Just days before Scarlet Rebels’ food bank-donation charity event on the Thames was cancelled, due to their “inflammatory” album cover for See Through The Blue, frontman Wayne Doyle told John-Paul Davies why, at the height of the pandemic, he couldn’t help but write a polarising, political album.
Tell me all about your campaign to get this new album, See Through Blue, to number one.
Number one? I don’t know where you got that from! We’re trying to be the first band from Llanelli to get an album into the UK Top 40, hopefully as high up as we possibly can. I’d take number 40 at the moment because there’s never been a band, believe it or not, from Llanelli that has actually managed to do it. I think the closest was Deke Leonard, who was in Man, and he got to number 50.
You were back at Llanelli’s Sonic One Studio to cut the tracks. How much of an influence has Tim Hamill’s production style been over the last three releases?
He’s pretty much the sixth member of the band – he’s so easy to work with. I love Tim to bits. I’ve known him for years and worked with him when we were in [previous incarnation of Scarlet Rebels] VOiD as well. We’ve got such a good relationship now that he can just tell me if something’s rubbish – and he contributes in every single aspect, from suggesting drum patterns, bass, to extra little licks on the guitar. I don’t want somebody to just sit there and press record: get your hands dirty and suggest. We can only reject his suggestions if we don’t like them. He’s a hidden gem because I think if he was working further down the M4 he would be so much more in demand with proper big acts.
See Through Blue is an overtly political album. Is this something you feel your audience looks for you in your music or are you just determined to spread the word, regardless?
I think we’ve earned ourselves a reputation for being honest. And we were writing the album in a period that just can’t be ignored; I didn’t feel in the place to be singing about fast cars, alcohol and girls in the climate we were in. It was the back end of 2020: you had the whole pandemic, people being locked down, people’s lives changing, and from what I saw it just looked as if there was a lot of agendas being pushed to the forefront. People using a global pandemic as an excuse to feather their own little nests – the UK Government.
And it’s just weird that it’s come out that it’s true. Everything in the album that I’ve written and touched upon is more relevant now than when I wrote it in 2020. It’s like, oh my god, you’re not even trying to hide it from us now – blatant corruption.
So that’s where the title See Through Blue came from because they’re [the Tory government] so transparent. And a week before the album is due to be released, all this stuff is going on! I find that really sad as well, you know – there’s actually no progress being made if anything it’s gone backwards, and it’s just… how long people are just gonna accept that it’s okay? It does piss me off to the point that it’s the most important seat in the country; if that is tarnished, then it just filters down all the way into society. Lines in the album like, “Do as I say not as I do,” and all that kind of thing – that’s what it has become.
People were getting fined by the police – old age pensioners meeting each other in the park for a cup of tea – and yet Downing Street were having parties every other day. We’re so accustomed to him [Boris Johnson] just blathering on, the deflection tactics, and they just get away with it. If I was to do that in my day job, or you, you’d just be gone. It’s so frustrating.
But this attitude you have towards politics isn’t just posturing. You’ve been asking gig-goers to come with items for local food banks.
When we first released the single Storm it was an aggressive stance towards government and it just fell on deaf ears – because Boris Johnson is like a Teflon dolly, things don’t stick to him. So we were just like, let’s flip it on its head rather than be negative – let’s try and use it for positivity.
One of the songs I wrote, These Days, is about pretty much what I was seeing at the time – the government not feeding children who had free school meals but, obviously, weren’t allowed to go to school. And then it takes a Premier League footballer to point out this is a little bit wrong.
We did a gig at Fuel, in Cardiff, and said, “look, we’re gonna do a food bank donation.” And there were people donating via Deliveroo that weren’t even at the gig! We had delivery drivers turning up until just before we were onstage. We had so much food that we were crammed in the van, in order to get home from the show. Then we started to do it at any headline gig elsewhere – people can bring an item of food and we donate it on their behalf.
So it’s the people that donate that are helping – we’re just facilitating it, pretty much – but because people are bringing so much food, our van’s not big enough with our gear! We’ve ended up going on to Facebook community groups arranging with local food banks to come out to pick the food up. We’ve not been stashing it and then bringing it back to Wales, that would look a bit dodgy… so we’ve been donating it locally as well.
Since relaunching as Scarlet Rebels, your profile has risen hugely. Is getting the marketing machine right as important as getting the songs sounding tight?
We were called VOiD, and there are literally about 400 bands called Void and it was really hard to stand out. Because we always had a really good response at gigs, we knew people were enjoying us – we’re not getting things thrown at us or booed off! – but it never translated to anything outside of that. Spotify plays and Facebook likes were really low, and then a bunch of people at a gig couldn’t find us on Facebook; I was like “give me your phone,” I typed it in, and I couldn’t find us! We were making ourselves invisible.
So we changed the name of the band and then did our first gig as Scarlet Rebels – the next day, we had 10 or 15 Facebook likes off the back of one gig. And it was literally something as simple as that.
What’s been your biggest achievement to date – and what gig or event are you most looking forward to in 2022?
It’s mad – when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t realise. When I think back to what it was like when we started as Scarlet Rebels to what it’s like now… I guess it’s just the human condition, but you don’t step outside the bubble to appreciate the view as you go.
At the back end of 2018, we played to seven people in Dundee, and five of those were members of the other bands! And then we released [2019 debut album] Show Your Colours, and slowly things started building. We recorded [See Through Blue], and then signed with Earache Records – it’s just night and day. We’ve worked really hard, and it’s nice to see a little bit of it paying off.
We’re hoping the album makes history – for me personally, that would be massive because nobody can take that away from us – but then we’ve got festivals in Germany; we’re doing a festival called Rockpalast, which is Germany’s version of …Jools Holland. We’re doing Steelhouse Festival, which was announced yesterday, Planet Rock Winter’s End and Kendal Calling. We were meant to be on tour now, but with restrictions and lack of communication, we thought it was best to push it back. So we’ve got our own headline tour to promote the album coming up as well. And then hopefully we start to think about album three!
See Through Blue is released on Fri 28 Jan on Earache Records. Info: www.scarletrebels.com
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
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