Let the Battle Begin – An Exclusive Preview of The Battle of the Bands 2023 (Part One)
Part One of The Stand’s exclusive interview for The Battle of the Bands, featuring Verbatim and The Slick.
While St Andrews might not be the first place you think of as having a major music scene, a number of up-and-coming student bands have been making waves on the gig circuit of balls and private events that our little town is, indeed, fairly legendary for. From groups playing your favourite tunes at Glitterball and DRA Ball, to the rise of popular music events hosted by Saints Sizzle, it’s more than likely that a local band has participated in making the memories of one of your most-loved events. But the question remains. Which band is the coolest, the grooviest, the funkiest, the most Crushdrews-worthy of them all? For the first time in St Andrews history, the Music Fund is putting together a battle-royale of the town’s hottest bands – but who will come out on top? The Stand had an exclusive interview with four of the bands participating in this year’s Battle: Verbatim, Downstem, The Slick, and Sheer Dumb Luck. Discussing strategy, inspirations, fanbase names, and bongos, read on to learn everything that you’d ever want to know about these talented groups who will be taking the stage this coming Saturday. This is the first part of that interview, featuring my conversations with Verbatim and The Slick.
Joining me from such diverse locations including a train, a locker room, and outside Main Library, Verbatim braved the pitfalls and perils of everyone’s favourite online meeting platform – Microsoft Teams – to chat about their rapid ascendancy in the music scene and the unconventional family dynamics of their band. Composed of vocalist Elly Xia, guitarist Vanaj Moorthy, rhythm guitarist Campbell MacPherson, bassist Luke Michie, and drummer Leo Lui, this indie-alt rock band established in September of 2022 has already played major gigs including Sitara, RockSoc’s 30th Anniversary Concert, and most recently Glitterball. When asked what the secret to their success was, Campbell – the band’s unofficial cynic and bringer of Weezer riffs – modestly replied “Unprecedented talent.” Talent is one thing, as Vanaj added, but their savvy social media presence (including a neck-in-neck battle with Downstem for Instagram followers) and networking with event organisers have also been a significant contributor to their success.
The tight-knit group has a palpable chemistry and camaraderie both on the stage and off. When Elly, the self-proclaimed Momager of the group, recounted the origin story of the band’s name, all the band members were interjecting and laughing as she narrated their near-escape from being called ‘Aftermath’, avoided only by the fact that it sounded “like a group of teenagers trying to be edgy”. And when Leo, the self-proclaimed youngest child in the band’s unusual family dynamic, praised “the guitarists’ amazing rhythms, the synergy of the bass and drums, and Elly’s angelic voice”, I could genuinely tell that this band enjoys each other’s company as much as they enjoy making music. Their collaborative songwriting process – between Campbell generating ideas, Elly workshopping them, and all the band members contributing towards the final product – has resulted in some great originals that … checking notes, Campbell says plug their forthcoming Spotify here?
As they prepare for their appearance at the Battle of the Bands, Verbatim teased live debuts of new songs as one of the things that audiences should be most excited about for their set. Luke pitched in with two more important things that fans should look forward to about the Battle: seeing the band “at the best musically we’ve ever been”, and switching out the dressing gown he wore at Glitterball for some proper clothes. Verbatim also acknowledged that with two members of the band graduating this year, this will be their last gig as a group of five, though we’re yet to see where the future takes this talented band. To all the Ver-baes out there (yes, I coined a fanbase name for them, it’s as official as we’ll get), Verbatim promises that the Battle of the Bands will have cheap Union pints and great music, so what more could you want?
With a tagline like ‘Your dad’s not sure about us, but your mum f*cking loves us’, it’s hard not to notice the 90s Britpop and early 2000s pop-rock lineage of The Slick. Sitting down to chat with frontman and guitarist Xander Mohan and bassist Pearce Hopkins, two out of the four members of the band (missing keys player and vocalist Matthew Torkington and drummer Oscar Cooper), they listed such classic inspirations for their sound as Arctic Monkeys and The 1975. And while Xander joked that he’s not exactly Matty Healy, “I don’t kiss the girls – I kiss my bandmates” (“…unfortunately”, Pearce cuts him off sardonically), something about the way in which he managed to lounge in the patently uncomfortable chairs of the Union Meeting Room did bring to mind the effortless confidence of The 1975’s lead vocalist. Reluctant as I am to perpetuate the levelheaded bass player stereotype, or as Xander put it, “the admin” to his “creative”, Pearce was personable and eager to speak about what makes The Slick stand out in the local music scene. “Other bands are a bit more niche,” he said, appreciatively citing fellow Battle of the Bands competitor Brine! as carving out a niche in heavy psychedelic rock. “And we do lean more towards pop than the rest of them.” As Xander put it succinctly, “we’re not writing about some space-age idea, I’m just writing about what I’ve seen growing up in middle-class Essex.”
The ubiquity of their sound is undoubtedly a contributor to their success on the St Andrews gig circuit – most notably at their headlining set last month with Saints Sizzle as well as their successful performance at DRA Ball, in which they performed a mix of covers and originals, including their debut single ‘On the line’. While Xander is the most involved in the songwriting process, he enjoys seeing how his bandmates interact with and adapt the songs that he brings them. Recounting how their drummer, Oscar, suggested a backing vocal for ‘On the line’, Pearce remembered thinking, “that sounds really good – and it was a really nice feeling. Every time we practised it, we’d get more familiar with it, and it developed itself. I really enjoyed that process.”
Coming into the Battle of the Bands, The Slick cites their crowd-pleasing, eminently dance-able material as one of their biggest assets, especially their own songs – which Pearce and Xander agree that the band performs the best and most enjoys playing. As for why their supporters should come to the Battle of the Bands, The Slick simply said that attendees should look forward to hearing the best of their originals, seeing their exciting new staging ideas, and great live music, of course.
The Battle of the Bands is happening this Saturday 8 April at the Union, with doors opening at 8:30 PM. Don’t miss Verbatim and The Slick’s highly anticipated sets, and keep an eye out for part two of my interview, featuring Downstem and Sheer Dumb Luck.
8 thoughts on “Let the Battle Begin – An Exclusive Preview of The Battle of the Bands 2023 (Part One)”
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