Ahead of their EVAC gig (October 12th) and upcoming support slots with Everything Everything and Dutch Uncles, we have an intimate, long chat with the band's Andrew Hunt (vocals, synths, guitar) about his ideal “listening setup” for their album Performance - one of the finest debuts of the year - Hot Chip sounding like them, having Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Holly Johnson as a fan, taking criticism first thing in the morning, what it is like to live with his band mates in a house/studio, how much of a Scouse he is and more.
After being in all these bands, what made you form Outfit?
I think all of us had spent quite a long time playing in bands where we were really trying to push the limits of our playing, and trying to make music that was technical in a way, and I think we all wanted to do a project which had more of a focus on emotion and more of a focus on the recordings being very good, sort of focusing on the real small details, like texture, the recording, but also trying to communicate something more emotional and trying to write some songs which were a bit more straightforward.
I listened to Indica Ritual and aPAtT and yes, they sound quite experimental and even a bit crazy. So I was wondering, how do you go from that to ‘Spraypaint’? Is it the emotional aspect?
Actually, when I look back on it, if we’d carried on doing Indica Ritual, I think we would have ended up becoming Outfit, basically. It’s quite a natural progression just in terms of where we were going as a band. Actually, the latter part of Indica’s music was recorded but was never released. In that time we started to become less frantic and less busy and we started to experiment with songs which were a bit more like songs as opposed to tracks. So the music was kind of going in that direction anyway. But then we changed members around and wanted to change the name... I mean, it is completely a separate band but I think, certainly, personally, I can see that’s where it was going even towards the end of that project.
And how come it wasn’t released?
Well, it’s hard to say, really. We recorded an album’s worth of material, which we still have, which occasionally I speak to people who heard of the band and they go “oh, send it to me”, and I say “yeah, yeah, will do”, and then I completely forget. But I think we didn’t really take that band very seriously, in terms of it being anything like a career or anything like that. It was really just messing around and finding ourselves musically. In that sense it was very pure, it was just doing a band, and you want to see what you can do with your friends. So, we weren’t really that stressed out about not releasing it, we always knew we would go on and do another band, and probably that band would be better, so we’d just go on and do that (laughs).
Your debut album sounds really mature for a debut, a confident record that presents you with a strong identity. Might that be a result of your previous experimentation, of a process of kind of getting to know yourselves?
Yeah, I think so. When we started the band we were relatively... I mean, I don’t know, I was 23 when we started doing Outfit, but I’d played in quite a few bands and I felt quite musically experienced. I think we all felt very confident in ourselves as musicians and as composers if you like. So I think we didn’t have anything to prove in that regard, just to ourselves. When I listen back to some Indica songs I think: “God, you were really trying to show people that you were good at the guitar, weren’t you?” (laughs), like you were really trying to get across that you could play, it’s like it’s a bit needy. You listen to it and it’s the sound of someone being insecure or something. And I think we all felt a little bit less like this when doing Outfit.
In ‘Two Islands’, which was your first single on Double Denim, you say: “I go out to find out who I am, I go out to find out who I’m not”... That sounds a lot like Outfit.
That’s Outfit in a nutshell. That basically, as far as this first album that we’ve written, that lyric pretty much encapsulates the whole emotional range. Yeah, I think this album has a lot to do with finding yourself personally. I just spoke about finding yourself musically, earlier on, and I think I probably found myself musically before I found myself personally, so I think Outfit has a lot more to do with trying to figure out who you are at the core, and how that fits in with the world around you. And so, on ‘Two Islands’, that’s a song about feeling alienated even when you are surrounded by people, people you know. I think that has to do with being comfortable with who you are or not being comfortable with who you are, which is certainly how I felt at the time of writing it.
You were living in The Lodge (an arty sharehouse) by that time, right?
Yeah, that song... I actually wrote the music for that song when I was in France with aPAtT. aPAtT was doing a residency in Lille, we were there for a week and everybody was going out one night, the band and a few people from the venue were going out, and I decided that I wasn’t going to go out, I was just going to stay in the hotel room. And then I started working on the music for that, and Outfit hadn’t started at that point, really. I’d had it knocking around for a while, and it wasn’t until about six months later that we actually learned it together and then wrote the lyrics. And the lyrics, yeah, were about living in this big house... It was a really great time, I mean, I look back at that time and it’s probably the best time of my life. But there would still be times when it was overwhelming to be with so many people, it was overwhelming to be starting a new band in a way. That song is all about trying to fit in.
And after living there with all those people, you moved to London and after a while came back to Liverpool to record the album. You could say that you were hunting inspiration.
