Recently, Bronya (New Music Ed) interviewed Tigs of Chew Lips and had a really nice chat. Tigs talked about releasing debut record Unicorn through their management company, and how that compares to putting out their imminent sophomore release through Sony. Then she got really endearingly passionate about Enya.
Chew Lips’ second full-length is out early next year, but the lead single from the album is out now – it’s called ‘Hurricane’ and you can buy it, or download a Pandr Eyez remix for free at the bottom of the post. But first read the interview.
Hello Tigs of Chew Lips. I’ve really enjoyed your new material.
Thank you. It’s good to know that someone’s listening and they like it. It’s pretty different to our first album, because it was quite delicate, which I love, but I don’t think it necessarily represented us as a live band.
For the first album you worked with Bat For Lashes’ producer, right?
We loved him, and working with him was perfect for that moment. When we worked with him he brought out the glacial and icy sound in us, so we went down that route. But when we played it live it didn’t necessarily sound like it did on record.
This record is generally more ‘up’; our live shows are quite high energy, so that seems to match where we are right now.
So the live and recorded material are closer together now?
Pretty much, yeah. The shows that we’re doing now pretty much sound the same as the recorded album.
Your new material sounds stronger, more melodic, and richer in texture. Would you agree with that interpretation?
Interesting that you said melodic because I haven’t really thought that, but it probably is. We definitely set out to make a more accessible pop record. A lot of people said our first was niche, which I found really bizarre because to me it’s pop. I don’t consider that a failure on our part, though, but you want to make something that more people will understand.
The night that we finished this we finished our first album we drove back home, and we sat and talked about what we wanted the second record to be like. I think we stayed true to what we set out to do. We wanted to make our version a big, polished pop record. We’re really into RnB at the moment too.
An artist is defined by their limitations – not by how far they’re willing to push themselves, because anyone can sell out if they want to.
Why did you choose to sign with Sony?
It’s weird how it happened, because the first album was released through our management and not through a label. They released the Radiohead album (In Rainbows) where you could choose how much you paid for it, and thought that was the new way to release music after it made so much money. They’re a decent sized company and had enough funding to release our album; it was an experiment that kind of worked and kind of didn’t work. It’s a different beast releasing a record with Radiohead who are massive, and a new band that you’re trying to break. In terms of how it did for an independently released album it couldn’t have done much better, but we wanted it to get massive. So we knew we had to sign with a proper label. Unicorn didn’t come out in America, but we really want this new one to be released there.
So that decision was a no-brainer, even though I’m really sceptical about signing with a major: what that means, and the compromises you have to make. But the Sony thing has been going on for about a year, with lawyers going back and forth. It made sense to do it, because it makes the best of both worlds –we have our own label within Sony, so we have the benefits of being with a major as opposed to the negative aspects, I think. Although you never know; we might have just shot ourselves in the foot, but you’ve got to try and have a go at these things.
Have you found that you’ve had to make a lot of compromises since you’ve been signed to a major or not?
You’ve got to choose your battles, because with a company of that size there is a department for everything and everyone wants to have a say over anything that you do. That’s hard, especially coming from an independent background. You can’t say no to every suggestion, so you just have to let go of the things that don’t matter to you and you can fight for the things that are integral to how you view your band. That way, people are more willing to listen because you haven’t said no to everything else.
Sometimes you find yourself in a meeting where for half an hour of an hour-long meeting people are discussing whether you should re-shoot a video wearing a hat. And you can’t fucking believe that people can have such priorities. You want to say that the reason why major labels are in the shit is because people have conversations like this.
But, this is the thing that happens when you start a company essentially, and it’s not just you in charge. You have to take on other people’s opinions and have some faith that they know what they’re doing until proven otherwise. Everyone has their role to fulfill and it’s a team effort. Also, you have to have these people on side because when they have, like, twenty things on their desk that they have to do you want them to like you and choose to work on your project. It’s about making good bonds, and having everyone understand what you’re trying to do.
I heard you wrote loads of songs for both the first and second albums… a bit more for the second. That got me thinking about the 10,000 hours of work theory – that amount of time spent doing something makes you super good at it, or something…
Well, inevitably we’ve got better in terms of practise. You learn tricks and the natural key to move to at the end of a verse. With your first album, you’re learning the process of how to make a record, and with your second you’ve got that down so you have room to experiment a bit.
When people try and label you as electro you seem to have a problem with that, but basically all music is electro nowadays what with synths being everywhere, so why were you reluctant to be labelled as such?
I don’t think we’re that reluctant about it; it’s just that people want to put you in a narrow bracket but we don’t think we’re really in that. We came out in 2009 when there was a wave of electropop, and a lot of that was female fronted. And so we didn’t put our album out that year and felt that we let that wave pass. But if you listen to the record compared with who we were bracketed with like La Roux or Little Boots, it doesn’t sound like them – it’s reserved, icy, and it’s got its own sound.
The synth-based music puts you in the bracket of ‘80s because that’s when synths became prevalent. But it’s pretty lazy to call it ‘80s. When did the guitar get invented? Say the fifteenth century or something. It’s like saying all guitar music is medieval.
Anyway, I’d say our music is more electronic than electro.
