Occasionally you wake up in the morning with an incredible song in your head and wonder “What happened to that band?”. Miss Black America were one of those bands; despite a relatively small following they were cherished by those under their spell. Winning the heart of legendary DJ John Peel and making multiple dents in his 2002 festive-fifty with ‘Talk Hard’ making it to the #3 position.
Far from disappearing off the face of the planet they are playing together as the amazing Ten City Nation. We caught up with guitarist (and occasional vocalist) Seymour Patrick to find out more.
How did Miss Black America come to an end and Ten City Nation start?
Miss Black America, depending on which way you look at it, ended back in 2002 in that form. Me, Mike and Neil started the band in 1999 and they left in 2002. After two years of being on tour with no money and me gradually getting more and more difficult to deal with, they quit the band.
I continued the band with various line-ups. But the problem is, when you start a band, it is based around three people and people liked that line-up – it worked in a certain way. It also helped that Mike and Neil learnt to play together. I was lucky enough to be joined by Matt Anthony on guitar, but me and him were the only constant members of Miss Black America from that point onwards and it was an absolute nightmare. So it ended in 2006.
The problem was we never really made the music that any of us listened to. I wanted this to be a certain kind of important band, but to that end I don’t think we ever really sounded like us. Mike and Neil carried on playing together as My Hi-Fi Sister, whilst I of observed from afar hoping that one-day we would be friends again. And then out of the blue, they contacted me and asked me if I wanted to be in a band with them again. So we started from scratch as a new band; making the music we all wanted to make.
Did you ever consider trading under the Miss Black America banner?
We never considered the idea of continuing as Miss Black America. We couldn’t have – I wouldn’t have done that. None of us would have done it. We have had healthy conversations about reforming Miss Black America but no one’s comfortable with doing that. I’d be very concerned about going back and trying to be that person again – because I’m not. It was never a healthy thing. I loved it but I’m not actually sure that I enjoyed much of it. But I like doing it this time. We really enjoy every aspect of Ten City Nation. We’ve got our priorities right.
You’ve still got quite a bit of a fan base still for Miss Black America. What do they think of Ten City Nation?
I think quite a few Miss Black America fans are quite disappointed with what we’ve done with Ten City Nation. That’s the impression that I get anyway.
Live we are more intense than we ever were in Miss Black America. It’s a bit more channelled and a bit less kind of flaily – I’m not rolling around on the floor being sick and slicing up my arms any more. Although a lot of people think that I should sing more. I’m proud of what we did and I’m glad that people still like it. It’s just that I don’t feel like that person anymore. If I carried on being that person, I probably would be dead.
So Ten City Nation are more than just a new start for you musically? You are drawing a line under the past?
On the last record Mike wrote most of the lyrics and I didn’t really feel like I had much to say. I was comfortable just being a guitarists and not really wanting to put to much on the line. I became very wary after Miss Black America about being too confessional, because it can get very tiring doing that all the time – being a kind of in your face. Being the blood, guts, puke and glory frontman. But then this year I ended up writing about 70% of the lyrics on the album – and they are some of the most personal things I’ve ever written.
But we get Mike to sing them so I can pretend it isn’t anything to do with me – maybe that’s easier? I have no problem putting words into Mike’s mouth.
Following the Manic Street Preachers model?
I actually found myself apologising to Mike for some of the lyrics. But the moment I felt like I didn’t have to write from a personal point of view anymore, that’s the first thing I did. I wouldn’t be able to sing the lyrics that I’ve gotten him to sing.
You’ve made the first two TCN albums available for free on your website, what was the rationale behind that?
Again, it’s to do with experiences in Miss Black America of touring for so many years, then trying to sell a record and hardly anyone buying it. And that was the most heartbreaking thing. We did two records but no one really ever heard them – and that’s really sad. At the end of the day that was more upsetting than anything else that happened at the time. With all the kind of intrigue and soap opera that happened behind the scenes; you could live with all that if a million people bought your records. But they didn’t.
So this time we thought that aside from the writing and recording being the priority, we’d make sure that as many people as possible heard them – however that happened. Increasingly in the last few years the music itself has become a flyer for a gig. It’s not the main commodity anymore. It’s the merchandising and the gig tickets that make money. So, it didn’t seem like such a big thing to just give it all away for free.
We actually did it with Miss Black America a long time before everyone else started doing it, we were one of the first bands I know that stuck up our MP3’s online and I think that helped a lot in the early days.
