Feature: The Checks - It's True What You Heard
Author: Mark Bell (photography by Jamie Beeden )
Author: Mark Bell (photography by Jamie Beeden )
That they managed to do this is pretty evident on 'Hunting Whales', it's as soulful yet down-and-dirty a record as you're likely to hear in a good long time, and all the more remarkable for their youth and relative inexperience. I mean how many (successful) bands could lay claim to having two of their dads (Phil Moore and Alan Pattersen) as managers? The Checks as a collective seem to have a lot of innate wisdom, given their brief time in the industry, and part of that wisdom meant not signing anything or recording an album until they felt good and ready to make the sort of record they knew they were capable of.
They'd always planned on signing with a UK label, says Moore senior, and were lucky enough to have a few to choose from after the NME tour. They already had a working relationship with Full Time Hobby before the NME tour, having used them to release a one-off first single the UK to coincide with the tour.
"The deal maker for us was the FTH bosses Nigel and Wez. They're great guys, and extremely hungry to make their label a success. We felt that FTH was a label on the way up and we wanted to be part of that."
The deal is for four albums, with FTH taking care of the UK and Europe, and Sony BMG responsible for the rest of the world. They've been pretty focused on the UK up until now ("and still have a lot of work to do there"), but NZ and Australia are both important markets for The Checks. The US is also very much on their long term radar. They're planning to play at New York music festival CMJ later this year, and What You Heard has been used on a Playstation game in the US - MLB07. Meanwhile they are firmly set to go in the UK with all systems in place and a comprehensive support team that includes management partners Winterman & Godstein, booking agents Helter Skelter, an independent publicist plus hard working tour management, FOH engineer and roadie.
Going back to the beginning however, you couldn't tell the story of the rise of The Checks without factoring in Rikki Morris and his Devonport-based Bus Studios (now sadly wound up). The band readily agree that the hours they put in at Bus allowed them to record like seasoned pros once they got to London.
"He's recorded pretty much everything we've done in terms of songs," says Martin of Rikki Morris. "Whenever we wrote something we'd go down and demo with him, so I think he was constantly watching our progression through our songs. It was fantastic to cut our teeth with our first recordings and learn, because we learnt a lot before we were put into the recording environment - it was good experience."
Thursday rolls around and it's time to go out and see if The Checks can deliver on stage as well as their reputation suggests. The venue is a fairly insalubrious rock club on Auckland's Karangahape Rd with a cramped stage at one end and bar in the middle - perfect for The Checks' brand of snake-hipped, nifty-rifty rhythm 'n' blues. Remarkably, the two other bands on the bill -The Electric Confectionaires and White Birds & Lemons also stem from Takapuna Grammar, and further illustrate that London-domicility hasn't made The Checks any less aware of the value of old friendships and their Devonport roots. Arriving in time for the last White Birds' number and an endless changeover (sooo precious about their kits... drummers!), we were then treated to the proto-progressive-lounge pop of the Confectionaires who received a polite reception from a crowd obviously there for the main course.
When it arrived the reaction was immediate and undeniable as the choppy strains of What You Heard came hurtling out of a struggling PA system. And who's that behind the desk? None other than Mr Morris himself keeping a watchful eye on proceedings. I probably don't need to tell you the lads rocked the house down. Ditching the boots and suits in favour of a more boho vibe, Ed Knowles exuded the sort of effortless frontman aura that you simply can't learn or fake, although he seemed a little reigned in by the ungenerous proportions of the stage. In front of an audience he's reminiscent of a young Jordan Luck, while the band was locked in tight and demonstrating clear benefits from the experience of recording and gigging abroad. There's something genuinely exciting about The Checks music that translates particularly well in a sweaty pub, and sure as eggs when the guys get back to England after their current promotional chores, there'll be plenty more of those.
Gigging in London can be a humbling experience for a band used to hometown adulation, and things were no different for The Checks. A year ago they initially played their hearts out to a smattering of curious punters. Knowles informs me that their last show sold out, and the band are confident they can build on the foothold they've chiseled out for themselves over a relatively short time, in one of the world's toughest music markets.
For all the emphasis on things British, the guys speak wistfully about their desire to do a summer tour in New Zealand. It's like a rite of passage for most young bands, yet things have happened so fast and unconventionally for this young combo that it remains a sort of enigmatic, unfulfilled dream. For a band that had condoms thrown on stage at High School shows (complete with relevant contact information penned onto the wrappers), it's not too hard to see the allure that a Kiwi summer tour would hold for a bunch of young antipodeans locked into an English winter. But The Checks have an unwavering focus and determination when it comes to getting their music out to the world, and if that means putting the 'Golden Weather' tour on ice for a while, well so be it.