Fifteen minutes with Samuel Preston, singer/guitarist/songwriter with The Ordinary Boys and fan of Morrissey
From the day he received Boxers from his brother on his twelfth birthday Sam Preston has never shied away from evangelising that Morrissey has been, and still is, a significant influence on his music career.
His band, ‘The Ordinary Boys’ took their name from the track on ‘Viva Hate’, and it was during their first interview for the NME that Sam began referring to himself as ‘Preston’. He has the signature quiff and glasses; tattoos of lyrics (‘come Armageddon, come’ and ‘sweet and tender’) and he describes Morrissey as his ‘surrogate father figure’.
In a later, extra-ordinary turn, Morrissey became a fan of Sam’s band, choosing one of their songs, Little Bubble to appear on a compilation album he put together for the NME in 2004. In the same year both Morrissey and The Ordinary Boys performed on Jools Holland, and Morrissey asked the Ordinary Boys to appear with him at Meltdown.
It could be argued that Sam’s ‘surrogate father figure’ helped him on his way… but the fact is that great writing was always in Sam’s genes. His grandpa is a Professor Emeritus of English at Princeton University and his mother and brother are successful published authors. He has a remarkable family tree, branching back to his great-great-great-great grandfather, The Right Honorable Earl Grey. Sam has chosen to spend his natural, literary inheritance of songwriting on The Ordinary Boys; where his influences of Morrissey, The Specials, The Cure and Madness are all echoed in the cake mix of indie-pop-ska he plays.
On stage he is the irrepressible and resilient Preston, bouncing off his infinite energies to Boys will Be Boys, Talk Talk Talk, Lonely At The Top and Run This Town supported by the loyal fans in The Ordinary Army. Off stage he is a more reserved Sam, who, post gig, prefers to ‘devour a Bolaño’ on the tour bus. It is this warm and bookish, sensitive Sam I meet; his boyish and innocent demeanor only heightened by a très jolie charity shop bought Arran jumper that any mother would love to cuddle.
Sam talks about his desire for fun and spontaneity in his life, and how he is fueled by the nervous energy he has housed inside himself since he was a child: ‘I never really think things through much further than one or two steps… it stops you doing things that would be fun adventures if you think too much’. It is this impulsive energy that has pushed him to lead a life-in-fast-forward, including three successful Ordinary Boys albums, several highly publicised television appearances, a ‘Prestelle’ marriage/divorce and, most importantly, a chance to meet his heroes; one of whom is Terry Hall, who appeared in the video for the Ordinary Boys single, Seaside.
Recently he has been enjoying working steadily as producer and writer for other artists. Unsurprisingly he has the urge to return to the limelight once again, and he relishes the thought that another Ordinary Boys album may be against all odds of public success: ‘That thought excites me more than if everyone was just waiting for it’, he grins.
He prefers popcorn to crisps, bakes homemade bread and loves to ‘pickle’. His favourite Morrissey album is ‘Vauxhall and I’, which he describes as ‘a masterpiece… with a hanging atmosphere.’
J: Please say your full name.
S: Samuel Dylan Murray Preston.
J: Where do the names come from?
S: Samuel is after my grandpa, Samuel Hynes. Dylan is Dylan Thomas - my grandpa is a big fan of his. Murray is a family name. There are a lot of writers in our family - my brother has a new novel out, my grandpa is a writer and Professor Emeritus of English at Princeton University and my mum wrote a book about autism.
J: Really? That’s fantastic.
S: Yeah, she specialises in it.
J: Can you describe yourself in a sentence?
S: [Laughs] The most interesting people can’t!
J: ‘Happy knowing nothing’?
S: The absolute opposite of that. The Ordinary Boys was meant to be a slightly ironic name. We were so young when we started the band. It was the same with me dropping my first name. I just so loved Morrissey I wanted to copy everything he did.
J: Did you consider other Morrissey inspired band names?
S: Well, I managed a band and we were called ‘This Charming Management’. I was in a hardcore band called ‘Viva Hate’. I had a previous band called ‘True to you’. I still feel kind of shameless about how much he influences me. He has always been such a big part of my life and always will.
J: Do you think he knows the extent of his influence?
S: Yes I think he does. He put us on a compilation of bands he was interested in.
J: Little Bubble is a glorious song. Why didn’t you release it as a single?
S: It was a b-side and we weren’t very precious about our early b-sides at all. A lot of them are better that some of our later album tracks. I’m very fond of Little Bubble.
