Courteeners’ Liam Fray on how ‘the worst years he’s had’ are shaping their ‘bolder, braver, adventurous’ new album

"I fucking love that the Reading & Leeds line-up wound people up - chill the fuck out"

Courteeners‘ frontman Liam Fray has revealed that the band are currently at work on writing a much ‘bolder, braver’ and ‘more adventurous and experimental’ new album. Read our full interview with Fray below.

Having just announced the biggest UK tour of their career, Fray spoke to NME just ahead of their massive main stage billing at this weekend’s Reading & Leeds festival.

“I think everyone needs to chill the fuck out,” Fray told NME, in response to uproar among some music fans about this year’s line-up. “Who cares? Who fucking cares? People are desperate to be outraged by something. If it’s not Jamie Oliver and his racist rice, it’s something else. Fucking hell, man. Surely they can do something else with their time?

“I think it’s great. Fucking go and shake it up. I saw it kick off on Twitter the other day comparing it a poster to 2000 and someone said that most of the bands on there were already past it. Nostalgia and hindsight are a wonderful thing. I get that there are a lot of indie fans who maybe haven’t seen those bands from 20 years ago, but that’s life. Know what I mean? You have to move with it. I think it’s going to be fucking great. Everyone said Jay Z would be shit at Glastonbury and he was fucking amazing. I fucking love that it’s winding people up.”

The crowd for Courteeners at Reading 2018

It was interesting that among the pop and hip-hop, yourselves, The Wombats and The Kooks were really high up the line-up on the main stage, pulling massive crowds.

“Well, it’s weird because The Kooks are fucking massive. If you weren’t maybe tuned into that at the time you’d think of them as just another band. Their first album came out the same week as the Arctics and it sold a fucking gazillion copies but just a few less than the Arctics did. He’s a good songwriter, is Luke [Pritchard, frontman]. It’s that funny age-old argument that guitars are dead and all that shit. Bands go away for two reasons: they’re either shit, or they don’t like each other. If you’re good and you like each other then you’ve got a good chance of sticking around.”

And you’ve been playing festivals this summer like Neighbourhood and Truck which have been dominated by young guitar bands.

“Yeah, there is a massive appetite for it. It does make you wonder who the voices are that initiate and dictate these articles about guitar music being dead? They weren’t in that field with 35,000 kids going bananas, were they? If you’re stood where we’re standing, it’s just so joyous. I don’t understand the negativity and false one-upmanship to try and dictate and influence to a point where everyone is just confused about what they like. Just let your hair down.”

Speaking of letting your hair down, you’ve just announced a pretty massive tour

“Yeah man, it’s the biggest one we’ve ever done. Loads of arenas, shitloads of academies and Brixton for the fifth time, but that will probably go unnoticed. Altogether it’s going to be like 80,000 tickets – that’s if they sell. You don’t want to test fate.”

Courteeners’ Liam Fray, live

Will this be roadtesting new material or rounding things off?

“We’re doing it slightly differently this time. We were going to try and do an album but things happened and I pretty much binned a load of stuff. It just didn’t feel right. I ripped it all up and started again which is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done. I really feel like we’re on top of our game at the minute. Neighbourhood and TRSNMT festival were out of this world for us. Sometimes when you’re stuck in the studio, you tend to lose sight of what gets people excited, then when you see them go bananas you want to channel some of that.

“So we’ll definitely be playing some new stuff on tour, and we’ll hopefully have something new out by the end of the year.”

Coincidentally, Interpol said the same thing about taking a break from new material to tour their debut album – just like you did.

“Fuck, no way? The ‘St Jude’ [anniversary tour and re-recorded acoustic album] thing was supposed to be a week-long project but ended up being about three months. Ironically, it ended up being way more experimental than anything we’ve ever done before with the band. It was amazing. The shackles were completely off to make it as different as possible. I was like ‘hang on a minute, I think sometimes we feel penned in by our own detractors in the back of our mind’. Fuck that, life’s too short for that. Generally speaking, if you play it fearlessly then people will get it. You’ve got to feel that freshness. It was really invigorating.”

You upset some purists with the re-recording, though.

“Of course, and good. That’s why they’re purists. That’s what Twitter is for. Everyone’s a music journalist. People are desperate to be outraged. They’re desperate to prove how wholesome they are. The world has gone mad. We’re just desperate to lock ourselves in a room and get this record done before it all blows up.”

Sonically, what direction are you heading in for the next album?

