October 22, 2014 at 15:12 #7274
Strings used to be one of your trademarks – yet there are not many strings on The Something Rain. Did you intentionally set out to make a string-reduced record, or did it just happen that way?
David Boulter: I think we’ve been trying to get away from big arrangements for a while. Dickon’s arrangements were a marvel, but also a big blanket of sound that it could be hard to get from under. It’s great to have people like Andy Nice, who could add the string element, but put his own stamp on it to. His work on White Material is some of my favourite. The hole Dickon left was very hard to fill. This is the first album we’ve done that I don’t miss him on.
Neil Fraser: We set out to do it that way. For me, it allowed space to be more experimental with the guitar, for example, using the rotary sound (heard on “Medicine,” among others); to let it shine out a bit more. I think it can be easy to be impressed by the sound of strings, the lack of strings makes us work harder to make the songs work.
Stuart Staples: Just exploring. We didn’t set out to make an album without anything but once it started to take shape, I have to admit, a sound without violins gave an extra excitement. Approaching the ideas for this album it felt important to find new sounds, in fact we even bought a new drum kit, bass, guitars, keyboards, reverbs, echos….
The Something Rain leaked a few weeks prior to the actual release date. What’s your view on album leaks?
David: It’s shit. But you don’t have to be involved. Wait till the album is released.
Neil: Unavoidable in these modern times. You just have to hope people will still buy your album when it comes out.
Stuart: What can you do? When you make something, fundamentally you want as many people as possible to experience it. Hopefully somewhere down the line a few pennies head your way.
In the initial press release, you said you started with around 20 ideas, of which 9 made the album. I guess a tenth song is “In A Secret Place.” Are the remaining ideas likely to be recorded later and released? Are there any recorded yet unreleased leftovers from The Hungry Saw and Falling Down A Mountain sessions?
David: There’s 3 or 4 that didn’t do it because they’re not up to it or they’re waiting for a spark. Some just didn’t fit. We fell between a nice compact record or a long album. The long version felt too much. I’m sure some will see the light of day. We used to do a lot of 7” and E.P.’s. I miss those days.
Neil: Some of the extra 20 got to stage of being more finished than others; it’s always good to have some left in reserve for b-sides, limited editions and such. I can’t remember if there are any bits of tape left over from The Hungry Saw or Falling Down A Mountain sessions.
Stuart: A few complete songs that asked for a different space, lots of ideas in bits – whether they will ever find the desire to finish them… they got to a point where our interest in them waned and they got left where they stood. Though in the past some of these disregarded ideas have come back with a vengeance in a different form – “Talk To Me” started life as a pop song, as did “Dying Slowly”.
Dan and Earl took on a more important role on The Something Rain. How do they feel towards the band as such?
Earl Harvin: I feel that this record does represent us more as a band, rather than a mixture of “old and new” band members.
To me it felt since the earliest work on this material that we have together found our strength as a unit more so than the last album.
Certainly this has to do with more and more familiarity with each other, both as musicians and as people, that has come with the time spent working together in this configuration the last few years.
Stuart: Dan’s role has been growing since he got involved with The Hungry Saw, Earl was kind of thrown into Falling Down A Mountain. Since then we have been finding our shape as a group, this album is a big step in that evolution. Its not so easy for anyone to step into our world and find a place and their voice within it quickly.
The Unwired EP and the songs “We Have All The Time In The World”, “The Girl On Death Row”, “A Short Time”, “What Are You Fighting For?”, “Just Drifting”, and “Tout L’Amour” still haven’t been officially released on CD. Any plans to remedy this? Also, why was “Fruitless” only included on the vinyl version of the first album, and “Feeling Relatively Good” only included on the vinyl version of Donkeys?
David: Because we still see vinyl as the ultimate format. Everyone was doing cds with extra tracks to fill the space. We perverted it and put the extra track on the vinyl. I grew up in a world of scarce vinyl. Legends you search for. The Internet killed that. Yes, I’m really happy I finally got a copy of John Barry’s Follow Me after 15 years. But those years spent going through racks and racks of second hand vinyl are a part of my character. Everything gets too easy. If we did reissue, it’d probably be on limited vinyl only.
