An Interview with The Soundcarriers (Full Transcript, 2010)

The Soundcarriers (2010)

I spoke to Paul Isherwood and Adam Cann outside the Cafe Bar at Nottingham Contemporary in September 2010, just after the second Soundcarriers LP, Celeste, had been released. An edited version of the conversation appeared in LeftLion in December that year. Since then, they’ve released two further full-length albums – The Other World Of The Soundcarriers (The Great Pop Supplement) and Entropicalia (Ghost Box) – and I have since worked with Pish myself, in making the collaboration that became Exotica Suite (2015), a set of recordings to which Adam Cann and Dorian Conway also contributed. A fifth, as yet untitled, Soundcarriers LP is currently in development.

I remember reading somewhere that the band first came together over a shared love of John Barry’s ‘Midnight Cowboy’ soundtrack – is that true?

Pish: We were all into listening to similar things, and that was one of them when we started. It has a mix of rock and jazz and orchestral, all sorts of different stuff on that one record, so it’s that mix of different genres that tends to inspire us, rather than any one of the sounds you’ll find on that record. It wasn’t a case of one of us coming into the room with a copy of Midnight Cowboy on vinyl, waving it around and saying ‘this is it, let’s start a band right now’.

You seem to aspire to something of the mood you hear in music from the late sixties and early seventies, a very analogue kind of sound.

Pish: It’s true, that LP does sum up the mood – or moods – we often go for. It’s got a beautiful cinematic feel, but that’s also mixed with psychedelic experiment, harmonies, grooves and other sounds, a real journey from start to finish. It’s that blend of psychedelic energy and cinematic atmosphere, all very well arranged, with such great songs. That’s what we’d like to achieve on our own records.

Adam Cann: It’s also played by people who were mainly session people, often from jazz rather than straight rock backgrounds, so there’s a nice mix of styles in the playing on that LP as well as in the writing and composition. Although on stage we all have our own roles in The Soundcarriers, when we’re in the studio or rehearsing we’ll often play different things, or swap instruments, just to keep it fresh for ourselves, and the ideas coming.

One of things about bands is there’s usually an image that unites the members, but when you’re on stage it can look like you’ve all wandered in from different eras. It’s a visual mix that seems to echo the layers in the sound you make.

Pish: Yeah, I suppose we do all look pretty different, but it’s not contrived. I don’t think we’ve ever thought much about our image, to be honest – maybe we should start.

Adam: We all listen to different things, and we all listen to so much music on a day to day basis I suppose it’s inevitable we’ll have points where one of us will be bringing in things others in the band might not have heard. I think we looked a bit less different when we started, but we’ve always been four individuals rather than the kind of gang who all do the same things, and all like the same bands…

Pish: It’s also true that during times like that Midnight Cowboy phase we were all listening to that one LP a lot, and sometimes things do grab all of us all at the same time, even though at other times we’ll all be off exploring our own interests…it might only be five seconds on a particular LP, and the rest is of no interest to any of us, but that five seconds will really get a hold of us for a while and have an impact on the music we’re making.

Harmonium (Melodic)

The first album [Harmonium] is very song-based, a very catchy, poppy kind of record in some ways, while this second one [Celeste] – while it has great songs too – also seems to have much more improvisation, more stretching out, riffing and jamming going on within the songs…was that a deliberate decision, or just a result of becoming more confident as a band playing together?

Pish: I suppose it’s a bit of both. I think it’s fair to say we’d really wanted the first album to sound much more like this second one than it eventually did: we wanted more extended passages, a slightly looser feel in the playing. But because we had a huge backlog of songs we wanted to do something with, we had to do it all much more tightly to get everything on. ‘Harmonium’ was a kind of prototype for ‘Celeste’, I think…

Adam: …and we hadn’t expected the first album to be that long when we started it.

Pish: We started recording, and just found we had more and more tracks as we went on. The response we were getting to the songs meant they all needed to be on the record, which is why it ended up being a double album in the end – on vinyl, anyway. It’s still a single CD, just a long single CD.

They’ve both been double albums on vinyl – is that deliberate, or just how it turned out?

