Interviews

Wow, time flies, a decade on Warp Records, how has your outlook changed towards being in the music industry over the years?

That’s a big question. Over the last decade huge technological changes have hit the industry. Some of these have been for the better; when Flashlight Seasons first came out, Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud, This Is My Jam, Tumblr et al didn’t exist; these are now recognised as essential profiling and marketing tools for releases. I signed just on the cusp of mass downloading. The year I recorded Flashlight Seasons was the year I got broadband fitted!

Now a whole generation of music lovers has grown up not having ever paid for music; or perhaps more interestingly, not having ever bought a physical recording. Insofar as we can convince people to pay for music at all, it has changed from an ownership model to a rental ‘music on demand’ model where people want to be able to access whatever music they want wherever they are. Spotify, for instance, allows them to do this. It’s not yet clear how well this works out for the composers, but there will always be people who want vinyl, which has became a kind of antiquated luxury item capable of paradoxically delivering superior sound quality.

For Gravenhurst the biggest changes have been personal. In a documentary on Gerry Rafferty I watched recently, La Roux’s Elly Jackson said that when you go from being unsigned to being a professional musician, music goes from being something you do almost 100% of the time to about 20% of the time, and I thought that was very perceptive. Being on a label like Warp has shielded me from the excesses of the music industry ‘machine’; I wasn’t forced or cajoled into doing anything I was uncomfortable with, but on the other hand it took me years to learn how to say no. (I’m actually very proud of the fact that I’ve never turned down an interview.) But most crucially I didn’t yet have a manager and I wasn’t coping well with managing myself. I couldn’t find the time to actually pick up the guitar; I was forever answering emails, and Warp was having to pick up duties that a manager should fulfil.

Fortunately, this period only lasted until the summer of 2005 when I was contacted by Michelle who offered to manage me, and I think I agreed before she had finished the sentence. Michelle was already managing the Ralfe Band and had been working in the industry for many years beforehand and within minutes of meeting her it became clear she knew far more about it than I did. She took on pretty much 100% of the administrative side of it – she runs the Gravenhurst machine; I just have to provide the fuel. I won’t stretch this metaphor any further.
I just have to make records, perform shows, have my photo taken and do interviews and she does everything else. She also acts as my closest creative confidante; she’s the first person to hear a new song and she isn’t afraid to tell me if it needs more work or if I’m being lazy. She’s a very close friend. I couldn’t put a song on an album if Michelle didn’t love it too; some musicians find it baffling that I let my manager have a say in the creative process, but for me it’s essential. She has to push the music for me and she can’t do that if she doesn’t believe in it. Going back to 2004, I definitely had that kind of childish reaction to press coverage that many musicians suffer – that “Whatever they say I am, that’s what I’m not”. It’s only recently clicked with me that I should have been glad for the Nick Drake comparisons – he wrote Pink Moon, one of my favourite albums! OK, so Simon & Garfunkel are a far more formative influence on Gravenhurst, but come on, Nick fucking Drake - there are far worse people to be compared to!

The other really significant change for me took place in 2008 when after touring The Western Lands I stopped touring with a band and just did sporadic solo shows. For a while I stopped doing anything. I’d also recently got divorced and had a lot of issues to contend with. Perhaps a year went by without me writing anything.

There were a few problems with the Gravenhurst ‘rock’ line-up: we were loud, and playing the more post-rock Gravenhurst albums (Fires In Distant Buildings and The Western Lands) I kept straining and losing my voice. But I just wasn’t happy touring. Looking back, there was nothing wrong with that band, (though we lacked vocal harmonies but my good friend Robin Allender was playing bass and he would likely have provided them if I’d asked); really the problem was me. I thought I hated touring, and given you have to tour to promote albums I seriously questioned whether I wanted to continue at all, in many senses.

The big change came in 2011 when Paul Smith of Maximo Park invited me to support him in a solo capacity on his new solo album tour, and I met his backing-band-mates, and we had an amazing three weeks. I realised I could tour provided I surrounded myself with women (Freudian psychoanalysts get your pens out) so when I then completed The Ghost In Daylight in 2012 I poached Claire Adams and Rachel Lancaster from Paul’s band. Claire plays bass and drums in lots of bands including Beards, but in the Gravenhurst Ensemble she plays drums and sings harmonies. Rachel plays guitar and bass and sings her own solo material and plays in various bands including Silver Fox, though in the Ensemble she mainly plays bass, synth and sings harmonies. The only drawback to this is that they live in Leeds and Newcastle respectively, while I live in Bristol. This makes rehearsing difficult. But I needed a band for The Ghost In Daylight touring and Michelle said “Geography aside, who would you most like to have in your band?” and they were the simple answer.

