Zealand emigré, “because the simplicity is often deceptive. The pop song for me is like a trojan horse – on the outside it’s a pretty decoration or gift, but you can fill that horse with any message you like.”
Out of the trojan horse of the band’s first single “Things Are Strained” pours an account of doubt and duality that will sound familiar to many, imbued with a frenzied energy. It could only have come from the city, where the airwaves are crammed with pirate radio stations, and the air itself clicks and clatters with phone-speaker hip-hop.
“I had been up all night at some party listening to drum ‘n’ bass,” says McCabe, “and those basslines just went round and round in my head. The next day there was one line that stuck with me, and this became the basis for the guitar riff in ‘Things Are Strained’.”
Tall Stories met amongst the endless parties, underground gigs and art happenings of the north London warehouse scene. “It’s been bubbling in the Manor House and Seven Sisters area for a few years,” says Maxwell, “everyone doing their own thing, and always loads going on.” Being around the milieu of creative dropouts, dealers and ambitious delinquents contributed to the creative abandon in Tall Stories’ sound.
“There are always parties going on. The music is usually filthy dubstep, and the drugs are usually even filthier” says McCabe. “When you write or create something, your environment is always going to come through in some way or another. You soak up your surroundings and add your own little twist.”
“Our goal is getting that warehouse scene we’ve lived in out of the warehouses and into the venues,” continues Vining. “That’s why we love playing free weekend gigs in the middle of Camden. We want to play in front of a party crowd.” And it works – Tall Stories shows are already notorious hit-and-run parties that wipe the floor with the legions of landfill-indie bands trundling around London’s gig circuit.
There are flashes of bands past, too: the manic energy of The Buzzcocks, the catchy, lo-fi fizz of The Violent Femmes, and the laconic rock ‘n’ roll sensibility of The Modern Lovers, to name a few – but rarely has a band plugged into the zeitgeist as effortlessly as the post-millennial guitar-pop mashup that is Tall Stories.