Published Feb 23, 2009Surviving nearly two decades in pop is no easy feat, but it's especially tough if your band happens to be Comet Gain. Since forming in 1993, this bunch of Brits have been as ramshackle as they come, going through countless label switch-ups, line-up changes and more than their fair share of disasters, on stage and off. In 1997, in fact, the band experienced a full-on exodus, leaving songwriter David Feck as Comet Gain's only constant and original member. Yet, disorderly conduct aside, Feck and his ever-changing troupe stand as one of the most endearingly shambolic lo-fi pop acts around, making their new career retrospective, Broken Record Prayers, more than a little warranted. Culled from Comet Gain tracks from 1998 onwards, this collection of "A&B sides, new songs, session tracks and stray dogs" brings with it a hefty 74 minutes of jangle, delivering some of the band's finest moments, as well as a great window into these under-appreciated vets.
Feck took some time out to talk to Exclaim! about the compilation, as well as the "Comet Gain curse," the band's two new upcoming full-lengths and what he likes to refer to as "interesting disasters."
So what made you decide to put out this compilation?
We just have so many seven-inches on lots of different, small labels, so we thought it would be good to have them finally all together. And we had some unreleased songs that never fit on albums and new songs, and we thought it would be a good opportunity to give all that stuff some breathing space. And there's no work in; the songs are already done, so we could just stay in our pajamas.
And what about the new songs?
There's about four or five of them, I think. It's always nice to add some new singles, otherwise it looks like we've broken up or something.
Was it strange to look back on a decade's worth of work?
Yeah, it was weird for me to go back and listen to all those songs again. It all seemed like one entity, in the end. You more or less just remember things like where you recorded the track, the different people that played on some records and mucking around and going to the pub at lunchtime and things like that. And I'm very bad at years; it all just turns into a mulch after a while and this sort of amorphous slab of half-remembered things.
Did you cringe about putting certain songs on the compilation?
Yeah. At different times, I cringe about most of them. Some of the Peel Sessions are a bit of a struggle to listen to. We had just got the band together at the time, and it was all sort of one take and we didn't know what we were doing.
Are there certain records or periods in the band's history that really stand out for you?
It was fun when we did this record called the Réalistes . We decided to have this very raw approach on it, like we'd just woken up and there were these songs that just appeared in the post box and we were going to record them right away. And then, you know, go back to the pub. We'd just play a song once, record it and no one really knew what was going on. I mean, you can hear me in the background sometimes going, "Change!" We just wanted that rawness where it kind of feels like a young band who just started out, with everything being simple and raw and direct. It was quite fun to do it like that and not have to worry about anything. I think the [drummer] Chris [Apelgren]'s hands were bleeding by the end of each day because we just kept going and going until we'd fall down.
Would you say Réalistes is the Comet Gain record you are most proud of then?
Well, it wasn't at all back then. But it holds up fairly well, in that it's not a total disaster. I thought if that record and City Fallen Leaves  could find some common ground, it would be the sort of composite of the type of Comet Gain record that I would probably be happy with.
So how do you think your perception of the band has changed over the years?
All of a sudden, they put the word "veterans" in front of our name when we have a gig or something, you know, "indie veterans Comet Gain." And you realize that you are in fact an indie veteran and not some fresh spring chicken bouncing around. But it's all right, I don't mind. I suppose it's funny that we've outlived all these actual, professional musicians and that this band of ragamuffins and inept fools has somehow managed to survive.
How do you account for that longevity?
Probably because we have a totally different attitude. I mean, we don't do many things unless we really want to do them, and we don't have managers hassling us or one particular label telling us to do this or that. Whatever we want to do, we do it. And I think people who like Comet Gain are sort of used to that now. Even at gigs if we decide to do something different, it's not a problem.
What's membership like in the band?
When we record it's usually the same basic people, like [bassist] Jon [Slade] or [drummer] Woodie [Taylor] are there. But some people come and go. And for gigs, it could be anyone - sometimes ten people turn up, sometimes three people turn up. I never get to miss shows, though.
Yeah, what happened if you didn't show up?
Actually, I didn't once and that probably the best gig Comet Gain ever did. I was determined after all those years to finally get a rest, while the rest of them had to do the work.
How many people do you think have played in the band at this point?
I think I worked it out and it's about 60. If you play once that means you're cursed - you're part of the Comet Gain curse - and you probably won't last long. I think there have more people in this band than have been in the Fall, but with us there is less violence involved.
Yeah, there was this point in, like, 1997 when the entire band left and you were the only remaining member. What ever happened there?
