INTERVIEW: Harry Jennings & Youssef Ashraf – SHVPES

Photo Credit: Jakk Smith
Photo Credit: Jakk Smith

WORDS: Dean Martin

Rounding up the first year as SHVPES, the band is touring around the UK with NOTHING MORE and IN SEARCH OF SUN. This year has been about working on a new album, due for release in 2016, and Griffin Dickinson (son of IRON MAIDEN front man, Bruce Dickinson) finding his sound as the band’s new front man. We caught up with Harry Jennings (Drums) and Youssef Ashraf (Guitar) before their Manchester gig to see how it’s been going.

It’s been about a year since the name change, how do you feel it has gone?

Harry: So far it’s been all kind of upwards really. At first there was a thought that people would have a backlash to it but it’s been a really good year.

Youssef: it’s been a great year.

Harry: We’ve had a lot going on.

Youssef: Best year in music.

Harry: But yeah, everything happened that we wanted to with the name change really. It was something, like I said, we were really scared going into, but everyone’s really accepted it. Now it feels like it was always like this. So it’s gone really well.

Is there anything you’d have liked to have gone differently?

Youssef: No, like, no regrets kind of establishment in this band. We kind of just, everything we do is experience.

Harry: I think it’s just one of those things, everything we do we always do it to better ourselves. If we’re all together on a decision, we can never look back and go ‘that was a bad decision’. And even if we do, we kind of collectively take it on the chin but there hasn’t been anything this year. It’s all been really good to be honest. It’s been great, a really fun year.

By changing the name, are you disowning all that is CYTOTA?

Youssef: It will always be part of me; I’ve got it tattooed on my leg! But it will always be part of our career and it’s a great thing to look back on.

Harry: Well for me, well me and Youssef in particular, it was our first giving-it-a-go outside of school bands. It was being in a proper band and thinking we’ve actually met some people here where we could actually do it properly and see if we were any good at it. Like he said, he’s got it tattooed on him and stuff. That’s what I was really worried about when we changed our name. I made a particular point of saying ‘please let’s not just act like it never happened’ because it was very important. We learnt a lot when we were CYTOTA and if we hadn’t have done that, we wouldn’t have had the year we’ve had and the experience we’ve built up so it’s never gonna be forgotten. I don’t think any time soon we’ll be playing the songs again, we’ve got this new album on the way so it’s all songs from that at the moment. We’re seeing how people react to them and stuff.

You’ve been touring with some huge names, BRING ME THE HORIZON, BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE, FIGHTSTAR, to name a few, how did these tours come about?

Harry: We were quite lucky to get in with a management company that are really passionate about bringing up younger talent in bands and wanted to do more of it. It just so happens that the people were also working with these big bands like BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE, and they were looking for new people instead of the same old bands. And also, our producers worked with BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE so they got to hear us through them. BRING ME THE HORIZON was just a case of sheer luck! Oli (Skyes) did our artwork for CYTOTA, so he’d heard about us, and he took a real liking to State Of Mind. So we tried to play on that a little bit and it worked in our favour!

Did any of those tours change you as a band?

Youssef: Yeah definitely. On any tour, you learn. You learn so much, it doesn’t matter what band you’re touring with, you always have to learn.

Harry: You never stop learning in this industry.

Youssef: Every tour, every act, and every person that you met gives you something.

Harry: You go into a tour thinking ‘I know everything’ being the big I am then you come out the other end and you’ve learnt literally so many things that you kind of thought were common sense before. These people you’re touring with have done it for so long that you can’t not learn from them.

Youssef: Yeah

Harry: So I’d say, every time we play a show, every time we’ve played with a band, it’s changed us slightly and put on us on a slightly different course as people or musicians. It’s a massive part of it.

Youssef: It’s quite cool when we take little snippets of everyone we’ve toured with. I think you can hear it in the music as well because we take influence from everything around us.

Harry: We like to absorb it, take the moment in kinda thing. See if we can use it to our advantage really. But we’ve toured with lovely bands. They’ve always been so forward to help us without us having to ask them any questions. The NOTHING MORE guys are probably the nicest people I’ve ever met.

Youssef: That’s why it’s so humbling to see these amazing bands that I’ve looked up to since I was like fourteen years old, meeting them and them being really nice guys and humble, it’s just really, wow,I need to be like that.

What would you say makes you different to all the other bands touring today?

Harry: Ohh, big question.

Youssef: Well I think that’s kind of why we changed our name to SHVPES, Griffin, our singer, has a story, well it’s a lyric really, about changing shape to fit the mould.

