Thursday, 28 June 2012

Indietracks interview #18: 14 Iced Bears

By Stuart Huggett

14 Iced Bears formed in Brighton in 1985, and were initially associated with the UK indiepop/fanzine scene. Their first three years together saw the release an assortment of singles and flexis for various labels, with Rob Sekula (vocals, guitar) and Kevin Canham (guitar) at the centre of a fluctuating line-up.

The band released their self-titled debut LP in 1988, with ‘Precision’ (a compilation of their consistently sought-after singles) arriving in 1990. By the time of their second and final album, ‘Wonder’ (1991), 14 Iced Bears’ sound had become notably more psychedelic, the band drawing deeper on their 60s influences. The group split the following year.

This year’s Indietracks partners, Slumberland Records, reissued some of 14 Iced Bears’ early material on the album ‘In The Beginning’, and the band eventually reformed in 2010, touring the US twice. Rob, with occasional interjections from drummer Graham Durrant, shared his memories with us.

It seemed like a lot of people were in 14 Iced Bears over the years, but who’s in the band now?

Rob: Yes, I think we ended up having 14 band members overall. The group’s name was obviously prophetic. At the moment, apart from me, it's Graham, who was on both albums and all the singles from the Sarah stuff onwards, and Tim (White, bass), who was on the second album and our last single, ‘Hold On’. Sometimes Kev joins us when he can, but he lives out in Devon. He was in the band from the beginning up until the first split.

What inspired you to form a group originally? Which bands were you listening to?

I'd been in bands with mates since about the sixth form. Originally it was probably from watching The Monkees on telly when I was about six. When the Bears formed it was the time of C86. I was listening to the Velvets, Burt Bacharach, Jesus And Mary Chain, Nick Drake, The Byrds, Echo And The Bunnymen, The Pastels and Primal Scream. Later we were more into things like the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Big Star and the 13th Floor Elevators.

What was Brighton’s music scene like when you started out?

We formed in Brighton when some of us were at Sussex Uni, and were mates with most of the other Brighton bands. There were quite a few around, including Whirl, The Milk Sisters, Ten Million Quentins, The Popguns, Bobby Scarlet and Spitfire, and some of the Bears were in Blow Up. We'd all go to the same nights – The Big Twang and The Sunshine Playroom were the seminal places. A few of us hung out in the same cafes in the North Laine too. Primal Scream and Alan McGee had moved down to Brighton, so they'd be around. You could even spot Genesis P-Orridge in a cafe. It was a good scene.

How did your first singles (‘Inside’ and ‘Balloon Song’) for the Frank label come about?

Frank was Mark Flunder from the Television Personalities’ label. He saw one of our first gigs and wanted to put a single out with us. I think he wanted ‘Jumped In A Puddle’ (he thought it was a mod classic!) but we never ended up recording it. Luckily John Peel heard ‘Inside’ and liked it and gave us a session. The rest is purgatory.

As well as John Peel, who else in the media supported 14 Iced Bears?

John Peel was the only person in the national media that was into us it seemed. He was great and very encouraging, and even tried to help get us a drummer on one of his shows. ‘Turn It Up’ on BBC Radio Sussex were kind to us. We played their Christmas party one year – it was recorded for the radio and a flexi of us doing a drunken version of ‘Balloon Song’ (re-titled ‘Salloon Bong’) was released. I remember singing “Don't call me Harry Secombe again” during ‘Cut’. Oh dear. We had nice coverage in fanzines but the major music papers didn't seem too interested at the time. Everett True came down to interview us for one of them but it didn't get printed, and Johnny Dee wrote good things about us for Record Mirror. We got some good reviews though. My personal highpoint of being in the Bears was when we supported Alex Chilton in ‘91 or ‘92 in Brighton. We came off stage and it was just him and me in the dressing room. He said, "You guys were great. Sophisticated stuff." I didn't care what anyone else thought about us after that!

How did Sarah Records get involved for the 14 Iced Bears single ‘Come Get Me’?

I can't really remember how we hooked with Sarah actually, it was a while back. It was great at the time but then we wanted to make an album and that was against the label philosophy. Also our music by then was going more psychedelic-y.

How much truth is there in the rumour that Geffen were interested in the band?

After our first album came out, it started doing really, really well on US college radio. That must have pricked Geffen’s attention. It's all a bit hazy now, but nothing came of it. They probably listened to Nirvana instead. Whatever happened to them? We would have been much bigger!

