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The Kindest Of Thieves are a trio of young guys from Warrington, (North West), consisting of founding member Chris Fox (vocals & guitar), Joe Lockwood (bass/keyboards) James Ashwin (drums), a nicer bunch you couldn’t wish to meet. My initial encounter was via facebook, inspired by the catchy name and their demo E.P, I offered my photographic services and consequently shot them amidst the grandeur of  Manchester's 'Gorton Monastery'.

We are talking a wonderful mixture of Rockabilly/ Surf and Spanish noise, lyrically charming, poetic and thought provoking. They are currently being managed by Blastbeat International, who have an fine eye for young talent. On top of this they are putting the final touches to their eagerly awaited 10 track debut album ‘Taxidermy’, which promises to “stop your breath”, I’m already holding mine!

This is the Kindest Of Thieves first interview ever, and Chris attacks it with an honesty, sensitivity and passion beyond his nineteen years. In addition to our interview the Guys kindly allowed me into their rehearsal space to film tracks from their new album, especially for Mudkiss.

MEL: So, this is your first interview as the Kindest Of Thieves?

CHRIS: It is indeed Mel, I don’t really know “how to be” in an interview, scratch that, I struggle to know “how to be” all the time [laughs]. But I’ll be as honest and candid as I can.

MEL: What's the story behind The Kindest Of Thieves? i.e. the name, the concept, the music?

CHRIS: This time last year the band was called ParaZali (Pronounced Para-Zar-lee), this was a name the band had worked under for the 3-4 years it’d been around, in lots of different formats. I’d say we’ve only started to really take things seriously for about 18 months, twelve of these months, working under the ParaZali title. This was causing many issues for us, and if I’m honest I found peoples half hearted and often mocking attempts at the pronunciation frustrating. The frustration we felt was caused due to ignorance for e.g. people refusing to attempt to say it when introducing us onto the stage, when they could have just asked us before hand, we wouldn’t have minded. But the band knew it was different and after a while, was it really worth the trouble? We also began to change and adapt musically and ParaZali just didn’t fit anymore.

One day I wrote a song called 'Kindest Of Thieves' and we toyed with the idea of re-naming the band this but I think we were too afraid of making the jump, re-branding and having to reach out to the public again and start a fresh. Time passed and in late 2010 we signed with our current management 'BlastBeat International', who we love dearly and are making fantastic progress with. We played a gig the day we signed the contract in Relentless Garage, London (where the team are based) and here our friend and a well known, fantastic PR man (I won’t name drop), came to see us and wanted to work with the band but said it’d make his job easier to change the name. So, after a great gig, a great few months, and with a small bit of success seeming a not too distant dream away, we decided to just jump in and change it.

So, what does it mean? Kindest Of Thieves refers to anybody who’s ever fallen in love, been in a relationship or maybe just has a “lover” (sleeping partner). In any kind of relationship, I feel, we all steal pieces of the other person, the relationship can be beautiful and everything a relationship should be, but that person, whilst in or coming out of the relationship will be a different person from when they entered into it. Making each of us “Kindest Of Thieves”.

So musically, the band has been working on new material for about 3 / 4 months. I write the lyrics and guitars and the band bring the songs alive. I bring what is essentially a skeleton of a song and the band makes it the song you’ll hear when the album is released. The sound of the band has changed dramatically, we grew up and matured and the music reflects this, we ask everybody to forget everything they’ve heard by Kindest Of Thieves and open their ears and mind to what we have coming up for you. I became infatuated with 60’s music, specifically the Surf/Soul/Rockabilly genres and of course, as with ParaZali Blues. I also became interested in song writing like never before, learning how to write songs, rather than a collection of Riffs. This is something I think is evident when you hear our new material.

MEL: How do you initially begin to write a song? Does writing come easy to you? Your lyrics are sometimes pretty bizarre, yet poetic, somewhat romantic, and at the same time depressing in parts with voodoo twist. Where do you draw inspiration from?

