Dressing For Pleasure are an all female trio, playing alternative rock/ new wave, clad in handmade corsets, with a vintage flavour of the Forties and Fifties. The band features Naomi Hewston (vocals/bass); and twin Alexandria Hewston (guitar/backing vocals); and Jessica Smith (percussion). A relatively new band, as they have only been around for just over a year, already attracting Adam Ants attention, so much so that they supported him twice on tours last year. Naomi and Alex are part of a large family and hail from the industrial landscape of Birmingham, and Jessica lives in a vintage themed cottage in the Borough of Wigan, but they are often to be found gigging or recording around the Capital.
So here we are in Wigan, and I am with the three stunning Ladies, all beautiful and prepared for an interview and photoshoot. I first encountered Dressing For Pleasure at the Adam Ant show in Manchester in December 2011, as the second support act, and immediately saw they had something different to offer, both visually and musically, despite only a 15 minute/ five song slot they shone through the bright spotlights on the Ritz stage.
Today’s interview was totally unprepared as it happened almost by fate and coincidence, so it was very spontaneous; and the conversation went something like this…
MEL: How did you girls all meet?
JESS: At an Adam Ant gig [giggle]
ALEX: At the Mathew Ashman gig at the Scala, London back last November.
NAOMI: Me and Alex went to go see Adam with our friend Naomi. We ended up doing backing vocals, it was so embarrassing. We turned up to watch the show, Adam was like “come on Girls, go on stage”. Jessica was in the audience, I remember seeing her, first time I ever laid eyes on the beauty. [laughs all round] Then we saw her backstage and then she added us on facebook and then when we needed a drummer we got in touch with Jessica and that’s how it happened.
MEL: What’s it like being twins in a band - who is the oldest and do you both live together?
ALEX/NAOMI: Well I'd answer that in the same way I'd answer the most common question of our lives; 'what's it like being twins?' Well what's it like not being a twin? We have never been another band so we don't know any differently but it seems to work. We are both the same age, it's funny when people ask twins that because none of us is older, one of us was just born first, but which one? I don't know, who really cares? We live together when we feel like it.
MEL: What are the pitfalls and the positives? Do you answer each others questions?
ALEX/NAOMI: The pitfalls are being treated like bookends on photo shoots, this obsession with symmetry that people have.
MEL: But you are the most beautiful book ends – [laughs]
NAOMI: We look the same but that's it. There is a reason Alex plays guitar and I play bass. We accept each other's differences but it's hard trying to get other people to want to see them. The positives, well there is a natural balance that makes writing songs together easy. When something works we both know it and when something sounds completely crap, we will always agree. Do you answer each others questions? Yes, often. It makes interviews difficult although often we were going to say the same thing anyway. Then we squabble about it afterwards.
MEL: How did you get to know Adam in the first place, and then how did the band begin to unfold?
JESS: I met him that night at the Scala in 2010.
NAOMI: Through friends of ours. When we met Adam we were just talking to him about music and stuff and we told him we were in a band. So he was enthusiastic about it, as he was when he met Jessica and she told him she was a drummer.
ALEX: He’s like this isn’t he, if he knows that people do something musical he is really keen. He’s very entrepreneurial. He wanted to hear our music, we had some really bad demos, and they were awful, recorded on an iphone, just acoustic and Naomi singing along. We recorded them and sent them to Adam and he listened and thought they were amazing and next minute he gave us a call and “I want you to come along and support me on tour” but at that time we didn’t have a drummer. We just had a friend who described himself as 'a Guy who hits things,' he wasn't a drummer but unfortunately we ended up taking him on tour. We got quite a few fans though; quite a few people enjoyed it, and later added our facebook page.