Pish: It’s not really deliberate, but with the second album it was simply a case of we couldn’t fit ten songs onto one vinyl record. And because vinyl is really important to us, we always wanted the records out on vinyl. It’s surprising how little music you can fit onto a record though – it was only when we did ‘Harmonium’ that I realised how short so many of the greatest records are – you get a single LP, 20 minutes each side – so with ‘Loaded’ by the Velvet Underground, for example, it’s not much more than half an hour from start to finish.

So if you go any longer in future, you’ll be getting into proper prog rock, box-set territory…

Adam: Actually, that’d be amazing. Maybe we can aim at a triple album next time.

Pish: Mojo have just done a record of bands covering the ‘Let It Be’ album, haven’t they? We made a track for one they did where different bands covered ‘The Wall’, so we had to pick a track off that to do a cover of, and we did the last track off it, ‘Outside The Wall’. Actually, don’t put that in – we weren’t really fans of ‘The Wall’, and we’d never really heard it, but at least the track we did was OK, it was do-able. I’d rather have been asked to do something for ‘Let It Be’…

Adam: Then again, it makes it easier if you’re doing a track you don’t like so much, isn’t it, because you’re not so bothered, and you’ll take more liberties. We could just make it up…if we’d been doing ‘Let It Be’ we’d be much more reverent, I reckon…

Pish: So what would you do off ‘Let It Be’?

Adam: I’d do ‘Yeah’ or ‘Dig A Pony’…

Pish: I’d do ‘The Long And Winding Road’. Probably on my own…

In the sleeve-notes to Celeste, it says it’s impossible to tell if your sound comes from Nottingham, the West Coast or Saturn…which sounds accurate, because it’s a very hard sound to place: do you think that’s a fair comment?

Pish: Well, it’s what a lot of people have said, which is probably why we get a lot of Stereolab and Broadcast comparisons, because I suppose they’re other bands who are hard to place, so in that way I don’t mind at all – but it gets a bit ridiculous when every review has the same comparisons. I don’t see why they can’t talk about the sound of music as well…I mean, our music, not the Sound of Music with Julie Andrews. What was the question again? Oh yeah, that it doesn’t sound like it’s from this time? That’s true, I think – lyrically, we don’t write about ordinary prosaic things, or our own mundane lives, it’s always more abstract…

Adam: I think that’s partly because although me and Pish write most of the songs, it works more as an ensemble, not a singer and songwriter who lead a band. That can be great too, obviously, if the person has something to say, but it’s not so good if it’s just about that one person and the rest of the band are just doing a background of bog-standard music, however great the lyrics might be.

Pish: That can be quite boring, if people are just listening to the lyrics, and not hearing the rest of the music – if it’s music, it has to be about the music, and if the lyrics are more important then you have to wonder why these songwriters don’t go the extra distance and become a poet?

I suppose a lot of those people would like to think of themselves that way…

Pish: …and that’s OK, if you’re good at it, but it’s not what we’re doing. I suppose that might be why some people don’t get what we do, because there isn’t that sense of the lyrics as something to latch onto, at least not as much as in a lot of other things. But other people do get it straight away, and they’re the people we’re playing for, really.

I Had A Girl (Heron)

I think the first time I heard anything of yours was when you had a track on a Chris Matthews video at Angel Row gallery before it closed…I remember thinking ‘what’s that’, so looked for the name at the end, and not long after I bought the ‘I Had a Girl’ single in Selectadisc… This was before I knew Chris as well, weirdly enough, as he’s become a good friend since too.

Pish: It is strange that not that many people know us in Nottingham, and we don’t get to play that much here. I’m not sure why that is – maybe it’s that thing of not quite fitting into any particular scene is one part of it. We seem to get bigger audiences in other places, like Manchester, Sheffield and London, but maybe that’s starting to change. We’ll have to play more gigs here and find out!

Do you all still live in Nottingham?

Adam: Yes, me Pish and Dorian all still live in Nottingham, and Leonore’s in Manchester, which is also where our label’s based – we’re basically all from Nottingham, and have lived here most of our lives. But I don’t know why it is we haven’t played here more…

Perhaps it’s that thing of the sound not really fitting in with what’s going on in other parts of the scene. There’s always been very strong hip hop or punk scenes here, things like that, but maybe not a scene The Soundcarriers would fit?

