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Before their show at Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland, Robert Stevenson and Spencer Walker from Oxford band A Silent Film sat down with Cheryl to talk about success in America, getting back to England to play and scary wild pigs.
You have made a big splash over here, but that’s not the usual MO for a British band. Usually you make it big at home and then you come and try to ‘crack America’, why do you think it happened the other way here?
Spencer: I think there’s no template for how these things work and I think it wasn’t part of the grand master plan, it was something that happened, kind of one thing lead to another. I think that’s the way a lot of this stuff works.
Robert: You should SEE our grand master plan, though!
Spencer: We’ve got an AMAZING grand master plan!
Robert: If we pull that off….
Spencer: I don’t think the world is ready for our grand master plan! But yes, one thing led to another and we found ourselves here and ‘You Will Leave a Mark’ did enough on the radio to allow us to come out here. And then we made the decision to do as much as we could while it was fun over here and see where it led. We didn’t set out to ‘crack America’. I don’t know if that worked in our favor, because we didn’t have that pressure coming on us from a label. We expected nothing, so the fact that things were happening, it built and built quite naturally, organically. I think that going between England and America, it goes both ways. We are fans of a lot of American bands who really hit it big time in England before – the Killers, White Stripes, the Strokes, Kings of Leon. It was all around the same time, they blew up in England and then went back to America. And now they’re all massive global bands. But I feel like they needed England maybe as much as we need America.
The other thing you are doing that’s bucking the trend is summer means festival season and you’re not doing festival season over there, you are here. So, do you like being here, or do you miss the mud?
Robert: (laughter) I don’t miss the mud!
Spencer: We played some festivals over here and the load-ins are so amazing. They’re like car parks and there’s tarmac and it’s hot.
Robert: And you can park the van somewhere in the vicinity of the stage to put the equipment on the stage. Yeah, we played Glastonbury once and it was…..
Spencer: …muddy. I’ve seen pictures of festivals this year where it’s just……like Isle of Wight, just horrid.
Oxford’s got this amazing vibrant music community. Stornoway, Richard Walters, who I was hoping would come and support you here like he did in London at the Barfly gig…
Robert: Oh, we talked about this. He’s coming across to do a bunch of shows in October, we are hoping that we’ll be near him as well so we can grab him for a few shows.
The spectre of Oxford music, did that influence you at all, Radiohead, Supergrass?
Spencer: Oh yeah.
Robert: Just growing up in that town, there’s a road called Cowley Road, where it’s just the hub of Oxford music. Straight out of school we were on that road just living and breathing it and all the bands come from there and come back to there. It’s a really, really good space to come from. It’s very creative.
Did you have any family influences to go into music, do you come from musical families?
Robert: There was a lot of Meatloaf played in the car. And Bonnie Tyler. So there’s a general sort of what to avoid. Sorry Mum, sorry Dad….. No, they played me Beatles and the Beach Boys, I’m just being silly.
Spencer: My uncle had a studio in his house, not in any way a famous musician, just a guy who played everything and turned the basement of his house into a studio. So that was definitely a big influence on me and my brother when we were growing up. It’s nice to be introduced to a Hammond organ when you are young, or a double bass when you are 5. It was my dad’s brother and he is actually going to come see us play for the first time when we play Toronto in a month. Because I’m half Canadian, my dad’s family is from there. So I love playing in Toronto and it’s going to be the first show he’s been able to make. I’m actually really excited about it.
‘City That Sleeps’ came out eons ago. (All three of us say “eons” in unison.)
Robert: I knew you were going to say eons!
2008, because obviously I am talking about the UK release and ‘Sand & Snow’ doesn’t come out until next year. That’s over 4 years. Why?
Spencer: This goes back to the same thing about no grand master plan. The album came out, it did what it did, we worked it, we released it in Portugal and did a load of work there, we were starting writing for the next album and then got picked up over here. It just kept getting put back and put back. Because obviously when we decided to come and play here, it was a big commitment.
But why such a gap between the US and UK release of the album?
Spencer: And again that comes down to the simple fact if you are going to do America, as you are aware, it’s a huge country, and we didn’t want to just come over and spend a month playing America and hoping to crack it. We are way more invested over here.
Robert: We’ve already got our teeth into it, everything’s just building really naturally here. We equally didn’t want to just release the album in England and not be seen over there. And honestly we’re not on a big label, there’s nobody bankrolling it to release the album all over the world. We’re very happy doing things at our own pace and sorry people who have to wait. But we are going to come and spend a lot of time in England.
So how did the gig at the Barfly go?
