London-based indie rock trio Happyness have been touring for over year, give or take a few week-long stretches of respite. They've survived the stress of CMJ, the unsparing heat of Texas at SXSW and the "fucking depressing, but kind of great" city of Reno. They found comfort in homemade BBQ and stellar tourmates like Michael Rault, and unexpected salvation in Whoopi Goldberg thanks to a DVD of Sister Act. That's what happens when you release a record like last year's debut Weird Little Birthday—you tour the shit out of it. All these months later and the album—a compendium of lo-fi indie rock—continues to enchant, so we caught up with singer/bassist Jonny Allan, singer/guitarist Benji Compston, and drummer Ash Cooper, over Skype, on a rare day off.
I suggest the record is "moody," but apparently the term means something slightly different in the UK, so we coin the word "moodful" as a descriptor for the emotional landscapes Weird Little Birthday traverses. Where "moody" connotes a forlorn, dark feeling, "moodful" captures the way each song delivers an unfiltered reaction to a specific emotion. The reactions may be different—sarcastic, morbid, cheeky, seething—but the fact that they're all cued by emotions that are totally human is the adhesive that binds their first collection. The birthday motif, although not totally central to the album, offers an explanation of the sentiment embedded in the music: "All of our birthdays are within about 30 days of each other, between January and February 8th. So there's a period when we're made to feel incredibly special for a month. Us three. And then suddenly no one gives a shit anymore," Benji said. Our one special day of the year may evoke irrational behaviors—feeling self-assured one moment, behaving irascibly the next—and Weird Little Birthday, through easily digestible, Sparklehorse-inspired, Pavement-indebted indie rock, explores the humanity of it all with equal parts humor and earnestness.
Despite their rigorous on the road schedule, Happyness have been trying to get a second record together, but Ash admitted that writing while touring is difficult and something they're not very good at. They even bought a $30 guitar in Hoboken, NJ, that they planned to use for writing in the van, but it remains in the trunk untouched. For now they've made 15 copies of a tour mixtape to mail out to some lucky guests at their upcoming shows, which includes a bill with Mac DeMarco at the Roundhouse in London, this evening, September 1st, and several European dates to follow. Among other random songs the band has been listening to on tour, the tape includes an unofficially released Alex Chilton track called "She Might Look My Way," a song from Club Gaga (probably off of their album Suburban Lake), "and then just like… Randy Newman." Although their mixtape is only a friendly gesture to fans, a personally curated mix is one of the most classic forms of flirting. Thus, it seemed tangentially appropriate for Happyness to fill out our Ok Cupid-cribbed dating questionnaire so we could get to know them a little better.
Jonny: 22, Male, London.
Ash: 23, Male, London.
Benji: 23, Male, London.
Jonny: I like Ringo Starr's voice, I like how it makes me feel, I like how paternal it is, I like how guttural it is. Listening to Ringo Starr is like being tucked into bed. I like how on his Twitter he puts a lot of peace sign emojis. Oh, and I love his art, this series of paintings he made on Microsoft Paint. My favorite is "Peace Forest." Ash: To please my grandparents, I'm a fan of deeply neurotic Jewish humor. I am Jewish. If you've ever seen Grandma's House. That's my self summary.
Benji: I get a real thrill from incredibly boring, slightly bureaucratic questions that other people would never ask like whether ethanol freezes in northern Norway or whether you can give birth in space. I love really getting down to the finer points of banality.
What I'm doing with my life:
Happyness: Jesus Christ!
I'm really good at:
Jonny: The board game Risk and misinterpreting American menus. Ash: I'm good at dancing and playing the guitar like a drummer.
Benji: I'm good at Wikipedia-ing before we go to any town or city. I learn its estimated population, and who supplies its water, and stuff like that and get a real kick out of that. I can turn up in Reno and say, "Oh, interestingly Reno is considered to supply the whatever region with its water."