CHRIS: Firstly, thank you. Writing a song is the easiest thing in the world to me, that sounds all false, and arrogant, but it’s literally like breathing to me (you be the judge of how good these songs actually are [laughs]). I hear about people who when they have issues going out and being aggressive towards other people, where as if I have a problem I write about it.  I try and write lyrics that are based around poetry rather than just social commentary or songs about going out on the town at weekends, It’s just so uninspiring and to quote Morrissey “Says nothing to me about my life”.  I hear some of my heroes in interviews talk about their inspiration for songs and they’re often very brief, saying very little but I’ll be frank.  I’ve always felt a little “on the edge” of everything, I think very differently about things than others (Love, relationships), I think in a very complex way and I have insecurities so a lot of songs are about this. Others, can be about experiences with women, some personal, some not so personal, but also, I find scenes in my head inspirational. I’m a terrible artist, I can’t draw for my life but I paint images in my head of scenes which sends my brain into complete literary frenzy.  For example an old song of ours ‘Kindest Of Thieves’ … I was on a bus, and looked out of the window into a wooded area, it was autumn and I imaged a girl lay in the leaves making a … sort of snow angel, but in the leaves and so “I hung from the trees I watched her freeze in the winter, my call on the breeze, her lips mouthed out please, in the winter” was born.  I’m really not very good at this interview lark [laughs]

MEL: A couple of songs on the new album for example, ‘Just A Little Mercy’, ‘Come Home’, ‘Baby I Aint Your Friend’, tell me about them...are they based on any true stories, experiences or fantasy?

CHRIS: Ah ‘Mercy’, funny you should mention that, we struck it from the album, because it didn’t go with the others, but some listeners and people connected with our management team were very disappointed and think its got a great hook. I got busy changing the music from a boring Acid Blues track to a Rockabilly/Surfy/Skiffle esque feel. It sounds great now, we like it anyway. ‘Come Home’ is an interesting song for me, we had a song on an old EP called ‘Parasite’ that told the tale of a boy who lived with his lover in her house and … well I’ll quote some lyrics:

“Starve myself of her, Strip myself bare, The way I defect when I’m locked in there” - “Through the dark she crawls for me discovered,You should see her cry,When she’s undressed uncovered”

But it was the chorus of the song “Everyone’s a parasite, in this house of no sleep tonight, I still go back and darken the door but she don’t live here anymore” that really got me thinking when writing for the album. I’m a fan of concepts, and the song seemed unfinished, like I had more to say. ‘Come Home’ is like Part II of Parasite. This time the boy keeps banging on the door, trying to get in, even though he knows she’s gone:

 “Autumn, spring, summer and winter I wait by the door, parts that you stole from me rattle the locks, it’s not them I’m crying for”.

Babe I aint you’re friend’ is a song I’m very proud of, the music was the first from the album to sport that “Spanish” feel. Lyrically it’s about this modern youth concept we have about referring to a lover as a “Friend” , I mean, we’ve all done it, but for a second, just think about it … It’s really Fucked up, and it’s purely so that nobody has to commit to each other. “Touch me to the bitter end, Babe I Aint Your Friend”.

MEL: How did you guys all get together?

CHRIS: Myself and James met the way all classic friendships begin, by complete mistake. Mutual friends brought us to first talk in the first years of High School and he was instantly such a warm guy and the only person I’d ever met who like me, could talk about music for hours and hours. We began playing together in various different bands but it was only when we met Joe that we really realised we could really do something here.

I met Joe at College, I was the year above him and in my first year I was asked to help with auditions for the music course. When I saw him I first noticed.

1) He sported a fender Stratocaster (that’s right Joe’s a very talented guitarist as well as Bassist/all round musician) so he had brilliant taste in guitars for one.

2) Once we got talking he was really personable and into Blues, I teased him about being too into his Hendrix at first but we bonded over Blues primarily.

3) I’d come in and discuss Son House and Muddy and Howling and we’d jam the blues for hours. When we needed a bass player, He was the only person I wanted for the job, he was a guitarist, so I didn’t know he’d say yes. He, to my surprise, jumped at it as he’d heard us live and loved our Trash blues sound, at the time.  And here we are…

MEL: Do you all have the same musical tastes or do they vary?

CHRIS: [laughs] No, very, very different. We’re all very varied though. James is into his Hip Hop/Rap/Metal but me and James are mutual in our Love for the Mars Volta, a band he got me into. So James takes a lot of influence from those Genres.
Joe listens to everything too, Jazz, Classical the lot really. But as stated previously Joe and I bonded over the blues. My Bands are The White Stripes, The Black Keys that kind of thing, Acid Blues stuff, but I’ve become fascinated by The Phil Spector sound recently, and I love the Surf sound and even the Rockabilly sound. But Blues is where my heart is.