Spencer: Great. It was amazing. The idea is really that you want to do justice to each place. This is our America year. But it was amazing, we hadn’t played there in so long. Early next year is when we spend time in England and Europe.
The second half of this interview, which includes a part where Cheryl asks Robert and Spencer to be ‘tattletales’ on each other, will post on TGTF tomorrow.
Mary missed chatting in person with Savoir Adore at the Great Escape this past May, but Luke sent these questions over to the band in the hopes that we could catch them over email during the summer. What follows below is their spirited responses to our queries about their new material coming out later this year and their hometown of Brooklyn, among other things. Read on… Oh, and their answers to our Quickfire Questions? They are here.
What have Savoir Adore been up to lately?
We just finished a U.S. tour with Jukebox the Ghost and getting ready to release our new record, ‘Our Nature’!
You recently came over to the UK for a couple of shows, how was that?
It was amazing! Especially Great Escape in Brighton, that was SO much fun!
What do you most like (or dislike) about the British crowds?
Our shows have been so much fun in the UK, that we can only say good things about the crowds! They’ve been very enthusiastic and exciting to play for.
Electronic music has been on a steady rise in the mainstream music press in recent years, what is the reason for this shift?
onestly, it’s a combination of a lot of factors… The ease of production programs like logic, reason and protools and also the popularity of dance music overall in the mainstream. I think that organic interest in it has really propelled a lot of new acts…
Which bands would you say are ones to watch out for in electro?
French Horn Rebellion!!!!!!! NEXT JACK SWING.
Brooklyn bands have a reputation for being ‘cool’, do you consider yourselves cool?
Ahh, no we don’t… but perhaps that makes us ‘cool’? Maybe? Eh???
Why is Brooklyn seen as the epicentre of music that is cool and trendy?
I think it’s a combination of NYC being a cultural hub and the fact that Brooklyn is the cheaper neighorhood to live in. I think that naturally creates an environment of young, enthusiastic and experimental artists.
Your music is based around fantasy worlds and imaginative concepts, where do you draw your inspiration from?
We draw inspiration from a lot of places. Our own wild imaginations and goofy tendencies… Music, movies, books, places, environments. We also enjoy the challenge of writing songs and stories based on fantastical characters and settings.
You’re gearing up to release new album ‘Our Nature’, what can you tell us about it?
‘Our Nature’ is the cautionary tale of a monster, a girl and their wild love for one another.
What fantastical themes will we be treated to?
Monsters. Particle physics. Dreamscapes. Love.
You haven’t released an LP since 2009, why the delay?
We really wanted to take our time with the second album. Let things develop naturally and polish the song structures and productions. For our first EP and LP we had a lot of fun trying to record as fast as possible, for this we thought it would be a completely different challenge doing the opposite.
What plans do you have for the rest of the year?
Hopefully a lot of touring in support of the new record. Also making music videos and working on new music!
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 20th July 2012 at 11:00 am
Editor’s note: All of TGTF’s coverage of London 2012 Olympics – at least my jaundiced view of the musical portion of it – is available through this link.
Put out a BBC Sound of… feted album, then scuttle yourselves away for 2 years with next to no public appearances or live concerts: sounds like a recipe for disaster in this day and age we music editors know too well as the fickle music business and its equally fickle daughter, the music media, aka the people who forget you unless you either keep putting out music or keep getting into trouble. Yet Delphic have done exactly that; without canceling tours on the basis of “exhaustion” or pronouncements of mental illness, the Manchester band voluntarily chose the life of hermits since summer festival season 2010, withdrawing from the scene that had ushered them in as the preferable compromise between indie and dance. Looking back at it now, I can hardly believe it was only 2 and a half years ago when ‘Acolyte’ came into our lives and even then our readers knew we were all in for something special.
So it is with some disappointment (or is that editor’s trepidation?) that I bring to you on this Friday afternoon ‘Good Life’, their new Olympic single that premiered Wednesday night on Zane Lowe’s Radio1 programme. Maybe you weren’t a fan of the Delphs to begin with, or maybe you wanted something completely new from the band? Either way, this falls under the Monty Python rule of “and now for something completely different”. So different that when right after its first play I was asked by the band “YEA OR NAY ?” for my opinion of it, I was too dumbfounded to respond.
