Electric Soft Parade: The Times Podcast July 2007

The Times Sounds Podcast – 26th July 2007

You are listening to The Times Sounds Podcast with me, Pete Paphides. This week, I have The Electric Soft Parade with me.

T: How’s it going? P: Good. Would you like to introduce yourselves?

Both talk at the same time… A: Blimey. Just step on eachothers toes, as usual. We’ve just got the timing together, we just go together every time.

T: He’s Al, I’m Tom. A: That’s basically the vibe, yeah.

P: That reminds me of that classic joke, which we could revisit one more time: “What’s the secret of great comedy?” (in the next breath) “Timing”. Have you not heard that before? It’s the best joke ever.

You’ve made what I believe to be the best album you’ve made so far – No Need To Be Downhearted.

T: Janice Long called it No Need To Be Downloaded. Sorry, am I allowed to… P: We can mention Long…

A: No Need To Be Downloaded, we’ve got to reprint the album, that’s just brilliant.

P: You’ve just recorded it, but you came up with the songs quite a while ago, is that right?

A: It’s been a while since the last one, we were looking for a deal and then did this thing with Truck and we decided to put out The Human Body EP as a stop gap thing, to quickly put something out, that was more sort of new stuff. And then we visited some old tracks and reworked them. But it has a lot of baggage I think is the word.

T: There’s a few old tunes, but a large part of the album is pretty much new – a year or so old, you know.

P: You mentioned the change from a major label to a minor label, an indie label, Truck. I guess that accounts for the rather large gap between proper albums. That and your involvement in Brakes with Eamon from British Sea Power.

Coming back to The Electric Soft Parade, what kind of state of mind were you in with the recording of a lot of these songs.

T: Out of necessity more than anything we ended up having to engineer ourselves and learn how to use ProTools basically. The first week or so of studio time was us feeling our way around and working out how to plug mikes in, and how to mike up drums and stuff.

A: It was pretty uncluttered in terms of state of mind. When you’re on a major label, there’s a whole team of people you’re answerable to. They come down the studio and check it out and give their two-pence worth or their hundred grands worth. It was like we’re making the record not just on our own terms but on our own time, on our own money and everything. No-one was saying it needs to be done by this date or anything. It was up to us.

P: That must be something that must be quite hard for new bands to get used to. You sign to a major label and suddenly you’re in a very expensive studio, and it’s only natural really to have a little calculator totting up how much this is all costing. Was that the case.

T: It was a big calculator in the case of our first record, well the first two. The new one, Truck, the label we’re on now; they’ve got a little barn up in Oxfordshire, in Steventon. And they’ve got a very basic version of ProTools and a little drum room and 4 inputs or something. A: Not so much a calculator as a pad and pen.

P: Barn studio, if someone said to me, would you rather hear the record recorded in a barn, or in a studio, I’m a barn man, definitely. T: Without a doubt.

A: We’ve got some birds on the record, farmyard noises. T: Tractors driving about. There was quite a randy bull in the next barn as well, disturbing us.

P: So this downscaling has rather suited you then.

T: It’s what we came from. The first record was pretty much all demoed in my bedroom just on 4 track, a lot of the finished versions that ended up on Holes In The Wall have elements of the demos in them and were built from that and put into ProTools and then added to. It’s how we’ve always worked but to keep it on that level and not to end up in a big studio… we did it in Oxfordshire and mixed it in a little place in Brighton called The Metway.

P: Brighton of course is where you’re from. Did you grow up in Brighton? Both: Yeah.

P: Excuse the pun, does it run through you like a stick of rock?

T: I think it does, wherever you’re from, it’s going to have that influence, considering the age we were when we started touring, and the amount of touring we’ve done, and the amount of years we’ve been doing it. I find Brighton evermore somewhere I really value going back to.

P: I find when I go down to Brighton, a contingent of people who have fallen on rather hard times, and often I identify with them, because when I go down to the pier, and play on Dolphin Derby, then I turn into one of those people. Do you know the game?

T: We know it well – we’ve played and lost, many times.

P: We need to describe it for people that don’t know what we’re on about.

T: It’s kinda quite big, 10, 15 metres long… P: 20 games, and people play against eachother.

