I had just pre-ordered ‘The Invisible Hand’ when I received an email the next day with an album link and request for some coverage. The fact that your team is willing to reach out to us is proof of how ‘leave no stone unturned’ hard working they must be. The press snippet proclaimed an album from “cult euphoric pop duo Over The Wall”. I’ve been meaning to get around to Over The Wall for quite some time; so half way there. A solo project from a duo, what inspired this?
“It actually says it’s an album from Gav Prentice who is also one half of Over the Wall, just to eliminate any confusion there it’s entirely me! These songs are much darker and more bitter than Over the Wall, and I wanted the arrangements to be sparse to concentrate on the lyrics, so they really wouldn’t have fitted with the Over the Wall approach to things. Although some of them were written a long time ago they all share certain themes in saying something about where I grew up, my relationship to work and class, and how that relates to the situation we all find ourselves in today, so they all seemed to make sense as a collection. The songs in that vein have been building up and bugging me for a while, so when I finally had a window once we’d finished touring proper for ‘Treacherous’ I was keen to record them.”
At first, I mistakenly read that as euphonic. The ‘Invisible Hand’ certainly can’t be considered pop. How about – cult euphonic ______ soloist. How would you fill in the blank?
“I know what you mean, to get across that it was different from Over the Wall at first I was describing it to people as “not uplifting.” But I think that might be selling it slightly short as I genuinely don’t think it’s self-pitying, it has real anger and bite to it, it just doesn’t give you a nice warm hug in the end. I tried to reflect that in the arrangements and the way the songs were played as much as in the lyrics.”
Initially, I was surprised by how much of a departure the record seemed to be. Much of the first listen was getting used to the idea that this is not a follow up to ‘Treacherous’. On the second pass, I was much more capable of admiring what was actually there. After the third, I was marveling how much my perceptions had changed and how much I was enjoying it. I imagine a few people when listening will get stuck on the first pass (and I’ve read one review that can only be explained by this) Does this frustrate you at all or is it just sort of par for the course?
“It does frustrate me although I wish it didn’t. I accept that a certain amount of baggage comes with a being in a band that’s known (unfairly, to my mind) for being this ultra-energetic pop thing and there’s part of me that enjoys just deliberately doing the opposite of that and playing off it. I don’t think it should be too challenging a listen but the lyrics are certainly the most important aspect and I appreciate that takes time to sink in so people might just not bother. Part of the reason for going through with making an album like this is that I’ve always felt like Over the Wall never got enough credit for the lyrics. Review after review wouldn’t mention it at all or would say something like how they were all love songs, when we’ve never really written a love song at all! We put a great deal of care into the lyrics and they weren’t being noticed, which to be fair may be to do with how busy the tracks are with a lot of other stuff going on. So I wanted to strip this album back so that it’s the meaning of the lyrics that comes across first and foremost. I think I know which review you’re talking about there and what frustrated me about it is that despite this it didn’t really engage with the lyrics or the message or narrative of the album as a whole whatsoever, and actually colossally missed the point on one song because of that. So that’s an old problem despite my best efforts. I’ll never really be happy with reviews though I don’t think. Thanks for the kind words by the way, I’m genuinely over the moon that anyone likes this and I’m glad you gave it the time to get there!”
The song ‘Give It Up’ is a rouser. The lyric “you think you’ve found what I have never lost” leaps out at me; it is the kind of lyric I especially like. What exactly has been discovered and always known?
“Most of the album has quite a specific and literal meaning but you’ve picked one of the very few lines there that I’d quite like to keep open to interpretation sorry! That may well be why you picked it out and why you like it. I can tell you that the song was written as a bit of a fuck you to anyone who’s given me terrible advice down the years, and after playing it through a few times I realised I was kind of talking to myself and all the self-doubt that comes with playing music. Since I was a kid, especially growing up in a place like Bathgate which has quite a strong ‘pub rock’ cover-band thing going on, it’s often been suggested to me that I should pack it in, should stop trying to write music, but of course the biggest challenge is justifying to yourself that it’s worthwhile. I suppose in that line I’m trying to boil that down as simply as I can – to the extent where it could apply to almost anything you like and is more about the feeling of the song than the specifics of it.”
Is ‘Honesty Lost in Silence’ an actual field recording? Was there a specific purpose for including this halting off kilter track? (which I quite liked) Where are some of the strangest places you’ve played or recorded music?
