In Conversation – Sweet Beans
Liverpool based band Sweet Beans are like a fever dream. Their music is an infectious blend of Dark Funk, Riot Jazz and Groove Punk. The band consists of Adam Letman on Alto and Tenor Sax, Henry Atkinson on Drums, Josh Blackwell on Guitar and Miceál Sammon on Trombone and Bass. Combining eccentric guitar riffs with a thumping kick drum and perfectly harmonised horns, Sweet Beans have exploded onto the local music scene over the last few years. 2022 has been a stellar year for them so far, they released their foot-stomping debut EP The Dance Side of the Dark back in March to rave reviews and they have also gigged consistently throughout the year performing at venues such as Future Yard, EBGBS and The Quarry to name a few.
It was great to sit down with the band in the Philharmonic Dining Rooms on Hope Street and chat about the history of the band, their debut EP and their experiences of gigging across Liverpool and beyond!
Liverpool Noise: So, before we get started, tell us a bit more about Sweet Beans! How did you guys meet?
Henry Atkinson: Hi Helen! So we met when we were all students at Liverpool Hope University and we joined the big band!
Adam Letman: Myself and Miceál really wanted to start a band and we were under the watchful eye of Phil Shotton and we spied across a dusty plane Henry Atkinson on the Drums and Joshua Blackwell on Guitar and they were absolute fire and we wanted to get a band together so we did!
Miceál Sammon: So I think Adam tackled Henry and I tackled Josh and then also Henry!
AL: So it was late 2018 when it all began!
HA: We all really bonded during this time.
Liverpool Noise: So, who are your main influences both as a band but also as individual musicians?
Josh Blackwell: I want to say Napalm Death, the grindcore metal band and also ABBA.
HA: I really like the band Locked Club, that sort of techno music.
AL: John Coltrane and Sons of Kemet.
MS: Probably a lot of New Orleans music with regards to the Beans. Especially with all of the fat bass lines you get as well as the Brass too. Me personally, it’s anything Punk Rock!
Liverpool Noise: So in terms of genre, can Sweet Beans be classed as fitting in any particular genre, or is more an amalgamation of a few?
AL: Metal, Jazz, Groove, Punk, Riot..
Liverpool Noise: So a lot of hyphens then?
HA: So you know when you get a Pizza? Sometimes it’s just cheese and tomato and it’s really cohesive and you understand what’s happening. Then you might get someone who puts olives on the pizza and then the person who puts the pineapples on the pizza? Some people could say that that person is controversial but I would say that the more toppings, the more you gain. That applies to us as a band with all of our different genres..
AL: Exactly, there’s so much stuff that we do separately as musicians and that we bring together to Sweet Beans so it is a real amalgamation of all of the different influences and genres that we have as individuals.
Liverpool Noise: In March, you released your debut EP The Dance Side of the Dark. How did the EP come about and what was it like recording it? Take me through that journey.
AL: Crosstown Jon!
MS: That EP is three/fours years in the making.
JB: Yes! Because Meantime is on it, that extends its age as it’s one of the first tunes we wrote. Without Meantime, it’s kind of been a year in progress. One of the songs which was the main single for the EP, Illuminate had only existed for maybe two months when we took it into the studio.
MS: We were all kind of sceptical about all of the parts, I especially was sceptical about the bassline, I didn’t really know exactly what I was playing. I knew the key and all but I don’t think we had it nailed to the wall until we got there.
AL: It really came together in the studio.
MS: A lot of the tunes are old and have been gigged and some of these ones were really fresh..
JB: Two of them came together in lockdown and then the first track of the EP (Stabs), the genesis of that existed ages before, because Henry and I came up with that and it was literally just a load of stabs, hence the name, but we didn’t know what to do with it. The part that comes around 3 minutes in, it’s all stabs, that existed long before the rest of the song and then during the lockdowns, we wrote everything else all around that part. Meantime is the only track on the EP which extends the lifespan of the band. So then we managed to find a sound engineer, Jon Lawton at Crosstown Studios..
MS: We found him by accident too!
JB: Yes exactly and he turned out to be a godsend. We all really rate him, he’s a fantastic guy and musician.
MS: It all shaped together in the studio, I think we were very ready for the studio in one way because we’d been through Covid and everything was at a complete standstill, apart from our practising and writing. Gig wise, we weren’t doing much and we had all of these tunes and I think we were all bouncing off the walls and fed off each other’s energy, we fed off Jon’s energy too and he fed off ours which was great for recording.
AL: The EP launch as well, it was indescribable. So many more people turned up than we expected, so many more people bought merch and filmed us and followed us afterwards and we wouldn’t be where we are without those people that come and see us.
MS: We do really appreciate everyone that comes to see us, they really do support us and all of the money that people spend at our gigs on merch goes straight back into the band.
AL: The EP wouldn’t have happened without people coming to our gigs. We saved up for years for this, so thank you to everyone who has contributed to that.
Liverpool Noise: So this EP was like a product of everything, the whole history of the band, the fact that one of the first songs you wrote was on the EP and the fact that you paid for it through people buying your merch and coming to your gigs. So it’s like having something that you can celebrate all of this with by creating the EP.
JB: It’s interesting that you use the word celebration because I think that even though some of it is a bit dark, I’d say it is celebratory music. We kind of always want to make people dance and have a good time. It’s all we really know what to do to be honest! So yeah, it’s pretty joyous, it’s joyous dark music..you can be happy whilst having an existential crisis.
AL: It’s beautifully macabre!
Liverpool Noise: So when it comes to writing your songs, what is the usual process? Do you each bring your own ideas or do you try and write together or is it a bit of both?
AL: Everyone brings something different to the table, it’s fantastic. It’s a real amalgamation of all of us. But I’d say it’s always a bit different for each tune.
