Interview: Turin Brakes
Gale Paridjanian, one half of the London band’s core, talks to us about their new album, We Were Here, which has been made as a four-piece and echoes the psychedelia of Pink Floyd at some points. TB are not to hit the brakes on touring this month, and will play at The Kazimier on the 5th.
Twelve years after ‘The Optimist’, are you still feeling optimistic?
Yes, more now than three years ago. This album has given us a good focus and it’s been very healthy.
Right, but you must have been optimistic three years ago as well, no?
Two years ago we were actually looking at what was going on and wondering if we were going to make another Turin Brakes album. And we had not much support from any kind of management or anything, we were kind of on our own. We were fighting to pay the rent on our studio, and so we kind of started changing a few things, and largely playing live music seemed to kind of pull us out from a little hole for a while. Really, doing these kind of small gigs kept us all together and kept us playing and kept the idea of music being fun, of music being satisfying, alive for us, and it really pulled us through a bit of a quiet time when we were considering whether to carry on.
Are Rob Allum (drums) and Phil Marten (keyboards) full members of the band at this point or do you remain a duo with them as touring members?
Ed [Myer, bass] and Rob have been with us working on this album from start to finish. Phil is not quite involved, but he did play on the album. Phil plays keyboards, Ed is the bassist and Rob is the drummer, so the moment this album we were kind of the four of us and they were part of the solution to our problems, in a way was to have a few more people around us and have them more involved and to give us a bit of guidance if we needed it, so they have been very integral to the whole system at the moment.
How much influence has Olly’s solo album If Not Now When had in We Were Here?
Strangely, Olly doing that solo album meant that we could get a slightly clear understanding of what Turin Brakes was, because if he hadn’t made that album then a lot of those songs or some of those ideas probably wouldn’t have been pushed through into Turin Brakes land. And I think it’s really okay to have lots of different ideas for music, but they don’t all necessarily have to come under Turin Brakes, and that led to us trying to work out what Turin Brakes was, which is what led to this album, and I think we probably got it down reasonably well, what TB is about.
What moved you to record live to tape?
This is just something we were talking about a lot. Our last album, Outbursts, we had our own studio space, we made it part-time over about two years, demoing, because we were on digital we could just build up a demo into big things and we were realizing that a lot of the restrictions of tape are really useful restrictions, and they mean that you for example have to play a lot of stuff live and you have to consider what you are doing. There are a lot of things that you consider to be a pain that actually are very useful in the studio, like having to wait for the tape to rewind and generally having to play a song from top to bottom, from start to finish, and not just play the chorus once and copy and paste, and copy and paste...The digital thing is wonderful, but it has taken a little bit of the uniqueness of the music. The music that we were listening to sounded like it was recorded in a studio by people playing instruments, and what we were trying to be, really, was put ourselves back as the people playing instruments, rather than the people being engineers and pressing records and copying and pasting.
We Were Here contains the same number of tracks as your previous record but it’s 10 minutes longer. In fact, the average time per song is slightly above 4 minutes and a half. What caused that?
Was that on purpose?
Yes. Is it because you weren’t thinking of a 3:30 minutes radio-friendly structure and let yourselves go?
Well, there are a couple of things. Our experience now is that if there’s something that the record company or you decide would be a good single for the radio, they will make an edit of it, or you will make an edit of it, when it comes the time, so we said let’s not worry about getting everything into 3:30 minutes, there is no point. And the other thing is, that you start to feel like no one is listening to you, and if no one is listening to you then you might as well do everything that you want to satisfy yourself. Like, for example, when it came to ordering the album, one idea was that albums are yesterday’s news and no one wants albums, so just put the single on the album, the other idea is that if you put all the singles or the best songs on the first five songs, or the first three songs, then you can let the rest of the album be rubbish. But we kind of decided that if no one is listening to albums anymore, because people downloading one song at a time, then you can do what you want with the album. And if you can do what you want with the album, you can make the album into the shape you want, so you don’t have to put singles on the front because no one is going to buy it. And this strange cycle of thoughts that things aren’t important and no one is listening gave us a lot of freedom really. If no one is listening, and none of this is important, the album isn’t important, it’s just about one song here and one song there, then we can do what we want.
Several songs from your first three albums got into the UK Singles Chart, even scoring a number five, but none from the last three, including We Were Here, have made it. As a band who’s been there, how do you feel about that situation?
