Ahead of the opening of our new PMT Cardiff music store, we decided to catch up with the city's brightest new band, Houdini Dax. After all, it's thanks to bands like them that Cardiff has such an exciting and inspiring music scene!
Back in 2010, Cardiff was voted Britain's 2nd 'Most Musical City', according to a PRS For Music survey. The city came ahead of some notorious musical hotspots such as Manchester, London and Liverpool. It came as a surprise to some, but the fact is that Wales has been a fertile musical ground for a good while: from Tom Jones and Badfinger in the sixties, to Manic Street Preachers, Super Furry Animals and Stereophonics in the nineties, and more recent acts such as Bullet For My Valentine and Catfish And The Bottlemen, the Welsh music scene has spawned some of Britain's most popular and well-respected acts.
Little has changed, and Wales continues to deliver the goods. One of the brightest new bands to emerge from Cardiff is Houdini Dax, who came to prominence earlier this year due to very unfortunate circumstances, when their van got broken into and they had ALL of their gear stolen. A nightmare scenario for any band, but after an outpouring of support from music fans, and an appearance on BBC Crimewatch, they've managed to get back on their feet and have been going from strength to strength: they're currently touring to promote their new album, Naughty Nation, and have been nominated to the prestigious Welsh Music Prize awards, which takes place this Thursday (26th November).
We talked to guitarist and singer Jack Butler, who alongside Owen Richards (bass) and Dave Richards (drums) make up Houdini Dax.
A lot of people first heard of Houdini Dax when you launched that appeal about your stolen gear. That'd must been a pretty traumatic experience...
It was a pretty horrible thing to happen, especially for the first few months. Where we’d usually put all our efforts into the music and moving forward, we found ourselves concentrating on trying to raise enough money to get some new gear! A positive to take from the situation was the amount of people who got into our band because of it. Now things have got back on track it feels like we are in a stronger position than we were before.
Were you surprised by the outpouring of support you received?
We were completely overwhelmed with the amount of support we received off everybody. Not only was it a reminder that a lot people wanted us to continue making music but without their cash I genuinely don’t know how we would have bought new instruments. We can’t thank those people who donated and shared the post enough, we owe them massively!
You seem to be on a roll at the moment, doing lots of gigs. What's the best one you ever played?
We’ve always played lots of gigs and been busy, whether on the road or in the studio. There are a lot of gigs which stand out as being great gigs for different reasons. We toured India last year and we had a great gig at the NH7 festival in Bangalore, the crowd were amazing and it was great to play in the Indian sun. Another one that springs to mind was supporting The Emerald Armada in Belfast at The Empire Music Hall. It was fantastic night and the venue was astounding.
You're doing pretty well for an unsigned band - what tips would you give to bands who're just getting started and who don't wan't to be stuck to just playing in their hometowns?
I would say firstly, play regularly in your hometown for practice and to get a buzz going. Once that buzz is there, limit the amount of times you headline your city to two/three times a year and that demand for you will build as long as you’re putting out music etc. As for other cities, start with contacting small promoters and get on local bills. As long as you play well, you will get asked back and get moved further up the bill and therefore play to bigger audiences. It’s a long way to go about making a name for yourselves but if you haven’t been lucky with getting a big deal early on, that’s the way to go about it - hard work. Of course, getting good syncs and any good news will help in building your band’s name.
Your album 'Naughty Nation' was recently nominated for the prestigious Welsh Music Prize alongside big bands such as Catfish and the Bottlemen. Previous nominees include names such as Manic Street Preachers and Gruff Rhys. Do you think you are ready to make the big leap and get signed, or are you happy with how things are going at the moment?
We feel as if we’re ready to get signed now, we started the band with that goal in mind. We’ve always wanted to play big gigs and get our music out to the biggest audience. Signing to a major or good indie label can create higher chances of doing those things. We have managed to get some cool opportunities over the last few years but the support of a label would really help us capitalise on them even further. We’re really happy to be nominated for the Welsh Music Prize this year, and it will help us create a bigger name for ourselves again.
Who are your biggest musical inspirations? Which are your favourite bands/ songs at the moment?
We have many musical inspirations between us. A band which runs through our sound are The Beatles, I’ve been obsessed with them since I was kid and they will always come through in the songwriting. Other bands include The Beach Boys, Arctic Monkeys, Ryan Adams and Django Django. I’m really enjoying Pacifier by Catfish and the Bottlemen at the moment, it’s a really bold song with a great chorus. The thing that links all our influences together are solid songs. If there’s a good tune there, we’ll be into it. Whether it be Blur or Dolly Parton.
Which are your favourite pieces of musical gear?
When our gear got nicked Owen borrowed a Gibson EB bass from Robert Plant’s bass player, Billy Fuller. He loved it so much he bought the exact same model in white - it’s a growler! They decided not to take some of Dave’s drums which happened to be a 1970 Ludwig kit so he was relieved he still had the shells - it’s a beauty. They stole my Mexican Stratocaster which I had since I was 12 and now it’s been replaced with a new Californian model which I’m a bit in love with.
What do you still hope to achieve? Any particular gig, support slot etc you dream of?
There’s a lot more to achieve, it feels like we’re just starting to scratch the surface. We started working with booking agent (‘This Is Now’) this year and we’re excited to see what we can muster up with them over the next few months. Arctic Monkeys were a big part of my teen years so it’d be a dream to support them. Since we started playing together, performing at Glastonbury has always been a big milestone we’ve talked about. And of course supporting Dolly Parton one day would put the icing on the cake.
Finally... did you EVER hear anything about the stolen gear? No clues yet?
We haven’t heard anything about the stolen gear at all. When it happened we spent a few days contacting every second-hand pawn shop in Britain to keep them in the loop. The chances of getting the stuff back looks unlikely now, but perhaps one day it’ll show up. As for us, we’re concentrating on moving forward and keeping the momentum up. The opportunities are getting bigger and we’re excited to make the most of them.
The band released their sophomore record Naughty Nation in August and it’s recently been shortlisted for the Welsh Music Prize which is announced on November 26th in Cardiff. Now in its fifth year, the competition, created by BBC Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens and music promoter John Rostron, aims to promote the best original music from Wales. The Welsh Music Prize ceremony will be held on 26 November at Sherman Cymru in Cardiff.
And don't forget, Houdini Dax got nearly all of their new instruments and equipment from PMT! We're proud to be opening a new music store in the heart of Cardiff, and we look forward to be serving Houdini Dax and all the other acts who make Cardiff's music scene so vibrant! For updated news, follow PMT Cardiff on Facebook.