The Goa Express are the epitome of doing whatever they want and taking the world as it comes to them. Coming-of-age on chaotic nights out, hosting gigs where the floor nearly caves in, making enemies of their university halls’ security guards (as immortalised on their single, ‘The Day’) and, er, borrowing their name from a “superfast trainline” in New Dehli – they’ve become a bit a go-to motley crew for those looking for a good time in Manchester.
When frontman James Douglas Clarke picks up NME’s call from his hometown of Todmorden in Yorkshire, it takes less than a minute for him to launch into the first of many hectic tales. “I’m sort of impaired at the moment,” he announces with complete composure, setting the precedent of our chat. “I fell off my dad’s bike when going really fast, so my wrist is completely fucked. I’m struggling to do anything really.” Band practise is currently a no-go, but he insists he won’t be too much of an issue. Like everything else, they’re just doing what works for them and not letting the bastards – or in this case, bike – get them down
“If we make a song that sounds like someone else, we scrap it immediately”
Originally split between the Northern industrial towns of Todmorden and Burnley before moving to Manchester for university, the quintet met at school and never looked back. “We’ve been knocking about together for 11 years now, it’s pretty scary,” he says in disbelief. “There’s not much to do and not many opportunities here, so we had to make our own fun.”
A trip to Manchester to see The Brian Jonestown Massacre in 2014 to make the group want to start making music themselves. “It was a mad night. We missed the last bus home, experimented with our first drug experiences, broke up with our girlfriends and ended up sleeping outside Tesco,” Clarke recalls fondly. Despite influences drawing from across this night, 19th century literature and Spacemen 3, there’s never been a conversation over their sound and direction.
“The songs come out as they come out, and they all sound quite different. Initially, we got categorised off as a ‘60s revitalised band, but then others felt we were post-punk. The only thing we try and do is scrap a track if it reminds us of someone else,” he explains of the process. What their music is, is tongue-in-cheek garage-rock. It has the raw energy of Talk Show and Shame, with underlying jangly psych riffs similar to those of Television and more recently, Parquet Courts. Their most recent single ‘Be My Friend’ is “melodic, instant and in your face”, and harks back to the urgency of The Damned and vivacity of ‘Primary Colours’-era Horrors.
‘The Day’ echoes the simplicity of The Ramones’ short and snappy hits. It’s less blowing up Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, and more pissing off university with excruciatingly loud parties, but the act of defiance still holds true. It’s all about having a laugh. “The security guard in my university halls absolutely despised me and got me in so much shit I got fined £400-odd and had to do community service,” he explains of the backstory, adding it was always bassist Naham Muzaffar by his side. “We were a bit chaotic back then but if you’re able to make a song out of it and it does quite well, who’s the one laughing?”
Only able to afford a couple of days of recording, they sought the help of Fat White Family’s Nathan Saoudi at his Sheffield ChampZone studio, across the road from the infamous City Sauna brothel. “There was a mutual understanding between us. We weren’t being ripped off for something that we had to be over the top with,” Clarke says. “It helped that we weren’t tied down by making everything perfect. It was spontaneous, off-the-cuff and we could do whatever we wanted.”
For ‘Be My Friend’, they returned to Sheffield but to instead work with Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys, Amyl and The Sniffers) just metres away from where they’d been with Saoudi. When asked about working with Orton, it’s a barrage of flattery. From similar Northern working-class backgrounds, the days spent together were full of getting to know one another. “He knows what he’s doing,” Clarke puts simply. “We had free reign to get fucked up and didn’t need to fret over the very details of things.”
Released nearly a year after ‘The Day’, new song ‘Be My Friend’ track follows in the odes to life in Manchester. A dismissal of hyperconnectivity, it’s a “fuck you” to feeling the need to know everyone’s business all the time. “I never really feel the need to go and join other people’s social groups. I’ve got everything I need right here,” he says of his close-knit group. “I see a lot of falsity in friendships. You’re not friends because you follow them on social media. People need to be more comfortable within themselves and not being friends with everyone.”
It may seem all mad parties and winging it, but that’s far from the truth. Having taken all of their older material offline, leaving them with just their two singles released while under Rough Trade Management (Shame, Black Midi), it looks like a plan of sorts is forming but even they don’t seem too sure. All they can promise are “some very chaotic and fun nights ahead”. All aboard The Goa Express, it’s going to be a messy ride.
The Goa Express’ new single ‘Be My Friend’ is out now