Preston: Not such ordinary boys

With just weeks to go before the release of the debut album of The Ordinary Boys, Alexia Loundras meets Preston, the hotly tipped band's voluble front man
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Preston likes to talk. Words tumble from his mouth so fast that the front man of the Ordinary Boys can hardly keep up with himself. In fact, his tongue wags so much that when the West Sussex four-piece play live, it literally hangs out of the left side of his mouth between verses, relishing the break and enjoying the fresh air. "I love to spark up a good debate," he says, his blue eyes gleaming. "Connecting with people like that is marvellous - it brings a tear to my eye."

Preston likes to talk. Words tumble from his mouth so fast that the front man of the Ordinary Boys can hardly keep up with himself. In fact, his tongue wags so much that when the West Sussex four-piece play live, it literally hangs out of the left side of his mouth between verses, relishing the break and enjoying the fresh air. "I love to spark up a good debate," he says, his blue eyes gleaming. "Connecting with people like that is marvellous - it brings a tear to my eye."

Preston - the 21-year-old no longer uses his first name ("I don't think I suit Samuel," he says, "it feels like someone else's name") - has an opinion on just about anything. Indeed, his band's highly anticipated debut album, Over the Counter Culture is laden with them. Everything from the media to meaningless small talk gets the Preston treatment; each barbed remark set to fired-up and melodic The Jam-meets-The Specials punk rock. He is earnest, and prides himself on being outspoken, even if this means that he is prone to contradicting himself, and, at times, a little quick to pass judgment. Sitting at a table in a Goth pub across the street from the small Nottingham venue that he and his band will later reduce to a frenzied sea of stage-divers and crowd-surfers, he lays into the "horrid" decor and the "raucous drivel" pouring out of its speakers.

This is not Preston's kind of place. The pub's blood-red walls, steel cages, hanging axes and glaring gargoyles clash horribly with the Modish cool of his smart skinny jeans and blue work shirt (the long sleeves hiding his tattoos). Yet, when not distracted by the blasts of heavy metal, he is thoroughly engaging. Bristling with both laddish swagger and a mysterious vulnerability, he's like the Modern Life Is Rubbish-era Damon Albarn crossed with James Dean. You could almost say that he's genetically predisposed to being a front man.

"I did always want to be in a band," says Preston. "I can remember being six, listening to Revolver and singing into my hairbrush. It was that clichéd," he laughs. Thanks to his older brother, Preston was exposed to an inspiring musical diet - starting with classic Beatles tunes and moving on to hardcore punk. After hearing Black Flag's "Rise Above", Preston was smitten. "For me, hardcore is like folk music with even more passion," he says. "It's got energy and anger, and if you're young and in a band, you should be pissed off because there's lots of things to be pissed off about."

From hardcore bands such as The Misfits and Bad Brains, Preston graduated to The Sex Pistols and The Clash, later falling for the charms of Stevie Wonder and The Smiths (his band are named after the Morrissey song). Although different genres, each of Preston's formative influences inspired him in the same way. "There are two types of music," he explains, "music that has soul and music that hasn't. If the music excites some sense that you can't believe how much empathy you have with this person that you've never met, then, no matter what it sounds like, it has soul. Morrissey's music isn't punk rock in the traditional sense, but he sings about important issues and real passion comes across in his music."

But passion - soul - is worth nothing without the means to articulate it. As a child, Preston had little time for school. His childhood, he says was "rubbish". After his parents split up, his father moved to France, and his mother, with whom he, his brother and younger sister lived, was wrapped up in her new lover. Preston responded by becoming "a bit of a hooligan - I was always too busy shoplifting and being a little bastard to worry about school". But, by the age of 12, he started to get a horrible, nagging sensation that he was missing out. He surreptitiously borrowed books from his brother and began reading the works of PG Wodehouse, Will Self and Graham Greene on the sly, educating himself in language and satire. "I read and read, and came out the other side feeling that it had improved me," says Preston, clearly pleased with himself. "Having more vocabulary changes the way you think because you have the words to describe the way you feel. It helped me to understand myself."

With the tools in place, all that Preston needed now to fulfil his front-man dream was the impetus to write some songs. After being kicked out of the house at 16, he eventually got a "horrible job" at a computer-hardware company and took his place in the nine-to-five world. This was exactly the motivation he needed. After a couple of years trading in his life for just enough cash to pay his rent, Preston had had enough. Tanked up with bile and fury, he quit his job, got together with his childhood mates (the guitarist William G Brown, drummer Charlie Stanley and James Gregory, who was strongarmed into taking up the bass), and set about writing material for the band's debut.

