Love Amongst Ruin is the brainchild of former Placebo drummer Steve Hewitt. The melodic rock sound will appeal to a range of fans as it dips in and out of alternative genres. The real clincher for listeners though, will be the raw honesty in the lyrics. We caught up with Steve in Leeds to talk about his recent inspirations and aims for the future.
“There’s nothing like a crisis to inspire creativity”
S] Can you talk to us about some of the biggest challenges you have faced over the last few years when developing the Love Amongst Ruin project?
SH] I think that the biggest challenge has really been the vocal aspect. After the Placebo thing it was cool to carry on recording and to have a project. Once I had the music it became a cathartic experience to start using what I had recorded as a form of release for all these demons and feelings that I have inside. When it came down to doing vocals, I did wonder about getting a singer in, but once I started to attempt it, it made more sense to try it out for myself and I thought that it might work Lyrically, everything came very naturally, it was just getting my head around the actual singing and getting the confidence really, so that’s been the biggest challenge.
S] What has been the best thing about getting this material out live?
SH] Well, I did the album first and then getting the band together came after that. I finished the record and I was very happy with it, it became obvious that I had to take it out on the road really and let the world hear it. Once I picked the band, we spent the year rehearsing it and doing showcases so that we could get the business-end of things sorted out. It’s only recently where we have been out on our first tour. We’ve been doing sporadic gigs and to now have this proper tour where we are doing show after show, it has brought the band together and we’ve become really tight. The songs really work live, and it’s a great relief really.
S] Were there any great moments from the studio that you remember from during the recording process?
SH] Actually, the album is made up of the first ten songs that I wrote and recorded and that was it. It’s a very honest record. The tracks all have the same thread going through them. I didn’t have loads of material to choose from, and it wasn’t like many other bands where there is a backlog of material to go through – this was very immediate.
S] It’s been said before that the album is based around broken relationships and that it offers and element of catharsis – can you explain this further?
SH] Well, there’s nothing like a crisis to inspire creativity! It was the way that things ended after 12 years of being with Placebo and how they went about it. It was really disappointing and a confusing time because it was very faceless. I went back home and I had to think, ‘well, that’s it’ and I kept asking myself all of these questions because nobody would give me the answers. I had to come up with my own conclusions, and I needed to express how I felt inside. Even though it might be incorrect according to those two, that’s how I feel about the situation because I wasn’t given any reasons. So, the album and tracks like ‘So Sad (Fade)‘ are tearing shreds off of someone in-particular. To me, it’s dog-eat-dog. But then, there are songs like ‘Truth‘ that express the hurt and anger that I feel, but at the same time everyone can identify with that idea – life forces friendships apart and you have to try and find hope and move on.
S] How is the inspiration and creative process different for you now in contrast to your work in Placebo?
SH] I don’t have to answer to anyone! The fights are less! On this first record it was purely my thing and my baby. We won’t be able to tell until the next record when the other members of the band can contribute to the final decision what it is like as a team. For the second one, I want to give the band freedom to interpret the songs how they want to. It’s definitely going to be a longer process though, because there will be another five mouths to answer to! It takes the pressure off of me a little bit, though!
S] How is the band dynamic, and how much do you enjoy working with this unit?
SH] I am enjoying music again. The other guys are very eager to be in this band and want to play live. It’s different to how it was in Placebo because it was 12 years and lots of money – of course, all that gets in the way and it becomes complicated. The last thing on the agenda towards the end was music – it was always about something else like personal triumph or ego and it’s not about that with us and we are very much a unit. We’ve all gotten on together very well, because you never can tell in the beginning what’s going to happen when you start a new band. We’re becoming a family and we all want to get out and play music and gain a reputation for being one of the best live bands around. Of course, we’ve got to be at the top of our game because I want to achieve the level that I have before doing world-class performances. The general dynamic is fantastic.
S] Is there a song from the debut album that you feel defines the band right now?
SH] There’s one which was a recent addition on the album originally but I used the music from a band called Can and I put my own lyrics to it and rearranged it, but unfortunately the band wouldn’t let us have the music so I found a new song in the form of ‘Come On Say It‘ which is on the record. That was the first track that we recorded together. I think for me, ‘So Sad‘ and ‘Truth‘ represent what Love Amongst Ruin is about.
S] On the same note, is there a song that you find particularly enjoyable or even difficult to perform live because it means a lot to you personally?
