'The Fine Art of Hanging on' is that how you feel?
I do feel like I'm hanging on, in many ways. It's not necessarily just a bad thing. In many ways I probably benefit from a precarious, untenable situation. If I was completely comfortable I fear the songs might dry up.
Wow, time flies, fourth album done and dusted, how does that feel?
Yeah, it's scary how time flies. I do feel like we should be on our fifth or sixth album by now, but it's always such a long process the writing, recording, release and promotion of an album. It feels like a million years has passed since we released the Sleeper... but it also feels like yesterday.
The storylines of the new album are already well documented, but from the recording perspective, what was different this time around?
It was a bit of a hybrid approach to recording. We got the basic rhythm tracks and some guitars and keys recorded in Konk Studios (as we did on Alone Aboard the Ark), but we then took the tracks away and completed the arrangements in my home studio (as with the first two albums). It was a good way to work as it allowed us to experiment with different sounds and production ideas. Recording to tape, using vintage microphones and a great mixing desk is perfect sound-wise, but computer recording allows a lot more freedom and portability. We recorded stuff by a stream in the Sussex countryside and in the Union Chapel for that amazing natural church reverb.
How is the archive of unused songs coming along?
There are a loads of half-baked demos knocking around, I've lost count. We've also got what I think could be the title track to the next album already 75% recorded. I found a CD of songs I recorded in 1999 in the loft yesterday. Most of it is awful, some of it bizarre, but there were two really lovely songs that I think I'll dust off and hone a bit.
The much missed musician and journalist Nick Gravenhurst wrote an article in 2008 'Why I Hate Rock n Roll' which painted a pretty bleak picture of the gig scene and venues in this country. How do you find life on tour has changed since you started touring your first album, 'The Sleeper'?
I'm not sure it's changed a great deal. Our expectations changed for sure. I spent nearly 15 years playing to empty rooms. When the Sleeper came out we gradually built up an audience of our own. It still amazes me, and makes me quite emotional, when we play to a big crowd. That said I can relate to what Nick Gravenhurst was saying - I saw him at a tiny venue in Brighton not long before he died. Sometimes it's a struggle if you arrive at a cold, sticky venue with no dressing room and find a promoter who really doesn't seem to give a fuck.
How do you go about creating new music, do you have to been in a certain space, mentally and physically or is it, when the spark strikes?
I tend to write more when I'm feeling a bit low, happiness definitely writes white for me. There's also a strange trance like state, just daydreaming really, that spawns musical ideas or lyrics. I'll be strumming away on my guitar and suddenly realise something worth pursuing has arrived - a lyric or a chord sequence - but I won't know where it's come from. Once I have a structure and a train of thought to work around I'll just run over it endlessly in my head, until I finally complete the song. Sometimes it'll take days, sometimes years.
Do you give any of the other band member's encouragement to add to the writing process?
I've tried co-writing in the past and I really struggle with it. I find it hard, almost impossible, to write with anyone else in earshot. I think it's because I'm quite self-conscious and if anyone else is present I can't attain that completely relaxed, dream-like state that throws up ideas. There have been a few collaborations with Christian, but it's always been me passing on songs for him to finish (Fighting Chance) or me incorporating part of his song into mine (It Dissolves in the Writing).
Do you ever write music with an eye as to whether it will sell or have a popular appeal?
Never, I wouldn't know how to go about that. In fact the opposite once occurred, I almost ditched Fight for Everyone as I thought it was too commercial sounding. It was a real struggle to finish the lyrics as I was worried about it sounding cheesy. I'm glad I persevered though as I'm really proud of it now, and it's great fun to play live. The catalyst to finishing the lyrics was a night drinking vodka and watching the 2012 Olympics.
What are the prevailing memories of your first and last gigs?
