“Me and Tom (drummer) had been making music with samples for years and had gotten into finding weird records to steal bits from, I think we both simultaneously started to want to make records with real instruments again but using the influences we’d picked up listening to a broader range of music; psych, folk, jazz, kraut, funk, surf etc. I made some recordings which got a bit of interest on the internet so we set up a band to play them. That was about 5 years ago.
“Influence wise, I think record collecting and sampling opened up a lot of music to us that we wouldn’t otherwise have heard, and meeting people with amazing records who were willing to share their knowledge and love of them (Rich Hero, Cherrystones, Doug Shipton, Andy Votel, the Verygoodplus community). ‘Vertigo Mixed’ had a big impact on me and Tom when we first heard it, we’d been listening to heavier stuff and that just made it click into place. Also hearing Dungen for the first time, when they were very much on the same wavelength. Those things just confirmed we were on the right track.
“We used a mixture of old and new for Steeple. We had to make a lot of compromises as a lot of the equipment we’d borrowed broke down the day of the first session. We’re not purist about vintage analogue gear because that just makes it more difficult than it needs to be, but we do like certain sounds that you can only get with specific stuff. We tracked everything to pro tools, but then most of the guitars were processed onto 1/4” tape, and some of the bits went through an old German echo unit (sometimes for echo, sometimes just for the pre-amp). Most of our instruments are old too. I used an early 80’s H/H mixer for some of the fuzz sounds, it sounded incredible somehow because of the specific way that it was broken.”
“Sea Records and Battered Ornaments put out the early records and basically developed us over a number of years, getting us gigs and press and radio play and offering encouragement, without which we wouldn’t have done anything more than a few scrappy recordings. Chris Swanson from Jagjaguwar had heard the singles and really liked them, and he happened to contact us when we were starting to work up an album. We’ve always gone on instinct and worked with people who we really like and get on well with. Chris is just such a lovely bloke and we loved the label, so it wasn’t really a hard decision.”
“It’s usually a demo or small idea from me that gets stretched and added to by the band. We work out arrangements together and try things out live. Joe is the go-to man for riffs and hooks, so sometimes I’ll develop a song out of lines that Joe has written.”
Any current bands you feel a great comradery with?
“The Liftmen toured with us and we love them to bits; an amazing and under-rated band and the loveliest people in the world. There aren’t a lot of bands in the UK doing similar stuff to us, and there’s not really a scene as such, so it’s a hard one. We’re friendly with Diagonal and Soundcarriers, but that’s mainly just because we think they’re great bands. We got on really well with people we’ve toured with, Black Mountain were great. And the Besnard Lakes, I think we genuinely have a crush on them. We love Dungen and have supported them and met them a few times but that goes into the realms of fandom, which deviates from the question a bit!
For MUGSTAR, lovers of Paris, Oneida and DW drum kits, “there isn’t enough time in the world”. In 2010 they put out two full length albums “…Sun, Broken…” and “Lime” they aren’t waiting about…Jeanette Timmons recently spoke with three members of the band.
Steve: They play a big role, usually the beginnings of tracks emerge from jamming at rehearsal, or even if one of the band brings in a rough idea or riff idea, it’s then thrashed about at length – mutating and growing towards something substantial… hopefully. Often thrashing about for 15 to 30 minutes at a time, riding the moment, reacting to what each other throws up. Then over a matter of weeks or months, tracks are replayed and reshaped.
2.How do you derive your compositions? Collaborative brainstorming / performative experimenting or compositions brought roughly hewn to the table for joint working? Do you all pitch in on composing?
Pete: I would say all of the above, there is no right or wrong way of writing. Whatever sounds good and sticks with us. You put stuff together and stuff happens.
3.How do you see your work in relation to Krautrock? Are you developing that tradition in new directions or merely reflecting in your work the importance /influence of Krautrock to your own musical path?
Neil: I think we all have a great fondness for many late 60s/70s German bands, but one of the strengths of that era was the diversity of the music produced. Many of the bands evolved their styles in isolation from each other, so it’s hard to think of it as some sort of stylistically coherent scene; the Krautrock tag was just a label of convenience from the British music press. I’m impressed by the way a lot of those bands built on the example of the more progressive American and British bands and brought in a lot of fresh influences and technological innovation to create something individual. Hopefully we bring something of that attitude to building on the bands who have influenced us.
