Britain’s Best Kept Secret: An interview with Ten City Nation

It’s not uncommon for the music fixated to have “year zero” type occurrences. Moments which, whether epiphanies or most probably to blame for a lot, make you addicted. The stuff that moulds fervent balding types in their forties and fifties. Seeing Miss Black America back in 2002 did a lot to sway me from being the kind of person who liked buying CD’s as a current interest towards the path of typing drivel to prevent annoying rants. They were a mile better than the (pretty good) likes of the Vines and Libertines who I saw in the same year, and I kind of subconsciously think in terms of gigs by new bands which have been as good since. I was thus pretty excited when the three original members of MBA re-united as Ten City Nation last year. Back in November, Neil (drums/vocals) and Seymour (guitar/vocals) were kind enough to take time to speak with Treble. The results follow…

Treble: What are you listening to at the moment? Is there any new or old music out there that’s particularly excited you recently?

Neil: The Warlocks…an old band from LA … McLusky, bands like that. Queens of the Stone Age… I like a lot of old 1960s stuff as well…stuff like The Zombies and things like that.
Seymour: We tend to meet up round Neil’s house and put on 1960s tunes. Not because we’re trying to re-create it, just because it’s great to groove to.
Neil: It’s just good to dance to. I’d never want to be in a band that played it, but
I just love to…
Seymour: I’m always getting into old indie bands that everyone’s forgotten about…like AC Acoustics. I reckon if they had been a European band and gone over they could have been massive. They remind me of like a Scottish Deus. I think they were just seen as Scottish indie geezers….they’re really rock. It’s really intelligently put together with gorgeous guitars and really close whispered vocals. I’ve no idea what he’s on about most of the time but I like that.

Treble: You’re back in a band together after five years. I’ve been listening to the material on the demo and online, and it seems that songs like “The Air Is On Fire” and “Everyone’s A Tourist” are personal statements presented to the listener from a distance, in contrast to the first Miss Black America album which seemed to be more about actively engaging with an audience. Would you agree? Was the change in direction something you consciously aimed for or is Ten City Nation simply the sound of the three of you having fun in a way that reflects your tastes?

Seymour: I think it’s a mixture of both of them. I was in Miss Black America seven years, and then I did Open Mouth which was an acoustic thing. I just got bored of the sound of my own voice in the end. I’ve said that I spent the best part of ten years saying what I think in what probably could be perceived as a fairly humourless fashion, although quite a lot of the time I was just writing lyrics to make myself laugh. There’s not much joy in having personal jokes with yourself so…

Neil: Your tastes just mature I think don’t they? All of us kept busy. Seymour stayed in MBA. Mike and myself started another band called My Hi-Fi Sister which was kind of a bit more stripped down stuff. Then I started a band called the Siamese Sluts which is just a three piece Rock’N’Roll band. I think we all carried on playing and you can never… you just get better, don’t you? Even if you don’t realise it. You just carry on playing, and then when you get back together with people that you haven’t played with in years you just change.

Seymour: I think it’s great because going to see Neil’s band the Siamese Sluts was a revelation. They were just three sweaty mates actually really enjoying themselves, and that was something that I’d kind of forgotten that it was possible to do, because MBA was such a slog. I’d kind of lost all perspective. I realised watching them that being in a band really should first and foremost be about having fun, and everything else is just bullshit. It should having fun and writing tunes that you can be really proud of not thinking about whether you’re ever going to make it and sell records because if you’re thinking about selling records in the first place then you’ll probably fuck up.

Neil: We drew up plans at the start of this band though. As soon as anything like that comes in the way then you have to nip it in the bud straight away… otherwise you are back to where we were and just hate each other.

Seymour: I think you need to be able to tell someone they’re being a___, and we never had that before. There was a real unspoken thing in MBA because we went into it… Mike and Neil were friends but I didn’t really know them.

