Whales in Cubicles

Explosive grunge-rockers Whales in Cubicles are on a UK tour to promote their debut album Death In The Evening. They’re visceral and thrilling live, their singles have been getting major support from the likes of BBC Radio 1, BBC 6Music and XFM, and they’ve a high-profile fan in Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter). The Whales are known for their lyrics, as much as their tunes, and they’ve got great videos too - the jaw-dropping promo for Nowhere Flag sees London getting blown up! The Whales are - Stef Bernardi (vocals, guitar), Alex Pyper (guitar), Frederick Fuller (bass), and Matt Banham (drums).


Passion and performance

Whales’ hotly-anticipated debut album Death In The Evening has been getting amazing reviews. They’ve just released the album version of fan favourite We Never Win, a percussive punchy track with a blinding chorus.

When we meet the Whales things have just gone crazy after Daniel Radcliffe reviewed their single We Never Win. We knew they were waiting for the question - what’s it like having him as a fan?

Magic! And he kind of got the meaning as well. It was really refreshing to read up, of all people, that this guy actually listened.

A lot of people have written stuff about it but anyone can take what they want from music, that’s the point. No one’s going to say I’m into this and you should listen to this because it means that, just purely love music. But it’s surprising how some people have said, it’s a really political song. I think everything’s political. You wake up in the morning, you have coffee, you eat eggs on toast, that’s a political effect. I mean, I’m exaggerating here but I think everything is politics that you do.

And I think it’s worth noting that this song had its genesis before that whole political element was really in the mainstream. It it wasn’t written as a response to that time. But it’s become more relevant.

So how did the song come about? It turns out it began with Stef and drummer friend Leo.

It really just started as an old riff that I had on guitar, I wrote it when I was 15. It was just my lucky riff and I never used it in any band situation. I was in a different band at the time and I went to Leo’s house one night and I was just hanging out, there was an acoustic guitar and I just started strumming chords that were based on that riff and that riff was quite strange so the resulting chord structure, I mean the timing of it, captured Leo’s imagination. He started just tapping on his knees and that’s when the band was sort of born and we’re really excited about that. Because the chorus has that beat, and the day after we recorded it, we started jamming it and then we just slightly developed it. It’s kind of the defining song for us at this stage, I’d say.

And it was an exciting first for Stef too.

It was really fresh for me because I never really wrote my songs. I never really made any original material because I was a guitar player in other bands. And it just felt like that song was the first statement, know what I mean? And he just came out with this drum beat which I didn’t really think was going to be the drum beat, just on the snare, I went, what are you doing but then I got really into it.

The lyrics that inspired Daniel Radcliffe have struck a chord with fans who sing them back to the band at gigs.

At first it was just about negative cycle, because the word was never, whether I like it or not, we never this, we never that, and then it became We Never Win, the picture kind of formed itself, and it’s about self-prediction and pessimism and negativity, but it’s also, when I was writing it, it also felt like a kick up the arse.

When it comes to making the band’s sound, Alex likens it to making a dish.

It’s a bit like cooking, but you’re more than just your ingredients. You have a variety of stuff that goes in one end and then something happens to it, there’s this sort of a process, like cooking. You cook it amongst the four of you and you mix it with your own personality, your own selves, and you’ve got something at the other end that’s biger than the sum of its parts.

The band say they haven’t set out to make a particular genre of music, things are more organic.

You have four people in a room that are influenced by a certain variety of music. You need a common ground. Naturally a common ground emerges. What unifies those four people is the stuff we all like. We’re not actually consciously trying to sound any particular way, we’re trying to let the music happen, but I guess it’s listening to certain bands or sounds which is like having parents. Subconsciously, you don’t even realise it but you’re picking up habits and behaviour, what you listen to does that.

I just think it’s about sharing that energy when you write a song. Some other people had something to do with the genesis of the song and it’s about the energy in the room.

They’ve got different views on artists they like - Randy Newman and Neil Young are bones of contention - and even Stef doesn’t always get an easy ride.

Here’s a live version of We Never Win that Whales played us at their rehearsal studio, a while back.

Live they are known for making sparks fly.

No one is as passionate as Stef! We all get into it while we’re playing it, and that’s why that comes across. With the songs we’re playing as well, we don’t play the kind of songs where if we had our guitars on our chests and were standing still, they would work.

There’s a bit of a stiffness in the music we listened to in the last three years, and it’s nice just to play all out.

When people go to see a show they’re going to see more than just the songs being played. They go to get an energy from the band and in return they give an energy to the band as an audience, and the two kind of play off each other and that’s what you want from a live show.

It’s more than just the music loud in a big room.

You need a bit of soul. It’s just what we do. You see some bands, across all genres and they’ve lost their soul, they’re all jaded, just like limping through the set, and it comes across.

The band won’t name names though! The last word about playing live goes to Stef.

Personally I don’t say, I’m going to perform like Bruce Springsteen even though I love Bruce Springsteen. It’s got to be natural. And I think it takes a while before you feel really natural onstage and when you do hit that spot it’s great.