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The Rhythm Method
The Rhythm Method’s Joey Bradbury (L) and Rowan Martin (R)Photography Lewis Robinson

The Rhythm Method are here to entertain you

As they release their debut album How Would You Know I Was Lonely?, we catch up with one of the UK’s most inventive bands

The Rhythm Method shouldn’t work, really, at least not on paper. To give an uncharitable description of their music, which unites spoken word vocals and chintzy electronic beats, imagine Mike Skinner had decided to toast over the Big Break theme tune instead of UK garage. Still, thanks to the chemistry between Joey Bradbury (the south west London duo’s main vocalist) and Rowan Martin (their backing singer and producer), The Rhythm Method just make sense. Joey is a naturally charismatic performer whose sharp, self-deprecating lyrics are rich in pathos, while Rowan is a talented melodic songwriter with an ear for pop hooks. Together, they tap into a lineage of male UK pop duos that spans the Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell, the Associates, and the Style Council (you could probably argue they have as much to do with PJ & Duncan, Pat & Mick, or Chas & Dave, too).

Their debut album, How Would You Know I Was Lonely?, is hilarious, sweet, and sincere in equal measure. Its title is taken from a lyric in their early single “Ode2Joey”, and it taps into a very contemporary form of alienation: “How would you know I was lonely, if I didn’t tell everyone?” As Joey explains today, it’s a phrase he’d wanted to use for a long time. “I always wanted to write a lyric that would look good tattooed on someone,” he says. “Simply put, it’s about our generation. You can really tell when someone’s having a breakdown from their social media. It’s just like that – I’m lonely, but that feeling is almost not legitimate unless I let everyone know about it. It needs an audience.”

Loneliness, Rowan explains, is the album’s overriding theme. “Every song has it somewhere in there,” he says. We’re meeting on a weekday afternoon at a pub near Rowan’s house in Camberwell to discuss the album, which has been eagerly anticipated by a small but dedicated following that includes famous fans like Elton John, The 1975’s Matty Healy, and Mike Skinner himself, who previously produced their single “Cruel”. How Would You Know I Was Lonely? tells a loose story – and they stress that it is very loose – about a character called ‘Salad Cream’, an exaggerated version of Joey who stars in a series of self-contained episodes that detail his life experiences, mostly spent either at work, at the pub, or on holiday. The album includes some of The Rhythm Method’s best singles, like “Local, Girl”, a love letter to the boozer, as well as new songs like “Continental Breakfast”, which is part-Paddy McAloon, part-Fantazia rave, and which feels particularly resonant given the impending Brexit deadline.

The Rhythm Method’s unique sound – so hyper-specific, so hyper-UK – doesn’t exactly scream ‘mass appeal’, but that’s precisely what makes them so exciting. The initial promise that the internet seemed to offer music – to make sounds from across the world accessible to all, to facilitate the rapid and free exchange of ideas across borders – has since given way to a generic ‘global pop’ sound that lacks any of the creative innovation you’ll find in an actual, living musical subculture. The logic of streaming services today is that artists need to make music that’s as blandly acceptable to as wide an audience as possible if they stand a chance of any success, but the most innovative music comes from the artists who buck that trend and make music that feels like it belongs somewhere. It may seem strange to place The Rhythm Method alongside, say, a flamenco artist from Catalonia, or a drill MC from south London, but there’s a similar logic at play. “We’re a reaction to that global pop sound that doesn’t come from anywhere, that’s not really touching anyone,” Rowan says.

The problem with making niche music in 2019 is that it doesn’t make you much money, and Joey and Rowan are as good an advertisement for selling out as any. Joey tells me that he only has £6 in his bank account, or technically -£1,494, a negative number he’s been living in for the past six years. How Would You Know I Was Lonely? was produced in dribs and drabs (the oldest song was written five years ago, the most recent is six months old) partly because they had to schedule its production around day jobs. They’re out of work right now, writing material for their next album, which they say is inspired by the rise of hustle culture; it’s the first time since they started that they’ve been able to write a chunk of material in one go. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, though. Right now, we’re here to talk about the album, and Joey and Rowan have a lot of things to say.

How Would You Know I Was Lonely? has been a long time coming. Why is that?

Rowan Martin: We went from being an amateur band – essentially just two blokes making each other laugh – to trying to turn it into a professional operation. That’s been quite a violent process.