How did the band’s sound change between the first and second albums?

The only thing that changed between the two was that Tim replaced Will (Taylor) on bass. Getting someone new in can often influence the way the sound goes and that's what happened. It wasn't a conscious move. It also had a different, bigger production because we used a different studio.

How well did 14 Iced Bears do internationally?

The first time round, we toured as far as Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland. We had to do two tours of Switzerland because the first van, owned by one of Stump, broke down while we were out there. It was left on a garage forecourt. We had to go back again, get it fixed and collect it, so we thought we'd play some more gigs too. Things got a bit mental sometimes.

What were the reasons for 14 Iced Bears splitting up?

I'm not really sure. It just seemed the natural thing to do at the time. There was no massive falling out or anything. I decided to move back to London so that changed things. I thought I'd form a new band there but ended up having too good a time in pre-Britpop Camden.

With hindsight, what would you like to have done differently?

There's no point thinking about what could have been done differently as it was a result of us as people at the time. I'm proud of a lot of the songs we did.

What made you decide to get back together?

Friends of mine on Facebook who lived on the East Coast of the US were asking if we'd like to play over there, so I thought I'd give it a go and started asking former band members. We hadn't really thought about getting back together as we all live in different places. It was nice to end up standing on the stage in front of a crowd in LA! If you'd told me two years earlier that would be happening, I would have called you an idiot and followed you round town all day laughing at you. Then I would have gone swimming. Now we’ve done two US tours, of the East and West Coasts. It was a dream come true. The gigs were great, I loved playing all of them. Tim made a video of the East Coast tour: it’s called ‘Dust Remains’ and is in two parts (part one / part two) on YouTube. I suppose the best attended gigs were in New York, San Francisco and LA. People travelled thousands of miles to see us, in some cases by plane. It was very touching, and so nice to meet people who were so excited to see us after all this time and from so far away. Due to the internet, there seems to be a well-connected army of people into indie/psych-pop or whatever it's called. Touring-wise we're on a 'see what gigs we're offered' basis at the moment. There's no strategy for world domination.

What had you been doing in the interim?

We've been doing jobs and arty stuff. Musically, I've got a new band called Easter Sun that's based in London and Kev has one called Blackthorn Crescent. Graham's a graphic designer (Graham: “I did the artwork for the ‘Hold On’ 12” and my brother Gavin took all the groovy photos for the first LP.” Rob: “Hang on, my brother Denis did the artwork for ‘Hold On’. You’ve gone mad!”) and Tim's a photographer.

Are 14 Iced Bears writing and performing new music?

There's no intention at the moment of recording any new songs. That all depends on Geffen eventually getting back to us… You never know, if it felt right and the songs started coming then we'd do it, but we’ve no plans right now. I'm concentrating on Easter Sun.

What are your thoughts on the revival of interest in indiepop?

It's great that people are still interested in this sort of stuff. We were really into the 60s during the 80s, so it's great that our era is still making people happy. I think the internet has made a big difference, and Slumberland releasing our compilation in the US helped a lot.

Apart from your namecheck in Tullycraft's 'Twee', has anyone else cited you as an influence?

I don't remember when I first heard about the Tullycraft song. It's nice to get a mention, although I'm not sure about all this twee business. When we first started out no one called it twee, I think. It was more of a reaction to all the goth darkness around. I remember getting excited by the fact that the Mary Chain, Pastels, June Brides and Primal Scream had great pop melodies more than anything. I think we deviated from the twee side because we ended up taking too many drugs! Hey, if you can remember the 80s, 90s and 00s you weren't really there, to paraphrase Mother Teresa. The only cover versions of our songs I know of are by The Aislers Set (‘Balloon Song’) and Pam Berry from Black Tambourine (‘Cut’). Not really sure who, if anyone, cites us as an influence, although ‘Lucky Man’ by The Verve sounds a bit like ‘Hold On’. Just sayin’...

How much 14 Iced Bears music is still available?

I think our stuff's hard to find physically but you can get us online at or iTunes or Spotify. I think Slumberland may have some CDs to sell at Indietracks as they've just found some old ones or something. I've got a few 'Mother Sleep' 12”s hanging around my room too, but I don't know if I'll be able to bring them up.

Finally, is there anyone on the Indietracks bill you're looking forward to seeing live, or catching up with socially?

I'm just hoping to catch loads of bands and get very social with everyone! I’ve never been before and really looking forward to it. It's our first proper festival too. Cheers!

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