MEL: How would you describe the band in one sentence if you wanted to grab the headlines in a huge feature magazine article?

CHRIS: This bit doesn’t count right? - you describe us in one sentence. [laughs]

MEL: Ok, then what about KINDEST OF THIEVES STEAL OUR HEART AND SOUL? But to rephrase my question slightly and get you to do some work here [laughs] what about ‘What headline would you like to see in a newspaper about the band’?

CHRIS: Any coverage they could give us would be lovely but I can’t see a three piece band from Warrington playing Surf and Rockabilly making the headlines… would be nice though.

MEL: You seem very knowledgeable about music for one so young; it's almost as if you've been here before. Can you explain? Were your parent’s musical, did you have a mentor perhaps?

CHRIS: My parents aren’t musical at all, however music was always around the house, apparently I could sleep like a Log sat next to a Hi-Fi playing anything from The Smiths to Sinatra to Billie Holiday. This is where Mum claims my love for Blues came from but that’s not strictly true. … but I humour her [laughs].

Mentor… Yes I guess I do. I play for fun in a Texas style Blues Rock band with musicians over double my age. I play lead guitar in that band along with the man who taught me to play guitar. Steve Watkiss, he is and I think will always be, the best guitarist I’ve ever heard. You know when music just moves you? The young musicians rant on about Hendrix and Stevie Ray (God knows I did 3 or 4 years ago) but when Steve plays I listen, the room listens. He taught me that one note is better than ten notes, and more importantly he introduced me to the blues. I remember the day he played me BB King’s ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ my world changed, my hairs all stood on end and guitar playing became a soulful thing to me.

MEL: I know you guys are pretty young to be on the music scene (sorry me harping about age again) but have you managed to notch up any rock n roll tales yet?

CHRIS: As sad as it is to admit we’re possibly the most un rock n’ roll band ever. At rehearsals we must go through 2 or 3 cups of tea, no sugar [laughs]. We once got all our gear into James’s Micra Car (it’s like a Mary Poppins bag I reckon), 2 amps, 4 guitars, 2 pedal boards, drums, stands, amps stands, Guitar stands. If the car would have jolted at any point we’d have each had our eyes poked out by something. The sight of the car without us in it, was fantastic, the car was dangerously close to the ground, but we got to the gig … luckily skipping any speed bumps. 

Mike Joyce coming to see us once was pretty Rock and Roll only me being speechless and utterly embarrassing made this very un Rock & Roll.

Told you…

MEL: Ok, [smiles] just thought I’d ask, I know your really nice guys, but does this sometimes feel contradictory to the sounds you exorcise live, or do you think onstage you bring out your alter ego maybe? By the way what feedback did you get from Mike Joyce?

CHRIS: Mr Joyce was just a real quiet Gent, somebody had tipped him about us and he just said he liked what we were doing back then; I’ll get the email to him when it’s done. For me it’s definitely somebody different on stage, or maybe not different… I’m somebody I can’t be in society. I can’t wear a fitted/mod suit everyday and subtle eye make up I’d look strange and I can’t preach my views on love and life through a microphone on the streets, I can’t feel that good in my normal Monday - Sunday week, the stage does wonders for me.  I’m very nervous in front of women and not a very confident person but on stage ... I can exercise my confidence and all my frustrations of who I am come howling out of me. People, I think, are surprised when they speak to us afterwards how quiet and civil we are in person, after being onstage.

MEL: Recently you played at a club in Camden, how were you received, were you at all nervous (indeed do you get nervous onstage?) and was this the first time you’ve played out of the North West area? Do you do any cover songs or prefer to use all your own songs? If not what song would you be willing to try and cover, in your own inimitable fashion of course?

CHRIS: Yes I was nervous, I get nervous before the big gigs and just excited at the other gigs. We play in London quite a bit, every few months I’d say, we’re better received there than here (Warrington), they just love live music. The gig went very well, they were generally an R&B audience but our sound suited them, they were very responsive and very kind.  We used to do a cover of ‘Death Letter’ by Son House , which became a favourite of those who came to see us, however now we use another Son House track ‘Grinning In Your Face’ to come on stage to. It’s a haunting track, one voice and clapping but the man sounds tortured it’s absolutely beautiful, somebody really hurt him and he’s howling his blues. What song would I love to cover at the moment? Well I’ve learnt to keep the Blues covers alone now It feels sacrilegious to me now, There are so many, I’ll purposely choose tracks out of our field. I’d actually love to do a whole set/set of recordings of Antony & The Johnsons Songs one day. If you haven’t heard of him, you’re missing out, he’s the closest thing to beauty in one voice, absolutely heart wrenching, brings me to tears. For the record I think the greatest cover I’ve ever heard is White Stripes version of ‘Jolene’ its incredible!