Joey Bradbury: I think, at first, we got swept up in having these meetings with major labels, and getting played on Radio 1, and we got seduced by those prospects. You could argue it’s made us jaded, in a way, but it’s more that we’ve realised how much nonsense it all is. There are lots of pretend jobs (in the music business). Everyone’s keeping each other in those jobs, pretending they’re actually doing something.

Rowan Martin: They all sort of thought that maybe it would work – and then they met us, and saw us live, and realised, “Probably not.” We’ve come back to our roots in the indie world. That’s where we belong, that’s where we started.

What are the hallmarks of a Rhythm Method song?

Joey Bradbury: Humour, first and foremost. It’s an expression of a very common coping mechanism, particularly among British people, a kind of gallows humour – feeling really crap, but what else can you do but laugh at it?

Rowan Martin: The main thing with every song is that it’s supposed to tell a very obvious story. If you don’t know what our song is about, then it’s failed. I think Joey’s character inhabits the verses in this sitcom-y way, this mixture of pathos and humour, then my chorus parts are made to be as hooky and singable as possible.

Joey Bradbury: I think there is a lot of sadness in all the songs, but we still want to make it fun. That’s much like our life outlook, really – you can’t take anything too seriously, especially yourself.

Do a lot of musicians take themselves too seriously?

Joey Bradbury: In a lot of ways, music isn’t as important as it was, I guess because there’s so much of it. It almost has a different purpose to what it used to. I feel like there are more music fans in the world now – it’s definitely more accessible – and it gets people who are in a successful place to think that what they’re doing is ‘important’, when it’s not. I don’t think what we’re doing is important. A word that music journalists always use is ‘vital’. I don’t think it necessarily needs to be vital.

Rowan Martin: If you’ve got that attitude that is has to be vital, you’re not gonna create anything that’s fun, or enjoyable. People have forgotten that music is primarily a form of entertainment. It’s turned into all sorts of other things now. Bringing back entertainment was always our manifesto.

How did growing up in London influence your relationship with music? 

Rowan Martin: My parents are from London. Dr. Feelgood were my dad’s favourite band, and Squeeze, Nine Below Zero, Elvis Costello, all that pub rock stuff was very much the London music of their era, so I grew up with that. In my own upbringing, the modulation from garage into grime – not that I was a huge fan of any of those – was unmissable in London. You get onto a bus and someone’s playing it out their phone, so the best songs osmosed into me. We wanted to capture those London genres on the album, whether that’s garage, or pub rock, or anything else. 

Joey Bradbury: When we first started writing together, it was actually a thing, like, “We need to make this London-centric,” but then we started travelling around, and with all the changes here over the past few years, it made us fall out of love with it. We’re definitely less loyal to London than we were.

Rowan Martin: I don’t think it matters where music comes from, so long as it comes from somewhere. Gram Parsons came from a loaded family, and it sounds like a loaded family from Texas. In a way, that’s quite beautiful.

“Bringing back entertainment was always our manifesto” – Rowan Martin, The Rhythm Method

What do you mean by the “changes” in London?

Joey Bradbury: It’s the ‘g’ word. To be honest, when we hear it now, we just switch off. It feels like the damage is well and truly already done. It’s like that new Land Rover advert, in Brixton

Rowan Martin: (sighing) Fuuuck me.

Joey Bradbury: There’s no shame anymore. We’ve jumped the gentrification shark. It’s nihilistic, in a way. Everyone’s been ground down so much that they’re advertising Land Rovers in Brixton.

Rowan Martin: All the interesting edges and niches have been sanded off or filled up. I remember two years ago, I was living in Hornsey, north London. It was a station that has no barriers, which is a great London institution, so all these yutes were getting on. It was one of those places. And over the course of me living there for a year, the high street got a bit tarted up, the barriers went up – all those little wildernesses were getting tidied up. They’re rolling out the red carpet for the new people, and it’s a real shame. And it’s happened everywhere.

You’ve called your single “Wandsworth Plain” the UK’s “Old Town Road”. What did you mean by that?

Rowan Martin: What did we mean by that? I suppose, like “Old Town Road”, its foundation is in an old era. Like Americana is with “Old Town Road”, with us, it’s that pub piano singalong, cockney knees-up sound. It’s quite fun to briefly go into that sort of scenery, but then putting someone very modern like Joey or Lil Nas X into that world links the two. Chris Difford (from classic English pop band Squeeze, who features on the song) is our Billy Ray – someone who is actually from that world – so he kind of bridges the past and the present.

