Interviews: Better Than The Book

In this new occasion, we have had the opportunity to interview the Pop Punk/Skate Punk artist Better Than The Book from the UK. Check out the interview and follow the band on their FACEBOOK PAGE.

1. Where did you get the idea for the band name, you planned it or came out just like that?

The name “Better Than The Book” formed in defiance of the frequently used phrase, “the book is always better than the movie”. Blanket statements like that are a pet peeve of mine (even if they’re often true) so I liked the sound of that against-the-grain title for a musical project, especially something with the rebellious associations that punk has.

Better Than The Book was originally used in passing mention as the name of a fictional ska punk band in a story I was writing in my late teens before I start 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!

2. Why did you want to play this genre?

Oh man, where do I even begin with this on! So I was born in 1990, and I loved watching cartoons and playing video games in my childhood (I still do). My music taste before I was 10 was mainly reflective of my parents, and I remember listening to lots of Queen, ABBA and some other rock, classical, and Thai music (My mum is Thai and my dad is English). My dad was working overseas up until I was around 10 so I never got to explore his vinyl collection until I was in secondary school. Back to cartoons and video games, I remember when Digimon came out in the UK and I thought it was one of the best shows I’d ever watched, chocked full with kid-friendly skate/ska/pop punk music, not that I knew what that was at the time. When I saw the movie it had an amazing soundtrack and impact on me! Less Than Jake, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Smash Mouth, and a whole load of other amazing original music. I have this super vivid memory of waiting by the phone for a Digimon flash game to load over the dial-up internet on my dad’s laptop at stupid o’clock in the morning for HOURS and it had this super catchy pop-punk tune playing while it loaded. This was music I never knew existed, and before a time where I was listening to music, my friends had discovered or been able to go to shows/record stores to discover new music myself. At a similar time, my friend got a Nintendo GameCube with Sonic Adventure 2 on it which featured even more ska-punk and ultra-catchy pop-punk/metal and hip hop I loved every single track I heard from it! I remember his mum catching us singing it one time and saying we should sing with more British accents!

Enter my teen years, and I discovered Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and the metal genre, as well as my dad’s record collection filled with Genesis and Rush, and my music tastes changed from what I heard in video games and cartoons to seeking out more metal and prog rock and more. The metal got heavier throughout my teen years (adding nu metal to my list of favorite genres), yet I still found myself jamming some reggae/ska stuff with my peers occasionally. Meanwhile, my friends were focussed on pop punk bands such as Fall Out Boy and when I decided to give them a proper listen I loved it.

Off to university and I re-discovered blink 182 and Zebrahead, and that previous summer a friend introduced me to anime, so I joined the anime society in uni and had my mind blown by all the difference in music from the other side of the world! 2 things I noted: #1 Ska was still a big thing over there and #2 J-rock and pop-punk were more similar than the radio rock over here, yet with an amazing new flavor I’d never heard before. I watched that old Digimon movie too and although clearly a children’s film, I fell in love with the soundtrack all over again!

I revisited all that ska punk I’d left behind in my early teens, picked up a Less Than Jake album, and having missed Less Than Jake come to Newcastle with Zebrahead and We Are The Union, I decided to look up WATU, loved it and brought my first vinyl record, test pressing #20/25 of the “Who We Are” album from the record label’s eBay page! By this time I would have been 21, listening to tonnes of J-rock, pop punk and ska punk bands (as well as heavier bands like Killswitch Engage and Enter Shikari) and starting to really experiment seriously with recording again for the first time since my teen years, making blink-182 covers and starting to write my own mostly J rock-inspired material. Summer 2012 and graduating from university, I came back to my home town and started writing the One Small Step EP, mixing together my various ska punk and pop punk stylistic influences and releasing it in December 2012. I don’t think the J-rock influences really became apparent until the Two Years On album in 2016, but they sure have continued since, picking up more influences along the way. 

