In this episode, Liam Croker, lead singer of WINACHI, talks about:
– when he thinks new artists can call themselves professional musicians
– the current indie music scene in Manchester
– playing live and touring
– visiting Los Angeles for the first time
– and how he has sustained a career in music for over a decade
-LISTEN TO THE FULL CONVERSATION HERE-
➤ When you meet someone new and they ask what do you do how do you respond?
I tell them I’m a musician. Yeah I’m a working musician, a professional musician. That’s what I’ll say. That’s been quite tricky over the last 18 months. I’ve almost felt like I’m lying a little bit at times but yeah I’ve stuck to my guns and if people ask me what I do – I’m a musician. Yeah that’s what I do.
➤ I understand exactly what you mean. When you feel like, ‘Am I qualified to say it now?’ like, when do you feel like, ‘Okay now I can say it!’ There’s no line that you cross.
It doesn’t even necessarily come down to finance and money. I think once you’ve paid your dues and you have committed your whole life to doing that profession for the rest of your life, once you’ve made that decision then yeah, you’re qualified to say, ‘I am a musician. That’s what I do.’
So yeah and then obviously, if you’re making money by doing it as well then it just adds a little bit more credit to that.
➤ And do you think it also has to do with not doing anything else? Like, this is the main thing. You finally quit everything else and you focus all your time and energy on this?
That’s a good question. Um no, I think if you need to do other stuff to make ends meet, as most creatives do – I mean I won’t name names exactly but I know some very, very well known musicians, you know, pretty famous people who have to do other jobs to pay the bills and I don’t think that’s anything to be ashamed of at all. I just think if you’ve got a family and you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to put food on that table and you can’t always do that through a creative avenue.
But like I said, if you’re emotionally committed to doing your profession i.e being a film director, a musician, a painter, an actor, then that’s what you are. But it’s also who you are. Once you give everything away to that profession, then yeah, you are qualified to say that’s what you are. Definitely!
➤ Because you’re in the middle of it all you can probably tell me. From what I see, less young people now want to get into music. Whereas, when I was in college, when I was 16, 17, we were all in bands and we were all wanting to play. But now my son is that age and he doesn’t have any musician friends, for example. So, do you see young people wanting to still make music?
Yeah, I do see it. Not to the extent of when I was growing up. I mean, I’m in my 30s now so you know I’m not an old man but I suppose I’m viewed as a slightly elder person in music, in the entertainment business – I’ve been doing this a long time.
But it’s just everything’s become so accessible these days, you know, because of the internet and things like that. So the sort of romance and the mystique behind being a musician that was around when we were growing up isn’t there anymore. You know if you wanted to see, to hear a band, you had to go and buy the record.
➤ Exactly! Or you had to go and see them.
If you wanted to watch a band and you had to go and see them. Now you just go on the internet, so yeah. And I think, in some ways, that’s a blessing. That’s great, you know. Accessibility is a fantastic thing but I think in some ways it has killed the mythology and romance of being a rock star and I think that’s why less and less kids are coming through.
There are musicians coming through, they’ve just got a different outlook on it than say me and you would have had at that age, you know. I found that the music now is second to the actual promotion. Also, the social media side of it is ninety percent of being a musician, which is wrong. That shouldn’t be how it is. But there’s an underground scene all the time, there’s young bands…
➤ Is there? I mean you know what Manchester is known for with the whole 90s indie scene. How is it now? How would you describe the Manchester music scene?
I will tell you now how Manchester is and I’ll probably get shot for saying this but I don’t care.
Now, I love Manchester, right? You know, I’m the most Northwest person you know. I was born in Liverpool and I grew up in Liverpool. All my family are from Liverpool and then my mum and dad moved out of Liverpool into Warrington which is in between Manchester and Liverpool. As I got to being a teenager, my musical education from listening to The Beatles and stuff from my parents growing up, my musical education started in Manchester, do you know what I mean? Yeah and Manchester’s obviously got this huge musical history, it influenced me you know; The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, Oasis, New Order, The Fall, The Smiths, you know the list is endless. But I think what’s happened with Manchester, it’s become so stuck in its own history it’s become a little bit stale.
