The Boy Least Likely To: Interview
Often unrealistic and misplaced
The story of
The Boy Least Likely To can be summed up as fortuitous name branding. In
just over a year's time, the duo of English country boys have
self-released their highly regarded debut album and found themselves on the
road in America for the first time in their lives, opening for British
heartthrob James Blunt.
bare-chested/falsetto singing jokes aside, the band's path to success sounds
like its album's title: the Best Party Ever. But, as fans know, The Boy Least
Likely To is a band of existential wallflowers, not exactly the sort to be
enjoying throngs of adult contemporary groupies. The gleam of glockenspiels and
the folksy comfort of banjos and handclaps disguise a reoccurring theme of
confronting the sad truths of adulthood.
In a conversation with singer/lyricist Jof Owen, I came to see that this feeling
pervades just about everything he does, from conducting interviews by email to
obsessions with Winnie the Pooh and the cancelled TV series Freaks and Geeks.
Since I'm not conducting this interview by phone (whereby I usually perform a
voice recognition scan), how can I be certain this is The Boy Least Likely To?
this is definitely me. I have stupid curly brown hair and brown eyes and a
big pointy ski jump nose and too many teeth. My favourite record ever is
by Kenickie. My favourite TV
programme is Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Some people say I look a bit like
but I don't think I do.
Are you afraid of a government wiretap? Is that why we're not talking?
It's safer for us to talk this way. I'm
afraid of everything, especially in America. I'm suspicious of flowers and
insects and waitresses. I don't trust any one. I don't think the government
wants to listen in on our conversation because I'm a threat to national security
or anything like that. I just think they're listening in and making fun of me in
some way. I imagine them sitting there doing cruel impressions of me, making fun
of my songs and the way I talk.
Is this your first time in the United States?
Yes, first time. I've never really been
anywhere before. I'm not much into traveling. I don't really have any strong
desire to get out and see the world. I'm a simple country boy.
How do you like it so far?
I like it. It's big though. Very big. And I don't think it's very happy, but it
keeps smiling anyway. I find that a bit odd. It's like a boy who's fallen off
his bicycle but doesn't want anyone to know how much it hurts.
If Americans think British people sound proper and well educated when they
speak, how do Americans sound to British people?
Americans sound like they have the coolest lives ever. The accents make
everything they say sound like the most exciting thing in the world. Everyone
from New York sounds like a gangster or a break-dancer. Everyone else sounds
like a cowboy or Tammy Wynette.
Have you been surprised by the turnout and audience reaction here in the States?
I attended the
New York show,
where you headlined, and the room was packed. Someone even blew bubbles during
the song where you sing, "from little air bubbles little embolisms grow."
It's been lovely. All of our own shows and the support shows we did with James
Blunt. It's odd to come all the way out here and have people know the words to
our songs. The bubbles in New York was a nice touch, especially because in the
UK we have three bubble machines that we have onstage with us, but we couldn't
bring them out with us.
Have you seen the US Office? If so, how do you think it compares to the original
Ricky Gervais series?
Um, I've only seen two episodes of the US version, but I didn't think it was as
good. Sorry. The David Brent character didn't have the same pathos as in the
original series. He was too unlikable. But in the original series, I felt some
kind of warmth towards him.
What other great television shows have you been hiding from us?
I don't know. A lot of my favorite TV shows are American, like Freaks and
Geeks and Buffy and Curb Your Enthusiasm and Seinfeld. There are some good
comedy shows though.
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace
and a program called
They're both very funny, in a peculiarly British way.
I noticed from your
that you recently purchased Freaks and
Geeks. How did you ever manage to hear about that show in England? Do you have a
favorite episode yet? (Not to give anything away, but my favorite one is when
Nick tries out to be the drummer of Dimension) Have you given much thought to
touring with a 29 piece drum-set?
It was shown once on a satellite channel in England called E4. I'd read about it
before in an American magazine so when it was shown I taped all the episodes
except for one, which I forgot to tape. I watch it all the time, but I've been
missing that one episode since then. So when I came to America it was one of my
immediate shopping priorities. I think one of my favourite episodes is “Tests
and Breasts,” because of the ending where
Lindsay just starts laughing. And because of the sex talk scene with Coach
Fredricks and Sam, where you see Sam going from horrified to confused to
comfortable about it. It's such a beautiful understated TV show. Funnier and
more moving than most films could ever be. Watching it reminds me of being that
age. I see a lot of myself in Sam. I love that episode with Nick trying out to
be Dimension's drummer, although the whole thing with Nick and his dreams of
being a drummer sometimes rings too painfully true with me. Not that I was ever
a drummer, but if I were a drummer, I'd definitely have a 29-piece kit or a
rotating two kit system like
from Rush has.