Overall I think what drew me to making ska-punk was the nostalgia it brought me when I rediscovered it, and to me, it really feels like the soundtrack to life and living; turn on any slice of life anime and you’re bound to hear those offbeat guitars in the background music! Whether it’s singing about good stuff or bad stuff too, ska punk always made me feel good and want to mosh or dance listening to it, which is exactly how I want people to feel listening to my own music. I’m also a sucker for fusion genres, whether it be ska punk, nu metal, symphonic metal or something else, and on top of the already heavily ska punk-influenced sound of BTTB, I love adding in the occasional rap like my heroes Zebrahead so amazingly did, as well as some of my heavy metal roots and that J-rock sound that you just don’t get over here in the western world.

3. Did you know each other before the band was formed?

I guess this question doesn’t apply so much since BTTB isn’t a band, more just a project (at the moment at least) but I do think that writing music as Better Than The Book helped me get to know myself a bit better, hehe! In all seriousness though, while BTTB isn’t a band there have been a couple of extra people involved in the music throughout the years who it wouldn’t be the same without.  
The first is the incredibly talented one and only Andy Forman who played guitar on “Woof Woof, Nag Nag” from the debut One Small Step EP, as well as featured in the gang vocals all across that EP. Andy was introduced to me by a lifelong friend Sam who was the bassist in my first band and later took my place as the vocalist in my second band when I left. Sam was now playing bass in Andy’s main project at the time, a pop-punk band called Lights, Camera, Attraction! and so I spent a great deal of time hanging with the both of them seeing their shows and jamming with Andy too. At some point, Andy caught my brother singing an early version of “Woof Woof, Nag Nag” when they were hanging out, and requested that I record this track ASAP. He was so enthusiastic about the project that we ended up recording it together, as well as hanging out during One Small Step’s production process. Later that year, Sam took a job overseas and I took his place on bass in LCA (which played a couple of the BTTB songs live) until my departure mid-2014. The story gets deeper as apparently Andy knew my brother from YEARS back when he met Andy on a walk and someone fell in the local stream and got soaked or something (I don’t know the full story as I wasn’t there), but also, it turns out that Andy remembers me from the Sussex Battle Of The Bands finals in 2007 where our projects (one of which was my previously mentioned second band) both came in the top 3! Apparently, I’d asked him something complicated about hooking our amps up together for an even bigger sound, which I barely remember, but it sounds like something I would do for sure! The ties run deep. Crazy! The other main contributor to the BTTB discography was Bob Axell AKA Cyberdevil who busted out a sick guest rap verse on “Head Above Water” from the Two Years On album! We met on Newgrounds back in 2013, bonded over our love for nu metal and collaborated on a few tracks yearly before working on Head Above Water together in late 2015 (released 2016). Another fantastic and talented guy, and my gateway into great hip hop as well! Variety is the spice of life as they say!

4. Each band member favorite band?

Hands down it’s got to be Iron Maiden! Fantastic musicians and songwriters, huge influences on my guitar playing style, seen them 5 times so far since 2006 and they’re always phenomenal, and made many great memories jamming, singing, and bonding over their music with lifelong friends! Both of the bands I was in during my teen years played at least one Iron Maiden cover too!

5. Who or what inspires you to write songs?

In terms of Better Than The Book songs, it’s life and living and all the good and bad stuff that comes with it. Fun nostalgic things, less fun things I need to get off my chest, and everything in between. With regards to specific people, I’m sure my GF would be happy to know she’s inspired a couple of the songs. Family, friends and the various other people who’ve made an impact on me in some way (whether good or bad) all have some credit to the inspiration behind certain songs too.

6. Where was your last gig?

The last gig I played in a band (not including one-off single song performances as a guest) was with Lights, Camera, Attraction! in May 2014 at a venue we’d never played before in Crawley (UK) whose name I can’t remember, and we played a few BTTB tracks mixed in with the LCA set as usual. I remember being super ill for that performance and only just about managed to push through with it which was definitely not the greatest idea in hindsight. In terms of gigs I’ve been to though, the last one was watching Distant Worlds at the Royal Albert Hall in London in May 2019. That was spectacular!

