Six by Seven
Six by Seven
After eight years together, Six by Seven finally made an impact in the United States with their second full-length album. Louder than their 1998 debut entitled The Things We Make, the group’s 2000 release The Closer You Get, issued on Mantra Recordings in the United Kingdom and Beggars Banquet in North America, reflected the band’s long-held intentions. “That’s what we’ve always wanted,” Chris Olley, Six by Seven’s vocalist and guitarist, told Kenny Berkowitz of Magnet magazine. “You know, not so loud that people just walk out. But loud enough to have a massive impact. It’s not about volume, it’s about creating good music. The volume is just a way of reaching out, making sure you grab everyone, get their attention.”
Six by Seven formed around 1992 in the group’s adopted hometown of Nottingham, England. In addition to Olley, the band included guitarist Sam Hempton, organist, keyboardist, and saxophonist James Flower, bassist Paul Douglas, and drummer Chris Davis. Olley, who was raised in an army family and spent many of his formative years in Germany, never actually lived in Great Britain until age 18, when he arrived in Nottingham to study photography in college. During his childhood and early teens, Olley listened mostly to punk and rock music. Then he discovered the music of his biggest idol, Neil Young. “I saw a Neil Young film called Rust Never Sleeps, and really that was it for me,” the singer and self-taught guitarist recalled in an interview for the official Six by Seven fansite. “It made me see that you don’t have to sing in a certain style, you can sing from your heart…. There was something that really touched me about [Young’s music], so I got a job and bought a guitar.” Besides Young, Olley also enjoys Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen—specifically his influential 1982 Nebraska album—and the Fall, as well as more recent artists such as Sparklehorse and Mercury Rev.
Hempton, known to sometimes play his guitar with a drumstick, first met Olley while the two were taking the same course at school. Growing up, Hempton listened to the music his parents played at home—bands from the 1960s and 1970s like the Beatles and Captain Beefheart. Later, friends at college turned him on to groups such as Sonic Youth, Mercury Rev, and Spaceman 3. Hempton also is a big fan of hip-hop, naming the Wu-Tang Clan as one of his favorites. One of his greatest accomplishments thus far in life, as he stated in an online interview at the official Six by Seven fansite, is “believing in this band, because I’ve never really stuck with anything for very long, except for playing guitar (my dad taught me when I was 13).” Touring in America and playing a gig in Athens, Greece, were also highlights for Hempton in Six by Seven’s career.
Before joining Six by Seven, Flower was repairing musical instruments for a living. He first became interested in music as a child, taking up the piano and saxophone. At age 16, Flower more or less quit playing the piano and keyboards and had to polish his skills a bit when he joined Six by Seven. Flowers, who once played in a jazz-type band while in college studying art and music, comes from a mixed musical background. He listened to punk and rock music and remains a fan of the Doors, but he also draws inspiration from elements of jazz and soundtrack music.
Like his bandmates, Douglas finds inspiration within an array of genres. When he first started getting into music, Douglas listened to punk, especially the Clash and the Sex Pistols. “I think Six by Seven have the punk ethic,” he admitted to the official Six by Seven fansite. “But my taste has changed loads—I like anything from punk to Mercury Rev, all sorts. No particular category—I’m quite open-minded. I try to keep listening to new music and learning all the time, and I think it’s important to do that.” The band’s flamboyant drummer, Davis, names Spaceman 3 as his favorite band, but he is also inspired by rock acts like the Rolling Stones and the Who.
Combining their varying and similar interests, which relied heavily on the work of Nirvana, the Pixies, Sonic Youth, and, of course, Spaceman 3, Six by Seven—taking their name from research connected with the Hubble telescope—began playing local shows and writing songs together. From the onset, they took a spontaneous and collaborative approach to creating music; although Olley draws on personal experiences to pen most of the lyrics, all members of Six by Seven participate in the songwriting process. They have even
Members include Chris Davis, drums; Paul Douglas, bass; James Flower, Hammond organ, keyboards, saxophone; Sam Hempton (left group, 2000), guitar; Chris Olley, vocals, guitar.
