Sunderland, England's Field Music has the quirkiness of Talking Heads, drama of Queen, country essence of the Band, prog leanings of Lamb Lies Down on Broadway-era Genesis and the ballsiness of Futureheads, but deliver their music in a softer, more charming package. Brothers Peter and David Brewis and good pal Andrew Moore craft intricately tight joyous prog pop that has earned them fans at home in the UK. Their newest CD, Tones of Town, hit Stateside on Feb. 20 to critical praise. SomethingGlorious interviewed David Brewis as part of URB magazine's Next 100, which lands in April.
SomethingGlorious: I know there was a lot of momentum behind your first release
and now you're being called a Next Big Thing - how does that sit with
David Brewis: Are we? I think it's fairly accepted in the UK that we are a marginal concern; ripe for a bit of critical acclaim but too willful by half to ever sell many records. The first record was quite well-received by a fair proportion of music enthusiasts and if that means more people will get to hear the new one, then all the better. In the dim and distant past I think we managed to find a way to detach ourselves from the little commercial expectation pushed our way. We're acutely aware that if we think too much about what people want from us, then it'll probably adversely affect what we're capable of doing.
SG: When I listen to Tones of Town I hear very early Genesis, some Steely Dan, the Band, Phoenix - and even some Stephen Malkmus at times. Who do you consider your influences?
DB: Well, the list is a long one. I can honestly say that I don't feel like I've been influenced by Steely Dan at all, though now having heard a couple of albums I can see how people are coming to that conclusion. I'm not entirely sure who Phoenix are - that French band? I really like some of Pavement's albums, but I wouldn't have them down as an overt influence, not in quite the same way I've been inspired by Flaming Lips records or Jim O'Rourke or [Beck's] Odelay. The Band on the other hand are quite a big one - those first two albums are beautifully put-together, wonderfully sung and played - they made a lot of quite unusual arrangement ideas sound absolutely natural.
SG: Do each of you bring something different to the fold?
DB: The most obvious reference points for the three of us together are the things we were listening to and finding out about between the ages of 14 and 19; I'll still always go back to the Beatles' records because there's so much detail, so much adventure. When we first started playing together me and Peter loved Led Zeppelin and Andy was a huge Doors fan. Later on I discovered Bob Dylan and the Velvet Underground, Television, Talking Heads. We also started listening to a lot of jazz - especially those unarguable totems like Duke Ellington, Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ornette Coleman - all of whom have been huge influences. I even bought a Genesis album, such was my appetite for music I hadn't heard before. It was The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway that I have huge fondness for despite its many flaws. I tried to get into Selling England By The Pound but couldn't - it did lead me onto Peter Gabriel's early solo albums which have become a bit of an obsession. In the last few years I've also developed a healthy love for Prince and Sonic Youth, and am always keen to hear bizarre, original hip-hop records - the likes of Missy Elliott or Neptunes-produced stuff, Outkast - I love the way those records are constructed, the liberties they take with rhythm and texture. "Change Clothes" by Jay-Z is probably my favorite single of the last five years. And more recently still, we've been rediscovering the things we heard around the house when we were kids - So by Peter Gabriel, Fleetwood Mac, Hall & Oates - it's good stuff that I'd been ignoring for far too long.
SG: Where do you want to take your music - or where do you want the music to take you?
DB: I would love it if music could pay my rent and the rent on our studio, new guitar strings and the occasional foray into budget microphone buying. I would also love to be able to put together interesting shows that could travel to wherever in the world people were sufficiently intrigued by them. However, both prospects seem quite bleak at present. So, to answer the other side of the question, I want to make music that juxtaposes things which no-one had thought to juxtapose before, and to make music which is braver and more intriguing and which affects its audience without resorting to sentimentality or the comfort of the familiar. One of these days, I'm going to figure out how to make atonal pop music but that's along way off.
SG: Do you feel like growing up in Sunderland and the surroundings influenced your music?
DB: Absolutely - we're very much products of the place we live and of the kind of people our parents are. It's not as if Sunderland has a thriving art-rock community which defined how we did things - in fact, quite the opposite - Sunderland barely has a music community! There are few bands from Sunderland who've made records, Leatherface and Kenickie spring to mind, and there are a few musicians from Sunderland who moved and made excellent records -- Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics, Bryan Ferry - though really he's from Washington and would consider himself a Geordie [Newcastle] rather than a Mackem [Sunderland] -- but generally it's not a place with a great deal of cultural activity. However, it is a place which is small enough to make your own community in, and that seems to be what we've been able to do. And Sunderland is, or was, very much an industrial town and working hard and not taking yourself too seriously is something which has defined our thinking by way of our parents.
SG: Do you think living there has benefited your ability to be
heard as opposed to living in London and getting lost among all the
DB: I don't know how much it affected our ability to be heard but I certainly think it affected our ability to be good. Sunderland has no record industry to speak of and when we were starting out, gigs were very much a hand to mouth affair, in the back rooms of pubs or cricket clubs to an audience almost entirely made up of people we knew who were also passionate about music - so instead of pressure from the music business to make music that was palatable to radio producers or people who buy their records in supermarkets, we were trying to impress and inspire our peers, and in turn, they were trying to impress and inspire us. I really think that trying to chase an audience -- and their cash -- is usually detrimental to the quality and the honesty of the music, whereas we've always been trying to make music for ourselves and for people just like us.
