Tuesday, 27 January 2009

This Town Needs Guns

(This interview originally appeared in Oxford Music Scene)

Liz Dodd

It’s heroes this town needs, not guns: in a city that exports more home-grown talent than undergraduate degrees it’s easy to believe – as the national music press seem to - that anyone within spittin’ distance of the spires can pound on a hammer organ and be the next Radiohead. Not so for This Town Needs Guns, smoking hot tech-rockers who strive for musicianship that speaks for itself. Oxford Music Scene sat down with Stuart, Tim and Jamie in the Turf Tavern to talk touring, recording and The Oxford Effect.

OMS: This is a one week hiatus for you guys between tours: how were the last few dates with Jonquil?

Stuart: It was probably one of the best tours we’ve done for turnouts and things like that, certainly as a headline band. We were getting 50-100 people a night, which was pretty good considering it wasn’t a hometown show.

OMS: You’ve got a ‘homecoming’ Oxford gig coming up: do you see yourselves as a product of the ‘Oxford movement’ – the Foals, Youth Movies success wave?

Stuart: Pretty much every interview has been like, what’s with Oxford? You know, the only things that those bands have in common is that they’re the only ones that have got off their arse and started touring. It seems as though there’s this pattern that a lot of bands in Oxford take... whether it’s laziness or lack of commitment: bands play the same venues week in and week out, or they go play London. For some of them it will work out: they’ll probably end up with a major label and it’ll be great for 5 minutes – and then they’ll realize, crap, no one wants to buy our records.

OMS: Your album, Animals, is out this month. In a recent interview you talked about a ‘real’ sound for the album: what do you mean by that?

Stuart: We were talking about getting a big producer, but what’s the point? We knew what we wanted. We just wanted it to sound like... the sound like it was. Quite a stripped down record.

Jamie: We’d take out the monitors, which can’t always be done in some places, it just sounds a lot better. We get really excited about recording and sit there for an hour playing the same thing, to get it perfect... it’s like, this is driving me crazy, but when it’s done it’s amazing.

Stuart: The technicality of the music is such that if any sort of effects were employed you wouldn’t be able to hear the nuances or anything like that in the music... everything didn’t get drenched in reverb like some shitty post-rock record.

OMS: Is that what you listen for in other artists, proficiency?

Stuart: We’re into quite a range of stuff. I think we all get a lot out of musicianship: there’s nothing more disappointing than seeing a band live that sounds crap. We like music that’s emotionally based, or provokes some kind of emotional response from the listener. Although Jonquil have turned us on to the delights of Paramore...

OMS: And you guys, along with Battles, Foals, are switching people on to this whole area of tech music...

Tim: I think that it’s brilliant that people are listening to the bands that we love. It’s amazing to me. Some people have asked us in the past whether we think we might be a gateway band for other stuff, which isn’t something that I’m altogether sad about. I get really excited when people say they haven’t heard something, because for me, as a guitarist, the sound in, like, Owls is on another plane.

OMS: You’re not including any of your old, harder hits on Animals, though?

Stuart: Loads of people on this tour have asked us why there aren’t the older songs on the new album... it’s more that we’re pursuing new roots and trying new things and being a bit more experimental. Most people have understood that. We just want to get on to writing songs. We might have done better if we’d waited, not released records, until we had a back catalogue of awesome songs and then been like, ‘we’re shit hot’. But we just wanted to have fun... play some gigs with our friends and have a good time. Up until now we’ve always been guilty of having other commitments: now we’ve got a chance to go and do some pretty good tours and get ourselves out there. I don’t think we’re aiming for major label stardom, or anything like that - but at the same time... we could reach a pretty comfortable level.

The Automatic @ The Carling Academy, Oxford

October 2008

(This article originally appeared in Oxford Music Scene)

What’s that, coming over the hill? Is it by-numbers pub-rock clap-along British indie?

Well, not entirely. When The Automatic open tonight’s gig with eccentric single ‘Raoul’ (which, admittedly, I’d completely forgotten they’d written), my preconceptions about the headliners – whose reputation was largely built on the mysterious success of that ‘Monster’ single - vanish as quickly as my overpriced Jack’n’Coke.

If only it could last. The majority of the set is constructed around stagnant, barked choruses and identical guitar twangs. Heart-wrenchingly, the band can do much more than lift off from formulaic mediocrity, and it’s here that you see them struggling to crash through the gluey hype one over-played single has smothered their career in. ‘This Is A Fix’, from the new album by the same name, is nerve-shreddingly fast: discordant guitars wrestle into a barely coherent wall of sound while the vocals, completely disconnected, limp and lunge over the surface. In terms of adrenaline it’s all very Last Shadow Puppets: closer ‘Light Entertainment’ is another pleasant surprise, piling riffs asthmatically impenetrable for a tighter, heavier dose of rock.

The shock conclusion of the night is that there is innovative talent at work in The Automatic. It bursts out, sarcastic and progressive, on some live tracks. But for every daring moment there are five back-catalogue hits of disappointing mediocrity, built around the number of opportunities for tame audience participation per song. That The Automatic have kept crowd pleasers well-apart and that darker stuff is making an appearance hopefully indicates a change of direction: this is a fix, but with the success of ‘Monster’ well behind them, it’s about time they showed us what they’ve got.

Liz Dodd