I had the pleasure to interview and review former lead guitarist and founder of Catfish and the Bottlemen Billy Bibby and his new band ‘The Wry Smiles’. Comprised of BB, Rob Jones, Matt Thomas and Mike Pearce, these newcomers have been extremely busy over the course of 2016 in the release of their EP Bide your time followed by new single ‘Are you ready?’. 2016 has also brought an end to an intense touring period which included playing over 70 gigs and performing at various festivals such as Manchester’s Dot to Dot and Kendal Calling.
On Friday night, I headed down to The Milo Bar in Leeds to watch ‘Billy Bibby & The Wry Smiles’ perform. Being an extreme Catfish fan, I have always been intrigued in Billy’s solo career and therefore the formation of The Wry Smiles.
One thing’s for sure, Billy has yet again nailed the vivid and dynamic yet persistently melodic guitar parts which were present in every song they performed. The fervour that is so raw within the combination of musical efforts illustrated by each member proves to be the utter strength possessed by the Welsh quartet. Having Billy already written most of the songs before the formation of the band, it is clear that he remains to be the pivotal component in the overall sound. Elements of the older Catfish sound can still be heard particularly in songs such as ‘Don’t Fall’. However, it is evident that Billy Bibby & The Wry Smiles have adopted a softer sound possessing a certain air of ambiguity as I can’t quite place their music within a particular genre.
‘Are You Ready?’ pays homage to a rock-pop sound which is upbeat whilst still holding a certain level of intricacy compared to songs like ‘Waitin’ for you’ and ‘This Kind of Summer’ which appear to embrace a far softer and in some ways Americanised sound. However, their set at The Milo Bar has highlighted that BB & The Wry Smiles’ sound is still evolving as their new, upcoming tracks are far heavier.
Read my interview with Billy Bibby below!
What was the inspiration behind your most recent single ‘Are you ready?’
BB: Well I wouldn’t say that it was a song about anything in particular. It was more about the tune which I had written first and that was what hit me more than anything. I thought that it had catchiness within the melody. I tried my best to make sure the lyrics were as strong as possible but I suppose you could say it may be about a relationship. But I also write about friend relationships as well so it’s not always from personal experience.
Does that mean that you’re more likely to write a song by forming a tune first, rather than the lyrics?
BB: Yeah I do usually, I think I’m alright in the melody part of things as I pick that up really easily and then writing lyrics is what I find to be a bit tougher. But I do like to have something to write about like ‘Are You Ready?’ where I tried to keep the lyrics strong but I feel that the melody plays a larger part. I guess I was trying to keep it rather simple really but I do make sure that I write about my own experiences as much as I can.
I like people to make their own stories which fit the songs as well. You can relate music to anything which makes it your own and that’s how I like to look at it.
I guess what you have to bear in mind as well is that once you’ve written a song and shared it, it almost doesn’t become your song anymore because everyone has their own interpretation of it
BB: Well that’s it yes. I wouldn’t say that I’m trying to write for the people but I think it all comes down to when they hear it and the images that are generated based on their perception.
Will upcoming material sound similar to your first EP Bide your time or will it have taken a different direction?
BB: We’ve already started expanding as a band because when I had initially written those first few songs, I didn’t have a band together. I was writing softer, acoustic guitar tracks but when I got the band together I was thinking what the lads might like to play in the studio. For example tonight will be quite a bit different to the last time we played here as our new stuff is heavier. We’ve written some heavier tunes which again is a result of now having a proper band.
The story of the formation of The Wry Smiles goes against the norm as you held auditions to find members. How would you say this has impacted your musical efforts?
BB: Yeah well I guess you would usually form a band with people you already know but that’s also why I didn’t go with a proper band name and instead I chose ‘The Wry Smiles’. I didn’t want to take the same approach as other label created bands that come out of nowhere. They get found out straight away so I decided to make it more genuine with my name and then a name for the rest of my band so they have their own identity.
We do treat it like a band but we don’t fool people into ‘we’ve known each other for years’ and all that. It’s not something I wanted to do.
Your band itself has only been formed for just over a year now and within that time you’ve released your first EP as well as a few singles. How has the reaction been and do you find that some fans were brought to you through Catfish?
BB: Yeah there’s always going to be Catfish fans who come to our gigs. We had quite a few on our first tour who were Catfish fans before but they’ve gone away and said the same sort of things to what they had been saying to us when I was starting small with Catfish. They think we’re playing to smaller venues than what we should so when I hear that it gives me confidence in believing in my own music. That’s what driven us to doing sets with only are own stuff. I used to play ‘Pacifier’ acoustically but we’ve been writing so many songs that we can’t really fit it on anymore and I don’t think we need to.
I think our songs stand up strong enough as they are so of course we’re going to get some of the Catfish crew coming down but its just as much about bringing them on board as it is bringing new people that might not like Catfish as our music is different now.
Who are your biggest influences?
BB: My biggest influence is Elvis Presley, only because I was brought up on his music. As an artist, I just love everything about who he is as a performer and as a singer. But I tend to like straight-forward stuff, I’m not going to say a load of obscure bands that are going to impress people. I like The Beatles, Oasis and Arctic Monkeys, there’s a reason why they’re big because they’ve made music that appeals to everyone. I don’t force that when I write songs myself but I would say that I write music that is catchy. I don’t write really deep and thoughtful songs like Radiohead do. I love Radiohead but there is some stuff that I can’t get to grips with.
Who would you seen changed music or proved to be a landmark in the industry?
BB: I would say that it has to be The Beatles. They paved the way for pop music to turn into rock music which then could turn into heavier stuff. It all happened so quickly as everything seemed to come straight after so it stems from that. But I would say that The Beatles stem from Elvis as they were big Elvis fans. John Lennon and Paul McCartney recognised that he was doing something no one else was so probably thought they could do something like that too.
What is your biggest aspiration as a band?
BB: Well I have been playing smaller venues for almost 9 years now but I’m staying patient with it because it had also taken ages with Catfish. I believe the same will happen here or I wouldn’t be doing it. If it doesn’t then I guess it doesn’t but even if we reached the size of Little Comets we’d be happy.
I absolutely adore Little Comets!
BB: Yeah they’re really good aren’t they? I was actually trying to blag Rob into support slots on their next tour so we’ll see.
If you were stuck on a desert island and you could only take one album with you, what would it be?
BB: Ah that’s a tough one because you listen to new albums now that you would want to take but then you have all the stuff you’ve listened to for years. I would probably take Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, that’s one of my favourite all time albums. If I had to say a new band, I would take the new ‘Highly Suspects’ album. I saw their Leeds and Reading performance this year and was just blown away by them. I thought they were amazing.