Do the best bands come out of nowhere? Maybe as far as your general music consuming public is concerned, yes. One moment a band is in complete obscurity – they might as well not even walk the face of this earth – then suddenly they achieve that most prized of all things: a spot on the Radio 1 playlist, a top 40 hit, the gigs sell out. But no band ever comes from nowhere. They always come from somewhere.
Russian Gun Dogs are a band who are acutely aware of where they come from. You can hear it in their music and you can see it written on their faces. For they are ‘Coventry kids’ – you know, that place just outside Birmingham, in the West Midlands (I know you’re doing the accent in your head), that was bombed to bits in the Second World War. Oh yeah, Coventry. Now what else is that famous for?
Well, there’s the declining fortunes of Coventry City Football Club (RGD are big supporters), who don’t even play their home matches in the city anymore, something that riles the band as much as anyone else. And, of course, there is the city’s rich musical heritage: Two Tone, Ska, The Specials, The Selecter, The Primitives, The Enemy… need I go on?
It is this sense of geography and of history that makes Russian Gun Dogs undeniably a Coventry band down to their bones. But what is also evident is their absolute passion for what they do – and a glint of ambition in their eyes to mobilise their forces and take over the world.
The Gun Dogs – led by Wireless Operator (lead singer and frontman) Paul Watters – are a tight, well-rehearsed outfit with that thing that surely all music labels desire: an image, a complete package of not only amazingly good songs – some of them truly anthemic – but a sense of direction that is evident in everything from their logo to their stylised band images and the cover artwork of their two, self-financed, independent single releases to date.
Survive is an anthem of struggle in the face of adversity that highlights our inability, at times, to question what is inherently wrong (‘None of this seems right, but who am I?’) and Surrender is an anthem of the heart, where the singer pleads for the listener to wave a white flag of submission to his affections (I’m sure many fans will).
RGD ‘trade in dark-wave indie’. Thought has gone into how they pitch themselves to their future fans and in their group photos they undoubtedly look like an indie band: a motley crew of varying heights and haircuts staring blankly but intensely at the camera.
All of the band’s ‘Wing Commanders’ have an equitable and vital role to play in what you sense is a band as tight in their relationships with one another as they are in their musical renditions.
Newest band member, drummer Kirk Savage, provides a driving rhythm for the Gun Dogs’ upbeat tracks and a sultry backing beat for the band’s darker numbers. Bassist Tom Bailey delivers pounding, bouncing bass lines that pull RGD’s sound together and pin it to the floor, at times reminiscent of Peter Hook on the band’s notably new wave inspired tracks. These appear to ooze influences from Joy Division through to fellow Midlanders, Editors. It’s perhaps not surprising to find out, then, that RGD have spent time in the studio with producer, Gavin Monaghan.
Russian Gun Dogs are, at their heart, a guitar driven band, with minimalist but killer guitar hooks and shimmering guitar crescendos, provided by Phil Morley, both in evidence in their, as yet unreleased, back catalogue.
Meanwhile, the band’s perfect integration of a more electronic sound courtesy of the melodic synthesised lines of Tom Goodwin is becoming more and more evident as RGD’s sound evolves. No more so is this in evidence than on the band’s first chosen single release, Survive, which unashamedly drips with pretty keyboard melodies.
But it is their frontman who is undoubtedly the Squad Commander of these talented recruits. As well as being lead vocalist and chief lyricist, you sense that Watters – a fine art graduate from a former polytechnic (well, he had to be, really) – is the driving force of the band’s direction and ambition.
Here is someone who has very probably had to defend his hometown, his background, his choice of educational establishment and his football club on numerous occasions. But then, the maligned often demonstrate the most pride in their roots.
Russian Gun Dogs have convinced Coventrians of their greatness, the label ‘Coventry heroes’ being frequently used in local press reviews. They were selected as a BBC Introducing act for Coventry and Warwickshire last year and shared a stage with the likes of Mallory Knox and Maximo Park at this year’s record attendance Godiva Festival. There, they proved their ability to connect with someone across a field of hundreds (for that is where this writer first saw them) just as well as in the small, dark side rooms of city centre music venues.
During a recent short set supporting The Pigeon Detectives at Coventry’s Kasbah, much like a manager decides not to select his most experienced players for a friendly, RGD used the opportunity to try out some new material and carefully packaged it with their singles to test their audible direction.
Although older tracks like Lights – a sexy, post punk love song – were sadly missing, new songs like Invincible slotted neatly alongside their established ones. But the move towards a more-rounded sound, where guitar and synth fire in equal rounds, is definitely evident.
In fact, when they’re not observational, quite a lot of Russian Gun Dogs’ lyrics concern affairs of the heart, so maybe these guys are lovers, not fighters, after all: heroes with a heart. And they certainly wear their hearts on their sleeves as much as they do their commitment to the band, each other and CCFC (see Watters’ band tattoo and his arm scribblings at the Godiva Festival). It’s not exactly ‘4 REAL’ but it still shows passion and no fear of showing it.
So, RGD, we await your next tactical move in your propaganda campaign to win hearts and minds. 2014 could be the time of your life.
See Russian Gun Dogs live:
15 March 2014 at Water Rats, 328 Grays Inn Road, Kings Cross, London WC1X 8BZ
Russian Gun Dogs’ latest single, Surrender, is available to download on iTunes now. Watch the video trailer:
Watch Russian Gun Dogs’ video for Survive: