The halls of the Sheffield Octagon always felt a little inhospitable, maybe as they remind me of an elementary school I was. Thankfully, the people around were quite friendly. After talking with their extremely nice tour manager, I met 65 days of static’s Joe Shrewsbury and we sat down in a small room in the Octagon. I glanced at the table and thought “I need a copy of their rider!”.
Would you like to talk about the evolution of your sound, now that you are on your fourth record?
We started out without a drummer and we made a lot of very noisy electronic and guitar demos when we were kids. Then we recruited a drummer, who was my best friend from school, and we made an album called ‘The Fall of math’ which is, well, that’s your job to say! (laughs).
We made another album called ‘One time for all time’ and then we decided to make a studio record with interesting instruments like grand pianos, double basses, harmoniums and xylophones and things you couldn’t generally take on tour. That was quite a sprawling record. It was very hard to play live and we became a little bit downcast at not being able to bring that visual energy to the stage any more.
Then we went on a very long tour, America, Europe, then we came home, decided we still wanted to be in a band and take three years to write ‘We were exploding anyway’ and that record only uses the instruments you’ll see tonight, give or take a couple of effects pedals I have broken since. Hopefully it’s a lot of fun to listen to.
‘We were exploding anyway’ sounds almost tribal, like more electronica. Was that part of the plan?
The plan? We still use two guitars, drums and a bass player, but we are using a lot more synths. We have more keyboard parts and piano sounds. We became interested in synth sounds and the way all that works, playing with arpeggiators and sawtooths. Really getting an aggressive sound, we wanted to go back to the time when we were 21, walked into a stage and just play hard and fast. And have a lot of fun!
It’s not necessarily a shallow record, it’s not about hedonism or ignoring the problems that we all face, but it’s more about starting to combat those things in your life from a positive, angry, energetic place rather than a despairing hole, because we’d much prefer our lives to be like that than live in fear.
Do you think you’ll finally get to shake off that horrible unjustified post-rock tag?
I stopped worrying about it, because it seems to be a term for a genre of music that was kinda created by journalists after everybody realised a band called Slint made an album called ‘Spiderland’, ten years later.
And two very, very, very, very good bands who no one else will ever be good as, Mogwai and Godspeed you black emperor made some very important, to me, records. I don’t think they don’t spend any of their time worrying if they are post-rock or not.
But what has happened is that a lot of people have started to make very earnest instrumental music, quite grand music and often, quite boring music, using the excuse that they are post-rock. We spend most of our time sorting out how we can be a better band and how can we pay our rent.
It’s not a term I particularly like but it’s also I don’t spend too much time worrying about. Maybe we’ll shake off that term. Who knows?
Would you like to define how you sound?
At the moment we sound like a really angry wolf! (laughs) Nah, I can’t do that. The reason we started the band was to try to articulate those feelings that can’t be articulated. If I could define what we sound, then a) we wouldn’t be making music that’s interesting enough and b)… I forgot what b) was.
I wouldn’t want to put us in a set of rules that we had to adhere to, our next record could be two ukuleles and a TR-909. It’s nice to be up for anything. Fortunately for us, as we do most of the work ourselves, we don’t have anyone telling us what kind of music to do, so we make anything. And we intend to do what we feel is right and cool.
How did the collaboration with Robert Smith came around?
That came about because The Cure invited us to tour with them, which was very cool. We spent some time together drinking beer and talking. When we wrote this record, we had 16 tracks to choose from and we had 4 tracks that could lend themselves to vocals.
One track we tried with Eva from Rollo Tomassi but she didn’t have time and then we had another one that could work with Robert Smith, we thought “well, why not?” and ask him and he did.
He tried some stuff in his studio and sent it back. The best thing is that Robert and The Cure are very hands on, they care a hell of a lot about how they sound and what they write. If you go to a The Cure show, every single light that moves, Robert knows about it, so he really trusted us, as he gave us the raw vocals and say “do whatever you want to do with it”. And he likes it, so it’s cool.
Since it’s more of an electronic sound on the new record, do you like any other IDM bands besides Aphex Twin?
There’s lot of music we listen to at the moment. The first band tonight, Nedry, really interesting, incredible band, they are signed to Monotreme records. I’m really into the new Moderat album, it’s really good to listen to.
Not IDM bands, but the new Rollo Tomassi album is brilliant, lots of synth stuff, it’s really something else. Loops Haunt, who we’re touring with, he’s really cool. That’s about it, really. IDM bands? That’s really specific!
I think I was being too specific, sorry. Do you think Electronica is making a bit of a comeback?
I certainly think there’s some very interesting music being made by bands like Moderat. I think that what M.I.A. does is very interesting. The new Rihanna single, I don’t know how you feel about pop music, but it’s absolutely genius.
When we started it was in the wake of the Warp Records and Aphex Twin being really big. Nobody is really taking what Aphex Twin did and bettered it in terms of electronic music, so there’s some boring stuff. But then you have cool people like Clint Mansell, the Moon soundtrack he just released is incredible and I thought the PI soundtrack is also incredible.
It’s out there if you look for it, I suppose. I don’t know if it’s making a comeback. Do you think it’s making a comeback?
