How do you follow a debut album that goes triple platinum, a single that goes straight to Number One and becomes a half-a-mllion-copies-selling generational anthem (This Ain’t A Love Song), two million album sales, two million single sales, four Brit Award nominations, an Ivor Novello, four Top Ten singles, a sold-out Wembley Arena, a sold-out Royal Albert Hall, and a Greatest Hits that takes your tally of Top Ten albums to four?
The short answer is: you follow it with a new record deal with a new major label (Warner Bros), and with the best album of your career. It’s called Still Thinking About You, which is just one of the messages the resurgent Scouting For Girls want to flag to their faithful fanbase.
But how do you get to that point? For Scouting For Girls, it’s not to take the knee-jerk route and decamp to Los Angeles to collaborate with big-hitters of the songwriting world… That said: to be fair, Roy Stride of Scouting For Girls did do that – although, as a successful hit-machine for other artists, it’s the band’s singer/songwriter that is one of the big-hitters of the songwriting world.
Instead, applying the same singular vision that made songs such as She’s So Lovely (another 500,000-seller), Heartbeat, Elvis Ain’t Dead and the aforesaid This Ain’t A Love Song a particular kind of melodic and lyrical tonic, Scouting For Girls made their own luck, took their inspiration from their own hard work, and did what they’ve done since the trio of primary school friends first started making music in their teens: took inspiration from everything that was going on around them.
But whereas once that environment meant the west London off-licences and mobile phone shops where the threesome worked pre-success, now it meant a hotel room in Stoke, a fancy gig in Dubai… and a tribe of native people in the jungles of Papua New Guinea.
However: before we get to that totally-true tall-tale, here’s some typical plain-speaking from Stride (vocals, guitar, piano), Greg Churchouse (bass) and Pete Ellard (drums). Yes, their third album, 2012’s The Light Between Us, was, in the frontman’s laughing summation, “a total nightmare.
“Our whole A&R team left halfway through,” Stride continues, “so we didn’t have an A&R person for ages. Then the people who took over sent me off to LA to write songs. Then the album got put back by two years. And by the time it came out it had been recorded with seven different producers, in ten different studios, over two or three years. It was just a mess, really.”
Cue change of management, a Greatest Hits that was the final throw of the dice for Scouting For Girls’ deal with record label Sony, and a possibly valedictory tour of the UK. And yet… buoyed by the experience of playing up and down the country, and by the rapturous response from the ever-faithful, ever-enthusiastic SFG fanbase, the band were rejuvenated.
“l kinda think that my day job, or my real job, is writing and producing music for other people,” says Stride, whose compositions have been recorded by everyone from One Direction to McBusted, Olly Murs to 5 Seconds Of Summer. This is a man who can, it’s clear, write powerful, punchy, chart-busting pop songs like nobody’s business. “That’s what I do Monday to Friday,” he expands. “Then Scouting For Girls is the most amazing fun that I have every weekend, playing.”
In that spirit, the band immediately said yes to all the opportunities to play (in both senses of the term) that came their way in 2014.
“We played loads of university gigs up and down the country,” recalls Churchouse. “Then we got a call to play a festival in Dubai. And we thought, ‘OK, that sounds great.’ Then the day we were flying to Dubai, we got confirmation that we were doing this TV show in Papau New Guinea called Singing In The Rainforest.”
Yes, Stride admits with a laugh, “it’s literally as dumb as it sounds – it’s like they came up with the title for the TV programme before they even thought about the idea. So we went out there for two weeks to write a song with a tribe…”
All these experiences rolled into one big burst of enjoyment for the band. As Ellard says: “We just fell in love again with being in a band and playing music, and just doing what we did before.”
“And because of that,” adds Stride, “the songs just started coming out. Whereas the last record was all put together by the label, this one came together really organically, like a record should, through a real love for the songs rather than thinking about anything else.”
You can hear that instinctive love for life, for songs, for music in the first single. Life’s Too Short, a cornerstone song for the overall sound of the album, has a joyous, optimistic bounce that practices what it preaches. It’s already lit up the playlists at Radio 2.
“People have said it’s like old Scouting For Girls, or the best bits of our old songs rolled into one. The best of everything we’ve done before,” beams Stride. “I love that!”
Home has a similar, amped-up folky feel, both songs rounded out by invigorating strings, with the latter tune evoking The Waterboys at their best.
Explaining that live, fresh sound, Stride says that, “the whole idea was to let the album breathe, so you can hear the music, you can hear the instruments – you can hear the creak of a chair.”
It’s an approach that was hit upon during the first rehearsal for the recording of the album. In the can-do, gung-ho, heads-high spirit of enthusiasm and musical passion that came to characterise the making of Still Thinking About You, Scouting For Girls took inspiration wherever and whenever it struck. So, holed up in a hotel day room in Stoke-on-Trent, waiting to play a midnight university show, the trio pushed aside all the furniture, plugged in and got down to the simple pleasures of playing music, in a room. Any room. Even a hotel day room in Stoke. After all, a great song can transport you anywhere.
“As weird as it sounds, so few records these days have any real instruments on them!” says Stride, a man who knows better than most what goes on when huge pop acts are working in recording studios. “We’ve got proper pianos, and proper strings. We didn’t want anything tuned on the vocals. We’d just sing it till it sounded good and natural.”
Heartfelt ballad Vow and the simple, sparse, sub-two-minute treat that is Best Laid Plans are cases in point.
“Best Laid Plans was actually recorded in LA while I was out there with 5 Seconds Of Summer working on their record,” says Stride. “It’s a really loose song, completely live, recorded in a kitchen in one take. That’s about as real as it gets.”
Scouting For Girls were doing all this – writing, recording, having a blast – on their terms, on their own dollar, at their own pace. Only once they had a bunch of songs with which they were happy – and that includes Christmas In The Air (Tonight), a seasonal smash-in-waiting – did they think about which record label might release it. Presented with an album that was completely done and dusted, right down to the artwork, Warner Bros jumped at the chance to partner with the band.
“It was a really unforced, natural album,” reflects Ellard. “It was just done how it should have been done. Good songs, simple production, really good fun. And we rediscovered that buzz between the three of us.”
“We’ve kinda been doing this together for the last 22 years,” chips in Churchouse, “since we were kids. So it’s been a constant in our lives. And I think this record is just a pure expression of us.”
“It’s been a real journey, this record,” affirms Stride, rightfully proud of what this band of lifelong friends have achieved with their fourth studio album. “We know everyone always says this, but it is the record we’re most proud of. It’s our best record. We tried to make a collection of songs that worked together, which we’d never really done before. And we wanted to make songs that connect truthfully and emotionally. And if they connect with us, they’ll connect with others. It’s about being instinctive, and honest.
“On Still Thinking About You, we’ve embraced what people love about this band,” concludes the frontman, “and we’ve made the ultimate Scouting For Girls record.”