4.Will you tour America?
Steve: Yeah, we’d love to. We seem to get really positive feedback – particularly from San Francisco area, be amazing to play over there.
5.What was it like to do a John Peel session?
Steve: Just brilliant in every way. Great to know John liked and supported us, a genuine privilege to be asked to do a session, a fantastic day recording at Maida Vale Studios…
After playing the session on air John commented that he was looking forward to following Mugstar’s progress over the coming years, sadly a few months later he was gone. Like many others we still miss him of course, he was a unique and towering presence in all our lives.
6.Are you working on the next album? What should we expect from it?
Pete: We’re working on some new tracks which I think we are going to release as split 12’s with some bands, like Kinski.
Maybe an album will come out of it.
7.If each of you could be one other musician in the world (alive or dead) rather than yourselves, whom would you each choose?
Neil: J. S. Bach
Steve: Say from a drummer’s perspective, from the past? – maybe Mitch Mitchell, being part of that whole Hendrix Experience explosion – pretty good. Or, of course John Bonham, working with Jimmy Page as the majestic Kashmir starts to emerge – just guitar and drums, JPJ then adds his fabulous textures, plus a searing Plant vocal, does it get much better? As for right now, well I love Murph’s playing and wouldn’t want to wish him any ill, but if the drumstool in the currently re-invigorated Dinosaur Jr was available…
8.What does it mean for Mugstar to be a band from Liverpool – do the geography, local culture and current music scene as well as the musical heritage associated with the city in any way inform / shape Mugstar particularly? And if so, how?
Neil: I’ve lived my entire life in Liverpool so undoubtedly the culture has imposed itself on me at some level. I don’t consciously set out to be part of the lineage of Liverpool music though. I think all of us have wide-ranging musical tastes, and Liverpool bands would probably be far less significant than, say, New York bands. In terms of the current scene, there’s a lot going on in Liverpool, a lot of bands trying new things, which can only be a positive. Also, the number of venues is helpful. It’s always easy to get gigs in Liverpool and the audience is willing to listen and support bands.
9.What challenges does the band hope to overcome in the next few years (musically or practically)?
Steve: Something we seem to be saying more and more frequently, we need to be doing Mugstar full-time.
10.If each of you could have one superpower what would you each choose?
Pete: To freeze time, because there’s not enough time in the world. You would be able to do loads of stuff, like write lots of music and go on long holidays. Save children from burning buildings and rob banks.
11.What significance does the work of minimalist composers like Philip Glass – or the Brian Eno variant thereof – have for the musical directions of Mugstar?
Neil: I recently met Rhys Chatham during his stay in Liverpool and it was fascinating to discuss minimalism with someone who is so well connected with that movement. Personally, I’m very interested in minimalism but I’d say the music we make in Mugstar only has a passing resemblance, mostly due to our love of repetition, rather than any use of systems. And repetitive music doesn’t begin with In C. Perotin was writing repetitive organa in the 12th century. I did use some electronic drones in the soundtrack though which explore tuning systems, so that’s probably the most explicit reference to minimalism in anything we’ve done. As for Eno, I’m more interested in his warped version of pop (like Before and After Science and Taking Tiger Mountain…) than his experiments in systems music.
12.Please explain the genesis and motivation behind the Hawkwind tribute project. I understand it was a long time in the making…
Steve: We’d been kicking a few Hawkwind riffs around at practices and soundchecks for a while and thought about recording something. Originally the idea was for simply a split 7″ with someone like Oneida, they were having difficulty in trying to fit the recording into their schedule, so we put feelers out to a few more bands that we really liked and thought would be suitable – and got an amazing response. So the thought was then to go for a 12″ vinyl album, but – pleasantly surprised, – we eventually ended up with over an hours worth of material – so shifted it to CD format. Yes, it took a long time to pull everything together, to allow all the bands to record and get their tracks to us, to organise the Mudhoney track from the BBC, the licensing, mastering, artwork, pressing, distro… But, well it worked out rather wonderfully in the end – well worth the wait to get something right!
13.Have there been line-up changes over the years?
