In August 2013, 4 months after releasing his critically acclaimed second album Excavation, Bobby Krlic aka The Haxan Cloak played a unique concert at the Cisternerne during Strøm festival in Copenhagen. We met up with Bobby to talk about Excavation, how he approaches music and his work with young offenders.
So, it’s your first concert in Denmark, what do you expect from it? Have you got an indication of how large your fanbase is here?
I’ve played quite a few shows across Europe but for some reason I’ve never quite managed to get to Denmark. I’m looking forward to it – I never have any idea of how popular I am as it really varies from country to country. Some countries you really have to tour hard to get known properly, whereas other countries have more curious concert-goers who will turn up anyway because they’ve heard something online.
A lot of musicians have to quit playing live when falling ill with tinnitus. Do you take any specific precautions when playing live to nurse your tinnitus?
I wear earplugs, and I don’t have my monitors very loud. I don’t want to risk any more damage. That’s not to say it’s not loud out in the audience, but for me my on-stage sound has to be at a tolerable level. Some musicians love to hear their music loud when they’re playing but I’d rather not. Hearing is very precious, I won’t be able to make music without it.
Have you been able to use your tinnitus musically? Can you use it as a somewhat creative counterforce?
It certainly pushes you in different directions – for example, I don’t make very very noisy, dense music because I could never stand to listen to it over and over again while I’m creating it. So I’m perhaps attracted to less abrasive sounds nowadays. I’ve learnt how to use space a lot more, and on a practical level I know my physical limit for how long I can sit at my studio, or watching a band, before it becomes dangerous for me.
How do you think your upbringing on the Wirral Peninsula comes across in your music?
Where I live has very different landscapes – it’s part coastal, part woodland, with Liverpool – a big city – very close. So all those elements have fed into the music I’m making and the aesthetics of the visuals I create too. It can be very exposed here, very windy and rainy in winter and beautiful in the summer. It’s a real balance, so I suppose in some ways that affects the music that I’m making. It’s interesting to be located just outside a city – I can dip in and out of the music and arts scene there, but still exist in my own space. It’s made me a lot more focused, I think, because I don’t have many distractions.
From where and who do you draw your inspiration, musically and artistically?
I listened to a lot of punk and metal bands when I was younger – bands like Fugazi, Deftones, Bikini Kill. So I grew up with a kind of DIY outlook on everything. I’ve carried that through to the decisions I make and what I say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to. It taught me to be strong, I guess, and a little bit stubborn too. I studied graphic design at art school, and I’ve been interested in art since I was a child, so there’s lots of different visual influences that inspire what I’m doing with Forest Swords too. The last exhibition I went to was Jake and Dinos Chapman in London, which was incredible. But I try not to be actively, obviously inspired by other artists – I prefer to just immerse myself in lots of different things and just soak up influences in a natural way. It’s perhaps why people have trouble categorising the type of music I make, because it doesn’t really fit in anywhere and doesn’t particularly sound like anyone else. I like it that way.
What do you see as the main drivers behind the recent years’ wave of dark-toned and introspective electronic music from the UK (Kwes, James Blake, Mount Kimbie, Lapalux, The Haxan Cloak etc.)? Do you think there is a British distinction to it or is it mere serendipity?
Interesting question. I think nowadays it has something to do with the current economic situation across Europe, perhaps. People in their twenties and thirties have a lot less options than they did 10 years ago. There’s not much positivity. So I’m not surprised that this feeling has filtered down into the music people are making. But I think the UK has always had a very melancholy way of making music, especially in electronic music. Bands like Depeche Mode in the 80s, or Massive Attack in the 90s, for instance.
You also work as a graphic designer. How would you describe your working process when producing music in comparison to making art? Do you visualize music in the same way as you do with art?
It’s a fairly similar process – because I create music on my computer, I can build songs in blocks and with different textures – it’s not so different from working in Photoshop on a collage. It’s a very visual way to make music. The type of software I use means I can label things by colour, build up layers, and so on. Music is just a different form of design in a way: it’s about where you place things, the space you use, what message you want to communicate.
How does the audience respond to your music in a live setting? Are they different from various crowds across countries, type of venue, time of the gig, etc.?
It’s something that varies from place to place. Some countries – Poland, for instance – have connected with the music in a very surprising and strong way, so the crowds there have been very loud the past couple of times we’ve played. Some cities are a lot more reserved and respectful. It depends on the venue, too – if I’m playing in an art gallery, for instance, the crowd are generally more cautious than in a normal concert venue. That’s the fun of playing shows, I suppose – you’re never guaranteed the same reaction every night.
How’s the ratio between acoustic and electronic elements in your music?
It’s about 70% electronic, I’d say. I sample a lot of acoustic instruments, but they’re processed and edited digitally, so I guess they’re a mixture of both acoustic and electronic. I am very connected to my guitar, and that appears in quite a few songs. I’m not really attracted to music that is all electronic, and synthetic. Sometimes it feels very cold. It’s very difficult to convey emotion like that. Live, I have a bass player who plays with me too which gives a lot more of a human element to the show and adds a different dynamic.
The response to ‘Engravings’ has been overwhelmingly positive. Do you regard it as the hitherto redemption of your career? How do you plan to follow it up?
No, I don’t see it as intimidating for the future really. I’m pleased with the response, it was better than I could have ever hoped for, but I don’t really feel any pressure to follow it up. It’s great that people are connecting to the music like that because it’s almost like a stamp of approval to keep on going forward – hopefully people that are interested in ‘Engravings’ now will be interested in what I am doing in two, three or four years time. Electronic music fans especially are very loyal. It’s great to play festivals and see artists in their 50s or 60s still playing to fans. But I am really excited about starting new music and seeing where it takes me, regardless of if it is popular or not.
Whats your plans for 2014?
I’m playing shows and festivals up until the summer, and then I’ll be starting work on new music in the second half of the year. Whether that is going to be an album or not, I am not sure yet. This year I’ll also hopefully be starting to produce and work with other artists, too, which will be fun.
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The dreariness of a Copenhagen winter is easily combatted by the shiny electronica of Australia’s Cut Copy. Their fourth full length album, Free Your Mind, sees the quartet expanding on the synth pop of its predecessor, Zonoscope, while exploring more experimental territory.
“Probably everything we do is pop to some degree,” says frontman Dan Whitford. “Even when we think we’re doing something crazy, it still sounds a bit poppy.”