Neil: Everybody else was filling up their CD releases with bonus tracks and out-takes; we wanted to give more to the vinyl buyers.
You’ve got quite a number of ‘limited edition’ releases that become difficult to obtain once they’ve gone out of print. While it’s nice to own a material product like limited vinyl pressings with bespoke artwork, the actual music should be made available to everyone on all formats, instead of being exclusive to those limited editions. After all, it’s all about the music, right? Your thoughts?
Stuart: Maybe you guys should put together a wishlist and we’ll put together a cd of odds and ends that we have probably forgotten about, or possibly don’t want to hear again.
David: The music is special. It needs to be sought after. The chase is important. I’m sure people can find it easily if they want. I would like to put all the lost tracks on our site. And all the live recordings we have. I think we will one day. But it’s still nice to have that hard to find original pressing that you paid an arm and a leg for. Even if it’s worthless once the cd comes out.
Neil: We all liked limited edition vinyl when we were younger – I think most of our music has become available on CD at some point after the vinyl.
Some fantastic Tindersticks songs have ended up on b-sides or vinyl only singles rather than part of your albums (“For Those…”, “Feeling Relatively Good”, “Harry’s Dilemma”, “Everything Changes”, “What Are You Fighting For?”). How do you choose what makes the cut for your albums and what doesn’t, and do you think you’ve ever made a mistake?
David: All releases are special. We still value the single. 7” singles are great. And EP’s too. Why bother doing them if you going to fill them with junk or alternative mixers. And I’ve always thought (I know we didn’t always follow this) singles shouldn’t be on albums. They should be satellites that go around it.
Neil: Generally, we think of the album as a journey from track 1, side 1, to the last track, side 2, with a little rest at the end of side 1. Some songs just have to go as they don’t fit with the balance of what’s around them. They are still worthy songs and happily find a home as limited editions or b-sides.
Stuart: “For Those” is such a stand alone track, as is “Feeling Relatively Good” (maybe I was listening to Daniel Johnston a little too much then). “Harry” was like an aside in the second album. Maybe “Everything Changes” should have been on Can Our Love… – we had a difference of opinion – Don’t think Dickon liked the song, that’s fair enough.
“What Are You Fighting For?” was supposed to be the last track on The Hungry Saw – a tough choice, but we went with “The Turns We Took” finishing it – it was to much for it to contend with.
Lots of choices are to do with shape of the albums – “Goodbye Joe” only made it at the 11th hour – time will tell.
There are many possible mistakes in my mind – “She’s Gone” was so young when it was recorded for the second album, days old. If it would have had time to arrive at the song it became later and been on Curtains… – Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but that one probably hurts the most.
Is “The Organist Entertains” still one of your three favourite Tindersticks songs? What exactly makes “The Organist Entertains” so great? Can you be more specific about it?
David: It’s special because it’s one of those moments you grab and capture. I’d playing around this idea on a Rhodes electric piano. It was trying but not getting there. We were working on Stuart’s first solo album. I switched on an old organ we’d bought on the last tindersticks tour. A knackered Lowrey. Some magic happened. That’s why I love it.
Neil: Anything that gives an insight into David’s mind has to be good.
Stuart: It will always be up there for me. I remember the moment that I walked into the studio in London and David was playing it on our beloved Lowrey organ, I rushed to get the mics up and recorded it. I was always fascinated by it, but when Lucy Wilkins gave us the string arrangement it tipped it into something very special. There will always be something out of reach about it, like all the best songs it keeps you coming back.
What do the locations listed after each song in the Donkeys liner notes mean? Are these the places the songs were written or simply places that you associate with them?
Stuart: Each song I have written has a moment when it comes to me, and at that moment I understand so much about it – a glimpse of something beautiful and complete.
The location is stamped on them, I know them all.
You’ve been going for over 20 years now, yet according to the official gigography list, you’ve only performed 44 shows in the United States during that entire time, and 15 of those shows were in New York City! Looking back on touring the United States, which cities (besides New York City) do you have an affinity for, and why don’t you tour the States more often?