Formed band in Nottingham, England, c. 1992; released The Things We Make, 1998; released The Closer You Get, 2000.
Addresses: Record comparii; —Beggars Banquet, 580 Broadway, New York, NY 10012, phone: (212) 343-7010, fax: (212) 343-7030, e-mail: [email protected], website: http://www.beggars.com. Website —Six by Seven at Mantra Recordings: http://www.mantrarecordings.com/artists/six_by_seven/index.htm.
been known to compose tracks just hours before recording them. “I’ve always maintained that we’re a band who try to find themselves musically simply by pursuing our ideas,” Olley explained on the group’s fansite. “There are too many people in the band to have this thing where ‘it’s gonna be like this’ or ‘it’s gonna be like that.’ There are different things that we can do and it’s just however the mood takes us on the day that we go in that direction. We don’t make any rules for ourselves.”
Because Six by Seven did not exactly adhere to the standards of Britpop songcrafting, some years passed before they started to gain an audience. Then, in 1997, they released a self-financed 12-inch single entitled “European Me.” The song, which featured a five-minute long introduction, was long and unwinding without sounding repetitive. Gaining momentum by now on the British underground scene, Six by Seven followed “European Me” with their full-length debut; released in 1998, the hypnotic The Things We Make, which contained elements of indie and psychedelic rock, won the favor of music listeners and critics alike. However, because of their mutual understanding about repetition and their rule against long guitar solos, the group was puzzled about certain comments in the press. “I don’t know why we got compared to Pink Floyd,” Olley told Victoria Segal in Uncut magazine. “When I think of Pink Floyd, I think of David Gilmour’s endless meandering guitar fills. It’s like the soundtrack to an airshow on Sunday afternoon TV.”
In support of their debut, Six by Seven toured with higher-profile acts such as the Dandy Warhols, the Manic Street Preachers, and Placebo, and they made an appearance on a popular British television show hosted by Jools Holland. Next they set about recording their follow-up album. For The Closer You Get, released in the spring of 2000, Six by Seven enlisted producer John Leckie, well known for his work with Radiohead and the Stone Roses, to help bring out the group’s harsher side. The result was a “feast of corrugated energy and untamable fury,” wrote Ben Gilbert in a review for the Dotmusic website. The album favored reference points such as the MC5, Led Zeppelin, and the Velvet Underground over previous post-rock influences. Thus, whereas their debut revealed the quintet’s introspective side, their second album, by comparison, revealed an “aggressively extroverted” Six by Seven, according to Berkowitz.
Six by Seven subsequently brought their harder-rocking sound to New York City to kick off their first American tour. They then returned for shows in Europe, including several summer festival gigs. In the fall of 2000, according to the band’s official website, Hempton left Six by Seven because of musical differences and to pursue other projects. Tony Doggen, who previously worked with Julian Cope and Spiritualized, joined the band as a touring member.
The Things We Make, Uni/lnterscope, 1998.
The Closer You Get, Mantra/Beggars Banquet, 2000.
Magnet, January/February 2001.
Melody Maker, November 8, 1997, p. 40; December 13, 1997, p. 36; February 14, 1998, p. 8; February 28, 1998, p. 36; May 16, 1998, p. 27; October 3, 1998, p. 32; November 7, 1998, p. 32; January 30, 1999, p. 28; July 3, 1999, p. 37.
Uncut, July 2000.
Official Six by Seven Fansite, http://members.aol.com/thea6x7/ (December 11, 2001).
“Six by Seven,” Mantra Recordings, http://www.mantrarecordings.com/artists/six_by_seven/index.htm (December 11, 2001).
Six by Seven Official Website, http://www.sixbyseven.co.uk (May 18, 2001).
“Six by Seven—‘The Closer You Get, ‘” Dotmusic, http://www.dotmusic.com/reviews/Albums/March2000/reviewsi3321.asp (December 11, 2001).
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