Those that keep their finger on the buzz of popular underground music will have been unable to miss the hype surrounding new band Anti Caking Agents. The band, which comprises of Michael Armerstrong and Tony Hemeringway, have had a string of high profile TV appearances promoting their new material and tour and merchandise and t-shirts and alarm clocks, and we at Project Brainstorm were lucky enough to get them in somewhere for a chat.
The most impressive thing about the band is the amount of raw energy they bring into any room, which is quite heavy and requires a large case. Sitting across the room from them, with small sparks of electricity occasionally shocking me through my wooden folding chair, it becomes easy to see the attraction of the band. This proceeds to connect us for the entire half-hour by the sweater. Their approach to interviews is quite arms length, but thankfully I wore a tanktop.
We begin by talking about the two men’s upbringing. Both men came from under-privileged backgrounds, and talking candidly about this. Armerstrong explains how his father was a male prostitute, like his mother. Hemeringway tells how he came from a broken home, which he claims he broke, but blamed on his younger sister. In many ways, their early experiences forced them into music, which they used as an escape tunnel. “Basically, there’s only three real options for people like us”, said Hemeringway, “we could just give up, or become musicians. Or become a chef.”
It was as a chef that two men decided to just give up, which they made a complete mess of and ended up with a record contract. It was then they realised they couldn’t just give up, they’d have to be musicians. “Basically”, explains Armerstrong, “we never do anything by halves, except peaches. We didn’t want to be just another band of former chefs who mistakenly ended up with a record contract. We wanted to change the way people saw music.”
What really makes the band unique is their refusal to be pinned down to any particular genre of music. “Basically, so many bands we see are constrained by the limits of a particular type of music,” points out Hemeringway, “we don’t have any limits. We consciously make sure we stop short of having any limits.” So committed are the pair to not being pinned down that they, as yet, have not got any songs. “Basically, we decided that actual songs would hinder our creative talents as musicians. Music is about so much more than songs: it’s a feeling. It’s more than a feeling: it’s a rhythm. A rhythm without making a sound.”
So far, the band’s live shows have received critical acclaim, because of and despite the lack of any music. “Basically, on stage, we try to express what we want to say in the best way possible. During the last tour, I’ve been draining a used tea bag into a small plastic container quite a lot,” comments Armerstrong, “while Tony has been experimenting with intensely reading the ingredients to several top-name hair conditioners.” Of course, the band is unwilling to get pigeon-holed as a band that strains tea bags and reads ingredients. “Basically, we need to be moving forwards. In the future, I was considering, maybe, more paperwork. Possibly, if that’s where it takes us, some form of filing system.”
Such is the band’s drive to not be limited by the restrictions being an artist automatically imposes on their art, they are always looking to the future. “Basically, we are not saying that in the future, this band will not actually make songs,” Hemeringway points out, “We definitely could. But only if songs, such as they are narrowly defined, will bring something positive to our music.”
It was at this point in the interview, our jumpers beginning to separate, that I asked them about the name of their band. “Basically, it’s a bit of a pun”, says Armerstrong with a smile and his voice, “we are all agents, agents of everyone. But being one of everyone can lead to a bit of clumping, like a cake. With our music, we hope to separate people out, and say, yes, you are an agent, but there’s no need to be that clumpy.” Plus, I point out, it’s an ingredient of table salt. “Basically, yes, but you know that all people are 80% salt.” That’s water, I argue. “Basically, yes, salty water.”
This is a busy band, who need to be off to another alarm clock signing in somewhere else. But before they leave, I asked them what most inspires them. “Basically, many things,” they say in unison. “Nature, mainly. What would we be if we weren’t part of nature? Man-made? I don’t think so. I’m not a pair of jeans.” And if one thing could sum up this band more than anything, it is exactly that: they are not a pair of jeans. But are they a band who refuse to be grouped with all those other, lesser bands that charge for interviews? “Basically, yes.”