6:00am Saturday 25th January 2014
Once one of the UK's biggest bands, Hard-Fi have been very quiet for a couple of years. Now back with a Best Of celebrating their 10th anniversary, frontman Rich Archer tells Andy Welch that they're ready for the next chapter.
Once upon a time, Hard-Fi were one of the biggest bands in the country.
Formed in the unfashionable London suburb of Staines in 2003, their debut album, Stars Of CCTV, was released two years later and went on to sell around 1.2 million copies worldwide, with about half being snapped up in the UK alone.
There were sell-out tours - their first major UK tour sold out in 15 minutes according to reports at the time - Brit and Mercury Prize nominations and appearances on the soundtracks of huge films and video games.
Along with the likes of Kaiser Chiefs and Razorlight, also big deals in the mid-Noughties, Hard-Fi highlight how much the industry's changed.
2013 was the first year in recent memory where no band or artist sold more than a million copies of an album. Should Hard-Fi's debut have been released at any point in the past 12 months and sold 600,000 copies in the UK, they'd be on a par with current industry sales behemoths One Direction and Emeli Sande.
No one's more aware of how the music world's shifted than the band's frontman Rich Archer, who's had plenty of time to deal with the facts.
"I blame broadband internet," says Archer, 36. "I remember the days of dial-up internet and it was basically not worth having. When everyone got broadband, it just meant that music was available for free to everyone, and that was the end of the industry."
While sales did drop off dramatically around the time their second album, Once Upon A Time In The West, was released in 2007 (it sold around 70,000 copies in its first year), it did go straight to No 1, something it took its predecessor six months to achieve. But by then, the rot had set in.
2011's Killer Sounds, their third album, managed to reach No 9, although the first two singles charted at 51 and 170, the third failing to chart at all.
"Perception is everything," Archer observes, admirably without any bitterness - despite all but admitting illegal downloading truncated the band's heyday.
"The sales were falling off, which is bad, and there are a number of reasons for it in our case. That's like a slap in the face on its own, but what comes after is an extra kick in the nuts, which is the general perception that the sales have fallen off solely because no one wants to buy your record.
"At the same time as that, there was a cyclical shift away from guitar bands back to pop music and dance, which is all about singles and not albums.
"The perception was the hardest thing to deal with," he continues. "For us, it wasn't so much trying to adjust to the dip; we'd only just got used to things being the other way, as we didn't expect to sell any records in the first place. But we quickly learned public perception's everything, worth so much more than sales figures."
However, he and his bandmates Kai Stephens and Steve Kemp - original guitarist Ross Phillips left last year - have been busy recently, compiling tracks for their forthcoming Best Of collection.
"We're feeling really good at the moment," Archer says enthusiastically. "The really exciting thing has been going through all our old material, B-sides and things like that, songs no one would ever imagine were by us, and some of them I haven't listened to in six or seven years and had forgotten about," he adds. "But going back through, I'm incredibly proud of what we did."
He's especially proud of Stars Of CCTV, which as well as being nominated for various awards and selling so well, genuinely seemed to capture a mood at the time.
Singles such as Living For The Weekend and Cash Machine were, as Archer calls them, "anthems for the working man", detailing the feeling of dashed hopes, and being trapped in a mundane job that paid just enough to get by and afford a night out of a Friday evening.
"I love records that conjure up a time and mood, and our debut definitely does that. Our timing was great, by luck not design, but we came out at a time when lots of people were going through the same thing, almost the build-up to the financial crash and recession," he says.
"Record labels didn't want to know at the time. They were telling us that everyone had loads of money and no one wanted to listen to songs about being skint. By hook or by crook, we got some songs played on the radio, the phone started ringing and, lo and behold, it turned out there were lots of people in Britain going through exactly the same sorts of things we were."
Given the country's current financial situation and unemployment figures, it's surprising there aren't more albums in Stars Of CCTV's mould, although Archer has a theory as to why that's the case.
"We're all really living it now, and everyone's fed up with being cash-strapped. Perhaps people don't want reminding and they're looking for escapism instead?" he says. "If you're young, you want to go out and have fun, not listen to a load of blokes singing about being skint."
There's a fourth Hard-Fi album all but ready, albeit without a guitarist (still on good terms, Phillips departed to spend time with his new baby boy but will rejoin the band for a forthcoming live show at London's Bloomsbury Ballroom on February 13), but Archer's not entirely sure about the future.
"After this show, we're playing it by ear," he says. "We're ready and raring to go, but we're at a stage where we have to ask ourselves what we're doing next. We're not kidding ourselves, if we put an album out, it's going to be really hard to get people interested.
"We're up for it. It's always been about music, but people's lives change."
He's positive that things will become clear once they perform, although, after 10 years, he's wondering if he wants to try another venture.
"I've been producing other bands lately and I've always really enjoyed that side of things, so we'll see," he says. "For now, we're really excited about the Best Of and really proud of what we've achieved. Let's do that, play the show, and take it from there."
Extra time - Hard-Fi
:: Hard-Fi are Rich Archer, Kai Stephens and Steve Kemp.
:: Prior to the band's formation, Archer had almost tasted success with previous band Contempo who supported Coldplay, among others.
:: Hard-Fi's debut Stars Of CCTV was nominated for the 2005 Mercury Music Prize and two Brit Awards in 2006 (Best British Group and Best British Rock Act).
:: A limited edition vinyl version of the Best Of album is being released via Pledge Music.
:: Archer came up with the name 'Hard-Fi' after reading in a book that it was the term dub and reggae producer Lee 'Scratch' Perry gave to his signature sound, but he's never been able to find the reference since, saying: "I may have dreamed it."
:: Hard-Fi Best Of 2004-2014 is released on January 27
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