Behind The Music with The Electric Soft Parade published before Holes In The Wall was released.
Words: Doug Johnstone (possibly NME)
So you’re a penniless teenager in a struggling band when that all-important record deal plops in your lap. Result. At last you’ve got a bit of cash in your pocket, so presumably it’s straight down to your local music shop to buy up every instrument in sight? Of course not, there’s drinking to be done.
“I actually just went to the pub and bought a round for 20 people” says Alex White, singer and guitarist with Brighton-based psychedelic upstarts The Electric Soft Parade. “Then I went to a record shop and bought loads of records for me and my mates”
There was no mad rush to go shopping for gear. “We just went out and re-bought a load of gear, ‘cos we only had a bunch of shit stuff like you do when you’re not signed” says drummer (and Alex’s younger brother) Tom White.
That’s not to say that the siblings, essentially the creative core of the band, don’t like to bang on about equipment.
“I play a Fender Telecaster, it’s the only guitar worth having” declares Alex proudly. “I had this rubbish Squire Telecaster which I got for £110. When we got signed I bought a proper one, it’s a ’52 reissue and was about £1,200”
And there’s been a similar upgrading of guitar effects.
“I used to have just one distortion, now I’ve got a whole rack of pedals” he continues. “There are four distortions including a brilliant ProCo Rat pedal, a tremolo and a Boss digital delay”
They signed to db Records in January and have since been working on their debut album, Holes In The Wall, to be released in early 2002. They’re not exactly studio virgins, though.
“We’ve been making records since I was 15 and Tom was 13” says Alex.
“We’ve done four albums on our own label in Brighton that we used to sell to our mates for a fiver”
But surely with a hefty injection of record company moolah things were a little different?
“The only major difference was using Pro Tools” says Alex. “We were really opposed to it to start with but as soon as you get to grips with it and get an engineer who really knows every little detail of it, it’s just like working 40 times quicker. You can drop in and chop a bit of vocals or anything so easily, just sing it whenever you fancy and plonk it in”
Tom is equally enthusiastic about the world’s favourite studio software.
“It’s amazing, you can do anything on it. We basically did the entire album on Pro Tools, loading a lot of it on from four-tracks, eight-tracks or two-inch tape and some stuff straight in.
We also did a lot of demoing on an Akai DPS-12, a portable digital 12-track, which we fed into it. But a lot of the loops, drum sounds and vocals were taken off my four-track at home, just a shitty analogue thing, but it sounds lovely, you get a great vibe off it”
The album is a swirly poptastic treat that sounds like The Boo Radleys skinning up with the Super Furries and it displays the brothers’ willingness to experiment with weird sounds.
“It’s just all about us wanting to sound different and more interesting, live as well as on the record” explains Alex, before, as ever, Tom butts in.
“Sticking a synth through a distortion pedal or something is a lot more interesting for us” he says. You can get more out of instruments if you synthesise the sounds a bit and it’s the same with vocals. It’s all about not being afraid to try new sounds”
Strangely for a drummer and a guitarist, the brothers seem mad keen on keyboards and don’t take much prompting to talk at length about the band’s keyboard player Steve Large’s set-up.
“Steve’s got all sorts of shit” says Alex. “He’s got a Fender Rhodes electric piano, a Roland VK-7, a Korg MS-2000 and a Moog, a f****** great fat Moog. The Moog and the MS-2000 do a similar thing, but the Moog’s less versatile and more specific”
“Yeah, I think the one piece of equipment we couldn’t live without is that Korg” jumps in Tom. “It’s an all-in-one kind of synth with some amazing fat sounds. It’s just invaluable in terms of being in the studio. We bought it just after we got signed and it rocks”
As, in fact do The Electric Soft Parade.
Interview with Tom January 2003 (NME) published when they were starting to record the next album.
Does good gear have to be expensive?
Not at all. When we first started we had the crummiest gear, but it was good for the stage we were at. We had to try and make it sound good. A lot of the stuff we use now isn’t the best stuff you can buy – it’s just what sounds right.
Has any original gear stayed with you?
Loads of it – a lot of pedals and a couple of guitars and keyboards. Stuff that doesn’t wear out or break, you re-use and mix with the new stuff. You buy a new pedal and stick it next to an old tremolo and it sounds great.
How much gear does a band need?
I actually don’t think it’s worth buying a lot of gear. A young musician should be trying to find their sound, something unique that they do well. That doesn’t necessarily mean spending a lot of money.
I genuinely think starting out on worse instruments in crappier studios is better for the soul, so when you get to the bigger studios you feel like you’ve earned it. You’ve learnt and know how everything works.
Are you still accumulating gear?
Definitely. We bought a Boss Dr Sample recently, which has been really lush on the new album. It’s only about £200 but it does so much. We got a Korg Kaos pad as well for Alex’s guitar. We also got a bullet harmonica mic, this old 50’s thing. You can’t use it live because it feeds back but in the studio it sounds unbelievably good. You get that Sparklehorse vocal sound straight away.
Any more tips?
We never have enough keyboard sounds. I’d say in the early stages of a band, get the peripheral band members to spend their money on keyboard sounds!