The State Broadcasters ‘Ghosts We Must Carry’

I’ve caved to temptation and streamed the new record  while writing the first drafts of these questions and waiting for the CD to arrive. “Where I belong” was the first song that made me fully stop to take note. At this point in the record, you instinctively know that it is going to get even better as the album finishes out. The heartfelt melancholic beauty of ‘This Old Table’ is eyes wateringly good. It was great that you released the digital EP with the alternate piano version. Are you sitting on any other versions that might be released in the future? 

“Yeah, sorry that CD took so long to get to you! You’re a long way off! We actually recorded those alternative versions especially for the EP – it had been a good while since we recorded those songs originally, so it was nice to revisit them and do something new with them. We don’t have any more alternate versions, but we do have a couple of songs that we recorded for the album that we decided to leave off it. We felt that they were just as strong as the songs that made it on there, but we wanted to be quite concise with this album and it just felt a little too long with 12 songs. They’ll definitely see the light of day at some point though, maybe on another wee EP or on the next album proper. I suppose it depends on where we go with the next album. On one of those tracks there’s a string orchestra and I played a bike as percussion! Maybe we could explore that further….or maybe we’ll just go even more miserable and sparse, we’ll see how chipper we’re feeling.” PM

I’ve developed  an aversion to the digital music format. While waiting, I decided to get a physical copy of the first record the ‘Ship and the Iceberg’. I feel bad because I bought a used copy  as I didn’t realize they were still available from you directly. Did you make more or am I wrong in thinking they had originally sold out? How is it working with Olive Grove this time out? 

 I think there’s still plenty copies of that first album knocking about. Every now and again we get another box of them from Electric Honey (our label at the time) to take to gigs with us. PM

Olive Grove has been great, the people that run it are just really genuine music fans and what they lack in funds they more than make up for with enthusiasm, hard work and passion and Lloyd is very sexy. GB

I’ve been noting the favourable press whirlwind. There seems to be a great deal more of it than the last time. The one glaring exception coming from the Herald Scotland provoked a bit of twitter research on my part. It seems that their “arts correspondent” doesn’t really have much involvement  in the musical arts. I’d love to dismissively browse his record collection and scoff at the twaddle I’d expect to find there. What has your reaction been to the press this time around? My suspicion is that they have caught up with you.

‘It’s very nice of you to get so defensive on our behalf! I didn’t think the Herald review was too bad really. We’re aware that we’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and pretty much everything that has been written about the album is very complimentary. It certainly feels like a vindication of how long it took us to make the album when people write lovely things about it.” PM

“It’s great when anyone likes our music regardless of whether it’s a journalist, a DJ, someone in another band or someone who comes to see you live. I don’t really think the opinion of a journalist is anymore valid than that of any other music fan it’s just they have the potential to do you more damage!” GB

Referencing the “folkish undertones” from your press clippings page, I want to specifically ask how much musical inspiration (or background) stems from traditional Scottish folk music. Truthfully, I’ve never really been a big fan of folk music itself. Pedro lent me a vinyl copy of ‘Whaur the Pig Gaed on the Spree’ (Alan Lomax recordings 1951-57). This led directly to my purchasing Alasdair Roberts ‘Too Long in This Condition’. While my musical sensibilities are still firmly mired in indie pop/folk as opposed to more traditional treatments, it is something I could see myself exploring more deeply.

“Truth be told I’m pretty ignorant about traditional folk music, Gill is the one for that in our band. I just hear a song and if I like it that’s good enough for me I don’t care if it’s from 1903 or 2003. The one thing that does draw me to folk music is this idea that they lived and breathed and traveled from person to person long before recorded music was possible. It is incredible to think a Scottish song could find it’s way to the Appalachian Mountains and then still be being performed and recorded today in a contemporary setting. How did A P Carter get his hands on some song tune that came from Shetland!?” GB

I’ve also just recently ‘discovered’ Randolph’s Leap and  noticed  the brass instrument overlap between your bands. They are another example of a band I might not have paid much attention to a year ago; not somber, loud, dark or melancholic enough for my old tastes. I don’t remember listening to and enjoying a record as much in quite a while. Are there any other projects the State Broadcasters have been in involved with? Any future collaborations to look forward to?