Whitfrod sat down with us backstage at Lille Vega ahead of the final show of Cut Copy’s tour to talk about Free Your Mind, touring, recording, and why he’s afraid of concept albums.
Today’s the last day of the tour?
Last show. We fly back tomorrow. I think we’ve got most of the day here, and then we fly out in the evening. It’s crazy. The start of this tour just seemed like a never-ending run of shows. We have a backstage pass with all the shows on it, and we completed a whole US tour and it wasn’t even a quarter of the way through! We were like, “What the hell is going on? It’s going to go forever.” But we somehow got there. It’s been a really fun tour, actually, so that certainly hasn’t been a problem. But I think just being away from home, and missing being in Australian summer for two months is a bit of a thing for us. We’re keen to get back and put some shorts on and go to the beach.
Had the new songs been road tested before?
No, this was our first tour for the record. It came out when we’d already started this tour, so this was the first chance to play these songs to our fans. But it’s been cool.
Is there a learning curve to playing them live?
Yeah, we do figure it out but until you actually go on stage sometimes you don’t actually know what’s going to work properly or whether the songs come across properly to crowds. I guess just because the way we write music is very much that when we’re in a studio, we’re not thinking about performing live, we’re just like, “well, we can add this and add this and all sorts of crazy shit.” But then when it actually gets to playing it, we can’t have 30 different instruments on stage. We each play our parts, so sometimes it’s a weird translation from the record to a live context. I think you have to adapt a bit as you go. But thankfully the songs from this record seem to have worked really well from the beginning. I haven’t felt like we’ve had to change much, it’s just been like, “Yes, that’s how it should sound.”
Any songs in particular working well?
I really enjoy playing, “Let Me Show You Love.” I guess it’s a more deep song, maybe not quite as much of a pop song as some of the other tracks on the record. It seemed like maybe that was something that wouldn’t necessarily win over crowds. I mean, it was fun for us to play, but it’s actually worked really well in the context of the live set, and people really seem to get into it, so it’s a nice surprise that people are enjoying the track that we actually enjoy playing the most.
Do you prefer recording or touring?
It goes in phases. Certainly, by the end of making this record, I just wanted to go and play some shows. We’d been at home for a year and a half, we’d been working on the record writing, and then all these stages of recording, and then mixing. I think after a while you can’t even get in front of an audience, because you almost forget when you’re in a studio for too long that people are going to actually hear it. Because you think, after a while, it’s only the people in the band that have been listening to it, and that’s all that matters. But in actual fact, you just need other people to hear it. Sometimes you’re like, “What were we worrying about? It works!”
We’re still really enjoying playing live at the moment, but usually by the end of touring a particular record you’re pretty keen to get back in the studio, because I think as exciting as touring and traveling is, eventually you get to a point where you want to get some sort of creative stimulation again. You’ve been playing those songs so many times over and over that you want to find something new. It goes in cycles. It balances out. You can’t have one without the other, and they’re equally fun in their own way.
Do you ever write on the road?
It’s sort of difficult, because making electronic music in particular, it’s so reliant on the instruments and different synthesizers and equipment that you have on hand, you’re experimenting with all these different things, and using so many different things at once, that it’s kind of hard when you’re away touring. You don’t have access to all that. I’ve done remixing and that sort of thing while touring in the past, but not so much writing songs from scratch. I think probably also because half the time you’re on tour you’re feeling a bit hung over and sorry for yourself, so it’s not really the right mindset for being creative.
Would you describe “Free Your Mind” as a theme for the album?
I guess it does. I think it emerged, but we didn’t set out to do that. We really set out to not think about the end result. When we were making the record, as almost a technique to not get stuck, we decided that we’re just going to be totally positive about any suggestion that anyone made. We’d just try it, no matter how stupid it sounded, and then we can always come back later, and we can decide then if it’s good or not. To avoid having a stalemate where you’re just not sure whether you should do something or not and then have an argument, let’s just do it. You can always decide later. We didn’t really go back and listen to any of the songs that we were writing or recording until much later, particularly as a group. It wasn’t until maybe six months or more into the process that we actually listened to all of the ideas that we’d been working on. That’s when we discovered that there might be some sort of thread that runs through some of these songs. Once we discovered that, we tried to draw that out a little bit. I guess maybe the concept emerged, but I’m always scared to say “concept album” because it sounds self indulgent.
Are there other lyrical themes?
I guess so. Not all the songs seem to fit into that same box. The thing that sets this record apart to me is that previous records have been a lot more personal or introverted. The first record feels like a weird, lonely, solitary record. This one feels like almost an open invitation to anyone and everyone to be involved in what the record is about. Almost like a call to arms in a way for people who are listening to it to let go and enjoy themselves and do whatever they need to do for that to happen. For me, it feels like that probably is the thing that sets it apart from other records that we’ve done.
Where did the dialogue samples come from?
All sorts of different places. Some of them are from old mini disc recordings that I made when I was a teenager, recording all these different things from television and radio and weird places. A large number of them are from field recordings. Ben, our bass player, moved to Washington DC, and went around with this portable recorder, and just recorded people. Just asking them about their weirdest experiences and the strangest things that had happened to them and got some pretty funny results. A lot of those have ended up on the record as well.
What is your recording process like? As the main producer for the album, is it difficult to balance producing with recording?
At some point there needs to be someone that makes the final decision. I think we try to keep it as a group process up to a certain point. If no one can decide, I’m just like, “Well, I’m the producer, this is what we’re doing.” I put my foot down every now and then. But I think, inevitably, if you’re making electronic music you’re always producing your own music on some level. Even if you have an outside producer — like our second record, we worked with Tim Goldsworthy as a producer — but still, even just making the synthesizer sounds or deciding to use particular instruments, that’s basically doing the job of a producer. It’s not like we’re a rock band, we each have our instrument and that’s what happens. We switch around so much that it feels like we’re always producing our own records, even if we’re working with someone else. But it’s been cool, the last two records we’ve done in a very DIY way, where just found a cool space and set up our own studio, brought in all our own gear. It feels like a modern way of doing things as well, because you don’t need a big recording studio these days to make a record. You can bring in your computer and some good equipment and all your instruments, and there’s no reason you can’t make an awesome-sounding record.
Have you set up a permanent studio?
