I just bought the Scottish Fiction Christmas EP. These sorts of compilations are lovely as they invariably lead to band discoveries. Due to a bit of track listing dyslexia, I wasted some time looking for a band named Matchsticks. I finally found Flutes, but I have to note that ‘Flutes’ is not exactly the most search friendly name either. Is there any special significance to the name or a story behind it?
“That’s a belter of an opening question – I’m already thrown a little off track as this question without fail sends shudders up and down my spine. Band names eh? Massive can of worms. Over the last 7 years we’ve had around 7 or 8 band names (aye, one each a year – almost as many songs as we write each year – see question 4). Some have stuck with us (Runner & Pushboxer) while others have been…well a little more fleeting (Oxford Economic Research & 52 Week Project). While I have no experience of the pain-staking process of naming a firstborn, I wager it is less distressing and potentially less mentally scaring than endlessly discussing what to call your band in pubs, bars, cars, gig venues, offices, street corners (you get the picture). After six years, we realized our insatiable appetite for band name Tourette’s had to be satisfied and when I suggested Flutes we all breathed an enormous sigh of relief. For some unexplainable reason, it felt good, so here we are as Flutes.”
The album launch was in London. I’ve been there for a week once and managed to get to the Water Rats myself three times back in ’96. (Dave Graney, Mogwai/Urusei Yatsura, Pooka). How was the night? Did it hold a candle to the Glasgow show?
“The Water Rats night (like much of what has happened to us over the last month) was just ridiculous. While admittedly you tell all your friends about 14 times a day that you’re playing a show, you don’t anticipate they’ll actually turn up. We had about 200 people crammed into our favourite venue in London. The sound was great and we were joined on the night by a cellist Ben Trigg who brought the string parts to life on Sand, Auld Archie and Solo Sleep. It was an overwhelming evening although I felt a little like a passenger at a birthday party – it was all over too fast. Glasgow at Sleazys on the other hand was much more relaxed, MUCH louder and we all actually managed to have a couple of pints before we played. The pints helped me personally settle a little and a well-oiled crowd meant that by the time we finished with Auld Archie we had around 40 or 50 people singing all the lyrics back at us. The song’s pretty dark but it was impossible not to grin from ear to ear when they all started screaming ‘DON’T PUT ALL THIS ON ME BOY!’. And then the whole affair was topped off by the Avalanche in-store. Ever since I bought my first CD single from Avalanche in Glasgow (I think it was Northern Lites by Super Furry Animals), I’ve always wanted to play one of their in-stores. It was a really good opportunity to bring the songs right back to their origins with two guitars and a cello (Dave Munn happily joined us at Sleazys and Avalanche). Oh, and my wee 2-year old niece Faye behaved herself throughout…I even caught her clapping at one point!”
I take it this record is a self-release? Is the initial release, in fact, vinyl only? I think I read that one of you had to actually buy a record player to hear it. Why this format first?
“Yes, we have been doing everything ourselves so far although would welcome any help if there’s anyone who fancies chipping in. The vinyl decision was partly selfish and partly economical. When Anna (Luckey) sent through the first draft of the artwork for the album, we all fell in love with it and knew a wee jpeg on spotify wouldn’t do it justice. Also, after 7 years of playing together I think we all wanted something to show the grandkids (clichéd but true). Also, we wanted to share something more than the files with our friends and the reaction to the vinyl (plus a free mp3 download code of course) has been ridiculous. We printed up 500 and I think we’ve sold about half of that already (in just two weeks!). I think in some countries we’d make the charts with 125 weekly sales…probably not in North America though.”
At 8 songs, the record is on the lighter side in terms of number of songs that I would normally prefer. This isn’t necessarily a complaint as there is a wonderful balance and quality to the tracks. After a few listens, given just how interesting each individual track is, the perceived length seems much longer as you marvel at what has already passed and look forward to what is up ahead. Elapsed time actually seems to slow down. Was this brevity and balance a purposeful decision? How much effort was put into the song sequence?
“Aw thank you. Brevity was certainly not a purposeful decision but balance and song sequence was. I think we counted over 85 songs that we’ve written and performed since we started out as a band (for those that made it this far, that’s just over 12 a year…or one a month). We brought around 12 to Jamie in August 2011 however being miserable buggers who are probably too hard on ourselves; we came out with only 7 we were happy with. The final track we added to the album (This is A Lift) I wrote in May last year (2012) and Andy (the bass player) heard it through the wall at around 2am on a Monday morning. We’d been searching for an elusive 8th track as we knew 7 was just too short and he emailed the next day to say ‘is this our 8th track?’…and so it was. In terms of balance and the difference between tracks, I think that’s a function of us evolving from primarily a live band to a studio band. We’d always try to mix everything up live so it appears it’s also reflected in our studio sessions.”
I’ve dropped the idea of posting a “year’s best” post. But if I had, I would certainly have had to amend it to include this release. Initially, I was going to wait until the LP arrived to listen to it for the first time. The immediacy of the digital files you sent me ended up proving irresistible. It has been a while since I’ve listened to a record three times in a row. Has the general positive reaction been what you expected?
“No. Can I be completely honest? When we traveled up to Blantyre to record this album we were doing it purely to catalogue the last seven years we’d spent together playing music. We never had any expectation that anyone other than us, Jamie and friends and family would hear the record. In fact, the idea was to record the album, play a show and then call it day. However when Jamie finished mixing it we realized we’d actually put something together we were all hugely proud of. A few friends suggested we should send it to a few blogs and then people we didn’t even know starting commenting on Auld Archie. Last night we were played on radio 1 and I was actually physically shaking. Every single radio play, blog mention, email from a friend, text and video is an outrageous (although very welcome) surprise. Any kind of validation (even from your best friend) is enough to make you want to keep on writing…which we will.”