Well, the reason we came back to Liverpool is primarily economic. I mean, sort of logistical. We wanted to record an album, couldn’t afford to do it in London. We knew that we wanted to do it somewhere where we could control the environment a bit. And do it however we wanted, and spend as long as we needed to on it. And we knew that we couldn’t do that in London, so we moved back because it’s cheap, and we could get a space; actually where we recorded the album, and where we live now, is just across from The Lodge, not even the other side of the road, it’s within the same grounds. It’s this big block of flats, but we knew that we could come back there and live pretty cheap and build a studio, and that’s what we did, that’s why we took a while doing it.
It’s owned by the same man that owns The Lodge?
Yeah, he’s been pretty good to us, always making sure that we had a place to come back to and somewhere to set up our stuff, and he is always very keen to see what we are doing and he is constantly joking that he is our manager and he is going to take a cut of whatever profits we ever make (laughs). He is a pretty interesting guy, but I won’t say too much about him because he is a private man.
Sure. In terms of living in The Lodge all together, what might have been quite interesting at the time, moving to London and then living and recording the album in that sort of abandoned building, it may seem like kind of a philosophical creative process of making music.
Yeah, to be honest, a lot of these things... I kind of become a bit blind to them. I’ve become very used to the idea of living with a group of people, or living with the band, but, yeah, when I think about it... It’s something we’ve always strived for, this kind of totality in what we do, like “we want to do music, but we want it to be our life, we don’t want it to be a hobby”. So we’ve built our lives around music. It comes down to the jobs you do, like Dave (Berger, drums) and I, we’ve both worked as technicians in galleries and stuff, because it means that you can work for two weeks here, then not work for months, then go somewhere else in the world, work for two weeks and then come back. So, we’ve constantly made sacrifices in a way in order to make sure that music is at the centre of what we do. So when we moved to The Lodge, instantly, it was like “right, lets put shows on, let’s rehearse here, let’s form a band; you and me, we’re gonna do this techno project, you wanna record some of my songs? I’ve got nothing to do with them.” You know, it was built into the heart of what we were doing, collaboration, and wanted to be around like-minded people. And when we moved to London, we moved to London because we were a little bit tired of Liverpool and felt like we needed to take a bit of a jump into the unknown and go somewhere where, you know, it's exciting. I mean, London is certainly exciting. But also it’s important that we would step in something we didn’t know, because we’ve been in Liverpool doing times and music for a long time and had a really good time doing it, but it has always been quite safe. It’s always been quite “you know what is going to happen”. So when we moved to London it was really about taking the plunge. It was like “Who we are down in London?” I know who I am in Liverpool, some people might know that I’ve played in that band, that I work here and I know these people. But if I go to London I am nobody, I’m nothing, it’s like starting again almost. So, that was pretty important, I think, because we got quite comfortable in Liverpool.
Your music conveys sort of an optimistic melancholy, which is interesting and it may sound pretty much like an oxymoron, don’t you think?
Yeah (laughs). Well, I don’t think so. I understand what you mean, of course, but to me there is an inherent optimism in melancholy, because I certainly feel melancholic when I feel like I’ve reached a point where I am not happy with something or I am dissatisfied with something, and I think it’s at that point, those types of points, when you decide to make a change, or you decide that something is wrong and you want to make it different, you want to make it better. So I think the points of change are moments of potential, that’s where the optimism is. If you are feeling melancholic, if you’re feeling dissatisfied, it’s up to you to make a change, and that is the sense of empowerment there, that you can do something about it, that’s why it’s optimistic. Because, in the songs, whenever we are kind of moping around about something, there’s usually a spirit there of wanting to come through, wanting to make it okay, wanting to figure it out. It’s definitely being my experience of my early twenties; I certainly felt like that a lot. So yes, optimistic melancholy is not an oxymoron, it’s very natural I think.
In a way, that’s what you say in ‘I Want What’s Best’, “you can become whoever you want...”?
Oh, the lyric, “Imagine everyone you could become”, yeah. That song is about being frustrated that you can’t lead every life that you could possibly lead. You are sitting there, in Liverpool, and you could just as easily be in Barcelona, living a completely different life, with different friends and a different future. That song is about the frustration of not being able to do all the different versions of you. You only get one go, and you can change along the way, but basically you have one go. So it’s about the frustration, the torture of having to choose a path in life, which again is a thing of being in your twenties and not knowing exactly what it is you should do, feeling that you could go in different directions and you got to choose now because you are an adult.
After all, then, which way do the scales tip?
