Massive Wagons - We join the band on the North West leg of their extensive tour with The Darkness - Winter 21
Hailing from Lancaster in the north west of England, Massive Wagons are quite simply one Britain’s most exciting and talked about rock bands. Since forming in 2009 they have released 5 studio albums. With album number 4, Full Nelson, breaking the UK charts in the Top 20 in 2018, and Massive Wagons smashing this success with their latest album House Of Noise going Top 10 in July 2020, the band are continuing to ride the crest of a wave. Their hugely successful headline tours and their prestigious opening slots for bands such as Thunder, The Wildhearts, Status Quo and Lynyrd Skynyrd have built Massive Wagons a fiercely loyal fan base. This is a band in huge demand and it was therefore no surprise that Massive Wagons would be asked to open for The Darkness on their 22 date UK tour, perhaps the most comprehensive and extensive tour of the UK from any band in nearly 2 years. We hitch a ride on the Massive Wagons tour bus as we join the band for the north west leg of the tour. As we hop aboard in Liverpool, we are given the warmest of welcomes from the whole band, all of whom are looking incredibly healthy, excited and generally fired up. But it’s frontman Baz Mills who invites us to the back lounge, which is - for now at least - the quietist spot on the band’s moving home for the next few weeks, to talk about what an incredible year it has been for Massive Wagons. We make ourselves comfortable and our conversation begins…
You are currently halfway through a 22 date UK tour with The Darkness, perhaps one of the biggest and most comprehensive tours the UK has seen in the last 18 months. What does it mean to be a part of such an incredible tour?
Yeah, it’s great! It’s amazing! We are lucky as well because we’ve just come off the back of our own headline tour, which was 10 dates – not as long as this one – but we got through that. September was kind of the time where there were a load of bands like us like Inglorious, The Wildhearts and a few others, when things started to kick off touring wise, but this was certainly the longest set of dates I’ve seen of any band. And bands are cancelling tours as well at the moment. I noticed The Cadillac Three have just cancelled their tour and Black Spiders have cancelled their UK tour because of coronavirus. We are quite lucky at being able to have completed our September tour and getting so far through this one without anybody coming down with Covid. I’ve heard of a few bands having to stop because of band members coming down with it. It just makes planning things so hard and I don’t know how things are gonna change in the future. We’ve kind of hit a point where I don’t really know what else can be done. It’s sort of like ‘this is it - do we cancel over the next 10 years, knock a tour on the head if you come down with it or do we deal with it?’. I don’t know…
Tell me about the moment you’ve got the call with this opportunity. It was very short notice!
Well we’d come back off our headline tour and I think we’d been back a couple of weeks and British Lion who were supposed to be the original support pulled out for whatever reason. The same day we got a call from our agent asking if we could do the tour but they needed to know the same day whether we could do it. It’s a no brainer in terms of wanting to do it but then you’ve got to work out the business side and the money. Do you book a bus? And everybody had been away from their families for a few weeks as well. We’ve all got kids so had to go back to our other halves to say that we were going to be out for the next month when we’ve only just come back!
That is an interesting point because there must be that need to balance being out on the road and family life. I also understand that a decision was needed that very same day, but was it an easy decision to make and did it take a lot of rescheduling band plans?
Well we are all big fans of The Darkness anyway and we’ve always said for a number of years that if this opportunity ever came up it would be an amazing tour. So soon as they asked we were excited and we wanted to make it work. It’s just a case of asking the other halves, and thankfully they were very good about it. We just had to cancel our Christmas show which was just one gig but everyone was understanding about that. We had just started selling tickets for that too which was unfortunate but we said to people that if they bought tickets and booked hotels, if they couldn’t get a refund they got a free tickets to shows in the future. Everyone was spot on about it.
Was this intended to be hometown show?
No, it wasn’t. We do it every year wherever really. It was supposed to be the Assembly Rooms in Leamington Spa this year. So it was unfortunate but our fan base is great. Everyone was really understanding saying ‘no you can’t turn down this Darkness tour! It’s a big thing! Go for it! We want to see you get bigger and better!’, which was really cool!
I’d like to focus on the enormous success you’ve enjoyed and I’d like to start by looking at your 2018 album Full Nelson. This album charted in the Top 20 and appeared to be a turning point for the band – a launchpad which led to prestigious festival appearances such as Download & Steelhouse, and huge tours with bands like Thunder and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Did Full Nelson feel like the turning point for Massive Wagons?