My first gig was at an Art College in Winshill, Burton-on-Trent (that no longer exists). I remember ironically putting my foot on a monitor in full ROCK pose. A load of performing arts students grabbed my leg and tried to pull me into the crowd. I panicked a little, but luckily they relinquished my leg and I retained a small vestige of my pride. The last gig we did was Full Time Hobby's 10th Anniversary at QEH in London. We played the Sleeper from start to finish, it was a really wonderful night.
What was your favourite album of 2014 and why?
I didn't actually listen to a huge amount of new music in 2014, which is strange for me, maybe I was too wrapped up in getting our record finished. I did hammer the War on Drugs for a few weeks over the summer. I love the production on that record, the layers of guitars and synths and the drum sounds make a real treat for the ears. Oh, and the Owen Pallett record is one that I'm still enjoying.
Do you have any downtime away from music and if so, how do you like to spend your free time?
I'm pretty one dimensional in that my life seems to always be wrapped up in writing or recording music. I do like to cook and I like to surf whenever I get chance to head over to the South West or Wales.
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone staring out on a music career in 2015?
I'm not sure I qualify to give anyone advice! Just try to do your own thing, don't copy other people, find your own voice and write from the heart.
The Fine Art Of Hanging On is realeased via Full Time Hobby on 13th April 2015
How have the gigs gone this month, any other dates planned soon?
Superb, thanks. We have just completed a headline tour throughout the UK and Europe. There has been a notable step up in the crowds in the build-up to the new album. Special mentions for the shows at Manchester, Carlisle, Paris, Vienna and Liege. All top drawer.
So far we have 'one-offs' booked in, and that will be the case for the rest of the year I would say. We play Indouro Festival in Portugal in May, alongside Clinic, The Liminanas, British Sea Power, Lorelle Meets The Obselete and more. Unbelievable line up.
We also play Eindhoven Psych Lab in June, headlined by Moon Duo. So, the one-off shows are more than worth it. We have a few supports to announce in the UK soon too, and more festivals.
How does it feel now that your second album is completed and you have road-tested the songs?
We managed to road-test it at 4/5 shows prior to recording, which certainly benefited the recording. It's weird as the songs are probably more fully formed now, but I think that's probably always the case when a band extensively tours an album. We have purposefully left out material from the 3rd album live, as we are already gathering that people are only just absorbing the new material.
What was different in the studio this time around compared to recording your debut album, 'Songs of Lies and Deceit'?
With this album we went in and did it as an album in one go. The debut album was recorded over 3 years, whilst this one was recorded and mixed over around 4 months. The first album was more a collection of our material over several years, whilst this album was recorded and sequenced as an album. I think it shows, and is without doubt notably superior to the debut. We recorded it so quickly as well, Wayne and I nailed our guitar parts within a day each. I definitely think that the 3rd album should be recorded in the same manner. Spending too much time on a record sickens it both from a production and personal level.
How far do you plan ahead as a band and is it a full time job for you all?
We still have day jobs, such is the nature of the music industry at present. If it had of been 20 years ago, in the times where Creation etc were splashing out crazy money left, right and centre, then we would be doing this full time now. It would be ideal to do that, but perhaps normality and day jobs help keep you creative, grounded and have perspective for when something isn't working.
We tend to plan around 6 months m advance for tours etc. The new record was finished September 2014, but we needed to ensure it had ample promotion time, hence the March 2015. When you put so much into a record you need to give it the respect and push it deserves.
How did the band come together in 2008 and with what aim?
Me, Luke and Wayne have been in bands together from a very young age, so around 15 years. Our old band split in 2006, I spent the majority of 2007 writing new material, and we decided to give a new band a shot. Mike (bass) joined when our original bass player left. Mike was already a fan, the ideal replacement, the rest is history!
Our aims were genuinely just to make great music. We sensed when we started rehearsals for the band that it would only be a matter of time before people clicked how great the material was sounding. We also had other aims like to receive a play on BBC 6 Music (we've had around 30 plays and 2 sessions on the station, so we've achieved that!), tour Europe (which we have done 5 times), and support our idols (so far we've played with Clinic, Spectrum, Death In Vegas and many more). The only things we haven't achieved are to tour USA and have a Maida Vale session.
