When Gary Briggs tells other British rock bands that he’s taking his Manchester-based group, Haven, on another tour of America, he usually gets the same reaction.
“Oh, yeah?” they say. “Good luck with that, man.”
He can hear it in their voices, their frustration over trying to crack the tough, massive U.S. market. Those naysayers may have their doubts that Haven can succeed where so many have failed, but Briggs (vocals, guitar) and his band mates – Nat Wason (guitars), Iwan Gronow (bass, vocals), Jack Mitchell (drums) – feel they can beat the odds.
“None of us feels like we’re wasting our time,” Briggs said recently. “There’s a real negative attitude with British acts when it comes to America, but we’re not going to buy into that.”
And they shouldn’t. Their hypnotic debut Radiate/Virgin album, “Between the Senses” (out Aug. 27), sets them apart from what one U.K. publication has labeled “another crop of sensitive young rock bands out to save British guitar music.”
On the heels of Coldplay, Doves, Starsailor and Elbow, Haven soars with the help of Briggs’ impressive vocals and moody songwriting style and Wason’s intense guitar sounds. Sonic highlights include “Let It Live” (the first single), “Say Something” and “Is This Bliss.”
“We wanted it to sound live, and we wanted it to sound like we were excited while we were playing it,” Briggs said. “It’s important, because in the terms of the next album, it gives you somewhere to go, and coming to playing it live as well; you’re not making a record that’s difficult to live up to.”
Their trip to the big leagues began when former Smiths manager Joe Moss saw Haven play at a youth club in its native Cornwall. He urged them to move to Manchester in 1999 and hooked them up with ex-Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.
Briggs says they couldn’t believe their luck in landing Marr as producer.
“That was the endorsement we needed when we arrived in Manchester because at the time we were just another band in Manchester that was never going to do something,” he said. “When Johnny got involved, it really made people sit up and take notice.
“It’s so strange now to be friends with someone you’ve admired from afar for so long. He immediately dispelled any kind of hero worship. It would have been unhealthy to go into the studio with a kind of teacher-pupil environment going on. We got to know Johnny over a long period of time before we eventually recorded with him, so it was a real natural progression. We did a 16-date tour with Badly Drawn Boy before we had a record deal, and then we went on to play with Johnny’s band, The Healers. We spent months hanging out and chatting together; it set up the recording of the album really well.”
Touring has been the cornerstone of Haven’s U.K. success. Briggs say they were willing to play anywhere, any time.
“We spent three years doing nothing but playing,” he said. “We toured England over and over and over again to the point where we’ve actually graduated to the bigger venues, as opposed to doing one small tour and then forgetting all the small places and all the small towns bands never go to. We made sure we played in every corner of the country.
“That’s the reason alone that we’ve sold records, not because a journalist is turned on to us or really hammered us. That’s something we’re proud of, because that equates directly to what the band’s done.”
That work ethic will serve them well in their pursuit of America, Briggs says.
“We know a lot of Manchester bands that have come to play (in the states), and it seems to me that (America’s) not any different than anywhere else,” he says. “When a band does well in the U.K., they think that their success is going to be matched in America. But the key is coming over here and playing and playing and touring. America is a big, big place. You have to put in the work; it’s not going to be handed to you on a silver platter. You have to work at it.”
While Coldplay has hinted that its second album (released stateside on the same day as “Between the Senses”) may be its last, Haven is in it for the long haul, Briggs says.
“We’ve been playing together for six years now,” he said. “We live together, and this is all we’ve ever wanted to do. We never wanted anything to come in the way of the music. We’re friends, first and foremost. I suppose if the music ever got in the way of the friendship, then we’d probably have to stop. But there’s so much we still want to do yet, like for instance working with Johnny Marr on the album – we only scratched the surface of what he and what we feel we can achieve together.”
ON THE WEB: www.haven-online.com. Other sites – Unofficial Haven, Say Haven, Haven
THE FIRST RECORD I EVER BOUGHT: ” ’19’ by Paul Hardcastle. I loved it, even though I didn’t know what the fuck it meant. I was so young, like 10.”
THE FIRST CONCERT I EVER WENT TO: “It was the group Therapy? I was spat on; I couldn’t believe it. I was so pleased; it landed right on my forehead.”
THE WORST JOB I’VE EVER HAD: “For a small period of time, I worked in a burger place. It was bad; I didn’t like it at all. I learned that you shouldn’t eat fast food, because everyone who works in fast-food restaurants spits in the burgers and scratches their ass before they cut up the lettuce, that kind of stuff. It’s a real horror story; it really put me off on restaurants. It’s just like Beavis and Butt-head, working at a Rattburger.”