Adam: …yes, there’s always been a really strong garage band scene, too, but it does seem our sound is something that hasn’t always fitted in. That’s not necessarily true everywhere – when we played in Manchester recently, we were on with a band called Maladies of Belfontaine, who sound nothing like us, but somehow it feels like we’re coming from similar places, and we fit together, so the gig worked really well. It’s not about a particular approach, maybe it’s more about an interest in arrangements, certain approaches to putting sounds and textures together. We love melodies, grooves, harmonies – that’s definitely mainly where we’re coming from.

I suppose you’re also in the unusual position of being better known nationally than in your home town at this point, in that you’ve had a lot of press in Mojo and the London based music magazines, and places like The Independent, but don’t seem to have been quite as well covered locally.

Pish: It can be strange how these things work – we don’t find any consistency, or have a grass roots following that travels with us. Instead, we’ll play one city and there’ll be loads of people there, and in another nobody will turn up. So if we play here, it’ll be mainly for our friends and a few others who like what we do, but in Manchester it’ll be a big crowd – but then our label’s based there, so maybe that makes a difference. In a bigger city there are just more people, too, so the relatively small niches that bands like ours fit into are that much bigger too.

How did you get involved with your label? Obviously they’re quite committed to the band, as not everyone does vinyl releases, especially with the kind of care that goes into yours.

Pish: Initially we were on a smaller label, Heron, who put out the first 45, and we were going to do an album with them, but that didn’t quite work out. When Melodic Records heard the rough mixes and demos we’d done towards it, they decided they wanted to put it out. It was quite easy in a way…and it was very important to us that they could do vinyl as well as the usual CD and download releases. I think we’re the only band Melodisc do vinyl issues for, but we wanted that in our agreement with them at the start. Even if it’s only a fairly limited number of copies, it’s important to have the format available.

Adam: Yes, I think more bands are doing vinyl now as well. It’s a more permanent document of what you’ve done – like a having a book in your hands or something. It’s literally set in…well, vinyl. People talk about downloading music, and reckon vinyl is obsolete, but if the internet collapsed tomorrow, or there was a crisis in energy, at least you could work out a way of still getting a sound – or something – out of a vinyl record, which you can’t with a bit of digital code.

Pish: We’re not against the internet at all, though – it’s great for getting your music out to people, and spreading the word about what you’re doing, because before you’d need to get onto a label before anyone could really hear you – and even the Indie labels were looking for certain kinds of band, certain kinds of sound. Now, you can put out any kind of sound you like and people who are interested can find it. But there’s something about the particular sound of a vinyl record that, to us anyway, is like the gold standard. It’s the way we make the music to be heard…

I suppose another thing about that is the way lots of very obscure stuff is now available to people in a way it wasn’t even ten or fifteen years ago...

Pish: We’re all people who’ve spent years searching for records, and listening to new things, or old things we hadn’t known existed, so our sound is a record of all the different things we’ve listened to and liked over the years, as well as something I hope is our own as well.

Adam: Maybe it’s a bit of a romantic thing, but I wonder if the easy availability sometimes means people don’t appreciate things as much as you do when you’ve had to put in a bit of work to hear them. When you’ve had to really search for records, you put a lot more attention into listening to them than you do when it’s all just a click or two away. But it’s also great to have so many amazing things you might never have heard out there, too. I suppose I’m a bit divided about it.

Pish: There’s something in the idea that we’ve often been driven by our desire to find things that weren’t easily available, and pushing into ever more obscure areas in search of things we’d not heard before…then bringing the parts of those things that appealed to us into our own sound.

Celeste (Melodic)

Do you think it helps a band like The Soundcarriers build an audience? That people are out there looking for and quickly finding the kinds of music that you’ve been influenced by yourselves?

Pish: I’m not sure a lot of people who listen to us do necessarily know the records and bands we’ve been listening to – which is great, because it means they can get it without having any of that slightly nerdy knowledge of old records…though there’s nothing wrong with that kind of knowledge, either. We certainly aren’t in the business of trying to make tributes or copies of the bands we like.

