Monday, 23 February 2015

An interview with IAALS

We did an interview with I Am A Lungfish Song that was translated into French. Here is the English version. Go and read that excellent blog here.

What is the story behind Total Victory?

I (Dan) had split from an old band and was working a shitty job and living in an unfamiliar town and needed some kind of thing to occupy my time and brain. I put an ad out in 2007 for people wanting to play noise-rock kind of like XBXRX and Skin Graft/Gold Standard Labs kind of music. Matt L (bass) and Matt E (guitar) joined, followed by James (drums) one drunken day at a festival.

We realised we couldn't play at 200kph like those bands so we slowed down and tried to not sound so forced and began to incorporate our regional identities and actual personalities a little more. Martin (guitar) was a friend and fan who we asked to add guitar to The Pyramid of Privilege and gradually we forced him to join full-time.

If it were a film it would be a strange story about a group of people who were nobodies at home and vaguely interesting to people somewhere else. Like the opposite of Cool Runnings (which was called Rasta Rockett in France).




Is it the band’s answer to people’s daily defeats?

No. If anything we make them feel worse. 'What The Body Wants, The Body Gets'. Christ.

Is TOTAL VICTORY a proletarian rock band?

That's a really tough answer to give. We have class-based sympathies and loyalties but through the means of education and the hard work of our parents' generation we have all probably gained a social position that makes 'proletarian' an inappropriate description. None of us has any money. Left-wing? Sure. We're all different people and I can't speak for everyone's personal politics.

What is it like to live in Greater Manchester? Would you make the same music if you were from the Lake District?

Chris, when your questions arrived this is the one that caused band members the most problems. You see, we have now been a band in the midst of a existential-geographical crisis and I feel that this is now the moment to express that. Apologies for the indulgence.

'Greater Manchester' was created as part of the Local Government Act of 1972 which moved towns from their historic counties into a series of new boroughs and districts for the ease of governance. Greater Manchester was created by grouping together Wigan (where I am from), Bolton (where Matt E and Martin are from), Salford (Matt L) and other places between (James), removing them from their originally designated county of Lancashire.

Greater Manchester

On one hand Greater Manchester makes perfect sense because it is a continuous urban area. Greater Manchester itself is unremarkable, with large stretches of post-industrial grey sandwiched between branches of Betfred. There are nice parts of Greater Manchester, particularly around Trafford and Bury, but on the whole it is a region that does not aesthetically live up to the importance of its history or dignity of its patrons. It is best described as 'functional'.

However, many of the band still strongly identify with the wider county of Lancashire. Lancashire has expansive moorland, a fantastic coastline, rich and fertile countryside, rugged hills and historic forestry. Lancashire has a heritage and a cultural and linguistic culture that influences much of our daily life, whilst Greater Manchester is simply a formation of towns to better influence planning policy. Much of this wider Lancashire is similar to, if less spectacular than, the Lake District itself. 

Lancashire pre-1974 (click to enlarge)

In short, I think one of the threads operating through the heart of what we've been doing for years is being caught in this administrative trap. We are told that we are Greater Manchester, squat and solid, but we feel we belong to Lancashire.

If we'd have been from the Lakes we would never have encountered this dilemma and would likely have ended up as five different versions of Alfred Wainwright, mistrustful of music and silently stalking the hills and mentally tallying the best route up Blencathra in time to get the last bus back to Keswick.

National Service is a magnificent album from beginning to end. Without nostalgia, it sometimes makes me think of the golden era of (real) emo-rock bands in the 90’s. Half-sung, half spoken lyrics with so much intensity, emotion and feeling… Were these bands (HOOVER, NAVIO FORGE, INDIAN SUMMER, NATIVE NOD, MOSS ICON, FABRIC…) an influence for you or don’t you give a fuck to any particular scenes?

Thanks for the compliments. I have only heard of two of those bans (Hoover and Moss Icon) but I can't say that I am familiar with their music (a concert poster once advertised us as sounding a bit like Moss Icon though so if it sounds like we ripped them off then I PROMISE it is an accident). You can definitely trace certain lines from those bands to what we do, even if unconsciously or unknown to us.

I think that in our music there's a strain of Ron Johnson Records bands like Bogshed, Jackdaw With Crowbar and A Witness, outsider Scottish stuff like Dog Faced Hermans and Badgewearer. It's hard to deny bands like The Fall, Country Teasers and The Ex as certain kinds of influences, if only a case of trying to pursue your own vision as far as you can go.

One problem we have is that we don't all like the same music. I think the only band we can all agree are great is Kong.

Why is ‘National Service’ your best album so far? Give all the reasons! Did you hit ‘the real thing’ on this record?

As a band we had quite a long learning curve. It took a while to understand what our strengths were. It took time to gain experience of how to record ourselves to make us sound how we want to sound. The first album was recorded over the course of a year and the identity is not as strong or coherent, sonically-speaking, throughout the tracks. I like these songs still, but I agree that NS is a better LP.

Some of the songs on National Service are taken from ideas that we just did not know how to utilise for years. For instance, the title track: the bassline that runs throughout the verses is as old as the band itself, but the song was just not there. The rhythm for Reverse Formation used to belong to another song that had a weak chorus, whilst the ending belonged to another song that had a weak verse.

Adding Martin to the band was a big help too. He is the Mark van Bommel to the rest of the band's Sneijder, Robben, Kuyt and van Persie.

I went away in 2010 for a little while to study. During this time in seclusion I began to write songs like Churchbuilder, Holy Cross and What The Body Wants. It was a dark time and I probably spent more time on these things than I ordinarily would. Once those songs fed through a few rehearsals and we mangled and changed them to how they sound now, it felt like we had enough songs that had sufficient interest and variety to put out.

