Much like the traditional charade of encores that we all play along with at every gig (“Is that the end? Oh no, look, they’re back to play a couple more! What a surprise!”), there’s now a well-established template setting out the procedures to adhere to when managing a band’s retirement, recuperation and inevitable return to the fray. There’s the sombre announcement of an “indefinite hiatus”, to be followed by a rending of shirts from fans, a mandatory five year term of inactivity to allow the world time to pine for their absence from the scene, then a grandiose announcement of a reunion tour to cash in on that sweet, sweet nostalgia. If we’re very lucky there might even be a new album promising the odd glimmer of the magic which made our returning heroes famous in the first place.
British post-hardcore favourites Hundred Reasons, who set the scene for a whole new generation of UK alt-rockers and emo kids at the turn of the century, have refused to follow the script.
Their last album, Quick The Word, Sharp The Action, was released in 2007, and after a tour in 2009, conducted to very little fanfare, they just… stopped. There have been sporadic reunion shows, most recently in 2012 for the tenth anniversary of their first record Ideas Above Our Station, but in the interim, they’ve quietly got on with their lives. And now they’re back, with a spring tour and – this is the most off-script bit – probably the best album of their entire career in the shape of Glorious Sunset, certainly the finest since their debut. Set for release on February 24, it’s emotional, joyous, moving and energetic, the sound of a band fully embracing the here and now rather than clinging to the past. This isn’t, surely, how these things are supposed to work.
“There were some people on Facebook the other day when we put our fourth song [from Glorious Sunset] out being like, ‘If it carries on like this, this is gonna overtake Ideas as our favourite record,’” says guitarist Larry Hibbitt from his Hertfordshire home studio. “Which in Hundred Reasons world as big a compliment as you can give anything. People just being like, ‘What the fuck? This is good!’ I quite enjoyed that surprised, slightly gob-smacked reaction, like, it's 2023 why are Hundred Reasons putting out music and why is it good? Which is perfect, for the mischief in me, that's quite pleasing.”
If this all sounds like a remarkably unstarry reaction to fan feedback, that'll be because Hundred Reasons have always been a remarkably unstarry band. Based in Aldershot and South London, frontman Colin Doran, Hibbitt, co-guitarist Paul Townsend (who left in 2006), bassist Andy Gilmour and drummer Andy Bews formed the band in 1999 from the ashes of local acts Floor and Jetpack, and played their first show at the Exeter Cavern on New Year’s Eve that year, with Jamie Lenman of Reuben standing in for Gilmour on bass.
“There was a real energy in the band about what we were doing and how we were doing it,” recalls Colin Doran, whose Zoom background has placed him on the moon today. “And it was exciting. You know, it was five guys against the world, that standard kind of thing where you get in a room and something really cool always seemed to happen, whether it was playing shows or writing tracks.”
They gigged hard, got an agent who started securing better shows and well-chosen support slots, and all of a sudden, “everything just seemed to start happening at once,” according to Hibbitt. A major label deal with Columbia followed, and suddenly Hundred Reasons were one of the hottest new rock bands in the country.
“I think we were fine with not necessarily being in control,” says Doran. “We were just in it for the ride up. I always have this thing in my head where you think you're doing something really cool, you really enjoy what you're doing, but then there's still that kind of trepidation about making that leap into actually doing it. It’s sitting at the top of a big diving board and then just having to jump in, because when you sign a record deal, particularly with a major label, it's life-changing. And it's a big change, you know, we all had shit jobs beforehand.”
It was around then that the pinch-me moments started rolling in. The quintet jetted out to New York to record Ideas Above Our Station with Grammy-winning producer Dave Sardy, who had previously worked with Slayer, Far, Helmet and Bush, offering Hibbitt a first glimpse into his future career as a producer. The world opened up to them as they headed out on their first European tour with Incubus, wrapping up the UK leg at London's storied Brixton Academy and enjoying their first experience of tour-bus life by waking up the next morning in France.
“That was the Bikini Club in Toulouse, that first gig,” remembers Hibbitt. “The backstage has got a swimming pool and the promoter just put like this buffet spread out. This was our first time in a tour bus and we wake up in that venue, so we were like, ‘Is it always like this?’ It’s not!”
“The Incubus guys made it really easy,” adds Doran. “And they were just lovely, lovely people. Easy to get on with and hang out with. To be on a support tour with a band that is as kind as that is just great. I loved that tour.”
Introduced by Top 20 singles If I Could and Silver, Ideas Above Our Station peaked at number 6 on the national album chart on June 1, 2002. Magazine front covers and mainstream TV appearances followed (“I hated Top of the Pops,” says Hibbitt. “It was a necessary evil.”), as well as the opportunity to play to a vast crowd outside of their immediate comfort zone at Ozzfest, but it was always the travel that was special.
“The thing for me was Japan,” says Doran. “I loved video games, and I got to walk around shops and buy Japanese video games that I’d been looking for for ages. So I loved all of that. It was great, just being in a completely different country somewhere else in the world. And music’s taken you there, which is incredible in itself. I always wanted to go to Japan from when I was 14. I do seem to recall, though, we went into that club and we had free drinks and stuff. I think I went missing at three in the morning.”