David: I’d love to. But playing to 200 people in Detroit doesn’t pay for the bus never mind the flights. Also, we never liked to be away for too long. To make it work in America, we either do short trips, maybe even just New York, or at least 2 weeks. Even in 2 weeks you don’t get very far. It’s a shame I know. I love a lot of America I’ve seen. And I haven’t seen that much. The reason we still have such a massive debt with Universal is because of tours there (well a big chunk anyway).
Neil: Chicago and San Francisco immediately come to my mind. We don’t deliberately not play the States, it just we appear to have a limited audience over there – numbers-wise; as you pointed out, 15 out of 44 in NYC; I’me sure LA and San Francisco make up most of the rest.
Stuart: I am surprised only 44. Generally, our concerts operate on a bit of a knife edge financially. We have very high production values (you might have noticed) A great crew of technicians who work really hard to make the concerts the best they can be. We can just about make this work in Europe. The US is more of a challenge.
How do you choose the songs from your back catalogue to play at gigs? Is it based on what goes well with the recent songs, or is it just about what you’ve not played for a while and fancy dusting it down? Or is it confined by the musicians you are touring with?
David: All of the above. We will add some we know will please people too. They have still have some kind of relevance too. Some songs are very much of their time.
Neil: A bit of both really. We’ll come up with a list of old(er) songs that we enjoy, or haven’t played for a while, give them a chance in the rehearsal room and see if they have a hope of working. Some songs we can’t play because of instrumentation available to us on any particular tour.
Stuart: Mood of the time…I never expected I would be singing “Blood” every night at the moment. The idea came up and it clicked, we are all still enjoying it.
People do have an impact on a practical level of the instruments or sounds we need for individual songs. We are lucky at the moment for Terry to be involved, we can be pretty true to the something rain in a compact way. Hoping there will be some shows when we can get Julian Seigel, Andy and Gina involved too. That would open up other songs for us too.
Would there be any song that you would like to completely rearrange for concerts?
David: I don’t know about rearrange. I’d really like to hear us do “Jism” at the moment.
Neil: I thought we’d done that already – “If You’re Looking For A Way Out”, “Cherry Blossoms”…maybe they weren’t completely rearranged, but rearranged they were.
Stuart: There are always new ideas to explore, this would always feel more exciting than looking to the past. Though if we got engaged into an idea like that I’m sure we could make that exciting too.
The Soho Theatre Shows were to include an acoustic set in a small room of venue – is this something you would consider taking on a tour?
David: I’d quite like to do some shows in a smaller way. We’ve talked about it. There are options. We’ve talked about being flexible. It’s not always possible to make a show work on a large scale. So it could be good.
Neil: We never rule anything out. If a venue felt like it should have an acoustic part to it, we’d consider it.
Stuart: Yes, I was looking forward to the experience. It felt like something new.
The actual sound of your recordings have a certain warmth that’s pleasing to the ears, especially in the bass and mid range. Simple Pleasure and Can Our Love… in particular. How do you achieve this? Is it a result of analog tape, vintage equipment, tube amplifiers, post production mixing, microphone placement, etc.?
Neil: I think it’s just the sound we create – something to do with the equipment in the studio, but it’s our ears that shape the sound to a great extent.
Stuart: All of those things and more, but really it’s the way I hear the sounds we make and the relationships of them – just trying to be true to them.
Stuart, you have always been involved in the sound of the band, mixing, producing, etc. Can we expect a Sound on Sound-style article on the techy side of your work at some point? Your recording-involved fans would love to know how you come up with those sounds…
Stuart: Start a lobby – I’ll talk to anyone for hours about mic-ing up a hi-hat
How would describe the atmosphere in Le Chien, your home studio, and in what sense does it differ from other places where Tindersticks have recorded? How does it affect the music recorded there?
David: It’s very homely. Although it gets very cold in there in winter. I helped put floors down and paint it, so it means more than just a studio to me. It’s also where Stuart and his family live, who I’m always happy to see, so it adds to the enjoyment.
Technically, it’s a great space. Full of instruments. And a nice atmosphere. We cook food, play music and hang out. Nobody has to get the last tube home. Sometimes the lack of pressure allows a little pondering. But we’re pretty good with time and money these days.