T: And you kinda roll a ball, you get a bunch of balls, and you roll it up a little ramp, and there’s a bunch of holes at the top of the ramp. And depending on which hole you get it in, your dolphin moves along a race track wave type thing along the top.

P: But the best thing is, there’s an out of work actor with a microphone, who commentates on how well your dolphin is doing in the race against everyone else’s dolphins. And so you throw the balls up and of course, you get quite nervous when you hear that you’re in the lead.

A: You always get beaten by a 6 year old kid, that’s the problem with it. T: It’s the out of work actors kid. They’re in cahoots. A: That’s one of the sights of Brighton, never mind the Pier, that’s why the Pier’s famous.

P: The rest of the Pier is quite rubbish I think. A: Just broken ghost trains and things.

P: Broken Ghost Trains, that sounds like one of your songs… A: It is now, definitely.

P: But thankfully, not like your career. T: I think you could describe our career as a broken ghost train. In certain respects. A: It’s been fixed though, pending. P: It had been momentarily derailed, but now is firmly back on track.

P: Your recent single, If That’s The Case, Then I Don’t Know, that’s one of the catchiest songs I’ve heard all year. A: It didn’t catch many people… P: I think it will percolate, it will slowly release itself.

T: It seems to go down well live, which is for me the real measure of whether a tune… A: It’s a riff tune isn’t it, just got to go with a riff tune now and again. We don’t really have any riff songs, it’s pretty riffy.

P: It reminds me of lots of machinery going off at the same time, like a Playschool short film… I hope you’re getting ready to pick up your instruments. What song are you going to play for us?

T: I think we’re going to do Misunderstanding which will be our next single off this new record. P: That’s another big tune off the album. T: Nice one. A: That’s one of the ones that’s been around for a while. Just had to wait until it was ready. We recorded it in a few different ways and it’s never quite clicked and sounded convincing as a tune. It really works in this recording I think.

P: I’m imagining you on an open top double decker bus, maybe going through your local Parish stumming idly (Alex in the background: throwing maltesers nonchalantly) Like something out of Summer Holiday. Ok take it away…

P: Do you still tour in a converted Royal Mail van? A: We did a tour with a guy called Veck who was tour managing us and driving as well and that was his van.

P: Was it like a red, proper Postman Pat? T: It was a Royal Mail van. A: It was a classic LDV thing.

P: LDV? A: Just the make of van. They just chucked a load out and bought a load of new ones and people just bought all the old… T: He had added some go faster stripes though… A: It made all the difference.

P: I’ve always fantasised about that rural idyll. Just being a rural postman. When you’ve hit on slightly lower times in your life, you must’ve fantasised about that. A slightly more straightforward way of making a living?

A: A milkman, I’d like to do that, like Dougal in Father Ted. T: More successful at being a milkman than that. P: You’d have to get up in the middle of the night.

T: This guy from The Horrors, he was telling us about this game, he was touring with a certain band, I forget who it was. They’d play this game when they rolled up on a tour, middle of the night in a new town, they’d play chase the milkman, where they’d all strip off on the bus, and then get off the bus and just chase the milkman round the suburbs of some random Northern town.

A: Me and my mate used to stay up all night in Brighton, when we were kids, it was the exciting thing to do. At 3 or 4 in the morning go out and nick the milk off the milk cart… T: That’s nice, considerate behaviour. P: I think you’d lose the will to live at that time of the day, to be honest.

P: Anyway I can’t help noticing a quote on your Myspace site at the moment, I’m going to try and read it out although I’m sure you’ll be familiar with it.

The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway, where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side…

T: There’s also a bad side. That’s Hunter S Thompson, yeah. I put that up there. P: Did it strike a chord?

T: I just thought it was a funny quote. We had a review that took it seriously. It’s obviously meant to be funny. It’s kinda true as well.

P: What aspects of it struck a chord with you? T: The shallow money trench bit. The thieves and pimps. The good men dieing like dogs…

A: Like you say, someone took it seriously, as if we were whingeing, going we were spat out by this big machine… but it’s all a bit of a laugh, the end bit. T: You have to be able to laugh at it.

