“You can find out a lot about what you’re doing by f*cking up a little bit”: Puppy dig into their Pure Evil return

Where 2019’s debut LP The Goat found London metallers Puppy infiltrating the upper echelons of Britrock, killer follow-up Pure Evil is all about rekindling the freewheeling juvenilia that got them there in the first place…

“You can find out a lot about what you’re doing by f*cking up a little bit”: Puppy dig into their Pure Evil return
Sam Law
Bob Foster

If the title to Puppy’s second LP sounds like a bit of a piss-take, that’s because it is.

The kind of exclamation generally reserved for characters in shonky B-level horror flicks, and battle-jacketed nerds digging into the darkest corners of their record collections, Pure Evil isn’t the most accurate description of the London trio’s blend of poppy hooks, alt. grit and traditional metal heft, but it does reflect the irreverence of the players within. This isn’t a band driven by macho posturing, pompous virtuosity or the pursuit of some kind of ‘kvlt’ credibility. It’s all about having fun making the music they love regardless of how weird, or naff, other people might deem it to be.

“I think the binding energy for Puppy has always been leaning into those juvenile excitements that you first get from music when you’re like 12 or 13,” begins drummer Billy Howard Price, balancing perceptiveness and playfulness throughout our chat. “We’ve always [erred towards] being a little bit stupid. When we react to something that seems funny or dumb, it’s normally a good sign, and there’s generally a little bit more to it than that. We trust that juvenile instinct. When we overthink things, we can dilute them a little bit.”

Vocalist/guitarist Jock Norton cracks a wide smile.

“Our default mode is to just be silly,” he continues, gesturing back to how he and Billy – old school friends – originally bonded with bass guitarist Will Michael over the Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure soundtrack while working together in a London bar. “At the same time, we put so much effort into the music that we have the confidence that we don’t need to be the guys throwing up our middle fingers for photo-shoots, talking about how intense we are, or how ‘This is the craziest fuckin’ album ever.’ When you’re 14, Axl Rose is the coolest guy in the world, but then you grow up and realise he’s actually a fuckin’ idiot!”

“It seems ridiculous to be making guitar music in 2022,” Billy runs with the point. “There are so many different things going on, and so many different types of music that seem to be more radical and more relevant that you have to acknowledge the slightly weird dynamics of being in a guitar band that references Ozzy Osbourne, Weezer and Manowar in equal measure. It’s important to recognise the ridiculousness of Puppy without making it a joke.”

Every band dropping an album nowadays has their own take on the lockdown narrative: isolation and uncertainty combined with almost unlimited time for trying new things. Puppy are reluctant to labour the point, but circumstances conspired for them to inject more of their light-hearted experimentalism into album number two than ever before. “We decided to build our own studio,” shrugs Jock, boiling down the story of Pure Evil. “A few things fell through a few times, understandably, so we made a conscious decision to invest in our future and secure our ability to work on music together. It was a big leap for us. But we had nothing but time, and nothing to lose.”

The space once known as Sound Savers in Homerton, Hackney, east London was actually where Puppy recorded their self-titled 2015 debut EP and 2017 follow-up Vol. II. After it ceased trading in late 2018, the band had taken it over as a rehearsal space, but it was only when they found themselves at the mother of all loose ends that they realised it could be resurrected as a studio for album number two. It was only when that process was well underway that they realised the room still fizzled with the excitement, uncertainty and energy of their earliest days together.

“When we did [2019’s] The Goat, it felt like we were very much in the ‘big leagues’ now,” muses Jock. “We were these three idiots who’d been hanging around in a practice room trying to join the dots between the music we liked who’d just made it to the grown-ups’ table. It felt like there was a bit of anticipation – like there were eyes on us. There’s always that pressure as a new-ish band to have that ‘elevator pitch’ of what your band is, and to be able to look at a picture of the members, listen to one song and say, ‘I get this.’ You know which magazine they belong in, which bands they tour with. With this, it was almost back to square one. That rollercoaster of touring, festival dates, fancy studios and deadlines was stripped away, and we were back in that place where it all began. We had no eyes on us because they were – quite rightly – focused on other things.”

The band had always been DIY when it came to music videos, artwork and merch, but never before when it came to laying down the songs themselves. Aside from working with Rory Attwell recording drums, and allowing another mate, Cody Brown, to have a crack at mixing, they self-produced entirely, allowing for complete control and liberation through experimentation.

