How did Shrag come into the world?
Helen: Slowly and by surprise. A group of friends who accidentally started making songs together…
Bob: It’s like any kind of birth. It takes you a few years before you realise you exist. After that it was surprisingly easy.
You’ve said that your eponymous debut LP felt more like a collection of material you’d recorded up to that point, rather than a self-contained record. Were you happy with the result?
Helen: Oh yeah of course, you know I NEVER thought we’d actually have a full-length, so I was thrilled and we are proud of those songs, I think some more than others. But I guess because all of those songs had already been released – albeit in tiny runs of 300 – there wasn’t quite that feeling of “What will people think? Do we suck? Are we any good?” Having said that, the fact that WIAIWYA asked us to put them together as an album meant that far more people got to hear them than would have done otherwise, they reached far more people, and it got reviewed as an album by people who wouldn’t have listened to the singles, so it was exciting.
Bob: I’m still not convinced by the album format. A great album is more than a collection of songs. The debut LP is a collection of songs. Good ones though.
You supported The Cribs last year and they’ve been incredibly supportive of the band. How was the experience of playing such large venues?
Helen: Equal parts terrifying and exciting. I tried not to think about it once we were on stage to be honest, though there was one point where we played to what must have been a three quarters full London Astoria, and I looked out and had an actual knee-trembler. The Cribs are the loveliest boys in the world, sweet and funny and gentlemanly and incredibly tolerant of us, we must have been so annoying, we had absolutely NO CLUE about proper big tours like that, their tour manager would ask for things like stage plots and we’d just stare back at them blankly.
Bob: I find the experience strangely comforting. The sound is always good and if you break a string someone you’ve never met before runs on and helps you change guitar. Then they offer to carry things for you. Brilliant!
During your recent gigs you’ve been playing quite a lot of new material. How have the new songs gone down?
Helen: The vast majority of the feedback we’ve had has been good and encouraging. I think we got some criticism because we stopped playing a lot of the older songs a while ago – Sean Price (Fortuna Pop!) told us off for doing that, because I guess they were the only songs people had a chance of knowing – but really we had been playing those songs for ages and we were just excited about the new stuff and wanted to try it out. We do realise this is not particularly astute in terms of good business sense, but then that was never really our forte… (sorry Jervis).
The subject matters in your lyrics on your debut record were based on very specific events. Do the new songs open up to more general themes?
Helen: Yeah you’re right about the first album. I think at that point, I had a certain feeling with the lyrics that they needed to have a concrete idea behind them. I was maybe a bit less confident, I’d never written lyrics for a band that were actually going to record before, it had all been the kind of thing you do with one other friend in your room, that kind of thing. So I think I felt, for some of the songs at least, that I needed to have something solid and sometimes a bit silly to write about. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t care about those things or that they were disingenuous in any way, but I guess this time I think I tried to be a bit braver and write about stuff that was happening to me and the people around me that I care about in a way which at least tried to approximate how these things really felt, and stuff in my life is rarely that defined or immediately coherent, especially the last couple of years. It felt important to not maybe hide so much behind a robust, easily delineated scenario. Saying that, “Tights In August” is pretty silly.
You’re releasing your second album Life! Death! Prizes! on Monday 4th October. Tell us about the record.
Helen: It’s got 12 songs on it, some are louder and faster than others, and it has lots of umber and orange and red and empty chairs on the artwork. I think musically we’re a bit better, have been a bit braver, have had more of a sense of what we might be able to do. Oh and one song has real strings on it! I’m especially excited about that.
Bob: I think the album is structured like a really good live set. It was important to me in case we get asked to do one of those Don’t Look Back shows in years to come. We won’t of course, but it’s always nice to be prepared.
Will you be touring later in the year in support of the album?
Helen: Yes! We’re just finalising everything as I write this. We will be doing a UK tour from the Monday 27th September until Sunday 3rd October, and then we have our album launch show at the Lexington on Thursday 14th October. And then, providing we get our Visas, we’re going to New York to play CMJ and some shows around the East Coast, but we’ll see.
Dansette Dansette has been critically acclaimed by the likes of Pitchfork, The Observer and Drowned in Sound along with heavy rotational play on BBC 6 Music. Is this a golden period for the band?
Amelia: For Tender Trap, definitely! We are very proud of the album but were still surprised by how much attention/praise it got.
Rob: It makes us feel we were right to stop noodling around with electronic stuff and get a proper band together. As soon as we started playing with the new line up it felt right. But even so, we didn’t expect quite so many people (and critics) to like it as much as they did.
You had a line-up change last year, adding Elizabeth from Allo Darlin’ on guitar and Katrina (formerly of Police Cat) on drums. How did this come about?
Amelia: Elizabeth came to us through the magic of “word of mouth”. We just put the word out that we were looking for people and she wrote us an email. We didn’t know her at all – but we couldn’t have been luckier. Katrina, by contrast, was an old mate. We phoned her up and, after a bit of cajoling, she was persuaded that she fancied a trip back behind the drumkit.
Rob: We were lucky that Elizabeth, Katrina and Amelia’s vocals sat so well together. We really wanted girl harmonies to be to the fore.
How was your recent gig at Indietracks stepping in as last minute replacements for Love Is All?