SG: What's your outlook on music these days?
DB: [laughs] Very, very bleak! I think this is an awful time to be a listener or a musician, certainly in the UK - I couldn't claim to know too much about what goes on elsewhere. The collusion between record companies, magazines, radio and TV to try and prop up the industry in order to make us think that this is a brilliant time for music and that whatever new band is the best band ever and to buy whatever shoddy, over-produced, over-marketed, derivative drivel they keep releasing really turns my stomach. I think the whole process of throwing tons of money at a bunch of good-looking and marketable acts in the hope that one of them will become a superstar and subsidize the rest is utterly appalling and completely destructive in terms of encouraging creativity, which will eventually be needed if large numbers of people are ever going to consider music to be an important part of their lives again, and has lead to an incredibly cowardly, short-sighted way of producing records. There's a bit of extra bitterness there from me, because we've been trying incredibly hard to keep the band's expenditure low and not rack up debts that we're then obliged to try to recover by producing more palatable records, but because the industry is not designed to work that way, we're struggling to keep going and will have to look for full-time jobs come April.
SG: What's it like working with your brother? Does it cause natural friction or help keep the music moving forward?
DB: There's always bound to be friction when two people spend so much time together and can both be quite intense and analytical. We have so much in common and we're really good friends, but we have quite different temperaments. Sometimes that means we can help each other out, our different skills and ideas complementing each other, and at other times we just annoy each other. I think regardless of whether we were doing music together, the fact that whatever we did would have to pass the brother-listening test will always encourage us to try as hard as we can.
SG: Why did it take you almost four months to record? What else were you doing during the time?
DB: Does that seem like a long time? We started recording on the 31st of January 2006, though prior to that we'd rehearsed five or six of the songs for two weeks. We spent a week away in Europe and the south of England at the end of February and then two weeks in the States in March. By the time we went on a two-week tour of France and the UK in April we'd finished almost everything except the strings, backing vocals and a few bits and pieces. We then spent two Sundays recording the string arrangements, which we'd written over the previous month, with a week in between to finish off, then a couple of days editing the mistakes in the string parts -- or covering them up with electric piano as in "She Can Do What She Wants" -- before mixing the whole thing in two days, another couple of gigs, then mastered on May 27 before we went on a UK tour with the Futureheads. I think that's pretty good going for a band who don't have enough members to play anything live! Our songs are quite intricately arranged and we don't write by sitting down together and jamming. The other thing we had to contend with was that our studio is actually just a room in a community center so we can't make too much noise during the day - and we certainly can't take a microphone and a guitar amp out into the corridor or the ladies' toilets while there are other people in the building.
SG: If you can look back on 2007, what do you hope to have accomplished this year?
DB: I hope we'll have found a way to be habitually creative, instead of scratching round for time to be creative in between all that time we spend being a band. I also hope that a lot more people have the chance to find out about our records. I hope that we don't get so sickened and tired that we don't want to make music anymore. I hope I find some way to earn a living that doesn't get in the way of writing and recording new music.
SG: Who are some artists or bands you want to work and tour
with? Who would you want to work with from a production standpoint in
DB: I've never really considered the possibility that the bands I admire, other than the Futureheads, would want to work with us. I mean, I love what Jim O'Rourke does, and what Bjork does, Joanna Newsom, Sonic Youth, Bill Callahan - I loved the The For Carnation album that Brian McMahan recorded - and then there are those artists who made their names in a previous generation like Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno, Prince, Todd Rundgren, but I've never imagined that I could be of any use to them. I'm an ok guitarist and bass player and can sing quite high should they have a job going. I really enjoyed touring with The Futureheads, because they're my friends and it was a chance to spend some time together again having ideas and talking like we did a few years before, and with Architecture in Helsinki, because they seemed so ferociously creative and productive.
SG: Do you think your music has crossover appeal in the US?
DB: [laughs] I don't particularly think our music has crossover appeal anywhere! I think that our music is a classic example of something that really rewards the effort you put into it - as background music, it's, annoyingly, easy to dismiss what we do as being a softer, lighter or less-well-made version of indie music, which it just isn't - that's not arrogance on my part, but I'm absolutely certain that we don't put our records together in the way which indie bands -- especially British indie bands -- do. With that in mind, the prospect of selling records to that huge majority of people for whom music is a sideline seems very remote and not wholly desirable, though finding the minority for whom music is intrinsic to the ebb and flow of their lives would be great.
SG: What are some interesting or outrageous ways you're trying to get the music out there?
DB: Oh dear, we're not very good at self-promotion and never have been - we're too analytical, too honest. So, other than writing our own press releases, and writing our own video scripts and climbing the huge hurdle of figuring out how to play our songs live, and desperately trying to explain how I feel about these things in interviews without toning it down for mass consumption, we mostly leave it to the professionals. Though, I do as a matter of habit, move our records to the fronts of the racks whenever I go into a record shop.
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