“It was recorded along with the two other ‘tape tracks’ on the album (I Know That and I’m Not Gonna Cry) on a little cheap and pretty much broken dictaphone in the lovely house that my girlfriend and I were recently forced from by the colluding forces of a bastard landlord, a bastard bank, a bastard letting agency, and a bastard estate agent. It was a great house as it was detached from any neighbours, so not only could you make as much noise as you want but it had a really great ambient sound to it when there was nothing else going on.
The reason that those songs were recorded like that is that they are an aside (“halting”, like you said, is a very good way of putting it) which don’t follow the narrative of the rest of the record. They’re more traditional singer-songwritery subject matter. I’m saying “look, I could do this but I’ve discarded it, I’ve kept it in this rough form because it’s not worth it” so that the lyrical message of the rest of the album is more pronounced. I’m trying to show that I could do that wallowing thing but that I’m choosing to put the focus on these other 7 songs. They should also provide a bit of a breather from all of the ranting on the rest it!”
Speaking of field recordings, I have an odd request. Would you be so kind as to watch this and tell us what you think of it? http://www.npr.org/event/music/160545650/cloud-cult-a-moment-of-serenity
“It’s great. I really like how there are all of these filmy people across the country, in fact across the world, that are taking bands out to a bandstand or under a tree somewhere or in a taxi or whatever and getting them to play in that space and then just putting it on the internet. I’ve heard people moan about that trend but if the band is good it’s really lovely. Once the albums out I’m keen to get around and do some of these.”
I assume the album title is a reference to Adam Smith. To turn things around a little, how would you say that this invisible hand manifests itself in the current Scottish music industry?
“I suppose part of what I’m saying there is that the invisible hand is a myth. It’s become an idea as slavishly followed as a religion even although it was partly responsible for almost ruining us. This idea that if you work had you’ll get what you deserve is wrapped up in it, and it’s quite evidently bollocks. If it were real and in action the cream would always rise and it would always be to the benefit of those struggling at the bottom. In many ways that is the exact opposite of the music industry! “
How was the tour with the Jetpacks? Usually when a guy with an acoustic guitar walks out before a full band I get a little impatient. On the other hand, I have witnessed the power of that sole guitar as well.
“To start with I was worried about that and to be honest made the mistake of trying to cater to it by playing only punchy, more aggressive tunes. Eventually I realised that if I just did my thing people would either get into it or not, and the shows got more enjoyable as it went on as a result of that. You’ve just got to have faith that the songs are good enough to stand up when their stripped back like that and hope for the best! When you take that leap of faith I’ve found it pays off. “
What’s the last record you listened to in its entirety?
“‘Channel Orange’ by Frank Ocean, in fact I’m listening to it right now as I type this. It’s fucking brilliant and I highly recommend it. He has this great way of writing vocal parts where he just floats over the top of the beat hardly really committing to any melody, and it means he can get away with saying absolutely anything he wants in it, it just flows effortlessly, and before you know it you’ve got all these hooks along the way. It sounds as if he’s writing the song as he goes along. When I first heard his song ‘Pyramids’ I immediately wanted to make a tune where I did that, just floated the vocal over the top. It’s an album in no great hurry, which is probably the opposite of my album, but I think both can be good.”
Is there anything coming out (Scottish) in the near future we should be looking for?
“I believe John Knox Sex Club have some tunes in the locker which they recorded before their singer Sean moved to China, so I’m looking forward to that. I’ve also fairly recently heard new Sparrow And The Workshop stuff which was brilliant. And Three Blind Wolves release their new single on the same day as my album, and we’re labelmates, and it’s a cracker. In fact one or more of Three Blind Wolves will also be playing at the in-store shows I’m doing in Glasgow (Love Music) and Aberdeen (One Up Records) on the 15th and 18th October respectively. That should do you, my finger’s well off the pulse so there’s probably lots more.”
You’ll have to explain ‘Ae fond kiss’ to us. Lovely song. I’ve got some instagram images of the Kid Canaverals posing in those tourist Scotsman face cut outs in my mind as I ask this, is there a deeper cultural significance to the song that us foreigners don’t appreciate?