Neil: We were so young as well though…really, really young. I know there’s a lot of young bands around and stuff, and they’re great but it’s not the music…it’s the sitting in a van with people for so long. You just start to rub each other up the wrong way and if you’re a little bit older you can constructively tell someone if they’re annoying you but if you’re that age you just call each other all the names under the sun. There’s just a bit more respect for each other. I think that we have now….musically too.

Seymour: And we all lived together as well in the mean time… and figured out how to be properly mates…and enjoyed listening to music.

I mention that I find the new material much easier to listen to than God Bless…, which is still one of my favourite albums, and at the time barely left my portable CD player…

Neil: Yeah I do, I do as well…again your tastes change. I do too man, it’s not so shouty is it? It’s not so angry and angsty.

Seymour: It’s almost like listening to a different person. I cringe listening to that; I can barely listen to it… It was a great album for what it was …that’s the thing I can be really proud of about everything we’ve done. I think we’ve said and done exactly what we wanted to do at any given time…like every record MBA made, that I’ve made, that the Siamese Sluts and My Hi-Fi Sister made were exactly what we wanted to be doing. It’s just that, I think finally we’ve got it spot on this time. That’s how it feels anyway. And also, I think particularly around the time of the first MBA album, I was trying really hard to be something I wasn’t. I’d go onstage every night and I’d pick a random target and say “George Bush, he’s a wanker…” which clearly he is. All the 16 year olds in the crowd would cheer and all the 18 year olds would just yawn (laughs)…like well, yeah. It’s not that I was wrong, exactly. It’s just that the way I went about saying and doing stuff made me and us a lot of enemies…and it was all my fault and I’m very sorry”(applause and laughter in the background)

Seymour: We were the new Manics though, and that’s a kiss of death for any band…because no-one wants to listen…I don’t think we ever really did sound like anyone. Because I was playing a black telecaster it was like “he’s trying to be Richey,” which to be fair, I actually was. I blatantly wanted to be Richey Manic.

Neil: The irony is that me and Mike…well I don’t know about Mike but I hate the Manics…I cant stand them. I don’t own an album, I don’t own anything. So there’s another tear already.

Seymour: Mike and Neil pretty much hated everything I was saying and doing. But we weren’t good enough mates to be able to tell each other, and now Neil will just call me a prick and that’ll be that.

Treble: Your Myspace lists all of you sharing vocal duties. Is the song writing process with the three of you collaborative in the same way as it was with Miss Black America, or are you all involved in both the music and lyrics?

Seymour: It’s really collaborative. It’s always the music first. Basically Mike comes up with most of the initial ideas, most of the time. He’s more of an ideas man and I’m good at arranging stuff. And as a band we just bash it all out and just shout over the microphone whatever seems right. And it all comes together and we all sit out in the garden with a cup of tea and scribble some lyrics in my diary, and that’s how we work. It’s better to work that way, unlike before where I would just go into isolation, ride around in the wilderness on my bike and come back with the lyrics like “this is the song, and that’s that.”

Neil: A lot of the times though, the lyrics aren’t written until the day we record them. You can get away with a hell of a lot on stage just mumbling a load of crap…So yeah; it’s usually when we record them that we know how the song sounds.

Seymour: It’s like, before we recorded the “Exhibition Time Again” single. Right before Mike went to sing it I was like “I think you should change this and this” and he just went and sang it there and then. It’s great that we can do that.

Neil: No one’s precious about anything really. Obviously everyone knows how a song works and how it sounds and we don’t want to change that but if there’s anything you don’t like the sound of you can change it each night, cant you?

Seymour: If anyone’s precious about ideas it can kill a band really quickly like it killed Antihero. We used to tour with them loads and they were quite a good band but their singer wrote everything and he wouldn’t take anyone’s ideas.

Neil: And the guys who left went on and formed Pull Tiger Tail. It’s those guys isn’t it? The Antihero guys so yeah…who’s laughing now?

Seymour: Pete’s going to read this and fucking hate us…But it’s alright, he said in an interview once that we we’d been living in luxury while they’d been living on scraps. So this is revenge. I love you Pete.

Neil: He’s an arsehole for saying that though.

