Despite the odds being heavily stacked against them, The Snuts topped the UK Albums Chart with their debut album ‘W.L.’ back in April 2021. It was an impressive feat, as the West Lothian four-piece beat Demi Lovato to become the first Scottish band to reach Number One with their debut LP since The View in 2007.
“People just believed in the record,” vocalist Jack Cochrane recalls to NME now about ‘W.L.’. “It was nice to be able to put something out in a time where there wasn’t a lot of things happening that weren’t negative.”
Rather than delivering more of the same, though, The Snuts’ forthcoming second album ‘Burn The Empire’ sees the band getting political as they discuss inequality, poverty and corruption against a backdrop of experimental guitar music. The title track is a snarling, punk-infused number where Cochrane sings “The world’s controlled by people controlling people / So come on people, burn the empire, bring her to her knees,” while the recently released ‘The Rodeo’ celebrates surrendering to the chaos.
“There’s a lot of frustration, a lot of love and a lot of hope,” Cochrane explains about the tone of the record. “It’s really personal to us, but it’s also a [social] commentary. It touches a lot of places we’ve always wanted to touch as a band. Having the success of the first album has allowed us to be brave enough to go there and do some of those things.”
For the latest instalment of NME’s In Conversation series, Cochrane discusses how the protest music of ‘Burn The Empire’ was born out of conversation, the influence the band take from Arctic Monkeys and why The Snuts want people to “scream” their feelings. Here’s what we learned.
‘Burn The Empire’ is a protest album
The title track of The Snuts’ second album was the first song that was written for the new LP. Listening back to it after it was finished, Cochrane thought it sounded aggressive yet completely honest – helping the band realise that “as long as you believe it, you can say [it]”. As soon as the title track was written, the rest of the record rapidly came together.
While naming the album ‘Burn The Empire’ felt bold, The Snuts wanted to leave its meaning as open-ended as possible. “‘The empire’ can be whatever you want it to be: whatever you feel oppressed by, angry about or feel like you need to have a voice about, because that’s what it was for me,” Cochrane explains.
“There’s lots of protest on the record, which is great. There needs to be protest in music. All the greats always made protest music, even if it was hidden,” he adds, before name-dropping The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. “It’s important to have people [from working-class backgrounds] in our position speak about things we know everyone is frustrated about.”
The Snuts decided not to worry about following up the success of ‘W.L.’
“We spoke about the pressure that’s inevitably going to come with a second record,” Cochrane says about how the band faced up to making their so-called ‘difficult second album’. It was a conversation that was fuelled by the fact The Snuts had “watched all our favourite bands go through it, [with] us judging their second records absolutely brutally”. But, instead of worrying, they decided instead to “not feel the pressure”.
“[We thought] ‘let’s just go and make music’. It should be that simple,” Cochrane explains. Their confidence was elevated because as “the world was going through this super-depressing pandemic, we were sitting there thinking, ‘Great, we’ve got a second record to write and we’re going to have the time to do that’.”
They want to be more like Arctic Monkeys and less like Bob Dylan
The Snuts went into ‘Burn The Empire’ wanting to push themselves out of their comfort zone (”that’s where we’re at our happiest,” Cochrane tells NME). The band were challenged to go further by their two producers, Clarence Coffee Jr. (who’s worked with Dua Lipa and Megan Thee Stallion) and Nathaniel Ledwidge (Chase and Status, Years & Years), to fulfil their ambition of evolving and experimenting musically.
Cochrane cites Arctic Monkeys as a key influence to this approach: “They’ve managed to stay razor-sharp cool all the way through what they do, but they evolve in a way that people understand. That’s important, and that’s something we’re trying to do. I’m a big Bob Dylan fan: he’s evolved throughout his 70-odd albums, but he did that at a pace where people didn’t understand it. It’s trying to find that balance.”
The vocalist knows people won’t listen to ‘Burn The Empire’ and praise a guitar part for sounding technically proficient or unique. Instead, “it’s about, ‘How does this feel to me as a song?’ On this record there’s definitely risks being taken musically, but the songs still need to work”.
The Snuts have no desire to be a “jangly indie guitar band”
If The Snuts’ debut album saw them takie a polite sidestep away from the world of indie rock, ‘Burn The Empire’ is an Olympic-sized leap. Cochrane says that while “trying to make something new is an incredibly difficult task,” he believes that he and his bandmates, along with their two producers, have pulled it off by adopting a “super-collaborative” approach.
“It was like a big fucking atom bomb of people’s influences,” he recalls, adding that they were listening to the likes of The Chemical Brothers, as well as rap music and even cheesy pop music, during recording. Cochrane says that while “we do bounce between styles,” it’s not something The Snuts have done deliberately: “We’ve just always had the intention of not putting ourselves in a jangly, indie guitar band box. It’s been done, we love it, but it’s never a box we wanted to be put in. The new record is just bonkers all the way through.”
The band want to encourage people to “scream” their feelings
A majority of ‘Burn The Empire’ came about through conversation. According to Cochrane, some days they’d sit in the studio and talk for five hours before even picking up a guitar. “We were really honest, we were allowed to get things wrong with each other and we could debate things,” he says. “I think we’ve lost that element in a conversation as a society.”
The one takeaway he hopes people will get from ‘Burn The Empire’ is that “everybody needs to feel like they can have a voice on things and be passionate about things”.
“People need to feel like they can actually make change again. We’re so heavily governed by the 0.1 per cent across the board. Everybody’s sort of down and out at the moment, but frustrated. I want people to feel like they can scream it, put in bright lights what they want to say. I also want people to have faith in themselves and the human spirit.”
The Snuts’ new album ‘Burn The Empire’ is out on September 30 via Parlophone Records