10 YEARS OF RACECAR IS RACECAR BACKWARDS
"A STATUE, A MONOLITH"
- 25/06/14 -
"This is a big deal for me as it was my first album and even though it has its flaws I still love it. Certainly at the time, we never thought anyone would give a damn ten years down the line." - Jamie Lenman
Brad Barrett - XMR Hub
'Scared of the Police' threw me into the nearest corner and beat the shit out of me. I deserved it. More, I wanted it. It was just about what I needed after already being kicked in the face by A Song To Ruin, and spent the past year repeatedly being shoved into walls by Ideas Above Our Station. This was "my time". These were "my bands". And by the time Racecar is Racecar Backwards appeared, "my albums".
They also belonged to a few others - most of my friends being some of them. One of my defining memories of this record was actually a year after Reuben's debut album was released. A whole group of people were singing every single word to the record while it played over the PA at the Tunbridge Wells Forum before Million Dead hit the stage on their Harmony No Harmony tour. These weird little screwed up songs about really normal day-to-day feelings, viciously twisted into melancholy, rage-skewered and bellowing choruses hooked a whole heap of similarly-minded people. It happens sometimes, and a more defining musical moment of my early twenties I've yet to remember.
Honestly, I can't remember another record that somehow merged melody and spiteful string torturing in such a compelling and lithe manner. The instrumental savagery - often met with a molten bark its complete equal - suggested cruelty, while the spectrum of melodies proved unparalleled artistry, at least among its peers. It's my favourite fucked up pop record and there has never been much else like it, which is why 10 years feels so long ago; someone should've matched it by now and they just haven't. They haven't been capable.
"When I hear the album now I’m always surprised how full of energy it sounds, since we were so exhausted when we made it." - Jamie Lenman
Praise from the internet
Seemed some of you lot - dear readers - really liked that the 10 year reissue of Racecar Is Racecar Backwards is happening. Here you are, being lovely about it:
- Charlie @MissingFingers: "yes this so much sign me up for 17 copies please just incase the first 16 break"
- @tommjacksonn: "I think I did a little wee. Fuck sake. These were nice pants. Thanks Xtra Mile"
- @rachynewsroom: "Too many great memories to list! Amazing that this is getting the re-issue deluxe treatment!! if i could like this more than once i would!! #reuben #racecarisracecarbackwards #igottheelmstreetblues"
- @fuzzcaminski: "Best gig I ever went to was at @thisistruck the year Biffy Clyro headlined, Reuben and YCNI:MILO were in playing the barn during the day. It was perfect"
- Muncle Griff @MLyndonGriff: "10 years since #RacecarIsRacecarBackwards came out. It's the best rock album you've never heard (probably). #Reuben"
- Jessica Hiscocks: "This is still my favourite album of all time, thank you for making such a masterpiece and forming my late teenage years. xx"
- Peter Harrison: "please do this every anniversary from now on so i can keep buying it!"
- Joseff Gwyn Neale: "Cannot listen to this without turning into a loud singing mess."
- Kieran Grasby: "Racecar Is Racecar Backwards is a pivotal album in my life, I wouldn't be who I am without it, so I am overjoyed to be getting an anniversary release to commemorate the most important record in the world."
- Jonathan Fowkes: "Two Christmases this year then"
- Harry Michaels: "Blimey. I bought Racecar the week it came out and it's still one of my favourite albums - and air-drumming to 'Fall of the Bastille' ridiculously accurately is still thoroughly enjoyable almost a decade later, as I found out a few minutes ago."
- Leonard K L Patel: "The first time I listened to it was when it came out, and the last time was this morning, it's an amazing record man, changed heavy music for me. Psyched for the re-issue"
- @scummonk: "Can't believe this album is 10 years old today! I'm well aware that this sounds incredibly nerdy, BUT few albums have ever resonated with me as much as this album, and that's why it will always remain one of my all time favourites."
- Tom 'Finn' Stabb: "An absolute gem of an album seared into the lexicon of the 'underground'."
- Reva Sharkbait Hodgkinson: "Will gladly own this album twice. Shut up and take my money!"
I mean, I never really understood if that solo in No One Wins the War was meant to be out of tune, but the fact that it was - pitch bent to an ugly angle that was veering on unlistenable - convinced me this trio had fallen fully formed from the phantom loins of Nirvana and Sonic Youth while At the Drive-In delivered. Reuben had fulfilled the promise of their first two non-album singles - one being 'Scared...' and the other being 'Stux (Tell Me It's Alright)' - by yanking 16 screaming, burbling, wriggling songs from the illusion of limitation. Their supposed limits only made them more determined to prove such restrictions wrong, it seemed.
"Hundred Reasons and Vex Red had recorded monster albums with huge producers and there was a glimmer of hope we could do the same." - Jon Pearce
But if it had been merely guitar mangling, a hoarse voice, and a drummer whose arms seemed spring loaded, the record might've been empty promises instead. As it was, vocal flourishes, sustained energy, and even those often-abused orchestral strings propelled songs like 'Moving to Blackwater' - a personal highlight - into the lucid, hallucinatory territory of 'bands who use semi-cliched musical devices properly'. They are in a field of not very many. And it's very blurry there. It's also a place that sets spines to liquid nitrogen jelly.
