Let’s Talk About Space

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I can’t imagine starting the conversation without leading off with Ballboy’s “A Day In Space”. How influential was it?

“I’d actually never heard of it until now, so the answer is sadly not at all. I just had a listen though. Great song!

I do have the ‘Let’s Talk About Trees’ record. Based on some the lyrics, it would seem this was not an educational venture (although that spirit is obviously there). Was there a clear trajectory from that creative endeavor to ‘Let’s talk about Space’?

“Let’s Talk About Trees started as a joke between Chris and I that ended up getting really out of hand. We made a conscious decision to stop playing the Trees stuff as we didn’t want to get into the habit of doing the same shows at the same old venues, as eventually the whole thing would just become routine. The project had been founded on the idea of challenging ourselves, doing things that are outside our collective comfort zone, and above all else… having fun, but to do that we had to keep things fresh. We knew we wanted to make more music, but had to find a format that would allow us to expand on the original Trees idea. We agreed that there appears to be nothing bigger than the Universe and no subject more fascinating than Astronomy, and so Space was decided upon without any other considerations. We didn’t just want to put out an album and play a few shows though, so we started looking at ways to make the performances more theatrical and more informative. As before things got out of hand pretty quickly… We ended up with a 5000 word script, lesson plans, a week of shows booked in Glasgow Science Centre’s Planetarium, and we’d made promises of visiting schools to teach children about the wonders of the Universe.”

What are your respective academic backgrounds? Is this a clever ploy to insert your musician alter egos into the day job?

“I studied music at college, and Chris and I have both spent several years working as music tutors. Space and Astronomy just really really fascinate us. Currently the plan is to choose a new subject every year or so… Biology, The Ocean, Dinosaurs, Eastern European politics circa 1989… the possibilities are endless! Coming from a musical background seems to have given us an advantage as it’s enabled us to use teaching methods that young children find engaging and exciting. We’ve learned that there is no better way to prolong a child’s attention span during a lesson than to spontaneously burst into live synth-pop.”

How exactly are you incorporating your songs into the presentations?

“The school presentations primarily focus on the educational content. I think the music segments fool kids into thinking we’re “cool”, and so they instantly conclude that Space must be cool too. If they realized that we’re actually just a couple of geeks they’d be far less likely to pay attention. The music is relevant to the show too though… There’s a poem at the start that describes the journey from the Big Bang through to modern day life on Earth, backed by music that sounds almost entirely like (but not identical to) the opening Vangelis synth from Bladerunner. During a lesson on Space travel we sing a song about Laika, the first dog sent into Space. Laika’s journey actually did relatively little to further man’s understanding of how our bodies would respond to the conditions imposed by Space travel, but due to the fact that Laika had been involuntarily shot into Space without the technology yet designed to bring her back to Earth, it raised global awareness of issues concerning ethical research methods and animal testing, which is surely worth commemorating in song.”

What has the reaction been from the students so far? 

“So far all the feedback has been great! We’ve performed several different versions of the show depending on the age group, which has varied from 0-12 years, always with a positive response. My favorite has to be after a Planetarium show a really young kid came up to us to say thanks, he looked genuinely in shock, and the only words he could muster were “… BLOODY… EPIC!…” before walking away. We’ve also been getting asked some really astute questions, like…

“Who built the Universe?”

“Is there oil on other planets?”

“What are the odds of intelligent life arising on other worlds?”.

They’re great questions to be asking, and they’re being asked by children as young as 5! Can you imagine what it’s like trying to answer them at 9am on a Monday morning in front of a hall filled with inquisitive kids? Terrifying!

Looking at the website picture page I recognized Jessica Ashman before I Iearned that she directed the video for ‘Sailing to the Moon’. (I have one of the lovely moths from her State Broadcasters video) Are you drawing other denizens of the Glasgow creative community into your venture? 

“Yes! And as often as possible! We’ve actually never played a concert with the same lineup and just last week we played our first “conventional” Space show supporting Sebastien Tellier, with a live band consisting of members from Endor, The State Broadcasters and the wildly talented Siobhan Wilson. We’re really keen to work with anyone who has a passion for trying out new ideas… You know those really silly ideas people have, often in the pub, they joke about with friends, and usually the idea goes no further? Well we almost always follow through with those ideas, for better or worse, and we’re keen to work with anyone willing to do the same. Early next year we’ll be working on another music video with a project called Creation Station, that will actually be written, directed and filmed by children. There’s also been serious talk of organizing a gig atop the Cairngorm mountains in collaboration with Gordon Reilly, booker for the amazing Insider Festival.”

 “I’ll use my imagination for astronavigation … your imagination can take you anywhere you want to go”. How exactly are you attempting to increase a student’s interest in science by sparking their imagination?

“We definitely see creativity and imagination as essential to scientific endeavor. Of course logical and rational thought, and empirical evidence are fundamental, but with that song I wanted to show that Space exploration and research is a fascinating journey, which often yields findings just as wonderful as anything we can dream up using our imaginations. We’re both huge fans of Science Fiction, and it’s worth noting that many of the ideas conceived in the imaginations of Carl Sagan, Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Douglas Adams have often served as precursors to real scientific and technological advancements. Creative thought has undoubtedly helped pave the way for science.”