NAOMI: Our first gig on the tour was five hundred people in the Brighton Concorde, really, really scary when you have never played live in your life. We did get some really good feedback but the drummer wasn’t right. It felt like Alex and I were doing all the work, and this guy would constantly go out of time every night. He had no enthusiasm; he didn’t want to help write songs, he was just there to enjoy the ride. It was just very draining and after we did the performance people would come up to us and say “you look great Girls, you sound great but I think you should get rid of that drummer, he doesn’t fit in and he's not very good”. I mean if anyone has ever seen any photos he did look a bit wild, his hair was unbrushed and his whole look was just totally unkempt. But if you listen to us now with Jessica on drums, there is a positive improvement!! The music is fuller and the whole image works better.
ALEX: He didn’t want to fit in with us, he really liked the idea of going on a big tour, but who wouldn’t, so we were aware we needed a drummer and so we got in touch with Jess. We were friends by this time on Facebook so I just messaged her and said “do you fancy being our drummer?” Its quite strange really ‘cos we live in Birmingham and she lives in Wigan, and it’s a good distance apart. But so far its worked really well and the minute we all got together we really clicked. Like we were talking about the style earlier as well, the way we dress, its quite important to our band, it’s a big part of it. I don’t think image should be everything but I think it definitely needs consideration and we all sort of had the same style going on. We didn’t actually really know each other, but we thought that girl would really fit in with us and it worked.
NAOMI: When Jess first ever joined, the day before we recorded some recordings in Dean Street in London, it was the day before that, Jess came down and we said “we are recording tomorrow” [laughs]. She hadn’t learnt any of the songs, we literally had a two hour rehearsal [laughs]. Then Jess was on the recordings, but these weren’t very good, although they don’t belong to us. They belong to someone who we recorded them with, so we need to re-record.
MEL: So where did the name ‘Dressing For Pleasure’ come from?
ALEX: We simply dress so amazing [laughs all round] Well we had a song called ‘Leather For Pleasure’ which is a song about a Man with a leather fetish, dunno where that came from, it was like a punk song. We were going through our songs and thinking do any of our songs sound like a band name, and because all we’d ever get and this was before the corsets and stuff. People would always go “Oh you Girls dress so well, your really cool” that’s all we’d ever hear. We must have heard it somewhere before but it just came to us – Dressing For Pleasure, it wasn’t till after that we found out there was a shop named Dressing For Pleasure, also a film in the 70’s about fetishes. Unfortunately we had the name, then we googled it and all sorts came out, but the name had stuck by then. People always called us Dress To Impress, or Dressed To Kill, we get it all, its all along those lines isn’t it. It’s quite funny really.
JESS: We always have to go on-stage and say it several times.
NAOMI: We will shoot ourselves in the foot at some stage, when we actually look rough. People will just go “I thought you were called Dressing For Pleasure”! You look like your dressing for leisure [laughs].
MEL: I’m sure you Girls never look rough on-stage!
NAOMI: Probably not no, we haven’t got a drug addiction yet!
MEL: You were saying earlier, that you dress like this all the time with your make up and your vintage style, and you look very well kept and everything.
ALEX: The make up is never any less really is it? [looks to both Girls]. We don’t wear corsets all the time though. We do have our rough days….
JESS: Mainly on the tour [laughs]
ALEX: Its funny ‘cos on tour we’d be feeling like really rough, but before the show we just knew we’d have to have this big ritual of getting ready. People would be like “you look so amazing” and we’d say “you didn’t see us this morning!”
MEL: You really have to present an image and stick with it..
ALEX: Yes, exactly and it is a big part of the band ‘cos we enjoy it. Its like getting into character and we all kind of match, but not exactly. These are the corsets [pointing to her own] that we wear they are handmade, and made by Naomi Rachel Cocks, she used to be Gibbs but she recently got married, and she made our corsets which we wore quite a bit on the last tour. We all dress similar, but unique, each one tailored to our personality. It’s the same look, but we are different from each other but we do like to tie in our image. Her Company is called ‘Society Belle’ she is also the Lady that made Adams Hussar jacket, not the shiny one. I think The Original Adam Ant jacket is owned by the V & A Museum; she actually went in to look at it and then made this one. She is a corsetière, but also a costume designer, she designs for the Theatre, if we ever make any money out of what we are doing we would certainly have her doing everything for us – our full time designer [laughs].