P: It’s always lovely to hear two brothers harmonising, and you harmonise very well. T: Thanks. P: You can’t get harmonies like sibling harmonies.

A: We played in our house since year dot. He’d be on a guitar, I’d be on the piano just singing Beatles tunes. P: That must’ve been heartwarming for your parents. A: Or annoying, whichever. They were very encouraging.

P: Did you have cool parents? A: They were pretty cool, yeah. P: What’s the coolest thing about your parents? T: They’re decent left wing modern people, they never put us under any illusion as to what the world’s about. They’re both teachers, they’re both academic people. And we’re the opposite of that which I think does their heads in a bit.

P: Have they noticed that you’ve been stealing their records? T: They ain’t got any records. My Mum has like Avalon by Roxy Music and Sweet Baby James and something by Neil Young.

A: I nicked Hunky Dory off my Dad and Abbey Road and a few things.

T: Actually our Dad had A Woofer in Tweeter’s Clothing by Sparks.

A: I nicked a load of sevens he had for Twist & Shout and all the original seven inches.

P: I hope you’ve looked after them. A: I DJ’d with them actually. They’re in a record box. P: I can almost feel their value plummeting. A: They’re to be listened to, it’s not a museum piece yet. Give it a hundred years maybe.

P: Going to play a quick game with you. Never played this game before, probably never play it again. In my left hand I have New Scientist, in my right hand I have Heat. I’m going to choose a question from either of these and I will ask it to you. You’ve got to choose the magazine. Heat or New Scientist?

T: I’ll have New Scientist please. P: Does the Universe exist when nobody’s looking?

T: No. A: That’s like New Philosopher isn’t it? P: There’s a point of intersection.

T: You need a point of experience… You need two points, the Universe is one, but you need a being within that to experience it. P: You say you’re not academic? That’s a fantastically academic answer.

T: Until there’s a being experiencing it, time doesn’t exist, in theory. Does Al get a Heat question now?

A: I’ll go for a Heat. P: Have you ever had any fashion disasters?

A: I think it’s all about context really, when you’re ski-ing, and you wear this awful ski-ing get up, everyone’s wearing it.

P: So you’ve been ski-ing? Are you good? A: Pretty good I guess. Again, you get beaten by the 6 year old kids, they’ve been doing it since before they were born.

T: My girlfriend teaches it. Teaches ski-ing and snowboarding. P: Where does she teach? T: She’s from Scotland, before global warming or whatever you want to call it wrecked the season, it used to be the Cairngorms. They go out to the Alps and do various trips with the college up there. They do a thing called Funky Friday where they go down the shop in the resort and get the worst, most garish lycra jumpsuit things and all head out on the slopes. Just hideous, luminous pink headbands.

A: You come back to London and go to some club round here, like The End. T: And they’re wearing the same stuff. A: And that’s the vibe. Everyone’s in it going you look great. T: New Rave’s taken up where 80’s ski-ing clobber left off.

P: It makes me feel oh so very old. T: It’s true though, New Rave, a lot to answer for.

P: Maybe two more questions. Do you want New Scientist or Heat? T: I’m going to go for New Scientist again.

P: Winners and Losers and how to spot them. Do you think it’s easy as you perambulate along the streets of Brighton to spot a winner from a loser?

A: I think it’s all about the definition, isn’t it. How do you define each. I feel like both sometimes. P: What do you feel like today?

T: A wooser. A: A linner. I feel like a winner who’s just lost. T: A looner.

A: I think you can spot the losers ‘cos they’ve got a can of beer in their hand, Special Brew. T: That’s choice. They might be winning, in their mind. A: That’s what I mean, it’s about context. For that guy, he’s got a Special Brew, brilliant.

P: I think it’s time for another song. What are you going to play next? T: Going to do one more off this new record, Come Back Inside.

P: Thankyou, lovely, whoozy hum of an organ, beautiful harmonies, mildly depressing it has to be said. T: Well yeah, but isn’t life?

P: I guess so, yes. That was beautiful actually. I think people will flock forth to the shops. T: I should hope so…

P: Tom, Alex from The Electric Soft Parade, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you very much.

A: Thank you sir. T: Cheers man, thanks for having us.