No, we’ve had two different ones. They were both warehouses. The first one, the one we used for Zonoscope, was a very rustic: Holes in the ceiling, no heating or anything like that. It was incredibly cold, because we were recording in winter, so we had these big coats on, and had one little bar heater that we huddled around, and if someone had to go and record something, they’d have to run up to the other end of the room, get cold as they were recording their instruments, and run back again. This time around we found a much better space that had actual acoustic treatment because bands were rehearsing there sometimes. And it had heating. We learned from the Zonoscope experience that some comfort is probably good.
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I caught up with Dom, Gabe and Nik of Factory Floor just before their very first gig in Copenhagen, drinking whiskey and ginger with Will Doyle (East India Youth), their support act for the tour. All four of them are welcoming and chatty long before the interview begins, Will recommending his favourite music journalists, Gabe pouring drinks, and Nik attempting to unplug the fridge to reduce the noise.
The interview is longer than usual, but it has remained unedited, since it captures the thought and passion the trio put into their music, both live and recorded. Behind their easy-going nature there is an energy constantly bubbling up to the surface as we discuss artistic development, North London, and collaborations with their favourite visual artists and musicians.
Here Today: You have been around in various guises since 2005, with singles, EPs, and so on, but what finally convinced you to make an album?
Nik: The three of us have been together since 2009… Well I can’t really speak for you two, because I joined you.
Gabriel: But I think that Factory Floor, before that, was just pissing about.
Dominic: It was a different band.
G: Yeah it was, just under the same name. I know all that history comes into it, but it only really started when us three got into a room together.
D: There was a lot of development, a lot of gigs…
G: We didn’t want to go, “Ah, there’s a bit of interest in us, so lets just do an album and disappear.” I think we wanted to make those steps really carefully.
D: We had releases in between, they just weren’t albums: EPs, singles, collaborations, they were all informing what the album was going to be like.
G: It was a big learning curve, the album, recording it, writing it as we went along, it did take a long time. But you have to go through those processes. You can’t get to a point where you’re totally happy with something until you go through that real process of development and learning. It’s very lengthy.
HT: Is that process more about refining composition, or is technical as well?
D: I think composition is a big thing. The way we work together is a hands-on, quite creative, artistic approach. We wouldn’t sit down and write music, it’s more about recognising something when it’s working, instinctively, between the three of us. When you are playing live, it’s great because you are expressing yourself in a certain way and it happens in real time. But when you have to capture it in a recording studio…
N: We built our own studio. We aren’t producers or engineers, so we had to learn how to record ourselves, because we wanted to recapture what we did live, but we also wanted to produce a record that was different from our live performance, that was more stripped down, clearer, more focused.
HT: You’ve collaborated with all kinds of people, musicians and artists, but it sounds like your recording process is much more insular.
D: When you’re working with other people, they inform your own practice, and what we got from that really came back in when we came together as the three of us again. So it’s not like we separate them, but we made a conscious decision on this album that, because it was our first document, our first LP, it was important that it should just be us.
N: We had engineers coming in, we worked with Stephen Morris as a producer, which was great, but we end up rerecording parts and manipulating them to the extent that it felt easier if we just did it ourselves and had a more hands-on approach. You experience all these creative accidents; it’s just a more creative way or recognising what we’re doing. I think fifty percent of what we do is to get these tools and work it out, as opposed to making tracks with lyrics about falling out with a friend. It’s about sound. We were working in this place in North London, where we were using the building to make our sound as well, and dismissing that idea of being in a studio, which is quite daunting. We knew we needed a place where we have all our stuff set up, and we can just walk away from it and come back the next day with it still set up.
D: You feel more relaxed in your own space. If you’re in someone’s studio you’re worried about scratching stuff or knocking a microphone over.
G: It’s a love and hate relationship, I’d miss it if it weren’t there.
D: It might well not be there, they’ve knocked the whole street down.
G: The street’s being developed, it’s all getting knocked down. It’s not far from Stoke Newington and Shoreditch, all that area, and it’s the last bit of London that’s going to be gentrified. It’s going and we can feel it on our doorstep.
D: We’ve got a Costa on the corner…
G: I don’t think there are going to be any places like that… It did influence us, but it was a massive distraction as well, but I think it needed to be there. And there’s a good drum sound if you mic it up in the toilet.
HT: So do you think that the area informed the album in some way?
G: It’s an isolated area of North London…
D: It was quite a strange time, though, because there were the riots while we were recording. There were massive things happening around, which I’m sure had some kind of unconscious influence. We were sandwiched between two Nigerian churches that would go on until the early morning. It’s an agitated area of London, there are so many things colliding. Not in a bad way, in a really creative way.
N: It felt really raw and real. And then you’ve got high volume Factory Floor music coming through the warehouse. It was an intense couple of years.
D: It’s quite weird that when we finished the album, that’s when the change started to happen. We were quite lucky really. I think we would have spent all our time in Costa…
G: I think the day the album came out in the UK, they started drilling next door to knock the building down. It’s been like that for two months, it’s bizarre and horrible.
HT: You were talking about your drum sound earlier. This album comes out on DFA records, who are known for quite a distinctive sound in terms of their drum and synths. How do you see yourself in relation to the other artists on their roster?
D: We were going to build a massive cowbell and wheel it on stage in a Tesco trolley, but someone had done that before…
G: I think we all love the New York, pre-dance stuff. It was more about organic instruments producing dance music, as opposed to digital plugins or whatever, which we aren’t against at all, but it changes the humanistic element of it.
D: DFA felt like a gateway to New York, in a weird way.
G: It’s a weird escapism. I’m in New York, but I’m in Seven Sisters, but I’m not…
N: It’s the same as moving to North London, which is away from all the scenes happening in London, because it’s the uncool part of the city. It’s nice to have that distance, so we can do our own thing.
HT: I think the use of live drums might be the thing that connects you most to that DFA sound.
D: The live drums and guitar really shift what we do from being – I know sound like I’m putting myself down – mediocre. You hear so many programmed dance outfits, but because we’re doing it live, we’re feeding off each other, it’s a very instinctive live set. It falls into improvisation at points, then it comes back.
G: You can’t really do that with a laptop. We like going against the pre-programmed stuff.
D: We push to get off that grid.
HT: Do you think of yourselves as mainly a live band?
In unison: Yes!
