By John Curley
The Spitfires are a young, fiery, up-and-coming band from Watford, England. The band has seen their audience grow by leaps and bounds and enthusiasm increase as they have toured behind their second album, A Thousand Times, which was released in August of this year. Following on from their debut album, Response, which was released in August 2015, the new album sparkles with great songs and more mature songwriting. The band, which is comprised of Billy Sullivan (guitar, vocals, songwriting), Matt Johnson (drums), Sam Long (bass, vocals), and Chris Chanell (keyboards, vocals), has had an extremely busy year, touring behind the album and playing to very receptive audiences.
Billy Sullivan has done an e-mail Q&A with GOLDMINE in which he discusses the new album, his songwriting, his influences, touring, and other topics. The results follow:
GOLDMINE: How and when did the band come together?
BILLY SULLIVAN: The band came together originally in 2012 as a three piece with me, Matt, and Sam. Then Chris joined in 2014.
GM: How did the band come to be called The Spitfires?
BS: I’ve had the name from when I was a kid so there weren’t much thought about it. I was obsessed with modernism and anything to do with targets.
GM: What are the ages of the band members?
BS: Me, Matt, and Sam are 22 and Chris is a bit older.
GM: How does being from Watford influence your songwriting?
BS: Well, I mostly write about my surroundings and I’ve always lived in Watford. It’s a suburb of London, and I find it quite bleak and grey and boring really. Like most suburbs of London.
GM: How old were you when you wrote your first song? What was it titled? What was it about?
BS: I was around 10 when I wrote my first song, however I can’t remember anything about it! I was extremely determined from an early age so was continually trying to better myself, so I wrote loads at an early age.
GM: Could you walk us through your songwriting process?
BS: I tend to write the music first. Then I write the melody and then the words.
GM: How do you think you’ve grown as a songwriter?
BS: I think I’ve just grown up a bit. There’s some tracks on the first album that I wrote when I was 14 and they have a certain naivety to them, however they also have that sort of youthful ‘not giving a shit’ streak in them. Which I love. I think they’re great songs. Maybe not the best I’ve written or tracks I still play now but I still think they’re great. However on the second album, I think, the songwriting stepped up massively.
GM: Your material reminds me somewhat of The Jam circa In The City. Are The Jam an influence on the band?
BS: The Jam are an influence. But only as much as The Clash or The Specials or Billy Bragg. I don’t really see the comparison anymore—I think we’ve moved on completely from that sound. I mean, “Return To Me” or “Last Goodbye” sound nothing like The Jam.
GM: What other artists have influenced your writing?
BS: In my opinion, the great British songwriters—Lennon, McCartney, Davies, Weller, Dammers, Strummer, Bragg, Heaton, Morrissey, Mavers, Turner. I’m also massively into Neil Young, soul, reggae, bit of early hip hop.
GM: Do books and/or films influence your songwriting? If so, which ones?
BS: Lots of films do—Clockwork Orange is my favorite film and book. I love a Channel 4 kitchen-sink drama, too. There was a series called Red Riding shown a good few years ago that blew my mind.
GM: Are you interested in politics? What do you think about politics in the UK?
BS: I think politics in this country is a mess. I’m not particularly interested in party politics whatsoever. My views and opinions form through my own life experiences and my own environment. Sort of ‘street politics’ if you’d like. Also, music and lyrics helped form my political opinions. People like Weller, Heaton, and Bragg.
GM: What was the first album you purchased with your own money and what did it mean to you?
BS: The Beatles’ 1. Masterclass in songwriting.
GM: How did you first become interested in music? Were you in the band at school?
BS: There was always music played in my house. My Dad was particularly into music, and I gathered an interest to what he used to listen to very early on. Then when I was say 7/8, I first picked up a guitar and that was it. I was in a band as soon as possible, even in primary school. And have been ever since.
GM: The Spitfires are often pegged as a Mod band. How would you describe your sound?
BS: I think that’s rubbish. Lazy journalism, really, and the result of the nostalgia-tinged view on music in the UK in the moment. We’re a punk band at heart but our sound is rapidly changing and expanding. I don’t want to have a label, it’s an insult really.
GM: The band released their second album in August of this year. Was the writing and recording experience easier this time around than it was for the first album?
BS: Well, the first album took five years to write and about seven months to record. The second album took six months to write and four months to record. So it was a much quicker and easier process. I also knew what I was doing a bit more the second time round.
GM: How has the material from the new album gone over with the audiences at your live gigs?
BS: Yeah, it’s gone down really well. And they’re great songs to play, really enjoyable.
GM: The death of guitar bands has been predicted and debunked for several decades now. Why do you think guitar-based bands continue to thrive?
BS: I don’t think anything can be predicted in the current music industry. Cos no one knows what they’re doing. In the UK, it’s predominately white middle-class posh boys getting signed because they have a network of industry types in their phonebook. Whereas with us, the only people we care about is the fans. Those who buy the records and come to the gigs. The industry types can queue up like everyone else as far as I’m concerned.
GM: Are there any plans to tour behind the new album in America?
BS: We wish! We’d love to come to America. However, it’s an expensive game touring and especially travelling abroad.
GM: Do you find differences between the crowds that the band has played to in the UK and the audiences in other countries? If so, what are they?
BS: Yes, I do. I find there’s an attitude change once you get into places like Spain, Germany, Italy etc. They seem to appreciate you far more and the promoters respect you and look after you far better than they do in the UK.
GM: Clothing is important to the band. How would you describe your personal style?
BS: It’s just what I’m into!
GM: What is the worst part about touring? And what is the best part?
BS: I love touring. There’s not really a bad part about it. We’re very much a live band and what’s better than travelling in a van to all these places with your mates?
GM: What other bands are you listening to now? What appeals to you about them?
BS: I really like The Beat’s (Ranking Roger) new record. And Michael Kiwanuka’s Love and Hate. I’m into a lot of reggae, too—Tapper Zukie, Big Youth, Culture—the first two UB40 albums. Also a bit of Stiff Little Fingers, especially their second LP.
GM: Have you had the opportunity to meet any of your musical heroes? Who did you meet and what did it mean to you?
BS: I met Weller in a cafe round the back of Baker Street and also when we supported him in 2015. Also, The Specials when we supported them. I’ve met Paul Heaton, too. All of them have been great.
GM: What song do you wish you had written?
BS: I don’t think of it that way, really. I just want to write my own songs.
GM: What are the band’s plans for the remainder of 2016 and into 2017?
BS: We’re touring till the end of the year and then going quiet for most of 2017, except the odd few gigs. We’ve been constantly on the road for around 18 months and made two records in that time, too. I’ve just decided I want to concentrate on going in the studio and recording and see where it’ll take us.
The video for The Spitfires’ “So Long” can be seen below:
The video for The Spitfires’ “On My Mind” can be seen below:
The Spitfires’ “Return To Me” can be heard below: