Interview with Miles and The Chain Gang

Answers by Miles Salter

The band:
Miles Salter – vocals and guitar
Billy Hickling – drums and percussion
Tim Bruce – bass
Alan Dawson – lead guitar

LOMM: Hi Miles. Can you give a little biographical and historical info of the band; who is involved, and how did you guys meet up? 
Miles: We are based in York, UK. We stumbled across each other in the summer of 2018. I had seen Billy play with a York band called King Courgette and thought he was brilliant – he’s a very visual musician and is great to watch. We met at Ruby Tuesday, which is (probably) York’s best open mic night, and I asked him to play at a music and poetry gig with me that September. Tim was at that gig and we got talking afterwards in the pub. We played together with the three of us, just jamming, that month (September 2018) and I knew we had something. It was brilliant. I’ve written some really good songs and Billy and Tim just provided a huge amount of energy with their rhythm section. They work really well together. Alan I also met that summer – he walked into The Three Legged Mare on Petergate for the open mic night and he was superb. I got his number straight away.

LOMM: Pandemic has taken an emotional toll on everyone yet the arts have been hit especially hard. The musicians are vulnerable to financial upheaval. How have you guys have been holding up?
Miles: It’s been hard. We haven’t played a gig in fourteen months. We really want to play again. We have tried to develop things as much as we can by putting out a couple of songs and videos, and working on social media things. We’ve had some radio play as well, so I think we have done well under the circumstances.

LOMM: On the other hand you seem to have had a productive time. Is that right?
Miles: Well, we’ve done our best to be proactive. We released our first single, When It Comes To You, a year ago with a video that was shot right at the end of 2019. It’s an upbeat song about unrequited love.  

That was followed by our second single, Drag Me To The Light, which was a song that came out of the first lockdown in the UK, trying to capture a sense of the atmosphere.

The next single comes out at the end of March, with a video. It’s called It’s called “All Of Our Lives” and it was written by my friend Syd Egan years ago. I’ve been singing it for twenty years but it’s never really been on any platforms. Lee Heir, who has been helping us with PR, said to me ‘You have to put this out’, and he kept asking about it, so in the end I agreed. It’s gentler than our first two singles, which were more upbeat, but it’s a good song. Me, Tim and Billy are all on it, plus Holly Taymar-Bilton (backing vocals), Karl Mullen (piano) and Sam Pirt (accordion). We’re recording with Jonny Hooker at Young Thugs – he’s great. The video was by Dave Thorp who’s a local filmmaker. We’re building a team around the band, and Lee, Jonny and Dave are all important to us. You can see a trailer for the song and video here:

LOMM: Tell us about your genre, what does it means to you, why did you choose this genre?
Miles:  It’s not one genre, but I suppose we are very into new wave bands like The Police and The Pretenders and Blondie. There’s a big singer-songwriter influence: Springsteen, Neil Young, Bob Dylan. Then there’s a bit of soul – I love Van Morrison. And then there’s a bit of country. Alan loves jazz, and Billy and Tim like a bit of funk stuff. There’s a lot of different things in the band, which is good. The thing that doesn’t shift though, is good songwriting. Good hooks. That always stays the same: Metallica, Taylor Swift, Daft Punk – everybody needs good hooks.

LOMM: How did the initial musical and thematic elements evolve?
Miles: It was just a desire to play good songs and to have a good time. That’s it. Don’t get me wrong, we want to be brilliant, but I have learned not to overthink things. It’s just pop music. I’m not Mozart. Pop music is disposable, it’s fun. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care, but just don’t overthink it.

LOMM: Are you happy with your product? What aspects of it do you think you guys nailed, and what parts do you think you could improve upon?
Miles: Well, the songs are strong. I think the band could be amazing. Time will tell. I really want to play a lot of gigs and do lots of PR so people get to hear about us. What could we improve on? I’m very aware of my flaws, musically. I’m trying to be a better guitar player, and a better singer. Practice is important. Alan said to me a while ago, ‘practice guitar for twenty minutes a day’ and I try to do that. Billy practices as well. That’s impressive, because he’s really good. As a band we just need more time together to get to where we could be. 

LOMM: How has the overall reception been?
Miles: Good, overall. We’re definitely heading the right way.

LOMM: Have you ever been on a tour? Given live performances? Is it tough for you not to be able to do so now?
Miles:  We played as many gigs as we could in 2019, then the pandemic hit and that was that for a year. I would love to tour, it has always been something I would love to do. I hope it happens. Billy and Tim and Alan have all done tons of gigs. Billy toured with the Stomp! show, they went all ‘round the world. Tim played to 70,000 people in Portugal on one occasion. 