“Actually, I’m producing Randolph’s Leap’s first album at the moment. I met Adam at a James Yorkston and Pictish Trail gig at Christmas, and offered to help out on some recordings. I ended up recording one song (which appears on their new ep that comes out on Fence soon), and I think they liked the results and asked if I wanted to do a whole album. I’m a big fan, so it’s lovely being involved in their first full album. I get to hear all the songs before anyone else, which very much appeals to the music nerd in me. Fergus and I have been working with Jarv and Richard from Endor too on a new EP. It sounds lovely so far, well worth looking out for.”

‘Ghosts We Must Carry’ – What are some of these ghosts? For myself, they are almost innumerable, but certain ghosts loom larger than others and the task of coming to terms (or not) with them does not necessarily get easier with time. This has very much been translated into the music itself and I can’t help but feel that some bitter experiences went into the making. Is there a specific origin for the title?

“You’ve pretty well summed it up, the ‘Ghosts’ are innumerable, aren’t they for everybody? I am a bitter, twisted, grudge bearing individual and I remember everything so be warned! I try to be a better person but it is very, very difficult.” GB

Thinking of the album’s title still, Cloud Cult’s “Feel Good Ghosts” immediately comes to mind. Have you heard it? If not, I’d love to hear your reaction. In a way, that album seems to counsel on how to celebrate the ghosts rather than letting them haunt you.

“I’m listening to it now probably need more time to pass judgement but I think I get what you mean, I think rather than have these ghosts haunt you or celebrate them then our album maybe helps you live with them.”

I’ve just read that the Trespassers Video is going to be ready and released in October. I originally only ordered the signed CD when you were raising funds for it. Visiting the site a few months later, I noticed that the 19th moth had just been pledged. Only one left – I had to get it. It is a lovely idea that was nicely executed. Were the moth models used in the video or were they purely a fund raising creation? 

“I haven’t seen the final cut yet, but an early edit I saw had the moths in the video. You should have a go at animating your one yourself! It was what they were designed for after all. Unleash your inner Nick Park.”

I’ve just embarked on what I’m calling the mp3 reclamation project. I’ve got a good deal of Scottish music in digital form only. I’ve even obtained those silly vinyl cdrs to do it. My first recovery is Viva Stereo’s ‘Endure the Dark to See the Stars”. Does anyone happen to have this in their collection? How eclectic are the musical tastes of the band members? 

” I’d say the tastes within the band are pretty eclectic. There’s a lot of us, so I suppose it’d be a surprise if we all like the same things. I think we all have The Smiths and Ivor Cutler in common, but then you’ve got a pretty wide range of stuff from there, from Sparklehorse, Wilco, Pavement, Grandaddy etc to Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder. Maybe some jangly African pop in there, some Elvis, a bit of Talking Heads and Bowie. Gill’s properly into her traditional folk songs too. Suz our cellist plays percussion in a Balkan brass band too. Yes. Eclectic.”

“If you endure the dark, in time, you’ll see the stars” a recurring lyric on this Viva Stereo record playing at the moment. What are some of your favourite lyric snippets?

There are lots and lots but how about this verse from Lullaby of London by The Pogues GB

As I walked on with a heavy heart
Then a stone danced on the tide
And the song went on
Though the lights were gone
And the north wind gently sighed
And an evening breeze coming from the east
That kissed the riverside
So I pray now child that you sleep tonight
When you hear this lullaby
May the wind that blows from haunted graves
Never bring you misery
May the angels bright
Watch you tonight
And keep you while you sleep

From over here, on the west coast of another continent, it seems that Scottish music is becoming more sharply defined and may well be poised to embark on an invasion of its own. Of course, that may be my own wishful thinking. Is there any sense, over there, that musically things have, like the new Meursault record for example, risen to a whole new level?

“The Meursault album is excellent and is probably about the only Scottish thing I’ve bought this year so it’s hard for me to say. Some Scottish bands seem very good at creating a buzz or whatever without actually having any fans or producing anything worthwhile where others are doing really well by working really hard like Admiral Fallow and Frightened Rabbit. But, in my view, one of the reasons those 2 are perhaps doing so well is that they could actually be from anywhere, they have quite a universal sound I think. That is not a criticism, but it does mean that a Scottish ‘invasion’ is probably less likely unless you want to invite us all over to your house?” GB

What are the plans for the Broadcasters going forward? Have you considered releasing a nice ten inch vinyl single for ‘This Old Table’? You know the original, the one from the EP, that new version you are holding on to and a nice JC remix.

