A week or two back, Tim Robins set on his merry way, bindle non-chalantly cast over his shoulder, to the heart of West London. The purpose: visiting the legendary Abbey Road studios to watch both Mount Kimbie and Trophy Wife live in session for the new season of Channel 4′s ‘Abbey Road Debuts’ series, and to catch up with them after the “sets” for a bit of a chinwag.
Abbey Road Debuts works in a similar format to the ‘Live from Abbey Road’ show, which is commonly broadcasted (unfortunately) during the weird wee hours of Saturday morning on Channel 4. However, for the ‘Abbey Road Debuts’ series there are a select few (very lucky) audience members, so the sessions operate like an intimate gig…with a camera crew roaming around. Live from Abbey Road exclusively deals with the big hitters of the industry- RHCP, Muse, Arctic Monkeys etc, bands who have international label support, because LFAR was made for an international audience- who had all established themselves well enough prior to the sessions that they had probably done a number of filmed events before visiting Abbey Road. Suzanne Olbrich- the show’s producer- wanted to keep a similar feel to the ‘Live From Abbey Road’ shows, but use the sessions as a platform to expose bands and artists who are yet to really “break”, or gain a following in many countries. The bands don’t have to be immensely new or up-and-coming (although many are), the only pre-requisite is that these bands are great and deserve to have a larger fanbase, and more widespread coverage about them.
Susie states in an interview with the 405: ‘I just really wanted to be able to put the spotlight on artists that are unlikely to get much in the way of TV promo…There are so many brilliant acts that we know people would love if they actually got the chance to see and hear them’. ‘Abbey Road Debuts’ is one of those little pockets of sanity on television, amongst a world of hyperbolic madness; it’s a series wherein fantastic bands who should deserve lots of exposure and a dedicated following can take their first steps to obtaining just that.
Trophy Wife were first to play their three song set, which included ‘The Quiet Earth’ and’ Microlite’ as well as the recording debut of a new track. We caught up with Jody, Ben and Kit after their performance. Here’s how it panned out:
PlanetNotion: How do you feel everything went today, and how have your experiences of Abbey Road panned out?
Kit: It was good. It was intense to have the setup and recording session in one day, but we think it went well.
Ben: We’ve never done anything like this before, so it was exciting.
PN: Do you feel it was a big step up for you guys? Abbey Road is incredibly iconic…
Kit: It’s the first TV thing we’ve done, and the first time we’ve been in a proper recording studio too. So, I guess so…
Ben: In at the deep end!
Kit: [laughs] But I don’t think the way we do things in the future will be in spaces like this. It’s not necessarily what we’re going towards.
PN: Tell us a little about the Oxford musical “collective” (dirty word?) of [Oxford band community] ‘Blessing Force’?
Kit: Call it whatever you want.
Jody: There’s been a mutual support network in Oxford for quite a few years, it just kind of stemmed from that. Everyone helps each other out and works together, so you can benefit each other’s needs.
Kit: As soon as it had a name put to it, it obviously got a lot more attention. There are various bands associated who suddenly got more attention. But I think the real benefit is that this “Blessing Force” thing had a party- organised in conjunction with Truck- which we went along to. That’s the real benefit; having this thing which exists and gives support to some smaller bands, and putting some interest into Oxford.
Jody: It’s an attempt to change the way people are doing things in Oxford, firstly, and if it can spread farther afield then that’s great. There are people affiliated with it who are putting on their own parties with artwork set up around their houses and bands playing etc, but it’s totally separate from us. So, the rigmarole of turning up to a show, paying your £3 on the door, and seeing bands play in the boring fashion that we’re all aware of, is hopefully changing in some way. We hope it’ll have a knock on effect that you can do things a bit differently.
PN: Do you think this will snowball into you curating your own events, and being involved in that side of things as well as the playing of music?
Kit: where possible. Up until now we haven’t been able to put much time into it because of Trophy Wife. That has taken the forefront. But, yes, where possible.
PN: What do you think it is about Oxford that has produced this string of great artists over the past year or two that have gained a lot of exposure, as well as having such a successful musical history? It seems to have been put back on the map.
Jody: There has just always been a lot of great musicians in a small space.
