Pattern Pusher are a local synth-pop, art-rock band, made up of vocalist and keyboard player Alex Johnstone, guitarist Benjamin Green, drummer Benjamin Conibear, and bassist Dan Cosgrove. This is a band that’s bringing together the best of old and new, creating a sound you’ve never heard, and can never get enough of. Below, Nickie Shobeiry chats to Alex and Ben Green.
How did you all meet?
BG: Alex runs a jam night in town, and I was down with my brother, Toby. I was recording some music for him, and he suggested we go, so I went along and played a few times.
AJ: Dan [bassist] teaches where I teach, and he and I were looking for a band. In the end, we got to handpick the best guys, and Ben was one of them.
BG: I made the cut!
AJ: Toby originally was the drummer of the band, but he’s got his own thing and is moving to Bristol soon. Ben [Conibear], our drummer now, is the saint of the band. But let’s not big him up – he’s a loser, he’s not here!
What was it like the first time you all played together?
BG: So good.
AJ: We did a tune in 7/8, which is a weird time signature, and we just started playing it.
BG: It just clicked, really. It was just right.
AJ: Everyone is of such a high standard, and it’s so nice to see.
Did you know as kids that you wanted to get into music?
BG: Absolutely. My mum taught me piano when I was four, but I gave that up and picked up guitar.
AJ: I’ve always, always wanted to be in a band. I was inspired by my dad, who was also in bands. I love it!
Why the name change from “Instant Karma” to “Pattern Pusher”?
AJ: Instant Karma is John Lennon’s intellectual property, and as much as it’s a cool statement, it doesn’t really fit our sound at all.
BG: We set off in that direction, but the name sounded like a covers band, so we wanted to do something more interesting.
Why “Pattern Pusher”?
AJ: We’re all for playing around with various bits of technology, showing you the cool colour patterns that we’re playing with.
BG: And music is pattern, too. We’re pushing weird patterns at you.
Have you found your sound evolving since changing your name?
AJ: It feels more natural now. The sound we want to make is musically intricate, while easy to listen to.
BG: [stroking his chin] It’s not chin stroking music, y’know?
AJ: He says, while closing his eyes and stroking his chin!
BG: We want it to have that depth, without ever realising it.
AJ: Alt-J is quite a big influence on us – Radiohead, Tame Impala. You can study their albums twenty times and still not know exactly what’s going on, but it’s still really good to listen to.
Any recordings coming up?
AJ: John Cornfield, who produced The Stone Roses, Muse and Supergrass is recording us – we’re so excited.
BG: It’s our first real time in the studio together. We can’t wait!
AJ: We’re getting a big A2 sheet and tick boxes like, “We gotta do this, we gotta do this.”
That’s quite a step for the first real studio time.
AJ: It’s all quite new, really. Ben [Conibear] joined late last summer, so there’s been a lot of writing. I had songs from way back when I was with The Big V – we had loads of little ideas that weren’t right, but now it’s different. Everyone’s their own piece of the puzzle.
And what’s the writing process like?
BG: We meet up a lot. We have a song written that we go through, and something different will happen and we go, “Forget the old song, this is what we’re writing about now!”
AJ: There’re some new tunes we’re recording that we locked ourselves away in a room for two days for. It came out of nowhere, and that’s the best kind of song. It doesn’t happen often. Usually you have to struggle, go back home, write more lyrics – these ones are really good.
BG: It never sounds the same as when it’s all of us. If one person is gone, it’s not right. It has to be every single person doing something different –
AJ: – which is hard, because we’re so busy, but when you do get it, it’s great. I think the process from now on will be locking ourselves away. Phones off, get everything out of the way –
BG: No distractions –
AJ: – and just do it.
What about your own musical tastes? What do you listen to?
BG: Everything, but that’s a really annoying answer. At the moment I’m really into a lot of indie and rock music. Alt-J, Radiohead, Sigur Ros.
AJ: That’s something I like about the band – we’ve all got different tastes. I love old stuff like Harry Nilsson, The Who, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin. I also like listening to new electronic sounds, like Alt-J again.
BG: I’m a bit more eclectic and avant-garde. Dan’s really into jazz, and Ben [Conibear] likes… what does he like? Everything.
AJ: We need to text him, actually! He wanted us to text him a question.
AJ: Gotta love it.
True. And what was the inspiration behind Prime?
BG: That was a remix Ben [Conibear] made. We did some sessions with What’s A Pixel, and he did some remixes, cutting it with some footage from the Firehouse. It looks amazing.
AJ: We got loads of vocals from the two tracks, and slowed them down. We want to make tunes like that, as well. It was an interesting experiment.
Do you guys have a song your audience always reacts well to?
A: Probably Layla And Madman. You see everyone bounce from side-to-side. The most pleasing one we ever did was at the Phoenix. This guy shouted, “That wasn’t a cover!” and I thought, “Aww, that’s quite nice.”
Tell me more of your best gig memories.
AJ: Looking across at Ben at any time! He’s nuts. The first time we did a gig, I had no idea what Ben was doing. I was just singing, looking out front, doing my job – and then I hear everyone halfway saying, “Your guitarist is NUTS! He’s mad!” So now I get Ben at an angle on stage, so I can look over and just see him.
BG: We did a David Bowie tribute at the Firehouse, and surprised everyone. We made it seem like it was just a cover of Life On Mars, but we’d secretly learnt it, and did a massive ending. You could see the crowd go “Woah, wait a minute!” That was so good.
AJ: That was one of my favourite moments. “Sailors, fighting in the dancehall” on that last chorus, the whole band came in. That was so cool.