Listening to it on tinny office speakers on half volume didn’t give me a good first impression either, so after recording that portion of the show, replaying it several times over the course of an 18 hour period and thinking about it long and hard (even involving the Mother Chang for a second opinion of the new release – PS, she wasn’t entirely fond of it either, asking rather innocently, “where are the electronic gizmos?”), I was left with more questions. So many that somehow I convinced James Cook to hear me out over a cup of coffee (he ducked into a coffee shop during one of what seems to be a series of never-ending English rain storms, judging from my mates’ reports up and the whole of the country), and he kindly considered and responded to each and every one of my concerns while having a cuppa. What follows after the video is a summary of what we discussed.
We all know ‘Good Life’ is Delphic’s Olympic single, but will it appear on the new album? Cook says yes. I then asked if we can take this song to be representative of the tracks to appear on this new album, reported by Rick Boardman Wednesday night as dropping in early 2013. (Yes. I can hear all of you Delphic fans groaning. You aren’t the only ones. Bloody hell, 3 full years?) James’ response? That ‘Good Life’ is “closer to the ‘Acolyte’ material than any of the other new tunes. It is [better] representative more of [the] mood [of the new material], not [its] musical direction”. Colour me intrigued. I personally cannot see the similarities between this new one and ‘Acolyte’, but should I listen to it some more? Maybe. The first mental block I had with this song? I could have been the bit-rate on the version used by Radio1, but the vocals, even the ones purposefully layered on as backing, felt blurred and unclear, directly the opposite of the crispness of those on ‘Acolyte’, all of which I think I can safely say were never shouted out at the top of someone’s lungs (what I’m guessing was the kind of ‘party’ effect they were going for on ‘Good Life’).
When I pointed out the dense yet sophisticated eloquence of ‘Red Lights’ and ‘Submission’, Cook countered with, “I think you should expand on what parts of ‘Good Life’ aren’t dense or eloquent. Not every song can fit in the lyric ‘kickstarted by some neurotic desire to be free'”, of the first verse. Point taken, and I will revisit this when I have liner notes for yet to be named album #2, so I know what all the lyrics are. (I have since listened to the song with my special blog listening earbuds several times, again, trying to hash out the lyrics and it can’t be just me, some of it is unintelligible. So I’m still not sold on the lyrics.)
I also wanted to know what effects, if any, working this spring in Atlanta and with American music personnel would have on their new material. Just look at Mystery Jets and Two Door Cinema Club as two recent examples: it seems to be in vogue for British bands to come over here to America to record their cool new albums, doesn’t it? Cook emphasised, “everything was written before we went over” (in other words, the songs weren’t terribly influenced by their production’s surroundings), but the producer and engineer they worked with were responsible for helping them “attain some great hip-hop drums”. It’s not clear to me which producer he means; NME had reported weeks ago in an interview they did with Boardman earlier this year that both Ben Allen (Bombay Bicycle Club‘s long time collaborator) and DFA’s Tim Goldsworthy were both tapped for production duties on the new Delphic album, but we can expect that information and any delineation of which producer did what – along with the band, who have produced in their own right – will come along when the new album is released.
But I had other questions about this ‘new sound’ of theirs. The vocals sound very different to the ones on ‘Acolyte’ and there seemed to be a lot of different voices, so I asked if part of the Atlanta production involved sophisticated vocal effects. While the track features Cook on lead vocals and Boardman on backing vocals as usual, they also enlisted the vocal talents of Rebecca Lovell, one of two singing sisters in local Georgia folk/bluegrass band Larkin Poe. Right, a folk singer on ‘Good Life’ that they “randomly met in Atlanta”? Whoever writes their biography in 20 years’ time is going to have a field day getting this all down.
Something that became very clear in our brief chat is that Delphic, though known as those Englishmen in suits with suitcase after suitcase full of synths, no longer feel constrained by their electronics that helped make them their name. Sampling, not synthesis, and a musical journey through ‘This Mortal Coil to Kanye West to Aaliyah to Neil Young’ all makes this sound like an album that has a billion different influences, but what will the final sound like? Cook promises “lots more ‘song’ on this record, [as] opposed to dance jams”. This made me feel ill. I am a dancer, I am a mover and a groover. We need more dance on TGTF, not less. But he maintains “it was just a natural progression” to move out of the space that was ‘Acolyte’, especially after having a false start with what he called a “techno-centric album in 2010″ and then abandoning it in favour of something of meaning to them as artists: “There are still images and emotions [like in our previous work], we wouldn’t have written it if it didn’t move us!”
I know why I had such a violent reaction to and became admittedly torn up about this new single. When you’re waiting for a follow-up to an album that means a lot to you, there’s all kinds of ways the resulting product you receive could go wrong. You’ve set the bar so impossibly high, no mortals could meet your expectations. Do I think it’s better than the Chems’ ‘Theme to Velodrome’ that I reviewed on Wednesday? No. But it’s an apples vs. oranges type comparison, and I’ll tell you why.