SH] It’s a tough question because the thing about the album is that each song is a different ‘animal’ and I like to see it as a sort of musical journey where no song is the same. I love them all really. You can be in one mood for one of the tracks and then the next song will take you into a completely different mood. You’re never going to be emotionally stationary with us. I love singing ‘So Sad‘, ‘Truth‘ and ‘Away From Me‘.
S] Where do you write – is there a specific location?
SH] Yeah, well I’ve got a studio at home, but I work with Logic [Pro Studio] so I don’t need a massive space. I demo all of my stuff on v-drums and I do bass and guitar and I usually start about 9pm and I’ll work until 5am while my wife and kids are asleep. Nobody can hear me and I can just throw everything around!
S] Is that where you have most of your ideas, or do you find inspiration while you are out?
SH] I have different musical ideas while I am out and about but musically I do have to really work at that and sometimes I will spend a week on a track and just sit with a piece of paper trying to get melodies together but when it comes together, it’s really worth it. I believe that if you are going to sing it really has to mean something. I am not a pop-tart! I have to go deeper. It’s still something I am still refining that formula though.
S] There are elements of electro mixed with pure rock within Love Amongst Ruin’s sound – what inspired this crossover sound?
SH] That was actually because I used a lot of plug ins on logic! To have so many formats available so quickly, it’s really easy just to experiment. Also, I wrote some of these tracks with a bass-playing friend of mine called Jon Thorne who used to play in Lamb and when we started writing together the first thing that we did was a track called ‘Running‘ and I wanted to come in on and angle and start writing music that was different to the conventional bass, drums and guitar. Jon is a jazz player and so he plays upright bass – so, I had rock drums and upright bass – it was very experimental really. I’ve never lifted anything from any electronic bands but I wanted to get different textures and mix a variety of influences with classic melodic rock which is about more than American college music by numbers – it’s got to have soul because that’s where we come from.
S] We’re based up north – what are you most looking forward to about playing shows in Leeds and Manchester and what significance, if any do these northern shows have for you?
SH] The north is important to me. I mean I am from Cheshire originally, near Manchester. Even when I was in the Boo Radleys and K-Klass, we loved playing up north and we came to Leeds regularly back in ’88! Those were amazing times and it’s always good to be back – it’s strange after all these years to be back here, but I find that exciting. I don’t think I come back enough! London is too easy – it can be very ‘cold’ in terms of audience, whereas you get to Manchester and Leeds it really ‘goes off’ and there is a lot more excitement. It’s always special.
S] You are making use of many social media platforms at the moment including Twitter and Facebook, how important is it for you to keep in touch with fans and why?
SH] To be honest, I would rather write music, play music and tour it. But, life is a lot different these days and you have to embrace it. I’m still getting my head around it. But it’s good because you have that immediate contact with people and it’s not like I just turn up and do a show – it goes beyond that. I do enjoy it, but you do have to be careful about how you say things! It scares me a little, but I have to embrace it.
S] Did you come up with the ‘So Sad (Fade)’ video concept and is that something you will be exploring more in the future – do you enjoy that visual-side of the band?
SH] I worked with a company called Red Banana for the treatment and it’s supposed to be about that feeling when you know something is breaking up and you don’t want it to. I mean it suits the tone of the track, because the verses are very direct in terms of the lyrics where I am trying to say how angry I am but at the same time, the chorus is me saying, ‘this is so painful, and I never really wanted this to happen, deep down’. The dance aspect of the video shows off that confusion and frustration and how when you are that angry it can blind you – so, there’s two dancers and one of them wants to come forward while the other one is pulling back, it’s this constant war and trying to solve those problems that never get solved. There are lots of videos that use interpretive dance these days but I wanted to try and use it in a different context.
S] How important is the visual element to Love Amongst Ruin in terms of communicating ideas, because you also have the ideas of civil unrest present in the video for ‘Home’?
SH] Ideally, I wouldn’t have had the band in ‘Home‘ at all and I would have just had the cut-up images because it communicates that energy – it’s about fighting against the system and what happens as a result of that. But, you’ve got to put the band in there so that people understand that it is us. I think I look like Michael Hutchence [INXS] which I wasn’t too happy about! Videos have always been a necessary evil, and you have to put some kind of visual content to go with the music. My general feeling though is that they are quite disposable.
S] In the event of a zombie outbreak, what weapon would you use to defend yourself and why?
SH] An AK-47 just for the noise, or a baseball bat. It’d be good to get hands on and maybe use some vinyl records too!
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