A long while ago, I got to chat to Better Than The Book about his then forthcoming (now released) new album ‘Hopes and Dreams’. Hailing from the UK and making, fundamentally, a mix of punk and ska punk, while drawing influences from pretty much everywhere.
LITD: To begin, readers of Love It To Death may have not heard of Better Than The Book, so set the scene a little. Tell us about your music.
BETTER THAN THE BOOK: Better Than The Book is a music project that phased into existence around summer 2012. There are ideas I was working on before then which would later become BTTB songs too, but summer 2012 was the first time I really sat down and started making music under that name. At the time, I had just graduated from university and the previous year had been filled with some difficulties I needed to get off my chest which just happened to come out in the form of some songs. I hadn’t written or recorded anything “properly” since my teen years and in honesty, I really didn’t know what I was doing, but a couple of friends got wind of the new songs and really liked them, so I figured why not give it a shot recording them (in my parents’ living room), and the result was the One Small Step EP which released in December that year!
After that EP came out, I was invited to play bass in another pop-punk band and we ended up playing a couple of the tracks from One Small Step in the live sets which was really cool. After recording and producing an EP with them, I left to pursue writing and recording BTTB again late 2014, and started work on what would become the Two Years On album which released in February 2016. As with One Small Step, a lot of the songs from Two Years On came from things I needed to get off my chest again, but there were also some fun songs thrown in there too. When that came out, that’s when things started getting a bit crazier, being contacted about my music, taking part in interviews, being asked when I would be touring etc… and I realised how much a lot of people were resonating with the music which for me had just been a way to process my own thoughts.
Fast-forward a few years, life goes on, other things happen, and while I’m constantly writing and gathering ideas, I started formally recording my next album in March last year, and here we are again finally with Hopes and Dreams which is set to release on July 19th 2019! I’ll get into more about that in the moment.
In short, Better Than The Book is a music writing and recording project that came about from hard times and catharsis, but aims to get people pumped up for living life to the full while sharing some nostalgic vibes and stories of life as well. Genre-wise it’s a heartfelt mix of ska-punk and pop-punk with a hefty dose of alternative rock and J-rock influences as well. I think a friend of mine summed it up pretty well when she said, “Nick, you sure make the most uplifting songs about being depressed”!
LITD: The name Better Than The Book has an obvious meaning, but why did you choose it?
BETTER THAN THE BOOK: So the name “Better Than The Book” formed in defiance of the frequently used phrase, “the book is always better than the movie” because blanket statements like that annoy me (even if they’re often true). I really liked the sound of that against-the-grain title for a musical project, especially something with the rebellious associations that punk has. Truthfully though, Better Than The Book was originally only used in passing mention as the name of a fictional ska-punk band in a story I was writing in my late teens waaay before I starting writing my own ska-punk music. One of my first songs as Better Than The Book, “Watching Airships”, makes use of imagery from that story, and when it came to releasing my first demos in summer 2012, I took the name from that made up band and made it into the one for the project! Funnily enough, Better Than The Book, has done much better than that book!
LITD: As a ska/punk artist, who are your inspirations and what are your goals as an artist?
BETTER THAN THE BOOK: Ah man! Where do I even start with this one? So in terms of writing, composition and production, when I first started back in 2012, my biggest influences were definitely We Are The Union, Less Than Jake, Zebrahead, Kishida Kyoudan & the Akeboshi Rockets, blink-182, and a little bit of Fall Out Boy. These days I’d have to add Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, Ellegarden, OreSkaBand, Neck Deep and a little bit of Green Day to the list, amongst other bands. Some honourable mentions include The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, ONE OK ROCK, Seaway and The Pillows too.
In terms of my instrumental and vocal performance, I’d have to add to the list Iron Maiden, Linkin Park, Steve Vai and Jennifer Batten, with another nod to Limp Bizkit, Enter Shikari and Killswitch Engage too. There are SO many bands and musicians I’m inspired by in so many ways, and I felt like this is the shortest list I could muster! Apologies to anyone if I missed them!
With regards my goals as an artist, I just want to keep making records I can be proud of, both in terms of the writing and performance as well as the production side of things, and I’ve still got a whole lot of learning to do in that department for sure. A lot of making records for me is something I feel I need to do for myself; it’s like my own therapy for getting through life as smoothly as possible and getting things off my chest whether reflecting on the bad times or celebrating the good times. I really don’t know where I’d be if I wasn’t making music, whether that be BTTB, my other project Jabun, or lending my guitars and vocals to other people and their projects, and I love doing it. I just love making music.
