Gareth Owen Stuart & I have known each other since we were 11 when we met at secondary school in Oakham (about 20 miles from Leicester). He was the only person I knew that played guitar other than myself and even then he was always a much more accomplished player than I ever have been. Subsequently, and down to the fact I always liked singing and playing at the same time, our roles in whatever band we did were set out quite early on.
Stuart Turner As Gareth said we have been friends since we were 11. There weren’t many people in our year as excitable about music as we were, so it was kind of natural to hang out. We were always trying to get a band together with other kids at school, but most of them weren’t really into the same things as us, or something like that, but it never really seamed to work. We had fun playing together though and I think we comfortably fell into our roles without having to talk it through. By the time we got to 6th form we had started getting into the punk scene and there were more people into the same stuff, so we managed to get a band together that we actually liked. That eventually became 99 Years and we stayed together until 1999 (weirdly).
Gareth Owen We got to know Lee & Euan from when 99 Years used to play Leicester all the time. Stu and I would watch their bands and confide in each other how we wish we could be in a band with them as they were not only 2 incredible musicians on instruments that weren’t our own, but they were 2 of the funniest and best people I’d met up to that point in my life (and I’m happy to say they still are).
Stuart Turner We were always blown away by them individually as musicians and thought they were cool people too. I think we had all come to a point with our various bands where we felt a bit restricted and wanted more. Gareth was always way better at talking to people than I was, and while we were discussing finishing 99 Years he told me he had been speaking to Lee about how we all felt the same, and how we should get together.
Euan Rodger I was playing in various bands, gigging and working at a studio that most of our friends’ bands would rehearse in. Lee rang me in the November of ’99 and said he had just started playing with Gareth and Stu and asked whether I would be interested in playing drums. I took the call on my first baby blue mobile phone outside the scene HQ, a squalid pub called the Spread Eagle on Charles Street in Leicester, now demolished. He barely had a chance to ask me as I was already answering “yes” halfway through his question. I then had to go back inside to play pool and contain my excitement with lots of people whose bands I knew I would shortly be leaving.
Stuart Turner We all knew we wanted Euan, as did everyone else – he was in a lot of bands at the time – but we took it as a good sign that he quit all but one other pretty soon after we started playing together.
Euan Rodger Every scene has a band that to the majority is clearly going to “make it”. We had two. Gareth and Stu were in one of those bands, 99 Years, and Lee was in the other. They were so much more competent than the other bands on the scene and would frequently blow the touring band they were supporting off the stage, or at the very least sit comfortably on the same bill, like a co-headline. Lee was in The Comic Book Heroes with our friend Joe, who would assume The Copperpot Journals tech/merch role in later tours. For one reason or another 99 Years and The Comic Book Heroes split.
Gareth Owen Thankfully, all our other bands imploded and we decided to get together and do the band we’d all wanted to do.
Euan Rodger I remember our first rehearsal. As we were setting up, the atmosphere was already pretty genial and full of bonhomie. I’m pretty sure we played the song ‘The Copperpot Journals‘ first, the guitars played the intro, Lee and I came in and I couldn’t help but smile, we must have only been about three bars in when I looked up at the rest of the band, everyone was grinning from ear to ear. We were all trying to compose ourselves but it sounded so natural. In those few bars were all the elements we has been searching for in our other bands.
Stuart Turner Euan had a room at the rehearsal studios where he worked, so we got straight into practising a lot. I just remember it all felt so easy, we really clicked as people and made each other laugh a lot, but musically as well there was an incredible connection, almost like a hive mind, we always just knew where each other was going to go with something, that’s what I miss the most.
Euan Rodger Things then happened fairly quickly, I think we recorded The Blind Bear EP about a month later in Acton House Studios. Almost all the songs on the EP were reworked 99 Years tracks so the sound of the band at this point still wasn’t quite our own. We played our first show in Leeds soon after that. We must have rehearsed once or twice a week for about six months during that period, writing new material, honing the live sound and having an enormous amount of fun in the process. Copperpot Journals rehearsals always consisted of equal parts playing music and laughing until it became painful.
