Sunday, 26 December 2010

A late Christmas present....

Time for a story. Twelve years ago, five students met at music school in Salford. Forced to collaborate on a group project, they played set of covers at a concert together, and began to sense potential in the air. A Mogwai concert under the influence of acid was all that remained to form Oceansize, the most famous British experimental band of the last ten years behind Porcupine Tree. Three albums and several EPs in, they've returned with a new offering, Self Preserved While the Bodies Float Up. With the record as musically outspoken as they themselves have been at times, HV caught up with frontman Mike Vennart in between his duties as Biffy Clyro's touring guitarist to discuss it.

How would you describe the new album vis-à-vis your previous efforts?

“Vis-à-vis? Nobody's ever said that before. Erm, I guess it's more mature sounding. It's probably the most melodic. Rather than me writing all the vocal melodies this time I actually got the rest of the band involved and we worked on things. It was much more working in factions, two or three of us rather than all five of us jamming all the time... all the old stuff is written almost entirely of jams, since we record absolutely everything we play. For a long time, I didn't think we'd ever top the second album, because I held it in such high regard. I know that it was the most unafraid, don't-give-a-fuck sort of record, but now I can hear the holes, hear a bit of immaturity which I don't hear on the new record. If I didn't think this was the best, I wouldn't put it out.”

Have side projects affected the sound? I know Gambler recently put out a record, and there's also Steve playing in Future of the Left, not to mention the guys in Kong. You're touring with Biffy Clyro at the moment, and my first thought upon hearing the new record was 'ah, that makes sense'...

“Er, the album was recorded and finished before I jumped on. I literally went from finishing the record to the next day rehearsing with Biffy, and Steven wasn't in Future of the Left at the time. I like to think that Gambler brought a lot of his solo album to the table. If you listen to 'A Penny's Weight', then there's all kinds of little things embedded in there that you might not spot for fucking ages, all of these weird textures buried in the mix. That was all him sitting there with a laptop while we were recording vocals or whatever- he kept flying in these wild sounds. He just 'sprinkles the fairy dust on', to quote the Troggs.”

The first release (before Self Preserved...) to be recorded in your studio was the Home and Minor EP, which was quite a departure from your last album, Frames. Self Preserved... is similarly a jump from that sound, so was there a conscious decision to go 'soft record', 'loud record'?

“We didn't plan it that far in advance. The whole Home and Minor thing was an experiment to see if the studio thing was going to work... it was a necessity. [The record company] needed something pronto and we were like 'fuck'. It was all pieced together- there were never two people playing at any given time. It was all one at a time and edited together on screen. We'd been talking about an ambient record for fucking years, so it was like 'right, cool,they want an EP, let's do it now. As soon as I came up with the music for 'Part Cardiac', it was like 'that's got to be first'... it's to keep people on their toes I guess, fuck with their heads a bit, and make them wonder what we're going to do next. We don't really know what kind of band we are, but we've tried to stop worrying about that.”

Have you got to the stage that it's... not irrelevant, but not something you can worry about anymore then?

“I've always said that if we did kind of know what we were supposed to be doing then that's when we'd fuck it up. If you start writing to a blueprint, if you start thinking 'oh, we're this kind of band, we've got to write this kind of music', then I think we're going to come a cropper.”

Do you feel it's taken a long time to get to where you are today?

“Well, not really. Maybe what comes with this history and this body of work is people going 'fuck, are they still going?', but you get a bit of respect, I think. [We've been going] twelve years, and I'm not sure it's something we should be shouting about.”

There were quite a few bands that emerged at the same time as you- My Vitriol, Vex Red, Cooper Temple Clause- but yourselves and Amplifier seem to be the only ones left standing. Do you see yourselves as survivors?

“It sounds like a cynical and nasty thing to say, but over the years we've seen so many people in bands who get their first album out and it doesn't hit the top ten, so they quit, or jump into another band because they think that'll be the one that hits the big time... it's so careerist. We've never been like that, it's just a compulsive need to do it [that drives us]; it's a fundamental requirement to each of us. I'm married, I've got a nice home life, a cat, but I don't think about anything else. It's not a matter of wanting to do it, but that you have to do it.”

The talk then diverted briefly to his friend Sel's band, Amplifier, and their white whale, the double album Octopus, with Mike laughing,

“I'll fucking believe it when I see it. I've been singing on it for about four years. It's Chinese Democracy, man. Y'know, back in the day, in like 1992 I had tickets to see Guns n' Roses. He [Axl Rose] showed up five days late, played for an hour, and it was fucking awful. That was it, I never listened to them again. As it happened, it was Faith No More supporting, and I was like 'this is the greatest band in the world, where have I been?'”

