Once upon a time, in a land called 2014, there lived a band called Rixton. Theirs is a fantastical tale: the cast is A-list and the soundtrack one that you likely know. It is a fable both as old as time and decidedly 21st century, chronicling issues personal and professional, artistic and commercial, set in stadiums and cities across the world.
For all of its grandeur, at the heart of this tale are two normal young men. For all the stadiums and cities, there are equal, if not more, early mornings after nights spent on sofas. Crucially, this is a story still ongoing, and like all good tales, it leaves room for a happy ending.
I find Jake Roche and Charley Bagnall sitting outside a Notting Hill pub. It’s a warm afternoon and Coco, Jake’s dog, is curled up on a pillow in the shade between the two of them. No longer Rixton, this is Push Baby and it all seems rather peaceful.
The difference between Rixton and Push Baby cannot be reduced to tranquillity. The personnel has been halved, with just singer – Jake – and guitarist – Charley – remaining. Then there’s the millions of pounds no longer supporting their releases, which I imagine makes a difference, and also the substance of this music itself – more personal, irreverent and self-deprecating, Push Baby takes itself less seriously than Rixton and charms as a result. And yet, for all the tangible differences, you feel the most important distinction is simply what Push Baby now hopes to achieve.
“I just wanted to be famous,” admits Jake, looking back at the better part of a decade. “I wanted to be famous and I have no shame in saying that. It was just: We’re going to be the biggest band in the world. Let’s go. I think now, that voice has turned into: Let’s have a pint, chill out, and just acknowledge whatever the moment is.”
The latter is more or less what we’re doing now and Push Baby seem pretty good at it. They’ve got nothing to prove; they make no effort to even talk about their music – music I listen to, books I like and how I’ve come to find myself sitting here all seem of more interest to the pair. They’ve got nothing to hide; any notion I arrived with about potentially needing to coax out a complicated history is soon dispelled by their readiness to talk openly and at length about how Push Baby came to be.
Despite Jake’s dreams of world domination, Rixton were never the biggest band in the world – a fact they are keen to emphasise, to the point it almost downplays their popularity and overlooks the stratospheric success that was achieved. The numbers speak for themselves. Rixton hasn’t released any music in seven years, yet still has millions of monthly listeners on Spotify and billions of streams across platforms. Their most popular song, ‘Me And My Broken Heart’, reached No.1 on the UK Singles Chart and went Platinum in the US. They can count Wembley Stadium, Madison Square Garden and Red Rock Colorado as just some of the world-famous venues they played.
“Looking back, it was a fucking whirlwhind,” Jake explains. “I think you get there, that place that you want to get to, and afterwards you realise you didn’t stop and enjoy it. But you know, I was 20. I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. All my mates were at uni, and I’m in America, on Ellen or some shit. People don’t realise, when you’re signed to a big corporation relying on you to turn something over, it’s not all fun. It’s not how you ever imagine it. Yeah, you can go to bars after a show, but by the time you get there you’re exhausted and your balls stink and then you’re on at 7am with Ryan fucking Seacrest.”
“Places and experiences and all of these things that we’ve done, it was just like passing them on a train,” Charley adds.
What’s most remarkable, hearing about it now, is the extent to which Rixton was a flash in the pan. There was no extensive catalogue of music as the band honed their craft, nor a protracted series of gradually declining albums that followed their peak. There was no breakthrough single that led to their signing, but just a YouTube video of a budding band singing ‘Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas’.
The video made it to the right people and Rixton was born. They were signed by infamous American music mogul, Scooter Braun, best known for discovering and managing Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, as well as buying and then selling Taylor Swift’s masters (and in doing so becoming her arch-nemesis). By the time Rixton signed, Braun’s mainstream pop music machine was well oiled. The formula was in place and Rixton set about recording a highly curated debut, with the help of producer Benny Blanco.
“We knew what we were getting ourselves into. We knew the trade off. When you sign to a major, with someone like Scooter and Universal Music, you just trade. You know there’s going to be X amount of money that you’re not going to see, but you’ll get catapulted to the top of this industry, with opportunities you can only dream of.
“Because you need a lot of money to have a hit record. We have family members now who ask, ‘Why don’t we hear Push Baby on the radio?’ And it’s because we haven’t got a million dollars. There are gatekeepers at every level in music.”
