We caught up with Ben and Calvin of The Smoking Hearts ahead of their show with Idiom at The Compass in Chester.
Thanks to the sun setting whilst filming, it messed with the video quality a bit (especially in the latter half) since we had to brighten the video a bit – so if you’d rather just read the interview instead, it has been transcribed below the video.
How’s the tour going so far?
Ben (vocals): It’s going! We’re going on, we’re driving to places, we’re playing gigs to people and we’re having a lot of fun. It’s what we do best, so we’re just continuing the usual Smoking Hearts thing!
Calvin (bass): It’s been good. We haven’t played to huge crowds every night – we haven’t had any that no one’s gone to but there’s been a few that have been less than we’d hoped. At the same time, we know we’re still a new band and not that many people are yet to…
Ben: People are buying tickets, which is a first for us!
Are there any interesting tour stories to report so far?
Ben: Not really for us, but Dan, the drummer from Idiom, got locked in the venue last night!
Calvin: (laughing) Did he?
Ben: Yeah! He was just there banging on the door and luckily someone was still in there and let him out! We’ve been pretty tame so far.
Calvin: We’ve been quite well behaved, so far!
Ben: We know how long we’ve got to do, so maybe towards the last couple of shows it’s gonna be like “Ben’s chopped his arm off!” or something like that. There’s a lot of bets that have been thrown around but no one’s being doing them because they’re too scared they’ll die!
Calvin: One of the Idiom party did wet themselves – on the first night as well! But they’re not more fun than us, don’t let that sound like they are!
Ben: They wet themselves and get locked in places! We’re just still alive. My phone ran out of battery…that was a pretty big deal, but it was alright because I was with everyone so it didn’t matter.
Calvin: I thought that something did happen but we just didn’t talk about it.
Ben: The things that have happened probably aren’t suitable for camera anyway!
Calvin: Let’s skim over that one. (laughs)
Ben: I tried to kill everyone.
Ben: I got really angry and started throwing punches, but that was just alcohol, which is bad and you shouldn’t drink alcohol.
Calvin: Like me, Captain Straightedge! I’m even wearing my Captain Straightedge t shirt today.
You’ve played shows all over the globe. Where has been your favourite place to play so far?
Ben: We can’t really answer that question, can we? I’m gonna put it out there and say Australia.
Calvin: Yeah, I really enjoyed Australia. Recently we played Sweden for the first time and we had a really great show there. We didn’t expect that many people to turn up to watch us, so that was really good. Everywhere’s good, really – everywhere is what you make of it and if we’re having a good time then generally everyone else is.
Ben: I like playing shows, if I’m being honest! It doesn’t matter where we are, we played in Tunbridge Wells last week and we still had the most fun even though there were no monitors and everything broke! But we still had fun doing it. In England, people are a lot more reserved but when people start enjoying it they go mental, whereas if you go to the States people just instantly love you and if you go to Europe then everyone gets into it straight away. With England you need to prove yourself more, whereas in Europe they’re just happy people are playing music! English people love music but they want you to have earned it – and I think we have earned it, but they just don’t know us yet! In the towns where people do know us, they’ve gone crazy and by the end of most shows The Smoking Hearts play, we have turned the crowd on our side. Or we’ve turned them completely against us!
Your live shows are always a bit mad, have you sustained many injuries from them?
Ben: I’ve got no cartilage in my knees…I used to wear kneepads but I’ve just given up on it now, and for some reason on this tour all my hands and fingers are completely ruined! I can’t even make a fist any more! *puts his hands into fists* This hurts!
Ben: I think it’s from holding beer, I’ve got some sort of repetitive strain injury from it!
Calvin: I’ve got a few scars on my head from hitting myself with guitars, and running into Nobba and microphones! I’ve chipped my teeth, you [Ben] must do that a lot as well.
Ben: No, my teeth are so important to me that I keep the microphone away from me. I’ve got perfect teeth!
Calvin: Other than that, we’ve not had huge amounts of injuries.
Ben: Me and Nobba have done our legs in a few times and I’ve shattered an elbow but I just left that and it seems to have worked out alright.
Calvin: Nothing life-threatening yet.
Ben: No one goes to hospital.
Calvin: We carry superglue for the big cuts.
Superglue and duct tape can fix everything.
Ben: I did injure myself one time when we weren’t even playing a show. They bet me I couldn’t jump over a stream…
…and I completely battered my foot and went to hospital! We were in there for ages but it was okay because everyone could just have a nap.
What has been the strangest show you’ve ever played?