How do the ideas of a song first spark? Do you have to be in a particular place physically or mentally?
It's crazy, I never write under the influence, but I struggle to recollect writing a lot of our songs! I guess that's kind of the impact of the process. I wrote most the 2nd album in a very productive week. Then, when you take the songs to the lads it all just fits perfectly. Each of them gets it 100% every time, and lays their own stamp on it. If this line-up changed then the band wouldn't exist, simple as that.
What would be your own description of the music you make be for people yet to hear your band?
A melting pot of everything - psych, garage, krautrock, dub, 60s pop, noise. It doesn't rest easy with me being 'labelled'. We get the 'psych' thing most of the time, and I can see why, but that doesn't tell a fraction of the story.
What was your favourite Album of 2014?
A tie between Morning Phase (Beck) or Atlas (Real Estate).
How important do you think it is for new artists in 2015 to find a label?
Not at all. We hit a brick wall so to speak in 2010. We had no label anymore, and took it upon ourselves to finance our own 7"s, backed with press campaigns. It wasn't cheap, but we reaped the rewards in the long run, and as a result we gave behind able to work with brilliant labels from then on.
How is the music scene in Cumbria today, any artists emerging that we should investigating more?
Cumbria isn't an area so much for the stuff we are doing, but special mentions to Fading Face, Kontiki Suite, My Little Brother and Colt 45, who are bossing it in their respective areas. Cumbria is a huge county, but sparse too. It is criminally ignored. People only seem to pick up on bands 'originally' from South Cumbria (British Sea Power, Wild Beasts, Woman's Hour), which is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Lucid Dream is out 30th March 2015
How are plans progressing for this year's festival and is the planning any different this year to previous years?
The planning is going very well and we seem to be ahead of where we are normally. We have strengthened the core team and increased the numbers of staff but that has to be done gradually and to budget. The planning is always different as we learn, plus this is the second year at our site, Catton Park.
We have never had such a helpful and supportive landlord, he is behind us all the way. He has installed full site drainage and maintains the site very well.
To be in the 8th edition of the festival and with so many other events falling away, what has been the key to your success?
Careful budgeting and letting the festival grow organically.
I have met other festival organisers whose ego is bigger than the event and it can cause problems, as they do it for themselves and forget about their customers.
How big is the team of people running the festival? It is reported that all or most are unsalaried, so this is a real labour of love?
All un-salaried and around 10 people in the core team day to day.We are lucky to have some of the best people in the industry, as our awards prove.
Which other UK festival would you most closely align yourself to?
Beautiful Days. I think it would be fair and proud to say. Mark Chadwick has been very good to us with help and support. He really is a top bloke and his advice has been great.
With a Whitsun weekend date on the calendar, how have you fared with the Great British weather over the years?
Last year we got sunburnt and a little wet. We have just booked in loads of metal track way so we will be ok anyway.
What is the capacity of the festival in 2015?
Around 9500 hopefully. I think by the looks of it we will sell out early. We have a very good line up this year which is why my business partner won Promoter of the year at the UK festival awards.
What do you think is the key attraction for people coming to Bearded Theory and what lasting memory would you like people to take away from the site this year?
The ticket price is still £87 for 4 days including camping. Food and beer prices are reasonable and we pride ourselves on value for money.
I think the lasting memory will be the people who you meet are all very nice and it’s like a big family. We have never had a violent incident ever and the atmosphere is great. I also think the line-up and what we have planned and the woodland stage will blow them away.Freddie Mercury hoovering the field might also be memorable…...
How do you fare with band riders? Without naming names, any memorable ones?
We don’t do too bad to be honest, Fresh herbs and spices at 10pm being demanded springs to mind….
Any one piece of advice for anyone thinking of entering the UK festival market over the next 2-3 years?