Pete: I would say that Steve was the person who started it all, with the idea of doing something different musically, this current line up has been going since 2002. I think Neil joined, then I joined and Jason in 2002. It’s just developed from there. There has been changes not just to line-up, but with the music. I think you become more experienced with gigging and recording, but I think it never gets any easier. There’s a constant evolving with the music.
14.What was your best gig to date?
Neil: Uh, there have been so many I’d struggle to single out one. It can be weird that sometimes everything is against you, small crowd, bad stage, bad sound but we still play well and manage to have some satisfaction, often more so than some of the bigger and better received gigs. I guess I always like to think the best gig will be the next one. Because I like platitudinous clichés.
15.What’s your biggest fear for the band?
Steve: That we don’t get to realise our potential…
16.What’s your greatest hope for the band?
Pete: For me just to write good music and play it live.
17.Do you make the music primarily for yourselves or for a presumed audience?
Neil: When we’re in the practice room generating new material I think we just try to make the music fit together in a way that satisfies us. Once we’re performing it the situation is very different. The audience completely changes the dynamic and can push you to levels of intensity you didn’t know you were capable of. The challenge when recording is to try to recapture some of that intensity but in a form that bears repeated listening.
18.Tell us about your upcoming soundtrack and film.
Steve: We’d talked on and off about doing a film for quite a while really, with varying degrees of seriousness. Neil was really into it and had written a script “Ad Marginem”, before meeting with film-maker Liam Yates, Liam was keen to do it and the two of them spent much of last year putting it together. The band worked to the images being produced, reworking sections to various scenes and edits until the final version was in place. We premiered it by playing the soundtrack live to the screen images at the Blue Coat in Liverpool and recently have recorded the soundtrack to be released on DVD and audio only (vinyl or CD) versions hopefully.
It’s been really good in that it made us write a set of music that’s quite different to much of what has gone before.
19.Do you have any more European tours coming up in the near future?
Steve: It’s being looked into right now. We’ve just signed to the Elastic Artists roster – they’re working on it for us, we definitely aim to get over there this year.
20.Who would be your dream-opening act if Mugstar were headlining Wembley?
Neil: I’ve always loved playing with Oneida. They generate so much energy when they play, and how they can sustain it when they do their long duration performances (10 hours at ATP) I have no idea. But going on after them would really push us.
21.What is your most treasured piece of kit from your current actual instruments?
Neil: My ’64 Burns.
Steve: My custom DW kit – sounds and feels so good. Just about every sound engineer I work with seems to love it too.
22.Are you all friends outside the band?
Steve: Yes. Well we’ve managed to put up with each other for a fair few years now, – we get along pretty well.
23.Have you ever considered wearing costumes on stage and if so, what?
Pete: A giant pineapple.
24.If you were to organise another tribute album which band would it be for?
Steve: We have thought about possibly doing it again, a few names have been thrown about – Neu!, Sabbath, Can, Fairport… don’t know…
25.Yes or The Sex Pistols?
Neil: I know I’m taking this waaay too seriously, but dichotomies aren’t always helpful. As Derrida said, “unless a distinction can be made rigorous and precise it isn’t really a distinction.” I love punk and it made a huge impact on my attitude to music but the theorising was riddled with bullshit. All the year zero/never trust a hippie stuff was insane. Prog and punk were pitched as polar opposites, but where does that leave a band like This Heat, who distinctly had one foot in each camp?
Yes did some great music but were guilty, like many of their contemporaries of getting pretty carried away into bombast. The Pistols started as a great band too but once they lost Lydon they were just as directionless, self indulgent and overblown as the worst excesses of pro.
26.Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin?
Neil: I love the Sabs, me. Zep were good too.
Steve: I love Zep, me. The Sabs were good too.
27.Hawkwind or Motörhead?
Steve: Of course we love both, but if you want a decision… Hawkwind circa ’72 with the Lemmy, Simon King, Dave Brock turbo engine. Not cheatin’ is it!?
Neil: I only saw Motorhead once and the bass was inaudible in the mix. That made me sad.
28.Ice cream or Sticky Toffee Pudding?
Neil: I went to Cartmel once, that claims to be the home of sticky toffee pudding. And I was born in Cartmel Road. Sticky toffee pudding is best enjoyed with a scoop of ice cream.
Steve: Sticky Toffee Pudding… with cream.
29.Latitude or Green Man?