‘Good Life’ was never intended to be straight techno or overt dance. If you go by what guitarist Matt Cocksedge reported in their Radio1 interview with Zane Lowe, their demo was submitted for Olympic consideration unbeknownst to them, so there’s no way they could have given it an ‘Olympic sound’, if there is such a thing: the song was already written and done. It’s very convenient the single premiered on Radio1, a channel I never listen to unless there’s a feature I specifically want to listen in for, but the kind of radio station with a fan base that, predictably, eats up this kind of urban pop / not really rap / not really r&b / party vibe stuff.
If one of Delphic’s primary intentions with ‘Good Life’ was to connect with that kind of fan base, they’ve done a bang up job and can expect a massive leap in popularity. But that wasn’t what it was all about before. In my eyes, one of the main issues (if you want to call it that) that ‘Acolyte’ had was its trailblazing ‘intellect’ and this attribute, which to me wasn’t a negative at all, probably hurt its sales, especially in America. You either got it and loved it to death, or you didn’t. After an album that Simon Price of the Independent described as “on kissing terms with magnificence”, I’m left thinking that on this grand international stage on which they knew they would be announcing their comeback, this entry falls short and makes you wonder just what could have been.
But those of you clutching ‘Acolyte’ to your chests and sighing, take heart: Mixmag has reported they’ll be using ‘Clarion Call’ on Channel 4’s broadcasting of the Paralympics, so ‘old’ Delphic is still making the rounds in London, just in a less obvious way. However, I’m not sure where I stand on Delphic reworking ‘Chariots of Fire’, the classic 1981 film theme song by Vangelis, to be played at all the medal ceremonies. Let’s leave it at that…
‘Good Life’, the Olympic single contribution by Delphic, will be released digitally for purchase on Monday (23 July). To cover all bases, the video stream of the song in the YouTube embed above can be listened to by anyone, no matter where you are in the world. If you are in the UK, you can listen to it via Zane Lowe’s Hottest Record in the World blog. Rather confusingly, there were two Hottest Records in the World Wednesday night (the other one was the Vaccines‘ ‘Teenage Icon’, who were doing a live session at Maida Vale), so to get to ‘Good Life’ and the interview, fast forward to 35 minutes in to the listen again stream.
In the days of that internet they have now, international boundaries are irrelevant; pan-continental collaborations can happen online at the click of a mouse; genres meet, merge and split at a speed never before seen. However, the vibe and visceral power of a live show is impossible to replicate online. With live performance arguably the most important promotional tool in a band’s arsenal, there’s no alternative: flights must be taken, the miles have to pass under the tour bus wheels, to bring a live show to the audience. Which is all well and good for UK bands – even the continent is no more than a few hours’ drive away. But when Fat Freddy’s Drop decide to do a few European dates of a summer, it’s a somewhat more daunting eleven thousand miles betwixt home town and audience. No wonder such performances are prized indeed.
Having said that, 2012 sees a handful of European dates for the FFD Wellington dub machine, with Standon Calling their only UK festival date. In preparation for such a rare occurrence, TGTF sent a few questions all the way to New Zealand. Trumpeter and founding member Tony Chang (aka Toby Laing) sent us his upside-down pearls of funky wisdom.
For our readers who haven’t heard you before, give us a description of your sound, your band, your vibe.
Pacific soul with vocals from the inimitable Joe Dukie. Beats from DJ Fitchie – drawing upon the many flavors of the Fat Freddy Sound System – everything from “road house techno-blues” to “Country Bashment”. The band also includes the stomping rhythm section of Dobie Blaze and Jetlag Johnson as well as the Fat Freddy’s three-piece community orchestra horn section.
You’ve been going for 14 years now. Your geographic base and the band’s organic history paints you as a band of nomadic, fluid outsiders. With increasing recognition, do you aspire to become part of the musical firmament, or are you still keen to remain a respectful distance from outside influences?
The short answer to that question is yes. We like to perform. We like audiences. We like performing to audiences. We just do what we do and we are always happy when what we are doing works out okay! We are genuine outsiders, it’s not a conscious decision. As genuine outsiders we would love for our music to be heard everywhere – inside and out… We like playing outside at festivals and inside at clubs and theaters. If you are able to get us into the musical firmament please do!