Joey Bradbury: But, obviously, not as popular as Billy Ray.

The most exciting song on the album for me is “Continental Breakfast”. It’s also the most Brexit-y song on the album.

Joey Bradbury: Unintentional, really. I wrote it on holiday in 2015. I suppose the talk of Brexit was in the air anyway, but it was more of a love letter to package holidays – going to Spain, (pointing at Rowan’s fake football shirt) getting a fake football shirt, stuff like that. It’s grown into our most overtly political song, but it’s not really that at all.

Rowan Martin: When we wrote “Local, Girl”, and we weren’t really thinking about the concept of pub culture dying out, and then suddenly that became a thing. Same with “Home Sweet Home”, we weren’t thinking about London venues closing, we were thinking about not getting into London venues. “Continental Breakfast” is supposed to be our holiday romance song, and then it made sense to have that slight Brexit angle – but really, really glancing.

It’s quite funny that you’re coming out with a record that is unashamedly UK, that’s not trying to appeal globally, and it’s coming out in this political climate.

Joey Bradbury: I definitely like the idea of it being British pop, as you say, unashamedly. It definitely does feel like we’re in a time where the British identity, particularly our cultural identity, is unfortunately being taken away from us. It’s being weaponised as an anti-immigration tool. It’s bizarre. A lot of me would like to retain that: we produce the best music, the best TV shows and the best films, and the best art, there’s so much to be proud of…

Rowan Martin: Agreed, apart from the films part.

Joey Bradbury: Do you not think?

Rowan Martin: We’ve produced some great films, but some fucking terrible films. Sex Lives of the Potato Men

Joey Bradbury: That’s actually some of our best stuff.

Joey, I wanted to ask about your love of Joe Rogan. Why do you find him appealing?

Joey Bradbury: It’s quite tongue-in-cheek. To me, it’s a talk show. He genuinely does have some great interviews – Eddie Izzard was on the other week, and he was fantastic. He’s a terrible stand-up comedian though, frightfully unfunny. He’s seen as alt-right, and he definitely has a lot of terrible people on…

He boosts a lot of right-wingers. I don’t know how coherent his own political ideology is.

Joey Bradbury: You don’t have to listen to the Ben Shapiros and the Jordan Petersons of the world – I avoid the whole lot, they’re horrible people – but I will listen to him interview Jake the Snake. We recently found out I have a fascination with the prospect of being ‘cancelled’…

Rowan Martin: A kink...

Joey Bradbury: Yeah, it’s almost a kink. I’m always treading the line between non-cancellation and cancellation. I’m intrigued about what’s on the other side.

Who would play you both in a Rhythm Method biopic?

Rowan Martin: Robert Downey Jr and Mel Gibson. Both men who have been cancelled, and come back. Directed by Guy Ritchie.

What’s the most difficult lesson you’ve learned since launching your career? 

Joey Bradbury: That it’s not really much of a career. It’s such a rarity to make a career out of it, it just makes no financial sense at all. We’ve ploughed in more of our own money than we’ve ever seen back, but for some reason we just keep on doing it. It’s been a real emotional rollercoaster.

Rowan Martin: I suppose that’s the toughest part – the emotional volatility of it, particularly the tour life. It really gets under your skin, in a nice way, but it’s really hard to come back from. We’re quite sensitive guys, so going to Glasgow, and hearing people sing along with our songs, we’re thinking, “Can we keep going with this? Can we make that a full room one day?” It fills you with all sorts of emotions.

Joey Bradbury: Chasing the buzz.

Rowan Martin: Sometimes we’ll have tour withdrawal. We have to go get a meal deal and sit in a car park.

What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about you?

Rowan Martin: Irony is one of the big ones. One of our first proper gigs was at the Stag’s Head, and some bloke was outside, and I walked out and he was like, “Yeah, that was good mate. Irony, less of it please.” It was a really weird thing to say. I felt like saying to him, “Do you know what that word means? Because I don’t think you really do.” A lot of people don’t really know.

Joey Bradbury: To us, it’s the antithesis of irony. It’s very honest. There are tongue-in-cheek elements to it, obviously, but it’s not what I would define as irony.

Rowan Martin: Irony is, at its most basic, not meaning what you say, and we do really mean what we say. You might not be able to believe that, but we definitely do.

The Rhythm Method play London’s Bush Hall on July 4