Do Nothing: Usurpers of the Post-Punk Throne
The Nottingham music scene is one which boasts a vast variety of emergent talent. From impassioned singer-songwriters committed to tales of heartbreak and regrettable inebriation, to an electrifying new assortment of rappers, producers and hip-hop troupes. All are admirable; constantly circumventing the city’s revered venue circuit in order to hone their craft and take a stab at the mainstream. But some acts have earned their stripes. Some acts are reared and ready for the big stage, with a winning live formula and an enigmatic, twisted charisma. Come November 21st, Chris Bailey puts a stadium slot with Interpol and a gripping Bodega sell-out behind him, and leads Do Nothing into their biggest headline gig to date: a triumphant homecoming show at Rescue Rooms. The Mic speaks to the man behind the riveting ramblings and the enthralling stage presence.
It would be tempting to begin by unveiling the origins of a cryptic musical entity such as Do Nothing; the frontman is well-known around bars and smoking areas in Nottingham, but often the true story of a rapidly emerging band gets lost in the shuffle of PR images and single release cycles. Consisting of Chris Bailey (vocals), Kasper Sandstrom (guitar), Charles Howarth (bass) and Andrew Harrison (drums), Do Nothing are, however, a band of the present, a band with an immediate sound which demands relevance, and thus it seems only logical to first capture a snapshot in the life of the frontman, back in his hometown and caught between whirlwind international festival slots.
"I want to make a career out of being in music, which is a ridiculous thing to want."
‘We just got back from Hamburg and we’re going to Vienna very early Thursday morning to play Waves Festival for a showcase thing, so that should be good. We just did another one in Hamburg, and that was a really good venue, crowd and stuff.’ In true Chris fashion, he is soon sidetracked by something less routine, more frivolous, but more fun. ‘We went to the Miniatur Wunderland, which is just a massive model village thing with cities and there’s like thousands of teeny-tiny hand-painted people, and there’s cars that move with magnets and they give way to each other and shit, it’s crazy. Literally they indicate at roundabouts and stuff,’ he then transitions seamlessly back into band formalities, as if the idiosyncrasies of his life as a touring musician are intertwined with the observations he makes on the road. ‘So there’s that, and we’re releasing a single early November called LeBron James, and we’re doing some UK dates around the release of that including the big hometown Rescue show on the 21st.’
One of the most admirable qualities about Do Nothing is their constant resistance to complacency, whether that be in their layered lyrics and escalating instrumental arrangements, or in the amount of air miles in their touring schedule. It’s easy, especially for guitar bands, to become overly comfortable in their home city, satisfied with the ability to pull 40 people into a room on a Friday night. Chris, however, views touring through a refreshingly adventurous lens. ‘I’m of the opinion that it’s always good to be playing anywhere that isn’t your hometown. Not that I don’t like playing in my hometown; those are obviously the best shows, but it’s really easy to saturate it and, unless you’re changing really quickly, you can’t be expected to bring something new to the table every week. And I just like playing in other places; it’s a more interesting day and it’s good to get out of Nottingham for a while. I’ve played enough gigs now that, as fun as they are, there’s something else in them that I’m trying to achieve.’
The inference must be that there was once a time where the bigger picture wasn’t quite as expansive as the current vision for the future of Do Nothing is (Chris has ‘lived in Nottingham all his life’), and the frontman clears up that the present iteration is a recent one, but the band have been making music alongside each other for much longer. ‘We’ve been playing together for years and years since we were kids and teenagers under various different guises, but this project specifically has been going for two years. We’d been part of the Nottingham scene for a while, we took a big break, and it took us about a year to really figure out which direction to go in. We used to play more ambient music together, and I sorta decided I didn’t really like that music anymore. I like it again now but in a different way to back then. We just figured out exactly what we wanted to do, and then went off and did it.’
"A lot of the time people who could be doing really well or have the talent for it just haven’t yet stumbled upon the right people to help them do it. It’s hard to do it on your own."
In many ways, the group’s sell-out headline show at their spiritual home The Bodega back in March of this year felt like a send-off to the mid-card of the UK indie scene, and with airplay on BBC Radio 1’s Indie Show and a stratospheric support slot for Interpol at the 8,500 capacity Adrenaline Stadium in Moscow back in June, there is no doubt that Do Nothing have done their loyal hometown fanbase proud. But upon being asked if there was a single moment in which it felt like the art rock-post punk genre benders had ascended into the realm of popular recognition, Chris offers a more humble response, rooted in self-belief and a passion for music. ‘This is the only thing I do,’ he proclaims in candid fashion. ‘I’ve always been completely focussed on this. I want to make a career out of being in music, which is a ridiculous thing to want. It’s the dumbest thing, it never happens to people and it’s just a nightmare and an exhausting industry. But this is what I want to be doing all the time.’