J: How old were you when you got into Morrissey?
S: I got into him at the tender age of twelve when my brother bought me Boxers for my birthday. Alex is a huge Morrissey fan. Then I moved to Philadelphia when I was a teenager and found this whole group of kids who liked hardcore and The Smiths were included in that. I still feel closest to that group of friends even though they’re so far away. It’s always interested me the hardcore music and all those kids seemed to like The Smiths too.
J: I don’t think you’re alone in being a fan that liked to copy Morrissey, the quiff, the outsized blouses…
S: Yes! It’s fine to do it because we’re all doing it [Laughs]. But when you’re in a band you’re expect to have a least some original content.
J: Morrissey has influenced you quite heavily. The name of your band, your surname as first name…
S: That was so flippant! It was our very first NME interview, and I thought, ‘I’m just gonna be ‘Preston’. No one had ever called me that before and it’s what I wanted to be.
J: What do your family call you? Sam?
S: Yeah. No one calls me Preston. It’s such a pretentious nod to Morrissey! The NME put it in the article then it stuck.
J: I’ve even seen a tour picture of you holding a cat…
Photo by Jake Walters
S: The picture of Morrissey with the cat on his head cheers me up whenever I feel down. I have it bookmarked on my phone, so if I’m a little bit blue I’ll look at it. The two main things that cheer me up are: the picture of Morrissey with the cat on his head; and I like to think about the fact that Paul McCartney called his last album ‘Kisses on the Bottom’. That cheers me up! [Laughs].
J: When I listen to the Ordinary Boys I can hear all of your musical influences in your work; Morrissey, The Smiths, The Jam, The Specials, Madness. Your sound is a bit of a cake mix of those influences isn’t it?
S: Yeah. I think that’s true. It’s funny as well because I managed to meet all of my heroes. I got to perform with Terry Hall; I’m almost as big a Terry Hall fan as I am a Morrissey fan.
I think at the time people were grumpy about the fact that we wore our influences so heavily on our sleeves. It was just a product of so much love for that music. I still listen to the same music. I’m planning on doing a new record this year, with the band. I’m not sure on what level yet. Just because I feel like it all went a bit off piste with the third record and I feel like I got a bit too… well… I just tried so desperately hard to make something ‘new’ that I had lost sight of what music I can enjoy playing. This new record will be closer to hardcore stuff, faster, louder.
J: Your voice is quite gentle on Seaside.
S: Yeah well maybe my voice over proper hard core would be quite an interesting contrast. These beautiful… almost quite Bing Crosby-esque melodies with harder rock n roll is something that Morrissey embraced in his later albums. Maybe as we grow old we soften the edges a little bit.
J: When you pick up your guitar, what do you like to play?
S: I love The Stray Cats. I’m best at playing rockabilly guitar.
J: So you must have enjoyed Morrissey’s rockabilly band then.
S: I did, very much, yeah.
J: Tell me about your meeting with Morrissey.
S: I remember the day so clearly, I have no idea how I managed to take it all in my stride. I asked what music he was listening to at the moment, and he said ‘I’ve been listening to a lot of Partridge Family’ [Laughs]. I was just like, that’s why I love you.
J: What excited you the most during that time?
S: I think the very early days; going on Jools Holland and having Junior Murvin to my left, and Morrissey to my right. Knowing I was going on tour with Morrissey the next day was amazing. I got really close with Alain Whyte and ‘You Are The Quarry’ signed by every band mate. I had set out to meet Morrissey, that had happened, and I was left with the feeling: ‘what next?’ But Morrissey was always really nice to me, really sweet.
J: How did it feel to be asked to join him at Meltdown?
S: Meltdown was such an honour. Our drummer at the time got thrown out for trying to hug moz during his set!
J: I read that you went up to him and said ‘Hi I’m Preston’ and he said ‘Yes I know who you are…’
S: Yes! I can’t tell if that was good or bad! [Laughs]. There are photos of us together but I can’t find any. I have been trying to hunt down those photos. One of my good friends is in Doll and The Kicks, so I managed to get out to see them backstage in Ireland, and I saw him again then.
J: Was he pleased to see you?
S: I think so, yes. I like to think so. We had a nod of acknowledgement. It was the same when I saw Nick Cave. I don’t want to be that guy who’s going up to someone and going: ‘Remember me mate?!’ so when I saw Nick on the train, I remembered I had dinner with him and Will Self a few years ago. I just said ‘hi’ and went on my way.
