Chubby Charles is jetlagged. After returning from a whirlwind U.S. tour as lead singer of British punk band Chubby and the Gang, Charlie Manning-Walker (aka Chubby) is still on American time. But after releasing their debut album to critical acclaim while on tour here, the band saw their crowds grow significantly by the end of it, and Manning-Walker is pleasantly surprised, but also invigorated for album number two.
Their debut LP, Speed Kills, was released via independent British hardcore label Static Shock back in January, and despite having no team to pitch the record, publications like Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Stereogum all raved about it, coming to a similar consensus that its hopped-up punk-pop is impossibly punchy and ridiculously fun. Manning-Walker and his fellow band mates are all hardcore veterans—having played in bands like Violent Reaction, Abolition, Guidance and Gutter Knife—but somehow they’ve made one of the strongest stitchings of pub rock, classic pop, surf and punk in recent memory. “Chubby and the Gang Rule OK?” is both a statement of fact and their unruly lead album track that takes about 30 seconds to convince you that their breakneck rhythms and pop chops are the real deal.
Like their colorful, cartoonish album cover, the album celebrates the vast characters of working-class London: the dubious, fun-loving rascals, the crass authority figures, the squares and the reckless brutes. But more than anything, Speed Kills is an ode to the “gang,” the fiercely loyal one that finds you when you’re young and makes grim circumstances much more bearable.
Paste caught up with Manning-Walker to talk through their wild first U.S. tour, the making of Speed Kills, their critical acclaim and the future of Chubby and the Gang. Read the Q&A below, which has been edited for clarity and length.
Paste: Were you surprised by the major press coverage the band received?
Manning-Walker: Yeah, absolutely. We just did the record and we put it on Spotify and Static Shock just put it out there and then we thought that would be it. Don’t get me wrong, we were pleased with the record, but I didn’t think Rolling Stone would pick it up. We didn’t send it to them, they just kind of picked it up. So yeah, it was surprising, but I’m happy people think it’s good.
Are you committing to Chubby and the Gang as your main project or are you guys still in other bands too?
No, not really. We’re all doing other stuff. I’m actually just recording a new demo of a new band, like next week. It sounds completely different, but I’m on guitar. I’m a guitar player, really. As you can probably tell from the record, I’m not really a singer. I like playing guitar. I don’t want to stop playing guitar in bands. So I’m still cracking on with doing other bands and those boys play in a bunch of different stuff. I mean we’re busy, but it depends how busy we get with Chubby and the Gang. I don’t know. We haven’t really thought about it.
Do you guys all have day jobs?
Yeah I’m an electrician. I work on film sets. I’m a union electrician. Then, the other boys, one of them works in a shop that sells legal highs and one of them works as a landscaper, digging up front gardens and things like that. And then, the other one, I can’t remember what he does. We just do odd jobs and stuff, but I’m a bit older than them, so I’ve been doing my job for a little bit.
It’s impressive that you were able to tour here so quickly after your album. It often takes several years for other international bands. How did that tour happen?
We put the two-song record out and people were very nice about it. So then my boy Fizzy, he plays in Royal Hounds, he was like, “Fuck it, you should just do the America tour.” And I was like, “Yeah” and then we booked the tour. The record was supposed to come out before the tour but it got pushed back and it came out like two days in. It was interesting actually because the record dropped very early on in the tour and it kind of snowballed as we were on tour. So it’s quite interesting to see at the start, it was getting good turnouts, people coming out to see the Royal Hounds, then they were happy to see us and then it kind of just got a life of its own. By the end of it, like the New York show, there were like 600 people there, so it was crazy. Like Atlanta was crazy. Richmond was nuts. It just took off a bit. It’s good.
I remember you said on stage in Atlanta that you were surprised that you didn’t die on that tour. What was it like?
To put it bluntly, it was fucking mayhem. Usually when I go on tour, there’s a responsible person, you know what I mean? And then in this, there were 12 people and no one was responsible for anything, so we just went ballistic. It was chaos, but in a good way, but just like…fucking hell! I need to take a couple of weeks just to get my body back.
You played some U.K. shows with Sheer Mag before the American tour. Were those your first shows as Chubby and the Gang?
Those were our first U.K. shows. I know them from knocking about in the punk scene for a while and obviously they have as well. They were like, “Yeah, do you fancy it?” And I was like, “Yeah, definitely.” And that was our first gigs. To be honest, before we came to America, we played about six gigs. It’s all been so quick.
Did you guys set out to make an album that wasn’t full-on hardcore like your other projects?