What do you find funny or interesting about our culture? Don't hold back. We can
I find America's total unabashed
commitment to consumerism quite admirable. And people in shops seem very very
helpful. They always ask if they can help me with anything. If someone does that
in England it usually means they suspect you of shoplifting. And I've found the
overall size of America quite overwhelming. Being in a country this big makes me
feel very small. I think if I lived here I'd just feel lost a lot of the time.
The tax is pretty weird too. I don't understand why it isn't mentioned on the
price tag. So I think something is two dollars and then when it comes to pay
it's two dollars and twenty-three cents or something. Quite confusing. And
Americans have very nice teeth. And more poetic names for places.
Your songs confront some very traumatic feelings, such as growing old and seeing
spiders and monsters. Do you think these things are any scarier than what's
happening in Iraq, global warming, and Avian Flu?
On a day-to-day level these are probably the things that worry people more than
larger global issues. Sometimes the larger fears are almost too big to
comprehend. Most people don't wake up in the morning and worry about the
situation in Iraq or global warming. They wake up and worry that they don't have
enough money to get to work or buy lunch or pay for medical treatment if they
get sick or that they're getting old and they still haven't fallen in love with
anyone. It doesn't mean that the larger issues aren't important. I just think
it's true that most people have day-to-day worries that take precedence in their
lives. I think people feel quite helpless and powerless when it comes to global
politics, especially the war in Iraq, because they kind of know that whatever
they feel about it, it won't make any difference if the people in power don't
feel the same.
I meant that last question with great sincerity because I think everyone has a
hard time managing their own neurosis with the horrors of global events. Do you
prefer to keep music personal or would you ever consider writing about some of
these larger issues?
I don't think I would ever write about larger issues in that way. If I do write
about war then it's about building a shelter under the stairs and worrying about
the nuclear fall out. I'm always going to be more
When The Wind Blows
than Saving Private Ryan.
Now that you have toured and played all the songs from your first album to a
near exhaustive level, what have you learned? And what do you think will be
different about your next album?
We haven't really learned anything, except that it's hard to recreate perfectly
the sound of the album. We try and recapture the spirit of it as opposed to
recreate it exactly. We still haven't really played that many gigs, even though
we've done a couple of quite big tours in the UK and the US. So we're not bored
of playing the last album yet. We'll make our next album in the same way that we
made the first one. Kind of messing about with different instruments and ideas
until we hit upon something we like, so I don't know how it will be different
yet. If it even is at all.
How do you pass the time while traveling?
Reading. Watching DVDs. I bought a large collection of anime DVDs out with me,
and then I've been buying things along the way. And I like just staring out of
the bus window with my Walkman on.
How was South by Southwest? Are there any new bands we should be listening to
Love Is All and
We saw them both at SXSW and their albums are wonderful. But you're probably
listening to them already. And a band called
from Canada. Someone told me about them at SXSW and what I've heard sounds
You've listed The House At Pooh Corner as one of your favorite books.
What is it you enjoy about the book because I think your music has a similar
theme, perhaps that there is wisdom in innocence?
I didn't really notice the similarities when I was writing the album, but I've
reread The House At Pooh Corner recently and I guess it must have been a
latent influence from my childhood. It definitely shares a lot of similar themes
and imagery. I suppose the Winnie the Pooh books have an underlying feeling of
childhood ending and saying goodbye in some way to childhood friends and ways.
And I guess our album has a lot of that in it too.
Have you ever read
The Tao of Pooh?
I read it for the first time a couple of months ago. I liked it a lot--a sweet
You recently proclaimed in your weblog that you would like to win next year's
World Pooh Sticks Championship,
held on the River Thames. Do you have a winning strategy that you'd care
Blind faith. Often unrealistic and misplaced. The same winning strategy I use
for the band.
Did anyone else in the band contribute to this interview?
Just Jof. It's usually always just me,
I'm afraid. Peter does interviews occasionally but he's quite mysterious. I was
lying on my bunk on the bus when I replied to you. Our bus has broken down at a
mountain truck stop somewhere near Seattle. Adam Chetwood, our banjo player was
in the bunk above me. And Alistair, our drummer, was in the bunk opposite me.
They were of next to no help with this interview. Everyone else is watching
Donnie Darko at the other end of the bus.
Thanks so much for your time and your wonderfully interesting answers.
Thank you. It's been a funny day today. For more details of the circumstances
surrounding us while I answered these questions, read our recent weblog entry
Took My Hits On A Dumb Road Trip.”