In terms of the music too, I want these records to be something people can put on whether they’ve just got up, got back from work, are having a good or a bad day, and it’ll get them pumped up for living life to the full and put a smile on their face, or if not, allow them to feel what they need to feel and know they aren’t alone in any hard times they’re going through and help them get through it all in one piece. If BTTB can be a positive force in just a single person’s life like it is for me, then I consider that a success.
LITD: Your record ‘Hopes and Dreams‘ came out July 19th. What can people expect from the new music, and who do you think your music will appeal to?
BETTER THAN THE BOOK: Like the ‘Two Years On‘ album, I tried to make ‘Hopes and Dreams‘ more than just a collection of 10 songs; it’s a journey from the first track to the last with lots of interacting themes both musically and lyrically throughout, and as with ‘Two Years On‘, there are throwbacks to the previous BTTB releases in there too, right back to ‘One Small Step‘. Unlike ‘Two Years On‘ however, ‘Hopes and Dreams’ doesn’t have any interlude tracks; each of the 10 tracks is a full length song in its own right. Originally there were supposed to be interludes too, but when I ended up planning them it felt like they took away more than they added, so I didn’t end up putting them in and instead there are a couple of little extended intros/outros at key points throughout the album to guide the flow.
Genre/musical direction-wise, I feel like it’s a natural progression from ‘Two Years On‘, and there’s a bit of a “one foot in the past, another in the future” kind of vibe. I wanted to break away a bit from the more traditional song structures I’ve used in the past too, and go waaay back to my teen years and metal influences to bring some more extended instrumental sections to the music. There are songs which will feel reminiscent of ‘Two Years On‘, and others which are a lot more out there and experimental (for BTTB at least) like the lead single ‘Meteor Shower’, some more skankin’ good time songs, and some more J-rock inspired material. I feel like ‘Hopes and Dreams‘, rather than going forward in one direction, fans out and is more diverse musically than the previous record, expanding into new and exciting things while still being loyal to BTTB and my own roots.
On the lyrical topics, a heck of a lot has happened in my life since ‘Two Years On‘, some of the best times but also the darkest as well, and that’s very much reflected in the lyrics from the upcoming album. Along with some motivational anthems, expect some tongue in cheek bitterness (I still like to try and make things fun even when they aren’t), some happy tracks about good times, and some more serious tracks. There’s quite a mix in there, but overall there’s a big message throughout the album about being true to yourself, cutting out the distractions and bad stuff and pursuing what makes you feel like you’re really living.
Judging by the early feedback I’ve received so far, I’ve no doubt that current BTTB listeners are going to love this album and the progression from ‘Two Years On‘, but I think that fans of my influences, as well as current 21st century, and 90s pop-punk/ska-punk fans will really dig the new tunes as well, or at least some of them depending on their tastes. Because of the heavy J-Rock influences in my music too, as well as lots of the comments I’ve received from the recent singles and since the ‘Two Years On‘ album, I really think lovers of modern (2000s+) anime (and their soundtracks) or J-rock/J-ska in general will dig the album too. Ska seems to still be very big over there which is always nice to hear and there’s a really distinctive vibe in Japanese rock music that you really don’t find around these parts. I love it!
LITD: Furthermore, the new record has a lot of deep lyrics, specifically on the single ‘Artificial Ignorance‘. What influenced this lyrical direction and what do you hope to achieve with it?
BETTER THAN THE BOOK: As I said above, a lot has happened in my life since ‘Two Years On‘, both amazing and terrible (as well as things in between), and when stuff like that happens, you kind of gain a bit more perspective on what’s important and what you can take away from each experience whether positive or negative. In terms of why the lyrical direction is going the way it is, a lot of the BTTB songs I write to process my own emotions and experiences so with regard what I hope to achieve with it, I guess those types of songs are mainly for my own benefit and mental wellbeing, but if I can share them and people can relate and get something out of it too, then that’s always a good thing.