So we decided that mattered most and, we would have to work around the geographical logistics somehow. We’ve managed around a hundred gigs now. It’s not really a conscious process, but they keep me sane on tour. We’ve never really discussed it. It’s a subconscious thing. They just make me feel like I can do it. Partly because they are amazing musicians with beautiful voices, and partly because they are such awesome dudes. Ten years ago I suffered that anxiety most songwriters feel, as to whether they will write a song as good as the last. I don’t really think like that now. I don’t know why; I just don’t think in those terms anymore.

Whose idea was it for the 10th anniversary album reissues and with what aim?

I don’t recall who first mooted the notion but it was likely either me or Michelle, and after discussion of what it could involve, such as touring Flashlight Seasons from start to finish (see below), we put it to Warp, who had just taken on a new staff member Matthew Jones to work on archives and special projects, so it was perfect timing.

You ended up with a whole album of archived songs (Offerings). How did you decide what material to include and are there still unearthed songs that may see the light of day in the future?

There is actually a lot more unreleased stuff, because the decision over which songs to include was based on the period on which the songs were recorded. We restricted ourselves to what we called the ‘Flashlight-Black Holes era’. There is quite a lot of material that was recorded for Fires In Distant Buildings and onwards, so there will almost certainly be another compilation of unreleased stuff in the future. I have a terrible memory, and it seems I recorded a lot of stuff and then forgot about it. And the ten songs on Offerings were whittled down from sixteen contenders – whether those will see the light of day I don’t know... hardcore completists might have to locate and burgle my hard drives.

How important do you think it is for new artists in 2014 to find a label?

Whilst there are multiple avenues for making your music available to the public that didn’t exist a decade ago, just making something available doesn’t make it known. Having a record label with the capital to put into promoting you is what makes the difference. People might get discovered online, on youtube, bandcamp etc, but they then sign to a label. Unless a band isn’t interested in an industry career anyway – and I know many fine bands who couldn’t give a shit about getting signed – finding the right record label is largely the difference between making music, and making music that the public knows about.


Of course it is on a sliding scale; Warp won’t spend the money promoting my records that they will spend on, say, Grizzly Bear because my music has a more niche appeal. That said, Warp is a label full of artists who should logically have niche appeal, but Boards Of Canada and Aphex Twin album promotions have to involve listening parties, where the press are invited to hear the record, to prevent the albums being leaked. The Warp roster is full of frankly peculiar success stories. It’s a huge privilege to be part of it. I’m not the only ‘singer-songwriter’ anymore either! Lonelady has a second album in the works and I’ve become friends with Steven ‘Bibio’ Wilkinson, and it turns out we are both hugely more excited about synths than guitars.

You are also a freelance journalist and producer as well as being a musician, any preferences if you had to choose one career over the other?

I need them all in my life, for the sake of my mental health. I see the journalism as a kind of intellectual counterweight to the purely creative act of composing music. Now is a terrible time for print journalism and journalism in general so I’m very lucky to be published by a website as good as The Quietus.

The second career as a journalist came about because I was blogging fairly regularly while writing for Bristol and Bath’s magazine Venue, a listings magazine with a very high standard of critical writing. Venue sadly folded, and while I didn’t write for them every day or week and wasn’t dependent on them as some of my friends were (most of whom are now treading water as freelancers) I noticed something missing in my life. I blogged more regularly, as well as doing my satirical/profane web ‘comic’ Ultraskull, and I had got to know John Doran (Quietus editor) after he interviewed me back in 2007, and we’d stayed in touch. We had discussed the philosopher John Gray in our interview, and an opportunity to interview him came up in 2013. John Doran wrote that he didn’t expect me to have the time to be able to do it but asked if I had any questions I’d like to pass his way. I replied –faster than I’ve ever replied to any email- that I actually did have time to interview him and I very much wanted to do so! 

So John Doran kindly gave me the gig, and the interview with John Gray took place over email, back and forth, over a couple of weeks. I was delighted because John Gray told me it was the most penetrating interview he had ever done, and invited me for tea in London to discuss the issues further. Back of the net!

After that I; tried to write more regularly, but as my main income does still come from music I try to prioritise that. But I just recently interviewed Alan Moore so that’s two of my literary heroes interviewed. Gordon Burn sadly died a few years ago so I won’t be able to interview my favourite British writer of the past forty years, but as soon as David Peace writes a book that isn’t about sport (about which I know nothing) and gets back to crime I’ll be after him.

