Face to face with… /// Neko

Music performed with heart, definitive approach and meaning behind it does make a difference. Neko stick to creating something different and authentic and their tunes show it eloquently. After getting acquainted with the band’s music Rock Britain decided to take it to the next level and learn more about Neko. For that we engaged in an interesting and exciting conversation with the band’s singer and guitarist Tom about everything in music and even more than that.

Let’s get back to the times when you started as a band. How did it all begin?
We all met about 12 years ago and we started to play music together in our drummer’s parents’ living room as it worked – we were all about 14-15 at the time when we met. So we started playing music, doing some covers, playing sort of low-key local gigs, growing up our own fan base that way. Then we started writing our own tunes and started developing our own musical style. We wanted to do something that was a bit different, started developing our own sound and that’s how we got together. We’ve been friends for well over 10 years now and that’s made it a lot easier to do music together, we kinda lived out of each other’s pockets and did music that way. Just through knowing each other that well made the music side of things a lot easier to do. That’s how we started.
Originally you went under the name of Plato. Do you consider the name change to Neko to be some kind of a turning point in your career?
Well, we changed the name after we’d taken some time off, we went through different situations, all three of us really. I moved away from the local area, we all were doing different things, we all got married, I have a kid, so the music took some kind of a back seat to the individual lives we were all leading. So, up until that point we’d been called Plato, we’d built up a fan base around that but we took a good couple of years away from music. Well, I kept on doing music, I think we all did music in our own way. Me particularly – I went away and did music up in Yorkshire, was doing quite a lot up there, I was also studying some form of music there. But the reason that we changed the name was because we didn’t want to come back and be expected to do the same stuff all over again. And we arrived at the name Neko purely because it’s just something we all agreed on. We all like the name. We’re called Neko after our bass player’s cat and the name Neko actually means ‘cat’ in Japanese.Yeah, it’s not a particularly deep meaning, but it’s the name we all agreed on. As far as the turning point goes, I think we’ve all come to the place where we realise the importance of music in all of our lives and we wanted to do something that was different, to start pushing ourselves a bit further as musicians, as a band, wanted to see what we can do, so we started rehearsing together again about about a year and a half ago, and started to book some gigs in. We entered into a national competition called Rock The House, got through to the final sort of stage, but unfortunately didn’t get through to the live final. But we won all the competition in the local area, in Sussex where we live, and, you know, that was a big turning point for us where we started to realise actually that what we had was something people wanted to listen to, so we started recording – we produce all of our music ourselves – and just record as much as we can, when we can, fit it around our lives as they are at the moment. We’re thinking of taking it a bit more seriously and getting out there and maybe one day get higher by getting signed or doing a live tour, whatever comes first really.
At the moment you’re working at  some tracks in the studio, so can we expect an album or an EP from you any time soon?
Yeah, we’re looking to getting to the studio either locally, or I’ve got some connections with producers mainly up in Yorkshire, but we’ve got some producer friends down here. We’re talking to them about getting into the studio, during the next sort of six months and putting an EP together. We’d like to ideally put a five- or six-track EP together and then get it onto something like Spotify or whatever we can do with it really, and get the exposure increased, and we want to book up a tour or get some local gigs lined up and end up with the UK tour at some point. So, yeah, that’s what you can expect. We’re just finalising a couple of other tracks that we produce ourselves, so you can expect to hear those within the coming weeks and months.
It’s great to produce all of your music yourselves without any kind of pressure and actually do whatever you like with it.
Yeah, absolutely. It’s got its benefits and it’s got its drawbacks as well. I mean, producing music ourselves means we can take a bit more time with it, we can assess what we’ve done, we can go back and tweak it before we release it. But the drawback is that we’re spending a lot of time with that recording side of deal. It would be nice to turn up at the studio, have a really clear idea of the tracks that we’re gonna lay down and have someone do the technical side of it for us so we just can concentrate on music. I mean I’m by no means a producer of music, that’s Dave and Luke’s area of expertise, so I follow their instructions really and I mainly put the lyrics and the melody together. We structure our songs together, Dave and Luke are very much the driving force behind the songs, you know, they’re extraordinarily talented musicians and the way they come up with beats, rhythms is a really good foundation for putting a melody over the top of it, putting the guitar line over. I’d like to see us get into studio where we can have that freedom as musicians rather than concentrating on being producers, which is where we want to be and we want to be just focusing on being the band together, rather than as producers.
