Hard-Fi at the 2006 Hurricane Festival in Germany
Background information Origin Staines, Surrey, England Genres indie rock, post-punk revival, dance-punk, ska punk Years active 2003–present Labels Necessary / Warner (UK), Atlantic (U.S.) Website hard-fi.com Members Richard Archer
Hard-Fi are an English indie rock band formed in Staines, Surrey in 2003. The band's members are Richard Archer (lead vocals and guitar), Ross Phillips (guitar and backing vocals), Kai Stephens (bass guitar and backing vocals) and Steve Kemp (drums and backing vocals).
They achieved chart success with their third single, "Hard to Beat" and then followed by other successful singles such as "Cash Machine" and "Living for the Weekend", which all reached top 15 in the UK Singles Chart. Their debut album Stars of CCTV was released on 4 July 2005, and although receiving critical acclaim (NME called it the Album of the Year and it was nominated for the Mercury Prize and two Brit Awards; Best British Group and Best British Rock Act), it didn't reach #1 in the UK albums chart until six months later on 22 January 2006. It originally entered the charts at number 6. The band's second album Once Upon a Time in the West was released on 3 September 2007 and reached number 1 in its first week. Their third album Killer Sounds, which features the singles "Good for Nothing" and "Fire in the House", was released on 19 August 2011 and debuted at number 9 on the UK Album Chart.
"Hard-Fi" is the name given to the sound produced by Lee "Scratch" Perry, a Grammy Award-winning reggae and dub artist, at his Black Ark recording studio. Being admirers of Perry's work, the band decided to name themselves after his distinctive sound. Archer said "Since then I've been desperately trying to find the biography where I read it; but I may have dreamt it."
Richard Archer decided to return to his hometown of Staines, crushed by the lack of success of his former band Contempo and by the death of his father after his struggle against cancer. He said "I moved back to Staines because I ran out of money and it was quite a shock."
Archer claims that music business insiders tried to dissuade the band's manager Warren Clarke from managing him. When Archer asked his publishers for some money to record the new songs that he had written, they terminated his contract instead. "People told him, don't bother with Archer, he's damaged goods, you're wasting your time."
2001-2004: Formation and early success
While Archer was making demos to produce an album, he went into the Staines hi-fi shop where Ross Phillips worked, simply so he could listen to his latest demos on the shop's best equipment. Philips apparently asked Archer who had played guitar on his demos, Archer said that it was himself, which is when Phillips said it was "the shit", and was therefore recruited to play guitar for the new group. Steve Kemp was already an old friend of Archer, while it took Kaichen Stephens little persuasion to leave his job as a "pest killer" at Rentokil.
The band were signed to newly formed independent label Necessary Records, owned by Clarke. The majority of Stars of CCTV was recorded in a variety of unusual acoustic environments - in bedrooms, in pubs, and played back in their producer, Wolsey White's, BMW. 1000 copies of this record were pressed with only 500 going on public sale, and the initial plan was to sell 1000 each time. However, it quickly sold out, receiving critical acclaim and radio play, proving a lot more successful than the band had imagined. Most of the album was recorded in a disused mini cab office, which cost them about £300 and is known to this day as the "Cherry Lips" Studio. The band used to try and make their music sound more atmospheric by putting a microphone in the corridor to add echo; listening closely to the record reveals that this also picked up passers-by humming and whistling and the occasional aeroplane flying overhead.
Archer desperately tried to generate publicity for the band through the Staines Observer, to no avail; "We sent them a press release and a photo," said Archer. "The press release was all like, the hard-hitting sound of the streets and stuff. And the article came out going, 'Richard Archer, former pupil of Thamesmead School ...' Whatever you say, they seem to be most interested in what school you went to."
The band were then licensed to the major label Atlantic Records in December 2004, where they were given the chance to re-record the album in the renowned Abbey Road Studios, among other well known studios, however they went back to the cab office to maintain their sound.
2005: Stars of CCTV
The band were one of the acts opening for Green Day, alongside Taking Back Sunday and Jimmy Eat World on their two day residency of the Milton Keynes Bowl in June 2005. Simple Plan were initially booked though cancelled only a few weeks before the show, and Hard-Fi were made as a last minute booking and opened on both days. Their debut album's launch party was scheduled to be 7 July 2005 at Cheekees night club in Staines, however this was cancelled due to the ill health of Richard's mother, and the London bombings also occurring that day. Her death resulted in the band pulling out of the Glastonbury festival. The launch party was rescheduled for 13 July 2005 and the venue changed to Ladbroke Grove, London.
The Stars of CCTV album re-entered the official UK album chart at #4 on 1 January 2006. Two places higher than it originally went in on the week of its release, the album climbed from #33. Stars of CCTV finally got to #1 on 22 January. The band's re-release of "Cash Machine" entered the official Top 40 singles chart at #14 on 1 January. The album has reached sales of 1.2 million copies worldwide and sales of over 600,000 in the UK alone.