Bailey offers no tangible epiphanic moment, but instead relays the wisdom gained from the constant pursuit of success as an independent artist. ‘In terms of realising that it might be working for once, it’s when you assemble a good team around yourselves. It’s easy to say that it’s all to do with the music and the shows but having a good manager and a good agent is really important. They do really good work to help a band do what they need to. A lot of the time people who could be doing really well or have the talent for it just haven’t yet stumbled upon the right people to help them do it. It’s hard to do it on your own.’
Despite the apparent complexities, obstacles and intricacies of the modern music industry, Chris’ direct and organic approach to making a success of a project points very simply to two key elements: a practical vision, surrounded by the right people, and good music at the heart of the artistic venture. The latter is something yet to be addressed, but it undoubtedly makes up the core of why Do Nothing are such an enticing prospect in the world of underground rock.
"I like things that tread lines, I like stuff that’s enough weird that it’s interesting, and enough conventional that it’s catchy and can be meaningful easily."
Latest single Gangs is the band’s biggest diversion from traditional indie rock to date, yet its infectious drum and guitar progression and tipsy social commentary have drawn more eyes to Do Nothing than ever before. With 15, 20, 30 listens, the apparent isolated, abstract assertions from Chris begin to weave themselves together into a coherent diatribe on rejection, rebellion and growing up in post-modern England. Bailey’s soaring conviction and pretentiousness are cause for a listener to debate how much of the lyricism was pre-meditated, and how much was merely spontaneous rhetoric which so happened to come together into a compelling statement, but Chris is quick to put to bed the idea that any element of Gangs was coincidental. ‘I’m not riffing at all. A lot of stand-up comedians that I like do their material in a way which makes them seem like they’re just rambling off the top of their head. Dylan Moran is a good example – it seems like he’s just improvising sometimes, but really it’s meticulously thought out. Especially with songs like Gangs and some of the more rambly material; it’s made to seem like it’s just a shambles, but it’s super focussed. I was up till like five in the morning last night, just staring at a fucking screen. I copy, paste, cut and change – a lot of it’s in my phone – until there’s hopefully not a line in it that makes me feel spooky. They all have to be pretty much bang on, which is a horrible process. You lose your mind all the way through the night.’
It would be a mistake, however, to focus wholly on the obtuse allure of the latest single – Handshakes offers a melodic, more conventional yet erratic dimension to the Do Nothing sound, whilst Waitress is an estranged, brooding tune, prone to a dark and seductive breakdown both instrumentally and vocally. Gangs does channel many of Bailey’s passions as well as the popularity of more spoken approaches on the mic in today’s rock, but the direction of the band’s future material is still a moot point inside the mind of the frontman. ‘I’m trying to figure [our direction] out right now,’ he reveals.
‘We’ve got a whole bunch of material, I guess technically enough to make a record, but it’ll be a long time until we’ve got the right material to make a record because it wants to feel like a real cohesive thing rather than a collection of tunes we’ve had for ages. I like things that tread lines, I like stuff that’s enough weird that it’s interesting, and enough conventional that it’s catchy and can be meaningful easily. I love classic songs, and they’re classics for a reason – they have this thing about them that makes them strike a certain chord. I wouldn’t wanna say ‘we’ve decided to be a post-punk band so let’s have our first album be this adulterated post-punk thing.’ After having been a musician for so many years, I wouldn’t like to have the record that we make just be the thing that we were doing at that time. I’d want it to be a thing in itself.’
"I was up till like five in the morning last night, just staring at a fucking screen. I copy, paste, cut and change – a lot of it’s in my phone – so I just do that until there’s hopefully not a line in it that makes me feel spooky."
A band calculating their every move, carefully considering every lyric, and refusing to prematurely unleash every song in their arsenal onto the world is strangely refreshing in a genre saturated with conventional indie bands whose debut records are filled with pre-released singles, reproduced merely to please a major label. Do Nothing are established figures on the Nottingham scene for sure, but the combination of a flawless catalogue and an exhilarating live show has put them right behind the likes of Fontaines D.C. as primed perpetrators of the vibrant post-punk revival scene. In Chris Bailey, they have a vocalist with a unique conception of the role of a frontman on a stage, and an even more unique knowledgebase to fill the space in their driving instrumentals with informed lyrical constructions, which stand out in their ability to formulate characters and storylines from a seemingly ramshackle collection of phrases and quotations. Unlike the band name and the stumbling on-stage persona of their frontman, Bailey’s quartet are never idle in their inevitable ascension up through festival posters and the music industry alike.
Do Nothing play Rescue Rooms in Nottingham on Thursday 21st November, tickets are available here.
‘The MicCast Episode #3 Chris Bailey of Do Nothing’ will be released on Soundcloud and Apple Podcasts on Friday 18th October at 5pm.