The Queen is dead. King Charles has acceded to the throne. Liz Truss has resigned as prime minister. And The Snuts have a new album called Burn the Empire. Of course, the Scottish four-piece didn’t know its release date would fall somewhere between these disruptive historical events. But, at an uncertain, unstable moment for the nation, the album’s themes of frustration, fury and good old-fashioned rage against the system are about as timely as it gets.
“It felt pretty cathartic to go into the studio and start screaming all this stuff,” frontman Jack Cochrane says with a grin. We’re speaking over video call, on the same day the band are forced to cancel shows in Paris and Antwerp over Brexit-related red tape. So, as you can imagine, he’s pretty fired up. “Everybody’s super frustrated, it’s like there’s this societal breakdown,” the 26-year-old says. “I’m glad that we’ve been bolder and braver on this record.”
WL, their 2021 debut, was the first album by a Scottish band in 14 years to top the UK charts. It deserved it, too. Songs such as “All Your Friends” and “Elephants” traded in the kind of scuzzy, frenetic energy of The Streets or early Arctic Monkeys, but then you also had “Maybe California”, a breezy joyride complete with Beach Boys harmonies. For Cochrane and bandmates Joe McGillveray (guitar), Callum Wilson (bass) and Jordan Mackay (drums), it was an introspective portrait of The Snuts themselves – from their scrappy beginnings as West Lothian schoolboys to replacing headliner Ian Brown at TRNSMT Festival. Despite that success, though, they were keen not to repeat themselves.
“We’ve always treated our music like a really sacred and personal thing,” Cochrane explains. “But we needed to let people in, as artists, for us to not just become another generic indie band. I think the fear of becoming that is what pushes us.” Burn the Empire is a different beast entirely, then, enlisting producers Nathaniel “DetoNate” Ledwidge (Years & Years, Sugababes) and Clarence Coffee Jr (Dua Lipa, Lizzo, Jessie Ware) to inject a brighter pop quality into their sound. There are deft nods to the bluesy rock-soul of US bands such as The Black Keys and Alabama Shakes, while “Zuckerpunch”, a not-so-subtle swipe against social media CEOs, gets its sinister tone from a whistling, Gorillaz-style keys line.
The first voice you hear on the record, however, isn’t Cochrane. It’s Tony Benn, quoted from Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary Sicko, in which the late Labour MP cites poverty and healthcare inequality as a democratic issue: “I think there are two ways in which people are controlled. First of all, frighten people, and secondly, demoralise them. An educated, healthy and confident nation is harder to govern. And I think there’s an element in the thinking of some people... ‘We don’t want people to be educated, healthy and confident, because they would get out of control.’”
Benn’s theory matches up perfectly with Cochrane’s own views. “I walked through a Glasgow square the other day, and on one side you’ve got this huge soup kitchen, queues of people, and in the middle there’s a mountain of trash, because of the bin strikes, and on another side there’s a vigil for drug deaths in Scotland, because we’ve still got the highest rate in the UK,” Cochrane says. “That’s f***ing madness, it’s like... what is going on here?” And yet, elsewhere, he’s observed a yawning gulf in wealth, where “everyone’s [going] around in f***ing Gucci hats, Versace jackets. There’s so much inequality and it feels like everyone’s bored of talking about it, they’ve moved on.”
He thinks the middle classes have come in for a rude awakening amid the cost of living crisis. “If they’re feeling it, how do you think the rest are doing?” he asks. “I’ve got friends who are gonna have their gas cut off, no money in the bank, can’t get to their dole interview or a doctor’s appointment... It’s piling up, and that was happening way before this new crisis.” With his rasping yelp of a singing voice and the album’s sleazy-sounding undercurrent, The Snuts certainly encapsulate the sense of gloom hovering like smog over the UK right now. Yet Cochrane hopes these songs will be interpreted as conversation-starters, rather than the band “acting like we’re saviours and know the answer”.
“I don’t think you need to be super knowledgeable to just have a conversation,” he shrugs. “If you see poverty around your town, just because you’re not a politician doesn’t mean you can’t talk about it.” He was also keen to make sure Burn the Empire wasn’t a misery-fest: “The topics are quite intense, so sonically I’m really glad that it sounds like we had a lot of fun,” he says. “There’s a jovial nature to the tracks, a lot of energy.”
It helps that Cochrane has had a few things to celebrate over the past few years. He got married to his long-term partner Laura, who inspired the foot-stomping “Hallelujah Moment”. It’s a fun twist on a soppy love song, envisaging how, were he to perish in a car crash, he’d die happy.
Other songs are personal in a much darker way, such as “13”, about a boy the band went to school with. “He had a really severe upbringing,” Cochrane recalls, “and you could see him going down the rails, getting worse and worse”. Ultimately, their former schoolmate ended up killing someone. “I found it really difficult to talk about, at first, because there are a lot of victims in that story and I wanted to be respectful,” he says. “But for me, the song is about the situation, how we can be such a prosperous country and yet people are living in abject poverty, growing up with addiction. I was trying to ask, ‘Why is this happening?’”
‘Burn the Empire’ is out now. The Snuts play KOKO in London on Monday 24 October as part of their UK and Ireland tour
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