Thee MVPs: "I just don't feel like the sort of person that makes that music anymore"
It's labour of love being an independent musician, and it's become a hell of a lot more labourious throughout the past year. Especially when you've spent the best part of the past ten years gigging most nights, as garage rock outfit Thee MVPs did.
But no matter how much you grind or how much get-in-the-van ethic you embody, there's still a huge element of luck that's required in achieving recognition, or even moderate success. So when the band, led by founder Charlie Wyatt, released their debut album Science Fiction last May, he'd hoped this might be the time that nearly a decade of hard work would finally pay off. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case: the band's primary mode of promotion (their raucous live shows) was out of the window, and people's attentions swiftly shifted elsewhere.
At the beginning of this year, Wyatt pulled the plug, cut the chord, and called it quits. His debut album's failure on top of a global pandemic, and Brexit, and a revolving door of band personnel, and a support slot with IDLES' on their Joy as an Act of Resistance US tour slipping through his fingers, and ultimately, a loss of love with being a musician meant the end of Thee MVPs.
We spoke with a very candid Wyatt about his decision to bring the band to a halt, his experience of grinding away as a DIY musician, and his new label Eeasy Records - retraining in cyber was never an option:
How long had Thee MVPs been together as a band?
I'd say very late 2011 I had the idea to form it. I was doing a very fast and loud The White Stripes-on-speed garage band (so... Coachwhips) called Cuss Words. We tanned off about 85 gigs in 18 months, then packed it in abruptly. A lot of laughs for the short amount we did it (and Tom Close is one hell of a drummer).
MVPs came out of that really - I'd grown a little tired of playing things that were purposefully abrasive and wanted to try doing some form of power-pop/surf etc. Early influences were Jay Reatard, Harlem, Black Lips.
Considering you’d been almost constantly touring for a decade, how difficult was it to see the live music sector diminish?
Well due to some very heavy but basically/typically uninteresting shit that went down late 2019, we hadn't done a show since November 2019 (in Hamburg) so I was already a tiny bit acclimated to not playing. But it was still a wig out for sure. Playing a show to me is like someone else's 5-a-side, or video games night, or going for a curry, or to the pictures, or gym session etc. It's my form of socialising, and I think I share the same dull ache and perpetual piney dread everyone else is having with their chosen form of seeing and making friends you know.
On the flip of that it has allowed me to focus on making Eeasy Records [Charlie's label] make some moves. Being a shut-in is part and parcel with label people, so being boxed in like this has helped me get that trucking along nicely.
You’d shared the stage with some notable artists throughout your career like Ty Segall, Frank Carter, Dead Meadow, METZ, and very nearly secured a US tour with IDLES. Why didn’t that materialise, and do you think it significantly impacted the band?
Well, we had played before them at the Desert Daze party in SXSW (due to Orb being double-booked, we got bumped from 14:15 to 19:30, right before them) and were standing around having a beer and a chat, and they were impressed that we'd not only got out there off our own backs but had already done it a few times. They liked the show too and repped our merch, then posted about us afterwards.
About two (?) months later their booker got in touch and asked if we wanted to go tour support for like, 35 days around the states, use their backline etc. Basically tour America with a band on the tipping point and get like $300 a night for it, and all we had to do was follow their van in a crappy little rental! I think what happened is the booker didn't do their research and realised we're from the UK too, so they gave it to Bambara. It would've been cool to do it and have a smaller UK band land a very rare opportunity to get on a tour like that over here let alone out there. I think going on the tour would've significantly impacted the band. Not going, it kept things completely as is.
Photo by Dylan Johnson
Years of hard work culminated in your debut album Science Fiction, but you said it was a bit of an anti-climax given that it’s a piece of work you’re immensely proud of. How come?
The anti-climax is not being able to play a single note of it live. And given the nature of the UK music biz, it's already old hat. And given the laws of garage rock bands we should've already had another two out. And given the laws of hacking away at anything creative for nearly ten years, you start to feel like a bit of a dinosaur. I know there are people out there who dig it - after all I'm the one posting them - but MVPs is a gigging band and it can't currently do that, so I see no point to pursuing another avenue under that name.
For what it's worth, I don't think we would have stayed the course of the proposed release tour anyway if COVID-19 wasn't a thing - I was admittedly a tightly bound ball of knots of stress trying to get this record made, and put out, and I hoovered all the fun out of it. In retrospect driving around in a van with a bunch of people not really digging what we were doing would be a deathblow. The guys started another group and I'm a bit knackered with the 'constant member changes' tackle. I'd never set out to be a Greg Ginn-type guy at any point, it just ended up that way.
I've seen and experienced first hand how much better other countries consume and cultivate a band like ours. Can't blame geography on everything of course but it would've been a great deal easier being the kind of non-stop touring band I wanted to be if we were in a country that supports that.
The statistics-focused mindset of music consumption nowadays impacted your mental health. How difficult is it for independent artists to generate income from releases?