G: You’ve got to have that physicality. Instead of pressing one button to get that sound, press five buttons to eventually get to that sound. It’s good to think about it to get that humanistic DIY. That feeds through to the sound you’re creating. You’ve got to be hands-on with it to get to that point.
N: And if you hit the wrong one, hit it twice, so it looks on purpose.
G: Or do it for half and hour. But we all play, and I think that’s really apparent in the shows, that you can see points where it isn’t working. That doesn’t matter to us, we’re not precious about the shows being the same. There are points where it drifts into the unknown, where it starts to fall apart. It’s the trying to get it back from that where new things happen, new ideas and discoveries.
HT: This is a bit left-field, but I was interested to hear that the album was recorded on the same mix desk that the Eurythmics used. Is that coincidence?
D: We spotted it on ebay, I don’t know if we looked through the list [of previous owners] before we bought it.
G: It’s just a big volume control. It’s got some nice EQs on it, and the powerplug on it is quite nice as well, but that’s about it.
D: When did we discover that?
G: Jaki Liebezeit of Can, they were involved. But it was made in 1982, and I was born in 1982, so we were born the same day.
HT: But you have worked with a lot of your heroes and influences (Stephen Morris, Throbbing Gristle).
G: I think the mutual thing between these people and us is that they have the same approach to music. They go into a room with no preconceptions of what they are doing, and they just go with it. It’s an amazing thing. That’s why we do different live shows all the time, because we would get bored. They are from the same angle.
D: If you think a lot of the music industry is based on youth, it’s nice to meet people who are still as sharp as they have ever been; they are still inquisitive about their art.
N: They’re still transgressive …
G: Yeah, they’re not just one genre, not packaged into one thing.
D: It’s inspiring for us, to realise that hopefully in twenty years time we’ll still have that.
G: Still be in the warehouse…
HT: It’s interesting that, with your deep affection and relationship with certain periods in music history, the album sounds completely current.
G: But I just started ripping people off.
N: [To Gabe] That’s not true!
D: Some music when you’re growing up really impacts on you. I know that when I first heard “Atmosphere” it had a massive impact on my taste, whether it was the Velvet Underground or people like that. I think there is a point when you are starting when you need those seeds, but then you make your own language.
G: You’ve got to learn and progress into your own thing.
D: There was a lot of interest in the post punk era at that point. But we made complete strides away from that, didn’t we?
G: Everything happens for a reason; members are there or not there for a reason. If it’s meant to happen, it will. People come in and out of it, until you get the chemistry.
HT: You’ve worked with many visual artists, at the ICA, the Tate Modern. How did that come about?
D: We’re all from art backgrounds, we’ve all studied art up to a certain level. I think of Factory Floor as my artistic career. It’s my output at the moment.
N: It’s really important to mix art and music in the same box, it’s the same creativity. The ICA asked us to do a one-year residency after a show. The history of the ICA has always been about merging art and music, so it seemed inevitable that it would be a really good fit. We were allowed to use the space and make our show specific in terms of rearranging the space, using quadraphonic sound and different visuals. There’s one show where I’m out of it –Simon Fisher Turner’s taken my place –doing the visual for that, and Peter Gordon brought along Kit Fitzgerald, his life-long partner, who’s always looked at visuals and music in relation to each other. And Hannah Sawtell, we worked within her exhibition.
D: It’s only the industry that brings in the separation. You buy a record for fifteen quid, but you buy a piece of art for two million. That’s what separates it, the artists themselves don’t see any kind of division. Look at the Chapman brothers, they are making records, and they’re really good.
HT: And do the visuals influence the way you play?
G: For me, when we’re playing live, because I’m on the side I can see it, but it’s quite different for you [Dom], because you’re facing the audience. So they make you play, they create a mask in a way. You play along with them, when the audience is going mad, or when they’re not, it affects the show.
N: We’re driven by instinct, and it’s just another instinct. If the screen goes to green, I’ll hit my guitar, it’s really simple.
D: When you have patterns revolving, it doesn’t take long for whatever part of your consciousness to join them. Those connections are quite rewarding as an audience or an artist playing. You start to make these connections, which feels good and helps this escapism.
HT: You’ve used this word, escapism, quite a few times. But you’ve also spoken about how your environment has influenced you. So what does escapism mean for you?
N: The live element is enabling the audience to detach themselves from their every day lives. Because we have this repetition, and the lyrics are really simplified, there isn’t any narrative content there, it leaves space for the person listening to make up their own mind and respond in their own instinctive way.
D: It’s not very often you get a lot of people in a space who are able to escape from their reality and share that experience. If you go to an art gallery, you’re by yourself. You look at a picture and have your escapism. But there’s something about a performance that’s different. You’re with a group of people and you’re all sharing this dialogue between the artists and the audience.
N: That’s why it was really important for us to set up base, living in a space and being in our own bubble. It’s having that gang mentality, thinking about the same things and having the same vision. You want put that out to the people you play in front of, so they are all experiencing this sound and feeling it, losing themselves.
HT: Have you had any surprising reactions to your performances?
D: At the Tate Modern…
N: People taking off their clothes!
D: We set it up as a three-hour rehearsal, where people could come in, like an open studio. It was such an incredible reaction, because it was such a long period of time to play, it unravelled differently. People reacted quite profoundly, I think.
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I sat down with Ed and Russell, respectively drummer and bassist in Editors, on the first night of their new tour. When I wasn’t trying to explain the plot of This is Spinal Tap to them, we chatted about their latest album, The Weight of Your Love, as well as lineup changes and football anthems.
Hi guys, so how are you keeping sane on tour?
Ed: It’s just about getting rolling when you’re on tour, so you know the routine: you know exactly what time soundcheck is, interviews, dinner. You have to have some order in your life, you know.
Russell: Each city is varies, but we try to head to a park each morning for a run, try and keep healthy. I went to one left and left from here, by the Carlsberg brewery.
You seem to know Copenhagen pretty well, but then it is your second time here this year.
R: Yeah, we were here really recently, at the Tivoli, which we just walked past. They had it all decked out for Halloween, which should be nice.
How was Tivoli?
E: It was a bit strange, because it’s open both to those who have bought tickets and people who have the family tickets, so you get old grandparents with their children, poking their nose round to see what’s going on. But we had a great reaction, it was a really thought out thing to do, thoroughly enjoyable, like a fete.
I think we did our job really well, people stuck around for the end of it, that’s all you can ask for, isn’t it?