Oh, you know, political disagreements. [Guitarist] Sam [Pluck] and [vocalist] Sarah [Bleach] wanted to do something more pop, and I think they were more interested in being in a more "together" band, with maybe a career in mind. And I'm not saying it in a mean way. I mean, I think most bands form in hopes they are going to make some money and get successful, but it's quite the opposite for me. And I think Sam and Sarah thought any success was just not going to happen if I was involved in the band in any way. And fair enough, it was up to them. And [bassist] Jax [Coombes] and [drummer] Phil [Sutton] I think thought it would work out better for them if they went with, you know, the others, rather than wait for me to somehow get it together. But it worked out for everyone.
Do you think your fan base has changed over the years?
Well, there haven't been a lot those, to begin with. But lately, in London, there's been a lot of kids getting into Felt and the Shop Assistants, early Primal Scream and that sort of thing, and I think that's true in America as well. And in a way, those kids have put us in with all that, or the second generation of that sort of thing. So we get a lot of young whippersnappers coming to our gigs nowadays, which is quite nice I suppose for an old band like us.
Does it trip you out that a lot of younger kids are into more indie pop stuff these days?
Yeah, it's weird. When you grow up with certain records - seeing the bands play and seeing their album get released - you forget that for young people they become like some '60s records were to me, like these sort of faraway, legendary things. Now bands like Felt are seen in the same way bands like Big Star were viewed by me when I was young.
What's your take on that surge of indie pop bands coming out of Brooklyn these days, such as Crystal Stilts and the Pains of Being Pure at Heart?
I felt when there was that generation of bands that listened to Sarah Records and that sort of thing, they took the things I didn't like about those records and glorified that aspect of it, forgetting about the rawness and weirdness of it all. It was less punk and more pop - not that that's a bad thing, I just found it a bit all insipid and twee. And that word "twee" - everyone would just tar you with that brush even though you had nothing to do with it. It would get me annoyed when the Comet Gain were referred to as a C86/Sarah Records band because it was completely the opposite in my head. I can't help it if that's how we sound. It's not meant to. I mean, I don't listen to Sarah Records at all - I listen to 13th Floor Elevators or something. But when we do a record, it might accidently sound like something that we don't like. But to try to answer your question, basically with the American bands, there is a lot more rawness to them, which is good. But I've only heard bits of what they are doing.
I've heard that you guys have quite the reputation for having some pretty chaotic live shows. Is there a lot of truth in that?
Yeah, with Comet Gain, you never really know what to expect. I think we've improved over the last couple of years, though we don't really rehearse still. Sometimes our shows would be disasters - well, interesting disasters - where one person would tell us that was the dumbest show they had ever seen but another would say it was the greatest.
Could you give me an example of such an "interesting disaster"?
Well, there was this one show where no one showed up apart from me and Woodie, the drummer. So I had to get different people from the audience to come on stage and just asked the DJ to play a few Comet Gain songs and we mimed. And then I think we did some sort of sonic assault at the end where everyone collapsed and I threw my guitar at someone. You know, that kind of thing.
Why haven't Comet Gain released a proper full-length since 2005's City Fallen Leaves?
Well, we have loads of stuff. It just takes a while for us to get it out there. But I think we are going to have two albums of new stuff out this year. One of them is going to be really slow and sad, and meant to be played late at night when you're not feeling great. I've always like those "mood records." You know, when you are in a particular mood you can play a whole record of similar material, rather than having a couple of sad songs and then a punk song or something. If it's late at night and you aren't feeling too crazy and you want a whole record that has a feeling or ambience to it, this thing will be that. The other record is going to be more of a pop record of pop songs. But they will hopefully be out this year, if we can get our thumbs out of our mouths long enough.
Will those be released on Kill Rock Stars like your past couple full-lengths?
Who knows? You never know. A couple of labels said they were interested, but I'm not sure yet.
Maybe this is a dumb question, but what sort of phase or period would you say Comet Gain are in now in your career?
The exact same phase we were in ten years ago. We all keep saying we should do more things, we should do everything more professionally, we should record more songs, we should do more touring and do all sorts of special things. And then five years later, we're still saying the same things. There are very bad communication problems in this Comet Gain. In fact, if there was to be one moral to the whole Comet Gain voyage, it would be bad communication.
So what do you think has kept Comet Gain going?
Well, we're all friends and we don't often see each other unless we're doing Comet Gain stuff. So in a way, it's just to keep our friendships going. Also, there's this thing of me never being happy with what we've done. I just keeping waiting to make that record that I'll actually be pleased with. Plus, without Comet Gain, what else would we do? The band keeps us off the streets.