HA: It’s consistently different for each song.
AL: We all have such different processes as well.
Liverpool Noise: So do you think that’s a good thing, do you find it freeing that you’re not pigeon-holed into a specific composition process?
MS: Absolutely, 100%
AL: Like the riff in Illuminate, I wrote that for Bass and thought it would sound perfect on Bass and the rest of the band said to put it on Sax and I hadn’t even thought about doing it that way and that’s how that came to be!
JB: I think as well, we have breakthroughs sometimes with songs. I remember during lockdown, I was living with Adam and Henry and we were writing the song Nosedive. We had the first two minutes or so of the song and then we didn’t really know what to do with it..Henry and I were both on a zoom lecture and then afterwards, Henry rushed into my room and said the song needed to go into ⅞ and then we had a jam and tried to put the main riff into that time signature and it worked!
HA: Sometimes we just have that random lightbulb moment if we get stuck in a rut with songs!
MS: We have been stuck in ruts in the past with songs but they’re getting less and less the more songs we write and we’re getting better when we’re writing at taking a break and coming back to a song if we get stuck. I think we know each other a lot better now as well, each other’s temperament, attention spans and just knowing how we can all write together in the same room.
AL: There’s a weird thing with myself and Miceál on horns, we always know exactly what the other is going to do and you can only get that from playing with someone for a long time! Henry makes a good point too about coming up with new tunes during practises. A lot of them happen organically and they’re always the best ones.
MS: But then it can change with the tunes that Josh brings to the rehearsals. He’ll bring something that is nearly there and then we’ll all work on fleshing out our individual parts. It definitely changes with each new tune that we write.
AL: We all have different ways of approaching a tune but it takes all of us to make the tune what it is.
Liverpool Noise: A couple of weeks back you played a gig at Future Yard supporting And So I Watch You From Afar- Tell us more about that, how was it for you guys to support someone like ASIWYFA?
HA: The gig was great, so mad! And Future Yard too, they’ve really helped us and nurtured us. The staff there are so great and have given us some really great opportunities..and also the guys from ASIWYFA, they’re great.
AL: They were so nice to us, they’re seriously great guys and to meet a sick band and them be such lovely people is great.
MS: I’d actually seen them 3 times in the past and have a cousin who’s seen them 20 times. So for me, it was huge because they’re one of the biggest bands in Northern Ireland and growing up and going to gigs and starting to gig myself, they’re the guys that you’re aspiring to be, just at the top of their game and putting everything out there when they play. They’re just genuinely great musicians! When we released the EP, I sent them a message from our Instagram saying I was a big fan, loved their music and sent the EP across saying we’d really appreciate it if they would give it a listen. They replied saying they were listening and absolutely loved it and said for us to keep it going and then we went on to support them!
AL: The gig itself was fantastic, the energy was so high and everyone was dancing! That’s what we’re about and it was just brilliant, such a great gig, a flawless gig. The staff at Future Yard are just unbelievable, everything they do for us is amazing and they even got us hummus for the dressing room!
HA: Future Yard just always comes up with the goods, I want that placed on record! The goods being assorted vegetarian snacks that is.
Liverpool Noise: Speaking of Future Yard, you guys have played there a lot over the past few months. It’s fast becoming one of the most popular grass roots venues in the North West. How is it for you guys to play venues such as Future Yard?
AL: Again it’s just a brilliant venue with brilliant people. The experience before and after the gig influences the gig, it’s just fantastic. Future Yard has really boosted the area in Birkenhead and has become such a talking point.
MS: As well, with the staff, when you’re at a gig, you always feel afraid to ask for something, however small because you don’t want to appear rude because it’s the music industry and everyone is doing what they can. But with Future Yard, we sent the lighting technician some lighting requirements over for the setlist and it was just amazing to be able to do that. I’ve never experienced anything like that before.
Liverpool Noise: I think that’s great though because it shows that people are listening to you and care about your set because as a musician, when you go on stage to perform, you want it to be the best it can be. It’s not just about the playing, it is the lighting and everything else around it..
MS: Definitely, it’s the whole package.
JB: When you go out to play a gig and you don’t have to worry about what the sound is going to be like for the audience, what you’re going to be able to hear on stage, all you have to worry about is what you’re playing and the rest of it is taken care of, it just puts you in a different headspace. If you know the people behind the lighting and sound desk are going to smash it, it just makes it such a different experience and is a huge positive boost.
HA: We’re also part of the Propellor scheme at Future Yard so we get access to free rehearsal space too.
MS: It’s an absolute godsend for us because we don’t have to spend the money that we make on gigs, on rehearsal space. We can put that money into merch, we can put it into travel and recording and that’s amazing for us. We can have 3-4 hours of practice and not have to use our own money to do that. You know you’re going to get a free practice space week after works and that’s a massive boost for us, so thank you Future Yard..and the Arts Council!
HA: We love you Future Yard!
Liverpool Noise: So what is next for Sweet Beans, do you have any more gigs lined up? Any new releases? Or will we have to wait and see?
*Silence from the band*
AL: Something powerful is coming..
HA: There’s some serious rumblings underground..take from that what you will, readers!
Liverpool Noise: Thanks so much for sitting down with me! Just to end our chat, what would you each say your favourite gig has been that you’ve played and why?
JB: The EP launch was unreal..just for the vibes!
AL: The ASIWYFA gig. The energy was high, the people were great, it was just brilliant!
HA: Our first time playing the Jacaranda. That was a great gig, that’s the one! So many people showed up for us, it was brilliant!
MS: I’m also going to go with the EP launch. It was just packed, everyone was so close and it was so sweaty, the stage was so low and the energy was amazing. It was just class!
You can follow Sweet Beans across social media and also stream their EP The Dance Side of the Dark on Spotify.