I would say they tip in the optimistic favour. There’s a song, on our EP actually, it’s called ‘Humboldts’, and one of the lyrics is “Take a look at everything, it’s the best it’s ever been”. In the context of that song it’s a bit melancholic, but when I look at the way things are now... you know, everything’s going really well with Outfit and these songs have been written about moments of sadness and have turned into something positive. I definitely feel very positive about the whole project, about doing this music and finally having a bit of an audience. And I think the album is conscious of that. I think when we were writing the album, we knew that it was going to have an audience, which was a nice feeling because I think that when we’ve made stuff in the past, we never really knew if it was going to have an audience. It felt at least like some people would certainly hear this music and dissect it in a way, so yes, it’s optimistic, in a way (laughs).
Musically speaking, there’s always the resemblance with Hot Chip.
(laughs) You know what, I never saw that coming, that’s so funny. Obviously a lot of people have said that, so it must be true, but I have never thought of it my life. I like Hot Chip a bit, I know a few of their songs, they’ve got some good songs, but... Actually, now, ‘House on Fire’, I can see that sounds like Hot Chip, I get that... yeah. I don’t know, I think they are quite an interesting band, because I think they are very interested in the history of music. They seem like people who are quite nerdy about music. They would be sort of up-to-date with the Fifties girl groups as they are with the Eighties jazz-funk or something, and so I think they are interested in music as a whole. It has a certain similarity with us, because I think we could be accused of being eclectic, but I don’t particularly think that... We are an eclectic band but I think we are quite well-versed in music, in different styles, we have all played lots of different music, so we are never trying to be eclectic, but I think that comes out naturally. I would say that’s probably a similarity between us and Hot Chip, but, honestly, I never really thought about it until our album came out and everyone was like “Wow, that sounds like Hot Chip”, and we were saying: “Really?! Does that sound like Hot Chip? Okay...” Because we are so much more serious than Hot Chip. They are like a band of jokers, and that’s fine, but we are quite serious, in a way. I think, emotionally, the register of Outfit is almost the opposite of Hot Chip, but I suppose that’s not what people mean, really.
You may be more... Dark and Stormy, in a way...
Yes! You know, that’s funny, they’ve got that song, ‘Dark and Stormy’, and our manager was like: “Listen to that song, they ripped off Outfit”. There’s a bit in that song that sounds like ‘Everything All The Time’ [from Outfit’s EP Another Night’s Dreams Reach Earth Again], by us. It goes “Ahooo”, and it does sound the same, but actually it's them sounding like Outfit, not us (laughs).
First time I listened to your album, it also made me think of Django Django with an emotional edge.
Yeah, I can see that. Again, actually I’m not listening to lots of their music, but we are always playing with bands who suck, and we are always being written about alongside bands who are shit, but they are one of the bands that I always thought “yeah, they are quite good”. They are quite good actually, they have got quite an original way of putting the song together. I sometimes think their songs are a bit flat, they don’t go where I want them to go, but the sound of the record is great. And, in that sense, they are quite original, so I’m happy to be compared to them.
Do you give credit to Liverpool for your musical DNA?
Yes, certainly. I think we’ve occasionally been quoted as sounding like we don’t really like Liverpool, but that’s not true. We moved to London just because we wanted something new, I think anywhere we would have been, we’d have got bored of it by the time we left for London, but definitely Liverpool has been really important, because it’s so small, you get to know other people who do music quite quickly. You know everybody who is in your scene, not just in your scene, because actually in Liverpool there’s not so much of a music scene, but there are a lot of bands, and a lot of artists, and they are all quite different. You know, I play in Outfit, and that’s a certain type of band, in some ways that’s a bit of a pop band, but then, obviously, for years I’ve known all the guys from Mugstar, or all the guys from aPAtT, and all these different bands. You’ll know all the producers who are in town because they also check sound for you at the venues. You know everyone, and you know the promoters, you live with the promoters, and stuff like that. So, in that sense it's pretty good, because despite it not having a very coherent music scene, it does have a good music community, and people who know each other and get along. In that sense it’s great, it’s a cheap place to live, which you can never argue with if you are a musician because you want to work as little as possible.
And from a musical point of view?
