It's cold, it's raining, and Soul Shine has managed to find something positive about London's Islington Academy: its entrance is indoors. Well, roofed, in any case, within a semi open plain shopping complex, but that's good enough. Because otherwise this interview with Tsunami Bomb will start on both a damp and unpunctual footing.
Standing outside, bewildered, I check my watch, hoping the Californian punk quartet haven't got too much of a jammed pre-gig media itinerary, and wait with security for some unforthcoming key holder to open the internally locked door blocking my progress.
Thankfully, when the said saviour eventually arrives, Soulshine is led through and introduced to three relievingly relaxed members from one of the more standout US punk acts that doesn't slot into the current 'emo' hype.
Shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with female lead singer Agent M, guitarist Mike, and bassist Matt, Tsunami Bomb immediately reveal themselves to be a laid back, happy-to-chat bunch, dispelling visions of disaster initially mapped-out by the inaccessible venue.
Their calm exteriors make sense. While the past year may have been a little on the tiring side for the band, taking in several tours, including an entire Warped Tour on the main stage, their success has been great enough to ensure that their brows were always more sweaty through exertion than furrowed through stress.
"It's been awesome, we've done a lot of things, it's been really great. We've been really lucky with the tours that we've got," says the really-not-very-frightening for a punk singer, Agent M.
"I think, like, touring is the heart of it all, you know?" says Mike, who meanders between saying a little and a lot throughout the interview, occasionally providing the odd word to complete M's tailed off sentences, and never indulging too far in clich»s or standardised answers.
"It's craazy," he says of the Warped Tour, expounding on his 'a's with just a hint of sarcasm, suggesting it's not his favourite term, before bursting this British reporter's rock n' roll vision by saying that, far from seeing a new place every day, it's far more a case that you see the same thing all the time.
"You get to meet a lot of bands though, it's really fun. You see the same people every day, it's like a huge community, that moves around," Agent M pipes in, raising the tone.
"That's the best part about it," Mike concurs. "You definitely have your friends, like the bands that you hang out with every day, it's just like a big summer camp."
Friends accumulated during these jaunts include the likes of Hot Rod Circuit, Rise Against and the Bouncing Souls, the headline act for this European tour. It's a credible selection of names that match the band's credentials well.
Scaling over TB's first full-length album, 'The Ultimate Escape', you can identify a spine of certainly catchy tracks in the likes of 'Take the Reins', 'El Diablo' and 'The Simple Truth', but there's a gritty and genuine edge to the record that differentiates it from any of the more distasteful pop pretenders.
However, slating more commercial bands isn't a pastime that they undertake with any particularly glee: "Personally, I know what I like," says four-stringer Matt, looking around, seemingly for the right words not to be nasty when asked how 'punk purist' the band considers themselves to be.
"I don't think it's down to anyone to say what every band should or should not be doing," Mike interjects, paraphrasing his cohort's facial expression. "I know I get a little judgemental sometimes, but I think that everybody does, probably," before tailing off his explanation in an equally fair, uncontroversial and unfortunately inaudible manner, as background bar staff liven up to drown out Soulshine's voice recorder.
Concerned by the noise, Agent M grabs the recorder from her sole-seated position and holds it up to make sure the far-off and slightly quiet tones of her band mates are faithfully reproduced, although it seems unlikely that much will be taken down on this anti-mainstream tack.
Soulshine persists, and refers to a particular TB track, 'Top 40 Hit', as hinting towards some kind of distaste for commercial music, but lyricist Agent M insists there's no malice intended against individual artists.
"The song is more about how commercial radio sucks," she says. "It's about how the radio can take even a really good song and make you get really sick of it because they play it 50 times every day. They play like 20 songs over the course of the day...it's horrible."
"And they miss out on a ton of great bands because the money's not involved to get the great bands on," Mike adds.
"I think that's the saddest thing about commercial radio," Matt says, confirming that this is a collective TB peeve, "there's a lot of people out there that will listen to the radio and they'll think that's indicative of the music that's going on in America today. There's so many just like amazing bands that never want to be on the radio or are never going to be on the radio."
The band are taking January out in the New Year to prepare for recording the follow-up to 'The Ultimate Escape', and have already written, and are performing, some new material. Their one-month break will provide a much-deserved chance to concentrate on writing, something they admit they're still learning to do on the road.
"I think you guy's are doing a good job..." says Agent M looking at her pals. "It's really hard for me, writing the lyrics, because I really need to be in a certain spot where I can be alone and quiet and maybe have some of the music or an instrument that I can play it on."
This is not the only new discipline that the band will take into their February studio time. Having worked closely with producer Steve Kravac on their debut, they are keen to take a more controlling roll this time round.
"We've learned a lot, yeah," Mike says wryly.
Agent M laughs appreciatively, adding: "Yeah, we're hoping that we picked a better person for the job this time. Someone that is more willing to work with us as a team member and not as a, you know..."
"Foreman..." says Mike (continuing that sentence finishing empathy). "Yeah." "Yeah," they both reaffirm, in a 'next question' manner.
Plans are set to release the new record around June, meaning all may go quiet on the TB front for the first half of 2004: "We've done the whole US two and a half, three times this year, and we've done Japan, Europe and the UK. We need to go to Australia, that's the only thing, we haven't been there yet, but we might just wait to do anything until after the album comes out," M says.
At least she'll be waking up on New Year's Day with a clear head, being a non-drinker and non-smoker, and, when touring, even a non-coffee, dairy, or soda zone. Soulshine cringingly enquires whether this means the band aren't big on partying, receiving justifiably ripping-responses: "Hey, I still party, man!" she says, as her two band mates concur behind fits of giggles at the 'WHOAH PARTY!!' rock n' roll ideal set by the question.
Her delicate larynx-protecting techniques are a blessing, affording a vocal range that complements TB's often melodic, sometimes raucous, but always enveloping sound, something that conveys well during the evening's live set, despite massive sound problems.
Soulshine suggests that maybe this is one of the things that makes the band standout: "I kinda think it does from other female fronted bands. I think there's a lot of male fronted bands that can do that as well, but it seems like a lot of times that female fronted bands fall into either like a light airy poppy type thing, or like Distillers or Hole, you know like, 'mmwwarrrgghhh!'," she says, concluding with an angry kitten screech.
It is, though, more Tsunami Bomb's great song writing, ability to avoid pop drabness, and general energy that makes the complete package something special, and the band should hopefully be returning to Canada later in 2004.
"We need to go to Canada. We haven't been [this year], I mean we did Canada on Warped Tour, but just four shows. We did Canada last summer , we did a full Canadian Tour, and we need to do that again," Agent M adds.
So, in a nutshell, what's 2004 got for Tsunami Bomb?
"A new record... More touring..." says Mike, itemising blankly. "A good new record!.." Agent M stresses, chirpily. "A good record, more touring..." he continues. "Good tours! Just good things, all round," M brightly corrects again. "Just general tearing it up all year round!" Matt eventually summarises.
Soulshine has no idea what this means. But we strongly recommend that you check them out to find the answer.
Writer: Tim Newbound