You’ve won The Real Alternative award! How does it feel?
“It’s really nice! I’ve never really won anything before, even in past bands… My Chem were looked over for a lot of different things. We won a couple of ‘reader’s choice’ type things in different magazines, but I was never a trophy guy. If I had a trophy cabinet, it would probably have, like, three things in it that my kids gave me on Father’s Day!”
When you look back over the making of ‘Barriers’, when do you remember it first starting to resemble an album, instead of a collection of ideas?
“When does that moment happen, that makes you think, ‘We’re going to do something, and not just talk about it?’ I would say for me, it was around the time that we flew Matt [Armstrong, bass] in, and it was Tucker [Rule, drums] myself and Matt. I had brought ‘Medicine Square Garden’ to the band, and in my head, I had this idea for this grandiose song, something that I’d really wanted to try, but never had before. I wasn’t sure how to really verbalise what needed to be done - people just had to feel it, and they either got it, or they didn’t. The fact that they did get it, and we went into this song with a working structure, it felt like, ‘Oh wait a minute, this is actually working! This is something that I’ve wanted for a while’. That was when I started to get really serious about it, and thinking about who else to bring in. And that’s when Kayleigh [Goldsworthy, keys and vocals] came to mind.”
It’s such a distinctive, raw album sonically, and really hard to categorise too - something of a rarity in 2019. Was it exciting to do something so different, when you could easily have stuck to what was familiar?
“No matter how many records you’ve put out prior to this one project, it’s still brand new. This time, the people were also new. That’s one of the things that I enjoy so much about this process, that it is always brand new, and scary. Every time, it’s, ‘I don’t know if this is going to work out. I’ve never done this before, with these people’. It just so happens that I’ve made records every time, but I’m sure there will be an instance where it’s like, ‘Okay, this just didn’t work out’.”
That’s part of the joy of it, having something that’s genuinely risky…
“It’s walking this tightrope. At any moment, things could fall apart. I think that’s what great bands are made of. Very rarely do you see a Behind The Music on a great band and it’s like, ‘No one ever fought, and everything came very easily!’ It’s that volatile, fucked-upedness that actually ends up working. And you think to yourself, ‘Oh my God, it shouldn’t be this hard’. But it has to be, and you can’t have the sweet without the sour.”
Recording ‘Barriers’ in the way that you did - it feels like you’re right there in the room with the band, listening to the record. What made you want to take that approach? It’s so opposed to the prevailing method now, where everything is often edited to sound ‘perfect’.
“Right, and that whole, ‘We’ll fix it all in the mix’ thing? That’s like nails on a chalkboard to me. With the types of records that I love, I want it to sound like human beings playing. I like what other people would maybe consider mistakes, that’s what a record is to me. It’s human beings in a room making music, and when it comes to computer-generated things, there’s no personality to it. Anybody in that room could make those sounds. When you turn on the radio and a Zeppelin song comes on, you know that only those people in that room could make that sound. Those are both the records I like to make, and the songs I like to listen to. It had to go down that route because, while we were writing, that was what I was hearing. I was hearing that in the room, these people, in a very live way, and I wanted the listener to feel that. Early on, it was decided that Steve Albini was going to be at the recording desk, and I knew what to expect going in with him. I wanted someone to be there to capture the full band sound. There’s no point putting together a band like this and then hiding the way the band sounds, you know what I mean? I didn’t wait 20 years to put this band together so I could pretend it could be anybody. When we got into the studio, it was very much, ‘You stand here, you stand there, and that’s what you’re going to hear on the record’. It’s these people in this room, it all bleeding into the mics. It’s very much a live record, and you want that when you’re focused on musicianship. You want to be able to hear what’s actually coming out of there.”
Did working with Steve put even more onus on you to steer the vision of the record?
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