I heard Tom [singer] talking about the difference between the UK and Europe, do you think there’s a difference in mentality?
E: Definitely, there seems to be more an attitude of “oh, we like that band, lets see what they do next”, rather than “ok, so what’s new?” [In the uk] there seems to be such a hunger for what’s big. We were on the right end of it when we first came out, as one of the bands they were really pushing, and we built a career kind of on the back of that initial promotion. So we can’t hate it too much, though it’s quite distressing.
So how do you keep momentum?
E: We recorded the second album very quickly pretty much as soon as we got off tour we went into the studio. If you’re on a hot streak you have to keep on it. Then we slowed down a bit.
The original four of you were music technology students, did that influence your approach to music?
R: Not really, we all met because we wanted to do music, but the course wasn’t very good. It wasn’t what I thought it would be and it didn’t teach you much, glossed over a variety of things in the music and business world. It doesn’t teach you how to mix a record, or how to fix frequencies between a kick drum and a snare together.
E: [Playing live] you just develop, and you don’t notice it. I’ve noticed changes in Tom over the years, he’s coming out as a front man far more than he ever used to. He’s more of the focal point, when in the past he used to hide behind with the band a bit more.
Has the new lineup changed your position in the band?
E: I would say that ever since the band changed we all felt we have more of a voice in how things are run and how songs are put together. It’s the most collaborative record we’ve ever made, I think me and Russell’s involvement is a lot greater than it had been on previous albums.
It’s quite a bass-lead album, isn’t it?
R: The mix on it is quite different from previous albums, which were a bit more chocked. I think this one lets the speakers do the work, there’s a lot more space in it. Obviously some fans might like that, might want it always noisy, but we get tired of that and move on.
R: Playing in a five-piece band, you have to know your place a lot more. You have to know where everything is going to sit and make sure they suit the songs.
We didn’t really have a direction when Chris was with us, we had a few songs that were around at the time, but none of us were really into it. Chris was well bored with the band and we were well bored with him.
E: We weren’t very good at talking about [song ideas] until about a year and half ago. We got into a situation where everyone knew things weren’t working, but no one wanted to talk about it. So to be able to speak freely in the band is refreshing. It’s probably something we did when we were just starting out, but as time goes on you get stuck in certain situations.
People like to compare you to certain bands from the 80s, are there influences of yours that might seem unexpected?
R: I don’t think we’ve referenced a band in a while, directly. We’ve all got big musical tastes and knowledge. We know about a lot of popular music. People think you’re limited because we like 80s bands like Echo and the Bunnymen and Joy division, but we have very broad taste. This record is quite different. It’s a bit out of time, I think all our records have been out of time. You listen to someone like Chvrches now, and I don’t really like her. I don’t like the production, the sound, so it’s not a route we would go down.
You’ve spoken about feeling quite liberated, but there’s a pattern in the song titles: “The Weight of Your Love”, “The Weight of the World”, “A Ton of Love”. So where does this heaviness come from?
E: We’ve always written songs about the dark side of life. And Tom has been far more ambiguous on previous album. Here he’s let his storytelling side out a bit more, talks about specific events. But even the good stuff is wrapped up in some sort of counter, some sadness or depth which you wouldn’t get in a happy song. It’s the way we like to write songs, it keeps us interested.
Do you have any lighthearted songs hidden away somewhere?
E: Yeah, “Back of the Net”, our football theme we made in rehearsals, about the time of the Euros last year. It might come out for the next World Cup.
You should, it could be the next “World in Motion” [New Order’s World Cup theme].
E: It wasn’t as cool as the New Order one…
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In August, Dirty Beaches, along with an impressive selection of bands played mini festival Wasn’t Born To Follow at the Pumpehuset in Copenhagen. We caught up with Alex Zhang Hungtai (Dirty Beaches) to talk about his new album Drifters/Love Is The Devil, benefits of the internet for independent artists, the DIY music scene and more.
View the interview below:
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A new album is out with dream pop trio Au Revoir Simone. Here Today met with Annie Hart prior to the bands rehearsal hour. Among other things we talked about the time that had passed, the title of the new album, Move In Spectrums, and cover art.
Ten years ago Erika Forster and Annie Hart met on train heading for New York. They shared a dream of an all-keyboard band. Fast forward two years and Au Revoir simone releases their first album: “Verses of Comfort, Assurance & Salvation”. Another two years: Second album “The Bird of Music”. Yet another two years: ”Still Night, Still Light”.
It seems like a pattern, but no. Four years has gone by and in world of pop-music that is quite a while, but to Annie Hall it did not seem so:
“After the release of Still Night, still Light we where on tour for about 2 years. At that time I got pregnant, still we kept touring until I was about 8 months in. I had the baby and still we where playing shows. About one and a half year ago we began making this record. So much has happen in between these two albums that it does not feel like four years has past.” says Annie Hart.
Doing those four years Au Revoir Simone have matured as songwriters. Move In Spectrums is honest album stripped from any attempts of being “poetic”, Annie Hart explains, but finding a title for the album was a challenge. Erica went away to a meditation retreat upstate in the woods.
“The yoga teacher mentioned we move in spectrums with our feelings. It is not all black and white, you are not really angry or really happy, but there is kind of spectrum. You can shift yourself along these lines, between these feelings; you don’t have to be happy or sad, you can be in the middle or leaning one way or the other like a meter.
When she said that frase – move in spectrums – we where like ‘that is the perfect title for a record’ and we all started jumping up and down,” recalls Annie Hart.
Bright neon colors
A spectrum can also be a spectrum of light – like a rainbow – and the band where looking for excactly that kind of cover. Something Pink Floydish like a prism, as Annie Hart puts it. They had their eyes on Berenice Abbott, a female photographer, that worked twenty years to “prove that photography was the medium uniquely qualified to unite art with science”, but when they found out, what it would cost to use her images, they began to look in other directions.
During that time photographer Amelia Bauer and flower arranger Elizabeth Parks Kibbey collaborated on a project called Book Of Shadows; a series of still lifes based on magic spells. Especially one of the photographs enticed the band because of the way it combined flowers and nature with bright neon colors and black.
“We and really wanted to do something with bright neon colors for this record becuase we felt that this record felt more alive, present and vibrant than our records had in the past. We wanted more a direct, vibrant sensation and we thougth that that photograph was just so beautiful and that it captured that feeling,” says Annie Hart.