7. Where would you like to act?

I’d love to play at the Brighton Centre which is the biggest venue in what I’d say is BTTB’s home city. I’ve seen so many shows there throughout the years and it really would be the highest honor to be able to play that stage. It’d also be super cool to play the Concorde 2 as well.

Overseas I think it’d be amazing to play with some of the ska punk/pop-punk greats in California, or with some of the great bands over in Japan, but those dreams seem much too big for me at the moment. Who knows what the future holds though!

8. Whom would you like to feature with?

It would be so cool to play alongside or even collaborate with my heroes Zebrahead and Less Than Jake. With Ali’s rapping and LTJs horn section, I think it could really lead to some great in the studio collaboration (which feels so natural in the world of rap) as well as some mind-blowing stage presence with the live horns and passing of vocals between various vocalists, and I feel with their already amazing history of live collaboration with Reel Big Fish, they seem like the kind of folks who’d be up for trying something like that! It’d also be great to get Cyberdevil over from Sweden to meet in person so we can get “Head Above Water” done live properly. That would be a dream come true! Man, I could go on and on though. There are so many people I’d love to collaborate/perform with (see my answer to question 11)!

9. Whom not?

I don’t like to dwell on people I don’t like so there’s not anyone I can think of specifically I’d be dead against working with off the top of my head. There have however been a few people I’ve worked with in the past which I’d never want to work with again but let’s leave it at that.

10. Any of you has ever suffered from stage fright? Any tip for beginners on how to beat that?

Yes, every time I have to perform, but I think that’s natural. I think the worst part for me is the anticipation before getting on stage, but playing guitar/bass/singing calms me down so by the time I’m actually performing I feel a lot better, and just need to loosen up to get into it. Warming up, rehearsing/knowing your parts so well you don’t need to think about it, and having a sound check so you know things will sound great from a technical point of view before you’re playing to your audience are all essential for a great performance and can help elevate some of that anxiety of performing. Performing with people you know and trust also helps as you can all be there to support each other if something does go wrong, and speaking of which, always prepare for the worst case scenario. Bring a spare guitar/instrument/sticks/picks/strings/microphone etc... just in case you need it. Even though you probably won’t, it’s always helpful to know that if something does go wrong you can get back on track without too much trouble. Try not to worry if things don’t go 100% right too. Shake it off and get back to having fun playing music.

11. What bands have inspired you the most?

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 honorable mentions include The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, ONE OK ROCK, and The Pillows too.

In terms of my instrumental and vocal performance, I’d have to add to the list Iron Maiden, Linkin Park, and Steve Vai, 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!

12. What's the weirdest thing a fan has ever asked you for?

Unexpected but super cool: a guy from an animation project I was doing the sound mixing for finding out about BTTB, loved it and asked me to compose/record a musical intro for his YouTube channel! That was super fun and unexpected request!

13. What do you think of your fans?

They’re awesome and I really can’t thank them enough, especially the ones who’ve reached out and got in touch personally or decided to support my music on Patreon. I always try to get back to every message I receive and I’ve made great friends with some amazing people around the world because of BTTB: other musicians, video game developers, animators and more. I love working with other people and their projects and without the support of everyone that’s sent me a message, bought a record, supported my music on Patreon, requested/played the tracks on radio, or simply just been listening, commenting and sharing the tracks online, I doubt I’d be where I am today still being able to record and release this music I love. Thanks so much to everyone who’s supported BTTB whether since 2012 when it started or only just recently, you make my dreams come true!

14. What do you think of our site?

I think it’s great! I love reading interviews where you can really feel the personality of the musicians and get to know their thoughts on their latest release. Really breaks down that barrier between the artist and their audience and is a great way to discover new music too. Amazing stuff!

15. Something to add?

Thanks for having me and I hope any new listeners enjoy the music! Better Than The Book’s 2nd full-length album “Hopes and Dreams” releases on July 19th and is available for pre-order on Bandcamp where you can check out the rest of the discography:

Or you can get the full BTTB discography, monthly content and more by supporting the project on Patreon:

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