J: Did he recognise you?
S: Nick? He seemed to, yeah. Will Self is a huge Morrissey fan and when I was doing the third Ordinary Boys album, I had drinks at the Groucho with him to discuss lyrics for that album which I think is why they have… a much more… I don’t know… that third album is a kind of a concept album. A weird album.
It’s a bit kind of bloopy and electronic, which is something that I have completely come out the other side of. I got into it five years ago and it was all I listened to. It seemed really progressive and creative because there is no limits to the sound it can make.
J: Where is your musical core? Is it the harder stuff?
S: I’m quite confident that I’m a strong lyricist. I enjoy it. I want to do something really heavy. I still listen to heavy stuff, and I like to go to those shows. It all goes back to the hardcore teens.
J: Is 2006 Sam Preston different to the 2013 version?
S: Yeah, maybe. I just can’t imagine back to then because it’s so different to how I am now, shy and awkward. An example of that was when I saw other bands success as a personal attack on myself. We’re all friends and I’m happy about it now but I remember I took the Kaiser Chiefs along to the record label and was like: ‘You have to sign this band, I really think they’d be great’. Eventually I persuaded my label to sign them and then they sold millions of records and I was like, ‘Oh.’ [Laughs]. But now I’m really proud of them and think it’s fantastic, because they are lovely guys.
J: I remembered The Ordinary Boys exploding onto the scene. You always seemed to be in a rush.
S: Yeah… I think that’s very accurate. It’s true of my life in so many ways that… I think the journey is always so much more exciting. I get bored of it in the end, when I get there. It’s been long enough that if we were to bring the band back on some level then it will probably be even more of a struggle than it was the first time. That’s kind of exciting though, I like that challenge.
J: Whom are you working with now?
S: I’m working in songwriting and producing. I had a big number one with a song I wrote for Olly Murs called Heart Skips a beat and then having had the number one I got bored with it again. It’s a frustrating way to live your life. I appear to crash when I get there. But I do have a sense of urgency. I want to get this Ordinary Boys record done. I’ve written one song! [Laughs]. I have had a bizarre request to sing for an existing band too.
J: You can’t say who?
S: No. It’s a pretty weird one. I’m just excited to get somewhere. And I can never turn down anything that seems like it’s going to be fun.
J: Can we talk about your tattoos? What’s this one behind your ear?
S: This one is a Jean Michelle Basquiat crown.
S: I’ve got Morrissey ones too:
S: I’ve also got ‘sweet and tender’ on my arm. I know hundreds of people with Smiths tattoos. I have a friend who has ‘little charmer’.
J: What’s the significance of the triangle?
S: My friend told me that it was the most intensely painful tattoo she had ever had so I just did it out of curiosity. I’m not really one for worrying too much about the significance of my tattoos. Tattoos are quite silly really.
J: And was it painful?
S: Oh my God it was the absolute worst!
J: You sampled Siouxsie’s Happy House on Dressed to kill. Are you a fan of hers too?
S: Yes! There’s talk of Siouxsie writing with me, which would be… incredible! She did email me to say that she really liked Dressed to Kill.
I’m doing a project at the moment with the artist Dear Prudence where I’m writing and producing with her. She has a song called Coming Apart again and that’s very Siouxsie influenced.
J: Dressed to Kill is quite clubby isn’t it?
S: I was deep into my electronic phase then.
J: Were you producing your own stuff?
S: Yes, with a friend of mine. But I missed the guitars, I don’t want to do any of that anymore. I’m glad that it was a one off.
J: Shall we talk about your TV appearances? Do you want to/not want to?
S: I don’t mind talking about them. That’s fine.
J: To me, you seemed very at home in the Big Brother house.
S: Weirdly, it was one of the happiest times of my life.
J: You looked contented.
S: I can’t think what it is. It was just really weird because lyrically I had always talked trash on that world, and it seemed so ridiculous for me to go in and be in it. But I learned a lot.
J: As a viewer it was great to watch the playful chemistry between you and Chantelle.
S: Yeah, it was fun, but I think the relationship was a product of that situation and it was always doomed to fail. I wish someone had told me: ‘Dude, by the way, think about this for a second’. But again, it’s that urgency that I have, running at a thousand miles an hour.