Not really. It was a turning point but the major turning point for us was the song Back To The Stack that we kind of put out when we had nothing on really. It’s just a song on its own. It wasn’t on an album. It was on Planet Rock and Digby from Earache messaged me on Instagram and said “I’ve heard Back To The Stack on Planet Rock, do you fancy recording some albums with us?“. I thought it was a joke. I thought Digby was a dog! (Laughs!). So I sent it to our manager and said “This bloke here, Digby, has messaged us, he says he’s from Earache…”. We’d always try to get on Earache for years before that. We’d always send them stuff and tell them we loved the label but never really heard anything back from them. Then he messaged us and said he heard the song and he really liked it! Then we signed with them, and then we did release Full Nelson with them. That was the first album we released with them, so signing with them and releasing the album was a massive turning point I’d say.
Continuing the success, your latest album, House Of Noise chartered at Number 9 on the UK charts. How did you feel when you heard this fantastic news?
Amazed! It’s a rollercoaster the chart week. It might have gone in at 6 or 7 in the mid week – I still don’t completely understand it myself – and you know you’ve got a fight on your hands because you know all the the streaming guys like the Capaldis and the massive streaming numbers, they all get added in at the end of the week so you have to take that into account. In the final four places there were us, Jarvis Cocker, 2 clowns out of Westlife and then somebody else. I thought we had a chance of staying in the Top 10 but I was expecting the big streamers to knock out 2 or 3 of us. To be honest, I think some of these artists rest on their laurels a little bit whereas we were fighting for every single right up to the last second to get all the sales we could get, and we pipped Jarvis Cocker I think by about 11 albums. It was unbelievable!
That was close! (Laughs!)
It was close! That’s what it came down to! Between position 9, 10 and 11 there was about 20 albums. It’s worth fighting for every single sale! We were making videos and on the last day we bought an old treadmill and we did the London Marathon on the treadmill as part of a 6 hour live stream. It was a great crack with great banter. We raised £4000 for Mind through the money that people donated whilst simultaneously promoting the album. People got right into it!
I’ve had the absolute privilege of seeing the band’s rise in real time – I almost feel like I’ve been a part of history in the making. One thing I often hear people say is ‘Have you heard this incredible new band Massive Wagons?’ and urging others to check you out. That’s wonderful to hear but the interesting thing about this is that you are not a new band. You’ve been a band since 2009, and you released your debut album Fire It Up in 2012 – House Of Noise is actually album number 5. Does it frustrate you that some people may see you as an overnight success?
It doesn’t frustrate me. It’s funny though. We went on at Steelhouse a few years ago and I was being interviewed by one of the Planet Rock guys and he said “How does it feel going on stage with these legends? Are you going to be alright as a new band?”. I was like “I’ve been doing this 10 years! It doesn’t bother me at all! No problem!” (Laughs!) I don’t mind it taking so long. We’ve built a solid fan base and all these people have been with us a long time. It’s a slow rise. The longer I can drag this job out the better! (Laughs!) I don’t want to go back to digging holes for a living.
It’s interesting that you say that there are people have been with you for many years because you clearly have the most fiercely loyal and devoted fan base, and this is something really special to see. I remember the whole community of pride that erupted when the news came that you had all quit your day jobs. Tell me about that moment when you made that decision.
Well, we all made the decision 3 or 4 years ago to go self-employed so that we could take time off when we needed to focus on the band. Me and Adam (‘Bowz’ Bouskill) the bass player, we were wagon drivers and we kept using all our holidays up to do all the band stuff and we couldn’t keep asking for more time off because he runs a business. So we had to go self-employed. When Covid struck, I was self-employed working in a quarry and I lost my job completely and I didn’t get any furlough money because I’d only been self-employed for a year. Adam had quit his job too so we had no income and no work. So we set up the Wagons World Patreon online fan club subscription because we had all this time on our hands. But the band was in an alright position with money and we’d got a unit where we were going to do recording, practicing, where we’d keep all our stuff and sell our merch. So we just set up in there with our manager and worked together to create content for these people that were subscribing to our channel. We had nothing to do over lockdown so we were making videos, doing live streams and various exclusives. That coupled with a few other bits and pieces on the side such as guitar lessons, we managed to figure it out. And now the gigs are back, that sort of pays for the shortfall a bit. Me and Adam do alright at it! We can devote all our time to the band and we can focus on the band’s business side with our manager so it’s great. We are in the same office and we can talk all the time about plans. It doesn’t have to go over emails or messages. We can just move much faster.
You may be opening for The Darkness on this tour but it doesn’t feel like a support slot when at every show you have fans on the front row draping their Massive Wagons flags. How does it feel to see this?
It’s amazing! The fact that people want to come out and watch us play a half hour set is great, especially when they’re paying a little bit more for a ticket because it’s The Darkness and they’re a bigger band. You wouldn’t think there would be so many but it’s amazing that people are still coming to watch us.
When playing a show like this, opening for another band, how does your approach putting a show differ to say your own headline shows?