Polar opposite to that is the warmth of the record. A surprisingly polished production may have helped, but it's the playful riffery and puppy devotion of Jamie Lenman's voice in pursuit of some scaling glory, which it achieves on almost every occasion. It works hard, constantly grinning and panting, then explodes in rage at any instrumental interloper thinking it can dare step on its territory. Unpredictable, yet the most faithful companion.
That I can still proudly point to an album like this a decade later and tell people to "fucking listen to it NOW you won't regret this ever ever ever", and that some people agree with me, is almost a revelation. It pleases me to think the snarling ugliness boiling over sincere, relatable lyrics, skin-tight playing, and tunes that have sung me home on nights out, inner-jukeboxed my finest moments, been screamed along to on road trips across Europe can be seen as vital and a prominent notch on whatever totemic object my youth paraded around.
Maybe it was a statue, a monolith in its own right.
Dan Griffiths - photographer (www.dangriffiths.com), ex-Xtra Mile, friend of the band
The first time I saw Reuben, or Angel as they were called then, was at the Aldershot Westend Centre in early 2000. I can't remember who they were supporting at that specific show, but I guess that's all credit to them! We're similar ages so I'm guessing they must have been 17 or 18 at the time but they had a sound that far surpassed their years.
I used to go to the 'Westy' as it was the only local venue that had shows from touring artists and at the time the Aldershot / Camberley scene was thriving (Vex Red, Winner, Hundred Reasons etc). The venue was run by local promoter Barney Jeavons who I had known from running a rock club night called Splatch. Barney used to put the band on a lot at the Westy and the crowd they brought with every performance steadily increased in size, with Barney offering to manage them.
I saw Reuben many times at that venue over the years but two standout to me the most. The first was watching them with a friend from college (Guy Davis) who was going to try out for the band and later became the band's drummer. The second was them supporting local heroes Hundred Reasons just as news had broke about HR signing to Sony.
I was getting into music photography and used to bring my camera to their shows. As Reuben started to play their first London shows, I would join them and these became the first London shows I captured. We became friends from these early shows and a few of my pictures were featured on a couple of their singles; 'Stux' and the cover of the first Racecar... single 'Stuck in my Throat'. [NB. Dan tried to find some of his old photos to share with us all, but almost ALL of them are on film, not digital. Yes, this was a LONG time ago - BB]
I remember Guy giving me some early demos of 'Racecar...' at college (on a mini disc!) and thinking how amazing the songs were even before they had been properly recorded. It was the first music I had heard from a local band, let alone a friends band, that really stood up to bands we loved. Suddenly, the barrier between fans and the celebrity of musicianship had been removed in my mind. My friends' band were equally as good, if not better, than those in the music magazines I read.
Fast forward a couple of years and my love for the band and Racecar... lead me to sending my CV into the band's label (Xtra Mile) and by the time of the band's second album rolled around I was working on the band's releases full time!
What made Reuben stand apart is that they were good, genuine people. They always had time for their fans and were the same people on stage as off. Even when they had outgrown the Westy they would still return every year and play a special Christmas show. Racecar... has remained a pretty timeless record and has gone on to inspire another generation of musicians, just like those that inspired the band to write it.
Dani Cotter - Xtra Mile Recordings
Casting my mind back ten years, I had only been at Xtra Mile a year then, and I had no idea what I was doing half of the time. But I had the pleasure of working with two of the nicest bands you could hope to learn the ropes with and they were Million Dead and Reuben. As their ‘press officer’ I got to spend a lot of time with both bands at interviews, at their gigs and on photoshoots and friendships were formed that are still present today.
My memories of Racecar are some of the happiest times in my young adult life – those songs soundtracked the start of a career I had always dreamed of. I felt so grateful to be in the centre of something exciting but what was so refreshing was that the band seemed so grateful to be having the experience too.
To say thank you for releasing their album they presented the office with this weird ass clock thing that had a chimp on it wearing a baseball cap. Signed by the band with thanks. It sat in our office for the next eight years, staring at me. It never failed to make me smile.
I also remember sitting outside our offices, on a very hot day, stuffing hundreds and hundreds of Racecar vinyl into sleeves. It was so laborious we joked that in ten years time we would laugh about this and look back fondly. We took a photo to mark the occasion and jokingly said that it should be included in the anniversary edition.
Now – if only we could find that bloody photo!
Charlie Caplowe - MD of Xtra Mile Recordings
I remember vividly the day the album was finally finished and being able to put a plan together to release it. We knew it was a great album and when the positive reviews started pouring in it was nice that others realised how special it was too. The success spurred us on as a label to do more, and the rest, as they say, is history. We’re thrilled to celebrate its tenth anniversary.
