Interview: Field Music
Alongside fellow indie outfits The Futureheads and Maximo Park, Field Music helped put the North-East firmly on the UK’s musical map in the first decade of the noughties. The Brewis brothers are now four albums into their career, and the off-beat pop on their latest effort has been winning the Mackem lads a load more well-deserved praise.
What were your aims when writing Plumb?
We always aim to write better songs and make more interesting records. Part of that is usually to try to do something different from the last thing we've done. So, while Measure was a long record with a lot of relatively straight-forward songs, Plumb became a very short record with a much more fragmented approach to song structure.
Your music is clearly a complex patchwork of disparate influences! What were your key musical reference points for the record?
There are so many! I don't know whether there are any key influences because, over the two years between finishing Measure and starting Plumb, we listened to a lot of music. Everything from 'West Side Story' to Sonic Youth, to David Bowie to Fairport Convention to the Bee Gees.
Lyrically, there’s certainly a more political focus to this record – can you explain a little about the themes on the record please?
We're just trying to find ways to relate our experiences and our values to the outside world and turn our frustrations into something positive. For me, there's a lot about different interpretations of aspiration and how some of those interpretations are so negative. On the other hand, a lot of the frustration on the record is self-directed – why aren't we doing something useful? Why are we (all) so prone to letting each other down, or not living up to our best intentions?
Your previous album was a double disc. Did you have to reign in your creative instincts this time round, or was it a case of cramming more ideas into a smaller space?!
Our instinct is usually not to repeat ourselves so, really, Measure was a little bit more outside of our usual way of working. I wouldn't say it was easier or more difficult. We get pretty absorbed in making the record, whatever our plan for it is.
We understand you’ve recently built your own studio. How did that impact on the writing and recording process for Plumb? And are you given absolute creative license by your label?
We've actually had our own studio space for over 10 years (we shared our previous space with The Futureheads) but we had to move at the end of 2010. There were only two major impacts on how we worked in the new studio. Firstly, I injured my arm while we were painting the studio and couldn't play for the first few months of 2011. Secondly, as we're no longer sharing the space we could set it up exactly as it suited us to work, which meant we could work a little faster and it was a little easier to try things out.
Matt and Ollie at Memphis Industries have always left us to get on with making the records. I think they quite like the surprise of seeing what we come up with. Luckily, we haven't made a record they hated yet!
We know that you’re keen on your albums being viewed as a complete body of work, but if you were forced to pick out one standout track on the record, which would it be and why?
When we finished the record, the two tracks which I felt most fond of were ‘(I Keep Thinking About) A New Thing’, because it's one of the few tracks of ours I can imagine dancing round the kitchen to, and ‘From Hide And Seek To Heartache’, which I think is one of Peter's best songs and it has his best string arranging and also maybe our best harmony singing. It changes when we start to play live – certain songs are lots of fun to play live.
“Prog-rock” is a phrase that crops up in a lot of your press. Do you think it’s a fair description of your sound? And if not, how would you describe it?
We make rock music and we try to avoid clichés, or at least use them in different contexts. But I don't like splitting things up into genres. There isn't a great deal of “prog-rock” I'm particularly interested in. It's a funny one – for us, Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin are just as valid as Wire or Television – we're lucky not to have to pay attention to those divisions.
We've read that your influences span “20th century film music from Bernstein to Willy Wonka”; is scoring a film something that might interest you in the future? And if you could go back and score any film from cinema history, which would it be and why?
I think it's something Peter would be good at – I don't have the skills! Most of the films where I can recall the scores have amazing music so I wouldn't want to touch any of those. I think if there was ever another Rutles film we could probably help Neil Innes churn out some Beatles pastiches.
We also read you used music from 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' at your wedding! Is that true? And if so, can you elaborate a little please?
It is true. My wedding was a very small-scale affair but we still wanted to have some music as people arrived at the registry office. I trimmed the song ‘Pure Imagination’ down to a minute or two and it worked a treat!
You teamed up with Tortoise, Jaga Jazzist and Austin Peralta last year: how did that come about and how was the experience? Are there any other artists you’d particularly like to collaborate with in the future?
The guys from Jaga got in touch to ask if we'd come to play with them at a festival in Bergen, Norway. We went over a day before the festival to rehearse, along with Dan Bitney, John McEntire and Jeff Parker from Tortoise and Austin Peralta. Jaga learned a couple of our songs and we learned a few of theirs and that was it: two practices and a show. It was amazing!
It was great to be put into a completely alien environment and get a chance to play with such good musicians from a range of backgrounds. We were worried we'd be out of our depth so we did a lot of practising beforehand but it worked out fine. I think Lars from Jaga was also probably a little bit worried it wouldn't work out and probably appreciated the effort we'd put into getting to grips with the songs (and our willingness to leave space rather than try to play all the way through!)
There are probably lots of people out there who it would be fun to collaborate with but for now I'd settle for getting Jaga, Tortoise and Austin over to Newcastle for a return collaboration.
British music history is littered with bands who’ve had to deal with volatile sibling relationships! Have you ever had any issues on that score?!
We never fight. We get on really well – if we weren't making music together we'd still be best mates. When things get a little bit too fraught we just have to give ourselves a little bit of time to calm down and remember that we still love each other. Over the years we've also figured out lots of ways to avoid p*ssing each other off too much.
What’s been your favourite record of the past 12 months? And whose record are you most looking forward to hearing in 2012?
My favourite record of the last 12 months has been Babylon by Dr John but that's an oldie so it probably doesn't count. I'm looking forward to hearing The Futureheads' a cappella record in full and I'm looking forward to hearing Stealing Sheep's real album when that's finished.
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
A few nice festivals, a little bit of touring, maybe a few one-off projects or collaborations and hopefully we'll find some time to write some songs and get into the studio.
And finally, what’s the best thing about being in Field Music?
People pay me to write songs and play them. Given the fact I probably would've written those songs anyway and I can make them into records in whichever way I like, that seems like a pretty good deal to me.