Most artists that I read interviews by talk about how they never listen to their old stuff and just keep moving forwards. I've listened back to the record a few times since its release and I feel really pleased with it. We've got a really good set-up for working as a band that tries to make good music and continue being friends, but a very poor set-up for a band trying to make money or be professional.

What can we expect for the next one to come this year?

The songs are shorter and more immediate. Some of the songs use different tunings. The working title is Chapel of Rest. That may change. There are currently 12 songs being considered for inclusion but that might come down to 10 for the release.

Here's a message I sent to ML before we began demoing.

I'm thinking mystical Lancashire (pre-74), I'm thinking trig points, I'm thinking borders and boundaries, I'm thinking pre-Beeching, I am seeing Stanley Matthews, I'm thinking Ted Hughes getting insulted on the streets of Mytholmroyd for being a poet.”

Vocals, the lyrics immediately stand out in your music. Was it intentional? What do you like to talk about? Is it crucial to make people think?

Lyrics are decided more by the things that I do NOT want to talk about. I don't want to make 'relationship songs' because I have a very limited perspective on them. I don't want to make songs too didactic or partisan about social and political ideas because I believe that ambiguity is a more powerful key to people's hearts and minds. I prefer direct language to 'poetic' language. Also I have to consider the other people in the group. I don't want to say anything that I don't think they would be uncomfortable playing music to.

It isn't crucial to make people think. A lot of our fans don't speak English but they seem to connect with some aspect of what we do. We have people who come to see us and get drunk and jump around and we love them (and their money) just the same.

A lot of the time it is about the sound of somebody's voice rather than what they're saying. For instance I think a lot of Black Flag's lyrics are silly when you break them down but Rollins really sings them with force and to me that sounds better than a 'clever' band like The Decemberists.

Songs are whole objects with words and instruments and the sound of my voice as just one part of that. Also, as I have a more public role as I am seen to be the person 'speaking', I think that people place a greater degree of importance on the things that I say. I'm incredibly flattered by the interest and am happy to talk about it, but it isn't intentional.

You seem to be really interested in ‘people’…

That's fairly astute. I'm not sure I understand them. It's a curiosity, like when a dog looks at a skateboard.

We need National Service’, ‘Secession Day’, ‘King of Discipline’, ‘It’s war, disarm me and put me in the army’…was it like a conceptual album?

No. These are probably unconscious themes. You could draw references to parts of the body or stretches of water through the two albums, for instance.

Your music is real ‘classy’! Can you talk about the instrumentation? It’s not just a matter of drums, guitars and vocals… Would you like to experience more on your coming LP?

The prize for this deserves to go to James, Matt L and Matt E. Our albums cost nothing to record.
We record in our rehearsal space when every other band is quiet. James engineers things with the practised patience of an industry professional and sets good quality microphones up in a technically-appealing way. Matt E mixes from a distance with a good ear for space and restraint and Matt L masters on his laptop over an intense week with an ever-filling ashtray.

We don't really do more than three takes of anything. Most of the songs are designed to play live in a small environment so we can't incorporate technical tricks or complicated machinery or too many additional musicians. We're also very insular and have achieved our best results working alone.

If we had money then maybe we would use a studio and take our time but I think that the process has really helped us rather than hindered us. Fewer headaches and pressures. I really believe in reducing decision fatigue and you can do that by owning less gear and trying to do more with what you have.

It seems you’re more ‘popular’ in France than in your own country. How do you explain that? Is the British underground rock scene active and creative?

We have had conversations and the best guess that we have is that France places more importance on our approximate area of music than anywhere else we have encountered. Selling vinyl in Britain is hard because few of the fans we do have own turntables. In France, it seems to be largely the case that everyone does. It also seems that our music paints a picture of something that maybe being British renders you too close to see, whilst at a casual distance – say the width of the English Channel – it takes on a certain dimension.

French promoters reached out to us in a way British ones rarely have (e.g. they offered us money to cover our costs). There is a completely vibrant and active underground rock scene in the UK but we're just not part of it. We don't get asked to play shows and we don't get put on festivals and for the larger part people are simply unaware that we exist.

We also fall a little between two camps as we're probably too noisy and left-field for the standard rock audience out in the smaller towns and perhaps too conventional for a more knowledgeable crowd in the city. We have played 'art' shows where audiences, previously rapt for unbearable improvised and mumbled songs on an out-of-tune guitar and toy drum, left the building for our rehearsed and competent music. We have played shows with generic local bands where the reaction made us feel like we were tearing up Bibles in 15th century Rome.

Manchester always has good bands that you've never heard of playing in small spaces. Look up a band called Locean and you'll see what I mean.

A few words on your French tour last year?

It was very good. Less crazy than the first one. Nothing bad happened. Everyone was so nice to us. Returning home was terrible, I wanted to stay for much longer.

What are the pros and cons to have so many labels to be associated for the release of your albums?

All pros. Everyone involved are really great people who clearly care a great deal about music. More people equates to more affirmation from a wider range of people, so they can individually sell the record to people in their area. We felt really confident about working with everyone involved. It also minimises risk to any one person. Bastien from Tandori took charge and everybody worked well together.

If your music is serious you seem to have a good sense of humour. Can you give me an example?


January’s not over yet. Give me five of your 2015 resolutions!

1. Record and release new album.
2. Fully rehabilitate my knee.
3. Listen to more Level 42.
4. Visit an outlying British island.
5. PROFIT

Thank you so much for answering my questions.
Thank you for asking them.

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