Interview Tim - 8th June 2006 (Advent's Calendar 2007)
Presumably you were pretty pleased with the response to your first album "Hopes and Fears"...
Yes, it went amazingly well considering our expectations were so low I guess, by comparison. But yes, yes, it has been a sort of weird surreal couple of years.
No-one really could have expected it to get as big as it did...
No, I don’t think anyone did and we certainly had no concept of where it was going to go. I remember the record label, we were all kind of excited about the way that, they wanted it to go platinum and all the cheesy sort of sales things they talk about and it was starting to fill us with this sense of dread that everyone was getting their hopes up and it was going to be very disappointing and all we really wanted to do was to get the thing out and sell a few copies and make a start and it actually ended up exceeding anyone’s hopes really.
Yes, well, you know, it went really well in some countries straight away and in other countries it bubbled along a bit and in France it wasn’t until some time in 2005, the middle of 2005, well after the record came out, it suddenly went massive and the same in Germany. I don't know, even Portugal, it’s funny, I think it was just because we were touring so much, there wasn’t a kind of massive, I don't know, pop style marketing campaign that made the record go to number one instantly all over the world which seems to be the way people do things these days. For us it was much more about touring in all the countries all over the world and just starting off playing club shows and trying to get people interested that way and we kept going back and going back and if you build a reputation as a live band eventually people want to hear more.
I don’t know what it is, I guess we’re lucky that English is the international language of choice at the moment but there’s something about, I don't know, melodies is something that always connects people isn’t it? That's one of the great things about music, it can be a way of communicating when other means of communicating fail so yes, you know, it’s a really cool thing. It’s quite weird to be playing in Japan and you can’t even understand the street signs yet there are still people who are singing your songs back at you.
Yes, we kept getting kind of nominated for things that we completely didn’t expect which was quite nice. We started off being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize which was a real flattering thing I guess because it is such a musical award and probably the one that meant the most to me was the Ivor Novello Songwriters of the Year Award which is, I don't know, something I’ve always sort of heard about and it has got a kind of legendary status. I think the first time I heard about it was the Pet Shop Boys winning one for, I don't know, one of their great singles back in 1988 or something. It seemed like something I hoped we might have a chance of getting at some point over the course of our life span as a band but to get put forward for that so quickly was a real honour as a song writer. The Grammies thing was really weird because that came very late, a year, in fact more like a year and a half after the album had come out so to suddenly be nominated for a Grammy which is obviously a big international thing, Best New Act is one of the biggest awards of the night, that was very, very odd. It is nice to be completely surprised by something.
No, no. I’ve got the Ivor Novello Award on my shelf somewhere and I’ve got one of the others, a Brit I think, the Brit Award for Best Album, but anything else is just sort of door stop territory I think.
Yes, well I came back from one of our tours and we had accumulated quite a few gold discs and platinum discs which is nice but my wife had decided to put them all up in a kind of display on the wall at the top of our stairs in our flat and it was just so horrible and cheesy that I made her take them all down immediately. It was sort of too much, the hall of fame. Anyone who came round to the flat was going to be faced with this statement of how gloriously successful we were so I decided to put a stop to that early on.
One thing that we really, really felt was good was the playing live and it’s amazing, anyone who saw us play live at a tiny club like the Water Rats in King’s Cross in 2003, we were playing pretty much the same kind of set of songs that ended up on the album yet by 2005 we were playing in Madison Square Garden and it was a much, well I think our performance had become something completely transformed, it was much more energised and much more visceral and much more, just much more rock and much more exciting and more physical and that’s something that just sort of evolved naturally and like Tom I think has developed into an incredible front man and it is really cool to have that happen to us, just from playing and playing and playing rather than it being some sort of contrived image for the band, so that's something that we are really, really proud of. There are other things, we’ve just been learning, you have to learn everything as you go along. We’ve always been like that as a band, you know, when we started off we couldn’t even play properly at all but you, I don't know, you just learn these things as you go along. We’ve always made lots of mistakes and everything you do is by trial and error. We are still making mistakes, there are things we’ve done along the way, not kind of huge horrendous errors of judgement but, I don't know, you learn to trust your own instincts more and we have learnt that if we feel something is right, then we should do it. If we feel something is a bit cheesy or isn’t something that sits comfortably with our ethos as a band, we should just ignore it.