Kit: And because of the nature of the place, with the university as well as the Cowley Road area, everyone’s just thrown together. So if you are involved in that sort of thing- if you’re a musician for example- then you’ll gravitate towards each other. You’re almost forced by the way the city is laid out and the way it operates. If you’re into music or art, or you’re a student, you just end up living on Cowley Road.
PN: It’s been noted that you guys have lots of influence on the aesthetic of the band as a whole- photography/videos/artwork etc. This is something that can be traced back to Radiohead + Thom Yorke’s long career working with Stanley Donwood, but it’s a position which I think has been reinvigorated by Foals (Tinhead/Dave Ma) over the past few years. Do you think there is something about the size of Oxford, and knowing lots of the same people, that fosters this “all in the family” mentality? Although London is a musical epicentre, I get the impression it generally produces more self centred musicians/artists, always wanting to work with the biggest name they can etc…
Ben: I think a certain amount comes from being isolated in a sense. Oxford is a small place, whereas in London you have infinite opportunities, and can pick your favourite artists or people to work with. However, with Trophy Wife it’s not due to lack of options, as there are loads of talented people we can go to. It’s just been an unsaid thing between the three of us from the start, keeping control of the aesthetic has been a product of the way we work. We always said that the artwork should look a certain way. We incorporated Kit’s photography, and then that translated to the Myspace page and other aspects of what we do.
Jody: with the live show too, we want it all to be unified.
PN: You have said that images document ‘social atrophy perceived through Kit’s camera lens ten years ago’. Lots of your artwork- the photo of the abandoned lido in particular- document places that seemingly used to be full of people having fun and full of enjoyment, but fallen into disrepair and have lost element this completely. Your music always feels euphoric in a detached way, and I wondered if the theme of nostalgia crops up at all…the idea that there was a previous happiness somewhere that can no longer be re-engaged with? Or am i massively reading too much into it?
Jody: I think there’s perhaps a longing element, or some kind of melancholia, but put that alongside euphoria, like you said.
Kit: That’s pretty spot on in terms of how we tried to put the image to the music . You asked the question better than we answered it!
PN: If I can turn then to the Joanna Newsom cover you did, and I’m sceptical about referring to this too much as it was one of the first ventures you had as a band. You described it as a ‘sort of half way between a cover and a remix…an organic remix….more a form of communication between artists’. Why did you choose this cover, especially as you then completely altered it? There doesn’t seem to be any semblance to the original…
Kit: I was listening to that album a lot at the time. I don’t really like the album that much but i was listening to it a lot because i wanted to like it. The whole time I listened there was one vocal line that kept jumping out again and again to me. It felt so strong compared to everything else on the record. I thought maybe we could take that one little bit and do something completely different with it.
Jody: kit just came into my room and said how we should cover it.
Kit: I was frustrated by the original, because I could see it in a completely different context than how it was on the album, so I thought we should do it.
Ben: We were recording seemingly endless loops of drum beats and guitar loops, it was more about the hooks. Repeating those hooks and playing around. The idea that we had was that the one vocal line could be the hook, it was the central motif. I think that’s influenced out sound, that minimalist element. If we have a great hook, we just want that to be the focus and take the lead, so there wasn’t anything vying for your attention in the mix. If that meant the tracks had to be 6 minutes long then so be it [laughs]
PN: It seems odd that your first collaborative effort as a band is on a cover. Although many new bands cover their favourite artists to establish their style, it seemed that for you the sonic traits of Trophy Wife were already fully formed, even on that first recording you did. Did you never think of sacking it off and just begin writing your own songs?
Jody: We did just think that we could make some new lyrics up, and it would just be our own song, but i really liked how the lyrics were anyway, that “we could shine a light on” bit.
Kit: If we’d just changed the melody slightly it would have been all ours!
PN: Any plans to release it, or will it stay as a Youtube thing?
Jody: I think we might just play it live, but i imagine gradually it will fizzle out.
PN: With your general sound as a band, you often say that you use certain characteristics or traits of electronic music- as well as some actual electronic equipment- but then transpose that to acoustic instruments. Did you have a set of rules where you were continually striving to cross these genre boundaries in your songs, or is pop music the only over-riding sensibility?