MEL: So who would you Girls aspire to, anybody that you look up to for style?
JESS: Its just that era, the Forties and Fifties.
ALEX: Its just such a glamorous era, when Women actually cared about what they looked like.
MEL: Any particular movie stars you had pinned up on your walls?
ALEX: When you think of vintage, there are people of today like Dita Von Teese, and she is really glamorous but who does she look up to?
NAOMI; I suppose Betty Page and Hollywood film Sirens. We don’t go out of our way to look Forties or Fifties, the make up and the hair might be, but then we might stick on something really casual like Westwood bondage boots, or band tee shirts.
MEL: But all of you have a kind of vintage feature about you, regardless of make up etc....
ALEX: I suppose we have, haven’t we?
JESS: Only ‘cos we make it that way though, we just draw it on. I mean anyone can look vintage; you’ve just got to do the hair right.
MEL: It is such a big effort though, takes a lot of time.
ALEX: It can’t be anything less than a big effort, I suppose we are called ‘Dressing For Pleasure. For me its not a big effort, I have some days when I think I can't be bothered to wear eyeliner or the lipstick but I’ll still have to do the rest. Its what ever you feel comfortable with, some people can just roll out of bed with no make up on. I personally don’t feel I can do that.
MEL: So what was the experience of being on the Adam Ant UK Tour like?
ALEX: It was an adventure, a trial, tribulation [smiles and laughs].
NAOMI: It was a little bit testing…
ALEX: It was amazing. We really, really enjoyed being on tour in fact we are really more at home on tour than being at home. We get itchy feet when we haven’t got that constant something to look forward to...some really good experiences!
JESS: Gigs, gigs, gigs!
MEL: Did you meet anybody interesting backstage during the shows?
JESS: We met Dave Berry, he was such a laugh. We were all eating cake backstage and he told us that in his day, it wasn't cake that they dealt backstage. (laughs)
NAOMI: I’ll tell you who we did meet, this wasn’t on tour but when we went into Dean Street Studios we met Tony Visconti. He's an absolute hero of ours and that was amazing.
JESS: He was the nicest man ever.
ALEX: Naomi was wearing a Morrissey Tee shirt, I was wearing Marc Bolan and we were with Adam Ant. He was like [adopts an American accent] “oh there’s three people In this room that I’ve worked with; Morrissey, Marc Bolan, and Adam Ant. [laughs all round]
NAOMI: You do that voice as if he’s a Gangster [laughs].
ALEX: He is lovely. He stayed to listen to a recording of our song 'Angelou', we were quite flattered because he went “what a great sound, this is so fresh". When he said goodbye, he said ''It's so nice to meet you Guys”.
JESS: No, its so nice to meet you Tony!
ALEX: That is probably the best person we met, Tony Visconti. He's an absolute hero of ours, and all the people he has worked with. He is a legend.
NAOMI: And for somebody like him to say he likes us! Some of the music he has produced and artists he’s worked with, he knows what he is taking about! We were so flattered.
MEL: Did you stay in any nice places whilst on tour?
ALEX: Travelodge, premier inn, holiday inn, complementary grime in the showers..
JESS: The Jury's Inn was nice in Manchester.
NAOMI: But away from the hotels we went to a town called Frome, that was the best gig, not performance wise, but the best crowd. When we went on stage we were really nervous, because it was one of the first ones on the tour and we had rehearsed this ‘Whole Lotta Love’ cover, which we had been rehearsing for a while but just never had the guts to do, ‘cos we were thinking “how are we gonna pull this song off”? But when we did it they were cheering for ages, even after we'd left the stage. We were amazed.
ALEX: Made us feel a bit like rock stars didn’t it? (laughs)
JESS: I just thought that it was a really nice town as well. There's a really cool shop called 'Deadly Is The Female' owned by a really nice lady. Really nice 40s/50s clothing shop! Worth checking out!