Following on from that question, you are clearly fiercely independent as a band, having allegedly described the possibility of being signed to a major label as “evil”, and are still independently distributed after two successful albums. Has such a stance held back sales and been a logistic distraction from making music? If so, is that a price worth paying for principle?
I’m not sure about ‘evil’. Whichever of us said that – and it might have been me – was probably just exaggerating for extra effect. To be honest, we don’t know any other way and I’m not sure if it’s been a good business decision or not. Being independent suits us and suits the way we make music. We have received a lot of support from our international audience over the years – lots of people have taken it upon themselves to grow the awareness of the group by turning their friends onto it. Perhaps if we were with a major label, with the same marketing and media presence this support would never have materialized in the same way.
There seems to be a lot of cross-pollination between New Zealand bands (yourselves, The Black Seeds, TrinityRoots); does this explain the distinctively funky Kiwi sound that the bands share? Why do you think the sound has developed in such a way? What influences have led to its development?
There is a large and ever growing community of collaborating musicians all around NZ. We meet up at the summer festivals or get together to make up songs at random studio sessions. I wish I knew all the amazing collaborations that are certainly happening right now in Wellington alone. Wait a minute – that sounds like any music scene around the world. I guess NZ is just like any music scene around the world, except that due to the small distances and population, it seems to be a bit easier to get together than it is in some mega-tropolis.
Your most recent album, Dr. Boondigga, touched on a more dance-oriented sound, rather than the slow-burning dub songwriting of the debut ‘Based on a True Story’. How is your contemporary songwriting developing in style?
The albums are like a snapshot of what we’re doing at that particular time. Fat Freddy’s Drop is formed from a lot of different influences and we follow different sounds at different times. Maybe as we’ve got to play bigger shows the tunes have got a bit faster.
What can the lucky people with tickets to Standon Calling expect from your show?
We are really looking forward to it. Heard lots of good things about Standon Calling. We’ll be dropping our new songs and relishing the chance to mash them and wreck them beyond all recognition. The studio can be a bit dry – the festival stage should be quite the opposite.
My wife thinks the jelly-legged trombonist with the pork pie hat she saw playing with you guys at the Big Chill in 2005 one of the most inspiring musicians she’s watched. Could you pass on the message? Will he be there again at Standon?
Hopepa: the infamous bone man will certainly be there. All that stuff about mashing and wrecking, I was thinking specifically of his rambunctious carry-on.
Fat Freddy’s Drop headline this year’s Standon Calling on Sunday 5th August, and may even drop a new album later this year – keep an eye on www.fatfreddysdrop.com for breaking news.
I was so pleased to learn that Daughter were signed – rather quickly in indie band terms, actually – to NYC’s Glassnote Records here in America. On their first trip over to America, they were filmed performing their song ‘Youth’ acoustically and interviewed by the Bowery Presents, aka for those of you who don’t know, the people that own and run most of the important indie music venues in New York City that you’ve probably seen bandied about on your favourite UK bands’ American tour date posters (Mercury Lounge, Bowery Ballroom, Music Hall of Williamsburg, etc.)
I am, however, confused by the description of Daughter on these YouTube videos as “experimental folk” – how experimental can folk get? Elena Tonra sings fragile love songs. How exactly does that become experimental?
By Mary Chang
on Friday, 22nd June 2012 at 11:00 am
Interview by Larry Heath of www.theaureview.com
Reproduced by permission
Having the opportunity to catch them several times live at Liverpool Sound City, Larry managed to grab the members of Liverpool outfit The Hummingbirds (not to be confused with the 80s Sydney band of the same name) to talk about their shows, performing for the Queen, The Beatles, their music and much more…
Let’s talk about what you’ve been up to the last couple of days. You were saying you had never busked before and you busked for the Queen!
Yeah, so it’s a good start to busk for the Queen. We didn’t know it was busking until an hour before, we thought it was going to be a full stage with amps and lights and we got a call just saying it’s completely acoustic, just take your guitars and just play. We always talked about busking though, we thought it’d be a cool thing to do with harmonies and acoustic guitars, we’re good live, it’s not like we’re a studio band. We couldn’t cancel, we couldn’t cancel on the Queen so we just decided to do it, and we’ve been busking all weekend basically.
Well you played the opening party a month ago and at the industry party Wednesday night, so you definitely are sort of ambassadors, official or otherwise!
It’s a big festival, so it’s great that they actually picked us to do the opening party in London and the party in Liverpool. The roof-top show today was a one-off so that was brilliant.
Read the rest of Larry’s interview with the Liverpudlian band here: www.theaureview.com/interviews/liverpool-sound-city-the-hummingbirds-liverpool