Jake Brettell and Liam Nolan had known each other for three days when they began work on their debut album. It was freshers’ week, and they had proggy 70s Canadian pop band Klaatu on the record player, when they decided to start rapping over the top. The end result was Dr Marvelo & His Best Friend Corkie, Chinatown Slalom’s first song. Is “screwball prog-rap made by two first-year music tech students” a good elevator pitch? Perhaps not. But the shaggy, funny, tricksy songs featured on their debut long-player Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? are a rare example an indie band in 2019 who don’t seem in thrall to the genre’s recent history.
Dr Marvelo, for example, is a combination Avalanches sample clatter, Beta Band psych lope and extemporised giggle-rap couplets such as: “Gotta book on taekwondo yo / We kick your dad in slo mo”. “We only showed the song to] about three people,” says Liam, the singer (imagine if Robbie Williams joined Kasabian), who is propped up on a couch alongside his three bandmates in the handsome townhouse they share in Liverpool’s Georgian Quarter.
The house is a key part the band’s ethos, and reflects their dysfunctional, diverse sound: a fruit salad bric-a-brac, decked out with Freecycle and charity shop finds, it is filled with a rickety, multicoloured piano, life-sized cardboard cutouts the Beatles, with records carpeting the floor. When we catch up, it is three days since they played their first ficial gig in their lounge, on a street where John Lennon once dossed. “The floor was like a trampoline,” says Jake (drummer: imagine if George Harrison had been in the original lineup EMF). “It was bouncing.”
Chinatown Slalom’s four members were all coursemates at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (Lipa), and while the degree is over and none are from Liverpool, they do want to make it their collective home. Liam is from Macclesfield. Jake is from Stratford-upon-Avon. Mikey Woods (guitarist: imagine if Joey from New Kids on the Block were in Hot Chip) is from Bury, and Ricky Crawford (multi-instrumentalist: imagine if Goldie Lookin’ Chain were from Belfast) is from Belfast.
There is a sense with many the songs that they have dismantled classic British songwriting and pulled all the threads until it’s just a pile luminous yarn: they sample Jai Paul one minute, before bursting into barbershop harmonies the next. Drawn from so many different places, they are now dedicated to exploring their mutual eclecticism. “I think if there’s one thing that unites us,” Jake ponders, “it’s that we were all the jokers in our classes.”
“Well … that and weed,” Ricky adds. There is laughter. Chinatown Slalom are living inside their own private Idaho. It’s awfully nice them to let us peer in on it, too.