Amelia: It was really great to be able to do it. Really enjoyable. We owe Love Is All a beer or two!
Rob: We felt like Jamie Carragher; officially retired (due to age) but called up at the last minute. Although Indietracks was a lot better than the World Cup.
Tender Trap’s sound has seemingly moved away from synthesisers back towards the jangly guitars of Heavenly and to a greater extent Talulah Gosh. Was this a conscious decision or something that naturally progressed from 6 Billion People?
Amelia: Actually it was pretty conscious. It was inspired by listening to our old Shop Assistants records and realising how much we loved them. Plus a feeling that this is the kind of music we actually know how to play!
Rob: I remember thinking that the sound I liked most after all this time was the combination of simple stand-up drums, fuzzy guitar and vocal harmonies.
You’ve recently been playing the odd Talulah Gosh song in your sets. Do you look back on that phase of your career with pride, given that the band meant an awful lot to so many people?
Amelia: It’s taken us a while to feel comfortable playing songs from back then. And I think it’s actually taken us being really comfortable with how Tender Trap is doing to be brave enough to do it. We don’t want to be a band that lives off our past “glories”. Not to belittle bands that come back to just do their original stuff. That is fine but it’s not what we want to do.
Rob: I would like to belittle the bands that do that. Sorry. But I always feel depressed when I hear those bands.
Tender Trap’s track-by-track guide to Dansette Dansette.
Amelia: This is about listening to records, thinking they will provide the answers you need in your life. And then they don’t. It’s also deliberately about the sixties girl groups, who didn’t write their own songs and therefore weren’t necessarily even purveying their own “wisdom”. I guess the song is cynical of, but also very affectionate about, that whole genre.
Rob: Another variant of the sixties girl group thing, but this time about a boy who’s determined to be culturally “bad” and anti-establishment (rather than wearing leather and crashing motorbikes).
“Do You Want A Boyfriend?”
Amelia: The lyrics to this one were pretty much written through us all singing random nonsense at practice and seeing which words and phrases made the rest of the band laugh.
Amelia: This is possibly my favourite song on the album because I love the guitar so much on it. The words are about suddenly realising you’ve fallen for someone you’ve been friends with forever. With an indie slant. I was glad to get “mixtapes” into the lyric.
“Girls With Guns”
Rob: A feminist fantasy, whereby men who star in pop videos in which women are directed to worship them, suddenly find those same women shooting them in the head.
Amelia: I wrote this for a couple of friends who seemed to be being wilfully blind to the fact they were perfect for each other. I thought it might provide the trigger for love to blossom. It didn’t! C’est la vie.
“2 to the N”
Amelia: “2 to the N” describes the process of tearing something up into 2, then 4, then 8, then 16, etc. It’s about a dramatic falling out of love, which involves tearing up photographs. It was inspired by Adam Ant. I will say no more.
“Counting the Hours”
Rob: This is a nervous love song about the tense period leading up to a second date.
Amelia: Gosh, I never thought there would be a second date. Am I too cynical?
Amelia: We wanted to do a song with a very standard girl group beat. I’m not quite sure how it ended up having lyrics which treat love as a gamble, analogous to betting on the races! But I guess that is how I see it.
Amelia: This is actually an old song, which we first did in Marine Research but never released. I think the Trap version is better though. Good and squelchy.
Rob: And after all this time I still don’t really understand the words.
Amelia: Ah, that’s because they are all about failing to communicate. Clever, eh!
You recently released your second album “Cursed!” in September. How much a departure was it from Aboard a Spaceship of the Imagination?
Erik: Well, there are 13 songs. They go with the theme of “Cursed!” which Mat (Patalano, lead singer and guitarist) feels the band is considering the constant failure of his equipment onstage. As for the departure, “Cursed!” is a dirtier sounding record opposed to the indiepop sound of Aboard a Spaceship… I came on late in the recording “Cursed!” and I only played on “Old News”.
Meagan: You don’t hear me on the record at all.
The run of “Weed”, “All I Want” and “Baby, I’m an Existentialist” is impeccable. Are there plans to release any of these as singles?
Meagan: “Baby, I’m an Existentialist” is one of my favorites. When we were playing our shows, a lot of people would dance to it, and “Weed”. Those two are dance numbers.
Erik: As for singles? I think Mat mentioned “Baby, I’m an Existentialist” as a possibility.
The record came out on 100% recycled colour vinyl and a cardboard sleeve. Was this for ethical reasons?
Meagan: The vinyl that I got to take was purple. It’s beautiful.
Erik: It could’ve been for environmental reasons or maybe it was cheaper, I don’t know. You’ll find that out a lot with us, we’re new therefore we don’t know a lot of things.
Meagan: I’m gonna go with environmentally friendly. People like to hear that.
You’re both relatively new in the band. How did that come about?
Erik: I started playing drums with Mat last winter and slowly evolved from Keira’s replacement to the new bassist. Then when Marisa left the band Mat asked if I knew any keyboardists and I told him my sister could do it.
Meagan: I’m his sister. He came across the hall and asked if I wanted to play, so I said yes.
Erik: No one turns down touring Europe.
I can hear a lot of sixties psychedelic pop in your music like The Zombies but also the craftsmanship of The Beach Boys mixed with garage rock. Who have been the major influences on your sound?