Move In Spectrums is released today (23.09.2013). You can stream it at NPR
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Here Today: So I hear you formed in Chichester, sort of out of boredom. Why was Chichester not floating your boat?
TRAAMS: Well it’s weird, we did form in Chichester, but it was more about getting out of Bognor [Regis], really. That’s we’re all from originally, and we all moved around a bit, and formed the band after years of knowing each other. But yeah, it’s true in a sense, because there aren’t many places to play in Chichester. There’s not really much of a scene here. There’s lots of musicians, but nothing real.
HT: So it was like a reaction?
TR: Yeah, definitely. When we first formed we knew we would have to play London and Brighton a lot, and it’s good now that we’re going to other places. We thought the band might be able to help us escape.
HT: So I hear you’re based in Brighton now? How does it compare?
TR: Oh, it’s a lot better, for the music scene at least. But we practice in Ford, and we do a lot of our writing there. It’s nice to not be in a city environment to get stuff done. Brighton is quite distracting, it’s hard to not go out every night.
HT: So you’ve had pretty good feedback on ‘Grin’ so far. Excited about the release?
TR: Yeah, it’s great, we’ve seen a few reviews and a lot of people seem to be liking it, which is great news, because obviously, being a debut you don’t really know where you stand. We haven’t really gigged much, so we’re still figuring out what people think of us, really.
HT: And do you have a favourite track or something you especially like about the album?
TR: When we were sorting out what tracks to put on the album, we had loads of songs to choose from, so everyone has different favourites. Some are my favourite playing, some are my favourite to listen to… I really like “Headroll”. That’s a nice long one that’s really fun live.
HT: That’s my favourite too!
TR: Oh really? Maybe I’m bias because there’s a massive bass solo in it.
HT: It struck me that there are a few different atmospheres on the album, like “Flowers” which is loud and fast, and “Headroll” which is almost like a driving song.
TR: Well, “Flowers” we wrote in our first ever band practice, and we thought “oh that’s nice, we should probably do this every week. It was about finding our feet really, we just wanted to try different things out, and the albums just the result of loads of different ideas that we had when we first started, so it was sort of by accident really. We didn’t expect to have an album where some of the songs might be eight minutes and some of them would be two. We didn’t expect to have an album full stop. But, I think it works in context on the album. Live, we mess around a bit more, and moving forward we might try to focus on one or the other approach, but I quite like the mashup.
HT: I heard that you recorded a lot of the album live. Why did you make this decision? And what’s a TRAAMS live experience like?
TR: We really try and be well rehearsed, and that’s why a lot of the recordings are done live. We also thought that if people want to see us live, we want it to be as close to the album as possible, especially being a three piece, there’s not much we can do onstage. Everyone’s got a job each, we can’t go crazy in the studio, letting stuff down and adding too many bells and whistles, but it’s basically just a loud, three piece band, really. Nothing out of this world, but we try and be really loud. Me and the drummer especially. We really try and tighten, which leaves Stu [the singer] to make as much of a racket as he wants. Wear earplugs.
HT: That’s something I noticed, listening to the record. You and the drummer play a really big role, you’re very tight and the rhythm seems very important.
TR: Yeah, I knew Adam before I met Stu. We grew up together and we’d been in a band together. When we were younger we listened to loads of Interpol, Vision, and Kings of Leon almost where the bass and the drums are playing the same thing, it’s like one band member. We try and treat TRAAMS like a two piece, in a way. Me and Adam are doing one job, and Stu’s doing one job as well, singing and playing guitar at the same time. Four sounds, but two members, in a very weird way. When I was in a band with him before I was on guitar, and it was like “why aren’t you playing bass? I know exactly what you’re gonna play next.” I can just lock in with that. That’s part of building the song, making sure me and Adam compliment each other to create one driving force.
HT: I really liked the video for “Flowers.” Was it fun to shoot?
TR: Yeah it was lots of fun to shoot. We just did it in the garden. James Burgess directed it, and he’s brilliant. He plays in Boneyards, but he’s done videos for Flamingods and The History of Apple Pie. We really wanted to do it with him, he came up with the idea, and so we just spent loads of money on loads of custard, died it green and threw it at each other in the garden. It didn’t take too long. Good job it was a sunny day, as well. We’re really glad with the outcome, and we just wanted a fun video. Hopefully if we do get to make more videos they’ll all be stupid, having fun. I don’t think serious videos would work with our music
HT: So the custard’s not symbolic in any way?
TR: Nah, it was quite nice, it broke some tension. It was quite nice to just being able to throw a load of custard at Stu, and vice versa. I think that’s the way we should do it. If we do get to make more videos it would be nice to do story lines, maybe even like The Lonely Island, where they’re just taking the mick out of life.
HT: Is that a big part of your band’s ethos then, taking the mick out of life?
TR: In a way, just not taking things too seriously. It’s just very hard to, when you’re doing exactly what you want. I get to make music with my best friends, and you can’t get luckier than to do what you want, so you just have to react in a way that says “this might not happen forever, let’s just have fun.” We can’t really relate when we’re playing with other bands and they’re all deadly serious about what they’re doing. You know, good luck to them, but I don’t see it that way. It’s weird.
HT: Talking of other bands, you’ve been supporting some pretty cool names recently, like Fidlar and Temples. What was it like working with and supporting them?
TR: Oh, brilliant. They’re all great. It’s nice to play with a band where you know the record very well before you even get to the gig. Fidlar were a lot of fun, especially the crowd. Again, it’s weird that we do get to play with band’s that are a slightly different genre but where we do fit in sometimes. We’re going to go see Temples again tonight, they’re fun lads.
HT: And the British indie scene is in quite a good place right now, wouldn’t you say?
TR: Oh yeah, there’s way too many good bands at the moment. They’re all popping up out of nowhere from all over the place, there’s not one particular scene. But MJ [TRAAMS, Hookworms] seems to be producing them all, so maybe he’s the secret… At the end of the day, we’re all just rock bands, but it’s hard to fit in a scene when all these bands are from different places. But it’s great when you get to play with them at all these different festivals.
HT: So do you think it’s almost easier to be in a rock band at the moment when you’ve got other bands around to support you?
TR: It definitely helps when there are other bands doing similar things, getting shows and things, but there are also a lot of musicians out there who are really pushing things forward, making amazing albums, but it might be harder for them to get involved, supporting other bands, or vice versa. If you’re making really original music, it needs to stand alone.
