Puppy: Metal's favourite new misfits

Puppy band 2016

“Metal has always had that kind of outsider thing to it. It was this cool, weird place, and that’s the thing that appealed to me,” says Puppy vocalist/guitarist Jock Norton. “So, it’s kind of weird to me that the genre would have these rules imposed on it. It seems backwards.”

When put like that, you have to agree. We’re meant to be the most diverse, most openminded set of fans in the music world – music for the outcasts, by the outcasts. Which is exactly why we should be welcoming Puppy in with open arms. The youthful, London-based trio are one of the most odd and challenging bands in modern music, and one listen to their recently released, self-titled EP will make that clear. Mixing flashy, glam rock guitar flourishes that turn into huge hulking metal riffs with the kind of chin-stroking, elegant indie pop that Weezer have made a career from, this is a mix that is as rare as it is enthralling. It’s a far more complex beast than the simple ‘heavy metal’ tag they cover themselves with.

“It’s one of those things, isn’t it?” laughs Jock. “People are always asking you, ‘What do your band sound like?’ And we’ll say, ‘Oh… it’s hard to explain. There’s a bit of alt-rock, doom, a bit of a pop thing..’. In the end, it just became easier to say to people, ‘We’re heavy metal!’” “We’d all been in bands before,” adds drummer Billy Howard. “But with Puppy, the idea was to explore heavier sounds. We’d rather let our music speak for itself than have to mention a load of genres that someone might be into. So, yeah, we’re heavy metal, man!”

Like the tag they embrace, unwillingness to bend or conform is stamped all over Puppy’s DNA – though thus far the three-piece have found themselves playing shows that cater for more indie-oriented crowds. Look through recent Puppy gigs and you’ll find them sharing stages with NME-fodder-monikered bands such as Rickyfitts, Kagoule and, err, Hockey Dad. Hardly the kind of names you’ll see propping up Bloodstock. Hopefully, for them and us, this will soon change.

“We’ve tended to notice that, in that environment, the things that we like, other people think are dumb,” Jock states. “If we played a riff that we thought sounded like Pantera or a did a breakdown that reminded us of Korn, those fans would think it was awful! But the more we picked up on things that we liked and those other people didn’t, the more we wanted to do those things.”

“There’s something funny about playing on some lame indie bill and playing a really heavy riff to people that hate it,” Billy smirks. “The act of pissing someone off in an aggressive or violent way seems hackneyed to us now. It never felt natural to us to be provocative by kicking people in the head, but maybe it’s much cooler to be provocative by just being really dweeby and taking these left turns that will annoy people. We don’t feel beholden to any type of scene or style.”

But it is our world that Puppy are looking toward. Talking to Jock and Billy about their influences, names like Deftones, Tool, Faith No More and Black Flag crop up. Bands that may have little in common with each other, but who were definite envelope-pushing freaks of the music scene.

“All of our favourite bands pay no attention to genre conventions,” Jock says. “Faith No More are the perfect example of that. This weird funk, punk band that occasionally played easy listening! Their albums are so fun to listen to because you just don’t know what’s coming next. After The Real Thing, they were the biggest thing in the world, and they followed it up covering Easy on Angel Dust! Who would have seen that coming? We pay attention to that sort of thing.”

Of course, Faith No More went on to become a multiplatinum-selling band when, during a wonderfully unusual period in the 90s when bands as odd as Primus or System Of A Down could make a mainstream impact, it almost became the norm. Not so in the much more regimented mainstream rock scene of 2016. Do Puppy ever think about their chances as a commercial entity?

“No. I mean, can there ever be those bands again?” shrugs Jock. “Can there ever be another Nirvana? There are some cool bands making heavy sounds that don’t sound cheesy or tame at the moment, so that’s encouraging. I feel like there’s a turning in the tide in terms of people’s interest in heavy music. Guitar music has been dominated by some wet indie music for so long – heavy music is like a breath of fresh air to kids raised on that boring indie scene.”

“The commercial ceiling for us is pretty low,” laughs Billy. “We’re living in a bungalow! All we can hope to do is sustain this and not have to do all the other things in our lives. I’ve just come from work and we’re in our rehearsal studio right now, and I’m fucking knackered. I don’t think you can make music like we do and expect people to gather round; we aren’t the sort of band that would get put on a bill because someone would think, ‘The fans are gonna love this band!’ Who knows who’ll love our band? My goal is to get to a point where we can sustain this, and then maybe we’ll reassess after that.”

At least things are moving toward that direction. Puppy will, by the time you read this, have played Download Festival alongside the likes of Black Sabbath, Rammstein and their beloved Deftones.

“Do we fit in there?” muses Jock. “I’d like to think so. Certainly, we’re super-excited about it. And we’d much rather be playing there with bands like Rammstein than we would playing some festival with The fucking Editors.” Every Puppy deserves a home. Let’s hope this one have finally found theirs.

PUPPY IS AVAILABLE TO BUY NOW VIA ITUNES. VOL. II IS OUT ON AUGUST 12