Erik: That’s more of a Mat question, but I’ll agree that both The Zombies and The Beach Boys are somewhere buried in The Specific Heats sound.
Meagan: The Beach Boys are my favorite band. Seriously.
Where did the on-stage cape wearing originate?
Erik: Well, Mat wanted to wear capes. Not like a superhero, and I don’t think like Chris Squire or Rick Wakeman, but somewhere in between. His friend Mehgan O’Neill made them years ago. The capes are long before our tenure in The Specific Heats.
Meagan: Keira gets the cool cropped cape so that her arms can move around. Erik has the bright green one that allows you to spot him from miles away. Mine is red. If I wear it the wrong way I look like Little Red Riding Hood. I’ll also take this as an opportunity to tell Mat that my cape chokes me when we play.
How was your recent European tour?
Erik: The tour was pretty great. We met a bunch of awesome people along the way and got to go places I’ve never been before. Indietracks was a great way to end it too.
Meagan: For the two weeks we were touring, I don’t think I drank water or ate
anything of nutritional value. Erik fed me Fanta.
Erik: It’s like an orange in a bottle.
Meagan: But, seeing new places and meeting so many great people was what made it such a great time. When we got to Indietracks it was like the end of the movie Big Fish, everyone we met along the way was there, it was exciting. I would compare it to The Wizard of Oz, but at the end of that movie she’s dreaming.
You were my standout band at Indietracks this year. Did you enjoy the festival?
Erik: Standout? Thanks. The festival was nice. Three days of good music and great food. I learned that a cob is a roll.
Meagan: Standout! I had the best time at the festival. I’ll admit it was freezing most of the time, but I still had fun. I came back to the states with a bunch of 7” and I ate a French fry sandwich.
Erik: Chips on a cob, Meagan. Jesus.
What bands did you get to see before you had to leave for the US?
Meagan: Betty and the Werewolves were my absolute favorite. When we played in London, we saw the Sock Puppets. They didn’t get to play at Indietracks, but they were there hanging out with us. I also enjoyed Tender Trap.
Erik: Betty and the Werewolves. I was bummed when their LP was sold out, had to buy it online. It’s a great album.
Meagan: He spent most of the trip home complaining about not being able to buy that record. When he finally got it, it was like Christmas.
I stumbled across you guys for the first time when I was DJing at RoTa for Odd Box Records. Do you have any plans to tour Britain again anytime soon?
Meagan: Right now Keira has a bun in the oven. So until our fifth member pops out, we’re laying low.
Erik: There was mention of Europe in February so we’ll see what happens.
What are your plans for the rest of 2010?
Erik: For the rest of 2010 I’ll focus on recording my own stuff, sans ‘Heats.
Meagan: I’ve been thinking of transferring colleges or moving across the country and doing something really crazy and exciting. I’ll probably just annoy Erik until he lets me play on his record. Right, Erik?
Erik: We’ll see.
We last heard from you when you released Dealing in Antiques in May. It’s quite unusual for a band to put out a collection of songs such as those after just two studio LPs. Was the idea to document the history of the band up to that point?
The idea was simply to gather lost songs. The were quite a few of those – some that were released on hobby vinyl and many that weren’t released at all. So it’s not a historical document as much as a release to fill the gaps.
How did you come to cover White Town’s “Your Woman”?
It’s a long story, but I’ll give it to you. There was a rather famous club in Gothenburg called Cosy Den. It was founded in 2004 by a certain Mattias Jansson, who wanted to book us, but couldn’t find a proper venue. He then offered his living room and he obviously liked the experience, because he continued having club nights in his apartment for one and a half year. Cosy Den is still running, but now at various smaller venues in Stockholm. Anyway, Mattias Jansson had read about Jyoti Mishra, alias White Town, in a fanzine, and decided to try to book him. It was a rather strange idea, since Jyoti hadn’t been playing for years and was certainly not a name on the Swedish indie scene. But Mattias is strange like that – he wouldn’t care, he likes what he likes. So Jyoti came over to play in 2005. They became friends, and Mattias booked White Town for a second time in 2006. That’s when I met him, and we instantly got along. Since then, we’ve been in Derby were he lives, and he has been in Scandinavia, several times. We highly appreciate him as a friend and a musician, and this was just our tribute to him.
The band formed in 2001 yet you released The Province Complains in 2007. You had a steady flow of EPs but why was there such a gap in releasing your debut LP?
I think you have to remember were we are from. I recently interviewed The Drums for a music magazine, and they told me how there was a massive response from agents, lawyers and record labels after their first show in Brooklyn and their first review on a Brooklyn-based blog. After one gig. I couldn’t believe my ears. We come from a rather remote city in Finland and I can tell you that the music industry interest for music coming from Vaasa, Finland is not exactly overwhelming. There wasn’t any attention around to desperately beg for. For years, we were an island, really. Even after we had moved to Turku in 2003, we were just a Swedish-speaking student band. We hardly knew anyone, and we certainly didn’t know the right people, the ones that would have made it possible and worthwhile for us to record an album. It took us years to get to a point were it made any sense to record an album.