MEL: Ok, so you’ve been asked to support a fantastic headline band at the Academy, who might this be given a choice?

CHRIS: To answer this question lets pretend “genre” isn’t an option, and some of these bands were still around:

The White Stripes
The Black Keys
The Dead Weather
Vincent Vincent & The Villains
Flat Duo Jets
Nick Cave/Grinderman

Also, I’d love to support some local bands, we’ve supported before, Bill Davro & The Black Knights but I’d like to see these bands, as well as us, gain the recognition and audience they should have and deserve.

MEL: How much importance do you place on an image for the band?

CHRIS: Image is a funny one, I’ve always been a fan of obscure musicians, and obscurity is an image I guess. As for physical image, I love to wear a fitted suit and some Italian leather pointed boots with a heel on and off stage, it’s just my style, which I’m fortunate enough to be able to pass to the stage. However as a band you have to comply with what the industry want which is image.

MEL: You have a debut album, with a working title of ‘Taxidermy’ – where did this title derive from? Are you not worried it might draw some heavy criticism from animal lovers and organizations? When do you plan to launch the album and do you plan to have a launch event?

CHRIS: The title of the album came from the song ‘Taxidermy’, again arrogantly I’m very proud of, I think it’s the best song and concept I’ve ever written. It tells the story of a man who’s on death’s door and calls for his lover while the doctor attends to him and he tells her to “hang me from you’re walls I’ll keep the wolf from your door”, even in death he’ll protect her from the men who will undoubtedly try to love her after he’s gone. I get very caught up in the song live, to the point where I have to focus very hard not to get emotional [laughs]. I really am ridiculous. I just feel it’s such a, romantic gesture, or maybe I’m sick. So, saying that, why would I care what an extremist animal lover thought? Respectfully of course! 

As for post album plans, I guess management and Kindest Of Thieves will decide on the first single and release that first. We need to time it with press and PR too. Then when there’s buzz, the album will come. There will be physical releases of the album, not just digital.

MEL: Ah, so it’s not actually about the taxidermy of animals as such and promoting it, a cool concept you have there, albeit it twisted and bizarre [smiles]. What plans do you guys have for the future coming months? And ultimately what do you hope to achieve with the band?

CHRIS: Twisted indeed [laughs]. Well pre production started Friday (1st April), then on the 11th we went in to record for a week/week and a half.  I don’t believe in taking too long to record, we start obsessing and it sounds contrived and naff. I mean come on … bands used to do whole albums in a few days. Then we’ll have to get it mixed and mastered, all the plans for this and who will be doing it are in place. After the album is released I’m hoping there will be enough of a buzz around the album to do a small tour soon, but lets not get a head of ourselves just yet.

MEL: Tell me one unknown fact about each of the band members that might surprise, shock, and amaze or delight us?

CHRIS: Again, we’re so bloody boring, there’s not much to tell [laughs]

Joe does this fantastic thing with his chin, where he sinks his head into his neck and his chin goes completely flat and creates another 10 chins. To see this you must come and see us, Joe does this on demand [laughs]. Really is a sight to see.

James is the ‘lady magnet’ of the band, like seriously, you can watch them swoon, it’s very funny, but he’s in a happy relationship. Sorry ladies.

And I’ve been spilling my soul to you throughout this [laughs], I guess the only thing to say about me is that I’m an uncontrollable dancer, seriously, on a night out you can’t stop me, I’ll dance with anyone to anything.

MEL: I happen to know you’re a big Jack White fan. So, my final question has to be something trivial and fun. If you were to meet Jack White in a lift what would the first words out of your mouth be?

CHRIS: I’d thank him for doing the things that others wouldn’t do. I’d thank him for making me feel things through music that some music just doesn’t do and I’d shake his hand, whilst trying to keep my cool.  Me meeting my heroes would be terrible though, not recommended.

Thanks for your time Chris, you have certainly stole my heart and soul and convinced me there is a really deep person behind all those heartfelt howls and lyrics.

Interview/photos/videos by Mel 08/05/11 (apart from Camden video)

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