Good Cop Bad Cop’s Joe Carnall discusses his debut album with Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders
Good Cop Bad Cop, if you aren’t already aware, is the LA lovechild of Milburn frontman Joe Carnall and Arctic Monkeys’ drummer Matt Helders who both burst out simultaneously of the Sheffield scene together close to 15 years ago, the pair have remained close friends ever since.
Last January saw Carnall spend a month living at Helders’ Los Angeles home, armed only with some demos he had previously made at his home on Garage Band, alas Good Cop Bad Cop was born.
Their sound is a far cry from what you’d expect to you hear given that members of indie bands Milburn and Arctic Monkeys have cooked up a record together. It would have been fair to assume that this record would see the duo return to their mid-noughties indie roots in a fit of nostalgia. In reality, though, they experiment with futuristic pop and attempt to cover ground that neither has trodden on before.
Sitting down with Carnall, it’s blatantly clear by the vigour and energy in which he speaks about the new project that he’s fully invested, striving to achieve the element of surprise in his new adventure: “People often say ‘it’s different’ as a covert way of saying it’s shit but with this people are saying ‘it’s different’ because they can’t get their heads around it which is all I really wanted to do, to be honest. As soon as they say that, they’re not saying it sounds like Milburn or sounds like the Monkeys,” he told me with a distinctly obvious sense of pride.
Part of the reason for releasing the work under the pseudonym of Good Cop Bad Cop is to remove any preconceptions you might expect from a ‘Joe from Milburn’ record, as he explains: “I just didn’t want to be the lead singer of Milburn with an acoustic guitar or the lead singer of Milburn with a different band, I wanted it to be a completely different experience, hence why I’ve chosen a different name for the project. I want it to feel way different, it’s more conceptual and dare I say ‘arty’ and a different sort of pallet and all that so I felt it would be stupid to put it under my name.”
This album has been a long time coming for Carnall and, over time, it has changed into a completely different entity over the last few years: “Basically it’s my solo record that’s morphed into something else. I have sort of wanted to make a solo thing for a long while now and just as soon as I started recording then my old band Milburn got back together. We’d been away for 10 years but timing just turned out that all four of us were in a good place so we decided to do that instead so my record that I was about to make just got put on the backburner.”
He added: “It’s more of a pallet thing as well, we went back to guitars and all that which is great but by the time of sorting getting round to doing my own thing again, I’d sort of had my filling, I didn’t want to go out on stage with more guitars.”
Being in a band with your brother along with two of your oldest mates who, incidentally, are also brothers can be bloody hard work. I sense that perhaps the solo/side project has been birthed out of the desperation for change, for the ability to have a little more control over his artistic output: “I went to LA with all these demos that I’d made on Garage Band,” he said with a slight chuckle but quickly followed it up with: “I found that quite liberating as well.”
“When you’ve been in bands for years, you’re constantly having to meet up with people, stood in a shithole on a Tuesday night working the songs out. It was quite nice to just sit down with my laptop and I didn’t have to wait for the drummer to turn up and I can just do it myself. That shaped a lot of the sound originally and then we took it to L.A and it kicked on again with all Matt’s equipment and ideas as well.”
The idea of working with Helders has been on the cards for years, their friendship has been born out of the strong Sheffield rock and roll material: “He [Matt] did a remix for me the first time around and then that kind of informed where it ultimately finished up, I think. The remix has never been put out because of the timings and all that but he liked what I did and obviously we’re mates anyway so that’s like the hardest thing to find sort of, he likes what I do, he gets what I do, and I like where he takes things.”
That friendship—potentially spiced up with a little competitive rivalry over the years—is the key to their working relationship now and re-kindling that was something which made the experience all worthwhile, forging the sound of the record: “It was just nice getting time to spend time with each other cos since they’ve moved on to L.A. and gone on to take on the world it’s been very hard to pin any one of them down at any point but when he’s home we always meet up.”
The tale of different paths taken by Carnall’s Milburn and Helders’ Arctic Monkeys is, conceivably, one of the polar opposites and one that could even be written into Hollywood’s big screen in some capacity. However, the glittering lights of L.A. beckoned for musical reasons and, the way in which Carnall candidly speaks about his friendship with Helders is touchingly wholesome and one most 30-something’s can relate to: “There’s always a few of us who make an effort but it’s just nice like with any mate who you’ve not seen in a while to spend quality time with. It was proper as well cos’ I was staying in the house with his family and then we were doing stuff together next door in the garage the whole day, I was kinda like their special guest as L.A.’s obviously a bit more interesting than Sheffield so he was taking me around doing stuff. We said all along that even if nothing had come from it, it was good for us both to have done it.”
