Reef vocalist Gary Stringer talks about the band’s latest album and tour, the addition of Jesse Wood as the new guitarist and how the music industry has changed since their heyday in the 1990s. Reef play 17 March, Manchester Academy, 18 March, Fibbers, York and 19 March, Sheffield Plug.
How does it feel to be back on tour after so long away?
The whole band seems like someone’s put a rocket up their arse. It’s really exciting and given everyone a lift. It seems like there’s a new energy in the band. Everything seems to be getting back on track for us – we stopped working about 2003 and we didn’t do a show until 2010 again. We did six shows then and they all sold out, but we didn’t go back on tour until 2013. It just seems like everything is building up – it feels really good.
What inspired you to reform the band?
When we stopped in 2003 I hung out with my family, took the kids to school, but very slowly I started making music again, pacing around the kitchen, not quite sure what to do with this energy. I’d write down words and start putting songs together. I hooked up with Jack and started making a few records together. The single is called How I Got Over. It’s an old Clara Ward song but we’ve done our own interpretation quite close to the Aretha Franklin version. We’ve also done a live record, which has a couple of new songs on it and a studio album now. Last September we did a couple of shows in Cornwall and recorded those. It feels like the band is starting to crank up the energy again so it’s really good. We’d done these three tours and some festivals and I really didn’t want to be a piece of heritage. You want to be creative as a musician, to bring in new material rather than just playing the same old songs.
“I’ve never tried to be relevant. For me music is about connecting with people. It is selfish as well.”
In 2014 guitarist Kenwyn House left, replaced by Jesse Wood. How did that come about?
Our old guitarist Kenwyn didn’t seem too keen on the new material – he had his own band Goldray and he wanted to focus on that. So we held auditions for a new guitarist and found Jesse Wood. We’ve been recording ever since, stepping it up to a studio album. It’s so exciting – it feels like a real breath of fresh air and Jesse has brought with him a real energy to the band. It feels right and it felt right for Kenwyn to move aside. It was his idea. He said: “You guys want to make music. I don’t want to get in your way. Let me step aside.” He even offered to help audition the guitarist. There was no bad vibe. It’s not like we got to the point where we could no longer be in the same room, it’s just a case of wanting to move on and be creative and Kenwyn didn’t want to come along.
It was obvious that Jesse was the one. Most of the guys who came [to audition] could play and were fine to be around but Jesse was the one who wrote a song with us. We connected and it’s really good – he’s hungry to make music and it’s just so exciting. I’ve got songs coming out of my earholes and I just want to record them.
It’s fair to say that you’re probably best known for the song Place Your Hands from 1996. Do you still enjoy playing it when people ask or do you want to move away from older material?
Maybe if you weren’t happy with the song I could understand that. But for me I’ve always loved that song – when it comes on in a pub or a club I feel good. I feel it’s an exciting time that summed up positives and negatives. I don’t have a problem with our heritage but equally I don’t want to be a band that does cash-grabbing gigs or the same songs all the time.
Music is always changing. How important is it to stay relevant?
To be relevant? I’ve never tried to be relevant. For me music is about connecting with people. It is selfish as well – creating something makes me feel good to express myself. I think a live gig is special to connect with people, with certain songs like Place Your Hands. It’s about expressing myself, telling a story, what the song makes me feel. That’s what it’s about. And it becomes relevant when people connect.
You’ve been a part of the music industry on and off for 20 years. How has it changed since the early days?
The music industry has changed. It’s just so different. I was glad we were around in the 1990s with shit piles of money – that was really exciting. We made three albums in Los Angeles, the record company would fly over first class, we’d stay at Chateau Marmont, it was great. But a lot of that money has gone. Is that a bad thing? All the budgets are smaller but that’s not such a problem. It’s about the music – it’s exciting for us – but for me it’s all about the music.”
When me and Jack [Bessant, bassist] started, the biggest gigs we did were 400 people in Bristol or 500 in London – they weren’t massive shows. We were going around in a VW Transporter playing to 80 or 100 people if we were lucky. We wouldn’t do that unless we cared about what we’re doing.