Stiff Dylans Biography
Sometimes truth isn’t just stranger than fiction – it sounds better too. Bursting out of cinema screens this summer and taking root in their rightful home of a live venue near you, Stiff Dylans are bursting at the seams with the energy and chemistry of all your favourite pop punk groups, with teenage anthems of heartbreak and betrayal, and the sort of hooks your average pirate would mortgage his galleon for.
20-year-old James Flannigan (vocals, guitar) and 21-year-olds Charlie Wride (lead guitar), Matt Harris (bass) and Tom Slaytor (drums) specialise in bright, fresh tuneage, pushing guitar pop in an exciting new direction with a collective set of influences ranging from Biffy Clyro to McFly. You can hear the lot – and a whole bunch more – in the band’s debut single ‘Ultraviolet’, which sets out the band’s stall with nonchalant ease: it’s fizzing with vim and vigour, topped off with one of the biggest choruses you’ll hear all year. “The song’s about the aura of a girl – the sort of energy that’s all around but you can’t quite see or touch,” James says. “It’s in classic ‘I can’t explain how you make me feel so I’ll use the spectrum of light territory….”
It would be helpful at this point to be able to state that the band’s name combines the iconic punk pedigree of Stiff Records with the depth and integrity of Bob Dylan’s lyrical back catalogue: the truth is that the band nicked it out of a book. Or, to be more precise, the entire band comes from a book: Tom and James met Matt and Charlie when the two pairs of friends were recruited to play the part of Stiff Dylans, a fictional band in the film adaptation of Louise Rennison’s cult novel Angus, Thongs & Full Frontal Snogging. Halfway through filming, the band realised they had something and got on so well that they formed the band in real life.
Their journey, to this point might be unorthadox, but in 2008, with the music industry turning itself inside out and the rulebook sailing out of the window, Stiff Dylans are setting their own agenda and there’s no denying the chemistry these four lads have when they’re in the room together. As a frontman James has charisma in buckets. He was born in Hampstead (“in a KFC – I think my parents just wanted their first family bucket”) then moved to Bradford, where he first picked up the guitar a few years ago, having experimented with that ultimate rock ‘n’ roll instrument – the violin – in his teenage years. James will say things like this: “if I lie on my side, in my ear I can hear my heart beating. By the time I fall asleep it sounds like soldiers marching up the road towards my house and to come inside my bedroom, and then I turn into Peter Pan and I start flying in front of them. Then, I speed past them, fly down the stairs and there are some dogs round the table playing cards and then I wake up”. Bandmate Tom “kind of bribed” his way into the auditions, his role in Stiff Dylans predicted and set in motion seven years ago when his mum, more foolhardy than many parents, decided to buy him a drum kit for his 14th birthday. Then there’s Matt, born in Norfolk and introduced to Michael Jackson’s ‘Off The Wall’ at a young age. He didn’t look back, forming his first band when a so-called ‘friend’ put Matt forward to play bass in a band, having never laid his hands on one in his life. However, always one to rise to a challenge, within a matter of hours Matt had bought himself a bass, learned a few notes and was playing out to a crowded venue. A risky and somewhat arse-about-tit approach, but if it worked for Sid Vicious (and, er, Matt from Busted) then it’s good enough for this fella. Finally there’s Charlie who, after a “fanastically average” school career started playing gigs with his brother and a few mates, which progressed to parties, weddings and functions. He’d find that audiences would go mental for Kinks and Undertones covers.
“We’re all really different people and it’s kind of the gift and the curse of our songwriting,” Matt laughs. “James is a really big fan of Biffy Clyro, Tom’s tastes can be quite jazzy, my background’s really pop and Charlie’s background is really rock. Sometimes it works brilliantly and sometimes it can be difficult, but we’ll always come out with something interesting. We all really want to sound like something different but by bringing that all together we end up sounding like something really unique.”
They might have little respect for the suppose fourth wall of moviegoing, but if this four-headed musical equivalent of Poltergeist sounds up your street wait until you hear what the band have been cooking up in the studio with acclaimed producer Jason Perry. From the clarion call of ‘Ultraviolet’ to songs like ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ and ‘Out Of Time’ – unbelievably, the first track Stiff Dylans ever wrote together – the band’s catalogue is already surprisingly diverse, and was enough to impress Columbia Records following a handful of invite-only showcases at Abbey Road studios. The band signed to the label earlier this year, on Matt’s 21st birthday. “We know we’ve got something to prove – we’re some band from a film – but when we got the deal it was the first sign from outside that we’d got something right,” James says; further positive feedback came when they played their first gig back in April in Tom’s hometown of Tonbridge, and brought the house down.
Working with Jason Perry – a man whose reputation is built on massive-sounding stadium guitar pop as a performer (in the band A), and producer (for artists like McFly and Matt Willis – was a revelation for the band, many of whom studied music production at college. “He knows music,” James says. “He doesn’t just know how to engineer and make something sound big - he knows how to get to the very heart of a song and bring out its potential.” The band have also been writing with former Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins, whose career from Ikea kingle writer to multiple-Brit-winning rock god was, like Perry, based on the ability to wedge a song inside your head. “For the first hour of working with him it was very new for all of us,” Tom remembers. “Just observing the way he worked was fascinating, plus he laid on a nice sushi lunch.”
“Zero crap plodding” is how Charlie summarises Stiff Dylans’ modus operandi, adding that “we went for good tunes that came naturally”. Matt, meanwhile, declares that Stiff Dylans sound is ‘fresh, with a p-h’, a claim which works rather better over a couple of beers than it does in the cold light of a band biography. “I listen to the radio and wonder whether there isn’t a need for good, well-thought-out, well-constructed, pop songs coming round again,” James says. “People need to hear these songs like that again. We’re sort of the same.” “Pop music is the best, most incredible music,” Tom says, “but it’s got so brainless and people have stopped caring for it, which is where we’re stepping in. We’re not hiding away from the tunes. Everyone loves a big chorus.” Matt has intergalactic ambitions for the Stiff Dylans sound. “I’d like to think that if an alien landed in London we could give them a copy of our CD, tell them that everything society is based on is somewhere in those songs, say ‘welcome to Earth’ and let them get on with it.”
Flick through the tracks on the band’s debut album and you’ll hear that Stiff Dylans walk the walk just as confidently as they talk the talk. After grabbing this opportunity with all eight hands they’ve grown into the band so effortlessly that it seems they’ve been around for years. The way things are going, they’ve got big things on the horizon.
“We’re getting stiffer by the day,” Tom grins, “so I guess we’re earning our name.”
The mind boggles