“We’ve always really liked bands who approach things with that handmade, lo-fi sensibility,” says Billy, also referencing the ragged inspiration of movies like The Evil Dead and Cannibal! The Musical. “When we mention the Beastie Boys as a big influence, it’s obviously not in the rap that we don’t do, but in how they had their own clothing, a really personal slant on their videos, and a that idiosyncratic way they put their influences together. Band like Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh, too. We found it really liberating muddling through the recording process, making a lot of mistakes, but learning along the way.

“Integral to any useful creative process is the space to make mistakes. You find out a lot about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it by fucking up a little bit. That could be drawing a picture or building [a structure]. Certainly, if you’re making music, it’s great to be able to see when something’s terrible be able to re-do it. Especially in London, where time and space are such massive commodities, where everything is so money-oriented, you don’t often get offered that opportunity.”

As well as an evocative title, Pure Evil represents the dichotomy of Puppy’s music: the ‘pure’ poppy hooks being corrupted by ‘evil’ metal riffage. The finished record feels like the ultimate realisation of that. Fizzing by in an effervescent 35-and-a-bit-minutes (none of its 13 tracks exceeding the three-and-a-half-minute mark), the album has a sort of “mixtape” quality, offering countless variations on their trademark formula. Although Puppy’s album was finished by the time it came out, Turnstile’s shapeshifting GLOW ON is acknowledged as a great modern example of the sort of body of work they were going for. Modern Life Is Rubbish by Blur, Angel Dust by Faith No More and Beastie Boys’ Hello Nasty are name-checked, too.

So what exactly is this disparate set of songs about?

“There was never a discussion about how we were going to react to the context in which the album was being made,” reckons Billy. “But things leaked in: the Black Lives Matter movement, people dying through COVID, the lack of an infrastructure for people making music. I think that was emphasised by this being our second album. On the first, you need to lay down a manifesto and have it hit really hard. Your second is the point at which you step back and get a little more introspective anyway. It’s less ‘Imagine yourself on a spooky mountain…’ and a little more existential.”

True to that, the devil is in the detail. The crunchy, fuzzed-up Sacrifice and downbeat indie of Shame see Puppy pushing at new sonic boundaries. Meaty single ...And Watched It Glow is an ode to the freer creative process, cresting on lyrics like ‘Take back control / Swing and miss / Blaze a trail / Do or die…’ The rifftastic Wasted Little Heart, and its more atmospheric counterpart Hear My Word are exercises in “pastiching” spiritual and religious imagery to evoke a sense of hard-rock melodrama. Heart-tugging two-minute instrumental Dear John is a touching ode to a departed friend.

It’s resolutely not a record about the pandemic, mind. “The idea of us having our take on everything going to shit, or feeling like we could on some level alleviate people’s sadness on some level just seemed so self-important,” stresses Jock. “Of course we can’t! We don’t want to seem like those celebrities singing Imagine, so we just went off in the other direction. Maybe it is meaningless... but what the fuck else are we gonna do?”

So, what now that these songs are finally out there in the wild?

With only three Signature Brew shows last June under their belts since the end of 2019, May’s 15-date UK tour and their appearance at July’s 2000trees are high on the list of priorities. After so much time away, we can expect the same adolescent abandon filter into the live shows. “It adds to that energy of being a little green and little naive,” grins Billy. “Funner, stupider stuff happens when you’re blagging it.”

Beyond that, Pure Evil can speak for itself.

“There are a lot of opportunities to second-guess yourself,” reflects Billy. “With the modern musical landscape, social media and all these things, you’re you into that [narrow] way of branding yourself. We, as a band, are a hard sell in a lot of ways: a little too soft for the metal fans and a little too soft for the indie fans. We definitely haven’t made it easy for ourselves. But I’m happy that we’ve come through this album celebrating those characteristics rather than shunning them. “

“It’s kind of weird putting it out there now,” concludes Jock, “because it feels like a postcard to ourselves from this specific period in time, almost as if other people were never meant to hear it. We weren’t thinking about pleasing anyone other than ourselves. It would be great to have people like it, but, really, we’ve already won...”

Pure Evil is out now via Rude Records

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