“I’m not aware of the photo you speak of but hopefully it doesn’t make anyone think of shortbread tin versions of Scotland! I wanted to include a song that was in Scots language, and I felt that ending the album with a traditional love song would be good. Basically the album is about loss much in the way that a normal singer-songwriter album would be, but it’s about the loss of a community, certain industries, certain identities, and a way of life rather than the loss of a girl or boyfriend. I thought having a song which is so old (it’s my arrangement of a Robert Burns song by the way) could be a nice way to bring that out, and I also think that they are the most beautiful words about loss ever written.”
I just looked at this year’s Away Game lineup. Cry. It is my contention that Scottish music has never been better and if that bill doesn’t prove it, I don’t know what will. What was the experience like?
“It was really great, and even although the lineup was fantastic and everything the things about both of the Away Games that have really stuck with me is the community spirit around it, both from the whole Fence collective and how amazingly welcoming they’ve been to us and from the islanders themselves, and just how beautiful Eigg is. We have friends that live there too so it’s quite special that their small community has this bloody great music festival at it. It feels like it’s their party too. And the whole island mucks in, it’s amazing, I’m very privileged to have performed both times it’s happened. It takes it’s toll on the body though, they know how to consume McEwan’s Export there to a frightening degree.”
Finally, when can we expect the next ‘Over The Wall’offering?
“Next year I think. We have new songs ready to go but we need to record them, but I think it’s realistic to say there’ll be new stuff out next year.”
These days I usually pre-order releases from the artists that I follow. With less than a week to go before today’s release, I still had not been able to order Gav Prentices’ new solo effort ‘The Invisible Hand’. This agitated me more than it should have. Then last Wednesday, as if in recompense, the day after I finally was pointed to a pre-order link, I received an email nicely inquiring if I’d like to do a review.
Naturally, of course; I’m a big Over The Wall fan I replied.
About half way through listening to the record, I realized that I might not be able to whole-heartedly recommend this record. It was good, but somehow fell short of my expectations. The second pass made it clear that it was actually a lot better than I was able to appreciate the first time. It became pretty obvious that my first listen was spent dealing with my expectations and coming to terms with the fact that this was not a direct follow up to ‘Treacherous’. After the third listen I was fully onboard and somewhat astonished that my initial reaction could have been so removed from the current one. It is then that I remembered that I had much the same experience with ‘Treacherous’. I had a few singles and live versions before it was released. For some reason, I much preferred the early versions of some of the songs and it didn’t contain ‘Grand Defeat’. It took me a little while to accept the album for what it was rather than what I wished it to be.
So how is ‘The Invisible Hand’? In a few words – deeply satisfying.
Overall stripped down instrumentation and more deeply personal subject matter lends itself to a darker tone. Nevertheless, the opening of ‘King George’ is very pleasant acoustic guitar fare and only toward the end is it evident that, as expected, the album will be a rebuff to the clumsy and oversimplified modern notion of Adam Smith’s invisible hand. “I’m well versed in bended knee and communion wine stains my teeth” towards the end of the first song signals that what is to come will be more personal than any songs from before.
The rousing ‘Give it Up’ is a standout which is followed by ‘Burning Down’. I took a detour to read a little about Bathgate; think Pennsylvania rust belt with an additional failed economic modernization to rub salt into the existing wounds. With this in mind the bitterness and anger makes a good deal more sense.
“Square Mile” is achingly beautiful and presumably personal as well. I did not feel right asking about it specifically being content to let the song speak for itself.
Skipping past a couple of equal engaging stripped back tunes the record heads into the drum machine beats of ‘Are you Sleeping’. Of all the songs, this one most resembles an ‘Over The Wall’ song. Thinking about it some more it strikes how much the brighter instrumentation dominates their songs somewhat obscuring the lyrics. I think the reason ‘A Grand Defeat’ still remains my favourite is because of the prominence the vocals get in the mix.
The album closes with a more traditional ‘Ae Fond Kiss’. Perhaps if had bothered to google it, I would have sound less stupid in my questioning. I did atone by updating the wiki entry of artists who have recorded a version.
Overall, I find myself listening to the ‘Invisible Hand’ quite a lot. My only real complaint is that I wish it was a little longer than slightly less than 30 minutes. On the other hand, I keep coming back to it to sneak a listen in between doing other things and in that respect maybe it is the perfect length for what it is – a heartfelt, moving, creative solo effort in between projects. In fact, I now like it so much that I hope more acoustic instruments find their way into the next project.
At the end of the day, ‘The Invisible Hand’ is as wonderful as any record obtained in the past year. Just be sure you give it enough time to truly appreciate it.