“It’s the most adventurous we’ve ever been. I have to say that. There’s a lot of loop-based stuff, plus I’ve been playing a lot of bass. I fucking love playing the bass. I love writing on it. I’ve done some really soulful piano tracks and almost hip-hop beats. I’m not a hip-hop guru so you can’t ask me who my influences are, but in terms of putting these hip-hop beats to soulful piano, it’s been fucking great.

“I’m still a story-teller and the songs always centre around that, so we’ve never been penned in by a particular palette of sounds or style. The first record was very indie and of its time, but after we’ve always had a few tracks on each record like ‘The 17th’ or ‘Cross My Heart’ which have been a bit weirder. This album might maybe be a culmination of all of those weird bits, hopefully. I don’t mean weird as in ‘what the fuck’s that’ – we’re just listening to different things. I wasn’t excited by a lot of the songs we threw away, but these ones are just different. When we first played ‘The 17th’ people were like ‘what the fuck is that?’ and now it’s easily in the top four of the set. We’ve always dipped our toe in those weird moments way more than we get credit for, but that’s fine – we’re not doing it for that. I feel like we’ve earned it to do it a little bit more.

“It comes back to the Leeds & Reading thing. People don’t listen to music like that any more either. The people buying a Courteeners record are also listening to Kendrick Lamar. It’s not as black and white as having mods and rockers any more. People are getting stressed out about nothing, mate.”

The Courteeners' Liam Fray
The Courteeners’ Liam Fray

Lyrically, what’s been inspiring you?

“There have been a lot of down periods and soul-searching and a lot of not wanting to leave the house. I’ve not thought about how to articulate that in an interview yet. But when we were doing the ‘St Jude’ shows, I was meeting people outside and going through what was personally the worst couple of years I’ve ever had and creatively very barren. There have always been moments on our records that y’know, deal with that kind of thing. People come to our gigs, lose themselves and have a great time but songs like ‘International’ often get lost. But this kid came up to me and said ‘International saved my life’. It stopped me in my tracks. I was like ‘fuck me’. If you’re going through a bad time and need to talk to someone, music can help you out a bit. Come to one of our shows, get lost a bit, and I thought ‘listen sunshine, I need to take some of my advice here’. That’s when I feel alive, when I’m on that stage.”

So you’ve been writing your way out out of a hole?

“The ups and downs of being on and off stage are never really articulated. When you’re up there, it’s like an out of body experience and you’re floating. Then a couple of days after that if there’s nothing in the schedule for a month, then you just crash – and nothing prepares you for it. If that month turns into six then it can be fucking tough. You’re not prepared for it. You go home and you’re like, ‘well what now? Write another record? I need to live life’. You look around you and life’s almost moved on from you, I guess. It’s like you’re pulling it back going ‘wait for me’.”

“It feels like the record is really taking shape and I hope it paints an accurate picture of where I’m at – but the music will kind of lend itself to being bolder and braver. That’s been born out of the past few years of going ‘what next?’ I don’t just want to release a record, do a tour and do some festivals. I want to push ourselves and see what we can make of this band. It’s all well and good to have a few decent albums and some tunes on the radio, but most people fucking forget in 10 years.

“Can we make it something that really fucking means something? You’ve got to tap into what people feel. I’m not being arrogant but I know we’ve done that because I talk to these people on the street every day. If you can give them 1% of yourself that they recognise in them, then it’s so powerful and rewarding. You can look a kid in the eye on the front row and go ‘mate, I know what you’re going through’.”

The Courteeners at Old Trafford
The Courteeners at Old Trafford

Courteeners tour dates and tickets

Tickets to Courteeners’ upcoming the tour go on sale at 9am on August 31 here. The band will be supported by Gerry Cinnamon and Zuzu. Full dates are below.

Thursday 15 November -Stoke Victoria Hall        
Friday 16 November -Birmingham O2 Academy          
Saturday 17 November – Leeds First Direct Arena     
Monday 19 November – Nottingham Rock City       
Tuesday 20 November – Leicester O2 Academy
Thursday 22 November – Llandudno Venue Cymru 
Friday 23 November – Newcastle Metro Arena 
Saturday 24 November – Glasgow SSE Arena
Monday 26 November – Southampton O2 Guildhall
Tuesday 27 November – Bristol O2 Academy    
Thursday 29 November – Hull Venue
Friday 30 November – Liverpool Echo Arena                                      
Saturday 1 December – London O2 Brixton Academy