As for production, I produce my own records and there aren’t many producers I can imagine working with, just because my process is so ungainly and random, but I’ve tried to push my remixing services because it’s such fun; I get to crank out the drum machines and synths and demonstrate a side of myself as a producer that perhaps isn’t so evident in Gravenhurst records. So far I’ve done three commercial remixes, but only the 9 Bach and Dive Index ones have been released to date– there’s more to come, but my particular favourite will be released to coincide with another release from the band in question.

One of your articles in 2008 'Why I Hate Rock n Roll' painted a pretty bleak picture of the gig scene in this country, have thing improved?

In terms of the state of the touring circuit, largely no. Some independent venues go the extra mile to make sure the artists are looked after, but even the best run venues in the UK don’t compare to the level of hospitality which is the norm in Europe. But that essay was most importantly about Rock ‘n’ Roll as an idea, a legend, a convenient fiction conjured up to excuse the ineptitude, zero hospitality and a whole host of other bullshit behaviours, by both bands as well as promoters, and that legend persists.

Rock ‘n’ roll will never die because so many music fans and music writers believe in it as an idea; they love its grubby authenticity and roguish credibility. It is the music industry equivalent of the lad mags that glorify East End criminal gangsters who once tortured people and pulled their teeth out with pliers – they portray these ‘geezers’ in an aspirational light.

It’s utterly fucking despicable and I won’t have any part of it. But to return to the touring circuit; the UK has an atrocious reputation worldwide for its awful gigging circuit – mainly its hospitality, backstage facilities and half-arsed promoters. It’s not as often the sound that is the problem – we have our fair share of great engineers and decent rigs, but we have a hell of a way to go if we want to attract bands to play here with anything other than a heavy heart and a sense of trepidation.

Do you have any live dates planned to tie in with the re-releases?

Yep – we have booked an extensive UK and European tour where we will play Flashlight Seasons from beginning to end followed by half an hour of other material!

How do you go about creating new music, do you have to be in a certain space, mentally and physically or is it, when the spark strikes?

I honestly wish I knew, and then I could put a leash on it and control it to some extent. I work slowly and I don’t work often. I am lazy, but when I do actually start something it has to be perfect; I also don’t get inspired that often. I don’t work fast enough on my lyrics; I take ages to get them right, but I should really treat writing and recording as a nine to five job like many others do. But I’m a lazy fucking bastard, and I’ve always been a night owl. I never feel right or remotely creative until the evening. Repeated attempts at forcing myself into a regular routine have collapsed in failure.

How is the music scene in Bristol today, any artists emerging that we should investigate more?

The music scene in Bristol is as eclectic as it ever was, though unfortunately the press outside of Bristol generally only pays attention to the bass music. That was particularly understandable from 2007 onwards when we had a remarkable second renaissance of bass music here, led by producers such as Pinch, Peveralist, Joker and Ginz, but as the dubstep sound has dissolved to some extent and crossed over into techno and the resurgence of house there has been less press coverage of Bristol.

There are loads of great guitar and noise bands, but if they aren’t signed to a London label they won’t get written about. That’s likely true of any city that isn’t London. It’s probably true of London too! But there are quite a few bands in Bristol who have been going for many years and have positively rejected the music industry and any notion of an industry career, and just make music for their own pleasure. Many of these bands are superb. But if you want some hot tips, I suggest you check out SJ Esau’s latest album ‘Exploding Views’ on from Scratch Records, and Paul Jebanasam’s ‘Rites’, on Subtext. The former is demented folk-hip hop Husker Du pop, the latter a haunting work of modern composition that brings to mind alien beings terra-forming a planet in an electrical storm.

Do you have any plans for 2015 and how far do you actually plan ahead when it comes to your musical activities?

We will tour Flashlight Seasons for as long as people want to hear it; I think we’ll enjoy that a lot. I’d like to release a new album next year but it’s only half written and only very slightly recorded. A central problem is that I don’t plan ahead nearly enough. I need someone standing over me, cracking a whip, then Gravenhurst fans would get their money’s worth.

Enter the world of the music and writing of Nick Talbot HERE

Warp Records

The tour below accompanies the reissue of the two classic albums, 'Flashlight Seasons' and 'Black Holes In The Sand', and the additional new album: 'Offerings: Lost Songs 2000 – 2004', a compilation of unreleased material from that period. Released on 1st December 2014, the three albums will be pressed on vinyl accompanied with digital download codes and essays by Nick reflecting on this early material after a decade of progress. A triple CD release will comprise all three albums. All available via the Warp Shop

 

Road to Horizon are a 5 piece Nu Metal band from Yorkshire, currently on tour with Enter The Lexicon.

