When asked about the band’s experience on tour in America, Happyness drummer Ash Cooper, with a sly grin on his face, responds that “there are highs and lows, tears and laughter, salt ‘n’ pepper, and good and evil.” While the other two members, Jonny Allen (guitar, bass, vocals) and Benji Compston (guitar, keyboards, vocals), laugh beside him, it becomes clear that wit and sarcastic humor are what hold the London-based band together. That sense of humor, however, isn’t confined to the band’s extra curriculars; it manifests within their lyrics as well. Over a slow churning electric guitar, the satirical line “I’m wearing Win Butler’s hair / There’s a scalpless singer in a Montreal rock band somewhere” from the track “Montreal Rock Band Somewhere” earned Happyness a 2015 NME Award for best lyric.
Happyness’ 2014 debut album, Weird Little Birthday, feels like a mix between Sparklehorse’s musical aesthetic crossed with Demetri Martin’s dry comedy. Self-produced, recorded in an abandoned church outside of London, and released to glowing reviews, the record oscillates between quiet acoustic strums and loud fuzzed-out guitars, seamlessly interlacing for a strong, cohesive album that’s unmistakably British in nature. The trio is now working on their sophomore effort and embarking on a North American tour, which kicks off this weekend at 4knots Festival in Manhattan’s Hudson River Park. Later this fall they will open for Mac DeMarco. We spoke with Cooper, Allan, and Compston over the phone.
NAMES: Jonny Allen (22), Benji Compston (23), and Ash Cooper (23)
CURRENT LOCATION: Benji Compston: My girlfriend’s bedroom in London. She’s not here, so we’re here.
WITHOUT PRACTICE: Ash Cooper: We’re very unready [for our upcoming tour].
Jonny Allan: We’ve tried to rehearse three times in the past week and keep turning up late and getting interrupted, so we’re half ready. We wanted to get a few new songs together but we’re probably only going to get one or two. [laughs]
Compston: We drove to and from the south of France for a festival this past weekend. Other than that, we’re deeply unprepared, so we’ll see what happens.
FIRST AMERICAN SHOW: Compston: We got cut off at Baby’s All Right during CMJ at 2pm.
Allan: We went on really quickly and were really jetlagged, feeling like rabbits in headlights. We kind of just got put onstage and ended up being on for only 15 minutes. Some guy in America was like, “Off now!” He just told us to get off stage, not even giving us one more song.
PLAYING SXSW: Compston: It was very different than CMJ. What was cool about CMJ was that it was happening in a huge city, where lots of other stuff was happening; it didn’t take over the identity of the whole city.
Allan: Ash and I spent every night ruining a game of Frisbee that the people in the surrounding apartments were having. We got back one night and there was this big barbeque at the apartment complex we were staying at and they were all playing, so we decided to go over and make friends. It got thrown to me and I always thought I had pretty good hand-eye coordination, but the first thing I did was throw it over the fence into the next-door garden, so everyone stopped playing. They all went inside and we got left with this huge barbeque of other peoples’ food. That’s how pretty much how we spent our evenings. [laughs]
Cooper: Our SXSW went from one extreme to the other. One day, we’d be in one of the co-ops and the next we’d be at the British Embassy and afterwards we’d be at a pizza restaurant.
Allan: The problem for us is that we’re three incredibly pale British boys. When it gets sunny and Texas-y, we find it hard to stay awake beyond about a half hour in the sun. One day we were playing on a boat and for the first hour we were all really excitable and were jumping around like we were tripping, but by the second hour, we were on lying down on the floor and everyone thought we passed out, but it was just sunstroke.
LYRICAL INTERPRETATION: Compston: Although a bunch of the songs have a gray aspect to the lyrics, there probably is more going on than some people might think—though there’s very often not. [laughs] I don’t think we’re particularly an earnestly introspective band when it comes to that thing.
Allan: We never really write songs about specific things. We tend to write about a lot of things and throw it all in one song. It’s a bit of an overview of the time it was written, rather than any specific stories.
Compston: When we started the band, we definitely had an aversion to anything preachy or earnest or obsessed with one’s own sad feelings. We had a thing of not doing that, which dictated the lyric writing on the first album.
SOPHOMORE ALBUM: Allan: We started going at [our second album] the same way as the first one and it’s been good so far, but there’s definitely things we want to do that we’re going to need a slightly more studio-y studio for. We’re going to try to find a space after the U.S. tour and get in there for a month or so.
Cooper: We want the second album to be different sonically.
Compston: We haven’t used vocal effects as much and in general, it’s a bit cleaner. The way we’ve worked on it so far has been in the same environment as the first record, we just now know how to use the production stuff.
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