Seymour: I know, he phoned me up to apologise.

Neil: Did he? Did he really?

Seymour: I’ll phone him up to apologise after this.

Neil: Don’t you dare! He painted a picture like we were having tour buses everywhere and staying in hotels, saying “the Miss Black America boys, they’re in the lap of luxury.” Fuck that. We were alcoholics… freezing alcoholics

Seymour: We’d come in every day with a packet of crisps… (post Withnail and I voice) “Where’s the bar?!”

Treble: 2007 has been a productive year for you with the first Open Mouth album and gigs with Open Mouth and Ten City Nation. You’ve kept Miss Black America on hiatus rather than calling time on things. Presumably you’re balancing day job with this at the same time. Do you think that in future you’ll keep releasing and gigging when possible under several different monikers and bands when time allows and you’re enjoying a particular idea, rather than touring the latest album in loop for several months?

Seymour: I think this time…It’s not like I’ve split up with myself but I’ve put Open Mouth on hold now. I think we’re all in agreement that…

Neil: I don’t want to do anything else apart from this band.

Seymour: I don’t want to do anything else. We all feel like this is the best thing we’ve ever done. It’s just a really satisfying thing to be involved with so anything else feels like foreplay (laughs). I doubt very much that I’d want to get MBA back together because it was a nightmare. In the end it was dragging me around. It was practically a solo project anyway…Apart from Mat, who was always great…it was just a nightmare of constantly changing line ups. It’s not a band like that…unless you’re The Cult, unless you have thousands of pounds at your disposal so you can get the best session musicians and take hundreds of people on the road…which obviously we weren’t. We were still working in offices, and still are. Mike and Neil work in hospitals, I work in an office job.

Treble: I guess there’s not going to be another Charm Offensive album (a project between Seymour and Dawn Parade singer Greg Macdonald) or another Open Mouth album.

Seymour: I’d do another Open Mouth album. I’d do it as a collaborative thing, like the Charm Offensive, and just get a load of mates involved, like the singer from Nebraska probably Dexy, Greg just whoever, like Mat from MBA. There’s still a few songs kicking round that we never bothered recording. But I don’t think I’d want to do them as Miss Black America. If I was going to do another Open Mouth album I’d do it as a collaboration, for a bit of a laugh…but nothing that I’d ever tour. I don’t really enjoy playing gigs on my own. I was just so pissed off with how things went in bands that I was…I felt, I’ve got to keep gigging. I had all these songs that I’d never been able to turn into Miss Black America songs so I thought, let’s do a solo project. But it’s really satisfying at all. I think you’ve got to be a certain type of people to be a really good solo artist, and I’m not that. I quite enjoyed it for about half a year and then I couldn’t be fucked with it anymore.

Treble: As a result of recommendations on the old Miss Black America website I’ve really enjoyed listening to Marion, Bis and the Longpigs…

Seymour: I can feel the disgust running up in Neil

Treble: What kind of music do you like?

Neil: I like rock. I like 1960s tunes… I like old garage tunes, 1960s rock tunes. I don’t like indie, really really indie. I like bands like the Mars Volta, At the Drive-In, Queens of the Stone Age, the Sonics, and the Kinks…loads of stuff like that. But the 1990s Britpop stuff I never got into, believe it or not, look at me? (laughs). But it’s all good isn’t it? You can be snobbish about this stuff all you like, but it’s better than listening to Girls Aloud isn’t it?

Seymour: I’ve got into a few things. We agree on a load of stuff. I’ve gotten really into Television, Die! Die! Die! and Jacob’s Mouse. Have you heard Jacob’s Mouse? They’re one of those really good forgotten bands. They’re actually from Bury St Edmunds. Their drummer plays in a hardcore band now called Volunteers. I don’t like hardcore at all but they’re brilliant at it.