Steve: Both great festivals on amazing sites, we played the very first Latitude – had a brilliant time. Generally though, I think the Green Man line-ups are probably more interesting now.
Neil: From my experiences of playing these festivals, I can definitely say that Latitude wins hands down as far as weather goes. Although I didn’t get sunburn at Green Man, that was never going to be a problem there.
30.Paris or London?
Neil: London has the National Gallery and Paris has the Louvre, so both cities have a lot to recommend them.
Behind The Wall Of Sleep talk to Dave W and Ego Sensation of New York’s spacerock travellers WHITE HILLS. Blending psychedelia, space rock, kraut rock and even classic rock into one throbbing mass, White Hills are an ever changing entity and always striving to break barriers. With 12 official releases under their belt and many more CDR limited pieces, White Hills are one of the hardest working bands out there. New album ‘H-p1’ is released in the spring…
Could you start by giving us a history of how White Hills came to be?
Ego Sensation: White Hills started as a solo project of Dave’s. He made an album called “No Game To Play” and got such a positive response from it that he decided to put a band together.
Has the band developed in a way that you expected?
ES: There have been some great surprises along the way such as the ability to play with a variety of talented musicians such Shazzula, Kid Millions, the Docter, and Antronhy among others. I feel that has kept our sound dynamic and in a certain sense experimental.
Dave W: Certain things have developed the way I wanted them to others not, but that’s ok. It’s a game of adaption. You try something out see what works what doesn’t. In the end whatever happens is all for the best and shapes what White Hills is.
White Hills have a very strong heavy space rock and psychedelic feel, how important are these types of music to you? Can you tell us about the influences you have brought to this heady brew
ES: There are so many influences it’s hard to know where to begin. We are both huge music fans with Dave taking it to an extreme level. He’s virtually a walking encyclopedia of bands/artists stretching over many genres! Personally, while I love a lot of heady music I’m more often inspired by a completely different genre or even medium that I’d want to translate into a White Hills song.
Talking of space rock you were recently involved in the ‘In Search Of Hawkwind’. Do you think hawkwind have finally got the recognition they deserve or are they forever gonna be seen as unfashionable in the eyes of the music establishment?
DW: Unfortunately, I think that they will always be seen as unfashionable because the majority of people just view them as a hippy band. The word “hippy” has such a bad connotation in so many peoples mind’s today. What people don’t see is that they were so much more than just another hippy band. They were true PUNKS to the core…spacey yes, but scathing and brutal as well, which is something that you don’t associate with “hippy” music.
I do think they have received recognition but not the recognition that they deserve. They were pioneers of uncharted territory that paved the way for so many bands to follow. Even the punk movement of the 70’s, the whole DIY thing. I mean they weren’t on the bill at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970, but they set up their own stage and played it anyway. Now that’s DIY to the core!
How do you think having Thrill Jockey behind you has helped White Hills?
ES: Not only have they helped us gain a wider audience, but they’ve also been very supportive in terms of nurturing our artistic growth. Thrill Jockey is a great label run by a smart businesswoman with vision and guts and everyone that works there is dedicated and solid. To be able to work with a record label based on mutual respect is absolutely ideal. Ultimately, having Thrill Jockey behind us has allowed us to focus more of our energy where it should be- on the music.
Your discography has lots of short run CDRs, vinyl and tour releases. Which i must say include some amazing alternative versions! Why this approach?
ES: We record a lot! Dave is pretty prolific when it comes to producing new songs and soundscapes. Why hold back? Let the music be heard!
DW: At the time the band started there was a scene around CD-r releases. Now it seems that cassettes have taken over that market. Many bands were doing it. It’s an easy relatively inexpensive way to get your music out there. I figured why wait to have someone else release your music when you can do it yourself. If you have the means, capability and drive… go for it!
I’m also a music collector at heart. I thought this was a good way to create something special and unique for the collector.
What can you tell us about ‘White Hills’? What are some of the musical influences and themes explored on this record?
DW: Before we recorded the album we hadn’t been playing with Kid for a while. We had recently finished a European Tour of which Kid was not a part of. We had a limited time to get it done. The three of us rehearsed a few times and then went into the Ocropolis and banged out the a bunch of jams that formed the album. The album is very loose and it took shape in a very organic way.
