“I get a sick enjoyment out of finding the most embarrassing aspects of myself, my dirty laundry, and airing it in public,” says Owen Williams, singer/guitarist with confessional folk rockers The Tubs. How dirty does Williams’ laundry get? The title track to his band’s oversharing debut album, Dead Meat, concerns a groinal rash Williams was suffering. “I have OCD, and that’s often based in weird shame, so there’s some therapeutic effect in sharing things like that,” he explains. “Doing it within a pop song where the melodies are nice brings a little joy to it, at least.”
As a child, Williams remembers finding it “really embarrassing” when his mother, folk-singer Charlotte Greig, would sing folk songs around the house. “Then I hit puberty and suddenly became obsessed with music.” He and his friends in their hometown of Cardiff spent their days “illegally downloading tonnes of music” and, by the age of 16, had formed pun-loving noisers Joanna Gruesome. That band was the first in a seemingly endless parade of groups formed within their friendship cohort, including Ex-Vöid, Sniffany & The Nits, The GN Band and The Snivellers, many existing concurrently. “I’m always in at least four bands at any one time, and it ruins my life,” Williams sighs.
Everyone told me I sounded exactly like Richard Thompson.
The Tubs began after the cohort had relocated to London, where Williams and guitarist George Nicholls were living as “sanctioned squatters” in a soon-to-be-demolished police station. “The plan was to sound like [cult ’80s indie group] Cleaners From Venus and Australian jangle,” says Nicholls, with Felt, folk and US college rock also inspirations. Williams, meanwhile, found himself “writing lyrics that were funnier and weirder than what I was writing for the singers in my other groups, and leaning in to my real accent when I sang. Everyone told me I sounded exactly like Richard Thompson. The other groups tended towards genre homage, but The Tubs reflects my personality.”
The songs of Dead Meat lay that personality bare, as Williams documents obsession, doomed love and self-loathing with unsparing honesty, over buzzsaw folk rock. Mental illness is a recurrent motif, though Williams resists being “sentimental” over the subject. The self-flagellating Sniveller is about his “habit in a relationship of behaving like a little worm, to manipulate the other person,” he says. “I want to write about how bad mental health can make you a prick. There’s nothing virtuous about it. I don’t want to trivialise it by saying I’m empowered by it, or that ‘OCD is my superpower’. Although, if The Tubs get big, then maybe it is.”
If they don’t, Williams will keep plugging away regardless. “Even when being in a band ruins my relationships and keeps me poor, I never think, Maybe it’s time to pack it in,” he says. “I do see people give up and get a marketing job and live in a nice flat rather than a disused police station, and sometimes that gives me existential angst. But usually I’m like, What a fucking loser. Being in bands is like a physical compulsion for me.”
● For fans of: Richard Thompson, Sebadoh, The Feelies
● An early back-story for The Tubs claiming they formed while holidaying at a Welsh caravan park was, they now confess, a lie. “We’ve always told tall tales about how our bands formed,” admits Williams. “With Joanna Gruesome, I said we met at an anger management class, or on a wine-tasting holiday,” says Nicholls.
● The group have been friends since high school. “There’s a weird sibling thing going on,” admits Williams. “We’re pretty horrible to each other a lot of the time. In Joanna Gruesome, [singer Lan McArdle] acted as a kind of buffer to stop us descending into teenage boy shit.” “But then she got sucked into it too,” says Nicholls. “We’re all supportive of each other now, though.”
I Don’t Know How It Works
Illusion Pt. II
Introducing Sam Burton: The LA scene’s tarot-reading rhinestone cowboy.
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