Yes, I mean we’ve had an amazing time. Probably the only mistake that I really regret as a band is because everything happened so quickly, once the album came out and we were touring and touring and touring and it suddenly became this sort of snowball of success I suppose, we never really sat back and enjoyed it properly I think together. We never took a moment to sit back and think, haven’t we done well I suppose. We’ve never been a band to sit there patting each other on the back and telling each other how wonderful we are but I think there is a place for enjoying the moment whereas we fell into a trap slightly of always thinking what was happening tomorrow, how can we play better gigs, bigger gigs, always looking forward to the next thing and, I don't know, just being impatient. It is all good but you have just got to occasionally enjoy things in each other’s company and enjoy what you’ve achieved and because we never did that there was a sense of, I don't know, I think it had a slightly bad effect on us mentally.
Well I think there was a bit of that, all the kinds of ups and downs that you have when you are travelling round the world and doing this stuff, you very quickly start to be able to laugh at any of the bad moments, which is the way it should be. We made things slightly harder for ourselves because we had a lot of pent up tension and just a lot of pent up energy I think, a lot of tension among the band and rather than leaving all that behind and not seeing each other for two months and taking a big deep breath before going into the studio, we went straight into the studio to try and work on some new songs so we almost consciously took all our emotional baggage I suppose with us into the studio and that made for a record that was full of all that kind of energy and tension but it also meant that the recording process was fairly fraught and intense. That definitely got pretty dark at times and we got pretty close to splitting up several times and, you know, there was a lot of bad feeling around but I felt that we turned that into music basically and that's why for us the record is a real powerful statement of who we are.
I mean we did a lot of arguing when we were on the road but a lot of the problem was that we didn’t kind of, we’re not rowing sort of people, we don’t get really stroppy and start throwing bottles at each other, we’re much more of a kind of bottling up and not communicating type band, which is just something I think when you are in close proximity with people you can’t kind of voice every thought that you have because otherwise it just becomes like an episode of Eastenders or something and you have to, well I guess it would be good to be more open and communicate more but we anyway ended up bottling things up much more and that resulted in us all feeling a bit numb I think and the whole concept of burying your heart under the iron sea was an expression of that feeling that we were burying all our emotions and reactions so deeply that we were just starting to almost recede as people in some way, which is quite a weird and scary feeling that is quite hard to describe or even hard to, I can’t understand how we managed to get ourselves in such a mess but yes, we had all that on the road but once we were off the road and into the studio and had to really confront each other and be playing this music every day, really digging deep into these dark places and trying to face all these fears and put them into songs, that it did make for a very intense atmosphere in the studio and that’s what kind of pushed us to the edge really.
Well I feel really, really proud of the record and I think that’s what kept us together. Even in the worst times, the music was always the one remaining thread that was holding us together and it's a weird thing that, when you think that we’ve known each other for 25 years and it’s not just a kind of friendship that was formed when we all answered an ad in the back of the NME a couple of years ago, it is something that is a really, really powerful bond that’s lasted a whole lifetime and when that starts to disintegrate that is a scary thing but thankfully the music has always been such a strong bond between us. Not only did it hold us together but it also proved to be the thing that vindicated us in some way or justified all the kind of weirdness and bad feeling because what we ended up with was a record that we were really, really excited about. I think we’d gone into the studio with a bit of a fear of, I don't know, producing something that was limp or that was an imitation of the first record or just an attempt to please critics or please fans or please God knows who and what we ended up was making a record that was really, really thrilling for us and it wasn’t all sunny and great fun but I think you really have got to confront those worst things in order to get something that is really, really exciting and powerful.
We’ve never been a sort of story writing band. The first record is definitely an expression of lots of genuine things, emotions I guess. You know, it’s funny how you end up bandying the word emotions around till it starts to feel like a bit of a meaningless buzz word but the first record I guess, we’re really proud of it and I do think it is a pretty amazing collection of songs by anyone’s standards but I guess it feels a bit timid now looking back at it. I mean it was our first record and our first sortie into presenting ourselves to people which is always difficult to completely put out your absolute honest self to people but we were trying to do that and it does do that but the second record I think is a much more visceral expression of all these very, very real emotions and reactions to things and some of those things are to do with the relationship between the three of us and some of them are to do with things that I know we all feel about the world around us and about other people.
