Since the emergence of the independent record label, the scope for artistic freedom and avant-experimentation has given the record industry latitude in unearthing a hatchery of popular musicians. The corporate big wigs no longer rule with an iron fist as the alternative market thrives, conceiving the biggest talent with the least amount of shameless intervention. The punk era’s hands-on aesthetic brought to the fore a ‘do-it-yourself’ ethos which had a profound effect on bands at the time, marrying their intrigue with self-generated exposure.
A parallel ethic still exists today, an ethic that BROKEN MEN have inadvertently undertaken and subverted, not by pretence or contrived premeditation, but by instinct as musicians, friends and true aficionados of their own creations. Initially characterised as an elusive bunch, evading the formalities of self-exposure, the unknown quantity of their exploits only adds to their mystique. The three gloomy figures of Bob Westhead (Vocals), Mike Bennett (Drums) and Fash (Bass) linger in the eerie darkness of their quaint headquarters above the Cabin Club, as the vicious sounds of a neighbouring ensemble resonate across the corridor.
Mike sets the mood, opting for some background ambience, and is the first to elaborate on this notion of ambiguity: “We’re not trying to be elusive, it’s just that we don’t have a major web presence. There’s no pretence behind that elusiveness, we’re just not arsed about it. We formed Broken Men about six months ago now and that’s it, we just keep it real quiet, doesn’t Facebook gets overused enough these days?”
Mike is honest in his appraisal of the band’s online presence, and digitally processed band archetypes seem far from the Broken Men doctrine. Despite their nonconformity they remain forthcoming in their perception of new methods to establish a dialogue with their audience and market their exploits beyond the realms of the internet. As burgeoning impresarios and entrepreneurial devotees they utilise their self-made label, Milk Records, as a conduit for their creative musings, an all-inclusive vessel for their outputs: “It’s not like being in a regular band; if you’ve got your own label, it opens things up, you can produce your own videos, you can produce your own everything,” Mike states and enthusiastic nods follow. “We control every aspect, it’s all DIY, it’s all from scratch, even with shit cameras and shit equipment, that’s just us, that’s who we are.”
With no one to answer to but themselves, the band have full creative control to dictate their own artistic agendas. They approach their music as affectation, mood, periodic transition, free in form and devoid of a typical label or tag in the progression of a style they’ve graciously dubbed as ‘sweat muzik’. “We have no particular attachment to putting an album out there, what we’ve said is that we’ll release our music in phases instead. The first record might only be five EPs, meaning five phases,” explains Mike. “We’re almost trying to make it incomparable so people can’t just say, ‘oh, well, that’s nothing like your last record’ because we’ll just say ‘we know, because it was just a phase.”
Although potentially sporadic and unpredictable in form, their experimental ‘phase’ format demands continual evolution, unrefined progression that can’t be boxed off or standardised. Where many underpin their values on finding a standardised formula of sound, assigning their success to a strict structure of constants, Broken Men seem unfettered by formulaic regurgitation: “We’re just like every other band on earth, we just make riffs and play them,” Mike fervently exclaims. “But, as a person, you’re always changing, so your music should change with that, too. Instead of finding something that you think people like and then just regurgitating that same shit over and over and over again, we’re just doing this for ourselves.” Fash unceremoniously intervenes: “We just don’t want to sell people loads of bullshit; it just misses the point.”
Their debut release on Milk Records, Oversold, is a sultry firecracker shaped by proliferating vocal sneers of a tumultuous frequency, fiery guitar lines, and has the unrestrained attitude of a turbulent mood swing. This sonorous outburst of their introductory record features on their inaugural phase, DogMeat, set for release off the back of supporting Echo & The Bunnymen in Rome, no less. Having only played a select handful of live shows locally, it holds testament to their ambition and motivation as a collective force, self-assured and confident in their ability to organise their own extensive world touring regime and subvert some tired trends along the way: “We’ve only played a few so far, there’s loads more to come. We do Europe in November, and then we do the US next year so there’s a load to be looking forward to.” As Mike begins to elaborate it becomes clear that touring is high on their list of priorities, he is almost pensive, but stern in underlining its significance in carving themselves a niche. “Basically we’re doing a load of posh practices in our own city just to get a bit of a response and give people tasters of what we’re about, then really delve into it and see what happens. There’s always the thing of finding where you think your music would lie best as well, nothing really fits in Liverpool and everyone is pushing something different.”
While they continue to salivate at the prospect of uprooting their homemade phases around the globe, Bobby McFerrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy fades in to illuminate the room, as everyone light-heartedly asserts: “What a track.” Without spluttering sentimental blurbs of idealistic poppycock, it’s a track that’s, strangely enough, symbolic of their manifesto. Regardless of image, pretence or corporate kudos they’re happy to proceed with incredible camaraderie, rigid and steely within their convictions to independently lay their own pathway. They’re a self-contained family of tastemakers unshackled by the ideals of monetary gain or hallow stardom; they’re real musicians afflicted with unmitigated passion. You might not be seeing their faces shamelessly brandished on cereal boxes anytime soon, but a wise man once said “try not to become a man of success, but rather try to become a man of value.” As for Broken Men, they possess value in abundance: surely success is inevitably soon to follow.