Gareth Owen I think I was 21 when we started the band, so that would’ve been the end of 1999, therefore I think Euan & Lee must’ve been around 18. Originally we were a bit of a hangover from 99 Years, as every track aside from ‘Let’s Think The Worst‘ from the Blind Bear recordings were songs we’d written & performed (badly) previously. I do like that EP, but it’s kind of weird listening to it as a ‘Copperpot Journals’ set of recordings, as it wasn’t really representative of the sound we wanted to have. Our mates at Blind Bear had previously asked our old band to do a split EP with Pylon, but after we formed TCJ, they said they’d put our new one out anyway. We wanted to get something sorted quick so we recorded and mixed it in 2 days.
Stuart Turner We obviously had a lot of shared influences and there were always different things that we were all listening to at different times, but we all individually listened to a lot of stuff that was nothing like the music we were making and I think that had a big influence on our sound too. You always knew that when someone else added their bit in it would take things down a different path to the one you thought you were heading on. Certainly at the start though there was a lot of bands like Fugazi, Quicksand, Jawbox and Texas is the Reason in there, but I don’t think we ever set out to sound like any other band in particular, the object was always to make whatever music we wanted to. Actually, I remember that Refused were a big influence for us, but again we never wanted to sound like them, we just liked what they had going on.
Gareth Owen Stone Gossard from Pearl Jam when I first started guitar [was my earliest influence]. I don’t think I’ve ever obsessed about a band as much as I did with Pearl Jam, but then you tend to be a bit more emotional in that respect when you’re younger. I think what I loved about him over Mike McCready (who is also phenomenal) is that he’s a ‘riff guy’. I was also a huge fan of Adam Jones from Tool, Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, TC3 from Quicksand, Chris Hannah from Propagandhi and Pelle Gunnerfeldt from Fireside… In terms of style, I have no idea. When I was younger I’d play along to Paul McCartney’s parts on Beatles records to try and disassociate my singing patterns from my guitar hand, as he’d play some weird timings underneath what he was singing and I didn’t want to be limited to basic patterns when I sung.
Stuart Turner When I first started playing guitar I was pretty young, so I didn’t really connect it to actually making music I liked, I was into Michael Jackson and Bobby Brown, then an older kid told me I should be listening to the Stone Roses if I played guitar, so I stole my sister’s cassette and it changed my life, so I guess John Squire would have to take some credit. From there I got into loads of the Indie bands that were around at that time, but then ‘Nevermind‘ came out and changed key life again. The bands I got into after that were the ones I played along to the most, so obviously Nirvana, but also Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine and the Afghan Whigs. I’m a pretty lazy guitarist though and also not that technical, so I never really tried to sound like a particular guitarist, I sort of just did my own thing along to the records and tried to fit in with the general sound of the band. I just learned the bits I really liked.
Euan Rodger I’d not actually been playing drums very long at this point having previously been a bass player for most of my teens. I can’t remember any major influences at the time but listening back now you can hear lots of influences from the likes of Steve Shelley, The Jesus Lizard‘s Mac McNeilly and various American punk drummers. I was/am really into people like Max Roach and Elvin Jones. It was Gareth and Stu that gave me a broader education in hardcore music and they introduced me to a lot of new bands.
Gareth Owen I don’t really pay attention to musicians much any more, so I’m glad I had that obsession previously. The only guitarist that’s blown me away in recent years is Mike Sullivan from Russian Circles. Not that you asked, but my favourite music most recently has been from Wardruna, Om, Wolves In The Throne Room, Russian Circles, Chelsea Wolfe, Shearwater, Swans, Wilco. I also listen to choral music like Miserere Mei and blues such as Champion Jack Dupree, Elmore James, Muddy Waters etc
Euan Rodger There was a real sense of youth tribalism in Leicester at that point in time. The city was swelling in the new Labour economy and bars were popping up everywhere, the business rates flowed into the city council and cultural institutions were sidelined. Leicester’s population headed into town to shop or to get drunk. As this was still a pre-internet society and we didn’t quite have the cross pollination of music genres we enjoy today, there was very much an attitude of segregation in the city’s youth population, lots of young people defining themselves by whatever music, lifestyle or fashion they were into. The punk and hardcore kids from across the region would go to a gig, irrespective of having heard the music or not but just on the basis that it was a punk show. It was a statement of cultural significance for many people. Popular culture was still in the throws of “Cool Britannia” and “lad culture”, the new wave of American bands felt exciting and fresh. It felt like a contrary stance to the status quo to be a part of the UK punk/hardcore scene.
