SUCH were the perils of juggling the final year of a university degree with touring the country, The Crookes almost missed their own graduation ceremony.
“We were bleary eyed in the pictures,” recalls bass-playing singer George Waite of the morning after they returned from playing Suffolk’s Latitude Festival. “We literally got back by minutes.”
All that gigging mileage seems to have paid off, however, as their debut album Chasing After Ghost emerged this week to warm reactions. And the lads got their degrees.
“We were in our last year when we started touring,” says rhythm guitarist/lyricist Dan Hopewell.
“We’d be doing our dissertations by phone light in the back of the van on six-hour drives back at night, touring the UK.
“When we got our first play on Radio One we had a seminar the next morning... that was the point where I thought the band thing was taking precedence and we could actually do something, but I don’t like us being termed a university band because it gives the wrong impression.
“We’ve just worked really hard and toured relentlessly. I’m quite proud of that. It’s not like a flash-in-the-pan type thing. It’s just been building and building. On the whole we’ve gone about things in the old fashioned way, I guess.”
Then the subject they were studying helped, as much with demands on time as it did for fuelling Daniel’s classic lyricism.
“We did English Literature so it’s not like a law degree where you go on to be a lawyer - I did english because I really liked english. That was my only motivation for doing it; I wanted to learn about that. And people should, because they want to learn about something, not for the sake of getting a job.
“But the two things sat quite nicely because I was probably going into some form of writing anyway. It was a creative thing.”
Judging by some of the lines on songs such as current single Godless Girl and the real events-inspired storytelling of Laundry Murder, 1922, Daniel deserved every ounce of his two-one degree.
“Everything we do we try to be thoughtful about. In the songs we construct things, we never slap anything down. We think about everything we do.
“From all aspects we’re trying to create something. Even when we go on tour we don’t just do it in a standard sort of way, everything is quite considered. It forms part of our sound.”
And that includes George singing. “We play to our strengths as a band and George’s voice suits the kind of lyrics I write perfectly,” says Dan, admitting he’s not a great singer. “Even if I was I think George has got the perfect voice to sing the kind of things I like to write about and I can almost hide behind him in a way.
“I’ve always liked lyricists who write in this fragmented way and create images rather than being specific. It really pains me when I hear lyrics so obvious I can finish the next line before it gets there. You can feel it coming and it’s lazy.
“It’s majestic creating an idea people can be into, just so long as it triggers something to make them think certain things. I like the fact people can read different things into it. That’s very deliberate; I want everyone to listen and find their own meaning.”
George’s voice completes the very English feel of a band that makes songs with a rich agility mixed with intelligence, just enough muscle to leap from the speakers but an underlying imagery missing from so much modern music. There’s a romance and elegance in The Crookes’ album that reminds of Gene’s Olympian album or classic Smiths before them.
“A lot of people pay less attention to lyrics as songwriters because it’s not necessarily the easy way to get people’s attention,” observes George.
“The easiest way is catchy melodies. We try to do that as well but Dan’s lyrics lend the songs a lot more weight.”
Behind a veil of youthful indie pop lies a heart beating with tales of love and loss, drawing inspiration from sources perhaps viewed as unconventional in today’s style-driven era.
The spark from Godless Girl came from a 1970s US news picture of a toothless woman so nicknamed because of her crimes. Tell England was inspired by the end of the film This Is England, when the Union Jack is cast into the sea – and the band recorded it close to the sea at Bridlington.
“Most of the songs address a sort of loneliness and angst that is particularly painful when you occupy that position between childhood and adulthood,” says the band.
“Every song is concerned with the tension between a bleak reality and escapism through imagination... the days, weeks, months and years of lost time we are searching for, the people we have lost and thrown away and our fears that youth and beauty may not be eternal.”
The Crookes steer their UK tour home to Queens Social Club on April 16.