You're halfway through a tour with Enter the Lexicon, how's it going ? No Yorkshire/Geordie rivalries?

No those guys are great, it's been a good tour so far and we are all on speaking terms. We do seem to have a party bus reputation though (please note this interview is taking place on the bands amazing ford transit hotel) last night in Leeds was a respectable 3.30am (it was a Saturday).

The Faultlines EP is out October, and is supported by a very indie movie style video. It has an expensive feel to it, how much input did you have?

It was totally ours, the wasteland and old sign making factory are all in Sheffield, The actors are mates and all post prod is what we can do ourselves, cost was minimal as we have to do it ourselves (check out "faultlines" on you tube).

You were working with producer Lee Batiuk on the EP, how did that come about?

Lucky break really, our old manager had a contact and we made the most of it, you make your own luck when the chance is there.

What's the plans post tour? Writing, Recording?

We never stop writing; we are always looking at lyrics and sounds playing with them looking for the hook. There is a lot of material and we would love a chance to get a full album out there.

How long has the band been together, many line up changes or is it a happy long term bunch of mates?

Since 2008 in various guises, we like the 5 piece set up now, all the components work, there is a real band ready to break vibe.

Thanks guys love the van, and wish you the best, the video alone is worth people taking the time to see where Nu Metal is heading.

Questions from iain @docswallow

Mykl (thin strings & vocals), Ben (skins) & Danny (thick strings & other voice)

You're halfway through your October Tour, how's it going ?

Excellent, it's been eventful. Our gear blew in Leeds last night so brought a quiet close to the set. We're getting on with the other bands too, no diva's on this tour. We are the quiet band though early to bed etc... unlike the others (Yorkshire band Road To Horizon are on the tour).

As a band you seem very aware of promotion by social media, has that become a forced industry requirement or something that you naturally enjoy?

It's the natural thing to do, we all have our personal accounts on facebook, twitter etc so it's an easy step to get details of what were doing out there on a band accounts. The fans love it as its such an easy way to have some personal, even 1 to 1, time with fans that can be miles away.

What's the plans post tour? Writing, recording?

We have got tons in the bag already, our hope is to be able to get it out in album form, at least that the hope. We enjoy writing and developing all the material we have.

You're a 3 piece from Newcastle just guitars and skins, has that always been the band format?

It's been settled for about a year, Ben joined as drummer last November and it's working well

The tattooed lady design you are currently using for the ep and merch, whose concept was that, it's certainly en vogue at the moment.  

An ex member found it and it seemed to work for us, so many people have said its familiar so hopefully it will work in our favour and remind peole of us wherever they see it.

You have a deal with Kill/Hurt Records in LA, that's impressive how did it come about?

We were amazed when we heard they were coming to see us, one of their guys was in Newcastle and opted to see us when a date didn't pan out, so luck plays a large part in it, lets face it you hear so much in this business you learn to take it all with a gravel bag of salt! 

Questions from Iain @docswallow

Hi Michael, how's life for you in the music industry in 2014 compared to previous years?

Funny thing is it has always been the same. I have my fan base and most are musicians and it seems I have had the same fans all my life. Having said that, since 2007 when I felt right to be back in the loop of Rock’n Roll my fan base started to become bigger year after year. Right now is a fantastic time and with a real good new album to be released in spring 2015 titled Spirit on a Mission it should be getting even better. I have a steady record company supporting me very well and I enjoy my freedom of creativity. I am very fortunate.

Did you make any changes to the recording process for the 'Bridge the Gap' album or try any new approaches to the record as a whole?

I am always current with myself meaning I create in the now and what comes out is what I believe in at the time. Since Bridge The Gap I feel like my youth is coming back and I feel very connected with how I felt when I was 17 years old. I want it fast, heavy and melodic. With Wayne’s 7str guitar added to it (especially on the new album -Spirit on a Mission-) it all becomes very big. It’s a lot of fun.

What is your favourite guitar and what guitar would you suggest as a starter for all the kids out there picking the instrument up for the first time?

I think it comes down to personal taste. Of course a Dean is a great guitar for experienced and inexperienced  people alike. Dean has cheaper guitars that sound and play amazing. I just tried one of the cheaper models that was lying around in my house on some songs on the new album and it and sounds and played fantastic. It was a Strangers model made in Korea.

Do you have much music stored away in an archive that might see the light of day sometime?

I play and discover on a regular basis. By the time I do my next album I have enough new material.

