“Cosmic Pop-Disco” band Velvet Shakes are the current ones to watch in Manchester’s music scene. Formed whilst studying Popular Music and Recording within Salford’s School of Arts and Media. They’ve been making music for just short of nine months now – with tons ahead of them.
(Below from left) Backing vocalist and guitarist Scott Hill, frontman and lead guitarist Josh Bithell, drummer Anthony Hickey and bassist Louie Donnelly have three singles released on Spotify, have appeared on BBC Introducing in Manchester, and are even eye-ing up the Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition.
I spent a whole day with the boys, listening and watching them play to get some videos, photographs and a recorded interview (keep your ears open and eyes peeled), and never have I heard such catchy, harmonic and entirely brilliant sounding tracks. They all contribute their own style and musical wisdom and together they have the potential, ability and charisma to go insanely far with their music careers. Personal favourite ‘Work This Out’ would give anyone goosebumps – with Josh, Louie and Scott’s consolidated Beatles esque harmonies. Their style combines funky, cosmic synth backing beats alongside indie alternative song writing and disco influenced framework. Not to mention the perfectly executed live vocals, drums, bass & guitar solo’s.
What do you study at Salford?
Josh: We all study music. Every single one of us. We’re all in third year.
Ant: I started a Master’s this year.
Josh: He thinks he’s better than us with his Postgrad!
How did the band form?
Josh: It all came from studying here at Salford.
Scott: We were doing individual bits for a while and then we came together from there really.
So you’re in the same lectures?
Josh: Yeah, us three. (Josh, Scott & Louie) mostly the same.
Scott: I kind of knew you (Josh) a little bit though, from passing. Didn’t even know your name. Me and Louie used to live down the road from each other for a whole year and didn’t even know, *introduces himself to Louie* nice to meet you mate!
Are you all local to Manchester?
Louie: I’m from Manchester – Longsight massive!
Josh: North Wales
Scott: I’m a Staffordian (Stafford). Midlands born and bred. No one knows where it exists.
Josh: It’s in the middle of the country man!
Scott: It is mate, but no one knows where it starts and finishes! This is the big debate.
How has studying here helped you with skills to form a band?
Josh: It’s allowed us to expand on things, and made us get out and do things. Scott: Working to deadlines especially has helped to progress to completion. Also the facilities – practice rooms. I don’t know where we’d be without them.
Ant: Studios as-well. Great studios for recording.
What’s it like studying and being in a band?
Josh: It’s worked out well because we can focus the course around the band so it caters hand in hand to each of the two.
Scott: Yeah, that’s been really good – invaluable. It’s helped to push the set too as we have had different length exams on performing. It’s made us think about pushing forward and writing new material.
Ant: It’s motivated us to write more for the band
Josh: It makes you think conciously about what you’re doing because you’ve got to do write ups. Thinking about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Which leads you on to evolve and progress as well.
How would you describe your music style?
Josh: Well, what could we say?
Ant: Psychedelic, disco, pop, indie…
Scott: It’s a combination of all sorts really.
Louie: Bit of soul, bit of funk…
Josh: I don’t even know. It’s such a hard question we get asked all the time.
Scott: It’s just a product of our influencers.
Josh: We’ve merged everything we like. It’s taken quite some time to get to this point. You’ve got to be careful not to put too many ingredients in, otherwise you might get a sour tasting stew.
Scott: Spoil the broth!
Josh: So we’ve had to be careful with that and let it progress at it’s own pace. Cosmic pop-disco.
Scott: Cosmic pop-disco. We’ll go with that!
Josh: We got there finally.
Who are you influenced by?
Josh: The Beatles without a doubt, and then a lot of house and disco music.
Scott: Same really, a bit of Prince, Niall Rogers – Chic.
Louie: That’s me as well, Nile Rogers.
Scott: But then production wise, Blood Orange.
Josh: Blood Orange are cool. Daft Punk too – inspiration from them.