HT: So what do you really want the audience to take away from the album?
TR: Have fun, form a band! There’s no big secret with us, we’re pretty straightforward.
TRAAMS’ debut album ‘Grin’ is released on the September 16th, on FatCat Records.
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Scarlet Chives release their second album, ‘This is Protection’ on Monday. We sat down to talk to lead singer Maria Mortensen, about feeling cosy in a freaky way, a cabin in the Swedish woods, and naked people.
Here Today: So the new album ‘This is Protection’ is about to be released. Excited?
Scarlet Chives: Yes very much. It was very easy to make, but the finishing process has been very long. Now we’re just excited to find out if people like it.
HT: So where did the name of the album come from?
SC: Well the theme of the album is just about admitting that there has to be other people around you, or else nothing’s worth anything. So it’s very simple, but that’s why the album is called ‘This is Protection’, because other people are your protection.
HT: So where did the album start? Was it one particular song or event that triggered it?
SC: Well we’d been playing our old album for a very long time because it came out in Denmark, and then came out in Norway almost a year later. We started touring the old album again after it had been finished for almost two years, so we didn’t really have too much time to make new music. As soon as we got time to see each other again to just write music, people started doing sketches [of songs] for the band, and we just got together and made the album very fast because we had been so excited to make new songs for a very long time. It wasn’t like we wrote one song and it made sense to write songs just like it. We got together, sat down and wrote them.
HT: So I understood from your Facebook that it was written in the Swedish woods?
SC: Yes it was. As I told you, we had a handful of sketches, and all the boys sat down and did sketches by themselves, so they all had little sketches with them when we went to Sweden. We borrowed a cabin in the woods for one week, in Spring last year. I listened to the sketches through my headphones all the way in the car, writing text ideas. As soon as we got to Sweden we installed different studios in different rooms in the cabin and we just started finishing the songs together. This little vacation was all about trying a new sound, playing together, and finding out what we would like to do with the new record. But we didn’t really have to. We just worked with the songs. Separately, actually. All of the boys sat with their own sketches in their own little rooms, and I could go visit them making melodies for all of the sketches. In the evenings we got together and started recording ideas, and actually finishing the album that way. When we got home one week later we had ‘This is Protection’.
HT: So there wasn’t one person in charge? That’s interesting.
SC: No, everybody was bringing something. It was always a dream for us that we could make music that way, but it’s always harder than you think. We would always like to have a little democracy where everybody is just as important as the other. The only way to do that is just to accept that everybody’s bringing something. If you just sit back and listen, or shut up and play… We didn’t have to talk too much. We could just work with each other’s songs and be inspired by the ideas that somebody came with. And that was really cool. We’re all very different, we have different references, we can do different things… I don’t even play any instruments so I just like to respect the ideas of somebody who knows some techniques. That way you can focus on the things you do best. That was how we worked all week because we just wanted to be productive with getting a lot of ideas recorded that we could work on when we got home. So yes, it was very interesting, and we are very happy with the result.
HT: So was the environment important? The Swedish woods…
SC: I don’t think we knew it at the time, but listening to the record I can really hear that it’s cosy in a very freaky way, just being on your own. Even though there were six of us, there were not a lot of people around. It was a very small village, maybe four houses, and of them was ours. In the other cabins there lived men and their dogs, by themselves, just wandering around the house and looking to see what these hippie Danes were doing. They could hear us recording music. It was a very nice experience, but also a bit freaky, and I think that’s also how the record sounds. It’s cosy in a very dark way.
HT: So it’s quite solitary then?
SC: Yes, very much.
HT: Is that one of the themes that comes out in the album?
SC: Yes, I think it is. When I got home and listened to it it kinda freaked me out, and I think that’s when I got the idea that it should be about other people, because I was far away from them. The sound of the record too, is very solitary. Even the very pretty songs, where the vocals are in front, there’s always something very spooky underneath.
HT: So would you say it’s a record to listen to on your own?
SC: Yes. I think it is. I never thought about it, but I think it is, because there are many fragments there, many different stories. I think I get many pictures from it. I think it would be a good idea to listen to it on your own at first, but there are also many easy songs on the record, and songs that you can even dance to.
HT: So it sounds like it was quite an easy process to put it together. Were there any challenges that you faced when you were writing the album?
SC: Yes, a lot. I think the biggest challenge with the album was that it felt like it made itself. We had been very hungry to write music for a very long time. We were six people at the time, and I don’t think it was quite stimulating enough for some of us. We never really got to play that much, because it sounded good before we thought it was finished. We had been looking forward to working together again, the boys had been looking forward to doing all of those nerdy things with all of their effects, recording a hundred different ideas, choosing the best of them. And we never got to that, because we felt it was finished before we felt done working with it. That was a big challenge because it doesn’t really feel fair telling people not to play. So of course we had some discussions about that.
HT: What are the changes from your debut album?
SC: Many. First of all because, like I told you, it was made in a very different way. With the first album we all got together writing songs, even from scratch. The new album is also more diverse as everyone had ideas. It was not like that with the first album. It’s also not as noisy, but I think it’s more dramatic, colder, in a way. And then of course, we have all developed and got new inspiration.
HT: So you’ve released two videos from the new album so far, for “The Timber Will Fall”, and “Some Days Stay”. They’re both quite… striking? Maybe a feminist edge?
SC: Yeah, I guess you could call them that! The first video we released, for “The Timber Will Fall” was made by director Aske Bang. I came up with some of the ideas, but it was his video. I’m not a feminist at all, but we definitely wanted somebody to make a video for us that would work with the boundaries of what is accepted when you make art today. Especially as now things are virtual, and boundaries are not as wide as we were once used to in Denmark. I think that censorship for grown ups was removed in the sixties or something, and then it’s of course very sad for artists today to feel locked to certain rules when they make art, if they want anyone to see it. The video was removed from Facebook and YouTube. That was not at all what we wanted. We didn’t really think it would happen. We didn’t know the rules. We just knew that you didn’t see it that often, now we know why. We hadn’t really looked that much into modern censorship but we wanted to move boundaries for what was acceptable and normal. It was on purpose that we made a controversial video, but it was not my intention to be feminist. I never really saw it that way, I actually saw it like the opposite, mocking women for using their sexuality to get power. We really liked the result though, we thought it was very beautiful. The only thing I talked to Aske about was that I wanted normal naked people. If you want to see normal naked people, and it’s not in porn, it might be in movies, or in an art installation, not trying to reach a wide audience. We just thought that you would like the thought of beautiful, naked, all natural, normal skin, somewhere where everyone’s got access.
