Posted in Bands We've Chatted With

The Unwinding Hours – Afterlives

I’d thought I’d wait until after the tour to send these questions. Luckily the people didn’t buy all the tour EPs. My copy arrived the other day and I was actually a little deflated. Lately every order has been the deluxe vinyl that comes in this massive teal blue package that is rather pleasing to the eye; and this time, unlike when the actual album arrived, it was just in a little cardboard sleeve. Do you happen to still listen to vinyl?

“I don’t listen to vinyl as much anymore but that has more to do with my living arrangements than anything else. My whole daily routine revolves around my computer so the ease of playing whatever I want to hear at that specific moment makes it more likely that I play it online. I realize this may not be the most popular thing to say at the moment but I think it’s the way the world is going. There will always be vinyl enthusiasts and I completely understand that because I was obsessed with it throughout my twenties, but I think there are more people that are more attracted to the ease and instant availability of the digital realm. I still have a sizeable collection but every time I move flat (which I have done numerous times in the past ten years) it becomes more and more frustrating to humph boxes and boxes of vinyl up and down the stairs.”

Having been born a half hour from Stuttgart, I’m keenly interested how the German leg of the tour went? Any highlights? 

“The German leg of the tour is always great for us because the shows are usually well attended and the venues and people that work there are generally great. The distances between shows and the addition of the constant road works all over the country can make the experience pretty exhausting but playing the show always makes it worthwhile. It’s the reason you put up with the lack of sleep and unnatural experience of seven people crammed into a small area for hours on end. Berlin and Cologne stood out for us because we felt like we played well and that always helps to make a gig more enjoyable.”

I perfectly understand the Germanic need to look to the UK for popular music. Having moved to Canada when I was four, I don’t have any true sense of the musical landscape; but it has struck me that German fans somehow remain loyal longer than fans elsewhere. Were there more Aereogramme t-shirts in the crowd than usual? Have you noticed any actual difference between crowds in different countries? 

“There will always be Aereogramme tshirts at our shows because the connection is obvious and it’s something I have no need to distance myself from. There is a similarity and I would hope that Aereogramme fans would find something to enjoy about The Unwinding Hours. We seem to attract a very respectful crowd where ever we go but there is certainly another level of attentiveness about the German crowds. Maybe we have been lucky but the audience seem to be there to see the show and that is the only reason for being there. In the UK, there is such a saturation of bands and gigs that you can have many different reasons for being at a show and the band isn’t necessarily one of them. I seem to be eternally cursed with standing behind the one person that can’t shut up all the way through a gig when I go these days but I’m never in the crowd in Germany so I have no idea if it happens there.”

I just ‘re-discovered’ that  an acoustic version of ‘Wayward’ was on the Lands of the Rising Sun compilation.  On the first listen to the album it struck me that the album version most typified the different musical attack. How conscious an effort was it to get the new record to sound differently?

“It was certainly a conscious effort to try new things. I never thought we had really pushed it out in a brand new musical direction but I know it’s certainly different from the debut album. That was the whole point though. I know bands ALWAYS go on about not trying to repeat themselves but that’s what we naturally set out to do. We couldn’t do another “Knut” or “Final Hour”. If we had it would have been pretty stupid and ultimately very boring for us and the listener. It isn’t a huge leap in a different though. It’s still “us”. We were never going to return with a reggae/prog concept album, thankfully…..”

The new record been spun a lot around here, quite a bit more often than the previous one. Perhaps I’ve been listening to too much Holy Mountain or Sucioperro lately, but my first impression was that it was much ‘tamer’ than I expected it to be. After getting over my expectations and listening to it for what it really was, I couldn’t help feeling what a natural progression it was from the last Aereogramme record. I felt it had a similar spirit and it felt like less of a departure than the previous record. Has anyone else commented similarly?  

“No, people don’t usually bring up Aereogramme so much other than the passing comment of where we came from. Like I say, the connection is obvious but I think the Unwinding Hours are able to stand on their own. For me, they come from two very different points of my life so I can’t really compare the two. In terms of “spirit”, I personally feel they are totally different. I guess that “Afterlives” is more similar to “My heart” than the debut UH album but the differences are too many for that to merit much consideration. I am very proud of both though. The only connection I think there is between the two albums is that “The promised land” has a lyrical connection to “The running man”.