Your second album, Our Temperance Movement, found your lyrics in more reflective mood. Do you put this down to an ongoing maturity in your song writing?
They are cut from the same fabric, though. I still use the same methods, but I realise they might be different in tone. I think my goal has always been the same. I think every album should be called Other People’s Lives.
Why did the UK tracklisting differ to the standard release of Our Temperance Movement?
I suggested this to Ian at How Does It Feel To Be Loved and he instantly suggested an alternate tracklisting. Don’t know if it was a good thing – we got better reviews in the US, Germany, Finland and Sweden.
You played a number of gigs throughout the summer across Europe; Berlin, Leipzig, Hamburg, Stockholm, Turku as well as Hong Kong and Los Angeles. How have they been?
Generally very good. We’ve been overjoyed to be able to go to such faraway places as Hong Kong and California. A nice couple of feathers in the cap. Yes, I see them like that.
You also supported Belle and Sebastian in Helsinki. How did that come about?
Well, Stuart saw us in Los Angeles, and he asked us if we were up for it, which we naturally were. He was there recording their new album.
When you started the group did you ever expect to achieve such a level of success that you’d be able to travel around the world?
I really can’t remember. Back then it felt like a remote dream to ever get to go to Helsinki to play and that is the absolute truth. I even remember when Kim, who played guitar back then, called me on 1st April 2002 and told me we’d got a gig in Helsinki. I was overjoyed for a second or two before I realised it simply impossible. But still, in a dark corner of the mind, I might have nurtured such wicked dreams.
When I saw you play at The Luminaire a couple of years ago you incorporated a keyboardist into your live performances. Is this something you’re likely to return to?
Yes, and we have. Iiris Viljanen has played with us quite often recently. She’s a very, very talented artist in her own right. A brilliant songwriter.
Who are the main influences on your song writing?
I don’t know. That question is painful! That’s the one question I keep hoping won’t turn up, because I always feel like something breaks inside when I answer it. And I already broke a rib last month on the football field.
Are you currently working on new material and have your thoughts turned your next album?
Yes, I written quite a lot for it, and we hope to begin recording early next year. I really love the songs and I hope to find a certain inner peace when recording them. Something has been missing earlier. Might try with alcohol. No, but I hope that we’d get all pieces together this time.
What are you listening to at the moment?
A song called ”Cold Wind Blows” by Tymon Dogg. And ”I Live on a Battlefield” by Nick Lowe. Those two, on repeat.
Do you enjoy playing in Britain? When will you be returning?
Well, playing in Britain is not as easy as you Brits may think it is. You pay less than the Germans and you don’t cook. Ha ha. Cook me a proper meal and I’ll be back in a second, I promise.
Our Autumn fanzine is now available. We lead with an interview with Finland’s favourite indiepop group Cats on Fire.
Plus interviews with Tender Trap, The Specific Heats, Shrag, Pocketbooks, The Blanche Hudson Weekend and Moustache of Insanity.
We talk to Fortuna Pop!, Big Pink Cake, Colour Me Pop, Brilldream and Dandelion Radio.
The fanzine comes with a free 5-track EP from Odd Box Records called Bless Me Iggy For I Have Sinned –
1. The Humms – Are You Dead?
2. The Blanche Hudson Weekend – Fever Van
3. Sarandon – Expecting Joe
4. Boundary JIM – House of the Seven Gables
5. The Medusa Snare – Tripping
If you would like to order a copy it costs £2 plus P&P.
Hello Understudies! Tell us about the songs on the EP you’ve kindly donated to the fanzine.
Brian: The first track is “A Girl I Used to Knock About With” this new recording was produced by Andrew Laidlaw from Lucky Soul who very kindly offered to engineer and produce four songs with us earlier this year. The acoustic versions of “Wanting vs Getting” and “Flicknives” are taken from a recent radio session we did in Madrid which was pretty amazing.
Bree: “If I Come to You” is probably the quietest song we’ve done and only occasionally gets played live, we like this modest recording of it.
Brian: They’re kind of a quartet of songs about lost and unrequited love.
You’ve recently played a number of gigs in Spain and appeared on national radio. How did that come about?
Brian: Yeah, that was amazing. We played Indietracks last year and there were quite a few Spanish people there because of the Elefant stage. We got an invite from promotor Jorge Fernandez to come and play an Indietracks Presentation that he was organising. We were also invited by Spanish DJ Julio Ruiz to come and do his show, little did we know he’s like the John Peel of Spain! Needless to say by the time we got to the BBC-like building were giggling wrecks. Luckily, Ian Watson of HDIF was on hand to calm us all down and show us the ropes, thanks Ian!
You played with Darren Hayman in Leicester a few months ago. How did it go?
Brian: That was great fun too. It’s funny how we keep having these little landmark moments which all seem to have started since Indietracks. We’re all fans and none of us had the guts to actually say hello so he probably thinks we’re a right bunch of anti-socials! He played some great new songs, one about a girl who looks like “the lesbian off Brookside”.
I often hear the Tindersticks in your music. Are they a big influence? And what other bands influence your songwriting?