We are at 8 years and still building slowly, it won’t happen overnight so if you are a bit lazy don’t bother……
2015 is set to be an iconic year for Bearded Theory. As well as the eclectic range of music on show there is, amongst other things; a teen area run by the Drop Inn, the amazing Children’s Village, more site art by the wonderful Labyrinth Arts and finally Groovie Movie Solar Cinema will be making an appearance.
These changes along with bringing back the old favourites such as the real ale bars operated by award winning brewery Thornbridge, allowing own drinks into the arena, the magical Woodland Stage, Disco Shed, Open Mic Tea Tent, Magical Sounds, Victorian Circus, Healing & Earth Area, wandering weirdness all mean 2015 is on course to be our best festival yet.
Bearded Theory Festival, 21-24 May @ Catton Park, South Derbyshire
2015 Line up in full:
THE PALLET STAGE
Friday - The Mission, Alabama 3, Gun, Itch, Dizraeli & The Small Dogs, The Wakes
Saturday - New Model Army, Afro Celt Sound System, British Sea Power, The Mahones, Skinny Lister, Neck, Three Minute Heist,
Sunday - James, Buzzcocks, Misty In Roots, The Beat, Mad Professor + The Robotiks, Pronghorn, Back To The Planet, New Town Kings
MAGICAL SOUNDS STAGE
Friday - LAB4, Jah Scoop/ Geezer, Zion Train, Clumsy, Halcyon, Andy Haze, Chigs and Techip, Data 3, Drum Machine
Saturday - East Static, Green Nuns of the Revolution (DJ set), Cosmosis, Ed Tangent, Zetan Spore, Kristian, The Pressure Technique, Charlie H, Drum Machine
Sunday - Banco De Gaia, Merv Pepler (DJ set), Transglobal Underground, Black Star Liner (DJ set), Dr Trippy, Templehead, Grousebeater Soundsystem, Rev Phil Dread, Ushti Baba
THE WOODLAND STAGE
Friday - Jaya The Cat, The Talks, Pigbag, Kilnaboy, Tree House Fire, Captain Knives,
Saturday - Cara Dillon, Bill Smarme, The Jack Ratts, Louise Distras, The Leylines, Joe Zeffa, Mark Harrison, Troubadour
Sunday - Paprika Corps, JB Conspiracy, P.A.I.N, Baba Jack, Mistys Big Adventure, Keiths Big Uke Jam, Superfast Girly Show, Please Y Self Skiffle Band, Mr Motivator
SOMETHING ELSE BIG TOP STAGE
Thursday - 3 Daft Monkeys, Hobo Jones & The Junkyard Dogs, Bar-Steward Sons of Val Doonican, Zombie Met Girl
Friday - Radical Dance Faction, John Player Specials, Gaz Brookfield, Muff Said, Sweetchunks Band, Ash Victim, Ukulele Dave,
Saturday - Inner Terrestrials, Tarantism, Who Killed The Bear, Pure Evil, Demob, Muddy Summers & Gails Whores, Efa Supertramp
Sunday - AOS3, Stuart Turner & The Flat Earth, Society, Abdoujaparov, Skewwiff, Quercus Burlesque, Penny Orchids, Tez & The Suicidal Fish
How's London life today?
Hi life is good! We are playing tonight in Islington, at the Old Queens Head and looking forward to playing the new tunes from our new album!
Your debut album, 'Lucky Bag' was released last March and your new LP 'The Girl Who Thought She Could Fly' is out on 30th March this year. What was the main differences recording album no.1 vs album no.2?
The main differences were that with Lucky bag we had many of the tunes recorded over quite a long period of time, songs hanging around that were not on an album, so in fact it almost turned into a ‘greatest hits compilation’ but without the hits. Were as the new album, 'The Girl Who Thought She Could Fly’ was written over around 6 months and recorded straight away as we were writing, and turned into a bit of a story with the songs joining together to tell that story..
How did the band come together and how would you describe you music for first time listeners?