Oddly, my favourite song at the moment is ‘Dogs’; the very song that once caused me to worry about too radical a departure in style. It highlights just how integral your voice has always been to the overall sound.  “What do you think about Craig B’s voice” I’m asked and I’d have to reply that it is like wearing a  comfortable warm sweater knit by your mother in law while having a pint with an old friend. How do you feel you have progressed as a singer? 

“I’m not really sure how I have progressed as a singer. I never think about that. My lifestyle and the screaming during the Aereogramme days meant that my voice was put through a lot of stress and it resulted in permanent damage. I have lost a bit of the power I used to have but I have no need to do any of the screaming any more anyway so it’s not so bad. There are a few earlier Aereogramme songs where I sounded like a wheezing munchkin and it was a bad mix of me having a cold, drinking, smoking, screaming and probably using the wrong mic. The experience we have gained over the years means I’m much more sensible about looking after my voice and we are able to capture it a bit better. The Dogs is a good example of Iain’s ability to capture the voice so well and get a real intimate feel which is what the song needed.”

As an experiment, I reversed the order of sides A and B in a playlist I affectionately called “myafterlife”. The result? The listener is instantly hit with Wayward; easily the song the best typifies the new musical approach. I think ‘Break’ actually starts too quickly (and is thus better suited to start side B) while the little drum intro on Wayward is the perfect opening salvo. ‘Skin on Skin’ is such a departure that it should  come sooner than later to stress that. Having the album end with Saimaa and Promised Land is stunningly beautiful. The vocals in Promised alone are also the most upbeat and inspirational. Additionally, it serves as a rather good summary of the album as a whole. What do you think? Where there any alternate song sequences considered? 

“The sequence of the album is something we spent a lot of time working on. Whatever works for you though eh! There are particular reasons for why the songs are in their specific order on the album but that would take way too long to explain. One of the reasons Saimaa and Promised Land are closer to the start though is because I think we were hoping some people who didn’t know our music might give the album a listen and so we were hoping to catch people’s attention earlier. Songs like skin on skin, say my name and the dogs take a bit more of your concentration and are therefore more for those people who have given the album their full attention and stuck with it.”

Record out, tour over – what comes next? 

“Not much at all actually and I realise this might confuse some people but this gives me an opportunity to explain myself. Aereogramme decided to split up because the stress of constantly touring was starting to negatively affect our lives. Iain and I decided from the very start of the Unwinding Hours that we didn’t want to repeat that same mistake so we will not commit to it full time.  I am confident that this doesn’t affect the writing and recording process. We put our spare time and energy into that because we still love making music but there has to be a compromise in playing live. I won’t go into the boring financial problems of what it costs us to play but what it basically comes down to is that we can’t play live very often and in many places. There will always be that way of thinking that suggests that if we don’t play live then we won’t reach a new audience and therefore we won’t go anywhere but unfortunately my eight years of touring in Aereogramme (and the years spent in previous bands) would suggest that it isn’t that simple. It’s a risk that musicians take and I can’t and won’t take that risk any more. There is that popular thought that you should never give up on your dreams but I also don’t want to turn into a bitter, failed musician, drunk and throwing my shoes at pigeons, still living in shitty flats with no partner or any future to look forward to because I have spent all my time trying to make the one thing I do pay off. I want to enjoy it and I am genuinely proud of what we do but I’m also relaxed and content with what our situation will achieve. The compromise is that we still write and record but play live much less. If you have heard the record and you are enjoying it then It makes me happy to know that it’s found a good home somewhere. That’s enough for me now. It’s far less frustrating and the pigeons of Glasgow will be safer as well.”

The record really is an exceptional achievement. I’m too far away to know how well it has been received in Scotland. The ‘press’ I read online is rather biased in that regard. Having just been to a Django Django show, I have no ability whatsoever to assess what might or might not appeal to a wider audience. Do you think there is a possibility of ‘breaking out’ again for the Unwinding Hours? (is it even something you’d welcome or wish for). It is with the most selfish reason that I ask – my seeing you again would seem to hinge on you being supported sufficiently to tour here.