LOMM: What is the next step for you? How is the future looking?
Miles: Everything feels good. The album we’re working on is really good, it’s going to be great when it’s done. The next step is to get the songs finished in the studio. It’s taking a while, but we’ll get there.

LOMM: Could you tell us about the lyrics / themes /concepts you focus on or plan to focus on? How did the ideas come about, and how do they influence the writing process? Who is writing the lyrics?
Miles: A lot of the recent songs have been about relationships. ‘Drag Me To The Light’ was about lockdown one. ‘All Of Our Lives’ is a kind of messed-up love song. I’m tending to write more tongue in cheek lyrics these days. We have a couple of songs that we are working on that have cheeky or nostalgic lyrics. Quirky lyrics are really important – they help the songs to stand out. I think I am heading that way. I write the songs and really care about how they come across. A touch of poetry is good. There are a lot of sloppy lyrics out there. I’d like to get away from clichés, if I can.

LOMM: What bands do you draw your inspiration from?
Miles: ACDC, ABBA, Bruce Springsteen, Counting Crows, Del Amitri, Duran Duran, Energy Orchard, Fleetwood Mac, The Police, The Pretenders, Rolling Stones, Thin Lizzy, U2, Van Morrison, Neil Young, ZZ Top…

LOMM: Which is more exciting? Being on the road or studio?
Miles: Live gigs are hard to beat. The studio is exciting, too. Hearing a song come together is amazing.

LOMM: What first got you into music?
Miles: Being a kid in the 80s. Listening to Tony Blackburn on BBC Radio One on a Saturday morning in 1982, when I was ten years old. All those great early 80s tracks. Brilliant.

LOMM: What do you like the best about being a musician? And what is it that you do not like much?
Miles: You write a song and you can move other people. It’s magic.

LOMM: If you weren’t musicians, what would you be doing?
Miles: Painting Walls.

LOMM: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?
Miles: The uneven distribution of wealth. Bob Dylan sells his catalogue for $300 million, other guys get nothing. 

LOMM: What’s more important to you? Catering to the audience or music for its own sake?
Miles: Just do what you love and you’ll take the audience with you. That’s the key.

LOMM: Who would you like to collaborate with?
Miles: Is Elvis available?

LOMM: Let me ask 🙂
Who would you like to go on a tour with?
Miles: Bob Dylan / Counting Crows / Del Amitri / Van Morrison.

LOMM: If you could play any festival in the world, which one would you choose? Tell us why.
Miles: Glastonbury would be good fun. Do you know anybody who works there?

LOMM: I might 😉 Name some of your all-time favorite albums? Include controversial ones.
Miles: I really love the soundtrack to the film Fame! It came out in 1980 and it has the big hit by Irene Cara, ‘Fame’ but it also has a funk track ‘Hot Lunch Jam’, a lovely acoustic ballad ‘Is It Okay If I Call You Mine?’, a piano piece, a gospel track. It’s a real mixture. It’s great. Irene Cara’s vocals are brilliant – listen to ‘Out Here On My Own’ – she sings the hell out of that song, and it’s really moving. She really inhabits the song. It’s tender and vulnerable. It might be a bit cheesy at times, but overall it is a really good album – check it out. Otherwise, ‘Twisted’ by Del Amitri is brilliant. The first Pretenders album rocks. The first Counting Crows album…the list goes on.

LOMM: What does your collection look like? Mostly Vinyl, Cassettes, CDs, Digital? A bit of everything? A total mess?
Miles: Yeah, a bif of a mess, if I am honest. It sprawls across vinyl, cassettes, CDs, and an ipod.  I don’t know how many items there are but it’s thousands of songs – probably about 5000. I just love music so much. I still buy CDs, and it’s great to see vinyl come back.

LOMM: You can invite 5 people to a dinner party, from the future, the past, rock stars, a movie characters, you name it. Who are you having dinner with?
Miles: If it was anybody I would have Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, Philip Larkin (English poet), Queen Victoria (dead monarch), Mary Beard (English historian and broadcaster). 

LOMM: If you had one message to your fans, what would it be?
Miles: Get a shower, wash your hands, look up. And don’t forget to stroke a cat.

LOMM: Anything else you think your fans should know?
Miles: Octopuses have three hearts.

LOMM: LOL ok 🙂 Thank you for taking the time!

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