This wasn’t meant to be the actual record. In fact, the twelve songs that make up The Bar Stool Preachers’ stunning third full-length, Above The Static, were only supposed to be ideas, a guide to what the actual album would and could later become. And so, in April 2021, together with producer Ben Hannah, the Brighton-based band set up camp at The Waterloo, a three-story pub/venue in the Northern seaside town of Blackpool, to begin the process of making an album. Or, more accurately, the process that would lead to the process of making an album. But when they listened to “Flatlined”, the first song they committed to tape there, it dawned on them that it actually sounded like the finished product.
“It’s not a real studio,” says frontman Tom McFaull. “We just went in there with the idea of getting demos—we took a mobile recording desk and everything we needed because we wanted to dial in the sound. But as soon as we recorded that song, Ben and I just looked at each other and went ‘This sounds massive enough to be the real thing.’ We were there for about two-and-a-half weeks in total. The pub was closed because of Covid, so it was just us and Fletch (the owner). We’d go to bed for a few hours, wake up, the first person up would put the coffee on and press play on whatever we’d recorded the night before. We just lived it fully. We couldn’t re-record this album if we tried.”
That’s because Above The Static truly does captures the moment which inspired it, as well as it captures the complex, ever-evolving essence of the band that made it. Formed by McFaull and bassist Karl ‘Bungle’ Jeffery in 2014, these days The Bar Stool Preachers are completed by guitarists Tom Gibbs and Karl Smith, keyboardist Alex Hay, drummer Alex ‘Whibbs’ Whibley-Conway and most recently Ray Waters on guitars and many other instruments, all of whom are on a constant search to evolve, something equaled only by their desire to stay true to themselves. It’s that unique combination that’s at the heart of this record, one that sees the band riffing off their ska-punk roots (and the ideologies which inform them), but which also ensures they break the boundaries sonically of the punk genre. With thisalbum, The Bar Stool Preachers want to both push through any preconceptions about the music they make, and ensure that what they do make doesn’t just fall on deaf ears.
“We’ve never really been a band to put ourselves in a genre box or a pigeonhole,” explains McFaull, “and we were really pushing the envelope with what we wanted to do and where we were comfortable. Above The Static is a way for the band to be heard above a lot of the static that’s coming out in both the music world and just in a disinformative age. We find it incredibly telling that most of the music that dominates the mainstream landscape nowadays is in keeping with the vacuous nonsense that we’re fed and which placates the masses. We need to make a sound that pierces through that static so people hear our anarcho-economic message with its community feel. This album was a way to hang our sound somewhere different that we thought would take people by surprise.”That’s an understatement, but don’t be fooled. There’s still a handful of songs that conform to what McFaull calls “the quintessential Bar Stool Preachers sound—you know, it’s politically driven, it’s angry, it’s catchy, it’s got big anthemic choruses.” There’s the melancholy, high-octane surge of “All Turned Blue”—an emotionally raw song about all the self-doubts that come with being human—and the righteous street ska-punk of “Don’t Die Today”, as well as the
traumatized (yet catchy) ferocity of “Doorstep”, on which McFaull spits with passionate intensity about the arrival of “the darkdays that you said would come.” Elsewhere, “Never Gonna Happen” is a vicious invective against the trifecta of capitalism, imperialism and racism that manages, in typical Bar Stool Preachers fashion, to also be empowering and inspiring, “Two Dog Night” isa pummelling punk anthem about wealth inequality with a bite as brutal as its bark, while “Laptop” is a fizzy, jittery track that channels humor into a serious message about, among other things, the impermanence of life. But there’s also the buoyant, electronically-tinged adrenalin rush of opener “Call Me On The Way Home” and the optimistic melancholy of the aforementioned “Flatlined”, a heartfelt, heartbreaking tribute to a couple of McFaull’s friends who are no longer here. At the midway point, the song’s breakneck melody dives sharply into a mellow, mournful mood and the frontman shifts into a poignant spoken word segment that both invokes and pays homage to English band The Streets. It’s just one indication of how far wide the influences of this record are spread—and how seamlessly they all come together.
“We all had such a diverse musical education,” says the singer, whose father fronts the seminal London Oi! band Cock Sparrer. “I’m from a punk family, but my older sister was listening to The Streets and I was going to Hackney Wick squat raves, so I’m also into jungle, drum’n’bass and house. It’s such a huge and random fucking mix of music.”Despite that range of influences being infused into the lifeblood of this record, nothing could prepare you for the tender and poignant “Lighthouse Keeper”—a heartfelt piano ballad that sits in the middle of the record and shimmers with desperate beauty and vulnerability. It’s probably not a song that The Bar Stool Preachers would, or even could, have made when they started out, nor one that a band famed for their intense, sweaty and boisterous live shows would be expected to make. Indeed, they’ve played to hundreds of thousands of people over the years—including a recent stadium show in Germany with Die Toten Hosen infront of 35,000 capacity crowd—and it’s likely all of them would be surprised when hearing that song for the first time. But that just goes to highlight the distance between their beginnings and their present, and—as epic, genre-defying album closer “Going Forward” illustrates—the band’s bold plans for the future.“We just want to get whatever’s inside outside,” explains McFaull. “We want to start talking to people that we weren’t talking to before, moving into other genres and not just punk and ska. We want to unlock the world for us again, and get us back to where we were before Covid. The overarching aim of this band is to create something that matters to people. It might not make a huge dent in the history of mankind, and it doesn’t have to be on a NASArover and played out to the masses, as long as there’s somebody there and it’s getting them through a bad day. This album is our way of being able to communicate with people and be a part of their lives.”