In February 2006, the band were nominated for two BRIT Awards, Best British Group and Best British Rock Act, alongside international superstars such as Gorillaz, Franz Ferdinand and Oasis. Richard spoke about the nominations, "I don't think we'll win it, especially best group when you've got Coldplay, Franz Ferdinand and Gorillaz in there, they're kind of big hitters, but you never know, Burton drew with Man United". "Last week I would have probably said 'nah it's all rubbish', but now I'm nominated it's great but what is good is that there's a real wide spread of stuff there, but there's no Best Dance award and the urban category is more pop than what's quality."
2007: Once Upon a Time in the West
Hard-Fi expanded the "Cherry Lips", their taxi cab office which they used to record, making more room for equipment after having searched fruitlessly for a space. Archer described the record as "darker and more expansive".
The first single from the album was "Suburban Knights", released on 20 August. The single had its first play on 18 June 2007, at 7:20 pm (BST) on Radio 1. The album Once Upon a Time in the West was released on 3 September 2007 when the band launched it at midnight in Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street, London with a live performance from a selected set list followed by a CD signing. The following day, the band performed at Maida Vale Studios to a small audience who earned their tickets through Radio 1.
The album cover of Once Upon a Time in the West has an orange background with the album title at the top, and "NO COVER ART." written in large, white letters below. The artwork has received mixed criticism, however, top cover art designer Peter Saville has described it as "a 'White Album' for the digital culture."
On 9 September 2007, Once Upon a Time in the West went straight in at #1 in the Album Charts, giving Hard-Fi a second #1 album. It received positive reviews including five stars from The Observer Monthly and four stars from Q Magazine, scoring 70 out of 100 on Metacritic.
The album was more popular than their debut album Stars of CCTV in other countries, as it reached Japan's Top 10 chart. Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Central America began to show interest in the band as the first single from the album, "Suburban Knights", charted in all of their respective charts, reaching #5 in Peru, #3 in Guatemala, #2 El Salvador, #8 Mexico alongside their second single "Can't Get Along (Without You)" which spent two weeks on #1 in Peru and Argentina. On 10 March 2008, the third single, "I Shall Overcome" was released in the UK, where it reached #35, whilst making the top five in South America just like the previous two singles entering in at #4.
2011: Killer Sounds
During the 2008 Christmas period, Hard-Fi released a Christmas message to their fans thanking them for their support and announcing that they would be back in the new year with "a wicked new album".
On 2 February 2009, Phillips released a blog on the band's official Myspace page, saying "After a nice long Christmas break, me and the boys are now back in the cherry lips recording facility working hard on the new tunes. Sounding great by the way. We're really pleased with how the album's shaping up. Hopefully over the next few months we'll put some bits and pieces up for you to have a listen."
On 29 October 2010, Hard-Fi posted a blog on their official website stating that they were starting production on their new album. Some track names were mentioned on the band's official website and in their videoblogs:
- "Bring It On"
- "Feels Good
- "Fire in the House"
- "Give It Up"
- "Love Song"
- "Good for Nothing"
- "Stay Alive"
- "Killer Sounds"
- "Like a Drug"
- "Second Line Style"
- "Sweat (Greg Kurstin mix)"
On 14 February 2011, Archer posted an update on the band's Facebook page, which revealed that six of the eleven album tracks had been mixed. Producers that worked with Hard-Fi on their third album include Stuart Price and Greg Kurstin. On 7 March, Hard-Fi confirmed that they are getting closer to completing the album. Archer posted a status on Facebook, saying "A beautiful morning in Acton, West London - going back into the studio to mix the final tracks for the album, we've got two weeks booked to finish off and tweak a few bits and pieces from the last batch. Thinking about photos, a video, artwork and getting out and (sic) doing a few gigs - sooner than you might think. Take care. Rich x"
On 28 April, Hard-Fi's latest single "Good for Nothing" was premiered on Zane Lowe's Radio 1 show receiving airplay as the 'Hottest Record in the World'. In an interiew shortly after the debut play of the song, Archer announced that the album is called Killer Sounds. On 7 May, "Good for Nothing" was featured on Soccer AM's Premier League goals portion of the show. The single was then been made available to listen to on Hard-Fi's official YouTube channel. As of 2 June, it is also part of the BBC Radio 1 Playlist A. It was later made available for listening on Hard-Fi's official site. Having been made available for listening on Hard-Fi's website since 22 May, "Good for Nothing" was finally released on 17 June and debuted in the UK charts at number 51 and on the UK Rock Chart at #2.
The next single from Killer Sounds was "Fire in the House", which was released on 7 August. The long-awaited album finally came out on 22 August and entered the UK Album Chart at #9. On 24 October, the third single "Bring It On" was released, but it failed to chart.
Hard-Fi's musical style is a mix of post-punk, indie and a Clash style of punk rock. Richard has cited their influences as dance and soul music They also take inspiration from other genres such as ska. On Stars of CCTV, they had a very raw sound, loud guitars, and frequent use of guitar, in contrast to Once Upon a Time in the West, on which there is a lot more orchestration, the use of strings is very apparent, most notably in the song "Watch Me Fall Apart".