It’s a bit more fast and furious. We’re trying to get as much across as we can in the short space of time we have. I think we’re playing seven songs. One thing I fall flat on is the stuff between songs! (Laughs!) If I plan a little bit of something to say it’s not so bad but I’d rather just bang through the songs. If something sparks somewhere then it’s okay, like if I can poke fun at someone. But it’s pretty fast – song, song, song, song. We cram in as much as we can, I run around, jump up and down, throw my legs in the air, pull some faces and off we go! (Laughs!)
As a band you’ve released a new album every two years so far, and there is a whisper that you might be writing new material and even being in the preproduction phase. Does this mean we can expect a new album in 2022?
Yes, definitely! 100%! We’re supposed to be recording in January but our manager recently said there’s a big waiting time for vinyl. Bands are struggling to get albums pressed. So that will determine when it’s going to come out. I’ve even heard that there could be a 6 month waiting list but hopefully that will change between now and then. Well, this is an important consideration because if you can’t get records out at the right time they may not count towards the official charts, and vinyl is massive at the moment – people love it!
Even though House Of Noise charted at number 9, do you feel that the lockdown restrictions have put barriers in place for the album to realise its full potential? It seems like there’s so much left in the tank where that album is concerned.
Maybe but I’m very happy with number 9 though! It’s hard to say, but then again when we released it there wasn’t a lot else going on. So it’s kind of a bit of a double-edged sword. I’m glad we released it when we did though. We might not have got to tour it at all if we’d written another album. We could’ve been on another album cycle before we’d managed to tour this one. I’m just glad we’re getting to play these songs to people.
The tour with The Darkness ends on the 17th of December. What plans are emerging for Massive Wagons for the New Year?
It’s all about recording really. That will take a few months. We’ve got a couple of gigs: Hard Rock Hell in Leicester which is a New Wave Of Classic Rock thing and then we’ve got a gig in Tivoli. Europe is where we want to be next year really. At the beginning of lockdown we had a European tour and a few other European things but all that got kicked in the head. We’ve been over to Germany recently which was great because we started to really do alright in Germany. It’s a great place! We’ve been over with thunder and then we went over ourselves and got some great radio play, and then we planned to go back but it got kiboshed. We have since managed to go back which was brilliant playing for around 200 people a night which is great! So we want to go back and also to the rest of Europe as well. We’ve got a Graspop in Belgium. We’ve had some chops and changes with agents recently but hopefully things are stabilising out a bit more now. But Europe is where we want to be. We’ve played this country to death and I’m surprised they’re not sick to the back teeth of us! (Laughs!).
Many European countries do seem to have a very well established rock scene.
Yes, well Germany has some big commercial rock stations. We visited one and it was like being taken into something from Waynes World! (Laughs!) It was unbelievable! They were platinum discs on the walls, big marble desks with receptionists! It was like something out of a movie. It was like ‘why do these people want to talk to us?‘ (Laughs!) But they love rock in Germany and there are loads of great venues. We’ve not really explored many other countries because we haven’t had the chance. We’ve sort of dipped our toe in a few places but nothing substantial. Once we can get a few other countries under our belt we should be set up and we should be able to give the UK a break for a year or so then go and play Germany before giving them a break. Once you’ve got 4 or 5 territories you can visit you can carry on making money without people getting sick of you. That’s the plan anyway!
As our conversation draws to a close we reflect on how Massive Wagons quite simply represent the very best in British rock. To be selling out their own extensive headline tours and to be invited to open for heavyweights such as The Darkness really shows how special and important this band really is. But what we also wanted to know was the headliners themselves thought. We caught up with The Darkness to understand what it means to have Massive Wagons join them on this incredibly high profile and prestigious tour. Here’s what they had to say:-
Frankie Poullain - They’ve got some great stagecraft going on and you can see a developing throughout the tour!
Dan Hawkins – Lovely lads! Loads of energy! They have similar influences I’d say. It’s difficult backstage because it’s not like it normally is. Everyone’s got masks on and everyone’s testing everyday so you kind of have to keep your distance from everyone all the time. But they’ve taken it all in their stride and they’re taking it seriously which is healthy to protect the tour. So a ‘big up’ to those guys!
Justin Hawkins - They’ve got an innate understanding of how it works to be a support band. We’ve done it a lot to ourselves. We’ve supported Whitesnake, The Rolling Stones, Def Leppard, The Wildhearts, Lady Gaga, Guns N’ Roses… all of them! The first thing you learn is don’t look the main band in the eye (laughs!). That’s the golden rule. A lot of people get it wrong! But good for them. They figured it out pretty sharpish. (Laughs!)
Dan Hawkins – We’ve got signs everywhere but sometimes people can’t read! (Laughs!)
Justin Hawkins – It’s counterintuitive as a human being but as a support band you just have to understand – no looking in the eyes! (Laughs!)
To find out more about Massive Wagons, head over to www.massivewagons.com, and in the meantime check out the video to the opening track for their lastest album House Of Noise, In It Together, below.