Comparisons are, of course, wildly subjective and reflect the reviewer’s general preferences more than the music itself. If asked to narrow it down sonically, I’d say the record sounds a little like Idlewild/Editors. It has the emotional depth of the first and the musical precision of the later. What other comparisons have people made?
“The Editors comparison is interesting as I think it’s fair to say we started out as an Editors covers band. I’d interviewed Tom from Editors a couple of times and was mildly obsessed with their first album The Back Room. I must say any comparison with any act like Idlewild or Editors is so touching as these are bands that formed a large part of my musical education. A few other people have mentioned Admiral Fallow, Frightened Rabbit, Interpol, The National and Jamie was kind enough to say once that I sounded a little like Scott Walker (when he was younger of course).”
After the first listen, my only complaint was that I wanted more. After a little research, I ended up at the Pushboxer myspace page. (the internet’s ex-band cache) A few of the songs apparently have roots in this project. Now that the transition to the new band seems to have been made fully, what are you looking forward to creating in the future?
“We are just having so much fun writing at the moment. We wrote a Christmas song for Shelter Scotland called Matchsticks (Geez A Kiss) which seemed to go down really well at both of our recent gigs http://scottishfiction.bandcamp.com/track/matchsticks-geez-a-kiss) and yesterday we were back in Chem19 with Jamie recording a b-side for our next single Kilburn. It’s a cover of Haddaway’s 90s pop sensation What Is Love? Not sure you can dance much to our version though. In 2013 we hope to start work on the 2nd album and have something ready for midway through 2014″
Living a few blocks from Dolores Park, I’d love to read a more specific insight into the song lyrics for ‘Dolores’ and why it was named such.
“That’s spooky. It is written about Dolores Park – I wrote it on a flight back from San Francisco in 2008. It’s the oldest song on the album.”
You already have videos for Archie and Sand. Any plans for the next one?
“Yes! We’re currently working with two production companies (Glow Films and Jokers Pack) on two more videos and will be releasing a short documentary of us attempting to complete the three peaks challenge sometime next year. The video for Sand is in fact just an edit of that film – there will be an official video to accompany the release of Sand in April (hopefully with a couple of remixes of Auld Archie). The video for Kilburn is currently in pre-production with the actors cast – it should be ready for released in February to accompany the single and the cover of What is Love?”
I see that Jamie Savage has added another excellent production credit to his portfolio. He seems to be on a course to be as proficient and prolific as Paul. Was the album entirely recorded and produced in Scotland? How was that experience?
“We were back in with Jamie yesterday recording and it was a reminder of how good he is at quietly yet brilliantly getting the best out of all of us. Jamie has become a really good pal and we’re hoping that he’ll come join us for a gig at some point”
There is a distinctly different tone to the music compared to much of what I’ve enjoyed and featured this past year. I am pleased how everything builds to (my favourite song) the closer ‘Sand’. I think the video for the song itself illustrates just how much I’ve already come to love this record. There is a depth and openness to the music that I’ve not really experienced in any of the releases picked up this year. It seems stunningly efficient. I’ve got ‘Sand’ rolling around my brain and making itself heard at the oddest moments. There is an emotional tug there that runs deeper than usual. What sorts of artists have moved you in a similar fashion?
“I just cannot get past the Twilight Sad. They’re infuriatingly good. We saw them at the Barrowlands on Saturday and now I’ve spent most of my journey back to London listening to the remixes of their latest album. The Olympic Swimmers album really touched me both musically and lyrically – some of Susie’s (singer) lines are just heart wrenching and her voice is just ridiculously beautiful. I’ve seen RM Hubbert play a couple of times this year and both times he’s left me short of breath. Alex (our drummer) saw him and Emma Pollock play in a tiny venue in London called The Slaughtered Lamb and both of them were just absolutely sensational.”
The last 2 Scottish shows in SF were Frightened Rabbit and Admiral Fallow. Understandably, we don’t get to see too many Scottish acts. ‘Sadly’ I’ll probably see FR (for the 7th time) in March before anyone else manages to make their way here for the first time. How are your ‘conquering the North American market plans’ progressing?
“Do you think we have a chance? I think realistically we’d need some help from a label if we were to ever make it to the US and I reckon we’re a fair whack from there at the moment. That said, we have friends in New York, California and Anna (Luckey) who did the artwork for the album is in Kansas so it would be great to have an excuse to visit them.”
I noted your fairly extensive Scottish band shout out over at Scottish Fiction. I did need to check out Vcheka, but the rest are also favourites. Could you dig a little deeper into the barrel and make us aware of some artists that we should keep our ears open for?
“Now you’re testing me Thor. I can only assume you’ve heard of the fabulous How To Swim? I saw Take A Worm For A Walk Week play their last show and they were great craic. I’m struggling a little now to be honest. Oh no, the new Hidden Orchestra album is obscene – forgot. Outside Scotland, there’s Canadian band called Brasstronaut I love plus a band called Silent Devices brought out a track called Una that is post rock/indie loveliness. They also made a cracking video to go along with it. Au we saw at the Shacklewell Arms and their album this year was different class. And Daughter released some beautiful songs at the end of last year.”
What record are you most looking forward to in the new year?
“That’s even tougher. I think How To Swim are making a new album which I’ll be intrigued to hear. I expect Daughter will come out with a full album as will Silent Devices. Outside that I’m afraid we’ll be closing ourselves off again to try and write a second album.”
“Go for a meal in Kilburn (North London) with Rob and Andy from the band along with some other pals. Then head up to Primrose Hill near Camden where you can see all the fireworks across London for the bells. Did it 5 years ago with Andy and it was brilliant. In fact I think we tragically were singing one of our songs 10 mins after the bells. Sad bastards.”