That album was recorded so long ago…to tell you the truth I haven’t the foggiest idea as to what I was drawing influence from at that time. I just wanted to try and make something different from anything we had done before. I think it’s the darkest album we’ve made so far and it’s the least political. Three Quarters being the only protest song so to speak. I also wanted to expand lyrically, which I feel that I did.
There seems for be a lot of great bands around at the moment. Are there any bands you feel a great comradery with?
DW: MUGSTAR, GNOD, CAVE, Terminal Lovers, of course ONEIDA, Pontiak and Serpentina Satelite to name a few.
There’s so much good music out there it’s hard to take it all in at times.
Having Oneida’s Kid Millions as your Brooklyn drummer must be a hell of an experience. How does this compare to touring with someone else?
DW: Playing with Kid is definitely a pleasure and it has helped us grow our sound and explore in ways that weren’t possible before. We really haven’t played with Kid much over the last year due to his schedule and ours. Since then we’ve picked up Lee Hinshaw as our drummer.
Kid will always be welcome to join us when he can. We have such a back log of material recorded with him that is still finding it’s way out to the public. Both of us are about to embark on mixing a massive track we recorded for the S/T album last year that includes Showtime from Oneida joining us as well. We hope to get this released sometime this year.
As far as touring…playing with different drummers often can be strange, beautiful, and horrifying. Fortunately that is behind us now…at least for the time being.
You have recently expanded you line up to include the infamous Shazzula on keyboards. Is this a permanent set up and how has it impacted on your sound?
DW: Shazzula is amazing! We’ve been searching for a like minded person to take on the synth duties live but haven’t been able to find anyone that fit in right. The last time we were over in Europe I asked if she would join us at a few shows and it all just fell together perfectly.
Since then she has joined us on stage at ATP in NY and in the UK. She’ll always be welcome to join us when the timing works out!
Shazzula also appears on our new album. We recorded it the day after we performed at ATP in NY. We spent 2 days at the Ocropolis (Oneida’s studio in Brooklyn) which is where we recorded the last album. The recordings turned out better than I could have hoped for.
As far as it impacting our sound…Shazzula has brought her take on synthesis to the music. Playing live with her also adds another dimension for all of us to play off of. The results have been very pleasing to us all.
You recently played with Flaming Lips in Los Angeles – how did this come about and how was it? Was this the biggest White Hills crowd?
DW: The show was actually in Oakland, CA. That’s northern California verses southern California.
Little to my knowledge at the time…Wayne is a big fan of ours. Their booking agent contacted ours. It was as easy as that. Needless to say it was a thrill for all of us. We are all big fans of the Flaming Lips and it was just mindblowing for us to have them want us to play with them. The Lips crew made us all feel at home…they all were so welcoming and friendly, which is something you don’t see often in this business. The experience couldn’t have been any better for us!
Was it the biggest crowd…quite possibly. ATP in NY was close as was playing with Julian Cope at KOKO.
What have you got planned for the immediate future?
DW: As far as releases go, we will have a new album, titled “H-p1”, coming out on Thrill Jockey in the spring. The reinstated Trensmat Label is releasing a 45 and we are working on a split LP with the band Farflung from Los Angeles.
There is also a couple of side projects I’ve been working on that will finally see the light of day. A Verily White Hills 45 on Drug Space Records and the long awaited release of the Ff album. This is the band that Antronhy (drummer for Julian Cope’s Black Sheep) and I have been working on over the last year.
Besides these releases we will be playing at this year’s SxSW Festival in Austin, TX, Roadburn in Tilburg, Holland, and at the Austin Psych Fest (which is put on by the Black Angeles). We will of course be touring in Europe and the US in support of our new album.
TEETH OF THE SEA
“We basically just set out to make a musical version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis as played by The Butthole Surfers and Tangerine Dream.”
Whilst spinning around in their own outer orbit London’s Teeth of the Sea speak to Behind The Wall of Sleep.
Named after the French translation of the film Jaws – ‘Les Dents De La Mer’ – Teeth Of The Sea are gnawing into your consciousness. Be aware!
How did Teeth Of The Sea come to be?
