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Male Bonding steps cautiously into the spotlight with Sub Pop debut

male bondingRobin Christian, Kevin Hendrick and John Webb do it together in Male Bonding. (By Steve Gullick)

By David Malitz

"I apologize in advance," says John Webb, singer/guitarist for scruffy U.K. indie-punk band Male Bonding. He's apologizing for being not so talkative or engaging. And it's not totally unwarranted, but that will be explained later. And that band name is Male Bonding, by the way.

Right before Webb and I sat down for a brief chat before the band's DC9 show in March, the club's soundman marched into the backstage area, slapped set times on the door and determinedly said, "We're running on time tonight. First band at 9, Dum Dum Girls 9:45, Male Bondage 10:30," turned and walked out. Then we sat silent for a moment. Then we laughed.

Male Bonding's debut album, "Nothing Hurts," comes out today on Sub Pop and it's a collection of 13 jittery, jagged songs that stop, start, zig, zag and cross the finish line in under three minutes every time. "I find it very hard writing long songs," Webb says. "I get bored quick. Two minutes is good for us. Can't see any need in extending it."

"Nothing Hurts" smooths out some of the rough edges of the band's handful of early singles but maintains a gritty feel without being obnoxiously lo-fi. Webb had played with drummer Robin Christian and bassist Kevin Hendrick in previous bands, including noise-rockers Pre, where they hung in the background as singer Akiko Matsuura served as show-stealer. Now it's just the three of them and Webb explains why they came to that current arrangement, along with their popularity (or lack thereof) back home in London.

You have been playing in bands together for a long time. Do you feel like this time hitting restart is the right formula?

I think with this band it was really different for me and Kevin because we're singing. And we've never sung before. I'd never wanted to sing in a band. It just kind of happened.

So why did you start?

The three of us were living together. We had a rehearsal space. So we went in there a couple times, the three of us. And it was just really fun and easy and it came together super quick. And we did this thing to start with where we all sang at the same time. Robin sang as well. Just because nobody wanted to - nobody was confident to do it themselves. And then we were like, this is stupid.

So we brought someone else in and had a couple rehearsals with her and it was great. But we just wanted to be a three piece. So then me and Kevin were like, well, I'll try and you'll try and we'll see what happens. It's always been fun and different and new. Being in this band is like being in your first band when you're 16 or whatever. I've never really written songs before, either. It's all new and fresh. The fact that's what happened has happened is amazing. It feels like it's your first band.

"Year's Not Long" - Male Bonding

(Doesn't everybody want to be lead singer? Plus another MP3, after the jump.)

Isn't it weird that nobody wanted to be the singer? Doesn't everybody want to be the singer?

I think if you knew us as individuals that would make more sense. We're pretty ... um ... I guess ... shy, maybe? Yeah. I don't know. I never liked it. I think confident guys need to be the singer of bands. Or maybe not. I don't know. It's something I never thought I could do, so I never wanted to do it. You don't want to do things that you think you're bad at. The only reason we did it is because it felt comfortable with Robin and Kevin.

So that's how you've come out of your shell? You couldn't do it unless it was just the three of you?

No, absolutely not. And I think we're getting better. This tour's been good for that reason - singing every night for seven weeks. It's really like learning a new instrument. I wouldn't say it's fun. But it's interesting.

It's not fun? What's fun then?

Um. The whole package is fun. Playing, singing, everything together - that's fun. But I don't enjoy singing, particularly.

The first time I saw you was at CMJ and something specific I remember was the sound guy said, "Your guitar is feeding back like crazy," after the first song. And you said, "That's how it's supposed to be." That was the moment that made me like your band, I think.

I wondered what his reaction to that was going to be. But he seemed cool about it. Like, just checking. But that was a real [expletive] show. With The xx, right? Because The xx manager - well, the band turned up as we were setting up. And we were always going to play before them. And they tried to pull this whole thing where they were like, we're playing now. Otherwise we'll pull the show. So I said, no you're not, we're playing now. We're set up. We'll be done in half an hour. It was just some of that [expletive]. The big band breezes in and wants to [expletive] around with the lineup. And you're just an inconvenience in the way. Everyone's got their own [expletive] to do. So that was kind of a weird show.

Are you popular back home?

Personally. (Laughs.) We've never done any shows - well, we've done some shows outside of London - but only supporting other bands. When we get back we'll do our first proper headline tour in the U.K. I guess in London we can be popular. A lot of people hate us in London.

Really? Why?

Because we're that band that turned up from nowhere, recorded a few [expletive] songs, got signed to Sub Pop and now everyone's [expletive] about it. I mean, it's true. We get a lot of [expletive]. Definitely people hate us. Some people like us. There are some nice people out there. I don't know. Again, we haven't really done much. Well, I guess we have nine releases.

Do you like to do it like that way? A lot of the songs on the record are from various singles and other releases.

This record was always going to be like that. Maybe like half of it is stuff that's re-recorded, but songs that existed. I like that. The debut album is a debut album. It rarely is a masterpiece.

Well it depends. A lot of times it is the best. But other times it's definitely not. You know what I mean. Maybe?

There's better to come. I like the way No Age did it, just a compilation of EPs. So we were like, let's just get it out, quick. And if they've been released then they've been released on 500 copies of a single. I like that about the record. That it's like a snapshot of where we've been and where we got up to. And now it's a clean slate.

"Franklin" - Male Bonding

By David Malitz  |  May 11, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
Categories:  Interview  | Tags: Male Bonding  
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