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Big Four Meets Big Star: Puppy On Their Genre-Mashing Debut 'The Goat'

Monday, 21 January 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Photo: Georgia Rawson

There are plenty of music fans out there who would happily hype the battle between pop and rock for the rest of time: the dark side versus the light, Ivan Drago versus Rocky Balboa, John Travolta versus Nicolas Cage, Nicolas Cage versus John Travolta. But then we also have bands like Puppy, who are able to cast that whole argument in the comic light it often deserves.

The trio—guitarist and vocalist Jock Norton, drummer Billy Howard and bassist Will Michael—have been hocking up a bloody mess of crushing metal riffs and classic pop songwriting for the best part of half a decade, releasing a handful of EPs on the way to crafting their debut album ‘The Goat’. Expected on January 25, the record capably carries the shit-eating double meaning of its title while fine-tuning the balance between the competing sides of their personality.

“Having the long form of an album allowed us to have a song here or there that went in a different direction,” Norton says. “There’s a track called Nightwalker which is more straightforward guitar pop, a bit Weezery, and there’s a track on there called Bathed in Blood which is a bit more washed out and shoegaze. The majority of bread and butter songs are where the pop thing, the metal thing and the indie, alt-rock sensibilities all coalesce. You get all of them without feeling like it’s ping-ponging between things. That’s what we’re trying to get better at.”

It’s hardly a novelty for a metal band to throw in the odd arena-sized hook. But Puppy’s approach is slightly different. Rather than dredging up the festering bones of the clean/screamed vocal dynamic, their melodies are sugary and delivered in layered harmonies that have been sent down the line from major influences like Teenage Fanclub, Big Star and the Raspberries. Think Sad But True channelled through Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, or Kirk Hammett rattling off the riff to Go All The Way to get the juices flowing.

“I don’t want to speak for anyone else but I imagine it comes from a different place,” Norton says. “We’re huge fans of classic power-pop bands and Abba, that kind of thing. Melodies and pop songwriting are a huge part of what we love. There are other bands that will have a verse that’s chugging guitars and screamed vocals, and then it’ll be the hook in the chorus to offset it. We’ve never thought ‘We need to throw in a chorus there to get on the radio’ or whatever. It’s always been integral to what we do. That’s what makes it feel like one of our songs—the desire to have pop structures, in a classic sense.”

On ‘The Goat’ Puppy have re-recorded a couple of older songs—the live favourite Entombed and Demons, a standalone single that was initially considered the album’s lead in before a series of delays struck. Both slot seamlessly into its thunderous running order, which has polish to match its heft thanks to a sparkling job from producers Neil Kennedy and Tom Dalgety, who shared the 12 song tracklist in an eight-four split.

These earlier cuts also highlight the manner in which ‘The Goat’ expands on the band’s initial thrashings without dispensing with their fundamental nature as a power trio. At several points, notably on the single Black Hole and the effervescent Vengeance, they get close to realising a complete version of their sound. The songs are ferocious, the riffs neck-snapping, and the harmonies gorgeous. In this setting, Entombed and Demons feel like Puppy have also been asked to show their workings.

“We wanted to keep it fairly bare bones in terms of instrumentation and the format of a three piece rock band,” Norton says. “That’s something that we’re really fond of. A lot of bands, one of things I like about them is their ability to arrange those instruments in a way that sounds exciting and compelling. From a songwriting perspective I try to make sure the songs sound good just as a guitar and vocal.

“We didn’t want to jump the shark in terms of studio stuff going on. When it came time to mix and add little bits here and there it was the cherry on top. We weren’t in a position where it was like ‘This isn’t working, how many string sections can we add to make the chorus better?’ That was a good litmus test of whether a song worked.”

While they take their music seriously, Puppy have also made sure to cut things with a sense of schlocky fun: heavy occult references in their lyrics, grimly humorous videos, song titles riddled with references to tombs, blood and celestial bodies that, we might infer, will try to do us harm. Like the theatrical goth-punks Creeper, a band they’ve shared stages with in the past, they appear to have a creative shorthand that extends beyond the songs and gives the band a three dimensional feel.

“There’s an unspoken thing between the three of us, a kind of visual language, that ties in to the music and maybe plays off it a bit,” Norton says. “We make all the videos ourselves, Will and Billy usually take turns in directing, and we keep everything in house. By default that gives it a continuation. It’s sort of our default setting and there’s never been a broad conversation about what we want the band to sound like. I think that’s one of the reasons it’s worked for us on a personal level and in terms of being able to continue in interesting ways. It’s pretty natural.”

Following a spell opening for stoner-rock lifers Monster Magnet, Puppy will take their own show on the road this spring, and their UK tour will find them slinging riffs and hooks in Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle, Nottingham, Leeds and London. Prepare to spend precisely 50% of your time banging your head, and be sure to set aside the rest for singing along.

‘The Goat’ is out on January 25 through Spinefarm Records.

Puppy Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed April 17 2019 - SOUTHAMPTON Joiners
Thu April 18 2019 - BRISTOL Exchange
Fri April 19 2019 - BIRMINGHAM Flapper
Sat April 20 2019 - MANCHESTER Star And Garter
Sun April 21 2019 - GLASGOW Garage Attic
Mon April 22 2019 - NEWCASTLE Think Tank?
Tue April 23 2019 - NOTTINGHAM Bodega Social Club
Wed April 24 2019 - LEEDS Brudenell Community Room
Thu April 25 2019 - LONDON Underworld Camden

Click here to compare & buy Puppy Tickets at Stereoboard.com.

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