Richard Archer on new political band OffWorld and Hard-Fi's "unfinished business"

“When I was growing up, I’d imagine we would move forward to this world where there wouldn’t be wars,” former Hard-Fi frontman Richard Archer tells NME about ‘Burnt Out Star’, the title track from the debut EP of new side-project OffWorld.

“I thought it’d be like Star Trek, we’d all get together and explore the universe. But somehow, we’ve regressed into these petty grievances and grudges and scapegoats and gaslighting. I didn’t recognise any of it, and I didn’t know if I wanted to be here.”

A world away from Hard-Fi’s trademark festival-ready indie, Archer’s latest group takes on a timely voice as they skewer the sorry state of the world in 2020 – with songs that tackle the rise of nationalism and the ongoing battle for women’s rights across the globe.

Here, Archer tells NME the inside story on his new band after a decade away from the spotlight – and why the world hasn’t seen the end of Hard-Fi just yet.

How did OffWorld come about?

“I had these ideas for songs, and I knew Krysten [Cummings, vocalist] through her backing vocals for Hard-Fi. We had a mutual friend in The Clash‘s Mick Jones and I wanted to get her involved in something more than backing vocals – she writes great songs and she’s really talented.”

Who else are you working with?

“We’ve got Smiley Barnard too, who has played drums for Joe Strummer, Lily Allen and Robbie Williams if you want to go the whole gamut. He’s from around my way and we had mutual friends. He knew Dale [Davis, bass], and then Wolsey White [guitar] is someone we’d knocked about with.”

‘Burnt Out Star’ is the most political thing you’ve ever recorded. What inspired that?

“I can just remember coming downstairs and seeing that breaking news notification on my phone – first it was Brexit and then Trump. It felt like the bullshitters were getting away with it, and you’d see the upturn in people thinking they could say or do what they wanted. Suddenly, it was like, what happened to this country?

What can you tell us about the message behind ‘Brave To Be Alive’? 

‘Brave To Be Alive’ just reminded me of how all the strong women in my life never get celebrated enough. My wife’s from El Salvador, and in Latin America there’s been this massive movement to fight back against femicide. I was reading about a Mexican artist who was campaigning for awareness on it, and she was assassinated in the street. She was shot in the face and it’s horrific. Men can get away with it. My wife showed me the protests against it, and it was hugely inspiring – all these people who were moved enough to come together and bring awareness to it.”

How representative are these songs of the OffWorld album?

“The album’s finished, although sonically it’s closer to ‘Burnt Out Star’ than ‘Brave To Be Alive’. Most of the tracks are groove-based and of a similar tempo, but I guess it is a rock record too, although there are disco vibes. The songs started as these gospel songs, but grew as the whole band got involved. There are parts that sound like Hard-Fi. I was chatting to a mate who said he played it in the Rough Trade office and someone asked if it was the guy from Hard-Fi. I thought no one would know, but apparently it’s clear.”

As for Hard-Fi, it’ll be 15 years since you released ‘Stars of CCTV’ in July. Does it feel that long?

“It doesn’t, it still feels like yesterday. The thing is, I grew up in the ’80s and you’d have all this synth-based music that you’d never heard before. At that point, the ’60s seemed like an entire lifetime away. But when you think about it, The Rolling Stones playing at Altamont in 1969 was only 20 years before the rave scene with Madchester and The Stone Roses. When you think about it now, 15 years is nothing when you’ve lived through it. It’s a long time for music, but it’s very close for me.”

Are there any plans to celebrate that anniversary?

“It’s always felt like Hard-Fi had some unfinished business. I was chatting to the boys about finally getting round to doing something. We’ll try and do something, it was always a good laugh but OffWorld is the focus right now.”

Reckon you might play ‘Stars Of CCTV’ in full?

“Yeah, we’ve talked about it, but we’d also like to do some new material, because otherwise you just feel like you’re a heritage act. Saying that though, I’ve been to a couple of those gigs and they’ve been great. At the end of the day, that’s what people want. That album has defined people’s lives and when they were growing up. We’ll definitely do it at some point, but with new music too so we’re not just trading on past glories.”

Richard Archer and Hard Fi arrive at the Shockwaves NME Awards Arrivals 2008 (Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images)

How do you feel looking back on that period – a Number One album, a Mercury Prize nomination, and being one of Britain’s biggest bands?

“It’s really weird. We never expected it to happen and we were just happy to get some music out and hoped we’d get to make another record. It all happened so quickly, after such a long time of building up and being in bands that hadn’t quite worked out. There’s a little bit of you which thinks it’s going to last forever but it never does, no matter who you are. Looking back it was brilliant, but I wish I’d enjoyed it more.”

Were you prepared for life after fame?

“I’d been in bands where we’d had a record deal and it all went wrong, so I always focused on making sure we were the best we could be. I understood what could happen it goes wrong, and it can be heartbreaking. To be honest, you’re so busy that you take it for granted. You just imagine that there will be always be a TV show to play or a radio phone-in to do. But when you come back with a new project like this, you realise just how hard it is to get people talking about your music.”

How do you feel about the themes of the ‘Stars Of CCTV’ in 2020?

“When you’re writing, it’s all about your life and the things you saw around you. But ‘Stars of CCTV’ came at the time when those cameras began to properly emerge around us and people would see them as a positive – you’d get a decrease in crime. But when you get into facial recognition, it feels heavy. That’s often the case though, when I wrote ‘Cash Machine’ I was pretty skint, but it’s nothing as bad as what you’ll face if you’re coming of age now. You’re faced with the threat of never being able to buy a home and living off zero hours contracts. I was just skint because I wanted to be a musician, but now it’s become the reality for a lot of people who are just trying to get by on a 9-5.”

OffWorld’s ‘Burnt Out Star’ is out now.