MEL: Do you set up all your equipment on stage, ‘cos it just wouldn’t look right dressed all glamorous like you are and having to drag equipment across the stage?
ALEX: On this tour we’ve been lucky, we’ve had roadies!! We’ve had a guitar tech, but not normally. You're right, It doesn’t look right when we walk around with guitars on our backs, like to rehearsals and stuff, but we still have our handbags on our arms. [laughs]
JESS: It was such a great crew that Adam had on this tour.
NAOMI: You got on stage and the guitar was tuned and waiting for you, and the drum kit was set up and the sticks were waiting and we were really, really looked after.
MEL: One thing I noticed that all the support acts just followed so smoothly after one another.
ALEX: Those Guys have got the hardest job in the world and with so many acts! Setting up three support acts, each for 15 mins, and then the main act, and the sound guy he had such a tough job. They are the first people in the building at 12pm and last one’s out. They worked really hard, they work 13 hours a day or something. They had no reason to look after us though, they really didn’t have to, it wasn’t in their job description, and they just really did. We were so fortunate. But yea, in the real world we have to set ourselves up.
MEL: How would you describe your sound?
NAOMI: We have so many influences but we don't sound like any of them. Our music is very minimal and very raw.
JESS: John Robb described us as Neo Goth, but we don't really know what that is. [laughs all round the table]
NAOMI: People always ask this and they say who do you sound like but we just don’t know who we sound like?
ALEX: The music that we like, we sound absolutely nothing like. We can be influenced by all sorts of music. I like a bit of Fifties stuff, every now and then we like to listen to The Everley Brothers.
NAOMI: Then mainly Sixties, Seventies, some Eighties, but different genres, and a lot of acoustic. We are really big Zeppelin fans. We don’t sound like Zeppelin, and our cover of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ doesn’t sound like Zeppelin. Well how could it? We are all self taught. But we slow it right down. We've definitely put our own stamp on it, but that’s just the thing, what you listen to doesn’t always have to sound like what you are. I think because we like so many abstract things, it’s a mish mash of sound. We’re not really loud, we are, but we try to be, its the basic fundaments really, guitar, bass and drums. People always ask who I aspire to with the singing, I guess I aspire to male singers, not female; Robert Plant, Paul Rodgers, Marc Bolan... I'll always get compared to female singers anyway but at least I'm not imitating anyone, females anyway.
MEL: Most people don’t listen to their own music though do they? [all the Girls answer at the same time No, no.]
ALEX: We definitely don’t stand in the corner dancing to our own music [laughs]
MEL: What are your plans for the future?
NAOMI: This month we are recording, we have a few gigs coming up in London. The main thing we really want to do is get recording. On the tour, We were literally thrown in at the deep end. It came totally unexpected, we weren’t really prepared for it but we had this amazing response, a whole new fan base and we’ve not been around a year yet. Such a response that now we really need to get on with recording. we have been touring with this material for quite a while now, and we are more than ready but we just haven’t had the money!
ALEX: I think we are the only band who’ve gone on a tour without an album or EP on the merch stand. Adam didn’t want that for some reason, his idea was that its more ideal for there to be a demand for your music before you release something.
MEL: So you feel that he kind of wanted people to have a taste of you, and leave them wanting more?
NAOMI: I think that’s what he was after, but when I go to a gig, and I see a support that I like, I want to buy the cd straight away. All we ever get on our facebook page is people saying “where is your cd”. So they have to try and remember what we sounded like, or come to the next gig. they can’t go home and really get into us by playing us at home. So, hopefully that will all change.
JESS: Hopefully we will get it onto itunes and people will be able to just download it from there.
MEL: Have you been in any other bands before?
JESS: Yes, I have, I was in a band called ‘Hate Male’, [smiles] when I was about 13-14, and that was an all female group, me and two girls that I went to school with. After that, a band with four lads called ‘Filthy Romance’.
MEL: How long have you been learning the drums [laughs] I mean playing?
JESS: I’m still learning [laughs], since I was about 13.