I have known Pete the drummer in Playmaker for around 10 years and we had hung out in other bands before Playmaker. Stacy the bass player was one of the group who used to come along and watch us play, help out with the gear etc, and it was a natural progression for him to end up with us making the music! Matt was the last to join, again a mate of a mate and we started jamming and it just clicked.
I would say the music is primarily guitar driven, but the tunes are most important, we arrange the songs that way, so the tunes can float to the top! It’s hard to say what or who we sound like, people see different things ..all I would say is have a listen to our single/ title track from the album The Girl Who Thought She Could Fly,I think it’s a Bond theme with guitars!
How do you approach getting your music heard and making an income. What are your feelings about Social networking as a means to musical recognition?
We very much approach everything we do from a creative and enjoyment point of view. If we enjoy it we do it! We don’t worry too much about making a living, its a sign of the times these days that a small percentage of musicians make real money from their music, its a fact that you need something else to pay the rent..
Social networking is amazing, you can announce a gig, stick it on the events page of FB and you instantly have reached out to a few hundred people. The old way was printing flyers handing them out at gigs, so much hassle..and without crowd funding site Kickstarter we wouldn’t have got our first album made so..
What are your hopes and ambitions for the new record?
We really want people to just enjoy it for what it is. If we can get it played on the radio..even better! If it gets our name out there its done its job..then on to the next recording sessions!
Was there any music that you listened to through your School / College days that you still get a kick out of today?
I listen to lots of stuff from back then, I went on a Youtube journey the other day..where one song leads to another ..and ended up hearing Bluetones, Suede, Strokes , Clash some brilliant tracks that made me want to play guitar!
Your debut LP was made via funds raised on Kickstarter. How did you find that experience and would you recommend using that platform to other new artists?
I would recommend any artist to do the crowd funding thing. We made a lot of new fans through posting a funny little video, and it’s fun to reach out you know.
If you could tour with any current band or musician, who would that beand why?
Black Keys, I love their sound and energy. They look like a great Rock and Roll band.
What was your favourite album of 2014?
Turn Blue; Black Keys
Any tour plans for this year?
More London shows then a launch for the album in April.
Third album done and dusted, how does it feel being in a band in 2015?
D: To us, it feels good. We make the music we want to make, the music that feels true to us. We respect one another and are always excited to hear what we are able to write. I can't speak for any other bands though!
'Caul' was recorded in your own studio, how was that experience and what drove the decision to create your own recording space.
D: The studio is owned by James who plays viola, synth and guitar in Last Harbour. He has a pathological addiction to acquiring old gear and had outgrown his home studio, so we all pitched in to build a new space. It felt pretty surreal to be recording music that is personal to us in a space that had been a building site only months before, but also pretty special, like building an ideal home to live in. It allowed us the time to perfect the songs and arrangements, to experiment and test out ideas and for reflection too - you can't analyse what you're doing necessarily at the moment of creation, so a little luxury of time was invaluable. Of course, the record still needed to be finished and that's where I come in, waving around billboards with deadlines and lists, shouting the odds. Every band needs a benevolent dictator.
K: Building the studio was part of building the record. We were writing and rehearsing in the shell of it, as walls were added and equipment was brought in. The luxury of time, of having a base we could walk into, was something we’d never really had before. It was a D.I.Y aesthetic - in every sense. It gave us somewhere to retreat to, to separate us from everything and lock ourselves away. I think we thrive on that separation. We’re not fashion followers. We’re not scenesters. We’re privately flamboyant.
What was the spark for the ideas of the themes on the record and how would you describe your music to new listeners?
K: Firstly, for this album- no love songs, songs about love or songs about the loss, absence, power, joy or arrival of love. Nothing. That was my intention from before the writing even began. I had absolutely no interest in writing something like that. Once that decision was made, it was a relief. It can be a lazy subject for songs. The whole world of themes opens once that is gone. So the themes developed from there. The songs are, on the whole, based on true events. ‘Guitar Neck’ is pretty much fact. ‘The Pressure’ is fact. ‘Before The Ritual’ is fact. Thematically, there is a plan- it all fits together, from start to finish. I’ve got the map. But I’m not showing you.