Gareth Owen That [scene] was a hell of a lot of fun; lots of good bands and lots of really terrible bands that you felt obliged to say you liked for the sake of not being considered a prick. Leicester had a better scene before we existed when bands such as Schema were around, and it had kind of died by the time we started. Thankfully we were adopted by Leeds, Derby and Norwich. They were always my favourite places to play. It was weird though, because we were very lucky to get taken under the wings and name-checked by some bands that were on major labels, so we got to play some crazy big tours in front of crowds we’d never pull on our own. However the ‘punk elite’ didn’t really like it (or so it was voiced on the infamous Fracture Forum), so a lot of the really cliquey kids were a little off with us. It’s funny looking back on it because people actually gave a shit about that type of stuff. Even with a band on our level who made no money, were on a DIY label run by one guy in London and had a very small, but thankfully very niche following. One of the best things about the scene was that if it wasn’t for this network, I wouldn’t have met people who are now some of my best friends today. The Texas Is The Reason reunion in London in the summer was testament to that, as it was like a ‘who’s who’ of the UK late 90s/early 2000s punk/emo/whatever scene and it was just a blast catching up with so many people from the country.
Stuart Turner I think Gareth already said it, but we played Leicester all the time with our old band, and it was great. We used to put on quite a few shows under a pub in Oakham too. There were a few punk bands there, so we all just used to get together and get bands we knew to come over from Leicester. It was always packed because there was nothing else to do. Anyway, I think we had all made ourselves sick of the local scene by the time the Journals got together, and because we wanted more for the band, I think we made a conscious effort to distance ourselves a bit, then it all kind of died off anyway, so we only ever played Leicester once or twice.
Euan Rodger As the band began to play more shows around the country I became aware of the other city scenes. There was an incredible grass roots activism going on in places like Leeds, Derby and parts of London. It seems incredible now to think of people organising gigs or tours, making zines and putting out records largely without the internet or social media.
It was nurturing at first, audiences and petrol were always guaranteed, but as a band we were primarily interested in making music that was engaged us and this would often put us at odds with punk purists where there was a clear distinction as to what was to be endorsed. Our influences were diverse and more often that not came from outside what would be specifically considered “punk”.
Personally, I became skeptical of “the scene” before ‘Pilots‘ came out. The reductionist process of the punk/hardcore canon that was initially so refreshing became restrictive.
I remember playing a gig in Yeovil and there was a punk/hardcore DJ set in between the bands. It was a mix of what was being released in the US and UK at that time and although I know it wasn’t completely representative of the genre as a whole I remember at the end of the night thinking I didn’t like any of it. It was kind of derivative, and dull.
There is an isolationist macho element to the hardcore scene and that seemed to oppose the music I was listening to and wanted to play. The music became about sticking to a formula and appeared to be less communicative and more dictatorial. It seemed like these bands were defining themselves by refusing to break with the format. That’s fine politically but to me seemed redundant as an art form.
Gareth Owen The name is literally the only thing I personally regret about the band. Like I mentioned, most of that Blind Bear EP was from our previous band and we had a song called ‘The Copperpot Journals‘ (it’s actually the little book they find on the body of Chester Copperpot in the film ‘The Goonies’). Our mates in ‘Out Of Spite’ had us down for our first gig in Leeds, but we didn’t have a name. They said to just pick a song name that might work and then change it later. We did and then never got around to actually doing it. Whenever people would ask what our band was called I’d mumble the name. Amongst ourselves, we ended up just referring to ourselves as ‘the journals’, which possibly isn’t any better.