Well we’re certainly not very organised or contrived about the creative process. I mean I wrote all the songs for this record, pretty much all of them were written in the back of the bus travelling around Europe and America and they were kind of, we were doing demos in studios all over the world which was really good fun actually and again those experiences were a real kind of bonding thing for us, getting back to creating some music from scratch. But for me, as a song writer, we never sat down and said this is what we want to say and this is how we want to say it, these are the sounds we want to make. It just, I don't know, even if we’d done that it would have ended up sounding different anyway, it was a real process of just finding our way quite randomly. I was writing songs that I guess were an expression of things that I was really feeling and it was often the case that I knew that the other guys were feeling the same way because obviously we have a lot of time to sit around and talk about things and I knew that all of us were feeling kind of, I don't know, numb and a bit confused about who we were as people, who we were becoming and what we had to say and obviously I knew about tensions within the band so that was stuff I was writing about but on the other hand I also knew that we were all feeling, all of us had a lot of anger and confusion about things we were seeing happening in the world at large and so I just see it as my job within the band to try and express that. The good thing about this record is that that wasn’t the end of the process. On the first record it just felt like the songs were written and we just played them and that was basically the record, it was pretty simple and pretty good fun but this time the basic songs were something we were really excited about but finding a way of turning that into musical sound scapes that we were all contributing to and really pouring all of ourselves into, that was much more of a band creative process.
I think it was inevitable that it was going to sound much more raw and much more intense. The one thing that we did have in the back of our minds is that we wanted it to sound more varied from start to finish, it wasn’t just lots of … The first record is kind of, there was quite a long of single type songs on there, a lot of immediate, snappy pop songs whereas songs like "Bedshaped" and "Untitled I", which are more rambling and a bit more weird, we wanted to have a bit more of that on the record so that was the only thing we did want to achieve but everything else was just following our instincts. Like I say, we had all this dark energy that we’d built up and the music that came out of us was almost a literal expression of that.
Yes, you’ve just got to lay down and click it. No, the record company have been really good. It’s weird how, it’s quite distressing when you talk to other bands and you find out that loads of bands don’t have the independence that they ought to have and we’ve always kind of taken it for granted I think that we have complete control over everything we do and we don’t really listen to anyone else. I don't know, I guess it is a weird kind of self-belief that you have and you have to belief that your own instincts are the best ones.
Yes, really pleased actually, it’s weird, people often think of record companies as being these huge corporate monsters but you have to remember that pretty much everyone who goes to work at a record label starts off at least being a music fan and it’s, Island is a label that has got quite an incredible history, probably more so than any other British label, the acts that its had in the past are such a fundamental part of British music, and so I think they really like the idea of having an artist on their roster who is actually interested in trying new things because so few bands do actually do that so I think they are pretty excited about that.
I don’t think it will be difficult emotionally playing the songs live. I think the great thing about music is that even when it is really bleak and sad or angry or dark, that can be a really good thing. A lot of my favourite music is dark but it doesn’t make me feel depressed listening to it, it makes me feel excited and makes me feel alive and that's what we wanted to achieve with the record. We knew we would be out playing the songs live and you want to be playing songs that really, really excite you and are really, really thrilling to play so we are really, really excited about that. Sonically it is going to be difficult, it is going to be a lot of fun trying to reproduce all the sounds but we’re working on it and people are going to be pretty amazed by the variety.
Yeah I think the things are much better generally, in fact I feel like there's a better kind of vibe and creative excitement in the band than there's ever been which seems quite amazing when we think about where we were just... 3 months ago or something. But a lot of that is just the fact i guess we know that we've pushed eachother to the limit and we really kind of gone to these dark places, and we made something out of it in a music that we're really really proud of, and that's something that we've created together and now we're in the reaharsal rim trying to play the songs together and, working together as a band that's the best stuff about being a band. It's great to get us to kind of sit back from the (?) and feel really really excited and really really proud about what we achieved even if it's... we have no idea whether anyone else will like it but just for us it's such a powerful thing to have done.
Yes I can guess, we gonna be doing a lot of touring, a lot of playing live. I think we're hoping to keep the kind of creative flow going trying to write more songs and do more recording as we travel around the world. We did quite a lot of that on the last record and we really really enjoyed that so that's what we're probably trying to do even more.