Upon starting out, Hard-Fi often listened to music through the medium of radio and the internet, read magazines and watched music videos. As a band, they felt no up-and-coming bands really connected their lyrics to their own lives. Hard-Fi wanted to change this with their own style.
Hard-Fi's lyrics are based mostly on working class life, the band themselves coming from a self sufficient suburban lifestyle in Staines, which is where the band are from. Most notable in tracks such as "Suburban Knights" ("Those bills keep dropping through my door") and "Living for the Weekend" ("I've been working all week - I'm tired"), while other songs such as "Tonight", despite still being about suburban life, focus more on ambitions. Some songs are also based on social realism, "Feltham is Singing Out" is inspired by Zahid Mubarek who was sent to the Feltham Young Offenders' Institution and was murdered by his racist cellmate.
Other songs, such as "Better Do Better" and "Move on Now", are centred around the premise of how hard romantic relationships can be. Once Hard-Fi were becoming successful, Richard's mother died and the song "Help Me Please" is about how difficult it was for him having his dreams come true after many unsuccessful bands but realises he has no parents to share the joy with. Similarly, "The King" is about Richard returning to Staines and finding everything completely different, and realising everything of which he knew and loved had disappeared. He describes "Little Angel" as Christina Aguilera having a fight with The Clash in a Northern Soul club.
They played London's Brixton Academy from 14 May-18 May, making them one of the few bands to play five consecutive sold-out nights there and the first to do so off the back of their debut album. After the success of the Stars of CCTV album and of hit single "Hard to Beat", it allowed them to end up in a mini-reunion of The Specials, performing "Ghost Town" with Jerry Dammers and Neville Staples at the Love Music Hate Racism gig. Mick Jones of The Clash is a renowned fan of the band, while Paul Weller came to their rehearsal rooms and jammed a version of "Town Called Malice", something of which Kaichen Stephens says "gives us bragging rights over all of Staines". All of these artists were quite inspirational towards Hard-Fi while they were recording Stars of CCTV, perhaps The Specials and The Clash being the larger influences.
Mick Jones also appeared with them performing "E=MC²" by his former band Big Audio Dynamite. Jones had previously helped produce tracks by Richard Archer's prior band, Contempo who had recorded a cover of "London's Burning" by The Clash.
During December 2005, the band played at London's historic Astoria. This whole performance was filmed and the band released it on DVD called In Operation. The performance is in front of a hometown crowd, features all the tracks on Hard-Fi's 750,000 selling, #1 debut album Stars of CCTV, at the time brand new track "You And Me", which was later a B-Side to "Suburban Knights", and the band's version of "Seven Nation Army" by The White Stripes. It also comes backed with CCTVersions – an exclusive CD which features dubbed versions of album tracks, produced by guests including Roots Manuva and DJ Wrongtom.
In December 2005, the group released an iTunes exclusive EP featuring five of their songs played during their sessions at AOL studios. The EP was called Sessions@AOL and featured the songs "Gotta Reason", "Cash Machine", "Hard to Beat", "Unnecessary Trouble" and "Better Do Better".
Hard-Fi played a packed out 'secret' headlining slot on the Leftfield Stage on 23 June 2007 at Glastonbury. Although the band were still mixing the record at the time, the crowd got to hear "We Need Love", "Can't Get Along (Without You)" and "Suburban Knights" before anyone else. The band also included a host of favourites from their debut album Stars of CCTV. The band played a series of sold-out, intimate dates later in July 2007 previewing the record. This event was found so exciting by the UK Festival Awards they actually nominated the event in the category for Most Memorable Moment.
Each concert from the band's December UK Tour was recorded in its entirety on audio CD which could be ordered online through Concert Live or bought at the venue for £20. The CD was titled Once Upon a Time in December. The first 1000 people to pay received signed copies, while available to all payers came a bundle of the next single "I Shall Overcome" which included an exclusive download of the song as well as versions on vinyl, Maxi CD and a collectors' CD. All were delivered free of charge on day of release 10 March 2008. 
For "Cash Machine", Hard-Fi released an X-rated version of the video for people to download on to their mobile phones, featuring scenes that include nudity and drugs. They also have their own video podcast, which is known as Hard-Fi: Rockin' the City, that can be downloaded from their official website. In the first episode the bandmates discuss how they formed, and the rise of their successful album Stars of CCTV. They also discuss becoming increasingly more recognised, playing huge gigs with Green Day at the Milton Keynes Bowl, their home-town of Staines, and how it has influenced their music style. This talk is coupled with clips of some of Hard-Fi's music videos such as "Hard to Beat", "Cash Machine", "Tied up too Tight" and "Living for the Weekend". So far, 20 episodes have been released on iTunes. These are also available to view on their website, Myspace page and YouTube channel.
In 2007, Hard-Fi's podcast, Hard-Fi: Rockin' the City, was nominated for "Best Podcast" at the Digital Music Awards. The song "Unnecessary Trouble" is featured prominently in the 2007 teen comedy Charlie Bartlett, while "Hard to Beat" is featured in the 2006 film Employee of the Month.
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