Here They Are!

26 July 2012 | 8:00 am | Troy Mutton

“And we were just thinking ‘Why don’t people respect this pop thing anymore? Why don’t people genuinely love it and try to use the same amount of imagination like these amazing alternative bands are doing?’ So we set ourselves that rule."

"We're pretty hectic at the moment but we're having a good time, and I've never been to New York before as well so I'm excited about that,” relays an in-transit lead singer Tom Burke on the rapid rise of London indie-pop outfit Citizens!.

It's an exciting time for the band – a dapper young group that also includes Lawrence Diamond, Mike Evans, Martyn Richmond and Thom Rhoades – as they release their debut LP Here We Are, in a fashion that perhaps isn't the norm. “I guess we've done things an unusual way around to most bands,” he begins. “When we started we were purely just thinking about it as a songwriting experiment, so we'd spend ages at home just writing demos in the front room. And then we met Alex [Kopranos, Franz Ferdinand] who ended up producing the album, and he understood what we were going for.

“But we didn't really feel like there was any point in playing gigs until we'd seen whether or not we could make this record, or not that we were imagining. So we went and recorded the record before we'd even really settled on a name or played any gigs or anything. So, after that, we began the process of turning it into a live thing and going around gigging. So there was actually quite a long gap between finishing the recording of the album and it actually coming out while we made ourselves a live band and took care of that side of things as well.”

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A slightly backwards process to be sure, but one that has paid off for the group with regular appearances on many 'Ones To Watch' lists since their early singles like the catchy-as-heck True Romance and more recent Reptile. It's also meant that, for Burke and co, the transition from the bedroom to the big stage has barely been noticed. “Yeah, it kind of started before we even realised, one day we were at home and the next we started gigging,” the singer laughs. “And we consistently found more gigs were being booked directly after we thought we were gonna go home. And we just kind of ended up not going home. And we've been enjoying it; this is what we've been working towards since we started the band so we're having a good time.”

Part of the group's quick success also has a lot to do with having a very clear direction with where they wanted to take Citizens!, one Burke hints at above, and further comes to light in their very pointed approach to the crafting Here We Are – a debut effort as clear and concise as we've seen for some time. “There were a load of things that were really annoying us that we wanted to avoid while making the album right. And it seemed too much like every band that had sort of pop leanings sounded like The Killers, ad we really didn't want to do that. We wanted something that sounded more human and natural. So the album has a kind of old fashioned, lo-fi quality to it, which comes from the way it was recorded, and there's no Pro Tools tricks going on there. But when we were taking it out live we thought, 'Well we're gonna prove that we can make this sound as big as any other band', and so people see the live show and go 'Wow, I didn't realise it was gonna sound as big and powerful as that'.”

And on that front, so far so good. “It was really fun actually, we kind of found another level of life to them once we started playing them live, and a lot of people say they're really pleasantly surprised when they hear the live show.” He goes on to further emphasise the Citizens! live experience: “I think when it's a live show you want just as much power and energy going on as possible. If you're sitting at home on your bed listening to a record maybe you can think about it a bit more contemplatively. But at a gig you're there to have a party really, that's what you're there for and that's what we try and provide.”

Here We Are is indie-pop in its purest form. As Burke alludes to, they've strived to stay away from the over-produced sounds that tend to dominate the pop genre, and have come out the other side with an pop album that keeps the balance of remaining 'indie-credible', while still revelling in all its pop glory. If I'm mentioning the word pop too much, it's because Citizens! embrace the term wholeheartedly. So much so that treading the fine line of going too pop is a challenge the group enjoy. “Yeah, it's sort of like walking a tight rope, really. Because so many people have been there and given their contributions over the years, it's a tricky minefield.”

And like any minefield, you need strict guidelines when trying to get through it unscathed. “We kinda set ourselves really strict rules. One was about the way we recorded – there was no engineer there correcting and tuning everything, and the production was kept quite minimal, because we thought one of things people were doing quite wrong was they were just approaching it clinically. It got to a point a couple of years ago where there was good music, credible alternative music, bands like The Horrors from London, and pop was this other thing which was clinical and it wasn't credible and people only did it to make money.”

Enter, Citizens!: “And we were just thinking 'Why don't people respect this pop thing anymore? Why don't people genuinely love it and try to use the same amount of imagination like these amazing alternative bands are doing?' So we set ourselves that rule as well. And the third rule was it wasn't allowed to be a revivalist thing. You know, we get really bored with bands who just take a sound from days gone by. The other tightrope we were walking was an arrangement thing, always making sure the different sounds that make up each recording, they don't all sound like they come from the same place.”

And with those rules adhered to, a cracking debut album to back it up, now it's time to take over the world. “Yeah I don't think any of us have been to Australia apart from our tour manager who's from Adelaide,” he jokes. “I spoke to Amanda from Nero who said they were there at Parklife last year DJing… And she basically said it's just a massive, massive party, so that's the only thing I've heard about it. We're gonna come all guns blazing and bring it, so they say.”