Sam Preston: A band less ordinary

The Ordinary Boys' frontman Sam Preston tells Alexia Loundras about growing up, mellowing and changing the world
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The Ordinary Boys know a thing or two about rabble-rousing. Armed with the bile-fuelled anthems and buckets of brash, punk-rock attitude of last July's fiery Jam-meets-The Specials debut, Over The Counter Culture, the west-Sussex four-piece inspired a ferocious gang of followers with their blazing rhetoric. Soaked in frustration, The Ordinary Boys railed against an apathy-laden Britain and a listless, ambitionless nine- to-five existence. Their charismatic yet caustic frontman, Sam Preston, was a torrent of scathing opinion. Both on and off record, Preston's unapologetic outspokenness was priceless and the Press lapped it up.

The Ordinary Boys know a thing or two about rabble-rousing. Armed with the bile-fuelled anthems and buckets of brash, punk-rock attitude of last July's fiery Jam-meets-The Specials debut, Over The Counter Culture, the west-Sussex four-piece inspired a ferocious gang of followers with their blazing rhetoric. Soaked in frustration, The Ordinary Boys railed against an apathy-laden Britain and a listless, ambitionless nine- to-five existence. Their charismatic yet caustic frontman, Sam Preston, was a torrent of scathing opinion. Both on and off record, Preston's unapologetic outspokenness was priceless and the Press lapped it up.

The arrival of the band was heralded with a whirlwind of music industry hype. Their spiky brand of ska-laced, Mod-pop might have owed more to the likes of The Clash, The Kinks and The Smiths than the band would care to admit, but their wry, acidic fervour was all their own. In a chart climate book-ended by the wistful sincerity of Keane and the sonic archness of Franz Ferdinand, The Ordinary Boys' stirring lyrics spoke of the real world and became a rallying battle cry for the discontented. A handful of chart hits followed and the band's debut went gold, but it was with their live shows that Preston and his gang would have their greatest impact. Shot through with vital, infectious punk energy, their raucous gigs were like mini insurrections that were both invigorating and intimidating.

Given first impressions, you'd be excused for thinking you had The Ordinary Boys sussed. But things aren't always as they seem. For starters Preston, 23, makes a fine cup of Earl Gray. We meet the day before The Ordinary Boys jet off to Japan to begin promotional duties for their second album, Brassbound. Preston has been renting a flat on Brighton's coast for more than six months, but he's hardly spent two consecutive weeks here.

While the faint whiff of Shake 'n' Vac mingling with the scent of a recently smoked cigarette suggests some last-minute preparations, Preston is unexpectedly house-proud and the place is spotless. He gives me a quick tour, proudly showing off the bonsai in his bedroom. The singer is captivated by Japan, where the band's album reached No1. He's learnt to speak some phrases, he can write his name in Japanese and he's had a geisha tattooed on his forearm.

In this domestic bliss, it's hard to see Preston as the swaggering, angry lad the first album would have us believe him to be. "I love the idea of completely dashing everyone's expectations," he says. "I like the fact that people assume stuff about both me and my band that's often not true. People see you walking down the road with tattoos and a Burberry shirt and they instantly think they know everything about you. I want people to know they can't make assumptions like that."

The band's new record is set to spark a reappraisal of The Ordinary Boys. Where Over The Counter Culture was a passionate if scornful attack on mediocrity, Brassbound is boisterous, inclusive and fun. Preston has shed his naive angst and both he and his band mates seem to be in a much happier place. "I'm definitely ranting less," laughs Preston. "Having a shit job - and escaping that shit job - is what inspired the first album. I could have easily done another album about how I worked in an office, but I've moved on from that now."

Instead, things have got a bit more introspective. In place of Preston's bluster his songs now target more personal matters like drunken regrets and broken hearts, all underpinned by tales of steadfast camaraderie. The Ordinary Boys still specialise in stirring tunes but this time instead of being didactic, they inspire empathy and Preston's sharp, lyrical wit is coated not in venom and spleen but in humour and bonhomie.

Last November the band of school-mates parted company with founding drummer, Charlie Stanley. The addition of new drummer Simon Goldring has re-invigorated the band. Goldring's enthusiasm for everything band-related was infectious and consequently, Brassbound is poppier than it's predecessor. From the Jackson Five-flavoured reggae of "Island In The Sun" to melancholy strings that drench "Red Letter Day" and the music box chimes that kick off the title track, Brassbound is a sonically playful record decked with unexpected Beach Boys harmonies and instrumental flourishes.

The band have traded in their Jam back-catalogue and old punk and two-tone, ska records for a sound, that like their new lyrics, is lighter, brighter, more soulful and Beatlesque. "I suppose if you listen to The Beatles a lot you can't help but make a really poppy album," Preston says. "We really wanted to make an album with good songs people could sing along to."

When we first met last year, Preston was at pains to prove himself the mouthy band leader and would talk himself in circles often contradicting himself along the way. While he's not lost his political fervour, these days Preston seems to have got his opinions in order. "I feel like I know what I want to say now," he agrees. His girlfriend has helped: "She has a degree in social policy so I just talk everything out with her now. You can't be sure of an idea unless you follow it through and discuss it with someone first. Now all my thoughts are tidily arranged in my head. I know what I believe in."

Preston is determined to keep defying expectations. "My priorities are more long-term now," he continues. "If you're young and in a band, people just think you're mental; sleeping around and snorting cocaine every night. I like to take care of myself a little more these days." Preston takes a long drag of his cigarette. "I don't want to burn out," he continues intently. "And I feel so much better for taking proper care of myself, eating properly and weaning myself off Valium..."

Valium? Preston shrugs guiltily: "Being in a loud punk-rock band, that's the last drug people will expect me to have a weakness for," he laughs. Along with melatonin and sleeping pills, Valium is an indulgence the singer uses to help him sleep when travelling. He's got a pocketful today in anticipation of his flight to Tokyo. "It helps keep me relaxed. Maybe that was the problem with me around the last album," he jokes. "It wasn't that I was trying too hard to impress - I just found it all a little too exciting."

The singer no longer takes himself or his band quite as seriously, but The Ordinary Boysstill aim to inspire their audience. "I want people to come to our gigs and feel like they're singing along to words about their own life," says Preston. "It is clichéd," he adds, "but we want our songs to bring people together."

Preston's passion for uniting people is genuine. Indeed through collaborations with UK garage stars like Lady Sovereign and Skinnyman, The Ordinary Boys are even hoping to bridge the gap between urban music and their own ska-inflected rock. It's a tall order, but Preston won't be discouraged. "We want to be the band that makes everyone, even those who might seem a bit loutish, come to an Ordinary Boys gig and lock arms and sway together." Laughing at his own romanticism he continues: "I know it might seem idealistic but I like the thought of being the band that achieved that kind of harmony between people." He smiles into the bottom of his mug. "I know just how good it feels to be part of something," he says. "And I want everyone to feel they can be part of The Ordinary Boys."

The Single 'Boys Will Be Boys' is out on Monday. 'Brassbound' is released on 20 June

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