And I’m not the only person to say this, I mean, I know a number of people from Manchester who would agree with what I’m saying. They’ve become stuck in their own history a little bit. There’s almost a slight musical snobbery around Manchester, I think a little bit.
And it’s almost become a little bit clichéd: ‘[exaggerated accent] All right, all right mate! Yeah I’m in a band from Manchester.’
➤ But does that still exist? Is that still there?
That’s still there but it’s where that used to be cool, I don’t think it’s that cool anymore. I think Manchester needs a bit like – you know, for instance, as amazing as The Beatles were and influential and all the rest of it, Liverpool’s never quite recovered from the shadow of The Beatles. They’ve had great bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and The La’s, and Cast, that have come out of Liverpool but they’re always under the shadow of The Beatles.
➤ And they always will be. If you’re a band from Liverpool who else are they going to compare you to?
Well exactly, yeah. And I think that’s the same in Manchester, with the MADchester scene especially, you know The Mondays and The Roses and then slightly later on you had Oasis. I don’t think Manchester’s quite moved on from that.
I would love to see a band of 20-21 year old lads come through, who were angry and gritty and meant it, you know, really kick the ass out of it because right now we’re living in some very dark, shitty times and you know Manchester’s the place that maybe could do that but at the moment I’ve not seen that coming through.
I mean, yeah there are new bands coming up all the time. Are any of them catching my attention to go, ‘Wow! They’re absolutely knockout, unbelievable’? No, none of them are catching my attention in that way, no. I’m not finding any of them exciting, so to speak. Or more importantly I’m not finding any of them original. It’s all kind of rehash of what’s been done before.
Apart from Winachi, obviously, because we’re just out there on our own.
➤ I was just gonna say, that leads us nicely onto Winachi. So, when I met you [14 years ago], you were called China White. When I first heard the music, I really thought you didn’t sound like the others. You didn’t follow the stereotype of being a Manchester band or a northwest band. Tell me about your influences. Growing up, what did you listen to?
I grew up listening to sort of bands like early Guns N’ Roses, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Faith No More..
➤ Not many British bands named those guys as influences.
Well, I was nine years old and I was listening to these guys. Early Red Hot Chili Peppers. Blood Sugar Sex Magik was my introduction to funk music, I suppose. As a teenager, all my friends were into Oasis and stuff like that but I got into Massive Attack and Tricky, The Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. Later on, I got into The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays before I got into Oasis. I was too young for The Stone Roses and The Happy Mondays the first time around – I was only about seven or eight years old.
But yeah, I got into them and that’s when it really hit me. When I heard The Roses and The Mondays in my late teens, I was like, ‘Oh now this makes sense because they sound like me. They talk in the same accent as me and they dress and act like me. I can do that.’ I believed that I could probably do that but we never tried to sound like anybody. We never thought we’re gonna go out and try to sound like The Stone Roses or The Happy Mondays, we just took elements. Not necessarily always music elements as well, it could be their attitude. It’s quite comical now, you know if I look back at videos of us when we’ve started off, we were obviously subconsciously mimicking our heroes to a certain degree.
➤ That’s natural.
You act a bit like Shaun Ryder or Ian Brown or Liam Gallagher or whatever. Over time you hone that and you make it your own version of that you know which we’ve done. I just think one thing that me and Anthony [band co-founder] decided very very early on, it was like, ‘Right man. You can only be as good as your record collection and we’ve got really good record collections.’ So yeah, you know we’d be mixing Massive Attack with The Beatles, with N.W.A with Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, you know, all these different things we were listening to. I’d meet up with Anthony you know after work – I was working as a tree surgeon at the time, I was 20 years old; I was cutting down trees. And I’d meet up with Anthony after work, we’d sit in his shed with a pair of guitars and he’d be going, ‘Whoa! Have you listened to this Rolling Stones track and he introduced me to The Rolling Stones. And then I’d be showing him Massive Attack songs and then we’d sit there and we’d do a sort of fusion version of Massive Attack and The Stones.