J: You were put in the spotlight by the media when you left the house. Was it terrifying or did you love it?
S: The thing is… that at that time, what I think is sad is that I feel I neglected the band. I think that’s one of the reasons why two of them don’t even pick up their instruments anymore. Will doesn’t play guitar anymore. I wonder if I had done something differently and taken their musical careers into consideration a bit more what would have happened, rather than getting caught up in the Big Brother press. But then, they both have careers that they love now.
J: What do they do?
S: Will works for the Guardian and James is a sound engineer.
J: Do you still keep in touch with Chantelle?
S: Yeah. We talk on the phone.
J: Was it reparative going back into the house for the second time?
S: Well I just felt that I had done some damage since I left the first time, so I wanted to remind people that I am a nice guy really [Laughs].
J: Would you go back in for a third?
S: It’s a weird thing to imagine now. I couldn’t do it again. I’ve become agoraphobic and misanthropic with age! [Laughs] I never really think things through much further than one or two steps. I think it’s a wise thing to do. It stops you doing things that would be fun adventures if you think too much about it. It’s much better to just go for it: ‘That cake looks going so I’m going to eat it. It doesn’t matter if it makes me fat’. Just do things.
J: I liked it when you walked off Buzzcocks. I thought they pushed too far.
S: I regret doing anything where there’s video evidence of me at my worst. I didn’t handle it too well.
J: Do you have regrets about your TV appearances?
S: I think if there’s anything that plays on my mind that would be near to a regret is that there are Ordinary Boys records that could exist that just don’t because other things distracted me for so long. I’ve had recent conversations with my label that look after me for my songwriting. I’m still making them money but they all say: ‘you’re going to struggle to get a new Ordinary Boys record, it’s going to be hard to get radio plays’. I just think that just excites me more than if everyone was just waiting for it.
J: You’ve got the fan base.
S: That’s true. I did put a little tweet up about it and everyone was really positive.
J: The ‘Ordinary Army’ seem very loyal. Do you shout them out at gigs?
S: Yeah! I know them all! All the real hardcore ones I know well.
J: Do they turn up to gigs looking like you?
S: Yeah! I guess so. Maybe they should skip the middleman and go straight for looking like Morrissey! [Laughs]
J: Have you still got that gold jacket you wore on Buzzcocks?
S: Somewhere, yeah.
J: If you don’t need it anymore…
S: Yeah! You can have it! I should get rid of it! [Laughs]. It was funny that I wore the most absurd thing of my entire life!
J: It reminds me of what Morrissey wore in the Dallas tour. I did wonder if it was a nod to that.
S: Yeah! Not a conscious one…
J: Did you keep in touch with anyone from Morrissey’s band?
S: I kept in touch with Gary Day for a long while. It was always fleeting moments with Morrissey. He’d get whisked up to the stage and whisked back. It was conversations in hallways. Or if I was in the dressing room with the band he’d come in. He never lets people watch him from the side of the stage, and I would get a note from him saying, ‘you can watch from the side of the stage’. I think it’s just an irritating thing when people watch you from the side, for any band. The show that you’re giving isn’t there, it doesn’t project to the side, but if it’s someone you really love you can almost see it through their eyes a little bit, which is really exciting.
J: If Morrissey walked in here right now and see you in your nice jumper and say ‘Alright Preston’ what would you say?
S: Again, it’s that thing when you meet somebody, it’s horrible to be that nagging guy, but I feel that we would have a really long nice conversation. I feel like he did guide me through the early part of my career by talking about us in interviews, taking me on tour. Maybe because I feel through his lyrics he was some kind of surrogate father figure, which is true for a lot of people I think.
J: What’s your favourite Morrissey album?
S: ‘Vauxhall and I’ is his masterpiece. PG Wodehouse’s masterpiece was ‘Right Ho Jeeves’, and ‘Vauxhall and I’ is Morrissey’s. I think that record has such an atmosphere… such a lot of sounds on it, with a hanging atmosphere.
J: If Morrissey came to your house what snacks would you put out for him?
S: I’m actually very much into pickling at the moment. I’m a big pickler. I do nice sweet pickles. You eat them with bread and butter. It’s a really fun thing to do. I’d give him some of my pickles.
J: Do you put a frilly top on the jar?
S: You don’t need a jar for pickles, that’s for jams. You need a seal.
J: Who got you into pickling?
S: My mum does it.
J: Did your mum knit that jumper?