Helders produced the record, played on it and put his unique print on the sound but won’t be performing live due to the scheduling issues, partly the reason why they chose to independently release the record. “I just didn’t want everything that comes with all that [labels], you know labels wanting to define me going we’ll sign you but we need Matt doing ‘x, y and z’ but he’s a mate and I’m not signing him up to anything, he can do what he wants. We don’t really need anybody because luckily enough I’ve done stuff in the past and Matt’s got a ridiculous amount of stature anyway, it’s kind of like we can do it ourselves. To be honest, the industries changed so much, why should we get someone else involved? It’s just someone else to try and dilute what you want to achieve.”
The debut tour is almost sold-out and the matchday nerves have already started kicking in for Carnall, but he’s not about to shy away from the new direction he’s passionately pushed himself towards: “I’m a bit petrified, I’m playing the guitar on it and I usually play bass, I’m working with new band members and I’ve never worked with any of these guys before so I’m totally responsible for it whereas in Milburn there was a shared responsibility and now it’s my thing so if it goes tits up it’s totally my fault.”
He added: “I was thinking about this today, it’s the reason you do it. You kind of become complacent when you’re comfortable, you just turn up to play with Milburn and you start to take things for granted and just go through the motions where you don’t have to think about what you’re doing so it’s quite nice putting yourself outside of your comfort zone.”
The ‘Silk and Leather’ singer then opened up on just how straightforward those Milburn reunion gigs were, despite all the years they had out the game. It was clear to see that Carnall was revived in his creativity, pushing himself away from the comfort zone of Milburn’s indie songs and into the unknown. “It becomes like muscle memory, I’ve spent Milburn gigs just thinking about what I’ve just had for my dinner or the Sheffield Wednesday game, it’s just mental. Your muscles are just used to doing those things even when I’m singing and all the lyrics are spilling out without me even thinking about, it’s a bizarre sensation. You need to savour it [the nerves] a little bit because you do get complacent, no matter how big you get.”
Milburn’s reunion was a big success all around the country with tasty festival slots at the likes of Y Not, Kendal Calling and Bearded Theory as well as huge tours and managing the impressive fete of selling out the 10,000 capacity Don Valley Bowl in their native Sheffield.
However, the first time the two sets of brothers reunited in a decade was understandably surreal: “It was bizarre at the start like really strange, my brother was there but we were in a room with people we’d known since we were six-years-old but not actually shared the same room let alone played instruments together for six or seven years. It’s that muscle memory thing I was referring to before, say we did 10 songs one after the other, we could have probably done a gig within the first time of picking it up.”
There’s no real concrete plan in place for Good Cop Bad Cop, but it’s clear that the project has already achieved the goal of giving Carnall a rebirth in music, allowing him to somewhat express himself on another level. Our conversation about moving in a new direction, striving for a new image led us to the subject of Father John Misty. Misty, having managed to shrug off the tag of being the ‘drummer from Fleet Foxes’, is now making a new type of music under a new name, something Carnall is eyeing up: “He’s [FJM] finally become a big thing in his own right. I think you’ve got to prove yourself a little bit and that’s fine, that’s cool with me. I think what we’ve got to remember is there’s no label pumping a load of cash into it.”
While he has made it perfectly clear that his new project takes little outside inspiration, Carnall does have his eyes on the long-game which he eloquently coins as: “It’s that [FJM] thing of going into your own world, make your own tunes and make your art how you want it to be made.”
What does the future hold Good Cop Bad Cop? Your guess is as good as mine but creating the art that Carnall is striving for is a brave, uncompromising step into the unknown and one that will continue with success or without… but he’s certainly hoping for the former: “Who knows? If it goes well so far then expect some more gigs at the back end of the year, who knows maybe it’ll be one of those things that just snowballs and I put another record out that’s twice as big as this one. But size isn’t what this is about. As long as I can do it for a bit of a living alongside my other musical things then I’m happy.”
Good Cop Bad Cop is available today on all streaming platforms.
Good Cop Bad Cop Tour Dates:
April 13th – Glasgow, King Tut’s 25th – Manchester, Yes (Pink Room) 16th – Leeds, Belgrave Music Hall 18th – London, Hoxton Hall 19th – Sheffield, Crookes Social Club 21st – Nottingham, Bodega 22nd – Bristol, Thekla