As far as the music is concerned, are you up for experimenting or do you like sticking to some particular pattern in your tunes?
We try and do a sort of quirky side of music as well. I think our music starts off as a very skeleton form. We put together the melody, the basic chords of a song. A song might start  out as a bass line with a drum beat next to it or it might start out as a melody that I come up with. It’s always that starting point and then we structure around it. We’re really interested in making it sound different, you know, even if it’s a different sound or guitar effect that we’ve got, or if it’s like an off-beat rhythm, something that just goes a little bit against the grain but what people can start to analyse themselves. It’s not about creating something that just gets played on the radio. I think with our song ‘The Return’ you can hear the basic structure – it does sit quite well within the pop-rock genre. At the beginning we experimented with a different sort of intro, we really enjoy playing around dark beats,  my bass player has got the most ridiculous set of effect pedals and that’s something that we do as a complimentary element, so in our music we like to play around with our sounds. I wouldn’t say that we’ve got a set genre that we fit nicely inside and we’re not rock, we’re not pop, we’re not alternative. I think we kinda bring those together to create our own sound. So yeah, that would be enjoyable, we enjoy putting together these songs and making them sound very neat and putting our own spin on the music thing.
Who are your influences then?
Personally, I’m influenced by Muse, Radiohead, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Foo Fighters. I particularly enjoy listening to Ben Folds, I think he’s got a fantastic way of arranging songs. I think if I was to state my main influence, it would be Muse – it’s  interesting – the way they can put songs together, the way they push them is very much where I would like to go, that’s what I like – the ability to not be put into a particular box. They continually show that they can just defy the genre and not gonna be one of those bands that just sticks to a set formula and their sound is very definitive. It’s also quite surprising when you hear certain tracks, you weren’t expecting that from them or you weren’t expecting this. Yeah, these are the bands who I’m influenced by the most. I like going to see live music, I’ve been to countless gigs in my life and every single one of those bands I’ve been to see has influenced me in some way. I think Biffy Clyro are influencing me quite a lot recently, that really frantic guitar that he plays and the way they structure their songs with really off-beat beats and just everything Biffy Clyro’s doing is very-very influential. These are just a few music influences I have.
Out of the countless gigs you’ve been to, what can you consider to be the best  live experience?
The best gig I’ve ever seen live…
Tough question, I know.
It’s a really tough question! I think I’ve probably got two. The first one and the one that probably keeps the other to the post is Muse at Glastonbury 2004. That gig will forever remain in my memory. I just saw the whole way that they did that gig was phenomenal. Matt Bellamy is just a mad scientist and what appeals to the frontman in me – the way they are so tight as a band musically. That’s something that we with Neko really-really hope to and really-really wanna be – one of those bands that people come along to see live and go away saying «Wow! They really really know how to put on a show and they have so structured songs and the way they play together». Our history is that we’ve formed together and we’ve grown together and that has woven our ability to play together and quite nicely, but that gig in 2004 was just one of the most amazing experiences of my life. I think all of us cause we, all three of us, were there at the same time and I think it’ll be very difficult for us to pick a better gig. I did however see Foo Fighters last year at Milton Keynes Bowl in Milton Keynes and they again were just phenomenal. Dave Grohl is an excellent frontman, very-very influential on me. I think that’s something that resonates with me – I enjoy watching frontmen be frontmen and not hiding behind the guitar and not interacting with the audience. I think Matt Bellamy and Dave Grohl and historically Freddie Mercury – they’ve all had the ability to work a crowd, to work an audience, to make the audience part of their show, so when you come away from those gigs thinking: «Wow, I was really involved and they took me on the journey». So yeah, Foo Fighters at Milton Keynes Bowl, I think it was last year, and Muse – two very good gigs that I’ve been to.
Muse are indeed fantastic! I saw them a couple of years ago and it was something  out of this world!
Absolutely! I think they know how to get bigger and better each year. It’s always surprising to see what they do with their set. I saw them on their Absolution tour which was Glastonbury and I saw them on The Resistance Tour and obviously I saw the DVD – the HAARP. And ever time it just seems to get bigger and bigger and something more elaborate. I saw them on The Augmented Reality Tour after they finished up The Resistance Tour as it was and that at Wembley Stadium was incredible as well. They really know how to put on a live show and how to make it look as well as sound good.