Brian: They are one of my favourite bands so I guess they probably will have a little. I think we all individually wear our influences on our sleeves and then they get diluted when we come together and hopefully that makes a good mix. Graeme based his entire bass repertoire for the first six months on Kim Deal and PJ Harvey. One of my all time favourite bands are The Auteurs. I also love girl groups, Motown and early sixties Joe Meekish stuff. There’s also The Go-Betweens, The Housemartins…
Bree: I really like Emma Pollock’s stuff, she always has interesting melodies. And I’d happily die listening to Kurt Wagner’s voice of Lambchop, I love how he can sing about the smallest of everyday details with such beauty.
I hear you’ve got a few options with which label to put your records out. What releases do you have in store?
Brian: Well, there isn’t a bidding war or anything! Just that a few people have said they’d maybe like to put something out with us, which is really nice. So expect an official release soon!
Hello Betty and the Werewolves! Tell us about your forthcoming debut album Teatime Favourites.
Hello! Well, we wanted the album to sound a bit like a tea party with a mad aunt who serves teacups of gin in her loveliest china set whilst surrounded by cats, books and cakes.
Will the album feature your two past singles “Euston Station” and “David Cassidy” or will it be all new material?
Yes, the two singles will be on it, and our new 7″ “Paper Thin”, then eleven other songs – some that we’ve played at gigs a lot already, and some which are completely new, so new that we’ve only learnt to play them properly since recording the album…!
You recently played at Camden Crawl. How did it go?
Ooh, it was lots of fun! We were playing on both nights so it was quite hectic, but we managed to escape for a clandestine afternoon of craft on the second day, where Emily made a bag!
You seem to be following in a long line of female dominated groups like The Shop Assistants and Talulah Gosh. Were they influences?
Yes, definitely, as well as bands like Delta 5, Dolly Mixture, Marine Girls. We’re influenced a lot by stories and poetry too – Emily Brontë, Keats and T.S. Eliot appear in our songs, and some of our favourite writers pop up in the video for “Paper Thin” as well.
What are you listening to at the moment?
Today so far: The Mo-dettes and Je Suis Animal.
You’ve got a new single “Paper Thin” out in June on Damaged Goods. There’s been a real lack of indie pop videos recently but thankfully you’ve made one. How much fun did you have shooting it?
A ridiculous amount of fun. Our friend Charlie Phillips made the video and got a group of our friends to dress up like authors. We filmed most of it outside – in the cemetery and the park – but then it got too cold (it was January) and so we smuggled werewolves and authors into Stoke Newington Library for the rest of the filming. We had to pretend that we were there just to borrow books! It was very daring!
Speaking of being on camera, you appeared in the film 1-2-3-4. How did that come about?
The director Giles Borg was looking for a band for one particular scene and got in touch with us through Damaged Goods. We knew that Giles had made some Talulah Gosh videos in the past and so got very excited about it all, and had our fringes trimmed especially.
Is this going to be your first trip to Indietracks? What are you looking forward to the most?
It’ll be the first time we’ve played at Indietracks but we’ve been there before. Apart from being excited about playing there of course, we’re really looking forward to seeing some of the bands on the steam train – always fun! Emily is also looking forward to the campsite disco.
What does the rest of 2010 have in store for you?
So “Paper Thin” is out in June (we’ve said that already, haven’t we?), and our album Teatime Favourites is out in July. As well as Indietracks, we have some fun gigs coming up in London, Cambridge and Nottingham. We’ll also be doing a live session for Marc Riley on 6 Music on 5th July.
Your single “Dancing” caused quite a stir in London’s indiepop scene last year (making #3 in our Festive Fifty). Have you been surprised how things have taken off so quickly?
Emma: It’s been fantastic to be made to feel so welcome by such nice people in the indiepop scene, both across the country and abroad. We’ve been a band for quite a while; just over 5 years now and we’ve always enjoyed playing and writing together but in the last year it’s all moved up a level. Getting the chance to play so many gigs and having people like the album too has just made it all so exciting for us.
Tell us about your debut album The Noyelle Beat. What hopes do you have for it?
Dan: The album’s about romance and friendship and all those little things that come between the two. It was released back at the beginning of April and in two months it’s far surpassed all the hopes we had for it. When we recorded it, we didn’t think it would be heard by half the people it has, and for their reaction to be positive, is better than we could have imagined. It’s given us so much energy for what we’re doing.
How was your trip to the US and SXSW?
Andy: Yeah the US trip was incredible! Really enjoyed playing at SXSW, it was great being asked to play there. Everywhere we walked in Austin music was blaring out of every door we past, lots of people, lots of great bands, and the weather was good too.
What are your influences? Emma, did your mum’s previous band Poison Girls have a big impact on your writing?
Emma: They’re all quite varied really; my influences are bands like Fleetwood Mac, Blondie, Van Morrison and also stuff like the Be Good Tanyas. Yes I remember really liking the way the Poison Girls wrote their songs – always quite upbeat happy music and then more uncompromising lyrics.
Dan: I guess I’m influenced mainly by bands like The Lemonheads, the 100 Broken Windows era Idlewild, and early Green Day. It’s generally something that has that urgency about it but that still has a melody tucked away somewhere
Andy: American pop punk was what made me want to start playing the drums, really enjoy Britpop, and just recently been listening to a lot of dance music, which has given me influence on a couple of our new songs.
Who are you looking forward to see play at Indietracks?
