NOT so very long ago the Leeds-based song writing team of Pete Bott, Yoni Collier and Becky Keighley were busy pitching material to top American artists such as Katy Perry.
Now the trio – known collectively as Deuce & Charger – are training their sights on a musical project much closer to home.
With a string of local collaborators, they’re working on an album which, they hope, could once again put their home city on the pop map.
Over lunch at a Leeds pub, Bott explains the idea grew out of frustration that so many songs they’d been invited to compose for other artists – including Leeds X Factor contestants Hustle – had become stuck in what in the film industry is known as “development hell”.
“A lot of artists will cherry-pick from 30 tracks for an album,” he says. “It got to the stage in the middle of last year when we must have demo-ed 20 or 30 songs but frustratingly a lot were incomplete.”
When A&R, management and record labels “had to put their own tuppence worth in” the trio – who previously in the electro-pop band Heads We Dance – began to question the process of “writing by committee”.
“Often the original version of the songs would become so diluted to the point where it just became boring for us.”
To achieve their dream of “making great melodic pop songs of substance” that would “subvert the mainstream” and have “a realness and an honesty” to them, it dawned on Bott, Collier and Keighley that they would have to do it themselves.
Their first step is Always Broke, a brilliantly realised dance pop anthem with a serious message for austere times. It had originally been pitched to an “LA-based hip-hop act who wanted a pop hook” but then rejected it on the grounds that it was “lyrically too downbeat”.
“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” admits Bott. “We’re such huge fans of pop music but we thought, ‘This is going in inward circles’. It’s patronising to think that audiences don’t want something different.”
Instead they went into the studio and recorded it themselves with up-and-coming Leeds singer Benn Moore. “We fleshed out more of what the track was about,” says Bott. “It’s more observational. We’re not a political act but you can’t help but look around – overall there’s a feeling that people have got less disposable income than they had. Living on credit cards has come home to roost.”
Positive reaction to the track when it was posted on YouTube and Facebook led the team to go further. Inspired by “social commentary records” such as Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Prince’s Sign O The Times and Curtis Mayfield’s first solo album Curtis, they’re now working on a whole batch of material with fellow city musicians.
They visualise the project in collaborative terms, doing “what Massive Attack had done in the 90s with the Bristol scene where we’d write and produce tracks and work with different artists from the local area across all genres”.
“Leeds is the fifth biggest city in the UK, there must be rock acts, soul vocalists, dance artists, rappers – we could use Deuce & Charger as a vehicle to showcase what Leeds has to offer in terms of musical diversity,” Bott adds.
Songs have been recorded with Phoenix Pearl (“that’s similar to Rudimental, a drum and bass pop track”), Neil Preston (“he’s from Harrogate, his style is more pop R&B not dissimilar to John Newman”), singer-songwriter Bianca Gerald, rapper Weezy Jefferson and indie duo The Witch Hunt.
More will follow, turning ultimately into a complete album. “It’s a real melting pot,” Bott says.
He also hopes Deuce & Charger can work with photographers, graphic designers and filmmakers. He cites Gorillaz and The KLF as inspirations for this more expansive way of working.
“There would be a core collective of people that get involved maybe just for one track, or a photo shoot or a bit of art. We want to think of interesting ways of presenting this music.”
In the build-up to Always Broke’s official release, the trio are this month inviting people to contribute to a video being put together by Leeds filmmaker Ben Brady.
“There will be three types of footage – some with Benn and some shots around Leeds to give it a sense of identity but the main footage will be submitted by fans.
“The chorus is, ‘Feel like I’m always broke but that ain’t going to stop me from going out and taking on the world’. We’re asking people to film themselves holding a small sign doing whatever they’re doing. We’ve got a friend in Kenya who’s helping with a housing project. It could be about travelling the world; equally it could be people spending time with friends and family, funny things, emotional things.”
The whole project is ambitious but Bott feels it’s overdue.
“It’s about bringing a lot of people together to create something exciting,” he says. “It’s been a long time since Leeds was the centre of anything musically exciting. Sometimes it’s a confidence thing.
“The Kaiser Chiefs were the last Leeds band to say, ‘We’re fantastic, everyone should love us’. There are so many artists, musicians, filmmakers and photographers making great stuff [in this city]. We need to shout about it. It’s about putting Leeds on the map – that starts with everybody talking to each other.”
For more details on the Deuce & Charger project visit https://www.facebook.com/deuceandchargerofficial