INTERVIEW: Citizens! Wonk Pop
Sitting in a dressing room backstage of France’s Pont du Gard Festival, Citizens! guitarist, Thom Rhoades, takes a moment to calm down after the band’s set while on the phone to LUNA.
The guitarist excitedly claims that they had a stage invasion and “got everyone dancing along and got a lot of handclaps going,” and it’s hard not to imagine the pure adrenaline that must be running through his veins.
While the English band are comparatively new on the scene- having only formed in 2011- they immediately gained the attention of Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, who offered the band advice before he was even officially signed on as the producer of their debut album, Here We Are.
“Initially we just met him through a friend of a friend,” Rhoades explains, “He was kind of recommending things and recommending changes to the songs and the direction we should be looking in. Gradually, over time, it became clear that he was so passionate about it that he should be the one to produce the album – he was getting really involved and he knew what he was doing. He felt like the natural choice.”
With Here We Are’s single Reptile peaking at #3 on iTunes Australia’s Top Electro Charts and having gained the attention of the best-selling British music tabloidta NME, it’s clear that their faith in Kapranos was well-grounded.
The band are signed on to tour continental Europe, something that Rhoades describes as “so exciting… kind of different to anything we could contextualise in our normal life back in London,” as well as making appearances on Australia’s Parklife Festival in October.
So, if you’re in attendance of any dates, it’s truly necessary to follow NME’s proclamation: “Prepare to have your mind warped, your soul ravaged and your music collection well and truly deconstructed.”
Citizens! are going to be stuck in your head for days, and you’re not even going to want to change it. And that’s more than okay, because they’re accurately self-defined as more than the commercialised pop music we hear on mainstream music.
“What we try to do is make really honest pop music which also has a sense of the isolation and the experience of living in a big city. When you think about people like David Bowie, The Cure and The Flaming Lips, they are essentially pop artists but what they’re doing is making completely idiosyncratic esoteric music, which just has a really broad appeal. It can be a really specific mode of mass communication, but it’s really important that you make it honest and it doesn’t become tame or commercialised.”
So, if ‘pop’ is stereotypically defined as anything mainstream, Rhoades agrees that Citizens!‘ most fitting genre is that of ‘wonk pop’, as the band are “as wonky as they come.”
“It’s like we’re trying to make pop music and we base our songwriting around hooks and things people will be able to identify with. So, if it comes out wonky then so be it, we have to be true to it.”
And if their sound is maybe a little bit wonky, then so are their interests.
While most bands are drawn to Australia for the beaches and laidback culture, Rhoades is more excited by the prospective homecoming of their Australian tour manager.
“We’re really looking forward to coming to Adelaide and having him show us all the sights and introduce us to his friends, and hopefully we’ll get a big reaction because he’s kind of returning to his hometown when we get there,” Rhoades states, mentioning the festival’s line-up as a second point of excitement.
The guitarist discusses the few bands he’s really excited to see (Robyn, Tame Impala, Charlift and Passion Pit) with the same energy that was exerted earlier as the stage invasion was recalled, and it’s clear that he’s more than just a fan of the music, but also a fan of the way music can be consumed.
“I always think of a quote from Prince – ‘Vinyl is better because people are analogue and not digital’ – and that rings true. Recently, I was in Paris and I found a Pixie’s Doolittle demo vinyl. I was so keen to get it and I put it on the record player and it was actually quite bad,” though it almost sounds as if this only encouraged Rhoades, “but there’s something about owning something like that. When you’re a fan of a band you really want to find everything about them and you want to own something really solid.”
Demos “without any production” or not, Rhoades also draws inspiration from the first show he ever went to.
“I saw the Lostprophets at Brixton Academy when I was about 13,” he states after stressing that this is a “big confession”; “To be honest, most of my moves onstage, as a guitarist, comes from watching that because those guys are so awesome. You really learn that the main tool of being onstage is keeping your cool and performing the songs within yourself because when you do want to go mad and you do want to lose yourself a bit, it’s much more effective… It’s more genuine.”
And it’s clear that Citizens! are nothing short of genuine. They’ve mentioned before that they collectively wanted to write pop music that was both imaginative and something you really believe in. So, now the question begs to be asked, do they personally believe they’ve achieved this?
“Absolutely,” Rhoades admits through sincere laughter, “Well, maybe, but I guess it’s also for other people to decide.”
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Decide for yourself when Parklife tours the country later this year.
Saturday 29th September, City Botanic Gardens, Brisbane
Sunday 30th September, Centennial Park, Sydney
Monday 1st October, Wellington Square, Perth
Saturday 6th October, Sidney Myer Music Bowl and Kings Domain, Melbourne
Sunday 7th October, Botanic Park, Adelaide