August Album of the Month
The point of art is freedom of expression and individuality of identity.
‘Pilot’ came out a few months ago, but this album review was always going to happen because it says something about the journey of a band – and also the need for diversity and conformity-breakers in the rising rock scene.
Beyond that, I wanted to give this album time to really settle with me. Some albums grab you on a first listen and then fade, others you need to give time to – and with ‘Pilot’ I feel I now really know what this album means to me.
Copperworm is a band I’ve followed pretty much since the start. We’ve had various first plays from them over the last five years and the rock show has, at times, stood with them when many others didn’t. Whilst some regard the music to be marmite, there’s no question that the sincerity of the music-making and the genuine engagement of the band with fans has won over listeners every month for some years now. The band has been voted Band of the Month with Great Music Stories (powered by music fans internationally), and Copperworm finished Top 10 in the listener-driven ‘Band of the Year’ countdown. Further, with ‘Desolate Days’ Peter bagged Single Of The Year (2020) with his CovAid allies for what was possibly the rock song of the lockdown era. The fact the song wasn’t picked up across the board by many media was their miss, given the song helped thousands of people to get through those first lockdowns of 2020. So whilst Copperworm may not be the cool kids with the gatekeepers and influencers, their legacy with real music lovers is already somewhat proven.
In the rock scene today, as with other genres and things that relate to popular culture generally, there is often a move towards conformity – artists having the look or sometimes the sound that will make them popular. With social media, I have heard the word ‘relatability’ too many times – artists wanting to be popular, to be liked and – understandably – to harvest a bank of social media numbers that will deliver them festival slots, album pre-orders and play-listings.
This is all part of the machine and, knowingly or not, we all feed it with our likes, our shares, and accepting the AI-inspired playlist recommendations online. If we like what we like and its comfortable to do so, then more artists will fit the mould in the journey to broaden their popularity.
Copperworm’s value is they don’t play this game. Almost the anti-hero or anti-hype band of the new rock scene, they are who they are, like it or not. They are not bombastic, there’s no sounding like a pastiche of someone else, and there’s no dressing-up box. In the way that grunge and punk both swept away the excesses of what went before, with Copperworm we have a band whose music will make you feel uncomfortable if you are too used to listening to safe, comfortable music. Copperworm are not part of a tribe or a club and they’re not chasing fame at the expense of their own beliefs or integrity. They are like an Avant-guard art exhibition in an art gallery that is otherwise full of well-known impressionist classics, popular art pieces that everybody already knows.
The album ‘Pilot’ captures the unique personality of Copperworm that many of us have followed for years – and it is good to finally see the long run of single releases superseded by a cohesive album collection.
But the album is itself a creative evolution for the band. Many long-standing favourites – ‘Indian Sky’ and ‘Pulse’ have had a complete make-over. And the new version of the originally haunting ‘Little Red’ is, for me, the pick of the album. The evolved line-up within the band have added new textures and depth to the original versions of the singles, making them more richly atmospheric. The originals have gained a new dimension although the rough edge and stripped-back honesty of the music remains.
There are also new songs that debut on the album and – without doubt – the album closer ‘Hillside’ is a special track. With the benefit of hindsight, seeing how the album has landed, this track has pretty much taken up residence on my Monday rock show; it’s been on every week for months. Even to this day, the song garners comments from listeners – particularly over the rich lyrical narrative of the song. We recently chose this song to close Modern Rock Vol 5, and many music fans commented it was the perfect closer. If you put this track alongside ‘Desolate Days’ then it’s clear that Copperworm has already demonstrated the ability to craft individual songs that stand tall as ‘moments.’ Beyond fame today, what most artists crave for is legacy – and Peter already has a couple of songs that will resonate with people in 10 years’ time.
A special mention on Peter’s vocal performances on ‘Pilot.’ So often with vocalists we think of singers in technical terms or marvel at their range. For me, Peter is more like a Lou Reed persona, his gravel-like brooding vocal is all about the mood and there’s a rock n roll-ness to its imperfection. Rock, after all, is supposed to be about defying convention, living outside rules and conformity. When young bands get to sound a bit too much like classic bands there is a danger that the machine is creating the musical version of attractively-packaged processed food. Copperworm, in contrast, have the more earthy, imperfect, artisan vibe of something recently dug from the ground – something that you’d be more likely to find in an organic farm shop.
In some ways, I see Peter as today’s self-assured, no-nonsense and contemporary punk – set against a world of many youngsters trying to re-live the era of classic rock.
As an album, ‘Pilot’ didn’t bowl we over when it first came out in the Spring. In part, this was because I knew the songs so well already, so I was focusing on the new material from a range of fine rising bands. But the funny thing is – five months on – it’s the Copperworm album I’m still listening to: A bit like the tortoise, who ended up winning the race against the sprinting hare.
For me, I needed time and space to enjoy ‘Pilot’ on its own terms – and the only way to really get Copperworm is to accept them on their terms – and this sometimes calls for an investment of time and open-mindedness.
Having followed this band’s story for many years I have, at times, felt for them that they don’t seem to get the kick of the ball they deserve. Too often overlooked for grassroots festivals, reviews and radio pick-up, they’re not card carriers for any rock tribe or sub-genre. Whilst acknowledging there will always be bands that are ‘this week’s thing,’ we must never lose sight of the fact that every artist has the right to experience the journey and to live their dreams – and the band’s path, oeuvre and style of recording is as valid as anyone else’s.
Two lasting memories for me – moments that say a lot about the character and resonance of this band – qualities that are relevant to ‘Pilot’ precisely because the music is all about an encapsulation of the band’s character. Firstly, at Wildfire 2019 the band had an early slot on the second stage and played to around 15 people. Rather than having a turn and being disappointed, they we thrilled to play, thanked the festival organiser for the opportunity – and Peter spoke with all the people that turned up to enjoy the band’s set. They value every moment and every person that makes time for them – and this is possibly the DNA of true rock stars in the world today.
My second memory was the reaction to ‘One Life’ many years ago on my rock show (and yes, it’s changed for the new album and I have had counselling and accept it). Pete originally sent me the song with a nice message. I’d never heard of the band before but gave the track an outing on the show. What happened next was down to listeners, keeping it on the show for more than a year. It was always a different song in the playlist but there was always room for something different and this underlines the fact that music fans don’t always want to hear stuff that broadly all sounds the same.
Add to these two memories the new 2023 album ‘Pilot’ and you have a band this is worth spending £10 on to buy a CD. A band that is worth giving a festival slot to – and I can say with authority – their interviews never disappoint. As a band, they always turn up; Pete always engages with listeners and he’s the first to congratulate someone else for winning Band of the Month. Not an ounce of pretence, pomp or entitlement – but a band happy with who they are, happy to do their thing and to enjoy being in the moment and trusting what happens in the moment. This is the essence of the people – and this is what you hear on the album.
I like classic rock, I love blues, I have prog in my wiring and, as a DJ, I’m always looking out for the next 3-minute banger. But we also need the bands that defy convention, that rail against us being comfortably numb – and here we have a band that doesn’t work to the rule book; some would say they threw it out the window years ago. ‘Pilot’ is an album about a band doing what they love, on their terms and putting the truth of their music ahead of the likes, the templates and allure of the popularity machine. Everyone needs to have a copy of ‘Pilot’ in their collection for 2023. And especially those that keep using the word art to describe music, for this album is a reminder that art is all about the words I opened this review with – freedom of expression and individuality of identity. Copperworm will never be ‘this week’s thing’ but they will always be themselves – and that’s what we need in world where too many people are chasing the numbers.
Order Pilot from Bandcamp – https://copperworm.bandcamp.com