The next big Things | Viva!

The next big Things

They may not be splashed across Heat magazine – yet – but the future’s looking red-hot for the punk-rock group 10,000 Things. Last year they were signed up by the massive record label Polydor, who also represent Eminem, Rachel Stevens, Scissor Sisters and the Black Eyed Peas – among others – are set to become the next big thing (or things).

As well as the surety of stardom, the Things’ drummer Alistair ‘Stobb’ Stobbard, 23 is a vegan and guitarist Will Newman, 24, is a vegetarian, and both are fully committed to the cause. With leading veggie lights such as Sir Paul McCartney, Moby and Morrissey as role models the boys are heading for the stars. We caught up with them on their rise to fame as they prepared for gig at London’s Buffalo Bar.

Stobb said: “I really can’t remember when I went vegetarian. I think I was about eight or nine and I’d seen something on TV about animals and farming, and I decided I wasn’t going to eat meat anymore. But at primary school the teachers thought I was just being stupid and made me eat meat at lunchtime – it was terrible but my mum stood up for me! And it made me more determined to stick with being a veggie.” The teachers will be even unhappier now as he went vegan two years ago: “It happened through common sense really. I realised that by still eating eggs and dairy I was, in a way, still supporting the meat industry and animal cruelty. It’s fine though because I do most of the cooking. I can make curries or stir-fries for the whole group and they’ll happily eat them. The meat-eaters don’t have a problem at all with our vegetarianism, though they might tease us a bit.”

Will confesses he’s more of a “cheese-on-toast or pasta n sauce guy” but no matter how rock n roll his lifestyle got he wouldn’t go back to eating meat or fish. “I went veggie four or five years ago because my girlfriend at the time wanted to but couldn’t manage it on her own. It was me who ended up sticking with it. Being vegetarian feels natural for me because I come from six generations of vegetarians and my dad is a Viva! supporter. I lost the taste for meat a long time ago, and hate the idea of putting money into the pockets of disreputable global businesses or fast-food chains.”

And just seeing these good-looking, young, northern blokes belting out top music and drinking endless pints is enough to challenge the myth that veggie men are wimps. Will, a Lancashire lad from Blackpool, laughs at the suggestion that he’s any less-a-man: “It is still a problem with men because they link being a vegetarian with being a hippy and eating rabbit-food, but they’re mad. I’m not a hippy, and I can’t eat lettuce anymore because it gives me the s****! You see articles about the problems with eating meat even in the tabloids now so I think men will gradually come round to the idea – but it’ll be for selfish reasons like health. It doesn’t have to be about fluffy animals or eating your greens, it’s just looking after yourself and having better food – there’s loads of choice. It would make me feel less macho eating burgers and kebabs all the time.”
Stobb agrees: “And the more women who go veggie, the more men they’ll convince! Seriously, it is an upward trend though. There are loads of veggie guys in bands – you’ve just got to find them. They’re more forward-thinking and cynical about the world. If we become rich and famous it won’t change anything – except we’ll be able to easily afford even more vegan food!”

What’s with the “if”?! The talent-scouts from Polydor discovered the band while they were gigging, listened to them rehearse and liked what they heard. Despite this amazing record deal, TV appearances and approaching single and album releases, the boys aren’t fazed by the prospect of commercial success. “I don’t want to be famous!” protests Stobb, “Though I wouldn’t mind doing Top of the Pops just for fun.” Will agrees: “I’m in it for the music – to write, produce and perform great songs…” “And to avoid getting a real job!” adds Stobb. “It’s true” Will concedes, “but if I wasn’t doing this I’d be working in a bar or signing on. We’re our own boss and we’ve been really lucky.” Stobb nods enthusiastically: “Some people spend hours and hours of their lives in jobs they hate or don’t care about, but we’re musicians full-time now and are really passionate about what we do.” And it definitely shows.

The six members of 10,000 Things have all been mates since school, and formed the band two years ago from two separate groups (Will and Stobb’s first band was ‘Little Sister’, which the briefest mention of triggers an embarrassed grin and an instant change of subject). They describe their music as “pub-rock”, though Will admits that they may be too far into the industry to say that now, and it is influenced by rock and punk, and artists such as Devo, Little Richard, Gang of Four and Rage Against the Machine. So they’re about as far as you can get from the manufactured boys-bands we’ve become (irritably) used to; although they both admit the brothers of the group, Sam and George Riley, are likely to be a big hit with the teenyboppers and ladeez.

