I cast down my pen with a dramatical flourish. Come on then, admit it, I say. You basically sound like The Smiths.
Six-foot singer Laurence blinks. “Yep,” he replies.
I’d expected some attempt to rebuff suggestions that his throaty, bass voice had more than a little echo of the strident, urgent lyrical exhortations of Morrissey, or even Ian Curtis. Or that Liam’s contradictory guitar melodies are so Johnny Marr-esque as to border on tribute act. But not a bit of it.
“It’s inevitable that we are going to synthesize what we love into what we do, but really you have to take us at our lyrics first before working back to the music,” bass player Stuart says.
“The Smiths are one of those bands that had a massive effect on British music,” Laurence adds. “But they were also unique – Nirvana and many others made a massive impact too, but none of them had the uniqueness of the sound The Smiths had, and it’s that sound that’s been deserted.
“I didn’t want to go to far from their sound, from their ethic, from their movement, because that’s what made them great. And we’ve only been together two years, so the next lot of songs will probably sound totally different.”
The Social are singer Lawrence, 26, and bassist Stuart, 29, both originally old friends from Birmingham, who met guitarist Liam and drummer Alfie after moving to London a few years ago.
They look like a mash-up of 1980s and 1880s – Teddy Boy-punks with white socks peeking above tasselled loafers, pleat trousers and dress shirts paired with ripped t-shirts, inappropriate PVC hats and scarves worn as cravats. There are no gladioli in Laurence’s pocket.
Though they wear some influences – The Smiths, The Cure – proudly on their sleeve, others more surprising lurk beneath the surface – Killing Joke, and fellow West Midlanders The Specials and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, evidenced by strong leading bass and drum tracks in songs like “To the Bone.”
Following a well received 7” double-A-side on Influx records last year, Under Grey Skies/London Is Divided, a chance meeting with producer Dave Allen called them back into the studio – away from their Camden shop, Divided London, that had become more of a speakeasy than a shopfront. The result is the five-track EP A Call To Arms, out next month.
The Social’s songs are tales of the dole – the DSS to which their name refers – of frustrated lives, big ideas, and idiots at the wheel.
“It’s a swipe at the times really; the 1990s consumer society, the apathy. We’re not a political band, but we’re attacking people that fall victim to what politics makes them. People that are blind and stupid,” Laurence says.
Indeed, The Social have views on many things, from NME (“like OK or Hello magazine these days”), to ways of making ends meet (Stuart DJs cheese at clubs like Bungalow 8, Laurence sings opera) and ‘indie landfill’ bands (“they’ve got nothing to say – The Wombats are making a Christmas record for god’s sake”).
Is the fact the boys released both on their own label, Divided London, a nod to a punk DIY ethic?
“The label helps us keep our momentum going,” says Laurence, “and with the way the things are at the moment – two of the big four labels not taking on new acts – small labels may be the only way things are done in the future. The system’s failing.”
“We’re not going to do music for adverts. In fact we’ve already turned down some offers, but it’s not what we’re about and we’d look like idiots,” adds Stuart. “But if the man puts a contract in front of me I’ll sign it – I want my swimming pool shaped like a guitar.”
[This article originally appeared in The Big Issue]