A combination of factors really. Jimmy and I had been knocking about in noisy garage rock bands for years, all of which had pretty much petered out by mid-2006, but we were still paying for rehearsal space which wasn’t getting used. At the same time Jimmy, Mike, John and Darren (who all worked together) wanted to get a drone/noise thing together, so it made sense to use our space. They asked me down to play some trumpet and that was the start of JAWS. Darren moved to Australia in 2007 which left just the 4 of us and about that time we changed our name to Teeth Of The Sea due to a few other bands with the name JAWS (JAWS was called ‘Les Dents De La Mer’ in France so we just went with the straight translation). That was the line-up that put out Orphaned By The Ocean at the start of 2009. That was also the time we parted ways with John and replaced him with Mat, which is the line up to this date and responsible for the Hypnoticon EP and Your Mercury.
Has the band developed in a way that you expected?
I don’t think any of us had any expectations at the start of the band, it was just a good excuse to get together, drink some beer and clear the psychic custard as it were. Musically the big inspiration at the start was Wolf Eyes and we were definitely aiming for something a lot more abrasive. We were using really distorted drum loops and it had a Throbbing Gristle, early-Cabaret Voltaire feel to it. Gradually, however, the shocking realisation came that we could put stuff together which sounded quite impressive and a lot more conventionally ‘musical’ than we had originally intended. I think since then the aim has been to occupy the space between improvisation, composition and fucking brain-bleeding, excoriating noise. The addition of Mat on drums was another big step in the development of the sound. Where Orphaned definitely had at least one foot in drone we’ve become noticeably more kinetic and dynamic on the 2 releases since.
TOTS sound quite diverse on record, can you tell us about the influences you have brought to this heady brew
Being 4 geeks in our 30s there’s obviously a huge amount of influences on what we do, too many to give a comprehensive list of, but here goes: I think if you’re talking classic ‘holy grail’ bands and artists, people who we all love and have undoubtedly shaped what we do then I’d say Can, This Heat, Boredoms, Hawkwind, Eno, Miles Davis and Throbbing Gristle would all have to be in there, as much for their approach and spirit as the way their records sound. In terms of contemporary bands Liars (‘They Were Wrong So We Drowned’ and ‘Drums Not Dead’ period) and Emeralds would have to get a mention too. Individually we all have quite varying tastes: Jimmy comes from a more metal background than the rest of us and would undoubtedly list Sabbath and Maiden in his guitar influences, as well as more out-rock stuff like Skullflower and Chrome; Mike tends towards more electronic stuff and has latterly introduced us to the likes of Skyramps, Keith Fullerton Whitman and Ben Frost, all of whom have made their presence felt on the TOTS sound in one way or another. Mat is an ex-mod and brings a huge wealth of knowledge about British Psyche and Beat, bands called things like Mandrake Paddle Steamer, July and The Cloude Shoppe, as well as jazz, performance poetry and, increasingly, black metal. I’ve a background in playing jazz on the trumpet and inept garage rock on the guitar, and have tried to fuse this high/low brow approach into something coherent in TOTS, sort of Jon Hassell meets The Count Five. I
Your Mercury has a very strong krautrock and psychedelic feel, how important are these types of music to you?
Whilst we are undoubtedly influenced by Krautrock bands – I mentioned Can above but you can easily add Neu!, Cluster, Harmonia and Aamon Duul II to that – I think that these are pretty fashionable influences to drop at the moment, subsequently you hear quite a lot of bland approximations around. It’s pretty easy to stick some repetitive stuff over a Neu beat and claim to be part of that lineage, which for me totally misses the point of what all those bands were trying to do anyway. This was something we’ve always been very keen to avoid, someone in the room will always call bullshit the minute we start sounding ‘too Neu’ or ‘too Can’. Likewise with psychedelia, which is a pretty loose term anyway, I think the spirit of adventure and technology-abuse are more important to us than lovingly replicating the classic Leslie rotary speaker sound. Irreverence is the key.
What can you tell us about Your Mercury – why that title in particular? What are some of the musical influences and themes explored on this record?