Neil: As it belongs to Stuart and, is at his house it feels a very comfortable and relaxing place to be, except in the winter, when it can get awfully cold! The main house is a short walk where you can get away from the music for while, if need be. With other studios, there is always the feeling of unfamiliarity with the surroundings and equipment.
Stuart: This studio was a dream that is still evolving. When I found it, I knew it was the place I had been looking for. This album is a big step for the space itself, for the first time we were all committed to it and what it could give us. There is no control room, just one big ambient space. Because I recorded the album there, there was only ever the 5 of us together, makes it more personal.
There aren’t many bands who can create such an atmosphere through the music like tindersticks. And the sound is built through so many subtle layers and textures, and the use of sometimes very unusual instruments and sounds. How do you decide how to build the sound, how do you choose the instruments, and how do you know when to stop?
David: Some songs find their sound and structure very quickly. Some you reshape and add to forever and they never feel right. It’s usually obvious when all the pieces are there. Sometimes you have to try new ideas or add strings, brass, whatever, and in the end you go back to the original version you had. Quite often your instinct tells you. And of course, there’s always chance a little magic will happen and a song will seem to pop out of nowhere.
Neil: We’ll try any ideas that come to us. Someone might hear a sax line here, or an abstract guitar there. The songs’ sounds generally seem to fall into place quite naturally.
Stuart: Some sounds come naturally from everyone in the band, experimenting, doing their own thing. Others are harder to find and feel like missing elements – the brass section on “Slippin’ Shoes” or the relationship of cello and bass clarinet on “Medicine”, for example.
I stop when I can’t take it anymore!
I love the Adrian Sherwood Remix of “I Know That Loving” and on Lucky Dog Recordings, Stuart played a bit with dub on “Untitled”. Now that you seem to enjoy playing with sound effects a bit more, could you imagine either making or collaborating on a Tindersticks In Dub EP or album with a selection or reworkings of tracks from your career? What is your general attitude to remixes?
Neil: So, there is someone who likes it!
Stuart: I’m a product of a place and time. I grew up surrounded by Northern Soul and Reggae, then I heard the Pistols. As I work to get closer to my own language I realise these elements are inescapable, there are always traces – sometimes great treacly dabs.
I would like to hear a lovers rock album of versions of our songs, though the idea of ‘tindersticks in dub’ frightens me.
If I was convinced about the integrity of a remix….. though I would not go trawling for the sake of it.
You mention the Sherwood remix, it was our idea and could have been great. Unfortunately the record company were paying (and guiding) proceeding. ‘Ended up being convoluted, though I do like that instrumental version.
Will be there ever an official tindersticks Live DVD?
David: If it was something we could do that would be more interesting than a straight concert maybe. It’s always a cost issue too. If someone like Martin came along and film a tour? But then he alone wouldn’t be able to get a show. And is our life on the road interesting enough? Something like the Soho shows, if they’d happened, could be interesting. But there’s hardly enough room for us never mind a film crew too. A visual album would be more appealing maybe.
Neil: If it’s a DVD with backstafge footage, on the bus, soundchecks etc, I’d find it difficult to feel comfortable or natural with a camera pointing at you all day…and life on the road (apart from the gig) isn’t all that interesting, believe me. If it’s live footage only, I’m sure we’ll get ‘round to it.
Stuart: Shoulda done it when we were young!
In his post on the phorum, Stuart said with TSR, the band is maybe feeling a sense of a closed circle. What (if any) are the implications of that sense for the band’s future endeavours? Or to ask in a different way: you changed musical direction and/or personnel quite drastically after albums 3 and 6. Now we had album 9…will you stick to the “pattern of three” or are you now in a place where the drastic breaks are no longer necessary?
David: Who knows? Planning ahead, having the next 2 yeas of your life mapped out, is necessary to make a group like tindersticks work. But it gets very tiresome. Let’s just enjoy now and see what it brings.
Neil: I have no idea what the future holds for us; let’s see what happens – we’re all having a great time at the moment.
Stuart: It is a pattern, but one that seems to dictate itself. We couldn’t decide whether to stick to it or not. Our band have a great energy at the moment, I am looking forward to the next thing we do together.