“Now that’s an idea! I like how you’ve suggested our least radio friendly song as a single. That’s exactly the kind of thing we think about doing all the time. And we wonder why the A&R guys never come calling…” PM

“We’ll probably try and gig this album around a bit but as far as future recording goes then the next lot of songs will be different to this. There will be no acoustic guitar and lots of dancing. Maybe…” GB

Thor

The Video: My moth at o.o9!

( PM = Pete Macdonald and GB = Graeme Black )

                               The Review

I bristle at the idea of writing a review, so I’ll just frame it as one person’s thoughts and opinions. Other than the fact that it is in my collection and it should be in yours, what is there to recommend about ‘Ghosts We Must Carry’? 

While waiting for the sophomore release, I ordered a physical CD of ‘The Ship and the Iceberg’. Having read a few reviews from the first, I was struck by how numerous, consistent and effusive the ‘press’ was for the new record. It did not strike me as excessive, because the album is that good, but oddly delayed. In my mind the first record was equally good. Where was all the praise for it?

‘Ivor Cutler Suggests We Join the Noise Abatement Society’ starts off the first record with some piano and a giggle. Not quite Divine Comedy’s ‘Something For the Weekend’, but by the time the song rolls into the orchestral pop of ‘Let’s Make T-shirts’ it becomes clear that this melancholy tinged record still balances out with a nod toward optimism.  After comparing the two, you quickly realize what an artistic leap forward it is.

‘The Only Way Home’ starts things off with considerable more static and from the outset melancholy has transformed itself into lament. Cold news delivered by phone. Lyrically that is about all we learn. Musically the differences between the openings of the two records are pronounced. Already darker from the outset, the addition of effect drenched guitars after the solemn brass and strings underscores just how much this record seeks to explore new territory.

The title and the main ideas behind ‘Ghosts We Must Carry’ are obviously universal.  Each of us can infuse them on a personal level beyond the actual lyrics adding even more emotional depth to the music. I’m listening to it for the second time properly (off the CD on the stereo). I’m wiping away the tears, because at the same time I’m reading a two year history of tweets from an account that is normally locked to me. Thank goodness for technological glitches. It is a window that has allowed me to effectively ‘trespass’ for the short time it remains open. Like my own, the tweets are overwhelming about music. The author blogs about her love of Canadian indie music; rather a wise choice considering she is based in Toronto.  I discovered her blog a few months after starting my own. I often think that things musical are how providence, fate or karma manifests itself in my life. At first, I thought it was a good thing and might somehow bring about desired change.

Of course, I was wrong.  My “estranged” daughter still seems lost to me and the promises that this is how it would unfold by my ex-wife remain fulfilled. It was just the universe toying with me. I state this because I’ve nowhere else to state it. My desire to have a conversation with the one person I desperately need to speak to the most has evolved into a conversation that I have with myself.  Like Kittiwake (playing now) ‘I need things to change. Instead of being devastated this window has given me hope – like the melody of the song itself. “This is a painful way for you to say you’ll get by”. My ghosts are, of course, unique. However, anyone who has ever experienced loss of any kind will easily see the outlines of their own ghosts in the album.

Herein lies the true beauty of this record. The tales and the songs about them seem completely genuine reflections of whatever ghosts they seek to address. By the time ‘This Old Table’ comes along it culminates in the most emotionally honest song I’ve heard in a long time. It would be possible to weave all the songs together as one larger narrative piece and perhaps this is as intended. Even if I’m overreaching in thinking that, there is a cohesion here that works better than any concept album ever could. It is done with sincerity, candor and grace.

For the Broadcasters the closing track ‘New Year’s Day’ is short, wistful and obviously meaningful.  In my mind, narratively, it is the voice of the person who has experienced the profound loss reflecting back at the cusp of the future. The ghosts need to be carried forward. Their burden never fades.

There are much better reviews out there.

 I particularily like http://www.peenko.co.uk/2012/09/state-broadcasters-ghosts-we-must-carry.html.

 I read it quickly when it was first posted and then deliberately avoided going back. It is the review I wish I could have written. For the most part, the reviews are remarkably consistent because the album itself is that remarkable.

