INTERVIEW: THE REYTONS. No label. No backing. No.1?

RESOUND caught up with Rotherham indie four-piece The Reytons in Glasgow over the weekend to chat about their newly released album What’s Rock And Roll, vocalist Jonny Yerrell telling us “if we don’t get a number one on Friday, the following Monday we’re back in the studio working on album three. If we do get a number one, we’ll take a week off then get back into the studio.” 

You drive a hard bargain Jonny…but is this looming graft news to bassist Lee Holland, guitarist Joe O’Brien and drummer Jamie Todd? Nope, not at all, the four of them acutely focussed on the same goal which has found them repeatedly stuck in the studio until 3am, sacrificing nights out, family events and holidays to get to this point. And if the midweek tally of the UK’s Official Albums Chart is anything to go by, the second option is one step closer to reality as the album takes up the number one spot. Of course, topping the chart is a big deal for most artists but what makes this all the more special is the fact that this album, the follow up to 2021’s debut The Kids Off The Estate, has been released fully independent of any record label.

Jonny Yerrell of The Reytons performing at Barrowland, Glasgow | Pic: Calum Mackintosh

With a motto of ‘No label. No backing. All Reytons’, Holland admits “we’ll do absolutely anything we can to succeed and this time we’re doing just that. Of course by doing it all ourselves there are a lot more roles to take on, but most importantly we keep that creative control.” However, this doesn’t come cheap and with no financial backing, they originally invested all their money into the band until it starting paying enough for them to give up their jobs, with everything now reinvested back into this album. There’s even a photo of a villa in Ibiza stuck to their office fridge to keep them motivated, no that they appear to need any incentives. Admittedly this isn’t the route for everyone and they’re not here to preach about any perceived evils of record labels, but rather to illustrate that at this moment in time it’s the perfect solution for them.

Five years on from founding the band, Yerrell recognises that they’re more prepared this time round than with The Kids Off The Estate, which was released under an independent label. “I feel like mentally as a band we’re a lot more prepared for what’s about to happen with the second album. We’ve had a record deal in the past but wanted to keep as independent as possible for this one. We were so hands on with the first album anyway and it was such a massive learning curve but now I feel like we’ve ironed out a lot of the creases and are really prepared.”

And of the number one spot? “We’re really, really confident,” he declares.

I mean, we’ve been meeting people today and asking them ‘do you think we can get a number one?’ and they’ve said ‘well the top ten would be nice’ and we’re like have some f**king belief!”

Holland nods, recalling how The Kids Off The Estate went into the album chart at number 11 during a week of stiff competition from the likes of Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. “It was a tough week, we did everything we could and ended up at number 11.” He seems a bit despondent about what many would see as a fine chart position and it’s clear that these guys won’t be satisfied until they hit the top spot. He goes on to say that the first album release felt like unfinished business, seeing What’s Rock And Roll as a continuation of it, something echoed by Yerrell. “There’s only a year between the two albums coming out so it’s kind of like an extension of the first album, and where that one has a lot more nostalgia to it, with social commentary reflecting back on us growing up and where we come from, the new album is more about how it is now.”

It’s that no-frills take on everyday life in the 2020s that’s at the very battered heart of What’s Rock And Roll. Numbers like Istanbul and 15 Minutes In The Algorithm take a rye look at the delusions of the fame-hungry, self-obsessed generation, articulated over gutsy baseline grooves and hook-laden guitar. Meanwhile Little Bastards explores the plight of the disadvantaged in a broken system and Uninvited is a bit of a poke at the industry, infused with a cynical surge of punk. Although some of this can sound grim on paper, as real life plays out, their songs are littered with wit and banter, not to mention some mighty fine driving guitar riffs in a sound at times reminiscent of early Arctic Monkeys.

In the build up to the album’s release, the band teased fans with a soap-like music video trilogy, demonstrating their ability to tell a story in another format. Written, directed and filmed by their good selves, they’re a creative bunch these Reytons with Yerrell keen for them to do it again. “Its all about creating stories about normal people living normal lives whether it’s for a song or a film.” 