Ben: There’s been some that have been bizarre but I can’t put my finger on it.
Calvin: We played our first ever show in America in a strip bar!
Ben: It wasn’t even a strip club. It was a bikini bar, there wasn’t even boobs.
Calvin: There were no boobs…but it was a lap dancing club. It was really strange because it was our first ever show in America and it hadn’t been advertised all that well. The crowd wasn’t that big, but there were some people there to watch us. We were playing on this podium shaped runway stage.
Ben: Poles, everything!
Calvin: With these girls that wanted to be dancing but were sat there looking around like…
Ben: They were dancing at the beginning of our set but then they realised that they were going to get hit in the head with a microphone or guitar, and obviously looking good was their job – not that they were though!
Calvin: That was quite a strange one.
Ben: It was, but there were people there to see us, which was good. Another time in America when we were playing, I was dancing on the bar and the bouncer literally kicked me out of the venue. I got offstage and he threw me out the venue. He was like “you can’t ever come back in here again”, so now I’m banned from Rock City.
Calvin: The Skreamer show was pretty weird.
Ben: Yeah but that was more awkward than weird. We played Two Days A Week Festival with NOFX and Deftones a couple of weeks ago, and the crowd was with it but they started doing this weird rowing thing on the floor, didn’t they? That was weird!
Calvin: When we play in Basingstoke, that’s always weird. Every show we’ve ever played in Basingstoke has been weird.
Ben: Remember when Nobba jumped through that table that he thought was going to hold his weight and it just collapsed on him, and then some guy kicked him in the head! (laughs) We play some really weird shows but everything just gets blurred because there’s so many of them. In the last three years we must have done at least 300 shows and they all blend into one, now. There’s points where you say “remember when we did that” but I wouldn’t be able to pinpoint where it was.
If you could collaborate with any artist, who would it be?
Ben: I want to collaborate with Katy Perry, but that would be more on a personal level, not a musical level.
Calvin: Personally, it would be amazing to do anything with Mike Patton.
Ben: That’d be cool.
Calvin: The thing with him is that you don’t know what you’d get. His thing with Dillinger Escape Plan was nuts, obviously his Faith No More stuff has always been pretty solid, his Fantômas stuff is pretty out there…so I think that would be an interesting one.
Ben: I wouldn’t really want to cross any genres. I’d prefer to collaborate with people we’re friends with and people that are associated with the band. Like the guys in CB6, I’d love to get Ryan to be on a song, but collaborative-wise I’d rather get a guest vocalist or a guest soloist.
Calvin: That’d be fun.
Ben: Like Danzig being a solo guitarist.
Calvin: Oh yeah, he’s good.
Ben: He already did it with Every Time I Die though, so we’d be stealing.
If you could choose a band to cover one of your songs, who would you pick?
Ben: Katy Perry.
Calvin: You can’t say Katy Perry again!
Ben: No, I think it would be really fun if a pop band decided to cover our song.
Calvin: I think Arctic Monkeys would be good.
Ben: I think they’re one of the only bands that could pull it off, from a pop point of view because their drummer’s favourite drummer of all time is the drummer from The Hives. Actually, The Hives doing one of our songs would be pretty cool.
Calvin: That’d be rad too.
Ben: I’d like to collaborate with The Hives. That’s it, both those questions – The Hives.
You recently released your own hot sauce with your album Victory – how did that come about?
Calvin: It was something we’d always talked about doing, obviously other bands do it and it’s just one of those fun things to do. We all eat hot food and we always eat chilli sauce on everything, so we thought wouldn’t it be cool to do that? I found a company that was based near where we live and I literally just drove up there in the van and was like “hey, would you be interested in doing that?” and they were like “what a great idea, let’s do it!” They gave us six or seven different ones to choose from and we basically picked our own sauce. Then they made it for us and bottled it.
Ben: It’s gone really well, too.
I seem to put it on absolutely everything!
Ben: Everybody loves it and we get so many comments saying “great show, I’ve just had hot sauce on my dinner!” They get home from gigs and put on our hot sauce on their food and I’m there thinking “I know how hot that is!”
Calvin: Yeah, it is pretty hot.
Ben: It was a really good idea. I think for the next one we might go for something more like a beer. We want to do something like that with the albums because it’s a talking point as well.
You’ve sort of answered my next question – if you could put you name to any other product, what would it be?
Ben: It would be…The Smoking Hearts presents: Lovely Lawnmower.
Calvin: Ohh, Lovely Lawnmower!
Ben: It’s a cross between a stout and an ale. It’s the turning point where ale becomes stout. That’s what it’s gonna be.