To me it's not even about the money that streaming generates (which is fuck all) but it's about the attention and heat it can bring to a band. For years I've been settled and comfortable with the fact that I'll only make money from gigs and selling records at those gigs. However the missing part from that is having a good following online so people know about you and want to come out, even more so when a country like the UK doesn't have a scene for us really. Basically to put it bluntly and as shallow as possible, I wanted a lot of people to catch on to this record and be bursting at the seams to come out and see.
I realise this may sound like it was for all the wrong reasons, but the truth is I've played a lot of dead gigs in my life and funnily enough the busier ones are much better in every single way. And, I thought was the most shit-hot thing I've ever made so I'm pouty not more people are into it. I also literally have no idea how it would've gone the other way - maybe it would have flopped in the real world too! At least during a pandemic you can take some kind of cynical comfort in knowing no one else can go out and gig either. I reckon a KEXP session that goes viral ought to do it.
Do you think that streaming has invalidated releasing music as a form of income for artists?
Not for all artists. You look at hip-hop, all the newest up-and-comers are constantly releasing and featuring on other people's shit all the time, and that's all streamed. But that doesn't apply to us. Bands need to go out and play and sell it that way. Analogue music requires those analogue means to make analogue money. I don't go for the livestreaming thing much for my band. I'll just watch the hate5Six YouTube channel until I can go out again.
I'm probably not the best person to ask - I'm £3,800 in debt to myself making that LP.
You’ve worked with numerous labels but decided to release Science Fiction on your own label Eeasy Records. How much higher is the risk releasing music yourself?
I've actually found the whole process less risky - at least if it goes tits up I can blame myself for not delivering something on time. I was very lucky to have some friends in the business that were able to walk me through doing a label and impart their do's and don'ts. Eeasy already has retail distribution going to indie stores all over the country, and my years of blagging press articles and promoting my own band/gigs has made the whole thing very tight and budget friendly for releasing loud records on a small scale. I have a couple friends that help and a couple go-to places for certain artistic/production services too so the whole setup is something very geared towards doing it with friends for our friends.
What was the ‘final straw’ when deciding to go on an indefinite hiatus?
Brexit, COVID, finding out some figureheads in your scene were as bad as the people you go against by making this music and getting involved in this scene. I turned 30 during the pandemic too, had to change jobs etc... I dunno, life shit! This has made everyone change in some way, and this is something that changed for me. I can comfortably say I don't wince at any of the material I've made (Science Fiction is actually rippin') but I just don't feel like the sort of person that makes that music anymore and it had really stunted my guitar playing for a long time.
Also, I basically didn't use any free time for anything but MVPs for nearly ten years. To actually have an enforced breather and give myself a lot of perspective on everything has been wonderful in helping me look forward to other things. The music is still around for you, just not the people playing it.
All my biggest heroes aren't just known for one thing anyway, you got John Dwyer [Oh Sees] and Ty Segall of course but people like Walter Schreifels [Rival Schools], Ian Mackaye [Fugazi/Coriky], and Kurt Ballou [Converge] are also big inspirations on why I throw myself into art. The biggest goal to me with art is self-sufficiency in the mind, body, spirit, and wallet, and blindly following one thing doesn't yield that for me.
The idea of people having me saved as 'charlie mvps' in their phone bugs me.
What are some standout moments from your time in the band?
I'll list ten moments for the nearly ten (!) years of the band:
1. My 8th gig ever was with Ty Segall. I was on tour with another band, flew in from Berlin, arrived 20 minutes before we went on. Smashed it.
2. Playing before Temples at SXSW and having a load of people confused as to why the British band they came to watch was way too fast, and had shit hair.
3. 1st ever gig, drinks afterwards, I pretended to be bar staff at a nightclub and took a slab of Red Stripe for three of us.
4. Playing to 200 people in the smoking section of a venue in LA.
5. Driving across the desert for the first time.
6. The band allowed for OG member Dan to find a better life for himself in Barcelona.
7. Making any vinyl of any kind!
8. All four of the mental house parties we did in a warehouse in Hackney Wick, and putting on Twin Peaks at our rehearsal space.
9. Playing in a basement in Virginia to a bunch of college kids. Shit was very 90s indie VHS bootleg.
10. A Lemmy-grade bullshit drug party in the Hard Rock Hotel in Palm Springs.
Is this it for Thee MVPs, or can you see the band having a future?
The thing is, I put too much pressure on myself anyway, let alone with the thing that's meant to be fun in life. Through going at things harder and harder to make this record I'd begun to choke the resonance of the friendships surrounding the music, muddle the ethics behind making it and stifle the sounds that were being made. I'm not quite ready to return to the same vicinity as that headspace but while lockdown is on anyway I see no point in trying to get the band together for it. This time is better spent working on a new band and working on putting out records of music I love with the label. I can't even remember half the solos anyway.
There'll be some set of parties going at least as some kind of victory lap when my head's in a better place for it and lockdown lifts and the world becomes a bit safer. See you in the pit?
For more info on Eeasy Records roster and releases, click here.