Harry: Youssef’s right, the main reason we changed it was to try and differ ourselves and I know it’s kind of rich because we get all these people saying ‘Oh what’s with all these bands putting a V in their name?’ but then it was, after we released the song Shapes and the lyrics Griffin wrote, we looked back and thought that’s a really good thing to play on. It was like, why can’t we have V in our name? Why can’t we do this and why can’t we do that? And I think that reflects in the music because we’ve spent the last year writing, just because we’ve been so hard on ourselves. So every time we write something that we could strongly relate it to something else we’d be like nope! Too much like that, scrap it! We’ll then rewrite it, do something crazy with it, and try loads of different things. So that’s why it takes us so long. We’ve really tried hard to make an album that no one else is bringing out right now. I think that’s the goal for everyone and that’s really hard. We’ve just been…

Youssef: Cracking on

Harry: Cracking on yeah! It’s been good to get out on the road, to be honest, it’s been a long time in the making.

You mentioned Griffin a bit there, what’s it like with his musical background, and bringing that to the band?

Harry: Well the thing is with Griff, he doesn’t really have one, apart from his family. He played in like a garage band before and we were mates with him through his brother, we’d met him on a tour or two, just knew him through the grapevine. Our bassist (Oliver Pike) remembered seeing something on Facebook about a year prior saying he’d love to get in a band but just doesn’t have time to build it up from scratch and we kinda took a chance, and asked him, turned out he was really excited about it. He came in, not having any singing experience, he said to us he just sang in the car and the shower and stuff and felt like he could give it a good crack. Turns out, he did actually have a set of lungs on him! He kinda came into it not really knowing anything about it but he’s been such an asset to us. He’s really changed the course of the band, to be honest, for the better.

You’ve been called a band to watch out for, is there anything coming in 2016 we don’t want to miss?

Youssef: Obviously our album.

Harry: New music. Lots more shows. A lot more us just putting our faces in your faces really. This year has been very much, doing a tour in February and the odd festival and it’s been like coming out of hiding, then going back away again, very back and forth in the shadows, but 2016 is when we wanna be very close to you.

Youssef: Exposed.

Harry: Yeah exposed to everyone. We wanna get our music out to more people. We have so much fun touring, it’s why we do it. So we just wanna be playing as many shows as possible, whenever we can, wherever we can.

Youssef: Meeting as many people as possible.

Harry: Yeah, just giving people new music because we’re as frustrated as other people asking us for new stuff. We’re just waiting to get it recorded, waiting to fire it out to people. We can’t wait. A lot coming in 2016 I’d say.

Do you have a release date? Or month?

Harry: We don’t have a release date, or even a month! We’re looking at the latter half of next year just to give people a taste of what’s going on with it and what our plan is and what our vibe is but as soon as we know, we will let everyone know. Trust me.

Youssef: The only number we know is 2016.

What is the more important thing you take on tour with you?

Harry: Errrm..

Youssef: Essentials…

Harry: Essentials or luxuries? Yeah there is a fine line between essentials and luxuries so errm.

Youssef: That’s a really good question.

Harry: I’m just tryna think of something that if I didn’t have I’d be really…

Youssef: My blow up bed! Honestly.

Harry: Oh, mine is crap compared to that! I was gonna say my phone charger. Actually! My portable battery pack charger! Because our van doesn’t have any plugs and sometimes you can never guarantee how far away you’re gonna be away from a plug. So it’s always handy but you’ve gotta hide it very well otherwise everyone’s like ‘oh, can I plug into that?’ But seriously, either that or my pillow. My headphones? See, you’ve got me thinking now. There’s so much stuff that I need. Headphones, pillow, comfortable wearings like joggers and stuff, sleeping bag… actually no, a bed. Because there’s nothing worse than getting to someone’s house and sleeping on the floor!

Youssef: I did one tour of sleeping on floors and decided I was gonna buy a bed!

We’re in the run-up to Christmas, what are the best and worst presents you’ve ever given or received?

Youssef: *pointing at Harry* You give some pretty good presents to be fair.

Harry: I’ve received a really rude one so I don’t think I can say that. It’s kind of the best, and the worst at the same time but I can’t really say it.

Youssef: It was definitely the funniest.

Harry: It’s the funniest but I can’t really say it. Ermm, I’m tryna think what’s the worst… oh! A half opened gift set of shampoo.

Youssef: Half used?

Harry: Yeah, it wasn’t even wrapped it was like in a bag like, oh god.

Youssef: To be fair, shout out to my family, I haven’t had a bad Christmas present.

Harry: No, no neither have I to be honest. What I used to get every year growing up was a new cymbal which I’d be like horrifically excited about, like unusually excited about, so every time I got a new big shiny cymbal I’d absolutely lose it. That’s gotta be my favourite thing to get at Christmas.

Youssef: This year I think I will buy myself a guitar for Christmas.

Harry: Buy yourself? To treat yourself?

Youssef: Yeah, I think so.

Thank you.

Harry: My pleasure.