Where did you play your first gig and last gig.  Any particular memories of both?

My first gig I think was with the Scorpions age 11. I went with my parents  to Elze where the Scorpions had a concert and ended somehow up on stage with them playing a Shadows instrumental song.I don’t remember how I felt or anything about the gig itself. Last Gig was in Germany in August; The sound on stage was one of the worse it felt especially after all the great sounding festival stages. My equipment broke down and I thought how am I going to make it through this. It ended up a fantastic show. It was like a miracle.

What was the first record you ever brought and the most prized record in your music collection today?

I only remember having bought 1 record with my friend at age 14 or 15.It was Deep Purple in Rock. We heard about the singer singing really high so we were curious and bought it.

A December UK coming up, what can the audience expect this time around?

We play a new song off our new album- Spirit on a Mission- a bunch of the Bridge The Gap album and a bunch of different classics we haven’t played before and of course the Must Play ones.

How do you keep healthy enough for your relentless touring schedule and is there any downtime away from music?

My life is music. It’s all fun. It never feels like work.

Finally, who controls the music or TV on the tour bus and what are the current favourites?

I travel by car and train whenever I can. It makes it feel like being on a sight seeing trip or holiday

UK TOUR DETAILS for DECEMBER .. Read More.......

New album ‘The Third Day’ was produced entirely by yourselves; what drove that decision and how did the experience turn out?

Our sound is heavily layered, and it's always tricky to translate from the abstract plane of what-it-sounds-like-in-our-heads to the concrete one of what-it-actually-sounds-like. Previous collaborators have manfully wrestled with the task, but this time around I wanted to see if it was possible to pull it off without outside help. Doing so robbed us so thoroughly of objectivity that I'm really not sure whether we succeeded or not. If not, there's always show jumping.

Apart from the self-production, what else was different about the recording process this time around?

Because of the self-production, there was no demo stage. The demos effectively became the finished product, after honing and refining. This was good in that we only had to hear each song 50,000 times as opposed to 100,000 times, and so only wanted to maim, not kill, small defenceless animals afterwards. Progress.

Who designed the album cover and how did you decide on the finished design?

The cover was designed by Ross Macrae and Brendan McCarthy of the arts collective Ray. I had worked with them on the giant TR-909 project and also with Brendan on the video for the first single August. Both the video and the artwork were inspired by Codex Seraphinianus, a psychedelic illustrated encyclopaedia created by Italian architect Luigi Serafini in the 1980s.


Links:

http://we-are-ray.tumblr.com/post/96026077684/clips-of-folk-using-the-909-on-its-first-outing-at

http://we-are-ray.tumblr.com/post/97816445239/promo-video-for-north-atlantic-oscillations-third


The band came together in 2005. Do you collectively still have the same dreams and ambitions or have they changes as the years have rolled by?

The music industry is unrecognisable now compared to what it was in the early 2000s. Artists now are forced to be pragmatic, and to learn some non-musical skills in order survive. That's not necessarily a bad thing. How crap most music still is, despite the death of big labeldom's bête noire, is definitely a bad thing.

Do you think that you can categorise the band's music, you have had the tags of prog, post-rock and shoegaze before?

Different listeners hear different things and are free to categorise as they please. We certainly don't have a tag in mind while we're writing music. That way lies samehood.

What is your song writing process and where do you tend to write. Any particular places you draw inspiration from?

The process is to make it as easy as possible for yourself to follow through on an idea. Have the instruments set up and ready to go so that when inspiration does occasionally strike, the constitutionally lazy human brain can't make excuses to do something less taxing instead. I tend to draw inspiration from non-musical sources like books and films rather than other music.

Are there any particular stories you would like to share behind the songs on the record?

Some are quite personal, but I don't like revealing exactly what any song is 'about'. Music is a conversation between the creator and the listener. Lyrics are poetry, not prose. If you declare that a song means this and not that, you're essentially hogging the conversation. When a listener reads into the lyrics a meaning that moves him or her, that meaning is every bit as valid as the one the writer started out with.

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?

Borderline impossible. Our fanbase is very widely spread; I'm not sure I could pick one area where they're concentrated more than any other. It's great to get positive feedback on Monday from Sao Paolo, on Tuesday from Tehran and on Wednesday from Calgary. For some reason we never hear anything on Thursdays.

In fantasyland, if you could play in another band on stage (past or present), who would it be and why?

None. My favourite bands are my favourite bands because they're so good. Why spoil them by adding me?

Finally, what is the one piece of advice you would like to pass on to any new band starting out today?

Don't listen to other bands' advice.

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