What are you expecting from their upcoming album, by the way?
It’s difficult. I mean, we’ve heard the single ‘Survival’. It’s kind of typical Matt Bellamy’s start off with that intro and very symphonic, orchestral sounds and then moving into that piano riff, but then the whole songs just evolves into that epic rock, guitar-driven, riff-based piece and his vocals are just absolutely soaring. But given what we saw on the album trailer – it was dubstep and it kinda surprised me a bit – I didn’t know what was going on. But  I’ve been a lifelong Muse fan since they started really  and you never know what you’re gonna expect from them and that’s what excites me, you know – you can take it or leave it when the album first comes out, but eventually it’ll grow on you. I mean, I didn’t like ‘Black Holes And Revelations’ when it came out, but it grew on me and obviously there are some tracks you’ll never like as much as others. I think this next album will again just go to show that they’re one of the best bands in Britain, if not the world. It should be exciting!
It should be indeed! Talking about your own artwork, there are some intriguing, cosmic, space images at your Facebook. Any connection of these with your music?
Yeah, absolutely! I think what I like to do is whenever I am writing lyrics or writing a song, I don’t like to pin it down and make it just obvious, if you see what I mean. I like to look at it from the bigger scale, I like to make things as angular as possible and you hear it on quite a few of your tracks: there are a lot of delayed guitars and some backing effects and with my vocals I always try to do as many layered parts as I can and those are really subtle within the mix, so if you listen to Neko on headphones and concentrate on vocals, you hear about four-five different vocal parts but in the studio I’m normally recording ten or eleven vocal parts to put down and we just pick and choose from those. So, the artwork has been sourced and created by my bass player Luke who’s a very talented designer as well, so he’s got a real eye for the artwork and we’ve, you know, had comments on the artwork that when people come to see us live they understand the significance of the artwork. It’s not something that they’re expecting, it has that sort of retro space feel. For us it’s like part of another world, another galaxy. We’re just trying to be as big as possible within our music and whether that’s being in the sense of the guitar riffs or the drum beat or the bass line or whether it’s me trying to soar with vocals a bit more. Everything that we do is aiming for one step bigger and you can’t get much bigger than the space, so that’s kind of why we chose those images and hopefully we’ll continue to create artwork to get people thinking and relating to our music as well. So yeah, that’s the reason behind the artwork.
If we talk about writing music, songs, lyrics, what’s the best atmosphere for you to work at them?
I think part of the atmosphere when I wrote songs comes from being in the rehearsal studio with Dave and Luke and they’re both massive influences on me as a writer. And sometimes we all come up with the chord progression, the bass line for a song and I’ll hum a melody over atop of it or something like that. So that gives me a grounding for creating lyrics and whenever I write lyrics, I always want a meaning behind it cause I listen to a lot of music and very rarely it’s the song that I listen to and the lyrics really resonate with me and they mean something. I think one of the bands that does lyrics very very well is Coldplay. You can always look deeper into their lyrics and it does mean something, whether it means something to Chris Martin as a writer, or it means something to history. I mean, you listen to ‘Viva La Vida’ and think of French revolution. Very clever lyrics. And then you look at things like ‘‘Til Kingdom Come’, which is a very personal message that Chris wrote. So for me the atmosphere providing songs will partly be within a rehearsal studio. But then there’s times and it’s annoying me just before I fall asleep when I can hear an entire song come together and I have to get up and get into living room, pick up a guitar, play it really quietly ‘cause somebody’s sleeping in the next room and my wife’s trying to get to sleep. That for me is an annoying but really-really good atmosphere to write in because it’s just me, it’s just my thoughts and I’m scribbling them down on a piece of paper, humming them to, you know, a voice recorder so that I can then take it to the next level and then get a good chord progression over the top of it. So yeah, two very contrasting atmospheres for songwriting for me one  of which can be very loud in the rehearsal studio and one which is very quiet when it’s sort of one or two in the morning, but both excellent ways to write.
Have you got any plans to release a video for any of your songs?