Musically speaking, there have been lots of good bands from Liverpool. I am a big Beatles fan, I love The Beatles, they are obviously the biggest band in the world. But then, during the Eighties it was a pretty good run of Liverpool bands, I mean, Echo & The Bunnymen, pretty amazing, China Crisis, It’s Immaterial, a lot of new wave acts, Frankie Goes To Hollywood. In fact, he just became a big fan of Outfit, Holly Johnson, strangely. And The Coral, you know, when I was growing up, when I was 15 or so, going to see The Coral was the most exciting thing in the world, because they were actually quite a psychedelic band, they were quite a weird band, but they were doing really well and you had a real sense of pride for them, and they were from the Wirral, and I am from the Wirral, so that was really exciting. So, I do feel a part of Liverpool, and I always see Outfit as being a bit of a psychedelic band, it’s not overtly psychedelic, you know, but it’s music that is trying to transport you in a way, and it’s music that is quite escapist, and I think these are two things that are quite there at the heart of psychedelia. And I think Liverpool has quite a long history of involvement with psychedelic music, and psychedelic culture. As a matter of fact, it just had the Liverpool Psych Fest, and that went really, really well last year, with thousands of people there, and I think all the big bands who have come out from Liverpool, they’ve all had quite an experimental edge to them, and sort of a longing to do something different. And you’ve got people like Bill Drummond, who sort of changed the way people think about music, a real sort of musical thinker, or Julian Cope as well, from The Teardrop Explodes. So, I think there’s a really great tradition in Liverpool of quite forward-thinking pop bands and quite psychedelic bands, and I am very proud to be in that lineage, you know, I hope anyway. So, definitely feel a part of Liverpool, I think it’s a very special city. Actually, it winds me up slightly when I hear people complaining about Liverpool not getting enough recognition, which happens all the time, and I just don’t understand that. Have you forgotten about all these huge bands that the world loves and come from Liverpool? As far as small fishing-towns go, Liverpool’s got a pretty good rep internationally for music. Anywhere you go in the world, people know Liverpool, and a big part of that is music, most of it. I think it gets all the credit it deserves, but it does deserve it.
About what you said before, “being quoted as sounding that you don’t really like Liverpool”, it’s a bit strange because you are from here, you formed the band in Liverpool, you live here, your cover artwork is a building in Liverpool, is it The Lodge, by the way?
It’s right next door to The Lodge, it’s where we recorded basically.
There’s even the video that you did for ‘I Want What’s Best’, with Church Street’s Bronze Cowboy. So, you’re pretty much openly Liverpudlian.
Right, right in the middle of it, yeah, and the first project that Outfit ever did was a project for Liverpool Biennial, we’ve also made videos for exhibitions in Liverpool, we’ve done countless things to do with Liverpool, and still, this is a while ago now... I went on Radio Merseyside to do an interview with Dave Monks and he was giving me a real hard time about leaving Liverpool and not having enough love for Liverpool, and I just thought it was crazy. I was just like: “What? Are you kidding? I’ve f*ckin’ done my time in Liverpool, mate” (laughs). Not only do I like it, and I am a product of it, but I’ve been here for ages doing music that you never f*cking listen to. So, I think people want to take offence if they are Scousers and somebody is going to London or something. It’s silly. In the past, we were asked a lot about Liverpool, and I think we were quite quick to say that our music wasn’t about where we were from, which I’d still stand by, but we are proud to be a part of Liverpool, and Liverpool has had an effect on our music. I think being in cities, generally, has had en effect on our music. I think we’d still be making pretty similar music if we were in a different place, but who we are as musicians would be different, if we hadn’t lived in Liverpool.
Perhaps all the talk about Liverpool is just because of the sensation that you don’t want to be flagged as a local band.
Well, certainly, I think when we first started the band we didn’t want to play all the time in Liverpool, because very quickly you fall into this thing of being like “Oh, Is Outfit playing again? Ah, well... I’ll go and see them wherever they are playing next week”. We wanted to try and make it so that if we were playing, it was a bit unusual, so people might want to actually come to it. Yeah, I think we’ve, somehow, bypassed being a local band, pretty much. Because, as soon as we started the band, it was really strange. When we started the band, we got instant feedback; we put a couple of tracks on Soundcloud and, in a few days, we had labels and managers and booking agents getting in touch. Obviously a lot of this evaporated into nothing, but that was really different to when I played in bands a couple of years earlier and we’d put stuff online and it was just going nowhere, you never knew if people were really listening to it. Maybe that’s because it wasn’t very good, but it was a shifting in culture, that was quite obvious, like people really wanting the next new thing, were really excited about the next band, and blog culture kicked off a lot more. You know, Indica Ritual were never on a blog (laughs), ever. So, when we started the band, we got a lot of attention very quickly, and so we sort of bypassed this stage of being a local band, which is playing locally and nobody’s really heard of it outside Liverpool. Almost seemed like people had heard us outside Liverpool before people in Liverpool knew who we were. So, that was weird and markedly different than any of the bands I played in.
Was that sought on purpose?