The other day, I read that Voyager is close to finally leaving our solar system and heading into interstellar space; a topic worthy of a song? No need to credit me for the inspiration. If you could digitally update the music on the Voyager’s golden record with five Scottish acts, who would you chose as representatives?

“Yeah it’s pretty amazing! It’s currently travelling at 61,000km/h and has already travelled 18 billion miles making it the furthest man made object from Earth… definitely worthy of a song or two! Great question though… It’s kind of like Desert Island Discs… in Space!

I think the Phantom Band are probably the most exciting band in the country at the moment. I saw them at a few festivals last year and they blew me away every time.

Aidan Moffat’s recent output has been incredible and will no doubt become even more revered over time. Though if intelligent alien life were able to translate the lyrics to Glasgow Jubilee our species would probably get blacklisted from their “contact” list due to lewd conduct.

Chris’ other group, the John Knox Sex Club, are the best Scottish band that most people probably haven’t heard of… yet.

John Martyn’s Solid Air and The Beta Band’s Three EPs are a couple of classics that are surely still worthy of export.

 The song ‘Luna Oscillators’ was an educational experience for me. I might have heard the name, but never knew who the Silver Apples were. The bit of discovery I engaged in was fascinating and it was astonishing that this came from the late 60s. How did that collaboration come about and how was it executed?

“It was a real privilege to get to record with Simeon. We’ve both been massive Silver Apples fans for years and it’s still a bit of a shock having him on the album. I went to see him earlier this year when he played during The Glasgow Music And Film Festival. A friend had booked the show and recommended contacting him after I’d expressed interest in a possible collaboration. Months later, whilst walking home late one night, during a full moon, I remembered an awe-inspiring experience I’d had as a very young child when my Mum took me to see a Lunar Eclipse. By the time I reached home all the words were finished. The song was written and recorded in under an hour. The next morning I emailed the song to Simeon, along with a description of the project, and within two days he got back in touch with all his parts already recorded!”

You mentioned that the full length is actually close to being finished. Are there any details that you could share at this point? How many tracks? Release format? The name of one of the secret collaborators?

“I probably shouldn’t say too much at the moment as things are likely to change as we finalize the release over the next few months. As far as format goes, we feel really strongly about the aesthetic importance of physical releases. In the past with the Let’s Talk About Trees album we ended up going to ridiculous lengths to make a physical copy that we deemed worthy of selling. The track listing on each copy was typed out on an old typewriter, we cut, folded and glued all the sleeves by hand, then we ended up walking around Kelvingrove Park in the snow, trying to collect leaves to press, dry, and stick to the album cover… in retrospect it was totally mental!”

It is interesting that the Dec 9 Arches show advert has you listed as local band / educational music project. After listening to the few songs available numerous times, it becomes clear how well they stand on their own as songs. The subject matter doesn’t overwhelm the music and, as such, it is refreshingly interesting electro-pop. Was the song creation process different or more difficult than writing for a conventional record?

“I think it’s a lot easier. The subject matter doesn’t really feel like it restricts us, but actually helps us to keep focus. We don’t have any rules and constantly try to mix things up. A lot of the songs were written together, some separately, then brought to the other to flesh out, or just get completely recorded individually. As long as we’re having fun and trying new ideas then there are no problems. The main challenge was trying to write music that would appeal to both young children and adults alike. The end result was Sci-Fi electro-pop that kids find fun, and hopefully adults will see the sense of humour in it and appreciate the unusual instrumentation.”

To slip in a little about Washington Irving, I watched the video of ‘Holy Company’ for the first time. Rather excited on this end. Can we look forward to a ‘Washington Irving’ full length in the coming year? 

“Yes, definitely. We’ve finished the record and will have a new single out towards the end of January. We’re making plans to get the record out by September.”

So far, The Scottish contingent for the upcoming SXSW seems to be Paws, Washington Irving, Chvrches, Bwani Junction, Kassidy and Young Fathers. Excited? Any plans to venture beyond Austin? 

“We’re really excited! It’s the first time any of us will have played shows in the US. We’re not sure if we’ll be able to gig outside of Austin due to time/money/visa restrictions but we are currently looking into getting a US booking agent, which will hopefully have opened a few doors by the time SXSW is over.”

 Speaking of Science Fiction, I’ve recently discovered Ian M Banks myself. Are there any other talented Scottish SF writers I should be looking into?

“Ian M Banks is great! The State Of The Art is the only Sci-fi book of his that I’ve read. Chris is a fan too, and has in fact, just recently lent me Look To Windward.

It’s not exactly Science Fiction but Alasdair Gray’s Lanark is an absolute masterpiece! David Lyndsay’s Voyage To Arcturus is pretty wild too.”

Finally, how much would you pay to go into space?

“Virgin have recently launched the Virgin Galactic Space program that will take the first steps towards actual Space tourism. It’s available to the general public, though I think it currently costs around £200,000 and there’s already a waiting list several years long. There were similar circumstances surrounding the first commercial airplane flights in 1914 and now, less than 100 years later, it’s possible to board a Ryanair plane for less than a fiver. Perhaps we’ll also see affordable Space travel in the not too distant future.

Personally… “I’d pay a million pounds or more to go for an hour, or even half an hour, although a day would be better!”

Kieran x

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Flutes

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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.”

Hogmanay plans?

“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.”

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