There’s only so many times you can write a hardcore record or a punk record before you start going around in circles. I wanted to do something that was influenced by things that I listen to. Things like Lightning Hopkins and Bobby Fuller, more like ’60s and ’50s, a lot of American stuff, but a lot of British stuff as well from that era. That’s kind of the main thing I listen to. Those were the main influences for the stuff and then it just kind of came out the way it did. I wanted to make something melodic, something poppy, like a pop record written by people who are footed in the punk scene.
What was it like recording the album with Jonah Falco from Fucked Up?
He lives here now. Me and him play in a band together called Boss. Me and him are good mates. I see him at the pub two, three times a week. We recorded the music with someone called [James Atkinson]. He played in that band the Voorhees and The Horror and a bunch of different hardcore bands a generation above me. He’s amazing. He’s got this amazing equipment. We drove up to Leeds, did a couple of sessions up there. We did it in like two days, day-and-a-half kind of thing, and then we did the vocals with Jonah on another day. I did a couple of extra things, like we put harmonica on some of the songs and tambourine and things like that. It’s my first time singing on a pop record, like a punk and pop record. He was there to be like, “Yeah, listen mate. That’s working or this ain’t working.” I get in my head sometimes, and I worry about making the song shit. It was good to have him there to be like, “No, no, you’re doing good. Go on. Go on. Go on!” He’s good though, man. He’s a fucking genius. So having him be like, “Yeah, you’re doing good” is cool.
What led you to hardcore music in the first place?
Both my parents are punks, and they were involved in the whole Sex Pistols movement and stuff, so I always had punk around me growing up. Like, listening to the Ramones, not really realizing the social connotations of what punk is. Something like the Ramones, you could listen to as a six-year-old and be like, “This is good.” When I did start getting into alternative music and started playing the guitar and trying to get my own identity and stuff, you don’t want what your parents done. So hardcore was the initial attraction to me, you know, cause it’s punk, but it’s more. It’s more aggressive, so I kind of fell into that. I actually got into hardcore gigs cause I got given a flyer on the street and I just randomly walked into this gig that was happening and it just took off. I just was like, “This is good.” Bought a load of CDs at the gig, looked up all the thank you lists and looked up all the bands from that and then just went from there. It’s always been floating around in my life.
It’s pretty obvious that Chubby and the Gang won’t ever be a mainstream band, but are you hoping to scale so you can tour more and try to make a living out of it?
I don’t know. I’ve got a job and I’m pretty tied up in my union and doing all that kind of stuff. Unless someone could put a fucking real offer on the table, I’m not going to bite. I’m not going to owe anyone money and I’m not gonna start at the bottom and do pay-to-plays and things like that. It’s now what I’m about. If someone could put money on the table, shit why not. I’m not changing my sound. I’m not going to fucking jump up and dance for people, but if they’re going to fucking like the records and sort me out, fuck it. We’re not going to change our sound anytime soon, believe me, and we’re not going to be like, “Oh please can we be doing this? And please can we be doing that?” You take it or leave it. You like it or you don’t.
Have any labels tried to sign the band after that wave of critical acclaim?
Not really. No. We just got an email [address] the other day, like I don’t have a computer. If people want to get in contact, they’ve got to call me up. No one’s actually asked to be honest, but people have a hard time getting in contact with us. So I don’t know whether people have been trying and they haven’t been able to get in contact with us or what’s going on. I’m just doing my thing.
What bands should we be listening to right now?
That’s the thing about London and the U.K. because Leeds has got a good scene and Manchester has a good scene. Brighton’s got a wicked scene. Everything’s so eclectic. There’s so many different things. Probably the band in London at the minute is this band called Game. They sound like Japanese hardcore. They’re good. They sing in Polish. There’s a band called ASID, which is incredible. A band called Permission. They’re good. Power Plant. They’re good as well. There’s tons of stuff going on. If you want to check out bands, just go on the La Vida Es Un Mus roster or the Static Shock roster and just go through it because pretty much all of them are going to be good.
When can we expect to hear more from Chubby and the Gang?
We’ve got a song that’s unreleased that we’re putting on a split with Royal Hounds, which is also going to be on the next LP, which I’m halfway through penning at the minute. I’m too fidgety. I can’t sit still. If I’m at home, there’s a guitar there. I’m trying to hash out the next record already. I can’t sit there and just be like, “Cool. That’s good.” People seem to like this record. I’m sitting there like, “No, anyone can make a good record. I need to make a second good one.”
Is there a chance of more American shows later this year?
Yeah, we’re thinking about doing Gonerfest, but we need to work out the ins and outs and sort a tour around it. It’s difficult because all of a sudden, we’ve got fucking everyone that’s been like, “Yeah, come here. Come here.” We’re trying to work out how much time we can take off work and all that stuff.
Speed Kills is out now via Static Shock Records. Read Paste’s review here.