(Sighs) It’s tricky. This album was released as a Top 40 and it was the in the top 10 in the indie charts. Midweek, it was number 31 in the UK chart, so it’s not doing too badly as an album, but yeah, I have to question what the point of putting out singles is if you are not charting. We haven’t had a single in the charts for a while and that’s very true, and we know it, but I guess we are just very forgiving of ourselves, because we know that when we did have the stuff on the charts, we were with a big company [Source Records, which was part of EMI] and we had a lot of wind in our sails, a lot of backing, because we were new and everyone is curious, and all those things help. We kind of had our time with that, and now we are not a new band, and now we don’t have a big company behind us. We know that things have changed, and we kind of forgive ourselves, and I think that if you are just going to carry on making music that you think is good and worth making, and you are the only judge of it, then you are just going to continue to make music, and that’s the best that we can hope for.
Has the change from being in a more mainstream sphere to the indie one changed you as an artist?
I don’t know, I guess we are still working that out. You definitely feel like you are working on your own a lot more, not being in the mainstream, the pressure is not there from an outside source, we are completely left to our own devices, so I guess that probably has changed us slightly as artists, but I think that we are also still aiming for the same thing that we were aiming for originally, I just think we are doing it in a different context now.
The album’s cover artwork is pretty much like Tame Impala’s single editions, especially ‘Elephant’, and you actually flirt with a more psychedelic sound, but it’s as if you are just testing the waters, as you don’t quite dive into it...
Yeah, I guess so. Quite a lot of the album came from playing with the band live as a four-piece, and quite a lot of that involved jamming and having long instrumentals, mucking about a bit with music, and I think that’s kind of where that thing came from. We didn’t really conceive too much about becoming slightly psychedelic or not psychedelic. The psychedelic moments just came naturally, and I think previously we would have stopped and would have said “Okay, that’s too psychedelic, it has to be more acoustic”, but I think we just let it run, because it felt a very good place for us to go. I don’t know if we are going to go more psychedelic, I don’t know which way things are going but I think the two work very well together.
‘Blindsided again’, in my opinion the best song of the album, and ‘Stop the world’ are the two songs that are more psychedelic. They are there, but feel decontextualized in the album, perhaps that’s because of what you just said in that it wasn’t pre-conceived to include psychedelic tones or undertones on the album.
Yeah, I mean, there was also stuff that wasn’t psychedelic as well (laughs). We just had to try and make it all fit on there, really. But I feel like it came out very naturally, I didn’t even really consider the word ‘psychedelic’ until we finished mixing and recording it. We never mentioned the word ‘psychedelic’ amongst us, it just seemed to be kind of what we had to do at the time.
Would you say We Were Here is a work in progress of the band in terms of “this is what we are now, the music we wanted to do, and our next album may portray our definitive sound”?
I definitely think we kind of nailed this album a little bit how we wanted it to be, we wanted to go back to how, even in technology, of how things were when we started. I think we kind of got a few of the ideas, back about where we were, where we are really and where we started, so I don’t know if it is the definitive album, although I think it’s a very lean, good example of Turin Brakes. I don’t know what we are going to do next, who knows.
‘Goodbye’ seems to be more than the album’s closing track. Is it intended to be a farewell song?
Well, at the moment it’s not, we haven’t planned it to be like that but you never know (laughs).
You have 22 UK dates in a month, starting on October 27th. Is it your biggest UK tour since The Optimist’s?
No, it’s probably not. After The Optimist we toured for three years or something, and then it’s the same size tour as we did about two years ago when it was the anniversary for The Optimist, and that was a bit bigger that the tour we did for Outbursts before that. But it is a big tour, it definitely is a big tour.
I guess you have already played quite a few times in Liverpool.
Liverpool is great for us. Is it at The Kazimier we are playing? We had one of our best gigs for a long time during a slightly dark phase, when we were doing gigs at the weekend to try and keep busy. The Kazimier was one of our favourites. And last time we played... I don’t know what the name of the venue was, it’s upstairs from The Cavern Club. Liverpool is a good place, it’s got a real history of music, and it’s kind of fascinating for us, because we haven’t been there that much. We’ve been touring for 12 years and quite often we’d play at Manchester and not Liverpool, so we’ve been really enjoying our visits there recently, I hope it’s a good one.
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