It’s not unusual for a band to progress through different sonic phases before settling on the guise they’re most comfortable with. What’s less common is for a band to hold their hands up and freely admit that the music they used to make wasn’t doing them justice, and set about reinventing themselves into a bigger, better, and harder-hitting entity, as Counterfeit have done.
They began life as indie rock outfit The Darling Buds, after frontman Jamie Campbell-Bower and his school friend Tristan Marmont, inspired by seeing the musical achievements of older pupils at their school – “Our head boy was the lead singer of Tellison” – decided to give a career in music a proper shot. Bassist Roland Johnson came on board after meeting Tristan at a party, and drummer Dan Smith completed the line-up. Things seemed to be developing rapidly; despite being unsigned, The Darling Buds attracted sizeable crowds to their London shows, and even booked themselves a gig in Hong Kong.
“A long-term friend of mine, George Craig – who used to play in the band One Night Only, and is now our manager – helped us put on a show at the Hoxton Bar and Grill. Tickets went really fast; it was a headfuck for us,” recalls Campbell-Bower. Despite their success snowballing, something didn’t feel right. “We weren’t representing ourselves in the best way possible,” he explains. The band knew they were on the cusp of something big, but that they had to find an identity that felt right. “Immediately after the show, there was a collective feeling of, ‘let’s do something, people seem to be into this’,” says Campbell-Bower. “But we didn’t feel like we were massively into it!”
The decision was made to shed their current skin and press on with writing and performing music true to their hearts. Smith left the band, and George Craig’s brother Jimmy filled the drummer vacancy. Campbell-Bower’s younger brother Sam came on board as a third guitarist, and in mid-2015, Counterfeit was born. Their debut EP, Come Get Some, was released in November that year, followed by their first ever gig in the new guise at London’s Islington Academy. It was the first time they’d all played together, and Sam Bower’s first ever ‘proper’ gig.
The DIY ethic Campbell-Bower, Marmont and Johnson treasured so much while in the Darling Buds remains in Counterfeit. They’ve designed their own merch and Marmont built the website, and they’re adamant that they’ll retain that level of creative control even now they have a label behind them – in November 2016, they signed with Xtra Mile, home of Against Me! And Frank Turner. “Xtra Mile were one of the first people on our radar that were interested in the project,” Johnson explains. “They stood by us as we were figuring out how this record was going to come about. We definitely had a picture of how we wanted it to sound, and we were getting messages from our managers saying they really liked how it was coming along. We had all the creative control there – we called the shots. I think that ultimately swayed us.”
Counterfeit’s next chapter begins before their signing to Xtra Mile. Campbell-Bower was already beginning to write new songs around the time of the EP release. “I’d been demoing heavier tracks” he remembers. “So I was like, ‘I have these, if anyone’s interested!’ It started to progress and build up, and we ended up being able to get into a studio environment as a band and flesh it out. After about three months we sat back and said, ‘this is cool, this is where we feel the most comfortable’.”
The writing continued throughout 2016, but Counterfeit weren’t holed up in the studio for the entire year. They relentlessly toured, supporting Billy Talent alongside Anti-Flag and Zebrahead at Budapest Park festival last June, before heading out on their own headline tour of the UK, which included a sold-out night at Camden’s Electric Ballroom and a stop at 2000 Trees festival. Still unsigned at this point, they decided to complete their debut album while still searching for a label, and entered the studio in September 2016.
“The album was written over a 12-month period, but it was recorded in about 25 days,” says Campbell-Bower of their debut full-length, Together We Are Stronger. “It was recorded, mixed and engineered by Tom Mitchener at Broadfields. He’d done the first Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes record and, when we were birthing this band 18 months ago, that band had just come out and was hugely influential to us. We loved Gallows growing up. When the opportunity came around to work with Mitch, it was like, ‘abso-fucking-lutely!’”
“We did a trial song with Mitch – Addiction,” adds Marmont, referring to the song they released in November, which is included on the album. “When we heard the final product, we knew that was exactly what we wanted to go for.” The abrasive, old-school punk sensibilities on the album are a fitting vehicle for the unrestrained emotion that Campbell-Bower has injected into the album. “I don’t think any of us were particularly happy individuals when he started this band, there was this feeling of impending doom, which I still feel every day,” he says. “When we were younger, we all did crazy stupid things. In the past two or three years, we’ve drastically turned our lives around in the way that we approach life. I wasn’t ready to accept life on life’s terms when I was younger; it had to be on my terms, but if it wasn’t, I’d rebel and I’d hit the eject button. There’s a lot of loss in the record and being able to deal with stuff. Writing it was a hugely cathartic process.”
Self-examination and progress is dealt with on Washed Out. “That’s a song about being young and wild and reckless, but that stage of my life leading me to a place where I was deeply unhappy,” explains Campbell-Bower. “It’s about overcoming that and making things better by change.” Enough, which was released as a single last year, looks to the ills of the modern world rather than inwards. “That was the biggest game-changer for us in terms of songwriting,” Campbell-Bower continues. “When the Bataclan attacks in Paris happened, that fear was very real. It could have been us at that show. I felt it was important that we spoke about that in some way, but we didn’t want it to be our calling card or be a band that wrote about politics so blatantly. We wanted to keep it more personal so people can connect with the band and the lyrics and with who we are.” By contrast, Letters to the Lost is a tribute to a friend of Campbell-Bower’s who tragically took his own life. “When my friend passed away, I hadn’t seen him for about six months,” he explains. “I wish we’d been able to talk. It’s when you’re in those darkest moments you feel like you can’t, and moments like that need to be highlighted and spoken about, otherwise nothing changes. For anyone who’s been in those dark moments, the support of another human being is the most valuable asset you have in your arsenal. It’s a celebration, but also a letter and a note to him or anyone else who might feel similar.”
Now, all that’s left is to unleash the album to the world. It’s released on March 17th through Xtra Mile, followed by another string of dates around Europe and then the UK kicks off on March 24th. “I’d happily work for the next year like I have this year, just ploughing through,” says Campbell-Bower, before leading himself off on a tangent as he ponders the emotional content of a debut album that he’s poured a significant part of himself into. “It’s interesting we’ve chosen to call the record ‘Together We Are Stronger’ because there’s not many tracks about unity,” he muses. “The whole record isn’t about love or peace, but that’s our message as a band. That, collectively, is what we feel we want to be pushing – the idea of acceptance of individuality. Growing up there is that feeling of, ‘I am different, I am a bit weird, am I meant to fit in?’ I still feel like that even now, and the title of the album is a collective emotion of how we all feel.’
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