Kit: I don’t think it’s all rigidly set out like that. We were previously all playing in Jonquil, which released tan ambient record and then a folk record. That crossover is something we’re familiar with. The idea of Jody whipping out a mandolin and playing it on a track doesn’t seem weird at all, because that mandolin has been sitting in the corner of the room for as long as i can remember. So, to put it on a track seems normal. We didn’t have a rigid plan to “combine this with this”…the more acoustic elements have always been there, and as we developed into working with electronic sounding beats (which is kind of from an interest in hiphop that Ben and I developed a few years ago) those things clash naturally over time. You don’t get rid of your mandolin…you let it sit in the corner until you might use it.
Ben: We used to record exclusively in the top room of this little town house, so part of our decisions in terms of instruments were to do with what could actually fit in the room! It’d be like, “Ben get your keyboard”, and we didn’t have a bass so Jody would use his octave pedal on his guitar. Everything kind of formed around that. When we felt like something was missing we would include it, but we tried our best to just work with what we had.
PN: I always hate questions like “what are you guys listening to at the moment” or “who are your main influences”, as that always changes. But I’m very interested in what hip hop artists you were listening to, Ben and Jody?
Kit: This can be on the record, we’re not ashamed of it! Loads of Atmosphere…“Rhyme Sayer Entertainment”. Dark Minds.
PN: Are you into OFWGKTA then?
Kit: I don’t know much about them, but that Tyler, the Creator video [for ‘Yonkers’] is fucking amazing. A friend of ours sent it over to us.
PN: You recently did a mixtape for Moshi Moshi. Although you’ve obviously got an interest in electronic music, do you think that remixing and DJing is something you would like to get more into in the future?
Ben: we enjoyed it. That was the first mix we had done. We also did our first DJ set at the Blessing Force party, which was great fun. DJ sets are great because you just get drunk; free beer!
Jody: Remixing is definitely something we’d like to get into. We did an Esben and the Witch remix in much the same way as the Newsom cover, we just wrote a new track basically.
PN: Speaking of Esben and the Witch, do you have any good tour stories from your recent shows with them?
Kit: Sheffield? The whole of Sheffield was mad. It was a great show, and Esben played really well too. We ended up staying up that night until 5 in the morning with some friends who own a studio. We went to their studio and I just played a really simple disco beat for an hour and a half with my head down. I got so into it for some reason, and when I looked up everyone was on the floor with their instruments, just trying to play along, but not being able to.
Jody: Still cooking…
Ben: I was on a golf course at 8 in the morning with a bottle of cider in hand…
PN: Do they have golf courses in Sheffield?
Jody: they have a really gritty rock club where the toilets were pretty special. Black stained walls.
Kit: Were there loads of transvestites in that club? In my mind there were lots there?
Jody: No idea, but the toilets were like something from Trainsportting.
Kit: That’s your answer…Sheffield night life.
PN: Will you try and keep the recorded sound different from your live shows? After watching you just now, although the songs are a great emulation of the recordings in many respects, there’s a different feel to it. You’ve added your new member [Andrew] to fill out the live sound…do you want to develop the live show in a way that it’s a different experience to the records? Do you try to bring out something a bit more visceral in the live set, or do you try to keep up the ‘office disco’ decorum?
Kit: We’re trying to expand the live sound a lot. We want to change and shift, becoming more diverse. With the recordedings, although we always make loads of changes and developments with the songs, we’re going to keep it with that reserved, right feel. With the live stuff, we’re probably going to splash out a bit more.
Jody: As the live show changes, then I think that will feed back into our recorded stuff in future.
Kit: The two can never remain completely separate, as it’s us doing both.
Ben: Live, I think that all 4 of us naturally like to play up beat shows where people can dance and stuff. Even though the live versions are communicating the songs from the record, that obviously needs to be translated to the live context so people can enjoy it for what it is. We’re not one of those bands who have a restrained aspect to the live show, we want it to be a bit more fun. We try not to just stand there.
PN: Have you got album plans in the pipeline?
Kit: it does feel like a body of work is starting to form. There’s potentially another release before an album, which will be coming out in the summer. Though there aren’t hard and fast plans at the moment.