MEL: What about yourselves [looking at Naomi & Alex] ?
ALEX: I've been playing for about five years on and off. We only recently went electric; we used to be completely acoustic until this year.
NAOMI: I’ve been playing the bass for a year and a half [laughs]. We've never had any lessons, we can’t afford it, we’re from Birmingham [laughs].
ALEX: Naomi sings as well, she multi tasks. She sings and plays bass, its quite difficult, there’s not many that do.
NAOMI: Phil Lynott used to do it, Paul McCartney, and Suzi Quattro.
MEL: Who writes the song, how does it all come together?
ALEX: We used to pick up an acoustic guitar, sit down and come up with a tune then start singing along, that’s how ‘Leather For Pleasure’ came along. It was just me and Naomi, but now Jess has joined it’s a bit different. She’s only been with us since July. We just jam together and see what we come up with. We have a song we’re working on at the moment and its kind of bluesy, we'll see where it goes..
NAOMI: Its very much a group effort.
JESS: We just think - what can we write about next [laughs]
MEL: What do you write about I think would be my next question?
JESS: Characters we know, the older man [laughs]
ALEX: Leather fetishes, the older man definitely, its one of our common interests. The silver fox Bryan Ferry is a good example. Naomi likes somebody a bit whiter, she likes Jimmy Page...
NAOMI: The hottest Granddad alive!
NAOMI: Some of the songs are experiences and others just come out of nowhere, like ‘The Way It Hurts’. When Alex was playing the chords to that I started going…[clicking fingers and singing] "you're no good for me, but I kinda like the way it hurts." People come up to us and say “that song touched me, the meaning in that song ya know, I relate to it”. I’m like I don’t relate to it; the words just came out. Maybe it's an experience waiting to happen.
ALEX: I just think that’s what a lot of songwriters do, what will tear peoples hearts out, what will make people cry, think I’ll write about that.
MEL: Maybe as you develop you’ll start to write about your own experiences and stuff like that.
ALEX: We do write about our experiences but we like to be tongue in cheek, not too obvious. We like to put a comical twist on it, or make it more ambiguous.
MEL: You also do a couple of cover songs from Led Zeppelin and The Clash, any plans to do any more cover songs?
ALEX: Hmm there is always something we might cover, but we do try to focus more on our own stuff. The covers are in the set because when people come and see you they don’t know any of your songs and then when they hear a cover it is something they can relate to, and recognise it, so that gets the crowd going. But we don’t like to focus too much on what covers, ‘cos we need to work on our own stuff. Covers are fun for developing, because you're challenged, rather than playing a song the way you’d write it. But then again we always put a twist on everything. We might start with a really slow beginning, and then build it up, then it will kick in.
MEL: Ok, so is the band signed yet?
ALEX: We are actually unsigned. There have been rumours that we are signed to Adam Ant's record label but that's not true.
JESS: We aren't signed to any label at the moment. But if there is anyone out there…who wants to produce us like…...Tony Visconti or Jimmy Page…the white God [laughs].. We are unsigned!
MEL: What last parting comment or question would you like to make to our readers out there?
JESS: Does anyone know of any companies out there that do tights and stockings that would be prepared to sponsor us?
NAOMI: We go through so many pairs of stockings in the name of ‘Dressing For Pleasure’ We just simply can’t have any with pulls in them so they don’t last long, not when you're carrying around guitars and being rock n’ roll. I don’t think tights were meant for rock n’ roll, we should merge the two together.
JESS: They just ladder too much!
MEL: Do you ever wear trousers?
ALEX: Not on stage! Its just not done.
JESS: Oh no, no no
ALEX: We do in day to day life.
JESS: A nice pair of cropped jeans
And on that note we left it there, but continued the photoshoot in the piano room.
If anyone out there wants three foxy stocking clad young Women to promote your hosiery please get in touch. Thanks to Naomi, Alex and Jess for their time, it was certainly a pleasure. Good luck with your future plans, and aspirations.
Interview and photos by Mel 02/01/12