“I have no ability whatsoever to assess what might or might not appeal to a wider audience either so I have no idea if The Unwinding Hours could “break out”. That isn’t something that concerns me anymore though (see answer above). I think it is probably the most accessible album I’ve ever been involved in but I’m also aware of what being on a small independent label and not touring also means as well. I would love it if we could get used in a film or some TV show. That means you are able to get exposure very quickly and reach a new audience but that’s in the hands of those who choose the music for these things. If you don’t have anyone actively working on synch work for you then it’s harder to be seen or heard above the crowd of bands that are looking for the same thing. Someone at the BBC seems to like us enough to have used our music in certain shows already though. I owe them a pint. “

Is there anything you’ve enjoyed musically of late or are looking forward to? I just ordered Kevin MacNeil & Willie Campbell Are Visible From Space. I’ve not heard a note of it and I’m looking forward to being rewarded  for the leap of faith. It is how I used to buy records before the internet age and there is something to be said for it. 

“There are many Scottish musicians that I have been listening to a lot recently. Olympic Swimmers are the band of Jonny and Graeme who play Drums and bass with us live. They have a song on their album called “Rung down the curtain” which I think is just outstanding. Karine Polwart is a Scottish folk musician who worked with Iain on her last album and is stunning. It’s called “Traces”. The new We are the Physics songs are proving incredibly catchy as is anything Miaoux Miaoux has put out lately. Scotland is really producing a lot of fantastic music right now. Ane Brun is a singer I keep coming back to time and time again because her voice astounds me every time I hear her and I’m also I’m looking forward to hearing the new Converge album. “Jane Doe” is in my top ten albums of all time. It still makes me air drum and instantly makes me feel better every time I hear it. I’ve been listening to the new Mark Eitzel album “Don’t be a Stranger” as well. He remains one of my favourite lyricists.”

We got to see Admiral Fallow last week. Have you had the pleasure?  

“I have and I enjoyed their music very much. “Guest of the government” and “Isn’t this world enough” are two cracking tunes. I love any band that is drenched in melody like they are.”

When we can look forward to the next musical Unwinding Hours offering?

I have to write some new demos, then start the long process of putting it altogether again with Iain. We will let you know when it’s ready. It might be a while but that’s ok. There is no rush.”

Thor

I clearly did not  properly convey the fact that this record has become as beloved to me as ‘My Heart Has A Wish That You Would Not Go’. The title pretty much sums up this Aereogramme fan’s feelings. From the perspective of merely being a fan of the music, my emotional reaction to new record has almost been as strong as to last Aerogramme release. I shall now stop saying Aereogramme. 

 I was going to link a review that I felt captured it better than I could.  Oddly, I couldn’t really find one. Maybe I’ll sit down later on and give it a go. Considering this is the first 2500 word post, I’ll dispense with a review for now.  If for some ungodly reason you haven’t picked this up yet just go get it.

Posted in Bands We've Chatted With

Craig B from The Unwinding Hours

I’ve always been pleased that I saw you open for Ballboy, as part of Ganger, at the Great American Music Hall. While checking to see that my memory coincided with reality, I discovered you were actually in Ganger 2.0. As it turns out I may have only thought I saw you. Nevertheless it did lead me directly to your next project. My first Aereogramme show was at Bimbo’s 365, opening for the Delgados. It truly was a special night. Stewart Henderson (there he is again, fresh from Ganger 1.0) was beyond jubilant.  I don’t suppose you could shed any light on his continual pronouncements about that being the best night of his life?

“Ganger 2.0. I like that. Yes, I had left Ganger just before that American tour, but Aereogramme toured the U.S. and parts of Canada four times over the years and I have fond memories of San Francisco. My memory is pretty hazy of that night at Bimbo’s though, although I do remember walking around the market just down the road from the venue as the sun went down. I have spoken about that tour with Stewart quite a bit and I must admit I have no idea why he was in such a jubilant mood that night. It might have had something to do with the vast amount of alcohol that was being consumed most nights, but it also could have been a busy gig which would have made them happy and eager to play. It was a real pleasure being able to tour with the Delgados then. They were a fantastic live band and Stewart’s patter was usually just as entertaining.”

