London Band Crows Channel Their Conviction and Energy Into Second Album, Working on Third

 Photography by DAN WILTON

There’s a swaggering arrogance to Crows’ second album, Beware Believers. With a sinister vehemence, their songs reference raw life, a fascination with true crime and the words of J.G. Ballard and Kurt Vonnegut; they sound savage. Something lead singer James Cox manages to control with a somewhat assured and polished feel to his thundering voice. I mention the hint of the similar ferocity of Interpol. He laughs. 

We’ve had a few people make Interpol comments. But that’s why I love this band, people hear what they want. People always come up to me on the merch table after a gig and tell me some mad combination of bands they heard during the set. I love it, never gets boring. Someone in Hamburg recently said we sounded like Killing Joke mixed with Placebo, and I just stood there like, ‘errrr… ok?’ Nirvana crossed with Oasis was another. People like familiarity and all new music is influenced by something else. It’s just important to take inspiration and make something new as opposed to just plagiarizing someone else’s creativity.

The London-based quartet—frontman Cox joined by Steve Goddard on guitar, Jith Amarasinghe on bass, and Sam Lister on drums—started to make a name for themselves pre-pandemic with boisterous live shows, as they toured songs that would eventually become a record while supporting acts like Wolf Alice, and IDLES. The latter band’s frontman Joe Talbot signed them to his label Balley Records for their debut album. “Silver Tongues was more of a collection of songs we wrote over a five-year period,” Cox explains about the difference between records one and two. “Beware Believers was us, having been on tour for so long and wanting to follow up the debut with a statement of intent. To let people know we’re here to stay. I think it’s a real representation of what we sound like live which is the biggest and most important part of this band. Musically I don’t think we’ve changed per se, I think we’ve just matured and perfected our sound, whilst trying to keep it fresh and urgent. I’m excited to finish album three and see what that brings us.” 

Timing can be everything to make a record literally sing and with Cox, it was the shutting down of the world that cranked the sophomore album up a notch by adding a level of catharsis to his vocals. “My vocals and Jith’s backing vocals were the last things to do on the album really,” he says of lockdown putting a pause on recording. “So yeah, waiting those few months to finish off little bits was really frustrating. I knew it was so close to being done I just wanted to get in and smash it out. I think the real catharsis comes more when we are now playing the songs live on tour. Seeing people sing along words I wrote almost three years ago and finally having people know the songs is the best feeling. It makes me sing it with more conviction because the songs are finally living their best life. Being played live, the way we intended when we first wrote them.”

Crows have always been more than just a band. They’re a gang. They’re in it together and that means to keep the band going they need to make ends meet whatever that takes. “We all still work full time jobs,” Cox explains. He owns East London’s Only Here For You tattoo studio “although now we all have jobs we actually like, around the time of writing the record we didn’t. It’s just living in London and trying to make ends meet. You just do what you gotta do. People always ask how we afford to live in London and I never know how to answer it really. You just make it work. I live here because to me it’s the greatest city in the world for music and creativity.  Having a creative outlet here makes it all worthwhile. It’s my home now.”

Not being able to tour in the last two years has been Crows’ (and pretty much every band’s) biggest frustration. After all, being able to travel, see new cities, meet new people and play music is one of the best things about being in a band. But channeling that frustration into lyrics and onto paper has been a form of therapy for Cox. 

I’ve been writing anything that comes to mind. I’ve got pages and pages of notes waiting to be edited and revisited. It’s like a weird spider diagram of my brain that probably looks like the scrawling of a mad man. I think it’s always been a therapeutic thing. When I was younger, it would definitely be to get out my frustrations of working jobs I hated or venting parts of my life I wasn’t happy with but as I’ve gotten older and toured more and more it’s become less about that and more just my passion for playing the music we write with conviction and power. I think a lot of people come to our shows use it as a release also, so I feed off that and that gives me the
energy I need to do it night after night. It’s like a cheaper form of therapy I guess
[laughs]. Obviously not a replacement for traditional therapy but definitely a cathartic release for both myself and the audience.