HT: Compared with where I come from, England, being so free and liberal about your body seems like quite a Danish thing. Could the video and your art be considered a celebration of that Danish freedom?
SC: Very much. That’s pretty much all it is, actually. I think it takes many years for boundaries to move in what is accepted, and we should be very proud to be in a country where you can just make art and nobody gets insulted. People wouldn’t. They might think it’s interesting, maybe they don’t, but nobody dies from seeing naked people. We all know it’s beautiful.
HT: But then again, you show a much more realistic representation of the female body in your video, compared with, say, the video “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke.
SC: Exactly, and I think we live in a time when it is important to remind each other of what is beautiful. We were shocked when we released this video, to find that some people actually find it scary. They’re afraid of looking at naked women, looking all natural. That scares me, quite a bit.
Scarlet Chives’ second album ‘This is Protection’ is released Monday 16th in Denmark, and Friday 20th in Sweden and Norway.
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Here Today: You recently released your third album, ‘Loud City Song’. Where did this record begin?
Julia Holter: There was a song that I was going to put on ‘Ekstasis’ that didn’t really work, and I decided that it needed to have a whole new record behind it, and that was what ‘Loud City Song’ became. That song is now called “Maxim’s II” and I made this new record for it.
HT: So is “Maxim’s II” the centrepiece of the album?
JH: Not necessarily, but if people are looking for some sort of centrepiece conceptually, which I don’t think you have to, then I guess it could be, but I wanted to make a record that didn’t have to be about the concept, and could just be a record to listen to and experience, and make your own judgements about.
HT: Was it difficult to go from writing in your room by yourself to having an ensemble of musicians around you?
JH: No, it was really great. It was way better than doing it alone because I was able to get help doing the things that I don’t know how to do very well, like recording drums for instance. People who have years of experience doing that do it so well. It makes a huge different having players play the parts, instead of just me playing everything on keyboard.
HT: When I listened to the record I got a sense that it was about feelings of intimidation in the city. Was that intentional?
JH: Yes, it’s kind of like the individual feeling bombarded by society.
HT: Is the city an intimidating place to be then?
JH: For me it’s not, I love the city, but it was more abstract. The city was a way to physically place society.
HT: Like a metaphor?
JH: Yeah exactly. The record’s more a story than a political commentary. It’s sort of like a coming of age story. There are elements of contemporary celebrity culture, like on “Maxim’s II”. I think that’s a kind of a tangent, but I do think that’s a way to look at it. So it’s not specifically anything about society, it’s not like I made a record about the problems of society, it’s more just a coming of age story about an individual in society making different decisions, like running away from society or staying in it. You can interpret it any way you want. In Gigi’s case, she’s expected to become a courtesan by her family, and she doesn’t want to do that. It could be anything; in the record there are different hints about what it could be, like being chased by paparazzi, or you could be a celebrity that’s always being spied on.
HT: There are lots of different emotions, atmospheres and sounds on the record. Why did you choose to put them all on one album?
JH: I don’t think I thought much about it. I basically had a story, and I let myself go free with whatever music fit each song. I wasn’t thinking, “well this song is going to be jazzy, and this one will be a soaring, dream experience song.” I have an idea of what’s going on in the song, and the music emerges out of that. It was all in my demos. Everything you hear atmosphere-wise was present in my demos when I made them at home, in a much cruder form than they are now. So it just sort of comes out of you and you don’t have a way of explaining it. I get people asking me “why is it jazzy?” and I have no explanation. It was like that in the demos; it’s not as if I got jazz players and it suddenly became jazzy, it just was. It wasn’t a conscious decision or style.
HT: So the story is what really guides you when you’re writing the music?
JH: Yeah, a lot of times it is, whether it’s for the album, or even on ‘Ekstasis’, which doesn’t have a concept, it’s just a collection of different songs, united by certain general things, each song has something of a story or a situation between characters. I build off that and don’t think about the musical genres.
HT: Do you think you get a better song if it’s naturally crafted?
JH: I think it’s the only way I can write. I don’t think about, “is this the right way?” it’s just the only way for me. I mean, there are always exceptions. I can probably think of a some times when I listened to a piece of music and then wanted to work off some musical ideas. “Maxim’s I” for instance was more complicated. When I wrote it I already had “Maxim’s II” which was then just “Maxim’s”, and then one day I was playing the keyboard and I really liked some chords that I was playing. It just came to me that he lyrics for “Maxim’s” could work for those chords as well. So sometimes it does just start with the music and the music creates the story itself.
HT: And do you have a favourite song in particular from the album?
JH: I don’t have one favourite, it changes. Recently it’s been “Maxim’s I”. It’s a really tricky one, and it took a long time to make, to mix and produce because the interaction between the acoustic instruments and the electronic was really tricky to master. Not literally, but figuratively, to get them balanced.
HT: Do you always write your music in the same frame of mind?
JH: Generally I just have to be really clear headed. If I’m being very creative I like the mornings, but if I want to get some technical stuff done the nighttime is good because I get kind of obsessive. But I do write in front of the computer sometimes, and I get distracted. I shift back and forth and walk around outside. It’s not like I’m sitting there for hours and hours. But I can’t be drunk when I write, whereas I like having one drink when I perform.
HT: So I hear you used to do tutoring part time.
JH: Yeah, it was a job and I worked in High Schools. So many high school students today are so hip, they’re into all different types of music. It was very inspiring to work with some of them on music, recording etc.
HT: Did they ever ask you for advice?
JH: Yeah definitely. It takes a long time to get their trust, but when my music first started to get attention, it was really inspiring to them. They actually respected me more after that, which was funny. I think I was more of a mentor than a teacher. A tutor is always in that awkward, in-between place. College applications or life questions, homework, I helped them with that. Or even showing them cool music to listen to, and writing music.
HT: Did they ever inspire your writing?
JH: Well I didn’t write songs about them, but like everything in my life, it comes through somehow, indirectly. You have emotions and interactions in life, and that’s the only way you can be a writer. To draw on those experiences.
Loud City Song is out now on Domino Records. (Photos by Tom Spray)