Crooks: “We don’t listen to music like us.”

Crooks: “We don’t listen to music like us.”

By Ben Tipple

Mar 31, 2016 16:00

As I meet up with Cheltenham five-piece Crooks, things are not good. We’re sitting on the stage in the echoic Garage ahead of their performance upstairs, one originally attended to be something of a triumph. Instead it marks only one of eight scheduled UK dates Crooks are well enough to play, having succumbed to illness related fatigue during their mainland stint. As vocalist Josh Rogers sips on an unidentified hot remedy, he expresses his urgency in rescheduling the cancelled dates. For now, however, their triumphant headline tour still awaits.

These dates come off the back of their seminal debut full-length, ‘Are We All The Same Distance Apart’. The record is a step removed from their earlier sound, having existed in some form or another for the better part of a decade. Having moved from hardcore to post-hardcore, their latest incarnation pushes the transition further forward. Their ominous melody nudges Crooks into a new wave of post-hardcore, one that cements their individual identity.

“We made a conscious decision not to put screaming in,” drummer Jack Batchelor admits, simultaneously describing the process as a natural progression. “It was the record we wanted to put out. We wanted it to be clean.”

That decision was borne out of a need for balance. Vocalist Josh Rogers felt it was his duty to match the musical prowess of his band-mates, not content with simply screaming into a microphone. “It was totally my decision,” he interjects, “I really wanted to become a singer. All the guys were progressing so rapidly and becoming such good musicians and I was just shouting. It felt like I was not giving enough of myself to the band and that wasn’t fair. We figured we could try and find a way forward that had the same attitude but not the same clichéd aggression we used to have.”

“We didn’t worry about it at all,” Josh says of possible reactions to the change. “All the bands we look up to do what they want to do. No disrespect to the fans because we wouldn’t be doing this without them, but we wanted to put out something that we thought was the best we could do. It had to be brave from our side. It had to be slightly controversial. We couldn’t help that.”

This exuding confidence represents their newfound solidarity. Getting to this point, headlining a London show on the back of a critically acclaimed debut, has not been easy. “I think we’ve probably nearly broken up every year for six years,” Jack Batchelor half jokes with a pained expression in his eyes. “We just had loads of difficulties,” Josh adds, “It can’t be helped.”

“As with any band, if you put a lot of work in but it doesn’t look like it’s going to pay off anytime soon, people focus more on their own lives. They dip out of it. It takes a lot of commitment,” Josh continues with disarming honesty. “To give your all to something that doesn’t show any way of paying off is physically, mentally and financially exhausting. You have to put everything on hold in your life.”

“We’ve all lost a whole bunch of stuff, and the band has lost a bunch of members. Some people have been at the end of their tether. We’re here now because we’re the guys that still have faith in it, and really want to continue doing it.”

It’s these foundations that have allowed Crooks to prosper. Now at the biggest point of their career, the immediate future looks bright. “We needed to take a step back and reassess the band, take away any negative energy that was hanging around. We all just had it out,” Jack discusses how they reached this moment. “You’re naturally only as strong as your weakest member,” Josh chips in. “We all have jobs that are a bit more disposable and can throw all our energy and time into it now.”

This determination is reflected in their atypical sound, a collection of influences from outside of their own scene. “We don’t listen to music like us,” bassist Jacob Dutton-Keen proudly states. Jack and Josh agree, the latter adding: “As soon as we start sounding like somebody else, we know we’re trying too hard. When we write the most honest songs, stripped back to the basics, that’s what Crooks is supposed to sound like.”

‘Are We All The Same Distance Apart’ is haunting and dark, more subtle with its aggression but by no means reserved. In a live setting, even battling with severe illness, explosive. As Rogers understandably hands over to the crowd for some of the vocal work, they know every word. For a London headline show early in their career the atmosphere is electric. It’s testament to the fans acceptance of their experimental sound.

As the new direction is welcomed, it falls on Crooks to keep the momentum. “We just keep writing,” Jacob says, detailing their plan to move forward. “Our issue before was that we just stopped writing,” Jack reflects, “but now with everything being so positive we’re finding it easy to get together and just go for it. We actually want to do it again for fun.”

“Our fans are so good to us,” Josh concludes. “Now we have that safety net we find ourselves enjoying making music again. Once you have that team and that foundation you can focus on the music. It makes the music more believable.”

Jack smiles, adding: “That’s what makes Crooks sound like Crooks.”