We actually had the track title ‘You’re Mercury’ first, which is a line from Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. There then followed an intensely frustrating period of trying to come up with a title for the whole album (we actually had over 100 suggestions between us that we discarded, no joke). Eventually someone suggested ‘Your Mercury’ with the different spelling and it just seemed to fit. (I’ve always liked it when bands have self referential puns in things, eg Saints have a song called ‘Know Your Product’ and another called ‘No, You’re Product’. I think it’s the crossword buff in me). In terms of significance the title works on a several levels. There’s the outer-space connotations of it and the fact that the music is dynamically pretty mercurial too. Also, Mercury was the Roman god of trade, and it’s no coincidence that we all work in shops. Lastly, it’ll give tabloid newspaper sub-editors a field day when we inevitably win the Mercury Music Prize in August.
In terms of musical influences, I’ve gone over a lot of the specific artists in previous answers, but the aim with Your Mercury was to create something really all encompassing from these, combined with all the film, art and literature we’re into too. We’re really into ridiculous over-arching concepts, sci-fi films and novels and London psychogeography. We basically just set out to make a musical version of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis as played by The Butthole Surfers and Tangerine Dream. For me, the idea of the City is very important in what we do, it’s definitely urban music. But it’s a London seen through the eyes of people who’ve read too much Iain Sinclair and JG Ballard and watched Tron and Flash Gordon a lot rather than some tedious ‘authentic’ notion of what London is.
How do you feel Your Mercury compares to Orphaned by the Ocean or indeed the 24 minute Hypnoticon?
We all feel that it’s a definite step up for us. Orphaned was put together very piecemeal and was really a snapshot of where we were at the time. It’s the sound of us learning to write and record together really, but I’m still really proud of it. It has a nice murky feel which is part intentional, part ineptitude. Hypnoticon I suppose was a great stop-gap release between the two. It was Mat’s first appearance on a TOTS record and it introduced us to Southern Studios where we did Your Mercury. I seem to recall it being pretty effortless in comparison to the two albums, the material was pretty much laid down straight without too much beating ourselves up over overdubs, mixing etc. In contrast we really slaved away on Your Mercury. For starters it was composed far more as a complete piece than previous efforts. We spent ages making sure every single detail was right, from a long period of hibernation at the start of the year when we wrote the thing, to being perfectionists in the studio recording and mixing. We also took pains over running order, segues, track titles, even down to fonts and credit lists. Subsequently I think the record is far more consistent than either of the previous releases both in terms of the quality of the music and the thematic feel of the thing.
It seems Your Mercury has been well received in the UK, ending up in some end of the year lists, how has it been received outside of the UK?
To be honest I’ve no idea. It’s appeared on a couple of European blogs so there’s obviously one or two people who’ve heard it, but I don’t think we’re in Depeche Mode territory just yet. Hopefully we’ll get to play in Europe before the end of the year, and obviously we’d love to get further afield, it’s just a question of time and money really.
I think TOTS are quite difficult to pigeon hole, are there any bands you feel a great comradery with?
In London there’s very few bands who I think we operate in a similar way to. Whilst there have been some decent bands coming out of our neck of the woods in recent years (Factory Floor, Bo Ningen, Hyrst) we don’t really hang out with any of them. The 2 bands who we have spent the most time with and probably played the most shows with are Gnod from Manchester and Thoughtforms from Bristol, and I think there’s definitely some common ground there. Both bands fuse an experimental sensibility with a gung-ho attitude to performing and this is something we’ve always prided ourselves on.
What are your touring plans? Will you be staying in the UK or straying further afield?
We have some dates with British Sea Power in February (Leeds, Glasgow, Newcastle and Manchester) which we’re really excited about. It’ll be interesting to see how we cope with larger spaces. I’m also curious as to how BSP’s fans respond to us. They’re very much an indie band, but a really good one, and I think their fans are pretty broad minded so hopefully some of them will be into it. Other than that everything’s up in the air at the moment. There’s a few promising ‘maybes’ in the pipeline that I don’t want to jinx by talking about just yet and we’re definitely going to try and get to Europe later in the year. As far as full UK tours go it’s just a question of what the best option is, I’m not sure enough people really know about us to embark on a headline tour of our own just yet, but we’ll see how that goes.
What have you got planned for the immediate future?
Other than the British Sea Power dates (February 12-15th) we have an appearance at the Roundhouse Rising festival at the end of Feb (24th), then probably some more London dates in early March. We have a couple of mooted festival appearances we’re just waiting on confirmation of too, all these will be listed on the usual my**ace, f***book channels. Other than that we have a video to make and some remixes to do, again watch this space for details