They were discovered by legendary BBC DJ John Peel.
And still eclectic as ever, The Pocket Gods, whose lead singer Mark Lee hails from Milnsbridge, hope to independently make a name for themselves thanks to the launch of their second 100-track album made up of songs each only 30 seconds long.
Called 100x30: Shakespeare Verses Streaming, to mark the 400th anniversary of the death of the Bard, they took to the format to campaign for fairer royalties from streaming services.
Mark, 46, whose band crosses genres from indie-pop and prog rock to psychedelic country and broke a record with their first 30 second album, talked to the Examiner.
This is your second album to feature 100 30-second songs, can you explain why?
“Streaming services such as Spotify pay an artist a small royalty after a track hits 30 seconds but then no more, whatever the length of the track. So why write songs longer than 30 seconds? To maximise the royalties from streaming we have put 100 songs on an album. It’s a way to highlight this instead of taking our music off Spotify and we want to encourage a wider debate about how we value and pay for music.”
How was your first album received?
“It went a bit crazy. I was interviewed in The Independent by the US music professor Mike Errico from whom I originally got the idea from. The album got great reviews and was featured in Billboard magazine, Wall St Journal, on BBC6Music and we got to play live on ITV London news.”
Do you think there’s a realistic way to force streaming sites like Spotify to give artists fairer, more substantial royalties?
“Spotify’s defence is that YouTube/ Google are worse and pay even less to artists. But it comes down to whether we are willing to pay more for streamed music. “Artists have had to try find other revenue sources such as TV and Film syncs and live gigs but it’s getting harder and harder to make a decent living from music. Something needs to change, otherwise we will be left with a world full of dull tribute bands and ever ageing rockers.”
How do the 30 second songs translate into your live shows?
“We have done what we think is the world’s first all 30 second song gig at the Underbelly in Hoxton and it was streamed live around the world. The audience got really into it and couldn’t really believe what they were seeing and hearing. It’s odd but something new and fresh I think.”
You were brought up in Milnsbridge and the Colne Valley and went to the music school – tell us about your musical development?
“My main instrument was percussion and I also had singing and piano lessons. It was great to have the classical background and the ability to write and read music is a gift I will always have so I thank them for that.”
You were “discovered” by John Peel. What did you send to him that caught his eye?
“One of the highlights of my musical life was receiving phone calls from John Peel. The first was on the way home from a gig we’d just done at Joseph’s Well in Leeds. He left a message but then rang back asking if The Pocket Gods were still going as he liked our song called Ballad Of The Peshwari Naan, a song I wrote about our local curry house in Milnsbridge.”
The Pocket Gods have been around since 1998. Tell us more about the band’s history.
“It’s all in the book I wrote, ‘Weird – The Life and Times of a Pocket God’. We once did a gig in an aircraft hangar in a Belgian forest and have supported punk legends The Vibrators. Our proudest moment, apart from the John Peel ones, was getting played on BBC Radio 1 by Huw Stephens.”
Give us a taste of the songs’ subject matter on the Shakespeare Verses Streaming.
“There’s puns, plays on words (i.am will.i.am shakespeare), all the usual Shakespearean themes and who was the real Shakespeare.”
What’s your favourite text by him and why do you think we should still be talking about his work?
“The Tempest is my favourite – the last two tracks of the album are the last words Shakespeare (Prospero) says and are a very poignant way to end the album.
“We should be reading and seeing his plays as the themes are universal. He sees the beauty but also the fragility and flaws in us all which is what makes us who we are.”
And what next for you?
“Some gigs to promote the album and I have already started writing the next one – 100Xmas30!
“Someone did suggest that we do a Brexit-themed one but that might be a tad depressing...a definite Shakespearean tragedy!”
The album is available in record stores and online at Proper Music and on Amazon.