Emma: None of us have been to Indietracks before although we wanted to get there last year. We’re really looking forward to it.
Dan: I don’t want to build anything up but I’m sure we’ll think about doing something a little different. It’s a great line-up; I can see us rushing round all weekend trying not to miss anyone! I heard the Mexican Kids at Home are playing, I love their stuff and I’ve not seen them play for a while, so that’ll be really cool.
Andy: Yeah there are loads of bands I’m looking forward to seeing! Really excited about Allo Darlin’, I really enjoy their music.
You’ve got a UK tour lined-up for July. What else have you got planned for the rest of the year?
Emma: Indeed we are, July is going be fun and especially with the festivals we are doing! We are also doing another US tour down the east coast in August and then we are hoping to record the new material we’ve been working on and we’ll just keep playing anywhere we can.
Hi Elizabeth! What have you been up to since we last saw you guest DJ at Scared To Dance?
Hey Paul. We’ve been pretty busy since then, we’ve just come back from a 10 day tour of the East Coast of the States. We had an awesome time playing shows in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Quebec.
How was your in-store gig at Rough Trade East?
It was really cool. Our vinyl copies of the album just arrived before we went on stage so we were really excited to see those. See how the artwork turned out and things. Kind of amazing to see our record on the racks. Although Bill and I were wondering if we would end up in the Oz/NZ section at the back of the store!
The New York Times had some very nice things to say about you. How was NYC Popfest?
Yes that was pretty exciting for us. I met the guy from the NY Times after the show but I didn’t realize he liked us that much. It was a really great article about indie pop in general I thought – he really captured the kind of DIY spirit and mentioned Cloudberry and WeePOP! which was pretty awesome! The popfest itself was super cool. Our show was really good fun – Gary Olson from the Ladybug Transistor sang Bobby’s part on “Dreaming”. He was so good I kind of forgot what I was doing because I was just listening to him. I was only there the night we played and the previous night at Cakeshop because we had gigs the other nights. I really loved Pants Yell! and I was sad it was one of their last shows. Still it was cool to see them before they broke up.
Your debut album just came out on Fortuna Pop! and it’s had some excellent early reviews. What are your hopes for it?
I think we’ve already exceeded what we hoped for with this album and this band – anything else is a real bonus. We’re kind of amazed at everything that’s happened to us. But we are very proud of the album, even though we started recording it just under a year ago and now we know these songs so well it would probably sound very different if we recorded it now.
The album is full of potential singles, “If Loneliness Was Art” being my particular favourite. Will you be releasing more singles from the album or will your next release be new material?
“If Loneliness Was Art” is going to be another single, but I think it’s just going to be a limited release. We’ve had a lot of support from 6 Music and Sean at Fortuna Pop! wants to give them more songs to play on the radio, because it will keep up interest in the band and the album. We released “The Polaroid Song” last December and you kind of have to follow up the album with singles to keep momentum going. We will have new material soon but we need to find time to record it first!
You’re playing on the Friday night of Indietracks in-between Veronica Falls and band Everybody Was In The French Resistance… Now. Will you be sticking around for the weekend to see other bands?
Yes we will and we can’t wait!
You all look so happy when you’re playing on stage which definitely rubs off on the audience. Do you secretly all hate each other and go hours without talking on tour, like Simon & Garfunkel?
No! The thing about our band is we were friends before we started playing music together. Of course when you’re in each other’s faces all the time on tour you need some time apart, but we genuinely get on well and love playing music together. They’re just a really fun bunch of people.
Speaking of Paul Simon, you played two of his songs when you DJed for us in April. Was he an influence on your songwriting?
Yes definitely. “My Heart is a Drummer” is meant to be a kind of tribute to him. It even says so in the song, specifically the song “Gracelands”. It’s pretty daggy to say it but we all grew up with our parents playing “Gracelands” and all that old Simon & Garfunkel stuff, along with The Beach Boys. It kind of sounds like the sunny music of nostalgia to me, and I guess that’s a quality we kind of have in our songs, or at least I’m chasing anyway.
Who would you say your biggest influences are?
Well The Beach Boys and Paul Simon, as mentioned above. I know for Paul and Mike it’s a lot of stuff like Super Furries and Yo La Tengo, for me and Bill, The Go-Betweens. Jens Lekman would be my favourite songwriter around at the moment, and has been for years. We all like Buddy Holly a lot. I also really love the comedian Daniel Kitson. Not that he writes songs, but he’s an influence!
Are they’re any other bands or solo artists you’d like to collaborate with? I hear Jarvis Cocker is a fan!
Haha. If I’d known as a teenager that one day he would hear our songs I probably would have died. I’ve never really thought about who we’d like to collaborate with, but it would probably be someone really daggy!
And finally, what else have you got planned for the rest of the year?
Lots of shows, in the UK, Europe and possibly back to the US later in the year. We really want to get recording the next album but at the same time we don’t want to rush it like we did this one – it was cool to do it really fast but it would be better if the band actually knew the songs before we went in to record them! We’re playing the End of the Road festival in September, which will finish off the summer. It’s going to be a good summer!
Hello Darren! You’ve been touring again since the incident in Nottingham at the end of last year [Darren suffered a fractured skull being mugged after one of his gigs]. How’s it been?