All the songs are written by the band as a group. Will says: “We just all get together and jam – bouncing ideas and tunes off one another. It’s great because we all get on so well, so we can write stuff more quickly now.” Even though the name of the group refers to the Taoist meaning of our material world, don’t expect deep, philosophical lyrics about the complexities of life. “We write about our common experiences and about people we know – it’s like a commentary on our social circle”, Will explains, “We do some love songs too, but they’re very cynical and bitter. Since the band got serious all of us have split up with our girlfriends – that’s just one of the sacrifices. But all the songs are very light-hearted and simple – we don’t really attack issues.” Stobb muses: “It would be nice to do a song like Meat is Murder but we’d never get our meat-eating singer to perform it! We do make songs about issues in general.” Will adds: “Yeah, such as against the tabloid press and celebrities. It’s weird to think that we might be celebrities one day soon. It’s unreal.”

But it’s time for someone to pinch them! The band have just been working with legendary music producer and vegetarian Phill Brown on the coming album, and the boys are thrilled with the results. Will grins: “In the past Phill’s worked with the Stones, the Small Faces, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Led Zepplin – we were in the studio 15 hours every day and just being there with him was amazing. As well as all the rock n roll anecdotes about the musicians he’s met, our tracks sound fantastic. He really listened to what we wanted and took influences and ideas from other music that we all enjoy. Some of the songs were even recorded live to get that fresh feel. So hopefully people hearing us at gigs will be persuaded to buy our music afterwards.”  

And if that wasn’t cool enough, they are managed by Mick McCarthy, who used to be in the all vegan band ‘Blab Happy’ on Elvis Costello's label, and who provides them invaluable support. “He’s completely committed to the band and really believes in us – that’s what you need”, says Stobb. Will agrees, “He likes the styles of music we do, and we like his music too! He’s great because he also gets involved with the production side. He understands music and the business, and is still writing songs himself. He doesn’t get stressed, even though some of us do. And he’s an ass-kicking kung-fu vegan as well!”

When talking about their new experiences and music heroes the eyes of these Leeds-based boys glaze over slightly. Stobb shakes his head: “I never thought we’d make it this far. I’m from Black Isles in the north of Scotland and there’s not much chance of a future in music up there; not unless you can play the bagpipes and dance at ceilidhs!” “We have had loads of support from the people of Leeds – they want to see us be successful”, Will smiles, “My family are well-chuffed now too. At first my mum was like ‘it’s a hobby, give it up – it’s just a hobby, get a proper job’. But now she’s screaming ‘Ooh, wow, I saw you on the telly!’ – which is fantastic! We won’t be lured down south however far we get in the industry, we love the north too much”.

Both Will and Stobb are completely down to earth and laid back about everything, including their vegetarianism. Stobb says: “It’s just part of our lives. If we do get more popular we’re not going to deny we’re vegetarian – why would we? The messages about farming, the environment and health needs to get out there somehow. That’s why Viva!’s so great – as are all organisations or individuals providing a different view to what is ‘normal’ and propagated by capitalist industry. An alternative point of view is very much appreciated.” “The thing is though when you’re vegan you’ve got to do your research before you start backing these organisations up it might not be all you desire in the way they protest. Some people, like these balaclava veggies, go around murdering farmers and stuff, are too hardcore. It’s about looking at and approaching all the issues properly like Viva! does,” Will insists, musing, “I used to have a Viva! t-shirt but I lost it on tour...”.   

They both look at me gravely for a second: “You’re not going to make us out to be soppy and wet are you?” Will quizzes, before turning their mind to yet another pint, a roll-your-own fag, a group of stunning female fans, and a big box of vegan choccies.

No! (And a t-shirt’s on the way!)

10,000 Things are: Sam Riley (vocals), George Riley (bass), Will Newman (guitar), Gareth ‘Davro’ Davies (guitar), Justin Jackson (percussion) and Alistair ‘Stobb’ Stobbard (drums).

The double A-side single Titanium/Can't Do Nothing was released on September 27 2004, and the long-awaited album 10,000 Things was available from October 11 2004. 

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