S: No I got this from a charity shop.
J: What is your favourite crisp flavour? Do you like crisps with your pickles?
S: I’m not a huge crisp fan, really. I actually would go for popcorn. The Pret a Manger popcorn is my snack of choice.
J: Would you put popcorn out with pickles then?
S: No, I’d make homemade bread.
J: You bake bread as well!?
S: [Laughs] I love to cook. I do a nice baked eggs with Merguez.
J: You’re not a vegetarian?
J: Do you have a girlfriend at the moment?
S: [stretches arms] I have a line I’m pursuing [Laughs].
J: What’s your favourite Morrissey single?
S: Possibly Boxers because I received it as a gift and was at the age where, once you get a record you just play it and play it and play it. And also I think as a Morrissey song it feels kind of forgotten. It’s a sad lyric. When you’re really young music is much more effective at creating images in your head. I remember hearing Strange Little Girl by the Stranglers and I didn’t know it was about Siouxsie Sioux at the time. I can remember the image I had in my head. I remember the images that the Beatles conjured up. I can think what I imagined when I listened to Boxers. It makes the record richer.
J: What’s your favourite thing that your mum says?
S: Everyone makes fun of my mum because she’s American. If I ever talk about my mum, for some reason my friends will say: ‘Sammy! Your meatballs are ready!’ I guess maybe that, but I don’t know how often she actually says it!
I have a great relationship with my parents. I’m terrible at romance, you see. If I don’t have the right advice I’m just doomed to walk off on my own. So I talk candidly with both of my parents about that. My brother is grown up, married and has kids and here they still have a thirty-one year old son still asking them what to do about girls.
J: Do you want that for yourself? To get married and have kids?
S: I do but I’m terribly picky. I don’t think I ever really was, but because of the whole Chantelle thing, then a long distance relationship after that, it has become really important for me to have complete common interests now… I think maybe because Chantelle and I didn’t. The whole problem with that is that my interests in books, film and music are pretty weird, and I’m very passionate about all of them.
J: Who is your favourite author?
S: I love Bolaño and I devour everything that he’s written. I read a lot. I think Will Self is a great writer as well. My brother has become friends with him. I love all the hipster books.
J: Favourite movie?
S: I really love ‘Badlands’. I love those rich visual movies.
J: Did you get into ‘A Taste Of Honey’ and ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’?
S: I did! It was almost like homework! I love the New York Dolls now too. But there was a time where I didn’t ‘get it’. I wonder if I conditioned myself to love them as part of my homework for Morrissey [Laughs].
J: Have you got a favourite childhood toy?
S: I have a cabbage patch kid, that I still have, completely bald with a plastic head, so I called it Thomas Hard-head [Laughs]. It’s at my mum’s house in France.
J: The video for Lonely at the Top opens with you on a single bed. Did this resemble your teenage bedroom?
S: No. My childhood bedroom was really big, even though our house was small. There weren’t enough bedrooms so I had to be in a kind of conservatory. The rain would come down on the inside. It had a few plants in it.
J: Is this where you started your acting career?
S: I used to love acting when I was younger! I was in a movie ‘Christabel’ with Liz Hurley, and I was in The Muppets and I was in ‘Drowning in the Shallow End’ with Paul McGann so I saved up a little bit of money for a guitar and I bought a record player for fifteen pounds. It was in very early nineties. It was huge, bigger than me, and took up almost all of the space in my room.
J: Were there posters on the walls?
S: When I was really young it was The Pixies and Dinosaur Jnr.
J: Do you have a favourite Ordinary Boys caper?
S: We were terribly boring and sensible as a band. There were many times when I swung from lights and cut my hands and bled. But then we’d reside to the tour bus and read books. We weren’t rock n’ roll, there was no drug taking or anything like that.
J: You were good boys then. Were you a good boy when you were younger?
S: No, absolutely terrible, horrible, brat. It felt like I had Attention Deficit Disorder as well so I was just a handful. I still feel like I run on this nervous energy. People have told it to me enough times and I’ve started to see it. I just sort of run for a little bit, then get exhausted, then start running again.
J: Could you please write a note to my mum?
J: Would you host the Mozarmyquiz on Twitter one week?
S: That sounds like fun! Yes I’d love to.
Who said you should never meet your heroes? Not the ordinary boy.
Follow Sam on Twitter @samuelpreston or find him on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/smlprstn
Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk
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