Bearable. I always enjoy my time on stage, but I was a little jumpy as might be expected.
Do you still dislike touring outside of London and being away from home?
Yep, pretty much. It gets worse as I get older. I think I maybe a little agoraphobic. Nothing specifically to do with the attack although that didn’t help, obviously. It’s all starting to feel very undignified for a man my age.
Your last album Pram Town was seen as a return to form by many critics. I’ve read that you don’t read reviews – do you have a particular distain for music journalists?
No I did read the reviews for Pram Town and liked, for the most part, what people had to say. It’s nice to be liked, even by critics, and it does help the ego but it isn’t the centre of what I do.
You’ve said in the past that your forthcoming record Essex Arms is going to be a “very depressing record” and it has “a strong theme of death.” What else can you tell us about it?
I don’t know if it’s depressing or not. It’s supposed to be about beauty and love in unlikely places. It does feature a death (a car crash), its bleak certainly but there is a love story in there.
Will Essex Arms be carrying on some of the same themes from Pram Town? Can it be seen as a sister album?
Well it’s a second album in an Essex trilogy although I’m not sure what themes link them other than me thinking about location and my home county. Both are love stories I guess. Both are sort of sliding doors narratives, that is to say what I might have been if I’d stuck around in Essex.
What are your hopes for Essex Arms? Scott Walker once said he makes each record in the hope to raise enough money to make another. Do you share this approach?
I suppose. It is tough out there. I currently make less money than ever and as discussed above I am starting to withdraw from playing live which is where people usually make up what they lose on dwindling CD sales. I want it to be good. I want it to matter to at least some people. Outside of that I don’t ask for too much.
I was recently at one of your gigs and some people were laughing at some of your more witty lyrics. I find these more tragic and morose than comedic. Does that bother you?
It’s interesting how audiences act as one and how one audience will laugh at a line that others might recoil from. People do sometimes laugh at odd places but in general I don’t mind. I’m trying to use unlikely words in songs and often they jar and amuse.
Do you still enjoy playing Hefner songs or do you see it as a burden?
I don’t mind too much. There are some I never do now, but as long as I switch them around it’s ok. My main problem is that I think a lot of the popular ones aren’t very good.
You’ve pretty much released every Hefner song. Is there anything left in the archive?
There are a lot of live tapes. The BBC stuff is proving hard to license. Completely unheard Hefner songs? I can’t think of many.
Would you play again with Jack Hayter as you did when you toured Hefner songs a couple of years ago?
Jack is on a lot of Essex Arms and does sometimes appear with me. Although I have no plans to do ‘Hefner’ songs shows.
You recently played at Stroke Your Beard in London playing just the ukulele which reminded me of your bluegrass record. Will there be another Hayman, Watkins, Trout & Lee release?
It seems unlikely. I have no objection and the four of us see each other often. Dave’s commitments with The Wave Pictures would be the main barrier.
What does the rest of 2010 have in store for you?
Trying to finish this album about the Essex Witch Trials and avoiding playing live.
Finally, Morse or Lewis?
Morse of course, but Lewis does OK as a make-do.
What have you been up to since your last tour of Britain?
Well, since we were last over in December, we had some time to practice and demo a bunch of new songs, toured Japan, New Zealand and Australia and are now on a US tour with Surfer Blood and Hooray for Earth. It’s going really great – we’re excited to be on the road again, especially with two bands that we really like a lot.
Tell us more about your new single “Say No to Love”.
If you strum an E chord, then an A chord then a B chord then the A chord again, repeat that for about 3 and a half minutes you’ve got yourself a summertime jam (hopefully). Because we tour a lot, we like to make new music available to people as immediately as possible – it’s fun to have new songs to play, and people seem to appreciate that if they come see us again, we’re not just going to regurgitate the same set we did 6 months prior.
You recently made a video for “Higher Than the Stars”. How did that come about? Why did the video come so late after the release of the single?
We wanted the video to be a certain way, and then we got all caught up in touring and other stuff, so we never got to finish it in a way that felt right. In the end we’d rather have a video we feel proud of (involving furries) than one that’s not really us. Right now we’re working on a new video for “Say No to Love” and hopefully that will get done a bit closer to the actual release of the single.
You’re headlining Indietracks Festival on the Sunday night, have you been before?
It’s a festival I’ve really wanted to attend since 2007, and we’ve wanted to play it but have never been able to make it work out. It caters to the kind of passionate pop that we love, and the people who attend are a lot of our best friends we’ve met from on tour. So yeah, we’re not only looking forward to playing and seeing other bands, but just hanging out with our friends.
What bands are you looking forward to seeing over the weekend?
There are so many, so if I forget some please forgive me. The Blanche Hudson Weekend, Allo Darlin’, Shrag, Love Is All, Specific Heats, Pooh Sticks, The Primitives and lots more.
Were you surprised by the critical successes of your debut album and the Higher Than the Stars EP? It’s all happened so quickly for you.