 

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State Broadcasters (Graeme Black and Pete MacDonald)

I have not listened to your debut ‘The Ship and the Iceberg’ in a while. After a few spins, I’m happy to report it is as lovely as remembered. One of the pitfalls of digital albums, I suppose, is that it is easy to lose sight of them. Were you pleased with the reception it got when it was released?

GB:  “Thank You I’m glad you still like it! Don’t leave it so long next time.

I don’t know any band that is ever totally pleased with the reception their work gets, the bad reviews, the bad comments and the bad gigs linger much longer than any of the good stuff. This is a curse and a blessing as it spurs you on to work harder and keep trying to improve. Obviously, we are very grateful to the people that said they liked it and that it meant something to them, that also gives you a purpose to carry on. It’s odd when people come up and tell you a song you’ve written has made them cry, should I really be pleased about that?! Well I am.”

While going back and glancing at a few reviews, I kept seeing ‘Americana’ referenced. I’m not necessarily convinced of that label. How would you characterize your sound?

GB: “Americana is a weird term isn’t it? It seems to mean very different things to different people. You must know people in bands hate trying to define their sound in those terms so uhm…..I can tell you I’d like us to be a pop band!”

PM: “I’ve always thought we were more of UK Garage sort of group, with elements of Shabba Ranks, obviously. Are those references going to make sense to anyone outside the UK? Was ‘Mr Loverman’ by Shabba a hit in the States? Well, anyway, we sound just like that.”

Speaking of influences, I often wonder if what a band likes to listen to ever translates into the kind of music they actually set out to make. I can’t imagine that this is the case for anyone worth listening to that manages to forge a unique sound. Are there any Scottish acts that you’ve been especially inspired by?

GB:  “I like lots of Scottish bands and have been inspired by many of them in different ways. It seems to be a Scottish trait to stay honest and never compromise and I find that inspirational. Of course, Fence is a prime example of this. Stargazer by The Zephyrs is a particular inspiration for me, it’s a truly beautiful song. That, anything by Ivor Cutler and Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice by Hamish Imlach are probably enough to see you through the hard times.”

PM: “Personally, my favourite Scottish bands are The Blue Nile and Orange Juice, with a bit of Associates thrown in for good measure. I wouldn’t say we sounded at all like any of them, but I think they all had an attachment to Glasgow and that had an effect on their music at some point. ‘Hats’ by The Blue Nile in particular has a special resonance if you’re from this city or have ever lived here, lots of rain soaked romantic imagery. Glasgow, and Scotland as a country works it’s way into our songs too. You could say that our geography has influenced us as much as Scottish bands have. That said, I wish had I made ‘When The Haar Rolls In’ by James Yorkston, very much a benchmark of loveliness as far as I’m concerned. “

So there is a new record on the horizon. I just listened to ‘Kittiwake’ and it sounds like a natural progression not a radical departure. Do you have any surprises up your sleeve? When can we anticipate a release? Please feel free to share any other details you’d care to share. I can’t promise complete anonymity anymore, as a few people are actually reading, but what would it hurt to tell a few of us?

GB: “You’re right that the new stuff is a natural progression rather than a radical departure which is what we needed to do. We have become a much better band and the songwriting is stronger, but I felt it important not to stray too far away from the sounds of the first album. The aim was just do it more cohesively and to a higher standard and I think we’ve done that. I do really admire acts that constantly change whilst kind of remaining recognisble, you know like PJ Harvey does that so well. Eels do it too. So I think the next one we do will have quite a different sound to it, anyway I’m getting ahead of myself here!

Any surprises? Well if I told you it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore would it?

We are talking to a small Glasgow label just now so we are hopeful that it will be out soon, it’s pretty much been finished since last autumn so it’s kind of burning a hole in our collective pocket at the moment.”

Are there plans to release it on vinyl? The warmth and dynamics of the new song make a strong case for it. I do have to ask what exactly is a Kittiwake? (Sunken American ship or vintage Dundee Inn?)

