The Guillemots have been generating a whole lot of buzz recently. They haven't even released their first album but their EP was enough to get them nominated for MOJO's 2006 Best Newcomer Award and win them countless comparisons to Coldplay.
This interview was conducted at the backstage area of the Komedia in Brighton with Fyfe Dangerfield of the Guillemots.
Hello. (reading off my question sheet) "How am I at the moment?"
AH: Um.. yeah... how are you at the moment?
I'm alright, I'm alive… drinking water right now.
AH: (laughs) I was wondering how you'd conduct yourselves...
Rock and Roll debauchery, not really… I did have a glass of wine earlier on, thus the water now because I don't what to get too drunk before I go on stage. That's about the level of rock and role you find in the Guillemots. Quite pathetic really.
AH: It's civilised.
Yeah... but we have our moments... we're capable of debauchery of unthinkable levels… in our heads.
AH: I thought I'd start with your album, is it finished?
Yeah, yeah it is. Well, we're just finishing the artwork, but the sound is completely finished. We're doing the artwork ourselves with this friend of ours who's a designer. It was supposed to be due in today and we're still.. err.. doing it. But yeah, it is pretty much done. And I'm really pleased with it. I'm really pleased with it, even though I'm a bit too close to it. All I can hear is clicks and hisses and things that shouldn't be there, which no one else will ever even notice. But I thinks it's good, y'know, it's cool.
AH: The songs I've heard of yours so far have been quite different. "We're Here" seems to have gone a bit more poppy than your earlier stuff.
"We're Here" was a strange one really because, well, each song that we do is really different and "We're Here" seems to have split people, I guess because it must have had that slightly more… y'know the whole way it was quite yearning and some people have said it was like Keane or Coldplay or whatever and to me it wasn't. It has loads of strings on it and maybe some people found it too swooping... I mean I like it and I'm proud of it, and we haven't really got one song that's representative of what we do. You know we've probably released everything in the wrong order as well... I mean "We're Here" wasn't probably the right thing to follow "Trains to Brazil" but ... whatever... I don't… the album's like that. Every track's different. It's really nice that in gigs, of all our songs "Trains to Brazil" has been the one that's had the most impact, but I wouldn't want to do a second version of that song. You know there's no point. It's not really anything to do with becoming more poppy it's just changing style from song to song. To my ears "Trains to Brazil" is more poppy anyway, but depends what you call pop.
AH: Do you mind the Coldplay and Keane comparisons?
Well… I don't mind them, they are not bands I hate, they're just not bands that I particularly listen to. I think with that kind of music I often like the melodies and things but I feel the production is what lets it down really rather than the songwriting. And the lyrics, I think some of Chris Martin's lyrics these days are getting pretty lame. But I mean, it's often the production that lets them down, they're quite nice melodies but then they just have this horrible... everything's in the right place and everything's perfect and … you know you just wanna get your hands on the record and just shake it. I don't want to listen to something's that's just precise and polished. I want there to be a bit of mystery to it. I dunno.
AH: You've managed to bridge that gap quite well. Something that is both unusual and accessible...
Well we're trying to really. Well, not deliberately, in the sense that we thought " ooh what can we do, we'll do that" it was just what we naturally wanted to do as musicians and because when I was getting the band together I had all these songs but I didn't just want to play them straight. I really love loads of, so called, experimental music. To us it's not just a case of mixing experimental and pop, it's a case of mixing music together we don't really see it as, oh that's an experimental sound. It's just a case of whatever sounds good. A good sound can be a nice melody and a nice guitar line, but it could be a drill through a pickup an old tin as percussion or some cheap keyboard, it doesn't really matter... it's all sound. That's really the idea, we're just trying not to limit ourselves in the way that we arrange our songs. People were doing that all the time in the Sixties, it's just that people have got a little bit streamlined and a bit sanitised. You either make pop music or you make underground music, and I don't see why the two shouldn't be compatible.
AH: Do you think something of the Sixties music scene is coming back?
It was a good decade, people do over mythologize it maybe but, y'know records were topping the charts that were daring and the agenda for getting on the radio was to make something startling so it'll jump out of the speakers. And now if you make something that jumps out the speakers it won't get played on the radio because it's gonna distract people. It's strange how things have changed… and you can't pay too much attention to that. I wanna make records that stand out. I think maybe we're living in quite a strange time at the moment, I think everything's becoming a little bit watered down. It's probably why a band like Arcade Fire did so well last year, because it's something a bit different.
AG: Does it bother you that the industry is a bit bland?
Umm… yeah, to a degree, but you can't start tailoring what you do to try and get played on the radio. We'll just do what we do. We think what we do is pop music, I think all the records we've made have sounded really poppy or certainly most of them. It's very hard to tell how your records come across to other people because you're so involved in them.
AH: Do you have much of an experimental background? Actually, tell me a bit about your background, how the band started... I heard something about a Utopian village?
Oh yeah! Me and Arista met there. I'm probably from the least experimental background in a way. I mean I've always liked pop music and I got quite into jazz stuff and electronic music. Well, a bunch of people were brought together by this guy in Cheltenham, and I was living there and Arista was living there and he wanted to create Utopia, and … er … He was a very strange character and ... er he wanted a sound track to this dream of his and he tried to get a bunch of us to make this music and it was awful and we all stopped doing it but I stayed in touch with Arista. Magrao did stuff in Brazil like the underground scene there, stuff like trash metal and he got bored of playing guitar and started using weird percussion, and that's how the whole typewriter thing came about. And Greg's done all kinds of stuff, he's done metal and folk and, well I guess it's quite a mix really.
AH: Do you feel reined in at all by being on a label?