Each thing has sort of been a gradual build up from the thing before. While it looks incredibly improbable and dramatic looking back at our start at Peggy’s birthday party, to us at least there’s never been a sense of “overnight” rags to less raggedy rags. There was the Cloudberry cd-r, our self-released s/t EP, the Atomic Beat “Kurt Cobain’s Cardigan” split 7″ w/ The Parallelograms, the “Searching for the Now split 7” w/ Summer Cats, and then the “Everything With You” 7″ on Slumberland as well as several tracks for fanzine compilations (Anorak City, A Layer of Chips, Fog of Ideas). Each of those releases seemed to find some really enthusiastic listeners in the indiepop community, which is all we ever really thought would happen. When we started, we figured we’d have like 12 fans, but they’d be really good fans and that was perfect. Aside from a little road trip to Athens Popfest in 2007 and a very brief mini tour of the UK with the help of The Manhattan Love Suicides, we didn’t really experience too many opportunities to play outside of our home town.
But after the record came out, we started getting more opportunities to tour and people started discovering us, which was both completely surprising and wonderful feeling. So many of the bands from which we drew inspiration never got the chance to do half of the things we have in our time together, and while it would be easy to get bogged down and feel unworthy, I think the most respectful thing to do is just try to appreciate the opportunities you have, make the most of them and continue to work hard. We try to be as upfront about the bands we admire that have influenced our music as possible, so that hopefully through people learning about us, they can also get into Close Lobsters, The Pastels, The Manhattan Love Suicides, Black Tambourine, Rocketship and Exploding Hearts.
I hear you’re working on your new LP at the moment. What can we expect from it?
Well, we won’t start recording it until we get back to New York, but we’re totally excited by the songs. I think a lot can be made of production and all the weird details of making a record, but if you’re not excited about the songs, then all the fancy production in the world won’t fix that.
Who’ll be releasing it in the US and Europe?
We’ve enjoyed and are grateful to both Mike from Slumberland and Sean from Fortuna Pop! and hope to continue to work with them on the next record. Hopefully they’ll want to too… I have to say here that I firmly believe that not every indie is run by great people, nor every major populated by music haters. But both Mike Schulman and Sean Price are two of the most virtuous, hardworking, aesthetically discerning and kind people in music. The fact that Sean lets us stay on his floor, eat his olives and granola when we’re in London, and Mike fly’s halfway around the world to see us play, despite having a full time job, a lovely wife and a 2 year old baby, never ceases to amaze us.
How’s your recent tour of the US with Surfer Blood going? Have you got a favourite gig so far?
Ha, we’ve only played three so far, but we really like both Surfer Blood and Hooray for Earth. It’s really fun to tour with bands that are both really good and fun to hang out with. To be honest, even bands you sometimes think are super serious usually turn out to be nice guys/gals when you meet them. Like, today Hooray for Earth “Iced” us during soundcheck. For those that don’t know what icing is, it’s when you’re presented with a Smirnoff Ice (alternative beverage) and you have to take a knee and chug it to prove your worth. This is a tradition among more fraternity types in the US (“lad culture,” I believe you call it), but we are happy to appropriate it for our own perverse pleasure.
Do you enjoy touring or do you get homesick?
I really like touring more than anything. Life at home is cool because I have some really wonderful friends that I like to see, but the chance to travel to new places and meet new people that I’d never get to go to or meet – that’s such a once in a lifetime opportunity, that it feels like I’ve won sort of “life” lottery where I get to do something I love more than anything. I try to just appreciate it 100 percent and do it the best I can.
What bands are exciting you at the moment?
Too many to name here. Some albums that have come out this year that I’ve really liked are (and in no particular order):
Allo Darlin’ – Allo Darlin’
Gemini – Wild Nothing,
Revenger – Knight School,
The Monitor – Titus Andronicus,
Spirit Youth – Depreciation Guild,
Chronosynclastic – The Prids,
Momo EP – Hooray for Earth,
Astro Coast – Surfer Blood and
The World that Never Was – The Secret History
Other bands I’m psyched on a lot, but maybe haven’t released an album yet:
Yuck, Zaza, Best Coast, Light Asylum, German Measles, The Blanche Hudson Weekend, Dream Diary, Gold Bears.
What are your plans for the rest of 2010?
Well, we’re going to record our album this summer, so that’s going to be a lot of fun. Also, we’re going to be touring a lot – pretty psyched about everything, especially the chance to finally play Indietracks.
Our Summer fanzine is now out. Our lead interview is with Indietracks headliners The Pains of Being Pure at Heart who tell us all about their upcoming album.
Plus interviews with more bands playing the festival including this years big breakthrough Allo Darlin’, Standard Fare, Betty and the Werewolves and a festival preview.
We have an exclusive interview with Darren Hayman about his new album Essex Arms. Live reviews from Drowned in Sound on Slow Club plus Sleigh Bells, Teenagersintokyo and Speakowire.
Blogger extraordinaire Brilldream previews some of the best new DIY bands. Profile pages from My Secret World – The Story of Sarah Records, Odd Box Records, Twee Grrrls Club, Hissing at Swans and Colour Me Pop plus a tribute to Julian Barnes.
The fanzine comes with a free EP from The Understudies entitled Press Play For Songs By The Understudies –
1. A Girl I Used to Knock About With
2. Flicknives (Acoustic)
3. Wanting vs Getting (Acoustic)
4. If I Come To You
If you would like to order a copy it costs £1.50 plus P&P.