"I'm incredibly proud of Racecar..., and it is loaded with hits. I can feel the adrenaline running through me when I listen to that album up nice and loud." - Guy Davis
Frank Turner - Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls / Möngöl Hörde
Hindsight is a funny thing. There’s a general feeling, for a lot of people, that Million Dead and Reuben were somehow kind of sister bands. We did play together a few times back in the day, and I went out and crewed for them on a later tour, but we didn’t come up together and were mostly passing acquaintances, particularly around the time of Racecar... coming out.
That, however, in a strange way gave me a greater appreciation of the record itself. I remember first getting my hands on it through the folks at Xtra Mile, then a very new label that we were also working with. I just remember thinking it was perfect, so good, so strong. At the time the UK hardcore scene that I had been part of, and to a lesser extent the British rock miasma that MD and Reuben were part of in the early 2000s, was subject to something of an inferiority complex about American bands. We’d play and play, and then the yanks would come through and clean up. When Racecar... came out it felt like finally we were starting to build up a stable of bands who could hold their own against out Atlantic cousins, who were even better perhaps.
Listening back now, I still think it’s a great record. Like a lot of classic albums, there are plenty of small things about it that could, by the cynical, be cast as technical errors, production values or whatever. But as we all know, in the case of something classic, something that hits the right tone at the right time, those apparent flaws actually become part of what made it special, and what makes it still resonate to this day.
In a way Reuben are a lost band, I always feel like they should have been bigger and more successful than they were. But any time anyone questions the ability of the UK to produce top notch rock music, I’ll always dig out Racecar... and sit back smiling.
WORDS FROM REUBEN
Jamie Lenman - vocalist/guitarist/songwriter
Making that album was one of the hardest times of my life. We’d already wasted so much time realising we weren’t going to get signed to an American major and become Silverchair II, and then when we finally started the proper album there were even more delays. The equipment we needed was late; I lost my voice at one point and had to go see a specialist; then when we should have been mixing, we had to on a three-week tour instead. It was awful - playing to no one in a bar in Swansea when we should have been finishing our record!
We were in this glorified shed on a stretch of scrubland outside a farm, I think it was. The hottest summer on record, with no toilet, and a toaster for a kitchen. I think I ate toast every meal for six weeks. Three times a day - toast with margarine.
When I hear the album now I’m always surprised how full of energy it sounds, since we were so exhausted when we made it. I know some people say the production is scrappy but I thought and still think it’s pretty slick! I remember desperately not wanting our first album to be swept under the carpet, to be just a practice run for the second one. I wanted it to stand on its own and I think it does.
I’m also chuffed that the cover has made a visual mark, I think people really latch onto those three skeletons. I was going through a skeleton phase at the time, I’d done some artwork for another band with skeletons on and I think the other two were worried (quite rightly) that folks would get confused. I still think we missed a trick in not making full sized body-suits to sell at shows!
Guy Davis - drummer
Recording Racecar, making my first album, that shit is what I wanted to do since I was eight! Of course, I was super excited about it. We had faith it was going to sound rad, having produced some great sounding demos at the same studio previously. It was a particularly exciting time for me because it coincided with me getting some shit hot endorsements with Zildjian and Sonor, which made me feel incredible, I got such a buzz off that and I remember wanting to play my heart out.
I listen back to that record now, and it still sounds fresh. I'm incredibly proud of Racecar..., and it is loaded with hits. I can feel the adrenaline running through me when I listen to that album up nice and loud. Those songs make me feel fucking great. I'm one proud owner.
Jon Pearce - bassist
It felt like it was never going to happen. We'd always wanted to record the biggest and best album we could. Hundred Reasons and Vex Red had recorded monster albums with huge producers and there was a glimmer of hope we could do the same. We'd met so many labels and producers which never amounted to anything and I think we were all becoming disillusioned, losing hope, that we would ever record an album.
After waiting and waiting, we decided to make it happen ourselves. Xtra Mile Recordings had always been hugely supportive of what we were doing and were really keen to release the album. We knew how we wanted it to sound, so we found someone who could record what we wanted and we nestled into a dark and dingy former shed in Surrey. Both Jamie and Guy are such awesome musicians, and the songs were so well shaped after years of touring. You can still hear that when you listen back to it today.
We never recorded in America with a big name producer, but several years later, I found a copy of Racecar... in the Virgin Megastore in Times Square. I didn't buy it, but I kinda wish I had. It still blows my mind that the album we recorded in a shed in Chobham found it's way across the Atlantic and onto the shelves in arguably one of the biggest record stores in the world.
Thank you all for reading and for enjoying the news that we've been dying to tell you for months. Wanna tell us some more about Racecar? Some memories or just rampant praise? Just let us know on Facebook and Twitter (@xtra_mile) and Instagram. It might even be worth ALL of you telling us how much you want a vinyl version by going here and choosing the 'I Love Vinyl' department, and we'll see if it's possible.
You can see loads more yummy Reuben goodness on our Youtube channel. Go watch some gems from our youth. - XMR