How I wrote ‘Hard To Beat’ by Hard-Fi’s Richard Archer

Hard-Fi. Photo: Mark Thompson
Hard-Fi. Photo: Mark Thompson

Hard-Fi’s Richard Archer: “It was actually a series of recollections from different nights out all pieced together.” Photo: Mark Thompson

The frontman recounts the creation of the song that went double platinum and “really changed things” for the Staines band

Despite being lumped in with the indie bands that propped up the UK music scene of the mid 00s, there was always something a bit different about Hard-Fi. Formed by frontman and songwriter Richard Archer in his hometown of Staines in Surrey, their beats were that bit bigger and their lyrics firmly rooted in the lives, struggles and triumphs of real people.

Much of their music sounds as punchy today as it did back in the day, with 2005 debut album Stars Of CCTV the pinnacle of their output. Backed by singles such as Cash Machine, Hard To Beat and Living For The Weekend, it was a collection of songs that proved just as popular whether enjoyed in the clubs, on the radio or listened to at home. It’s no surprise that it went double platinum and earned both Brit Awards and Mercury Prize nominations.

Archer thinks back to the band’s early days in order to recount the creation of one of Hard-Fi’s most cherished anthems…

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Hard-Fi's 'Hard To Beat'

Released: 20 June 2005
Song: Hard To Beat
Artist: Hard-Fi
Label: Necessary/Atlantic
Songwriter: Richard Archer
Producers: Wolsey White, Richard Archer
UK Chart Position: 9
US Chart Position:

“Hard To Beat was written sat in my bedroom, upstairs in my parents’ house in Staines, which is a suburban town 40 minutes by train to the west of London. I was back at home keeping my mum company after my father had died. I was pretty desperate to make something happen and was writing constantly, initially not even sure what I was writing for. I didn’t have a band at that point, I was in touch with Steve Kemp (Hard-Fi’s drummer) and we’d get together and talk about stuff we’d like to do but we were both on the arse-end of countless failed attempts at the north face of pop stardom and not quite sure what to do next.

“I’d set up a small studio in my brother’s old room, a hotchpotch of gear I’d collected, most if it right at the budget-end of the scale, and a desk I’d taken in lieu of payment for a sound job, recording audio on a straight-to-video production about the SAS selection procedure!

“There wasn’t a particular ‘moment’ that Hard To Beat was created – some songs just pop out in about 10 minutes and then I spend days/months agonising over them pointlessly – rather, it evolved over a period of time in fits and starts, as I pinched ideas from my own songs and other peoples.

Hard-Fi

Hard-Fi’s Richard Archer: “I was listening to a lot of dance music at the time but still wanted to jump around with a guitar.”

“The bulk of the verse lyrics were written quite quickly for another idea that didn’t get off the ground. It was as simple as, boy goes out for a drink one night, sees a beautiful girl who he’s sure is way out of his league, goes home and writes a song where for 3m20s at least, they get together. Looking back, it was actually a series of recollections from different nights out all pieced together, but there was a beautiful brown-eyed girl in a short skirt who made me come over all peculiar.

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“I think Hard To Beat probably first came into existence with the guitar riff, I’d been listening to Fat Boy Slim’s Going Out Of My Head where he sampled Yvonne Elliman’s cover version of I Can’t Explain and probably played the riff around and around until it changed into something different. I was listening to a lot of dance music at the time but still wanted to jump around with a guitar.

“From there the verses came together very quickly, I put them into Logic using a house beat from Propellerhead’s Recycle, the bassline wrote itself and the lyrics, with a little rearranging, dropped straight in. The only trouble was I needed a chorus and a title.

“There followed what felt like long months of coming up with different chorus after chorus, none of them quite right. It was probably only a couple of weeks because I was working pretty constantly at that point. I’d send them to Warren [Clarke] at Necessary Records who was threatening to release some of my music one day and each time he’d say, ‘Nah – not feeling it,’ then, ‘Chorus still isn’t right – verse feels good though.’ I couldn’t find a way through and was getting really frustrated.

Hard-Fi's Richard Archer. Photo: Mark Thompson

Hard-Fi’s Richard Archer: “We’d found an old taxi cab office that had become vacant… This became our Cherry Lips studio.” Photo: Mark Thompson

“At this point, I’d been writing the song solely on my Epiphone Sheraton (not plugged in obviously, I’d get complaints!) and so I tried playing the song whilst sat at the piano. The main riff sounds daft on the piano so I’d never thought of it. Out of nowhere really I started playing the parallel minor 7th chords that became the chorus – 5ths in each hand an octave apart and I thought, ‘This sounds good!’ The Stooges album Raw Power was lent up against some equipment in my room and the first track is titled Your Pretty Little Face Is Going Straight To Hell (formally titled Hard To Beat) and I thought, ‘Well if they’re not using that anymore maybe I will?’ The rest of the chorus lyrics came together really fast, I’d read the, ‘Straight out of nowhereness,’ line in a Jack Kerouac book and wanted to use it in something because it sounded cool.

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“I wanted to have the chorus sound like Daft Punk’s One More Time and layered up synths, brass samples and melodica – it doesn’t really sound anything like it though. When I first heard the Axwell remix of the track that blew up in Ibiza, my first comment was, ‘I thought it could sound a bit more like Stardust (Music Sounds Better With You)?’ My A&R Hugo replied, ‘Yours is the Stardust version,’ so we got some of that vibe in there.

“Whilst the song was still a demo, I thought that it had something about it that could be interesting, but it was quite light-sounding. By now the line up of Hard-Fi had come together with Kai Stephens on bass and Ross Phillips on guitar and we’d found an old taxi cab office that had become vacant, the rent was cheaper than paying for a rehearsal studio twice a week and it was a lot closer to home. This became our Cherry Lips studio – I’m still there now, always threatening to move out but not having any idea what to do with all the crap I’ve accumulated. When we tracked it as a band and Wolsey (White – producer) mixed it, then we started to think, ‘This might be useful.’

“To be honest, at the time, it was a struggle to believe anything we did would ever be heard. In the end it was Hard To Beat that really changed things for us and the remix helped with that also, we were happy that we could live in that dance world also, as we always struggled a bit with the ‘indie’ moniker.

“We haven’t changed how we play the song that much as a band, it’s a key tune for the fans and it just works so we don’t mess with it. However, for acoustic-only sessions we’ve tried a few things – there was even a country version at one point!”

For more on the Hard To Beat songwriter Richard Archer and the band Hard-Fi, head to hardfiofficial.com

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