You’re certainly doing that. What’s the best advice you’ve received?
BG: My dad always said to me, “Play every gig like it’s your last.” I’d much rather walk off stage knowing I gave it everything. I’m sure you can tell that – I hope you can tell that!
AJ: The lead singer of The Levellers told me, “You’re not a singer unless you have diction.” I’ve looked at so many singers since, and he’s right. If you have nothing to say, you mumble. If you have something to say, you make sure your words are eloquent, and you get them out.
Have you been vocally trained?
AJ: I went to uni in Manchester and trained there. I was a chorister as well, at Exeter Cathedral – a little choir boy [laughs]. It makes a difference with harmonies. It’s horrible work though, you do hours and hours. When I was nine years old, I screamed at my dad, “You’re ruining my childhood!” He still remembers it to this day. That kind of thing sticks to the heart. I knew how to get him, even then [laughs]. But, I’m so happy for it now.
And does it help with your writing?
AJ: Oh, yeah. When you hear Dan’s bass lines, he won’t do a normal scale – he’ll try to get something in there.
BG: And he makes it sound like he’s not doing that, as well, which is what I like.
Do you think you could get the same sound without the theory?
AJ: It’d take much longer. Theory is just studying other people’s songs and figuring out, “Why is that pulling at my heartstrings? Why do I feel uneasy? Oh, it’s because it’s a suspended fourth chord.” There are little things you hear in other people’s songs.
BG: A lot of the time, people say it’s natural – and it is. They haven’t sat down and labelled everything. They’ve learnt through practice. And they know if they do this, they get that.
AJ: Yeah. It’s like putting a label on a sonic entity [laughs].
Does theory make it easier to mix genres?
AJ: I think so. Ask the band to play bluegrass, they can do it like that [clicks fingers], because they know the theory. An artist has a palette of colour. We have a palette of chords for a particular emotion or idea.
Do you draw from personal experience for your songs?
AJ: Loads. One of our songs, Still In My Arms, was inspired by a news story. One was inspired by an old Turkish poem. Who Are You? is probably the most personal song I’ve ever written, after the end of a five-year relationship.
Can you tell me more about Still In My Arms?
AJ: I was watching the news, and a girl went missing, and her parents were pleading to get her back. When you see that face, it’s hard to forget. That was the basis for the lyrics, and that was when we locked ourselves away for a couple days.
Do you experiment with different instruments?
Alex: We always want to add new stuff.
Ben: It’s making gigs harder and harder to play, because you’ve got to bring this, and bring that.
Alex: We don’t want to turn into one of those bands with ten keyboards stacked in a little pub.
Ben: We’re playing with synths and effects a lot more.
Alex: Ben [Conibear]’s got an SPD pad on his drum kit, which you can load anything into and use for rhythm live. We love it. Every gig we turn up and say, “Turn up the SPD. Louder. Louder! Louder!” Talking about Ben, he texted me back.
What did he say?
AJ: Ben’s influences are, “More rocky and heavier genres through my teens, but mainly Biffy Clyro for timing. The Black Keys. Jack White for his sound. Love Jack Garratt’s glitchy sounds and broken-up beats. He uses an SPD too.” Well timed, Ben! A drummer’s always got good timing.
Do you think you have a certain type of audience?
BG: We’ve never been able to work it out.
AJ: If someone isn’t into the modern tech stuff, they might not enjoy it. I do a live loop set, and when you get to certain pubs, you see the old guy standing at the bar hating it. I think you might get the same response to some of our tunes. It’s quite experimental, new electronic stuff. But it’s hard to pigeonhole and stereotype; I know a lot of 60-year olds who love it. It’s gone down so well with whoever we’ve played to so far, so happy days!
Would you do an unplugged version?
AJ: There’s this thing called Balcony TV that we’re doing on July 31st on the quay, and you can only have seven electronic channels. The rest has to be acoustic.
BG: It’s a challenge.
AJ: Going back to the SPD, I think we can use that. That’s our response to everything. Eventually, the set will just be the SPD, and us doing harmony. That’s how much we love it.
Ben, do you have a favourite guitar?
BG: I’m left handed, so there are about five guitars for every couple hundred right-handed ones. I spend forever looking at guitars going, “I like that one,” but not being able to get it. When we’re big and famous! There’s a store in Japan that only sells left-handed guitars, so we need to get big in Japan.
AJ: That whole cliché thing of Japan.
BG: That’s the plan.
Rider requests, anything in the world – what would you ask for?
AJ: Off record, I want it all!
BG: I’ve never thought about it.
AJ: It’d be quite cool to relax with a bunch of horses outside a gig.
BG: Why would you say that?!
AJ: I suddenly imagined 10 horses. A water slide going to the stage?
People usually say coconut water, or something.
AJ: We’ll go for an evening stroll before the gig. Or an evening gallop.
BG: “I need an acre of land, and it must be at sunset.” I’d ask for some nice beer. Some nice beer, good food. Some horses.
AJ: A big waterslide that the horses can go down as well.
Terribly rock n’ roll.
AJ: I’ll ask Ben [Conibear]. He’ll have a better answer.
BG: I always thought it’d be nice to have a chef that can come with you.
And what’s next for you guys? You’re recording, of course.
AJ: We’re hoping to play at Beautiful Days and do a mini-tour. We’ll have loads of stuff in the bag by then.
BG: We’ll definitely start to branch out.
AJ: We just want to meet loads of people and play loads of gigs.
BG: That’s why we do it, really.
For more information, visit http://www.patternpusher.com/.