“It’s a bit like Old Gil from The Simpsons,” Do Nothing frontman Chris Bailey tells NME down the phone. He’s likening his on-stage persona to the charmingly down-on-his-luck salesman from the animated TV show. “’Aaaah, you can taste the sale!’” he croons in his impression of the hapless character. “It’s an exaggerated, mean version of myself. I think that people who see the show think I’m probably a dickhead in real life,” he smiles. “And I am…. but not in that way! The point of that character isn’t to be slick or cool, it’s meant to be a bit of a fool.”
A constantly captivating live performer, Chris helms the band’s live show with a ramshackle personality, fronting music influenced by the intoxicating bop of Talking Heads and LCD Soundsystem while rambling about, among other things, all his friends fucking each other. It’s cut through with humour and a lack of seriousness.
The Nottingham-based quartet have a limited recorded output thus far – three tracks are available to stream, which verge from the sardonic ramblings of ‘Gangs’ to the slower jangle of ‘Handshakes’ and the fidgety ‘Waitress’ – but their buzz has been built from these live shows, which are ever-changing, unpredictable and very, very exciting.
Chris stumbles around the stage, a drunken conductor to the chaos but never straying into parody territory. “There’s a bit of anger in the music sometimes, and you can put that through the character I’m playing on stage,” he reflects. “You can also put in disappointment and whininess… which I have a lot of. There’s also some actual genuinely heartfelt stuff, but through the lens of an idiot.”
With plenty of room for listener interpretation and grey areas, the music and performance of Do Nothing isn’t to be taken at face value. “I hate when singer-songwriters are so obviously trying their best to make you feel something,” Chris says. “I sit there like ‘No! I refuse to feel the thing that you want me to!’ I like when things allow you to feel that yourself rather than trying to tug your heartstrings the whole time.” It’s firmly clear that they’re not ones to patronise their audience.
“Frontmen, or whatever, always have something about them that makes them entertaining to watch, and at the moment I’m trying to figure out the best way to do that,” he says. While the band are clearly already onto something special, it’s a formula that will be constantly tinkered with, and it’s easy to see that the current version of Do Nothing is going to be far from the final one. “I would be worried about becoming a frontman that puts on a spectacle just for the sake of it – because I feel like the music should be able to speak for itself without you having to run about too much to keep people interested,” he continues.
“When LCD Soundsystem first started, and were figuring out a live show, they had certain rules about not rocking out, and basically had no light show, because they wanted to get people into a place where they were focusing on the music, and for that to be enough. And they weren’t just being distracted into thinking that it was a good show. [James Murphy] has this everyman quality – you don’t look at him and think ‘that man is a rock star’, you think ‘That man is just a man’.”
Chris is also heavily influenced by stand-up comedy when thinking about his onstage persona, and towing the line of acceptability. “It’s definitely an influence on the music and me as a person, in terms of delivery and timing and the set-up of a lot of onstage comedy,” he affirms. “A good comparison is with Stewart Lee. He has an onstage persona which is, again, an exaggerated version of himself, and a cynical, angry version of himself, which is sort of a similar thing to what I am trying to do. He describes it as quite a ‘high-risk strategy’, because he basically berates the audience half the time, and tries very hard to make them not enjoy the show, and within that are the ingredients for them actually enjoying the show. It’s an interesting way to potentially take it.”
In both their current recorded output and live show, Do Nothing tread this line wonderfully: there’s theatre, excitement and exaggeration of the everyday, but a clear reliability that brings it all back home. ‘Gangs’, their most recent single and strongest output so far, sees the frontman rambling intricately about the claustrophobia of small-town life and cliques, placed against a cowbell-tastic instrumental that has all the energy and shuffle of the aforementioned LCD.
The live show has been received so well that the band recent supported their childhood heroes Interpol at a show in Moscow. “It was a privilege and a pleasure,” Chris says. “It was very much a surreal thing, and came out of nowhere. It was genuinely ten times bigger than any venue we’d ever played.” There’s a slight sense of disbelief in the way he discusses the show, but also a firm sense that they’d have the balls to command such a room night after night.
Moving forwards, Chris sees the future of Do Nothing as a blank canvas, something that’s equally exciting and terrifying to him. “When you start a band, you have a vague idea of what kind of band you want to be, and then after you’ve done that, you can expand it and find new corners of it to explore, which is a different process.
“We’re trying to work on something a bit more left-field. It’s kind of hard, because you end up with the big, terrifying chasm of complete freedom in front of your face.” With charisma that bursts out of their songs and shows like few other bands around at the moment, this freedom should bring golden results in every direction from the wonderfully idiosyncratic bunch. It looks like they could do anything.
Rye Wax, London (September 11th)
Cafe Totem, Sheffield (November 20th)
Rescue Rooms, Nottingham (21st)
Heartbreakers, Southampton (23rd)
Green Door Store, Brighton (25th)
Think Tank?, Newcastle (26th)
The Poetry Club, Glasgow (27th)
The Workman’s Club, Dublin (28th)