Adam: Yes, I mean, I hope we make records that – while they’re quite open about their influences – stand up on the strength of their own melodies and grooves, and can be enjoyed by people who might have been listening to other things entirely, or maybe even nothing at all.

So you’ve got two albums done now, do you have any ideas about where you’ll be going next?

Pish: I think we’ll just put out a double album with nothing but white noise on it, like our ‘Metal Machine Music’, you know? Actually, I’ve no idea. We’ve got our own studio, so when we get together it’ll be the usual thing of writing, playing and just seeing what we come up with, I think…

Adam: So far our approach has been very simple, with space to play and a tape recorder, basically, and we’ve thinking about doing the next record in a different studio. We did some mixing for ‘Celeste’ at Chickenshack Studios, which has lots more space than our usual place, so we might try to do some recording there. You notice that where you record makes a difference to the sound, and because I think we’re all interested in going for a bigger sound on the new material, it makes sense to record in a place where we’ve all got more elbow room and can bring in additional musicians if we need them…besides which, it’s good to move on, otherwise you risk becoming quite generic, with a sound that never really changes, so we’re feeling the need to add new elements to what we do.

Pish: We’ve really been getting into things like that Bollywood string sound you hear on Indian soundtrack records. Maybe that’s a bit ambitious in terms of cost, but I’d say we’ve all been thinking along those kinds of lines recently. Whatever we end up doing, there are some exciting options.

I’m guessing The Soundcarriers isn’t yet making enough to give up other jobs.

Pish: No yet, though we do make some income off the band, so I suppose you’d say we’re semi-professional musicians at this point. My day job is working with Jim Cooke, formerly of Selectadisc, selling records online. It’s a great job – we do a lot of vinyl reissues and new releases through Amazon and places like that, supplying shops and other outlets, so it’s nice to have that feeling that my work with the band and with Jim are at least kind of related, all to do with music…and making music available to people on vinyl.

Adam: I’m more an odd-job man myself – though I just got sacked, but I won’t go into that. But it’s been the usual stuff you’d expect a musician to be doing to make a living. Some work at bookshops, others have retail jobs or sell records online to make some income on the side…

Pish: Then Dorian does some film editing work, and Leonore’s working towards doing teaching, I think.

Do any of you play in other bands?

Adam: Not any more, but we’d all been in loads of bands before forming this one. I did a degree in jazz in London, and so I’ve played drums in lots of different line-ups over the years. But we didn’t meet in other bands – me and Pish were at school together in Beeston, and we met Dorian at college, so we’ve known each other for a lot of years now.

Pish: We’d had about five different female keyboard players in the band before Leonore joined – you could say female keyboard players were to The Soundcarriers what drummers were to Spinal Tap for a while, except ours just left rather than suffered all sorts of bizarre accidents. But with Leonore it really just clicked. When we wrote the first album we had no idea who was going to play those parts on it, but once she started playing with us that was it, really…we were off.

Any reason why you’ve always gone for female keyboard players?

Adam: We’ve always wanted that blend of male and female voices in the sound, as we all love the kinds of records that people like Nico and Francoise Hardy used to make and you can’t get that sound without a female voice in the mix – and it also made more sense to have a keyboard player who could sing rather than a singer and a separate keyboard player in the band. That pretty much meant we needed a female keyboard player, and we were really lucky that Leonore came along to do both those things absolutely brilliantly in time for the first recordings.

It’s also notable that when you play, it’s very much as an ensemble, rather than singers plus band…is that deliberate?

Pish: Yes, that’s deliberate, and we rarely have anyone at the front on stage. We don’t think about it too much, but sometimes the drums are nearer the front, sometimes the lead guitar or keyboards, depending on the stage we’re playing on. The way you arrange yourselves on stage does have an effect on the sound, and we like to play in a way where we can all see each other, and interact – for us it’s always about what works for the sound rather than a question of what we might look like, to be honest. I suppose because our songs are built around harmonies, the way we are when we perform reflects that.

So what’s next?

Adam: We’re currently itching to get back into a studio at this point, and we’re obviously playing some gigs around the country with the new album at the moment. Beyond that, it’s just a case of keeping going, keeping writing, and seeing where we end up.



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