I feel like with this album, I definitely wanted to make a point to myself to have some positive and upbeat songs mixed in with the more venting / less positive ones, and even with those less positive ones I don’t want anyone to come out of listening to them or the whole album feeling like “Gosh… that was a downer…”, it’s all supposed to be as uplifting, moving and motivational as it can be within the context of what each song is about, still a song to mosh and dance to and put a smile on your face, or if it really isn’t a happy song at all, then there’s at least some positive message you can take away from it. You need to process and reflect on the bad times, but you’ve also got to remember and celebrate all the good stuff too, I think that’s very important.
With regards “Artificial Ignorance” which is one of the more venting but also reflective tracks tackling the topic of someone you trusted letting you down, when I first started writing that, I really was just venting and annoyed, but by the time I’d finished which was a long time later, the water had settled and I could see things a bit more clearly realising there was more to it than what I’d first been angry about on the surface and I think that’s very much reflected in the lyrics.
While I don’t think this track is a shallow one by any means, I also don’t think it’s the deepest on the record, but I guess if there was something I was trying to achieve with this general theme, it’s to say that it’s easy to see the good in good times, but if you can get something good out of the bad times as well, then that’s a great thing, but it’s not usually easy. I feel like that isn’t something that’s really talked about, and we’re generally expected to always be automatically happy unless something bad happens, only after which are we allowed to be sad/angry etc… though we’re never really taught how to bounce back from it either. I’m getting a bit off topic and I don’t think the album really addresses these things directly either, but I also don’t really want my songs to have an agenda; I feel like it’s difficult to write genuinely and from the heart if you’re saying, “this song needs to have this social impact, etc…”, at least for me, and I think honesty is very important. I just try to write in a way that hopefully people can get something positive from it even if it’s just me trying to process what’s going on in my own life.
I want people to feel good when they listen to BTTB and be moved and motivated by the lyrics and music, but I don’t ever want to write songs to be a people pleaser; I’m not even sure if I’m able to. I hope that by sharing my own stories and thoughts though that people can find their own motivation and path to becoming the people they want to be and live the honest lives they want to lead. I think most people can relate to that desire of self-fulfilment and genuineness.
LITD: What can you tell us about plans for future releases and tours after the new record? How do you take Better Than The Book forward?
BETTER THAN THE BOOK: Better Than The Book has always been a writing and recording project, and you can bet there’ll be more material to come; there’s still tonnes of ideas from the ‘Hopes and Dreams‘ album’s writing stages which have yet to be developed into fully fledged songs and I’m constantly gathering new ideas and storing them for when the time is right for a new album too. As with ‘Two Years On‘, there will be an instrumental version of the ‘Hopes and Dreams‘ album coming at some point, and I’ve also planned a few bonus albums/EPs + some silly things (because it’s good not to take things too seriously). There are also a couple of covers and tributes I’d like to do as BTTB which is something I haven’t done since the ‘Heartbeats‘ (The Knife) cover I did back in 2013, so I’m looking forward to that. With ‘Hopes and Dreams‘ not even out yet, I have no idea of the timescale for the next album, EP or any of these bonus projects but I’m sure there’ll be more BTTB stuff out within the year at the very latest. Depending on how the initial digital sales go too I’d like to be able to get some physical prints sorted for the new album as well but we’ll see how it all goes!
On the topic of tours, in honesty Better Than The Book is an independent, one man (+ some help occasionally) studio project on a shoestring budget, and being in the studio and making records is definitely where my heart lies. Having said that, I know there is some demand for it already and I have been in talks with people throughout the recording of this album about taking it live in some form; I do love jamming out the tunes when I can. There’s a lot to organise for that though and if I was going to take out onto the stage, I’d rather not do it at all than do it badly; it’s got to be well planned and done right. While I think a tour is a pretty far off dream at the moment due to budget and various other obstacles, I’d like to get some friends together, share some studio live videos at some point and see where it all goes from there. If and when BTTB does make it to the stage, you can bet the first gigs will be in Brighton (UK) for sure, but I’ll be playing things by ear and seeing how it goes for the moment, and whether or not anything like that happens is very much dependant on the support of the BTTB listeners, fans and contributors on platforms like Patreon. Whatever happens though, you can be sure there’ll be more music coming out from Better Than The Book in the future. That’s a guarantee and I’m definitely not done recording yet!
Better Than The Book’s 2nd full-length album “Hopes and Dreams” released on July 19th and is available on Bandcamp HERE
Photography by Roxi Abbott