“Yeah, you were so drunk at one point you were on your knees by the side of the table, begging it to stop,” says Hibbitt with a laugh. “That was good trip.”
The highest highs couldn’t last though. Staff changes at Columbia meant the team working on the first album and its follow-up, Shatterproof Is Not A Challenge, were no longer around, and the band were dropped, signing to V2 for 2006’s Kill Your Own (the first Hibbitt produced himself). Unluckily, V2 were then bought out by Universal, leaving the band in limbo again after the release of 2007’s Quick The Word, Sharp The Action.
“I think everybody has ups and downs,” says Doran, pragmatically. “There was a phase of bad luck. But then we were also what you might call victims of circumstance, which seems a bit more appropriate to me. Because that's just the way it goes, that's the music industry. If you've had a good run of it, if you've had a good run of it, and I don't think any of us expected it to last forever anyway.
“Our management were great at managing the expectation, and saying, ‘This is a very turbulent industry to be a part of, and if you get to make one record, great, if you get to do two even better.’ So for me, it was just kind of like, take it on board, enjoy it while it lasts, and use it to build foundations for the future. It’s definitely helped me in terms of my ability to do what I'm doing now. We've all been fortunate enough to have that as a stepping-stone to other things, because even though we loved it and we enjoy doing it, none of us thought we would be doing it forever.”
What followed may seem to fans to have been years in the wilderness, but they were actually incredibly fruitful. Doran has been working in education, at a music production school called Point Blank, as well as making music with They Fell From The Sky. “I love doing what I'm doing,” he says. “I love talking to students and hopefully helping them do what they need to do. It's cool.”
Hibbitt has carved out a successful production career, working with Marmozets, Nothing But Thieves, Pretty Vicious and others – something that shines through in Glorious Sunset, which he has buffed to a high sheen. As for the Andys, Gilmour has been touring with Raging Speedhorn, living his best metal life, while Bews has been working on music projects in his adopted California home.
As they approached the 20th anniversary of Ideas Above Our Station, thoughts turned to maybe getting together to do some shows, 10 years after their last appearance on stage together. Although, as Doran says, it had to be meaningful rather than just for the sake of it.
“I think we've always been reluctant as a band to do too many shows,” says Hibbitt. “We had a period towards the end of the first time of it that wasn't that much fun. Shows were getting smaller, and we were making less and less good music. And I think we're all very, very conscious now of not wanting to outstay our welcome. We're all doing other things, so when we do shows there needs to be something about it that has a bit of a reason, or has something unique about it. It's just a desire to do things when they're going to be special. We don't want to do this because we have to, we want to do it because it's going to be good, which means not doing it very often.”
Covid put paid to the original plan, and the anniversary has been and gone. But when they go together to play, they started writing in two-to-three-hour chunks, after work, and it soon became clear that time, distance and new experiences had led to a creative spark they hadn’t experienced together in years.
“We’re not flogging it,” says Doran. “We don't need to be a full-time band any more. We're not trying to make it any more, we’re just in a position where we've managed to make, in my opinion, some of the best music we've ever made, and then get that out there to people that like us already. And maybe there's some new fans that might pick it up, which is awesome too. But genuinely, it's just got to be worth doing from a creative perspective, because that's what makes it fun.”
“And if we had announced that we were writing then it would have made it harder to put it all in the bin if it was shit,” adds Hibbitt. “It's nice to make an album like this with no expectation of there being another one. There's no record deal to fulfil, nobody’s going to be expecting us to do more. And it's actually really lovely to just write a 10-track record, put it out and know that if we choose that could just be it.”
If this does turn out to be “it”, then they’re leaving us with their masterpiece in Glorious Sunset. It combines the vigour and excitement that took them to the top two decades ago with the life experience and emotional maturity of men in their forties with families to support and lives outside of rock’n’roll. Doran, in particular, has taken on some of life’s big subjects as inspiration, from the loss of his mother to failures in the education system regarding his seven-year-old son, who has cerebral palsy.
“I love this new record, it’s amazing,” he says. “Even when we were making the record, we all had things going on in our personal lives. Some of the themes are just about being a little bit more grown up and understanding the day-to-day, and maybe understanding your own mortality and challenges with your own coping mechanisms, just with life in general. So I think the album for me lays some of that out on the table a bit.”
The tour is finally happening, during which they’re sure to be greeted as old friends. This string of dates, and this album, are happening purely for the love of it, framed by having something to say, and they are all the more special for it.
“I think the thing for me, creatively, there's been no trying to recapture something from a very long time ago,” Doran concludes. “It's just like, let's just write some songs and see how turn out, and they turned out great. So, it's a very simplistic approach to it. No one's trying to be in their twenties again. So, for me, it's just been this really easy ride of making music and enjoying the process again, it’s just been awesome.”
Glorious Sunset will be released on February 24.
Hundred Reasons are now on tour, and will play:
Feb 23: O2 Academy, Leeds
Feb 24: Barrowland, Glasgow
Feb 25: Academy, Manchester
Mar 02: O2 Academy, Bristol
Mar 03: O2 Institute, Birmingham
Mar 04: Eventim Apollo, London