Puppy in Leeds
Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Wednesday 24th April 2019, £10.00
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A fusion of earth-shattering riffs, earworm melodies and anything-goes experimentation, Puppy's long-awaited debut album The Goat is testament to their go-it-alone attitude. It's sonic concoction that's sure to shock - in a world of modern rock copycats, Puppy sound like nothing else out there - delivered with both a knockout punch and a glowing, silly smile.
We love heavier bands that seem to have something smarter going on, explains frontman and guitarist Jock Norton - who leads the Puppy pack alongside drummer Billy Howard and bassist Will Michael - but then we also love bands that are pretty dumb! he adds with a cackle, citing both Black Sabbath's doomy odes to the occult and Weezer's admission that, really, they were off playing Dungeons & Dragons as two seemingly opposing forces on his early musical ambitions.
Born at the turn of 2015, Puppy emerged from the ashes of a previous, more garage-y sounding project. We just wanted to push the boat out a bit, says Jock, who acts as the band's primary songwriter and sonic wizard. March 2015 debut single 'Forever' quickly nailed those new colours to the mast. Taking the left-field melodic turns of Weezer, the hazy fuzz of Smashing Pumpkins, and the straight-to-the bone sonics of the Big Four of thrash metal, the group's idiosyncratic sound is as unique as their batshit, DIY-or-die approach to the visual side of the group (when they've got nothing band-wise to create, they make viral memes - you may have seen their Matrix-referencing take on England's World Cup prospects) It's a mixing pot of the trio's collective interests and ambitions - a fact that sees Will and Billy produce, directi, shoot, and edit all the band's videos merch designs and even album art - and one that hides a dark, occult-esque heart under its catchy melodies and scream-along, festival-ready choruses.
We had a bit of a wake-up moment, Jock admits of that more conventional, pre-Puppy past, and we just thought, 'Why are we doing stuff that everyone else is doing, without questioning it? From there on out, it was individuality, all the way. That song, 'Forever', has about fifty guitars all layered up, he laughs of their early attempts to inject some bonkers into the mix. We wanted to make more of a celebration and an identity out of our differences, rather than the common threads. Above all, though, they just wanted to create something fucking fun, channeling the assuredness of those yesteryear rockstars into something that eschewed pretension, without ever dipping into pantomime or parody. That approach has seeped into every crack of The Goat - a record that'll inspire grins from even the most grizzled metalheads, and headbanging from the most hesitant indie kids. That's been the mantra of the band, from then even though the sound's developed, we've kept that mentality of wanting to constantly push ourselves and keep chasing and exploring what seems cool to us, says Jock.
It's an approach which initially had its pitfalls, Jock admits while they were more confident than ever in the music they were making, the fact they didn't fit in a box made finding their feet all the more challenging. We were always the lightest band on a heavier bill, or the heaviest band on a lighter bill, he says - occupying a middle ground between the worlds of indie, rock and metal meant finding gig line-ups they could jump on was a Herculean task. Through sheer resilience, self-belief and the storming Vol. 2 EP though, they soon found themselves climbing the ranks of rock royalty. An appearance on Guitar Hero for 'Forever' led straight into a packed-out slot at Download Festival 2016 a festival they were told early on was out of their reach. The following year, they played Glastonbury; soon after that, Bloodstock - a festival double-header that few bands could manage to pull off. A similar eclecticism was exhibited on their choice of tours, which saw them share bills with everyone from glam-punks Creeper, to doom metallers Conan and skater boy icons CKY in those early years. All the while, they collected praise from the likes of The Guardian, Radio 1, Noisey, Kerrang!, DIY, Rock Sound, and more. Their mounting success was evidence that their dedication wasn't misplaced - following their own path found Puppy a fervent, diverse fanbase. I don't think we were sure if we'd get accepted by the rock-ier worlds, Jock admits - When you're not playing those shows, you imagine guys in bullet belts and leather vest with their arms folded, just shaking their heads!
The Goat has plenty to offer everyone from bullet-belted metalheads to shoegazing fuzz lovers, it's a record that thrives off its kaleidoscopic approach to creativity and the band's mischievous mentality. Beginning the process of piecing together The Goat early last year, their plan was simple to keep that initial mindset at the forefront, says Jock, to do stuff that really excited us. Entering the studio in the summer of 2017, they leapfrogged every expectation from the off. I think the songs on the new album are the best songs we've written across the board, he admits. As much as you can explore new influences, and new sounds, and new textures at the end of the day, the songs have gotta bang! It's a record that, as a result, has no clear pinnacle every song has been fine-tuned to its most hard-hitting form. For me, the big thing was to be able to take any song from the album and be happy for that to be the only song of ours that someone heard, he says of the all-killer-no-filler approach that propelled The Goat.
From the guttural stomp of lead single 'Black Hole', via the theatrics of 'Nightwalker' and 'World Stands Still''s action-movie-montage-ready pomp, no stone is left unturned in Puppy's desire to push boundaries and above all embrace the fun inherent in rock's former heyday. Jock cites a suitable mish-mash of influences on that mindset everyone from the aforementioned Black Sabbath and Weezer, to Helmet, Faith No More and Teenage Fanclub got a look in when they were growing up. For the group that would one day become Puppy, Jock admits, there was no tribalism. Obviously we could tell that one guy's jeans were a lot baggier than the others', but generally speaking it was all just guitar music! he says with a laugh.
That freed-up feeling flows throughout The Goat. A record that dodges convention and pretension at every turn in favour of a fun-first approach, it's one of the year's finest guitar albums, from one of the country's most entrancing new bands.
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