"I am still so proud of the old records, but I think this feels like a different band," considers Woahnow's Tim Rowing-Parker.
Just one listen to the fun, upbeat ‘Young and Cool' will confirm the assertion. Marrying Woahnows' trademark off-kilter indie with some of the most glorious power-pop you can imagine, it's a softer, more polished album than its predecessor, ‘Understanding and Everything Else'. It's also bright, confident and energetic – and well worth the three-and-a-half year wait.
Rewind to 2015, and the then broadly West Country based band (Tim was in Plymouth, drummer Adam Wherly was in Bristol and bassist Phil Randall residing in Cheltenham) were somewhat ubiquitous, playing relentlessly off the back of ‘Understanding…'. For the last two years or so, however, they've been much quieter, hitting the road in 2018 for a handful of shows but otherwise keeping a low profile.
"I guess we have been laying low for a while," laughs Tim. "We love doing the band, but it was a case of growing older as people. We wanted to be happy in our lives as well, so our priorities changed.
"It's hard enough to function as a band, so to be happy people is a good first step. Also, you recognise that the band needs to be fun. You need to enjoy doing it, and that's why we do it. It enriches our lives. The number of friends I've made, or the places I've been to through the band – that's the best part, and it is great when it is fun. But, as soon as you do too much, it becomes less fun, and when it feels less fun, it's kinda pointless."
Part of this move to improved happiness and wellbeing came from the relocation to Bristol. It's hard for Tim to extrapolate whether it was move driven by personal or band reasons, but it's clear that one feeds into the other in a symbiotic relationship.
It's also clear that the results of the move show on ‘Young and Cool', an album that does away with the lyrical obliqueness of previous efforts to make this a bold and self-assured return. Sure, it's a record with some serious messages, ruminating on ideas of identity, but it is also eager for listeners to enjoy the experience of a fun and inclusive record. It's a fine line, but one which Tim and co. have walked perfectly.
While much of the content on ‘Understanding and Everything Else' focused on issues of queer identity and heteronormative culture, it was hidden by wordplay and vagueness. ‘Young and Cool’ reflects Tim’s new-found confidence, containing songs that have heart and soul to match the clever riffs and chops.
"It was written a long time ago when I was working a lot of it out and allowing myself to be comfortable within myself," says Tim of their previous effort. "It was at a point where I was unsure of myself and scared of the whole thing, so the theme is masked.
"With this record, I was quite comfy with that element of myself, and taking the time out allowed me to work that all out. It's not just about that; it's about everything really."
That said, the album's strongest moments come when Woahnows cast their caustic eyes over the heteronormative culture that continues to thrive in punk rock music. Songs like ‘No One Else' – and in particular the droll and prescient lyrics "All the boys in the band are just boring me now / All singing that shit you don't understand / ‘Awww c'mon yeah, let's change the world' / Just as soon as we're done hitting on girls", allow Woahnows the opportunity to be themselves while also hinting at the hard lessons they've learned to get to this place. Unsurprisingly, it's also one of Tim's favourite lyrics on the album.
"That whole song; you're listening to people in this male-dominated place being like ‘we're right on, we're punk', then looking at the way they behave and thinking, ‘what the fuck is that all about?'," he laughs. "It's probably one of my favourite lyrics because it's the sort of thing we'd see all the time.
"Also, when I was younger, I would hold back from being myself, but now I realise I'm fortunate to be in a position where the work I do, and the people I surround myself with, and my family, are supportive of me being who I am. It's all of these things – like being able to wear make-up at shows if I want to; I feel like I'm in this position where I have the support to do that and to be myself."
In turn, this means there is more visibility for people who identify as queer, and Tim hopes that such a decision will give other people the courage to be themselves. "If I have the privilege to be able to do that, then it's a positive for other people to see that I'm visible," says Tim.
It has taken Woahnows a while to arrive at this point, and when we talk about learning the hard way, they are a group that has had it tougher than most.
From starting out and finding themselves on a steady stream of "bloke rock" bills, to having interference in tours by other bands' management, they've learnt to be selective and passionate about who they tour with, making it a victory for common sense and band ideals, rather than just getting the band in front of as many eyes and ears as possible.
In recent years, such decisions have seen them tour with indie-punk legends Lemuria, and up-and-coming names Wild Pink, and Ratboys. They've also lined up some ‘Young and Cool' album launch shows with Katie Ellen (Anika Pyle's ex-Chumped act). It makes for some varied bills, but means Woahnows get to play with bands who share their inclusive way of thinking.
"We're way more careful now," attests Tim. "When we started out doing stuff, I don't think people got what we're about, and we weren't great at putting that across.
"With hindsight, we've learnt to make sure we're playing with people we like, regardless of their musical output. And there's plenty of times we could have played to a bunch of people, but what if that would have alienated the people we care about or the people who would listen to our band?"
It's a comment that gets right to the heart of what makes Woahnows so great. ‘Young and Cool' is an album written for everyone; even at its most serious, it's fun and uplifting – triumphant even – but comes with the experience of some hard-won truths. Its themes are universal, set against a backdrop of a society that doesn't work for all. Amidst this, Woahnows serve as a marker for what can be achieved with a little love and some PMA.
"I'm not here to be the biggest band in the world," muses Tim. "We just wanna enjoy our lives, and being in this band is a cool part of that."
Taken from the March issue of Upset. Woahnows’ album ‘Young and Cool’ is out now.
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