But it’s fair to say that their old songs, and without doubt these new ones, are best played live, where the band ignite a riotous tribal-like unity, selling out venues up and down the country such as Glasgow’s Barrowlands and London’s Electric Ballroom as word spreads of their raw, raucous musicianship and delightful depictions of the day-to-day. They’re even on target to sell out the 13,600 capacity Utilita Arena Sheffield for their homecoming show in September.

Meanwhile Holland’s back on the trail of that number one and eager to point out what will happen if they do reach the top spot on Friday.

You’re not going to see us lift the trophy, you’re going to see the whole general public lift it – this is for us all, for the working classes.”

He goes on to say that it’s not the number one that’s important but rather “being acknowledged”, a sentiment felt by many in the DIY music sector. O’Brien adds, “we’ve had a lot of door shutters, and it’s not anything against anybody really, it’s just that we can do this and we believe in ourselves.”

Thankfully some doors have also opened for them over the years, O’Brien explaining that they were fortunate to have access to the BBC Introducing platform in their early days, while raising his concerns around the threatened cut backs to this service. “It’s difficult enough for independent artists to get their music out there – these kind of platforms were so important to us and for this to be potentially stripped away is another knock back for independent artists.”

The Reytons live at Barrowland, Glasgow, 24.11.22 | Pic: Calum Mackintosh

With inclusion on radio playlists a battle for most independent artists, Yerrell alludes to the integrity of some playlists as he proudly declares that 

we’ve got over a million genuine monthly listeners (on Spotify) and I’d rather that than 5000 monthly listeners along with some radio airplay.”

He does however concur that outside mainstream daytime radio there’s a lot of good stuff going on and appreciates those championing new music such as Radio 1’s Jack Saunders, who’s behind the band all the way.

But I’ve got to ask, if they hit their target on Friday and a major label lays an offer on the table on Saturday morning, would they consider signing it… even a teeny-weeny bit? O’Brien sets me straight from the start, “well, we’ll not have stopped drinking until around Tuesday so probably not.” Ok, ok, so give it week, guys…would you? 

Unsurprisingly, it’s something they’ve considered, Yerrell revealing that they’ve had a few offers over the last few months from some major and independent labels including “a very generous one” which they declined. Naturally there was no way they were going to let someone else in on all that hard work so late in the day and who can blame them from walking away for that one? That said, he’s first to confess that “as much as I’m stubborn and I know where I’ve come from, if someone was to present us with enough money to change my life and my family’s life forever then who knows? Never say never.” He then breaks into a grin, “of course, the answer I want to give is no!” Ah don’t worry Jonny, the fact is no one knows what’s round the corner and today’s trivialities can become tomorrow’s priorities at the flick of a switch, especially with the current cost of living crisis. But coming this far, it’s unlikely these guys will be giving away creative control any time soon, something which resonates with O’Brien.

With the financial side and the creative side, it’s getting the balance really. We need to have creative freedom. These are the songs we want to write, this is what we want to sound like, act like, dress like and so on.”

Holland continues “we’d need to be in the driving seat because we’ve proved that we can do it. I’ve been both broke and in a job that pays really good money and you know what, in the middle of it all, as long as any deal keeps us free and keeps us creative, that’s fine!” 

With the Scottish leg of their record signing trip over with, the early starts are beginning to take their toll and they’re struggling to finish their pints. But they’re on the final run with no intention of throwing in the towel now, Holland laughing as he sums up the mood.

This isn’t England in the World Cup final but this is OUR World Cup final and we’ve been kicking the ball for a long time now.”

Hmm I hope they do better than that bunch and their ball makes it home, but you’ve got to love their optimism…they’ve even got the official chart statue as screensavers on their phones. This time next year will they be stalking a BRIT award?

Yerrell has the last word, loosening up and smirking, “Anyway…if it doesn’t go to number one can you delete all that?” Not a chance lads, but I have every faith!

What’s Rock and Roll Cover

What’s Rock And Roll is selling out fast from any good record outlet.

Words and interview by Shirley Mack @musingsbymarie