Speaking of Amplifier- Sel talks a lot about being 'entrepreneurial' as a band. Do you think today's bands need business sense where perhaps they didn't before?

“Well, I think Sel is going completely DIY. There's a lot of stuff to consider, like paying the right amount of tax. All this kind of stuff I don't have any idea about, it's why we have a manager. I just write songs, put them out, go out and play gigs. I couldn't even tell you how much it is to book our band. No idea.”

What would you say are your biggest influences, musical or otherwise?

“Tim Smith from Cardiacs. Just that unwillingness to do anything other than what he does. He's a friend of mine, but I can't get over the fact that he's so fucking talented. He's the only genius I'm ever likely to meet. To me, he's created another language.”

Have you got any hard-won advice to give your younger self?

“Don't start smoking, I've stopped now... I think that when I started doing interviews, when we first got signed, I regret a lot of the shit that I talked. I came across as really bitter and cynical, and I'm actually not; I'm really settled these days. Back then I was a really pissy little guy, but it's that hangover from being a teenager. 23 was when I just went 'I don't have to behave like this anymore'. It just takes a while for you to know who the fuck you are and accept who you are.”

Do you listen to any contemporary bands?

“Rolo Tomassi. That's probably my favourite album of the year so far. The new album by the Walkmen...[pause] The Vessels album is fucking great... [checks his iPod] Atlas Sound. The Books. Deerhoof. I Am Kloot. Jesca Hoop. The Melvins' new album, the new Mogwai live album, Part Chimp, St. Vincent... and it sounds so patronising, but however fucking good Charlie Barnes is now, imagine how good he's going to be in five, ten years' time. Oh, the new Autolux album too...”

It seems that at the moment there's an explosion of progressive, or 'eclectic' music at the moment, from a shoegaze revival to bands like Anathema, who are reworking the prog-rock template. Do you see yourselves as a part of this?

“We don't get invited to any parties, we aren't in any particular gang. I can't even say we have an affinity with band A or band B, because it might be insulting to them... I'd love to think that we have a lot in common with Rolo Tomassi, but they're fucking incredible, from another planet. We're slowly growing into our own skin, but we don't know what it is. I think when we do work out what kind of band we are, that's when we're going to be shit, start making shit records.”

Kind of like that guitarist's feeling where, looking back, you feel you were better when you started out than when you actually learned how to play properly?

“Yeah. That's absolutely true.”

What's your favourite bit of kit?

“Kit? Really? Erm, I just got a new amp- an Orange custom shop real Bad Motherfucker, I paid actual hard cash for it. It's fucking amazing. It's the amp that Steven Malkmus uses, I'm such a Pavement fanboy. It was like, whatever's making that guitar sound, give us it. Sel used to lend me his Green Big Muff back in the day, because they sound so big. Now I use a clone, because they take up so much fucking space- it's that huge bass end, the 'hoover guitar' as Mark calls it. I still play the same guitar my mum bought me for Christmas when I was 11.”

Everyone has a guitar soulmate, right?

“Yeah, absolutely!”

Can you remember the best show you've ever played?

“We played the Lowlands festival in 2004. We were on first, at one o' clock in the afternoon. Five minutes before we went on, there was nobody there, but when we walked on there were ten thousand people there who seemed to know all the songs, even though we hadn't even sold ten thousand records in Holland.”

Do you think downloading helps or hinders a band?

“If I ever found out that anybody [leaked our album], and I found out who it was, I would fucking decapitate them, it's such an abuse of power. The iTunes logo used to be a CD, now it's changed because iTunes reckon they will be outselling CDs in twelve months' time. If they're predicting it, it's probably going to happen... [but] even if the record companies all go under, people will still make music.”

How important is Manchester to the band?

“I don't we'd have got anywhere without it. I think it's a bit of a cliché to talk about how the rain there affects the mood... bands like the Smiths with a dark aesthetic... I don't know if we're a part of that, but certainly in respect of the fact that when we started everyone was ripping off Oasis or The Verve- the bad Verve, anyway- and we reacted against that, because we just weren't interested in that kind of stuff. None of us were into the Stone Roses or the Happy Mondays. It's been good to us, Manchester, even if we have never really been embraced by the 'cool' crowd.”

Could you have done as well in another city?

“No, I don't think we could have. Maybe Glasgow...”

Anyway, official looking guys from Biffy Clyro's management were hovering, and it was time to be closing up; I posed Mike my last question: what do you love about music?

“Everything. Ultimately, when you're walking down the street, there's a beat in your head, there's a melody in your head. It's literally the fucking fabric of my existence. I hear music in everything, absolutely everything.”

This interview was originally conducted for High Voltage shortly before the release of 'Self Preserved While The Bodies Float Up'. I've posted it as the link I used to it the other day doesn't seem to work anymore. On a more christmassy note:

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