London trio Happyness didn’t mean to freak you out with their weird lyrics
London’s indie trio Happyness is currently on their second U.S. tour. Like a lot of bands, they are on the slow train to building up an audience through constant touring and releasing albums. But to them, it felt really sudden.
When they released their debut self-titled EP in 2013, followed shortly by their LP, Weird Little Birthday, they had no expectations, but ended up getting a surprising amount of interest on music blogs. This led to the LP being re-released earlier this year on Bar None Records. But the stunning thing is that all this time, they were barely a band—they’d never even played a show.
“It all happened in a quite backwards way,” says guitarist/vocalist Benji Compston. “We weren’t really a band as far as anyone else was concerned. We would just think of stuff, record songs, re-record songs if we wanted to and re-record them again if we wanted to. It was lazy in a nice way.”
The lack of pressure in the creation process translates onto the albums in its laid-back slacker-rock sound which brings to mind ’90s-era Yo La Tengo and Pavement. Pressure was so low, in fact, that there were no strict rules regarding who could play what on any given song. On some tracks, members played instruments they had no prior experience with.
“Whatever instrument was nearest to you, or you felt like playing, you just pick up and play the songs like that,” says Compston. “I think there’s something really cool about picking up an instrument and playing it when you hardly know your way around it and you’re learning how to do things. That’s something we like doing in general.”
It actually took them a while to get the hang of playing live because of all the swapping, but they purchased a keyboard and drum machine, which helped smooth out the process a bit.
Considering how easygoing the music is, one of the most surprising things about Happyness is how weird their lyrics are. It’s a little buried under the fuzzy guitar tones, meandering drums, and understated soft-spoken melodies. Most listeners barely even notice their peculiarity until they’ve had several listens with the records.
“We’re not consciously going, ‘oh those are weird lyrics.’ It more just happened that way,” Compston says. “We spend so much time together we just have these weird stories, like things that we’ll say. I don’t want to say in-jokes, because that makes it sound more exclusive than it is—just weird little things we’ll share. That’s just naturally what goes into the songs.”
Opener “Baby Jesus (Jelly Boy),” a gentle acoustic ditty about a man who happens to have the same birthday as Jesus, has the whispered vocal line “I’m the motherfucking birthday boy, don’t steal my thunder, baby Jesus.” Low-key Wilco-esque rocker “Orange Luz” opens with the line “You are so ugly when you’re smiling.” The original opening line was supposed to be “Celery, why are you trying to kill my father?” Perhaps most perplexingly is the slick Broken Social Scene groove of “Naked Patients” with the line, sung totally straight-faced, “There’s something so funny about a sick body and the things that it does that it shouldn’t do.”
“We didn’t think very hard about where these songs were going to end up when we recorded them,” says Compston. “I know everyone says about lyrics, ‘oh, whatever it means to you,’ but it is kind of that. Whatever energy people want to collect from the songs, that’s kind of cool. We were quite surprised that anyone was picking up on it at all.”
INFO: Crepe Place, Friday, Aug. 7, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 429-6994. INDIE ROCKERS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS Happyness brings their warped lyrics to the Crepe Place on Friday.