No, we didn’t really do anything particularly outlandish. We did a website, which was a bit strange, and had two tracks in Soundcloud, that was it. People just look for new music now. If you are a new band, I’d say now it's pretty hard to not get written about by somebody, because everybody is looking for the next thing hoping that is going to be really big. Luckily for us, we managed to sustain some of this interest for a little while. Well, I think it’s really confusing for bands when you start out, because you put a few songs online and all of a sudden you’ve got XL emailing you being like: “Someone’s gonna come and meet you, guys!” And that’s cool and exciting, but 99 times out of 100 nothing happens. So, I think you’ve got this thing of being quite excited, to begin with, about these opportunities that might happen that evaporate into nothing. And actually sustaining any interest in your band is just as hard as it’s ever been. You have to be good, you have to regularly put out songs, you have to give people something that they can have some faith in. So, when people say, “It’s easy for bands, you just get hyped on the Internet”, and people say that about the UK as well, “in the UK you can get hyped on the Internet without having a following”. And that’s true, and it’s much more true than in America, where people won’t write about you unless you’ve got a bit of a presence in the real world. But I’d say that even with that hype you have to sustain people’s interest, you got to make something that people ultimately want to invest in, so in that sense it’s the same as it’s always been.
The album was released on the 12th of August [Andrew’s birthday]. Nick (Hunt, guitar) once said that on the 12th of August last year you moved back from London to Liverpool, and on the 12th August before that you moved from Liverpool to London. What’s to be expected on your birthday, next year?
(laughs) That’s a good point. Yeah, weird that, a lot of synchronicity around that day. Well, by next year it would be cool if we record another album, we’re thinking of that at the moment and trying to plan when we are going to do it, because we’ve got certain ideas of stuff that we want to do on the next record, and different ways of working, but we are not really going to have any time now, until the beginning of 2014. We’ll get started on some new recording next year, it really depends of how much we get asked to play. We’ve got these tours booked up now until the end of the year, and that will, I’m sure, raise our profile a little bit, but it depends if people continue to buy the record. That’s going quite well so far, relatively speaking, but if people keep buying it, keep wanting us to play live, then I guess our start date for the new album will keep going back and back. So maybe by next year, on my birthday, we’ll at least have started recording a new album. I think we’ll do it quicker next time, because we’ve got a studio that is all set up and ready to go. But also, I’ve noticed, since we released the album, “hear these ten songs, this is Outfit’s first album”, that has certainly helped me solidify what kind of band we are, what we are good at, what we are not as good at, it’s helped me to look at the band more objectively and say: “Okay, now I can see maybe where the next album would go.” The act of realising the record has been quite a creative thrust for us, sort of be able to step out of it a little bit and look at this record as it was made by somebody else, and it’s actually been creatively quite useful, which I never expected.
What’s your conclusion been of analysing your album?
Pretty good. There was a weird period, about two weeks, when every morning when I wake up I’d end up reading two reviews of the album or something, before I’d even get out of bed. And I realized that was quite a bad way to live (laughs). You can’t just take criticism first thing in the morning, even if it’s good, reading reviews is quite stressful. Having said that, I think the process of seeing other people’s reactions to the record and being able to step out of it slightly and look at it objectively has been really good, I think that period of critical thinking will improve our music, will help us think about different things. I think that’s the idealistic way of looking at music journalism: inform the listener but also inform or help to guide the artist. I think it’s been great to get other people’s feedback on the record.
You said before that your music wants to transport the listener. Do you have a destination in mind?
(laughs). Well, my ideal listening setup for the album would be listening at night, in bed, on headphones, basically in a dark room, because it’s the easiest way to forget where you are and to be transported somewhere. As for a specific place, I’m not sure, it’s definitely not a tropical island with Outfit, that’s for sure, it’s probably like a cold, empty block of flats (laughs), with lots of friends. It can take you wherever it wants to take you, somewhere where you feel better.
I was surprised that ‘Every Night I Dress Up As You’ didn’t make the album, but now it is in the record’s deluxe edition.
That song has been the bane of our lives, because it was the first song we ever did, first song we ever put online, a lot of us really wanted to get it on the record, but in the space between putting that first song up and starting the record we’d actually done quite a lot of changing as a band, our sound has sort of progressed a little bit, we’ve discovered various things, and so when it came to trying to fit it in the album, it was so difficult to try and make it sit with the other songs. We really went around the houses with that one, trying different things with it to make it work, taking the beat out, putting the beat back in, changing the beat, having no guitar, having no key... absolutely everything. But we managed to finish some sort of version of it, I’m still not sure that that’s the perfect version of that song, to be honest, but it is what it is. I’m glad to have actually f*cking finished it (laughs).
Main Photo:Outfit (left to right): Nicholas Hunt, Chris Hutchinson, Andrew Hunt, David Berger, Thomas Gorton
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