Jake is 29 and Charley 36. They feel older, perhaps because so much of our conversation involves looking in the rearview mirror. Push Baby are a combination of critical and forgiving about what they find there. They’re ready to divulge embarrassing anecdotes and moments of regret, but there’s no self-flagellation or bitterness, not even about the huge sums of money still made off their music, none of which they see.
“There’s this online calculator that works it out and I think it’s $40 million or some crazy amount of money,” Jake laughs. “But I guess you have a choice. We can either let this eat us up, or we can just see it as fucking hilarious and carry on. And we’ve chosen the latter. That was a journey. That was a process. I think we learned that it’s a business. You always get warned by people, ‘Just be careful what you’re doing because it will bite you on the arse down the line’…And it does. And then you’re alright again.”
Part of becoming alright again has been reclaiming their music as Push Baby. They chuckle and almost cower at the name they’ve given this new project, deliberately using two of the most overused words in pop. But it’s all about no longer pretending to be anything they’re not. “In some alternate universe, I’d like to think we were these artists, but we’re not. Just lean into [the pop music]. Conviction is the main thing now.”
Reclaiming their music also involves playing old Rixton tunes at their shows again, something they avoided for a long time. “We do it, but we do it in a Push Baby way. We have this actor in the crowd shout out, ‘Play ‘Me and My Broken Heart’.’ And then I go on this mad fucking rant about how this song destroyed my life and I drag him up on stage. And I bought these sugar glass bottle props from Pinewood Studios and I smash the bottle on his head. The audience loses their heads, they don’t know what the fuck is going on…and then we play [the song].”
The extremity of the gag highlights a goofiness that is also clear in our conversation. They switch seamlessly between talking about the importance of mental health, and stripping shirtless to arm wrestle. It’s evident that it’s taken some time to get to this state of comfort, highlighted particularly clearly in their 2021 song, ‘Holding On Is Holding You Back’.
“It’s nice now to be able to say that we’ve kind of come out the other side [of Rixton]. It’s cool to be able to accept who you were and what you were, rather than trying to be something you weren’t. I mean, when you look back at yourself at whatever age in your life, you think, Who was that? But Rixton was like playing a character.”
Push Baby have existed for over three years now, with their full length debut, Wow, Big Legend, arriving in 2021. It came after a separation with Braun and his label that Jake describes as about as easy as could be expected. “In terms of getting out of a major, it was really quite smooth. You know, we still have half a million quid hanging over our heads, but we said, ‘We want to leave this contract’, they said, ‘If you do, this is the price,’ and we said, ‘Whatever.’ It’s something like if we earn over X amount of money, we have to pay. If I’m earning over that amount of money, I’ll fucking send it in cash. It’s just their way of playing the game. Holding the power.”
Wow, Big Legend was the product of a Covid period that the pair found provided the perfect opportunity to knuckle down and hone in on what Push Baby would be. “We were talking about it yesterday actually,” Charley says. “We never worked harder than in lockdown. We’ve just been working for two years. We were checking in on each other, we were working out, we were making sure this stuff is all posted, making sure the songs were mixed.
“We even did some shows,” adds Jake. “We did four shows called ‘Live From My Mum’s Damp Garage’. It was all CCTV cameras and fans got to choose what angle they watched the show from. And we had a revolving stage and a full lighting rig. It was expensive. It was amazing. That was probably the happiest I…we were just so happy because there was no expectation.”
In this, and almost every other sense, Push Baby is the antithesis of Rixton. The wacky colours, comedic lyrics and shooting lights exist a world away from the manicured inoffensiveness of mainstream pop in the 2010s. Such is the juxtaposition, it is in fact impossible to separate Rixton from Push Baby – the lingering effects of what happened are inevitably shaping what will happen next. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Lessons have been learned and you can see them being implemented.
I ask Jake if he thinks his dream of fame shaped the road Rixton went down? “Yeah, for sure – in some way that I can’t fathom or communicate. I think in the early stages, and probably much to the detriment of the project, personally, I was trying to do too much. Micromanage everything, how it was shot, edit, you know. Whereas now we kind of just hand our brain over to an executor. We’ve started taking our hands off the wheel and that’s when it’s exciting.”
Trusting others is only possible when you have the right people around you.
“I think, looking back, there’s a few people that were involved who you thought were family and friends, and then…yeah. It was like when you play Uno and your best mate puts a plus four down. But that’s the game. There’s always people holding aces or plus fours and they know they have it in their hand the whole time. And that’s the game. That’s the game. That’s the bloody game. So we switched the game.”