On the other hand making a tindersticks album asks for so much from me, I have to really want it! And everyone around me has to brace themselves for some sufferin’!
Talking with friends about your latest album, we all agreed that your music is never the repetition of itself (even truer about TSR), yet there is inevitably something that makes it so distinctive. Can you explain what it is? When you meet up with your demos, does it ever happens that the rest of the band shake their heads and go ‘Nah, this is not us…”?
David: It’s more likely we’d stop a song because it’s too much like us. You try to push forward. It doesn’t have to be a brand new world, but it has to feel movement.
Neil: ‘Nah, this is not us…’ songs are the ones we’ll take further.
Stuart: Songs, ideas have to go though a long process and keep us engaged along the way, they can fall at any time, for any reason. 2 really strong songs didn’t make TSR – 1 because we felt that we had created that kind of feeling before, the other because I felt the song deserved more than we were giving it.
I am probably more interested in ideas that do challenge our own perception of us.
“A Night So Still” and “Frozen” (brought to the band by Dan and Kittser respectively) really did this for us.
Dave is working with Yper WWI museum; you (tindersticks and Stuart solo) worked with Claire Denis and have collaborated on other artists’ projects/albums. Do you have to set yourselves goals or new challenges to expand your horizons?
David: For me it’s more about creating a body of work that’s about art or a sense of artistic value that’s not just the treadmill of the standard music industry cycle of album/tour every 2 years. It’s good to be involved in different situations. It feeds your imagination and pushes you into the unknown.
Neil: If something comes our way that’s interesting and challenging, we’ll have a go at making it the best it can be. It’s very important to push yourself with new projects.
Stuart: In these last 5 years we have been totally committed to and focussed on tindersticks. And now the great killer of bands – the writing/recording/touring cycle is sensing its chance to bring us down! Our only way to defeat this monster is to diversify, open our eyes to different ways to create music. The soundscapes for the In Flanders Fields museum in Ypres have been a breath of fresh air and a real challenge – A chance to make music for a defined space that will stay there, doings it thing for a long, long time.
I hope more challenges like this will present themselves in the near future, we need them.
Next year sees the 20th anniversary of the release of the First Album. Any plans to mark the occasion in any way?
David: A curry would be nice.
Stuart: I hope so, but just ideas at the moment.
Just for fun, have you ever considered releasing an album under a pseudonym that allowed you to explore a completely different genre or style of music than what would fit onto a tindersticks album? Kind of like what XTC did with their Dukes Of Stratosphear project exploring 60′s psychedelica?
David: We did an industrial techno album. Look out for Throstle Frame by Nostepinne or the 10’ ep Niddy Noddy by Distaff.
Apart from music, what are your passions (interests, hobbies)?
David: Hobbies are for those with time on their hands. That’s a luxury I’d be very interested in. British cinema is a passion I suppose. Especially the 50’s, 60’s. And I do like Hofner guitars.
Neil: Photography – both digital and analogue photography. I love developing my own black & white 35mm films.
Stuart: Fly fishing, making model aircraft, basket weaving
If you could only read books by just one author, look at paintings by just one painter, watch films by just one director, and listen to music by just one artist/band, which would they be?
David: Impossible, but at this moment… Herge. Gustav Klimt. Gerald Thomas. John Barry.
Neil: Books – ?
Paintings – Breughel
Films – ?
Music – Beethoven
Thankfully, we have choices.
Stuart: Vincent Gallo
The band’s artwork and imagery has often featured animals and pets (from the cats on the Bloomsbury live album to the jumpy dog on the website recently). This has always signified to me that the band or certain members of the band, like myself, have a strong emotional connection with animals and pets. Could you tell us about some of the pets you have, or have had, and what they mean to you?
David: My only real pet was a dog called Bimbo (after a Jim reeves song). He died after a year. I was only 7. I don’t think I ever got over it.
Neil: I’ve never had a pet, but my mum has always had cats and they always seem to like me.
Stuart: You gotta have some fur in your life!
Could you tell us a fact about yourselves that would surprise people?
