The London-bred five-piece band Citizens!, has been compared to Franz Ferdinand. In fact the producer behind the band’s music, Alex Kapranos, also worked with Franz Ferdinand as well as David Bowie. But Citizens! have worked hard to cultivate their own, unique sound. Their debut album, “Here We Are,” was released in May of 2012, with several songs on it garnering huge critical acclaim – notably, poppy number “True Romance,” which is difficult not to dance to. They’re touring North America right now, and I had a chat with vocalist Tom Burke while they were in Boston on March 5th playing Brighton Music Hall. You can check their tour schedule here.
Deena Alexander: We can start off with some basics: how did you get together? The internet has told me some interesting things – you hatched a plan to become the greatest pop band in the world?
Tom Burke (vocals): We’re all from about the same part of London. We kind of knew each other going back to one particular night, when the band started – we were at a party, and everyone was trying to put different songs on the stereo – someone was trying to play Kanye West, who we really appreciate. It turned into this drunken intellectual debate about the nature of pop music –is it Madonna, does it sound like a particular thing, is it a spirit? So we decided to become a pop band.
Thom Rhoades (guitar and vocals): If you’re going to have a dream, might as well make it big.
DA: What inspires you to make music? Are all the songs on your album inspired by different things?
TR: I like things when I’m writing anything I’m spurred on by things that I find. I don’t like being very heartfelt and turgid – good thing about a pop band, it has to have positive energy, it has to make you laugh. Funny things inspire me.
TB: He watches LOLcat videos.
TR: Just so I don’t have to think about how terrible my life is. I like funny stuff.
TB: For me, swimming. I lived near a really nice outdoor pool. I used to go swimming every morning, and while I was doing my lengths I had ideas.
DA: What was the first instrument each of you learned? Do you know multiple instruments?
TB: I played clarinet and then piano. I never did very well at either since I hate the whole being-told-by-your-parents thing. It seemed like grades and schoolwork. Mike [Evans] can play absolutely everything. He’s very good at French horn. Lawrence [Diamond] is pretty good with the kalimba.
DA: What song was your favorite to record and what song is your favorite overall?
TB: There’s a couple – I mean, it’s not qualitative, it’s not that some are better than others. I have particularly good memories of recording “True Romance.” I can so clearly remember being up in a little room – in the place I was living at the time – and it was one of the first songs we did and I had no conception that anyone would want to listen to it. Thousands of people singing it back or twenty people, it’s all the same, I just never thought that would happen. “Know Yourself” was something like 170bpm – we had the arrangement completely wrong. Alex [Kapranos] used to do a lot of cooking while we were recording, and on Sunday we had a big Moroccan casserole and some bottles of red wine and had a fire in the studio and listened to a lot of Kumbaya, early Kumbaya, so that’s why it has that sort of sound to it, that rolling sound.
DA: How do you like the states so far?
TB: Yeah, it’s kind of a dream. We went to NY a couple of times last year, LA and San Francisco, and that’s all we’ve ever seen of the States… so, to come now and do this big tour is really cool. We’re in a van – it’s really nice, just the five of us. Takes me back to when we were playing gigs in England. So yeah, it’s pretty cool.
DA: How long are you going to be on tour for? I see you’re heading for Montreal next, that’s a long drive!
TB: Well, we had a bit of a party in Brooklyn last night. We’re away for a month. Go everywhere in the north, then drive all the way down for SXSW, all the way to the west coast, up to Vancouver, then back down to play some shows in Mexico.
DA: Who’s driving?
TB: Us. We take turns.
DA: What’s the strangest experience you’ve had on tour?
TB: We did a show in Paris for a party and this organizer came back afterwards and, you know, people always go, ‘could you do this, or this, or this.’ He’s like, “Guys, I’m so sorry to bother you after the show, but someone just wants to say hello and well done, if it’s not too much hassle for you guys.” We say, “Sure, who is it?” “Alicia Keys and the Princess of Monaco.” So, yes, Alicia Keys, sure. Or eating frog porridge after the show in Kuala Lumpur – that was pretty good. Tastes kind of – froggy.
DA: I know each concert is different and there are things that happen sometimes and don’t other times, so what’s your favorite accidental thing ever to happen onstage?
TB: Thom [Rhoades] and Lawrence [Diamond] do this game every night in the middle of a particular song – there’s a point where they shout something at each other which is somehow relevant to what happened that day or the day before, and I think only once have they both shouted the same thing at one another. And when that happens, we know that we are completely synchronized. Telepathically, psychologically.
DA: So, since you’re so synchronized, are you already planning another album?
TB: Yes, actually – we’re writing the album now, and recording a single at the moment with a well-known DJ. So that’s exciting, hopefully that will be out soon.
DA: Now for some more interesting questions: If you could pick any three historical figures to attend a cocktail party with, who would you choose?
TB: You know, people always say Nelson Mandela, but I think you’d have to think about it practically. I mean, we’re going to a cocktail party. I’d go with Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and Nico, because I think they’d be fun to go to a party with.
DA: Well, we all know you’re musically talented, but what are your strangest other talents?
Lawrence Diamond (keyboards): I can read a bus from 200 yards, read the front of a bus. Useful skill to have in London.
TB: He has the sight of a hawk.
LD: Tom Burke is a remarkably good climber. It’s insane. He’s like cliffhanger.
TB: Lawrence is the king of banter – what do they call it over here? Oh! Lawrence got game.
DA: What’s a song that makes you happy whenever you hear it?
TB: We listened to “Baba O’Riley” in the van today. It made me happy, but it also made me angry. For some reason, The Who always makes me angry. Jay-Z’s “Ni**as In Paris” makes me happy. Whenever we go to Paris we start listening to that, humming it.
DA: What is the best decision you’ve made in your life so far?
Martyn Richmond (bass): Getting a bag with wheels and a handle. Last year I had a massive bag that had no wheels and I had to carry it over my shoulder – it was awful.
LD: Not becoming a lawyer. That’s mine. I was like, two weeks from starting a law course when I joined the band.
MR: Now he’s tendered goods. The bar won’t have him.
DA: Last actual interview question: if you could broadcast any message to the entire world population right now, regardless of language barriers or anything, what would it be?
LD: It’s okay to have gay and lesbian couples kissing on Youtube.
DA: You’re talking about your video for True Romance, right? It’s a beautiful video, what happened?
MR: It got censored – you can only see it if you’re over 18, I think.
LD: There are other videos of couples kissing on Youtube, so we’re pretty sure it was the gay thing.
MR: There was a lot of debate in the comments section, homophobes getting shut down by some of our fans, so that was good.