“Can you imagine a real-life man acting the way Steven Tyler does? Like, it’s crazy,” Puppy guitarist and vocalist Jock Norton laughs. Conversations with Puppy inevitably lead down road roads like this because the world is a bit too heavy to keep things boring.
It’s in this careful balance of laughing and joking and wildly embracing the ups and downs of life that the band exist. The trio, also consisting of drummer Billy Howard and bassist Will Michael, have lived here since forming back in 2015. “We find it very hard to be serious around each other,” Jock explains. “But there’s never any joke lyrics, the music we take very seriously. But I guess it’s more we know that rock genuinely is dumb.”
Images of larger-than-life rockers careening around LA in tattered leather jackets, shirts wide open, aviators and little regard for health and safety – these are all things Puppy are not. And that’s why we love ’em. They’ve seen the musicians they listened to as youngsters and what they’ve become. “Aerosmith are absurd… They’re great, but they’re absurd.”
Puppy’s brand of searing hard rock – guitar solos and all – twinned with pop sensibilities and hook-laden choruses is an anthemic antidote to all that huffing and mussing that comes from the darker edges of rockdom. And it all starts with the three mates.
“I cycled to see Jock two or three times and would buy, on staff discount, a massive crate of beer. I can’t believe I cycled that back,” explains Billy of their lockdown shenanigans.
“It was fucking mad, honestly,” Jock continues smirking. “24 bottles of beer, and Billy would put it in a postman’s bag and cycle back to South London.”
“I looked like a fucking turtle with this huge thing,” Billy quickly laughs.
“We’d stand outside the off licence together and maybe drink two or three beers. That was nice, man,” Jock adds.
Around this time, the band’s second album, ‘Pure Evil’, was born. Predominantly recorded by Jock and written while confined to their repurposed rehearsal space in East London, the group’s isolation from the world (except for their friend, producer Rory Atwell) feeds into the album’s bubbling energy. “We were at the mercy of everything,” says Jock. “We couldn’t tour, we couldn’t book studio time. And we were like, fuck it, I don’t want to wait around. This band’s ethos has been to do everything ourselves.”
Explaining ‘Pure Evil”s beginnings stemming from that period, Billy says: “The title was decided quite early on. There was some conceptual framework in place because there was this slightly ominous dark fucking energy hanging over everyone, but then there was something quite intimate and honest about the three of us getting together for the first time and just enjoying being together in a room and figuring out how to plough through this mountain of shit.”
“Which was the other name for the album,” Jock blurts out, hysterics erupting through the band. Getting back down to business, Billy continues: “Having that amount of time and distance from any kind of structure or a timeframe that you might normally have allows you to distil everything down to what you actually want from it, and that comes through.
“When it’s fun, it’s maybe a little bit more fun than it has been before in terms of the songs, and I think they’re a little bit more vulnerable than we’ve had previously if I may say so, Jock? That somehow must have fed out of that creative process of not necessarily having like five strangers in a room?”
Puppy aren’t afraid of rolling their sleeves up and getting stuck into what needs to be done. “It was really empowering,” Jock asserts. “It was cool to be able to go, we can fucking do this ourselves, you know? After getting signed, we started working with producers, and we were touring a lot and stuff – you’re constantly looking outwards. This gave us the time to go sit and just be together, the three of us that was all there was.”
The introspective side of ‘Pure Evil’ was, in part, influenced by their listening habits. They would usually listen to “R. Stevie Moore, and Dinosaur Jr., and Sebadoh and stuff – all of those bands. It’s kind of bedroom music, and it’s kind of about being at home.
“In a way, while the band’s ethos is fun, and it’s slightly gregarious, upbeat, loud music actually, there is a little bit of a sadness or an isolation,” Billy says. “It’s more about aspiring to these things rather than being in the middle of them. So in a funny way, the lockdown mood maybe did feed in a little bit to the ethos of the band in so much as we maybe we were already feeling a little bit isolated and separate from the party.”
“That’s true. I never thought that; I think that’s pretty accurate,” Jock agrees.
Indeed, the band’s journey has been scrappy. Firstly, starting as a full-blown DIY outfit for their first EPs, which Billy describes as them “trying to make music that sounded like [Metallica’s] Black Album or like ‘Nevermind’ – huge, massive, million-dollar rock albums or whatever.” With little to no budget, the band’s daring twinkle and fists in the air attitude caught the attention of record labels, leading to their debut album.
“Maybe that’s part of the charm of those EPs,” Billy continues. “Punching up is a phrase that we’ve used before. Then with ‘The Goat’, we didn’t have a million pounds or songs of the calibre of Metallica or Nirvana, but that was us being on the fuck it; let’s make an album that could hit on those levels.”
Mentioning of their follow-up that “we’ve kind of refined it a little bit”, the loud is still capital-L loud, and that ambition is still swinging wildly, but, as Jock says, “there’s a little bit more of a personal feel to it, which I think suits the tone of the group.
“There should be a vulnerability in our sound; I think maybe we’ve refined the way of conveying those songs a little bit better. We’ve found a space where we sit a little bit more comfortably, potentially.”
Puppy relish being together. They play off of one another, both in humour and musicality. Live they’re a tight-knit trio, embracing the shredding bombast of rock with a bit of a smirk but never forgetting its introspective roots.
“We all have a strange relationship to rock music, really enjoying it but not really feeling like we can deliver it in that sort of, like, absurd way,” Jock says. But then again, “Billy’s going to tie some handkerchiefs to his legs; that’s actually what big fans can look forward to from the new live show. A lot more of that from Bill, and occasionally shouting ‘walk this way’!”
Taken from the May issue of Upset. Puppy’s album ‘Pure Evil’ is out 6th May.