➤ I love that you mentioned Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana. I feel like, as a young band, if you’re from any particular town, people expect you to sound like the other bands from that same town. And you’re expected to say, ‘Oh, my influences are Oasis.’
I wouldn’t be in a band if it wasn’t for Guns N’ Roses. I can remember very clearly being eight years old watching Guns N’ Roses live in Paris on television.
➤ Oh yeah! That was like the first show that they broadcast on Sky One [in the UK] or something.
Yeah it was the first ever pay-per-view on Sky.
➤ Yes! I watched the exact same one!
My friend Danny Curwen, a boy I went to school with – I didn’t have Sky, my parents didn’t have it but Danny had it – and he recorded it for me on tape. And I watched that tape and I used to run around my mum’s front room in a pair of cycling shorts and a bandana like I was Axl Rose.
And I remember I literally made the decision at that point while watching it, an eight-year-old boy, ‘Whatever they’re doing, I want to do that.’ A ginger man running around stage in cycling shorts with a black guy with an afro and a top hat playing the guitar. It looked the most exciting thing in the world. Welcome To The Jungle, when that come on, that was like, ‘Oh my god! I live in Warrington but I feel like I’m in the dirty streets of Hollywood’. You know, it took me there and that impact stuck in me for the rest of my life. Their attitude! To lads sort of my age and your age, they were our Rolling Stones man. They were our Led Zeppelin.
➤ Can we talk a little bit about Winachi’s first trip to the USA? What year was that?
My very first trip to the USA was in 2012 and it was just me and Anthony who went out there for two weeks. And we spent two weeks living on the famous Wonderland Avenue where the Wonderland murders happened. We were living in Laurel Canyon, up in the hills, living with the producer Danny Saber who produced The Rolling Stones and Black Grape and people like that.
We stayed in this huge four-story house and his attic was where the studio was. That’s where The Charlatans recorded and Joe Strummer and Black Grape. And when you got in there to the studio upstairs, everything was black. He used to call it the bat cave and when you walked in there was a massive crucifix on the wall and it had this huge Mr.T from The A-Team hung off it. And I just thought, ‘Wow! Welcome to Hollywood, man. This is going to be an experience.’ And yeah, we spent two weeks living at Danny’s in the hills of Hollywood.
➤ So you didn’t play any shows then?
No, we spent two weeks recording in Danny’s studio and getting to know Hollywood and just the vibe of it, you know. We made some great records. And two of those records have been released – one of them featured Kermit from the band Black Grape. It was just a great, great experience, you know. There was gold discs on the wall for Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath, Michael Hutchence and yeah, just a great, unbelievable experience you know.
➤ I hear a lot of artists say they recorded this, there, at this location and I’ve always wondered as a non-musician, how much of a difference does the location make?
I think it makes a huge difference. I mean the album that we’ve just finished was recorded on Venice Beach in California in the sun, you know. Literally you come out the studio, you walk down the road and you’re on Venice Beach so when you’re recording – and it was a beautiful, beautiful studio – the vibe is so different you know.
➤ I get that but the songs are already written so I’m wondering how much does the beach influence you? Because the songs were probably written somewhere else.
The songs were written in Warrington. Yeah, the songs were written in a sort of industrial, rough council estate in Warrington but when you take them over to LA and you develop the songs, and start adding layers and layers and the vibe changes and if you’re working with the right producer, which luckily we were – another shout out to our brother John X over in California. Yeah the session changed.
If we’d have made that album in Manchester, it wouldn’t sound like it does. The album sounds like it was made in Los Angeles, it has that ‘crazy’. I mean one of the songs on the album is called ‘Heaven in Hell-A.’ And the concept is the beauty of LA but also the darkest depths of LA, hence ‘Hell-A’. And believe you me, we’ve experienced both of those parts of Los Angeles. We’ve experienced the really good parts and the really really … well, there’s no bad parts because the bad parts are the good parts as well – I like the bad parts!
But Los Angeles is a seductive city. Once you go there, you either hate it or you love it and we love it.
➤ When you’re in America, when people ask, where do you describe yourself as coming from?