Colchester is rich with great music once again, and one of the bands leading the way is PET NEEDS who are currently running a campaign to smash into the UK Official Top 40, an effort dubbed by the band as ‘Bottom of the Pops’.
Keep Colchester Cool is supporting the campaign ahead of the release of ‘Intermittent Fast Living’ (out 16th February via Xtra Mile Recordings), but before then, Ben Howard caught up with Johnny Marriott from the band for a coffee and to ask him a few questions.
Johnny, PET NEED’s third album’ Intermittent Fast Living’ is already making waves and has not even been released yet. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind it and what sets it apart from your previous releases?
Our first album was almost like a greatest hits of the first few years. We threw everything at our second album as we didn’t know if we’d ever have the budget or opportunity to make a record like this again. With our third album, we had confidence that the band had some longevity, so we decided to write exactly what we wanted in the here and now. We’ve written a record that’s made to be played live. This was the first record written since we had started touring properly (we spend up to 8 months a year on the road), so it’s massively influenced by that without being a generic “life on the road” album. It’s a love letter home – to Colchester, to my friends and my family – through the chaotic lens of tour.
Engaging with your fanbase has been crucial in your success. How is PET NEEDS connecting with your audience in this campaign?
We’ve always operated on complete honesty. No egos, no pretending we’re the biggest band in the world. What I feel we offer is a genuine peak behind the curtain, showcasing the triumphs and failures of being in a mid-level band in 2024. This has, in turn, created a community that understands the inner workings a little more and, like a huge street team, collaborates to make incredible things happen. Whether that’s booking us a whole tour of house shows, selling out a 3,500-capacity festival tent at midday on the Sunday through creative guerrilla marketing, or now, the biggest challenge of all, getting our new album into the official UK Top 40.
Whilst the rest of the industry is seemingly stacked against smaller bands, we’re in a purple patch where acts usually deemed too small to infiltrate the mainstream can get into the charts by releasing multiple versions of the same album. Suddenly, a few thousand people, as opposed to tens of thousands, can make massive waves. It won’t be like this forever as those in charge will surely shift the goalposts, so this is our one opportunity!
Taking a step back, can you share how PET NEEDS initially got started as a band and the challenges you faced in the beginning?
We were formed in a little flat in Colchester Hythe in 2016. We began gigging at places like The Waiting Room, Queen Street Brewhouse, Three Wise Monkeys and (when it opened a couple of years later) Coda. We threw ourselves into the local scene and, before long, were regulars at local festivals such as Cosmic Puffin Festival and Little Scarlet Festival at the Tiptree Jam Factory!
You know what? I’m trying to wrack my brains for the challenges – and maybe I’m looking through rose-tinted glasses – but there weren’t too many. We were embraced into an amazing local scene containing some of my favourite people in the world, and we loved playing live. The challenges came when we started doing this for a job. As soon as you make that decision to not have a regular payday and rely solely on your music, that’s when the anxiety kicks in, haha!
Local scenes shape a band’s identity. Can you share how Colchester influenced PET NEEDS?
Let’s start with the most obvious – Colchester is mentioned multiple times in our lyrics. In “Lost Again”, we sing about walking the whole Colchester Orbital; in “Kayak”, we sing about haphazardly heading down the Hythe River to Brightlingsea in an inflatable kayak. In our new song “, The Age That You Were”, I sing very directly that “I miss my house in Colchester”. Previous to doing the band full time, I used to put on events at University of Essex SU, and before that for Autism Anglia. Colchester gave us our first-ever shows and our first-ever fans and continues to be a place I love existing in, even though we are now away so much of the year.
Live performances around the world have clearly played a role in growing your fanbase; tell us more about where the band has played so far.
Over the last two years, we’ve played everywhere, from Brixton Academy to House of Blues Las Vegas, Quantic Pub, Bucharest, and a punk rock cruise ship from Miami to Mexico. We’ve toured the USA four times, Europe four times and the UK countless times with bands such as Frank Turner, The Hives, The Lottery Winners, Flogging Molly, The Bouncing Souls and Skinny Lister. It’s an honour to be able to take our show to so many countries and to be building moderate but incredible fanbases all over the world.
How does PET NEEDS transition the energy from live shows to your online community?
We do an annual livestream that is always fun, but to be honest, the best way to keep that energy high is by building things together. The payoff of selling out the 2000 Trees 12pm Sunday slot through collaboration and creative marketing was amazing. And now our new music video for “Sleep When I’m Dead” celebrates “The Fractured Party III” at the University of Essex, where 700 people travelled from as far as the USA, all over Europe and the UK to be in a room in Colchester. It’s nuts. We massive value our online community – The “Fractured Party People”. Genuinely, I don’t think we’d still be doing this full-time without them. We definitely wouldn’t be aiming for a top 40 record, that’s for sure!
Balancing the creative process with the business side of being a band can be challenging. How does PET NEEDS manage this?
For us, the creativity and the business are so intertwined, that they feed into each other. We have a song on the new album entitled “The Burning Building”, which is directly about the music business, and when we’re strapped for cash, it’s our creativity that gets us out of it, with cool merch lines and creative fundraising ideas!
The best thing we did for this album was go to a residential recording studio. We didn’t leave the converted church we were recording in for 11 days, which meant we could live and breathe the creative process. I feel that you can hear this in the record.
Chart success brings increased visibility. How do you anticipate this achievement impacting your future opportunities in the music industry?
Firstly, it will reaffirm the absolute strength of our amazing fanbase. Secondly, a dip into the mainstream, especially one that is unexpected, puts more eyes and ears on the band, which is exciting! We’ve seen our friends, The Lottery Winners, go from playing the 400-cap Rescue Rooms in Nottingham to the 2000-cap Rock City in the space of a few months after their #1 album! I’m not saying it happens like that for everyone, but how awesome, right?
Finally, how can Colchester help you achieve this? What do all need to do to help?
Colchester. Our home. Please pre-order the record! It’s as simple as that. You can do this in a multitude of ways. Firstly, we are playing an in-store live show at HMV Colchester on Wednesday 21st February. Each ticket comes with a CD and counts as a purchase. After touring the world for 2 years, we can’t wait to bring our show back to the centre of Colchester! Secondly, you can buy multiple versions of our new record online, and if you want to gold-tier support the campaign, you can buy our 12-CD “Bottom of the Pops” collectors edition of the record, which isn’t just awesome and frameable, but also counts as a full 12 sales towards the charts!