GB: “Sadly no plans to release anything on vinyl though it would be amazing to be able to do so. Just too expensive for this poor little band from Glasgow.  Ah google, it may be both of those things but it’s also a very pretty seabird, there used to be lots of them in Orkney but they are in decline. In the song they get mistaken for the more common seagull by the novice bird watchers. In relation to the song it’s also a kind of pathetic play on words: The song is about a husband whose wife collapes during a hiking experience and enters an endless coma. She is called Kitty so it’s his plea to her. I should’ve kept that to myself shouldn’t I?”

Favourite Smiths song? Favourite cover from the ‘Smiths is Dead’?

GB: “The feeling of joy I get everytime I hear the guitar intro of This Charming Man is something that has never diminished in all the years of listening to it.”

PM: “It’s got to be ‘Cemetary Gates’ for me. Followed closely by ‘There Is A Light….’. I’ve never got around to listening to Smiths Is Dead, even though there are some artists I love on there. The songs were just so perfect in the first place, I don’t think I could listen to anyone else doing them.”

If you had to describe the Glasgow music scene in a few sentences could you do it justice?

GB: “Like that drunken uncle at a family wedding: Funny, shambolic, scary, joyful, annoying, heartbreaking and always worth saving at the end of a long night.”

PM: ” That’s a good answer. What he said.”

Is there anything else we should be looking for this year? Following up on the ground recommendations is a favourite pastime.

PM: ” Keep an eye out for Randolph’s Leap if you haven’t already checked them out. I think they’re my favourite band in Glasgow at the moment, great pop songs with wit, pathos and lovely arrangements. There will apparently be albums by both Endor and Washington Irving as well in the year ahead, so you should check them out. They’re both fantastic. Though I have been playing trombone and keys in both of them lately, so does that count as a genuine recommendation and not a self-interested plug? Well, anyway, I’m a proper fan of them both, and was long before I became involved with them musically so you should just take my word for it.”

‘The Tenderness of Wolves’ is an exceptionally lovely song. Apparently using a banjo might just be what gets your music labeled ‘Americana’. I should know better, but I’ve got to ask what the inspiration for the song was. The listener always constructs their own meaning, but I enjoy knowing where the idea stems from.

GB: ” Thanks, it’s easily the best song on the first album along with After the Fight. The germ of the song came after reading the novel of the same name. It’s a thriller set in the wintry wilderness of Canada and many of the characters are Scots settlers. The song doesn’t follow the narrative of the book at all but is inspired by the feelings it generated in me whilst I was reading it. The song has no specific story or message it’s more a song trying to evoke and make sense of certain feelings. Just the usual: a search for happiness in the harshest of environments, an interest in how the most savage of creatures can also be the most beautiful of creatures and a hope that there is someone or something out there to comfort and be comforted by in the darkest of times. We all need companionship of some kind. Don’t we? Is that close to your meaning?”

I was curious about Electric Honey label –  How was your experience with the venture?

GB: “Like most dealings with labels it’s a mixed bag, they helped us enormously to deliver an album with a nice Digipak and get it to lots of places we never could have on our own, they also funded a financially doomed venture to release a 7 inch single which I admired. It is hard to shake off the Belle and Sebastian reference in every review but that’s not really EH’s fault. What else? We had some fun with them but these were often troubling times for this State Broadcaster so sorry about that EH!”

How in the world does a group of students chose 1 artist to release that year? I can almost imagine the fisticuffs.

GB: “I think they have a pancake eating competition and the one that eats the most in half an hour without throwing up gets to decide.”

PM:  “And that glutton chose us! We’re the portly music student’s band of choice. Maybe we should put that on our press release.”

I should ask something deep and meaningful – but all I can think of is the usual plea for a brief review of an exceptionally good show you’ve been to of late. The ‘tyranny of distance’, to quote some old Split Enz, is harsh for a Scottish music blog based in San Francisco.

PM: ” I’ve been lucky to see a few great ones recently. One that stands out was a Fence Collective Christmas show in an old church near where I live. James Yorkston, The Pictish Trail and a wonderful Irish singer called Lisa O’Neill all sat on the stage together and took turns playing their songs, sometimes pitching in on harmonies or guitar when one of the others was playing. Fantastic songs, some laughs, a great atmosphere. It was one of the most charming gigs I’ve been to in a long time. There was even some rudimentary shadow puppety. Who else? Laura Veirs played here last week too, wonderful stuff. She’s quite something live.”

Just read that the new album is mastered. Very much looking forward to it.

T&P