For the first record Chew Lips was three people and now you’re a duo. What triggered that change?
Chew Lips has always been James and me writing all of the songs – so we are the band, but Will was more part of the live band. So when there were difficulties between the three of us the obvious answer was that he should go; he had a couple of good years in the band and came along for the ride, but I don’t know what he’s doing now! It’s such an intense working relationship when you’re together for so much time that when there’s something amiss then it always comes out in the end.
If you’re gonna be spending that much time with someone then you have to get with someone perfectly, I guess.
I read that you fell in love and moved to Paris during the making of this album and that inspired it lyrically. Which lyric would you say is the most poignant or the most meaningful to you?
‘Mixtape’ sounds more trendy than it is (I didn’t want to call it that but it has the word ‘mixtape’ in it) – and that song means a lot to me. But the whole album is meaningful, really, because I fell in love with this half-French half-Argentine guy and wrote pretty much the whole album with him in mind – not out of choice, but because that was what was happening. It’s a love album, I think. But there aren’t any ballads, before you freak out! It’s not just about love, but falling in love with the city, too. There’s a lot of positivity in the album. I talked about taking the Eurostar when I was commuting to and from Paris every week, the concrete station where the lovers congregate, and things like that.
How do the two albums differ lyrically?
The first is more ambiguous than this one. Unicorn is more landscapey.
I try not to write songs about things that other people won’t know anything about, because why would you do that? If I find something moving and I want to write about it, I write it in a way that other people would be able to listen and apply the story to their lives. That’s a good skill to have; I don’t know whether I have it, but I try. For example, when we were working on the current album I got quite ill and later on wrote some songs about that time, but obviously I don’t say literally that I got ill and I feel better now; it just alludes to triumphing over something, or home – moods that are a bit more ambiguous.
Hopefully more people will be able to listen to this record and feel that it means something to them, even though all the songs are based on personal experience because that’s all I can really write about, as that’s the only way I can feel something when I’m writing or performing.
In the recent weeks we’ve had the lowest album sales in the UK ever. I was wondering how that affects you as a musician, and what you think about that.
It’s really fucking sad for music, because it seems to be valued less than it’s ever been valued. You forget that there’s something making it, it’s their art and music is what they love doing, but people just want to rip them off. That said, I rip music off too.
On the flip side, it means that you’ve really got to love music to be in it – musicians aren’t in it for the money. This is a low moment for music in terms of what gets to be number one, even though I really love Rihanna.
What’s your view on endorsement deals? I heard about you doing a massive corporate gig in another country to make your money for the summer, or something.
To me, it doesn’t really matter where the money comes from to a certain extent. Obviously I’m not going to take an endorsement from a brand I don’t really agree with or believe in, but in terms of, say, Cartier wanting us to play a gig in China, that’s just another gig. Those shows pay a year’s wages, which is ridiculous. Every single festival and loads of gigs have sponsors – you can’t avoid it. And there isn’t enough money in music to put on shows and run venues without sponsors. If you disagreed with sponsorship than you’d never get to play a gig.
Your band’s name is inspired by a Brendan Behan book. Do you read a lot generally?
Yeah, we both do. I would say that the way we view literature affects our music. Someone the other day asked me what poetry was, which is a pretty big question. Poetry is a dead art form in this day and age because everybody thinks it’s the sort of stuff by Milton, Keats, or whatever you learnt at school that bored the crap out of you. But I think poetry is the way you word what you say and the lyrics of you like – basically, taking anything you want to say and forming it in the best possible way. I really love words, lyrics, and I really enjoy finding that balance between making people understand what I’m trying to say whilst using the words that please me the most.
Are there any artists whose careers you’d like to emulate? I read somewhere that you really like what Beck’s done.
It’s hard to say he’s an influence because we don’t sound anything like him, but in terms of a career path I don’t think it gets much better than what he’s done because he’s consistently made whatever album he’s wanted. He gets to call the shots now. If you start off your career on that path outlining straight away that you’re gonna make a different album each time, then you can get away with it. I wouldn’t say we’d change as much as he does, but from our first to our second album we’ve changed quite significantly and that’s how we intend to carry on.
Which new artists have you been into this year?
I really love St Vincent, and the Kurt Vile record, even though that’s from last year. I’ve listened to Smoke Ring For My Halo every single day since it came out. It’s a breathtaking album and I’ve never heard a record with a sound like that. I’m totally in awe of that guy. And I really like the Antlers’ album from last year, Burst Apart – we know those guys really well as I used to go out with Darby. They come over a lot and it’s always good to hang out with those lot – they’re such a talented band. And I’m having a massive Enya renaissance at the moment. Anybody who hasn’t properly listened to Enya needs to know that it’s properly clever music. Listen to Caribbean Blue – it will blow your fucking mind. It’s like the very beginning ot ‘90s dance music – it’s so clever, and beautiful. Lemonade came over from America last week, and I ended up hanging out with them. The singer put on Enya and I was like OHMYGOD; before I thought it was some medieval crap that my mum used to listen to. CARIBBEAN BLUE, WRITE IT DOWN! CARIBBEAN BLUE!
Chew Lips’ single ‘Hurricane’ is out now. Download the Pandr Eyez remix for free here.