At the end of the nineties there was this big of electronica. The PI soundtrack was my gateway album. That got me hooked. Before that one I thought “well, it’s just dance music”, but then I got it and thought “this is really good!”. There’s also stuff like Banco de Gaia.
Banco de Gaia, we played with him in Russia. We were really big fans of Underworld and Orbital growing up. Underworld are an absolute brilliant band. Orbital were quite a big inspiration, the way that you come into those records for six months and pick stuff you didn’t hear before, there’s so much going on, it’s very good. But I need to reacquaint myself with what’s happening.
I’ve been reviewing for a couple of websites and the Uni newspaper, and I find there’s a bit of electronic atmospheres being mixed with acoustic instruments and it sounds like a good meeting point.
And there’s this musician from the nineties, Lisa Papineau, she was in a band called Pet. She was really grungy, screamed a lot. In her new album she mixes acoustic stuff, like accordions, with electronic and synths. You gotta listen to it.
Lisa Papineau (my crap accent makes it sound like Papillon, so I end up writing the name). Her album is out this week. It kinda sounds like Bat for Lashes, but I don’t want to compare them, they both got their own style.
Do you like that? I do think there’s a lot going on commercially, in the mainstream. People are very fast to write off the mainstream machine for being quite cold sometimes, but I think that Bat for Lashes record is incredible.
Both of them.
Yeah, really good records. I always think that many of these kind of pop starlets that are very popular, well, the programming underneath is very interesting. I always listen out for that.
Yes, they got a good musical instrumentation base, and if they maybe flex the lyrical content a bit more, that’d be awesome.
Of course, I completely agreed. We’d like to write a record with somebody like Christina Aguilera or… well, not Beyoncé, cause she’s too good, but you know what I’m getting at, like. I’d really like to know how a voice like that would sound with an alternative band backing. Someone needs to do something like that.
If you had any lyrics, what would you write about?
All my favourite lyrics are about, well, what is anything about? I don’t know. How difficult it is to be a human being? (laugh) I wouldn’t write about love, because there’s too many love songs and the good ones are good. It’s very hard to say something profound and say it well. I think people underestimate how difficult that is. Because it’s very easy to articulate a problem or a feeling but it’s not easy to articulate that in a piece music or a piece of art. I would try and fail to express everything, my favourite music is about everything.
What would be your fave track from the new record?
I can’t choose one, but I really like ‘Mountainhead’. Some of the tracks are more immediate than ‘Mountainhead’ but it was a really good experience writing that one together. I really don’t think we have done anything like ‘Debutante’ before, so it’s new ground for us. Because in a sense, ‘Debutante’ is what people would call a post rock song if you listen to what actually is being played, I really like the emotion in that song.
We’ve never done anything like ‘Tiger girl’ before, but, yeah, at the moment, ‘Mountainhead’ and ‘Debutante’. I do have a soft spot for ‘Crash tactics’. We really wanted this album to be listened as a whole. It won’t be, and that’s fine, but I do like albums that you take time to listen from start to stop and it keeps your attention. I hope people listen to it like that.
And on that note, with iTunes and singles, do you think the album experience, listening to it all the way, the booklet, is that alive or dead?
No, I think people are always too quick to react against change like in the way that we consume music, but there’s a whole group of kids who grew up with vinyl, another group, like me, who grow up with CDs and now there’ll be a whole group growing up with MP3s.
There will always be people who want to know about the whole experience of an album, there will always be. And there will always be people who put Spotify and listen music like that.
I used to think it was a bad thing, but I own an ipod. I take the time to listen to music in a good stereo, but for travelling, an ipod is amazing. For checking out new music really fast, Spotify is amazing. I try and buy everything I like once I’ve heard it.
What’s important for someone who is in a band that doesn’t make a lot of money, what’s really important is that people hear the music. What do you think?
I like listening stuff from beginning to end, to see if they have “the chops”. If they have some weaker songs, but in the context of the whole narrative they are like the slower chapters in a book and then you go “woo!”
There’s some times you just want to stick a Michael Jackson record, and go “that’s right!”(laughs)
Kelly Clarkson has a great voice, she just needs to change her lyrics.
Yeah, I agree. Good singles. The new Katy Perry single, I’m looking forward to that. I thought the singles of the last record were excellent, quite funny.
Her dress is amazing, the LED one?
Maybe she’ll start a war with Lady Gaga now.
Lady Gaga is very interesting, I haven’t got my head around it yet, but she’s certainly not ripping people off, she’s really putting in the time, she knows what she’s doing. There’s a lot to be said about that.
I mean, Mr. Gene Simmons said she’s the “female equivalent of KISS”!
Yeah! (laughs) She’s an entertainer, but she’s very talented. Have you seen the old videos, her and a piano, you know? That’s very good.
She managed to make her own brand.
Exactly. It’s very clever if you can control it. If you are clever enough, I couldn’t do it, so hats off to her!
Thanks for everything!
I thank Joe for his time and then head off for the gig. Can’t say what I enjoyed best: the gig or this interview.
Editor’s note: You can read the review of the gig on the following link.
Links for 65 days of static