Neil: Yeah they’re good

Seymour: But Jacob’s Mouse…they started out as a kind of new wavey grungey type band, like equally Soundgarden and the Jam. As their career went on they just got stranger and stranger until the last album which is a work of demented genius. It’s best not to start at the end. Their last album was called Rubber Room. It’s deranged and there was no way they could have gone any further so they split up. But their first album is called No Fish Shop Parking after a sign outside a pub in Bury St Edmunds. It’s brilliant. It got them signed to Wiija and they supported Nirvana. For a while they were a proper John Peel band but now they’ve been completely forgotten. It’s well worth tracking down. Who else, Th’ Faith Healers, who were another early 1990s Peel type band. I really love that whole Peel type of rock music recently.

Treble: Have you discovered any bands you love as the result of recommendations from your favourite bands?

Seymour: Yeah, I think Nirvana were probably responsible for 90 percent of Dinosaur Jr.’s record sales. That’s probably a fair thing to say. As a Nirvana fan you’d just look at any Nirvana picture, clock the T-shirts and go and check out the bands they were listening to. Nirvana were probably the most extreme example of that because they really bigged up the bands they liked all the time. It’s fair to say that if I hadn’t listened to Nirvana I probably wouldn’t have listened to Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr.…any of that. I don’t know about other bands. Bands don’t big each other up very much; most bands are a bit too worried about their own career to bother. Can you think of any?

Neil: Like you said, the biggest example is Nirvana, isn’t it? Sonic Youth, I wouldn’t have got into Sonic Youth if I hadn’t heard of them via Nirvana I don’t think.

Seymour: I wouldn’t have bothered listening to the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays if I hadn’t listened to the Charlatans…but only because everyone told me I should listen to them. It’s more about what your mates are into rather than what bands say they like. I never got into the Clash until I was at university because none of my friends listened to the Clash. It’s a sad fact but there’s too many bands around for you to be personally responsible for getting to them of them. You go around someone’s house and stick a CD on and it’s like “what’s this? It’s brilliant!”

With that, things descend into a conversation, in no small part due to the fact that I’m a bit unprofessional in the company of one of my favourite bands. Their set later on justifies my massive sense of prior anticipation. “Exhibition Time Again” oozes retro contempt like the Stooges “1969” in a washing machine with Magazine and Black Flag. Bassist Mike Smith’s vocals sound quite deadpan, and all enquiries about package holidays are delivered with a fitting poise. Nowadays, they (Seymour) seem much less concerned with righteousness or the screamed meaningful, but if anything the new material is more intense than what went before. The three blokes in Ten City Nation are a very tight Rock ‘n’ Roll band, possibly the best of their ilk that I’ve seen from Britain. They’re certainly up there with the likes of McLusky and Jarcrew. Their music combines this energy with something unusual, by turns interesting and lacerating. “The air is on Fire,” introduced with reference to an apocalypse occurring in Hartlepool, builds from a Bunnymen sense of disconcertedness into something packed with Glitter Pals style abrasion. Seymour has a way of dancing with his guitar that I’ve not seen anyone else display, Matt Bellamy perhaps exempted. Where Bellamy moonwalks with his instrument, Seymour practically traumatises. It’s pretty cool visually.

Even back in the day, MBA always had a sense of humour to back up the vitriol, and tonight scandalised TV presenter Michael Barrymore gets a dedication. “Positive sickness” gives the kind of taut aggression espoused by the likes of the Monks and Catheters an eerie dressing that recalls the likes of Marion. They close with B-side “My People My People.” It shares the same air of the placid sinister reached during a former incarnation, and reminds me why I should recommend them to Cure/Radiohead/Joy Division fans. Then it ends in an eruption of Rage Against the Machine style call and response. Ten City Nation are a truly stunning live band, and look like they’re really enjoying it this time around. It’s bizarre to me that widespread acclaim has eluded them. At the very least, they should be the subject of plenty of “I swear I was there” type anecdotes in years to come. Hopefully this kind of situation will start to be rectified in 2008, as they deserve acclaim beyond a status as one of British guitar music’s best kept secrets.

*photo by Photodolly

Ten City Nation’s eponymous debut album is now available to download free of charge from

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