Yeah, we’ve just done an acoustic session. It’s the first time we’ve done that and we recorded a live video of me doing an acoustic version of one of our songs for ‘Changes’. You know, we recorded that as impromptu thing when me and my bass player got together and thought it would be nice to put something out that people can see as well as hear. But we’re looking to do some form of music video. I’ll see if I can get the time when a film crew can come and help us out. I mean, my wife’s a photographer and we’re gonna try and get a photoshoot to correlate with a videoshoot as well. It’ll be nice to try something that is a bit different. I mean, I was looking at your website today and Matadors have done their video and it’s a really interesting video  – that’s the kind of things I like about videos. If it’s done well it’s not just about a band playing a song. It’s about a story. Normally when I watch a video done by a band I’ll be skipping forwards if t’s all of them playing from different angles, it really bores me. But with that it was really-really nice to see a band do that, put some thought, some effort into what they do. So that’s where I’d like to go – is to start producing some videos like that, of that quality just to give something interesting and different to our fans. We’ll probably do a couple of more acoustic sessions cause that went down really-really well. That’s where we  are aiming at the moment.
During those acoustic sessions how did it feel to strip down your songs to just acoustic guitars?
It’s a very different vibe because it all requires synergetic. All of our music tends to be equally split between the vocals, the bass line, the guitar, and the drums, you know, they  all form a really important part and so to strip it back to just an acoustic guitar was really interesting for me. I’ve played them on my own before and rehearsed on an acoustic guitar. That’s one thing. But then I started to change the pace of the songs, do it slightly differently and so the changes that I did acoustically are really different to the changes that we recorded in the studio. Unfortunately my voice wasn’t feeling entirely great that day so it’s not the strongest vocal performance but I think actually that’s what makes it a bit more personal and a bit more more real, authentic, you know. It’s not a massively produced thing and it’s just there in the moment and that’s what you see is what you get,  like in the live environment. We wanted people to feel like they were there in that room with me and just listening to an acoustic session. I think that’s an element that we wanna keep with the acoustic sessions. It’s not down a hundred time, we haven’t recorded a hundred different versions and picked the best one and put that up on the website. Actually it’s just one take this is what it’ s like, it’s live and that’s really exciting. It’s a bit of nerve-racking to have that kind of pressure on you when you’re used to playing with three of you in the band and get people support you and strip it back to one person is  quite nerve-racking and you’re not in front of the live audience, but you know this is gonna go out to hundreds, possibly thousands of people via YouTube, Facebook, these kinds of things. But yeah, we enjoyed doing that and I think we’re gonna look to do some more acoustic sessions and I quite like to get Luke and Dave to get on some acoustic instruments, just strip a drum kit back to a snare and for Luke to get on acoustic bass and we can do something all together and take it to the next level, so yeah very interesting.
Sounds like a plan! And where do you see Neko in, say, 5 or 10 years?
Well, I’d like to see us do a sort of south coast tour of the UK cause we’re down from Sussex right on the south coast. I’d like us within the next year, two years, to have booked a south coast tour, start from Brighton to lots and lots of venues around there. Within five years I’d like to book a UK wide tour also maybe to start here in Brighton where there’s a massive music scene and then to head north – London, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, and then to places like Yorkshire where I lived before, so I know quite a few people up there and have some connections. I think the way that we’re gonna plan it  is to do a south coast tour, see how that goes then plan a UK tour. We’d like to get some management behind us as well so we’re not just doing it on our own, but we’ve got someone who’s looking after that side of things. Eventually, you know, get an entire album of songs put together where we go away for a week or two weeks to the studio and put together an album and I think it’ll take quite a lot of thought, quite a lot of planning because wherever I put a song together, I I’d like that to be a flow and I’d like that to continue through on an album level. Because everything that we do we like to have a reason, and a meaning, and a story behind it rather than chucking a lot of things together. So, yeah, five-years time an album, maybe up there somewhere and certainly within 10 years maybe a couple of albums, maybe, fingers crossed, someone will have picked us up along the way and, you know, given us a recording deal and the ultimate dream is to play with bands that we’ve seen before and play spectacular shows like festivals and around Europe and possibly in the world, but, hey, we dream big. Our sound is big to go with it.

Watch Tom performing ‘Changes’ acoustically


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