Inspired by the drudgery of his soul-destroying experience, Over the Counter Culture is a searing attack on mediocrity. "Apathy really winds me up," he explains. "People will sit around and do nothing and then moan about the fact that they're doing nothing. I find it so bizarre - incomprehensible, even - that people go through their lives not addressing the fact that they are miserable. Do something about it!"

Preston is ranting, but it's a well-intentioned rant. His frustration stems from his own lust for life. He can't understand how someone would be happy putting up with a life they felt was less than perfect. He wants to rile people into taking action. "I want to make people think," he says, earnestly. "If I was kinder, less scathing, then what I'm saying wouldn't have as much of an impact. I am in a position where I can write about anything that's important to me, and therefore I would be an idiot if I was to waste that by writing about girlfriends and whatever else rubbish bands write about."

"Rubbish bands" - those perceived to lack the requisite passion and/or anything relevant to say - fare rather badly on the Prestonometer (as, predictably, do George Bush, Tony Blair and racists: "I'd like to push everything left a little," he says). "Not enough bands are interested in what's going on the world," he continues, lighting a cigarette. "They're too busy worrying about their haircuts and whether NME is writing about them; too busy thinking about whether people are going to like their band to realise that they have got more sway over the youth of Britain than most of the people in the Houses of Parliament have."

Preston is right. There are no new bands making serious political statements these days. But despite its overriding "don't throw your life away" message, Over the Counter Culture is not a political album. "I don't want people to feel like they're buying into anything by listening to The Ordinary Boys," says Preston, by way of an excuse. "I don't want people to think that we take ourselves that seriously, we're not these overly political do-gooders."

That's as may be, but Preston's argument is unconvincing. "I want people to come to our gigs and have a really fantastic time - not go home thinking, 'I really learned a lot about politics'," he says. Then he contradicts everything that his band stands for: "I want us to be known for the songs and the music we make, more than for the lyrics."

More likely is the fact that, being only 21, he still lacks the conviction to truly put his money where his mouth is. Politics aside, the other thing that winds Preston up are the almost constant comparisons of his band to The Jam. The similarities are obvious: with their undeniable social leanings, Preston's clipped vocals, their dynamic bass-lines and sharp fashion sense, The Ordinary Boys seem to be the clear inheritors to The Jam's Mod mantle. But Preston, not unexpectedly, disagrees. "To say that we sound like The Jam is a bit silly," he laughs. "I love The Jam, but we get lumped in with them because we have the same influences as they did. We're really just branching off the same tree."

And, to be fair to The Ordinary Boys, there is more to their sound than just an echo of Weller. Drawing on all the band's influences - from Motown through to The Kinks and Black Flag - The Ordinary Boys create a modern sonic hybrid of retro sounds, which, live, explode with the raw energy of punk. "I don't think we're riding on anybody's coat-tails," continues Preston, sincerely. "We're just doing our own thing - or at least I hope we are."

Whatever The Ordinary Boys are doing, they're certainly doing something right. As well as whipping up a tremendous media buzz, they've scored a Top 40 hit with their first single proper, "Week In Week Out". Their sell-out provincial tours have earned them a small but dedicated army of fans, and the band have already supported one of their heroes, Morrissey. But The Ordinary Boys are not about to start believing their own hype. "How many bands have been told that success is around the corner, for it to all just to fall apart?" says Preston. "The way things are going, there may be the possibility of success, which I will welcome with open arms, but I don't hold my breath."

Preston looks pensive for a minute. "Right now," he continues, brightening, "nothing makes me happier than playing a gig." The front man looks genuinely excited by the prospect. "I want to play our songs and look people in the eye and know that they're going mental for my band. Then I want to talk to them after the show - get to know them a bit."

True to his word, later that evening, Preston will get thoroughly involved with his fans: crowd-surfing - while still playing his guitar - then milling around with devotees afterwards. "I'm just like every kid at our gigs," Preston explains, convincingly, his proud words tumbling from his mouth. "I'm just a regular chap." An ordinary boy, indeed.

The single 'Talk Talk Talk' is out on 28 June on London; the album 'Over the Counter Culture' is released on 5 July. The Ordinary Boys tour until Tuesday ( www.theordinaryboys.co.uk)

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