Gareth Owen The band was barely a month old and I remember discussing the song title ‘The Copperpot Journals‘ as a band name and thinking, “that’s atrocious, but we can change it next month.” The funny thing was we were all independently thinking the same thing. Childhood 80s nostalgia was not yet the mainstay of cheap Channel 4 re-run clip programmes, in fact lots of bands were referencing childhood films with a degree of semi-irony at this point. It became accepted to acknowledge these sorts of influences. It wasn’t passé anymore. The Goonies, the film by Richard Donner where our name originates, is still a fantastic watch.
Recording The Blind Bear EP was for me an affirmation that the band had a future, even at this very early period in its existence. At its most superficial I enjoyed traveling down to London and recording in a state-of-the-art studio. Our friend Div – of the band Otherwise – was working there at the time and engineered the sessions, which took place over a couple of days. We had a single day of tracking and maybe half a day for vocals. There was also a day for mixing.
Gareth Owen Even though that’s technically our debut as ‘the Copperpot Journals’, I consider ‘Plotting To Kill Your Friends‘ as the one where we finally got to let people hear what we actually intended to sound like… but it’s good in the sense it made us realise quickly what we didn’t want to do or how we wanted to sound. It’s worse in the sense that it’s nowhere near as accomplished or as good as ‘Pilots‘, so doesn’t represent us a band. It also sounds rushed, which speaks volumes considering how we did it.
Euan Rodger I had forgotten my stick bag and cymbals and had to borrow some so didn’t feel comfortable on the day, although the tracking turned out okay. From memory most of the songs on the EP are first or second takes.
Stuart Turner I’m really proud of what we did with that EP. I think we got together in about October 1999 and recorded the songs at the end of January 2000. I’m pretty sure we played live for the first time around then too. I know some of the songs were written in Gareth and my old band, but it was when we were pushing to get to something more like the Journals, but it wasn’t working. I liked the songs though so I’m glad we got them down. Plus we needed to get something together fast and Lee and Euan brought a lot to them that wasn’t there before, and having finished songs to play from the start was really good for getting used to playing together.
Gareth Owen I’m glad I have those songs documented, but I guess they must resonate with Euan & Lee slightly differently as they came from a different band. ‘Plotting To Kill Your Friends‘ and ‘Pilots‘ to me are ‘the Copperpot Journals’. It was a period of my life where 4 friends playing music were all on the same page and for the most part, everything we did was instinctual & exactly how we wanted it (Blind Bear EP aside). Lee & Euan are two of the most incredible musicians I’ve ever heard and I got to play with them for 5 years. Stuart is also mind-blowing in his ability. He’s unique. His ability to provide texture and orchestration to the simple chords or rhythms I had just confused the hell out of me as I couldn’t understand how he was doing it.
Euan Rodger This was the first time I had been in any sort of sustained company with the band. I enjoyed every aspect of it; the social, the traveling, recording, packing gear up, sleeping on the floor at our friends’ houses. These were all positive experiences, at the time I thought “I could do this forever.”
Stuart Turner Like everything else, I’m glad we did it, I would have loved to have done it better (it should definitely have been slower for a start), but we did the best we could with the time and budget we had, and it was the start of some of the best times of my life with some of my favourite people in the world. (It sounds wanky I know, but sometimes it’s good to let the corny shit out).
Euan Rodger Listening to the record now I can hear four friends finding their feet. The songs are fun but not really representative of the sort of sound we were interested in exploring. I still have a photo of Stu tracking his parts for that EP up in my kitchen.
Gareth Owen As a band, we only ever played for ourselves, which was possibly detrimental in some respects, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I loved rehearsing way more than playing live as we’d just spend so much time making each other laugh and I just loved hanging out with them, yet we still managed to write the music we did. However, and I’m purely speaking for myself here, even though I was as the time gutted we finished before we possibly should have, I’m so glad we did as it preserved what we had.