The first thing people usually notice about me is:
Jonny: In America, everyone seems to notice that I don't have much hair at the moment. You have a thing called a skinhead out here? I have spent a lot of time in the very first moments of meeting people trying to smile a lot. It happened a lot in Sacramento. Ash: In America, that I'm English. Benji: If you are an ant or a head lice, you could crawl from the very top of my body to the very bottom of my body very easily along my hair. I have a lot of hair.
I spend a lot of time thinking about:
Jonny: I spend a lot of time while I'm reading a book trying to figure out the accent the author would have and trying to do it out loud. Ash: I spend a lot of time thinking about my grandmother.
Benji: I know this sounds like a bullshit response, but it's completely true. I spend a lot of time wondering about the ingredients and the processes of a lot of soft drinks on the market. So much that I emailed a company called Ribena to ask them whether they used mineral or tap water to dilute their drinks. They replied and told me they used a combination.
Jonny: Ever or at the moment? I like the book Birdscapes by Jeremy Mynott. The subtitle I think is "Birds in our imagination and experience…" It's about how birds have influenced human artistic expression through the ages.
Ash: The book I'm reading right now I'm really enjoying. It's called Portnoy's Complaint by Philip Roth. Benji: My favorite book that I've come across just as a book, it's not high literature, but we came across a book called The Well Dressed Salad in our studio. Or maybe it was Jonny's mom's place. It's a brilliant cookbook about salad dressing, different salads, and I quite enjoy cooking. It's the most enjoyable, life-giving, quaint English book.
Jonny: Dusty Springfield and the Pet Shop Boys "What Have I Done to Deserve This?" Also another thing that no one can really relate to because it's the most niche song ever made, but my aunt made three recordings in Hawaii with some friends and they got lost on my computer and ended up on Benji's iPod. We were in the van in Europe about two months ago and I was flicking through the iPod and my aunt's songs were on there. And they're absolutely wonderful. They're just beautifully unselfconscious. It's called "I Am Not My Body" and it goes "I, I, I, I, am not my body. I, I, I, I am free." Ash: Vladimir Putin's cover of Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill."
Benji: I think my favorite music is kind of meditation, relaxation-type music made in someone's apartment or on garage band.
Have you heard Jeff Bridges' relaxation tape?
Benji: No, but that's probably my favorite music. Jeff Bridge's meditation tape. Seriously though, Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden.
Favorite TV shows:
If we're going for Ringo Starr voiceovers, then
Thomas & Friends.
The way Ringo Starr manages to emote the two words "said Thomas."
Ash: Grandma's House.
Benji: This show in the UK called Rev. with Tom Hollander about an intercity reverend.
Jonny: Escape from New York. It's a Kurt Russell film and his name is Snake Plissken. New York has become a high security prison for the entirety of the US and the island of Manhattan is a lawless wasteland.
Benji: I think Barbarella is an amazing film. It has some of the best characters.
Six things I couldn't live without:
Happyness: Adhesive spray removal, bolognese, socks and shoes, shoes and socks, tea, memories, friendships, trust, cubed ice, our joint membership cards to the Wetlands Center in London.
The most private thing I'm willing to admit is:
Jonny: Since I was 11, if I'm sleeping in a room on my own, I have to check my cupboards before I go to bed to make sure that Jigsaw from Saw isn't in there. Ash: On airplanes you know they have that little side pocket that used to be for smoking? I always just put my bogies in there. I've never admitted that. Benji: I wasn't too young to remember kissing Kirsty Wilmott when I was five. We were in a play together and I think we took our method acting a bit too far.
On a typical Friday night you will find me:
Jonny: This is depressing. Somewhere with these two. Ash: Somewhere with these two. Benji: Probably spending an hour and a half in a supermarket trying to decide which kind of pasta to buy.
You should message me if:
Jonny: You want me to blow up the blow up mattress for us…
Ash: You want to go dancing. I do ballet, tap, salsa… Benji: You're looking for a small town guy who's come to the big city and just wants to make friends. Happyness open for Mac DeMarco at the Roundhouse in London tonight.