As 2019 approached its end Bad Sounds were flying. They had a new EP on the way, had just played a sold out headline show at London’s Colours Hoxton venue, and all was how it should be. Smooth sailing right? A global pandemic will swiftly bring that idea to an end.
With the world thrown into meltdown, what does that leave for Callum and Ewan Merrett the Bad Sounds brothers? Well they did what all good creative kinds do, and kept on creating.
Releasing the first part of their ongoing ‘Escaping from a Violent Time’ EP at the start of 2020, volume two would follow in January of last year, and now with new single ‘Heart Attacks’ released yesterday (Friday 3rd of March), volume 3 is just around the corner.
“The next song is set to come out on the 3rd of March, and the EP will drop shortly after that,” Callum told us last week. “It’s 5 tracks on Volume Three, so by the time the EP is out, we’ll have released four of the five tracks.”
“I think that’s just the way people are releasing music now. I used to really care about that stuff, but now I’m much more excited to be making the music, and somebody who does marketing or PR can decide how it needs to be released.”
It’s not just Bad Sounds music that Callum is excited to be making, the duo have had a hand in multiple songs from various names across the indie genre and beyond, one such single was Hard MF 2 Luv the 3:23 belter from the duo’s upcoming EP. Callum has called it his favourite Bad Sounds song yet, but it initially looked to be destined for a completely different artist:
“I remember in our old sh*tty studio we were writing for other people,” Callum remarked. “And we hadn’t written a Bad Sounds song in quite a long time. I remember Ewan had planned to give it to one of the other artists we were working with. He just played it on acoustic guitar, sang me that chorus, and I was like, “Nah mate, that’s a Bad Sounds song.’ Because I mean it’s him, he is a a hard motherf*cker to love.
“It really gives me the feels that one. You spend quite a lot of time with a song as you’re writing it, recording it, mixing it, and I still get chills on that last chorus.”
Bad Sounds as an act have ultimately grown up in one of the most interesting periods of change the music industry has seen in some time. They started in 2015, and in that time CDs have become more archaic, vinyl sales in the UK have hit their highest point in decades, and the rise of TikTok and Spotify amongst others has changed the way the general population listens to music.
The group released several EPs in the build-up to their only album to date 2018’s Get Better, but in the time since like many their focus has returned to EPs, with that in mind does Callum believe releasing an album is as vital to a band’s success as it once was?
“I think you kind of need to put out an album at some point,” Callum noted. “I think looking back there were certain festivals, and radio support, that really stepped up a notch when we announced we were releasing an album, because it feels like a big deal. It feels quite official to have an album out.
“I do feel though that a lot of it is just music industry bullsh*t. Everybody kind of listens to music slightly differently now, both from each other, and really differently from how people used to listen to music 15 years ago. It’s why a lot of artists are just releasing singles now, and not even bothering with EPs, as it’s how their audience listens to their music.
“We’re not going to only do EPs, and we’re not going to only do albums either. For Escaping from a Violent Time, it felt like a continuous thread from start to finish so it made sense to release that in instalments.”
As aforementioned it’s not just Bad Sounds that Callum and Ewan have been focusing on, the pair have constantly been offering their services to other bands and artists, something that Callum credits for keeping the pair sane:
“We’re lucky we have the co-write thing, we have other projects that allow us to keep doing what we’re doing. When Get Better came out, and we signed to a label, all we had was Bad Sounds, it was our life. If it went belly up, then what are we going to do? But now, we’re spinning a few different plates, and we’re really lucky to get to do that.
“Because if through COVID we were just doing that, then I don’t think we would have recovered from it. I’d probably be back working in a suit shop right about now.”
Photo credited to @oliviaahw
“I think it becomes a far less selfish endeavour,” Callum said on working with others. ”You have to really be considerate to what the other artist wants to do, what they want to write about, what their voice is in terms of who they are, and be less forceful with the ‘This is what we want to do with it.’
“The first question is always what kind of music do you want to make, regardless of what they’re currently doing. Sometimes people will come in and say they don’t love the music they’ve put out, and they want to make music like this or that, and that’s really fun.
“There’s also a lot of freedom that comes with that, because as artists we’re aware of a lot of the structures in place, where it’s this is who we are, this is what we do, this is the only thing we do. When you’re writing for somebody else, you’re not aware of those structures anymore as they don’t apply anymore. It doesn’t have to be a Bad Sounds song, it doesn’t have to be soul influenced, and we’re quite eclectic. That tends to come in handy when you’re in a writing session.”
There’s clearly an immense pride in Callum for the work he and Ewan have put out as writers. The duo helped write Arlo Parks’ 2021 song Bluish from her Mercury Prize winning debut album, and have continued to go from strength to strength as co-writers for a host of names:
“We’ve worked with Rose Gray, we did a track on the first Arlo Parks record, which was one of the first things we worked on.” Callum joyfully announced whilst proudly showing off the Gold Record they received for their work on Bluish.