Calvin: I definitely wouldn’t do the beer. I’d do something like a Mars Bar – a Smoking Hearts Mars Bar!
Ben: Oh, that’d be good.
Calvin: But I dunno, it’d probably be exactly the same as a Mars Bar but just called The Smoking Hearts Bar!
If you could have anything on your rider, what would it be?
Calvin: At the moment, we’ve got a cardboard cut-out of Pat Benatar on our rider, which we’ve never ever got.
Ben: I want one of her daughters, too, they’re lovely. And Spyder, her husband – I want one of him as well! Both of them together, just playing sweet music.
Calvin: I think I want a cat. I’d just have a cat every day.
Ben: Mariah Carey used to get a room full of puppies!
Calvin: Oh, that’d be nice! Yeah, I think I’d have a cat. So I’d be able to leave it at the venue every day, I wouldn’t have to take it in the van or anything.
You wouldn’t have to worry about looking after it.
Calvin: No. So when I get to the venue, and I’ve changed my strings and done soundcheck and we’re just sat around…I could just stroke the cat for a bit. I think I’d like that! Give it a different name each day.
Ben: I can’t even think of what I wanted! There was something…
Calvin: If you could have anything!
Ben: There was something I really wanted! I put up my hands and said “that’s what I want on my rider!” It was 20 Marlboro Lights last night and it changes every day.
Calvin: Only 20?
Ben: I smoked 20 fags last night and it was the worst thing I’ve ever done.
Calvin: Fair enough, fair enough.
Ben: Nah, I can’t think. I’ll just go with cat or dog.
Calvin: A lovely cat.
If there was going to be a movie made about The Smoking Hearts, who should play each band member?
Ben: I’d play myself.
Calvin: (laughing) You can’t play yourself! That’s not the question!!
Calvin: She said who would you have play yourself! You can’t play yourself!
Ben: Ving Rhames.
Ben: Black Ben Mills.
Calvin: I don’t know who that is!
Ben: Ving Rhames!! The black guy from…uhhhhhm…Air Con.
Calvin (pretending he knows who Ben is talking about): Oh.
Ben: Con Air!
Ben: Nicolas Cage for Nobba, because he’s just so bad at acting and Nobba’s so bad at humanity! I reckon Dan Aykroyd could play Barker. Matty would be a small child!
Calvin: Ohh, I want to think of someone really good and a bit crazy…
Ben: Johnny Depp could probably do you.
Calvin: Johnny Depp was what I was thinking.
Ben: I’d say Brad Pitt for me.
Calvin: I think I’d want Jim Carrey.
Ben: You’re not wacky though!
Calvin: But I’m not wacky like Jim Carrey.
Ben: Unless he went serious on it. I reckon Robin Williams for Matty!
Calvin: Argh, I hate Robin Williams!
Ben: Mine would be Brad Pitt. Or George Clooney.
Calvin: George Clooney?
Ben: Not as he is now, obviously, because he’s old.
Calvin: I’m really perturbed by this, I can’t think of anything.
Ben: It’s a hard one. I’d rather play myself.
Calvin: I guess Johnny Depp. Was he the one that was in Edward Scissorhands? He was quite good in that.
Ben: Edward Scissorhands is who you model yourself on!
Calvin: Yeah, pretty much! We’ll say that.
And where do you see the band in five years?
(Calvin laughs loudly)
Ben: Probably in a ditch somewhere! I dunno – five years…I don’t know where we’re gonna be next week!
Ben: In one year, hopefully we’ll have another record out and we’ll still be doing what we do now, and people will be more aware of us. In five years, if people are aware of us and we’re still playing shows and still enjoying them, then we’ll just be doing what we’re doing. Like The Cancer Bats – they go around and just keep playing, they still go in a van.
Calvin: They still sleep on floors, man. They know how to do it.
Ben: Basically just carry on being who we are. I don’t think we’ll ever change, I don’t think we’ll ever get to a point where we’re riding in our own tour bus and not talking to each other!
Ben: We ride in this van and no one talks to each other!
Calvin: I’m happy to be wherever in five years as long as we’re still enjoying it. Obviously I hope in five years we’ll be playing sold out shows every night to people who give as much of a shit about our band as we do. That’s every band’s dream. I don’t need to be selling out Wembley, I’d be happy to sell out the tiniest sweatholes in the country! If there are people there that give as much of a shit about it as we do…
Ben: Yeah, in five years I just want people to be aware of us a bit more and we can make some money maybe, so we can live on the road every night.