Neil: I’ve had 11 (medical) injections in my left eye – lovely, try not to imagine it!
Stuart: I was a junior chess champ.
What was the first gig you ever attended and first record you ever bought (C’mon, tell the truth!)?
David: Our Kid, Great Yarmouth Pier. Simon and Garfunkel, Bridge Over Troubled Water and Holst, The Planets. They were for my 6 or 7 birthday.
Neil: Ignoring local Nottingham bands, the first real gig I went to was the Stranglers at Bingly Hall, Stafford in 1978, just after Black & White had come out.
First record I bought was Everybody Wants To Be A Cat from the ‘Aristocats’ film.
First ‘rock’ record would be Led Zep II – way after it’s release!
Stuart: Futurama tour at Rock City Notingham featuring Theatre of Hate, Blancmange, Eyeless in gaza.
Showaddywaddy – Under the moon of love
Have you considered a surgeon who can reattach the poor donkey’s balls back where they rightfully belong? What’s his name, by the way (er, the donkey’s, that is)?
Neil: It was his own choice. He wouldn’t be the same with them attached.
Stuart: Good point, they should be raised a at least a few inches at the moment.
No name, I’m afraid. Though Can Our Love… donkey was called Bobtail, sadly no longer with us.
Wire’s best album, 154 or Chairs Missing?
Neil: Tricky one, but I’d have to go for 154; I still listen to it now and again and it still makes the hairs on the back of my neck tingle. I remember lying on my parents living room floor, with my head between the radiogram speakers, listening to it at full volume (before my parents had come home from work) – After the record had finished, I lay there for 10 minutes in silence.
Many people have asked about the synths and drum machines of the new album. I would like to ask Neil about his guitar playing: over the last few albums it has gradually become more experimental and abstract, using effects pedals, ebow, etc. I love it. What can you share with us about this evolution? Was it a sudden decision to widen your sound or is it something that has always been in there?
Neil: I think my experimentation has always been in me – maybe thanks to Wire. With fewer strings, on TSR especially, the sound has allowed me to step up to the front a bit more and, as I’m no soloing Slash-type guitarist, sounds and textures have become something to explore – using delays with the volume pedal came first, followed by the eBow. The rotary guitar effect came from an idea for a cover of “A Man Needs A Maid”, from there, we tried it on a few more songs and it kind of fitted with the sound of the album. The looping pedal is my next hurdle to conquer.
On the last tour, I was saying to Dan (McKinna) how far we’d come from me having no effects, except ‘quiet’ and ‘a bit louder’, to now dealing with nine, very important, pedals – including three distortion/overdrive pedals!
Tindersticks II and Nenette et Boni were the first places I ever heard this beautiful vibraphone sound with tremolo and reverb. I have heard this instrument on jazz records, but it’s always played too fast and without the great sustain. What were your influences in using the vibraphone in that beautiful atmospheric way?
David: It was just there in the studio, Town House III, where we made the first album. We tried just about every instrument they had. It was one of the reasons we went there.
Does Dave have any other short stories lying around, which are darker than “My Sister” or “Chocolate”?
David: Possibly. They’re the only 2 that have gone somewhere. And they had that magic. I didn’t plan either, they just came out. I should push myself. I’m sure I’ve got more.
Earl, your musical resume is filled with almost any musical genre one could think of, playing with diverse groups, from Seal to Air, to your own groups and projects. How does your experience influence your playing with tindersticks?
Earl: It is difficult to say specifically because to me, every experience has some influence on each other in some way or another either consciously or subconsciously, there is no way for me to “disconnect the dots” so to speak.
And had I had absolutely no prior musical experience I think it would be very unlikely that I would be able to play with tindersticks.
At the same time, every situation is totally unique due to the fact that the personalities and approaches to music vary greatly.
So really the only thing that I can say specifically is that working in many other situations has given me enough insight to know that there are as many ways to make music as there are musicians, and that it doesn’t do to make any assumptions whatsoever about musicians’ motivations.
Hopefully I brought that open mindedness to the table when I entered the band.
17 June 2012October 22, 2014 at 15:13 #15074
Just putting these up to the top, since we’ve had quite a few new member recently.
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