Not at all, no. If anything, it means we can do all the wild things we want to do musically. We could never have afforded to have an orchestra playing on our record without being on a major label. Ethically it might not be ideal but it's the question of do we want to have a career in music or not. And we've had complete freedom in making this record, to a ridiculous level. They've just kind of let us do whatever we want and get on with it. So no. I think it probably helped us be more experimental in a way.
AH: What was it like being pursued so doggedly by the labels?
Initially it was quite exciting and then sort of laughable as it went on… more and more absurd and then after a while it just became annoying really because, initially its quite exciting when you have, well I remember the first time we had a guest list it was like 40 industry people, and it was like 'WOW'. Then it got to the point where it was like 250 people and you know that they are not there for the music, they are just there because there's nothing else around and they've just latched on us. And it just became a bit of a drag because you had to try and extract all the good people out of the bad. But I think we did that, and I think we signed with the right people.
AH: Back to the music, where does a song start for you?
It just depends, sometimes I'll just sit down and try and write something or sometimes I might just get a melody in my head and it'll just come out of the blue or it might come out of a lyric and then we write a lot of stuff as a band. Just playing in rehearsals, improvising and seeing what happens, it varies really... can come from anything.
AH: Do you think you're influenced by the art that surrounds you?
Anything really. It sounds poncy to say this, but you can be influenced by a cool band or you can be influence by the journey to the rehearsal or a conversation you have with someone or … the weather. You know, everything comes out in the way people play, or the way we play. It's just to do with being open to anything and that's why we don't just want to use guitar, bass, drums or whatever, because it's exciting to be influenced by the other noises you hear. Like the sound of traffic in London, pipes in a house or whatever. Any sound is something that can potentially feed into music.
AH: You don't get too clever about it then?
I mean... yeah! That's the thing, I think that's what we're trying to do... be imaginative without being… head-music without being... well I can't stand a lot of experimental music because all it is, is weird stuff without anything that can connect with people. I think that's the trick balance to get, to be experimental without disappearing up your own arse. (laughs) It's a fine line but I think it can be done, The Beatles managed it and they're the biggest band in the world.
AH: Would you reference them directly as influences?
Well… all kinds of stuff really, because it's different for each of us. I grew up listening to The Beatles so they're a massive influence on me, but I think Magrao only knows two Beatles songs so... It's just we've all got loads of different influences really!
AH: I guess that gives you a pretty good pool of resources.
Yeah, I think it helps us sound more original, hopefully, because we're always pulling in different directions. One of us might want it to go in a smooth R'n'B direction and someone else will say "oh my god I can't stand this kind of song" and then you'll find this middle ground that we're all happy with. And that's what's exciting, we all like music the other one would hate, although we all like a lot of music we all love as well. It's quite mixed up.
AH: I thought I'd nick my editors interview technique and end with 5 quick questions (thanks Roy).
Who's your favourite Beatle?
Um… god. I dunno. I guess George was kind of the coolest one. All of them really. I think Macca is his own worst enemy but I do think he gets a hard time sometimes. He can be a bit of a fool but he's written some great songs and it annoys me when people say he made the Beatles boring and John Lennon was the interesting one, when a lot of the time John Lennon was just arsing around, getting high or whatever, and Paul McCartney was making tape loops. But then Macca does things like The Frog Chorus and you do wonder... yeah. I like them all, I just think they're great.
Wait!! You might have been asking me about insects, you were talking about the band?
AH: Oh, yeah. Do you have a favourite insect?
No not really, butterflies maybe… moths but they're not beetles.
AH: Bad Habits?
Yeah I do, I bite my fingernails a lot. I'm really bad, I just deposit them in random places. Whenever the urge takes me I'll just drop fingernails on the floor. It's quite disgusting. Where do they go? I suppose they just decompose really.
AH: I don't know they just kind of disappear, there should be piles of them.
You cut your toenails?
AH: How else?
I pick them.
AH: Even the big one?
Yeah I just wait until I have long fingernails, its kind of a cyclical process. I haven't cut my nails in god knows how long. Shall we see if the whole band does? Greg, do you pick your toenails? (Greg says he does), yeah we pick. Arista do you cut your toenails or pick them? (Arista cuts her toenails) No. Magrao? No. ok. two and two. Me and Greg keep it real. I'll show you...
( demonstrates how you would go about this)
AH: That's tough.
It is tough. It's a good five-minute job but that's part of the fun. Look... there's a bit. Wait, why am I doing this? This is horrible. But yeah it can be done readers. As Fyfe Dangerfield has proved. FACT.
AH: What three CDs would you take to a desert island?
I'd take... there's a very good CD by a guy called Adam Boman called "Words and Music", which is a mix of him talking into a Dictaphone and weird music. It's a very good CD to remind you what humans are like. Then I'd take some free Jazz, because it's good for making you feel energised something like "Ascension" by John Coltrane. The Beatles, to remind me of when I was a nipper. I wouldn't take anything classical, 'cos if I took something like Stravinsky, like the Rite of Spring or Messian, that would just make me go insane if I was on a dessert island. I'm a sucker for epic strings but that would just make me weep, I don't want to do that. I want to be a survivor… like Beyonce. I don't really want to go to a dessert Island.
AH: What's the weirdest thing you've eaten?
Um… I was fed dog food once. As a child, a supposed friend said, 'do you want some chocolate buttons' and he was like 'oh they are actually for dogs'. That's the kind of kid I was. Greg's eaten lots of strange stuff. He eats goat quite regularly.
GREG (of the Guillemots): In Paris, I ate that steak tartar. It was interesting. I finished it as well. Almost... well, there was a little left...
He obviously wasn't enjoying it but he was determined to finish. You have to try these things.
AH: And last of the 5. Respond to the word vulgar.
AAAAAAARRRRRRRRHHHHHH EEEEEEEEEERRRRRRRR. Yeah, basically.