Although a new idea that we’re gonna try this time is to try and get people to pay for music.
That’s novel in this day and age.
Yeah, that’s like a new approach that we’re going to try out. So, we’ll let you know how that goes in a year’s time. We figured that two free albums is enough. Hopefully people liked the first two, in the last year we’ve had 100,000 downloads of them. Whereas at the most I think Miss Black America sold 10,000 records.
It’s all about getting your stuff out there?
But for any band doing the DIY thing it always feels like it’s an uphill struggle. There’s much less money to be made in music now.
It does seem to be very hard for a band to actually be self-sufficient today.
Yeah. I mean, there are other things that conspire against you. As pathetic as it sounds petrol prices has made it almost impossible to tour without haemorrhaging money.
The going rate for support bands has always been about £50; it doesn’t matter what size venue. That’s if you’re lucky – because so many people are now doing pay to play, it has been a bit of a real problem in London. Most promoters are going to pay to play, I understand the reason they do it but it’s absolutely bullshit. It’s a crap way of doing things. You shouldn’t be paying to provide entertainment. So, there’s just no way to make it financially viable unless you’ve got a lot of money behind you.
I’ve been talking to Caffy St Luce, who used to do the press for The Manics and Radiohead in the 90’s. She became very well known behind the scenes for being this incredible person who makes stuff happen through sheer enthusiasm. She’s been helping us out in an unofficial capacity, just helping us get nice gigs and getting in touch with press people.
We realised that the Brit-Pop days are gone. Indie music isn’t going to be the next pop music – that’s not going to happen again. There’ll always be some people signed to the big labels having lots of money thrown at them. But in general, the days of Brit-Pop when you could form an indie band and make a huge amount of money are over.
So the question is how to bring people and bands together to make the pockets of DIY feel like they have a common ground. How they can work together with a sense of principles, or perhaps guidelines – seeing how people can operate outside of their local scene. And that’s what me and Caffy are considering at the moment.
So how do you make that happen? Do you use the web as an enabler?
I haven’t got a fucking clue – that’s just the idea.
But what are the mechanics of that?
Well hopefully there will be some people who’ve got slightly more business like brains getting involved.
You’ve a new album and EP due soon, is there a release date?
No, we’ve been trying to convince someone else to put it out this time to promote it properly.
So if anyone’s reading this wants to promote the album?
Yes, that would be nice. I mean, I’ve got my own record label. It’d just be nice to find someone who can promote it just a little bit better than I can.
We’ve got a single called ‘Hidden Shallows’ due mid-July. That’s coming out on an EP through Repeat Records, which is for Love Music Hate Racism. It’s being sold as an EP – but we’re selling it for the price of a single even though it’s got 20 tracks on it from other bands. Each of the bands is promoting it as their own single. So the release will be £3 and profits will go to Love Music Hate Racism; but we’re all treating it as our own thing.
That’s a good idea and a great way to hear new bands.
Yeah there’s a couple of bands we can’t announce yet as the full line-up hasn’t quite confirmed.
Tell us a about your new album – you can do your sales pitch here if you want.
I’m not very good at sales pitches, i’m a customer service kind of guy, i’m the apologist. It’s like the first two albums but with different songs.
Stop the press!
Wait – and it’s kind of a halfway point between the first one and the second one. The second one was very difficult to choose what you might call a single off – but it works really well as an album. But this one has got more pop moments. Plus we recorded it in a proper studio this time, which meant we could turn up the drums. So it’s like the first two but with louder drums. Yeah, that’s my sales pitch.
It’s like the first two but with louder drums?
I should work on my sales pitch!
The last album was quite themed towards despair towards all your friends. But there’s actually some quite hopeful stuff on this album. Here’s a quote for you “There are some bits on this one that might not make you want to kill yourself.”
Yeah, I’m getting good at this now, aren’t I?
Yeah, you’re on a roll, but maybe we should stop there. So who are you into at the moment? Who’s floating your boat musically?
The Android Angel – I saw them over the weekend, they were amazing. Plus the new Waxing Captors album – they did a really good song last year called “Working 9 to 5 With My Stylist”. We played with them on Friday in Ipswich and they gave me a copy of their new album.
I’ll check both of them out, thanks for your time today and good luck with everything.
Ten City Nation’s albums are available from their website and if you want to hear more from Seymour you can tune-in to his radio show on Xstream East every Thursday between 8pm and 10pm.