The second time I saw you play was at the Independent with about 12 other people (one of whom is my wife).  Your stoicism in playing full out will always be spoken of with admiration. It wasn’t until I got the Chemikal Underground vinyl box set that I fully appreciated the tribulations of that tour. There are no questions to be asked there, but could you sum up what it was like touring and working with the C.U. folks during what had to be a more optimistic time?

“We have stayed with Chemikal Underground this long because they are honest and very likable people to work with. I have a lot of respect for the hard work they do in keeping Chemikal Underground going. Aereogramme were never really an optimistic band though, we were realists to a fault so when things didn’t start working out for us, we continued playing and recording but we just got angrier and angrier and more pissed off. Chemikal Underground are the type of label that let you do exactly what you want, so they never once stepped in and asked us to do anything we were uncomfortable with doing and never tried to steer us in any direction. It’s that hands off approach that was very appealing to us especially at the start when we were very head strong.”

The Unwinding Hours, understandably, was met with great anticipation. Knut is such a great opener – for a few minutes you could close your eyes and wish things were still the way you wanted them to be. While I assume that the sparse repeated lyrics “We can, we will, we must get up” mean exactly what they say, the rest of the album takes a quieter more introspective tone. In what direction will the new record take us? Is ‘Dogs’ representative of the new musical direction?

“I won’t correct you on the lyrics because I always find it interesting when people hear something other than what I am singing. I think it’s great when someone interprets the words in their own way. “The Dogs” is not what the new album will sound like at all. It’s just a wee experiment we tried out with Brendan Smith who filmed the video. We have another video to upload and it is acoustic but that will be the last acoustic song to release because I don’t want people to think that is what the next album will be like. It’s just easier to film acoustic songs. Like you say, the first album is very quiet and introspective and when we came to play it live, we felt it was very difficult to play shows other than our own because it was only at our own shows that people were interested enough to remain quiet and attentive and even then it was pretty obvious that the set leaned more on the quiet side. The new album will readdress the balance and I’m very happy with how it’s sounding and can’t wait to play the songs live.”

I almost hate to ask, would you even consider coming to the States again? We promise that we’ll make it over there, eventually, so no pressure.

“I would love to play the States again. I have had some incredible experiences playing there and would love to make the journey again. Unfortunately, there just isn’t the demand and so there is no budget to get us there. Some people will surely wonder that if we don’t play, how will people know about us? Unfortunately, we tried it that way in Aereogramme for eight years and it didn’t work. I started to hate what I was doing and it started to affect my life in negative ways. Now, with the Unwinding Hours, we have to be a bit smarter when and where we play because sleeping on a bass drum in the back of the van in the middle of France when you are touring on a tiny budget just isn’t an option anymore. Thankfully.”

Can you provide any additional details about the next record? Will you put this one out on vinyl as well?

“It will be out late 2012. I’m studying at the moment, so we need to record it and release when I’m not at uni. Chemikal are very much into the idea of vinyl, so I can’t think of any reason why it won’t come out on that format.”

Pedro and I attended a Biffy half hour set at a local festival last summer. We gravitated to the one fellow wearing the Biffy tee. Thinking he had to be a fan of you as well, we were astounded by his blank look. How is it possible that someone that flew in from Scotland specifically to see Biffy did not know who Aereogramme was?  Is Martin still running things for them? We would love to hear your take on Biffy.

“Martin still does the odd show for them but has another full time job at the moment. How is it possible that guy hadn’t heard of Aereogramme? Can’t answer that I’m afraid! The last album came out four years ago though so the only mentions we get these days are from people recommending us to their friends, which is always lovely to hear about. What’s my take on Biffy? I think they are excellent and deserve all the success they have. You would struggle to find a harder working band, and they have achieved a huge amount of success completely on their own terms. Whats not to like about that? Lovely guys as well.”

Lastly, we’d be honoured if you asked glasGOwest a question.

“What’s your favourite malt whisky?”

I once asked the owner of the lovely ‘Scot’s Corner’ in London, Ontario what his favourite scotch was, and have been fond of Oban ever since.

*****

After listening to Knut again, I can now report that I think Craig is singing…the same thing. According to someone else, it really is “If we can, we will / We must get out”. Honestly, I prefer and will stick with my own interpretation. Afterall, the Unwinding Hours appear to still be well in it.

T & P