“There’s a Jazz singer called Lady Blackbird who’s doing really well,” He continued. We’re working with KAWALA, we haven’t released anything with them yet but one of the ones we’ve worked on I believe is coming out soon. There’s a whole bunch of different people. There’s this girl Nectar Woode who we’re really excited about, she’s really new and hasn’t really put much stuff out, but we really love working with her, she’s great.
“For me it helps us write Bad Sounds songs as well. Not only is it practice as you’re writing 2/3 songs a week, your taste develops, the things you’d be scared of trying in a Bad Sounds song you try in someone else’s, and you think ‘Ooh I really liked that, maybe we can find a home for that in a Bad Sounds track.’ It’s definitely one of the best things we’ve ever done.”
It may have been over three years since Bad Sounds’ last headline show, that’s not to say that Callum hasn’t been on tour in some capacity. Making up part of Willie J Healey’s band, Callum has just finished touring the UK supporting Florence + The Machine:
“It’s such a different show what we do with Bad Sounds, compared to being in Willie’s band,” He noted. “Both of which I love, but it’s like flexing a different muscle. I’m one of the two front men of Bad Sounds, in Willie’s band I’m playing keys and a bit of guitar and singing backing vocals in the back.
“It’s really nice as there’s no pressure on me really, other than to play the parts right and to sing in tune. But, there’s no pressure to sell tickets, or if you’ve had a bad show sometimes you don’t want to go out and say hello to people at the front. We’ve always made a point out of doing it [as Bad Sounds] because it’s important to us to make sure we’re meeting the people that have come to see us. When I play with Willie though, they don’t care about me, they’re here to see Willie J Healey.
“I have had a couple of Bad Sounds fans come up to us like, ‘Oh my God! I didn’t realise you were in his band.’ That’s actually been a really nice thing about joining his band, is getting to travel the country again and realise…” He paused, gathering his thoughts.
“Because we’ve [Bad Sounds] been off the grid in a way for such a long time, we almost forgot that people gave a sh*t. So it’s really nice to meet people who are still into what we’re doing, and keen to see us live again when we’re out again.”
“I’d love to do a couple of shows this year. We don’t have any dates, but I think it would be really nice to just do a couple of small ones, and just touch base. It’d likely be a lot of people who have seen us before and just missed the show. I think the show will be slightly different as well, our lives have changed so much, we’re different people now.”
Despite the absence of almost any Bad Sounds live shows in the past few years, they’ve still managed to maintain an audience. Through the EP releases, and their impressive back catalogue the duo still pull in over 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify as of the time of writing.
It’s a big audience their music is reaching, one that only grew when hit song Wages off their aforementioned debut album took one of the spots on the FIFA 18 soundtrack, something Callum continues to look back on fondly:
“I wouldn’t say there are many negatives to it to be honest,” Callum said. “We’re not gamers, and we’re not really football fans, so it was really exciting to see our friends and family who are into both of those things go absolutely nuts when they found out we were in it, and also how annoying it became for them when they actually bought the game and had to listen to us all the time.
“It’s a big deal, because it’s a lot of people that you would never reach with your music if you were not on that soundtrack. Wages was on the soundtrack, and we almost always ended our sets with Wages, not because of that, but because it was a good one to end on. And, we’d see people at festivals who had either been dragged along with their friends to watch us, or didn’t really know who we were, but, as soon as those horns started it’d be ‘OH! FIFA Song!’ And the whole mood would shift in the audience, so it could be a bit of a saving Grace sometimes that people just recognised it.
“One festival we did, I was out in the front, right in the audience's faces and some guy just grabbed the mic, but didn’t know the words and so ‘just shouted duh duh duh, this song’s on FIFA.’ It’s the sort of thing you can get from it. Only good things came from it for us.
“We had a co-write on it this year with Rose Gray. She had a track called ‘Prettier Than You’ which we co-wrote, so we’ve kind of been on it twice in a way, but people will never know.
With a new EP just about to come out, and a possible return to the live stage for Bad Sounds, the sky is once again the limit for Bad Sounds. With all that in mind though, and all they’ve already achieved as a pair, what is it that Callum wants to achieve more than anything with Bad Sounds?
“It is a cool job, and I feel very lucky that we get to do this,” Callum admitted “The answer to your question is that it changes every day. Some days I wake up and I get crazy ambitious with it, and I want Bad Sounds to be arena level, I think that originally was our goal, to get to that household name status.
But most days, I want to create something that has integrity, I want to be able to live my life relatively carefree, and just support myself and my family from it. I don’t think I want to be famous anymore, I always said that before but I think through COVID I actually did want it when I was younger, but now it’s less important to me. I do want to entertain people, and I want to be remembered.
Ultimately, I want to leave something behind and have touched people, or moved people with what we do. Provided we can support ourselves financially as we do it, then I don’t think the fame thing is a big deal anymore.”
You can keep up with Bad Sounds at realbadsounds on Instagram. Additionally, you can stream their new song Heart Attacks now on all major music streaming sites.