As for describing the music, I think we’re a little too close to it to be able to do that accurately. People have said ‘Cinematic’. So I’ll just repeat that. ‘Cinematic’.
D: Our former drummer Huw has a failsafe way to describe bands: "It's like the Velvet Underground, only a bit more/less..." Everyone knows the Velvets so you just add a little twist and, hey presto, awkward conversation over.
Who designed and what was the inspiration for the cover of the album?
K: I designed it. I wanted it to reflect some of the themes and arrangements of the album. So there are bits of modernism in there (David’s photographs of Preston Bus Station). Then there are photographs of the Holloway Wall, a fairly forgotten 1968 Modernist structure in Manchester, designed as an acoustic shield. So that Modern Utopian idea, hidden away and a little disregarded. Then a piece Baroque sculpture. All collaged together in the same way that those influences and sounds are collaged on the record.
Was there any new instrumentation or recording techniques tired on 'Caul' that were new this time around?
D: We used a lot more analogue synths - the Juno 6 and the Roland SH09 are all over the record. A drum machine appears on 'Guitar Neck', the same type used by Suicide. Probably more guitar FX - I finally found a way to use an ancient Autowah without destroying the songs. Less in the way of acoustic strings though our old violinist Sarah did join us for one session and added some great parts in super-fast time. And the backing vocals from Claire Brentnall (of labelmates Shield Patterns) and Anna & Tammy were a new experiment too. We're especially happy with their doo-wop parts on 'The Promise', which is by far and away our most ambitious song. We think it worked.
K: We had Michael’s bass in a cupboard, a microphone in a mug for drummer Howard and Gina played a loaned piano which was worth more than my life. We spent some time experimenting with touches of distortion and effects on the vocals. Various 80’s delay units and spring reverbs. We have a six and a half foot piece metal air conditioning unit- ‘the ductaphone’, through which we forced the vocals. I cannot hide my love of reverb and delay. Without guidance I would have reverbed the delayed reverb, through a delay pedal. Then added a further swamp of reverb. I was advised on subtlety.
Are there any bands past or present that you draw inspiration from and what was your favourite album of 2014?
K: There was a fair amount of discussion early on about what we were listening to. Roxy Music’s 1976 live album ‘Viva!’ was major for me. Like so much early Roxy it has a real drive and power and elegance to it, but with a fraught, harder edge. Late 70’s Bowie was discussed a lot. There’s a breadth of bands which inspire us individually. Within that there is some crossover. Keeps us on our toes. Record of the year is easy. Scott Walker + Sunn O))).
If the band could choose to be on the cover of a magazine which magazine would that be and why?
D: With our faces?
K: The Fortean Times or The New Scientist. Preferably both within the same month. It’s the real news.
Just how difficult is it to earn a living wage from being a musician these days and where would you say are the bands strongest fan base are domiciled at the moment?
D: Extremely hard but I'm not sure the fact that it's hard is any different from decades past, more that it's 'how' it's hard is different. We don't earn a living from this nor do we expect to. I think Steve Albini might be right when he says that very few people should expect to earn a living from their artistic endeavour, but then I'm guilty of usually thinking Albini is right. You might earn a bit and of course it depends on definitions of what 'a living' is. The corny answer is: Do it because you have to. It's also true.
K: I don’t know about fanbase, but we have some really nice European supporters. That’s quite a wonderful thing.
'Caul' is being released as a digital download, a CD and on vinyl. What is your preference?
D: To be able to let others hear the music is enough in itself.
K: Vinyl. I cannot resist its physical dimensions.
What one piece of advice would you give to anyone starting out on a music career in 2015?
D: Practice tolerance.
K: Tolerate practice.