Ant: Some of the synth sounds come from Tame Impala, Mac Demarco.
All: Yeah definitely.
Scott: A lot of your grooves are hip-hop based. *to Ant*
Ant: Yeah, a lot of hip-hop, funk, disco, groove sort of Chic style.
Ant: Yeah WU-TANG! definitely.
Who writes what?
Josh: I write the triangle parts. Nah, we all have a hand in it. Louie puts songs forward and we do a bit of Louie’s stuff, but the majority I get off my mum. She donates music…
Scott: Josh writes most of it…
Josh: Yeah yeah, I didn’t want to praise myself…
Scott: The main focus on the songs comes from Josh then we all come together and focus on the ideas and have an input.
What are your songs about?
Josh: Love, loss, heartbreak… Nah we try and put a positive spin on the things that get us down. We address the fact that we don’t always feel ourselves, or as happy as we could be – for no specific reasons. So we address these things and then try and make it positive to make us feel better and then make the listeners feel better. Giving this euphoric and uplifting feel. Bit of a mixture.
Do you have any gigs planned?
Scott: The next big one is at YES.
Ant: We’re also playing factory on Thursday… but the big one is at YES.
Josh: We’ve got FOCUS Wales, really looking forward to that. I’m from that area in Wales, Wrexham. So it will be good to get back – like a homecoming gig.
Louie: It’s on Ant’s birthday as well!
Ant: My 22nd birthday, playing our first festival on my 22nd birthday. Can’t complain with that really!
Did you come to Uni with the intention of starting a band?
Josh: Yeah I’d completely agree. I left college and I did cheffing for a few years. The heat of the kitchen got me quite hot-headed and I had to get out. So I thought what gets me up in the morning? What gets me buzzing? So I thought I’ve got to do what I want to do, and that’s why I came to University of Salford.
Scott: Yeah I was on a similar sort of path, I was doing some horrific A-levels which was just not where I wanted to be. Dropped out, worked for a bit. Went back to college to study music and then decided from there really. I’ve always been musically minded and had the passion for a while.
Josh: We should get bag-pipes on the next album…
Scott: Definitely yeah, strings and pipes…
Where do hope to see yourself in a few years time?
Josh: You stop growing when you’re 21…
Scott: Oh that’s done then mate.
Josh: I don’t know where we’ll be. We’d like to hope we’ll be on a private jet to L.A., but…
Scott: Think of the admissions!
Josh: Yeah, I’d rather swim. Nah, we’re just going to have a bit of fun for a few years, and if we make money then that’s great.
Ant: It would be great to get to Kendall Calling and those types of festivals, Leeds & Reading would be great.
Scott: Yeah smaller goals for now, like the BBC Introducing Stage – see what we can get on to so people can notice us, and see what happens.
What would you say to someone who aspires to be in a band like you?
Louie: Keep doing it!
Scott: Cliche but follow your heart I suppose, do what makes you feel good, what makes you happy. I think that’s a very important thing that gets overlooked quite a lot. A lot of people have 9-5 desk jobs that never found what they wanted to do, and they seem quite un-fullfilled. Work hard at it obviously.
Do you reckon you could cope without one another?
Ant: I don’t think it would work without all of us.
Josh: We’re all as important as each other, we’ve all got our own roles and purposes and are good at things that some aren’t. It just works well.
Scott: We work well together and support each other don’t we. The chemistry we’ve got between us is kind of the core factor isn’t it really.
Velvet Shakes’ humor and chemistry together was great to see. Pushing each other to complete their well-earned degree’s whilst making some amazing music and relationships. The boys are really great together, super nice lads who know what they’re about and a really good laugh in the best of ways. Studying at The School of Arts and Media within University of Salford has been the core to creating their band, but it’s only the start for them. I can genuinely see them at Glasto in a few years. Their next gig is at YES (Oxford Road, Manchester) on Saturday 9th February supporting Thyla – highly recommend it!