Interview: Field Music – Part 1

By on Friday, 5th February 2010 at 12:00 pm

Just as Field Music travelled all the way from England for Saturday night’s gig at the Bell House in Brooklyn, I made the almost 5 hour trek up from Washington, DC, and had the privilege of interviewing them after the show (check out the TGTF review). Apologies in advance for the slightly shambolic nature of parts of the interview. We were in a room that was supposed to be private and quiet, but it didn’t quite turn out that way. Big thanks to David(above, left) and Peter(above, right) Brewis for taking almost an hour to sit down with me, even though they hadn’t slept for over 24 hours, to Skippy and the staff at Bell House for being so hospitable, and to Matt at Memphis Industries for setting it up. Below you’ll find part 1 of the interview, with part 2 to come on Monday.

Note: Descriptions of what is happening have been placed between asterisks, i.e. “*Peter enters the room*”

So this is Mary Beth Howard, and I’m from the UK music blog There Goes the Fear, and we’re here after the Field Music show at the Bell House in Brooklyn. So thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

David: You’re very welcome.

So I thought the show tonight was great, how do you think it went?

David: Um, we were physically not entirely up to the task. Mainly through airplane dehydration. But other than that, pretty good! I enjoyed it, even though about 40 minutes in, the prospect of me singing in falsetto dwindled dangerously.

It’s like “that’s not happening!”

David: [Makes screeching noise] That’s about as close as I can get now.

This is a rescheduled gig, so what was the deal with the original one, somone was sick?

David: Yes, during the paranoia around swine flu, both here and in the UK, we were in a situation where I had flu-like symptoms, and we…if, erm…we probably wouldn’t have been allowed on the plane. If we did make it on the plane, and I was seriously ill while we were here, because it was something I had symptoms for, our insurance wouldn’t have covered it! Our holiday insurance wouldn’t have covered it, like a pre-existing condition, and hells bells, I could not afford any kind of medical treatment in this country!

Of course! No one can!

David: Erm, and as it turned out, I wasn’t really ill, I wasn’t very ill, just the kind of little ill that people often are over the winter.

A cold or something?

David: Yeah, which made it doubly frustrating, because it really felt like we’d wasted everybody’s time, so that’s the long version of that story.

Okay, so how did you decide to come back just for this show, I know you’re doing some shows in March or something, why didn’t you just do it then?

David: Umm, for a number of reasons. Partly because Skippy, who runs this venue, really, really wanted us to come and play. Partly because we’ve always had good gigs in New York and Chicago, people always want to come and see us. So it felt like the sensible thing to do before the album came out, just to remind people, like…

Like, “It’s coming!”

David: Like, oh, we’re back, we’re starting to play again and we’ve got a new record. And it’s very difficult for us to judge, erm, whether people in the US care.

Some of us do, the ones who know!

David: Yeah! And we only really find out when we come to play. It’s not like at home where…Well, I find the UK to have a very kind of insular music industry, which is kind of…somebody sneezes, and it’s like news! And here, I mean one of the things that we found in the past is that we’ll put a record out and then two weeks later, for instance…I mean, people probably haven’t discovered the record yet.

*Peter comes in the room*

David: Come in, close the door.

Peter: David, we need to sort out getting paid, and I don’t understand the tax situation, so is that…can you tell me about it now, then I can just go and…?

David: I could give you all of the forms.

Peter: Ahh, so you have got forms!

David: But actually I need to sign it.

Peter: You need to sign it, rather than me?

David: Would you like to pause?

Note: We paused the interview at this point. David went to sort out the forms, and Peter came back in and took over where he left off.

So, he was just talking about how you decided to come back for this show, rather than with all the others…Like, you’re doing a few shows in the US, I think…

Peter: Yeah, we owed it to Skippy, really, because we didn’t make it to his birthday party, so…it was all, “We’re gonna lose a lot of money doing this, but we should do it.” Our reward will be in, I dunno, somewhere! Nirvana.

Yeah, and he also said it was good to do it close to the release of the album just to sort of gauge the response of…if people care over here. Do you feel the same about that?

Peter: Yeah, I suppose so. It was 2007, the last time we played over here, and it was quite a hard tour because we didn’t really have any money and we were supporting a band called Menomena, who were great, a fabulous band, but we were going through a kind of, “Ooh, we’ve run out of money. We have no money left to do anything anymore.” So after that tour, we thought, you know what, we should stop doing this for a while. Stop making it our job and worrying about whether it is our job and trying to compete, and just go back to the music and go back to making records, so hence David did the School of Language thing and I did the The Week that Was thing.

And so do you feel like doing those side projects, did that take any of the pressure off?

Peter: Yeah!

I know that you’ve said in interviews that being classed as an “indie band” and trying to do the indie thing makes it tough, did it…I mean, you still did similar stuff…The sound is different, but similar.

Peter: Yeah, I mean it will be a similar sound because we sing the way that we do and we play the way that we do, and, I thought we were in a kind of no-win situation, where we thought, we’re not really … I never thought we fit into the indie pop or the indie rock thing. Which might be wrong, but the thing is, the way that we see what indie rock is in the UK is like, jangly guitars, a kind of lackadaisical attitude, and we don’t have that, we’re not like that, you know? We like working hard and thinking and whether we’re intelligent or not is another thing, we’re probably not, but we try. The thing with the new record is we had an idea like, how can we redefine Field Music and still not feel like we’re in that competition. Because if we were in that competition we’d probably be sort of like in the 3rd divistion or something like that, 3rd rate. And we kinda thought, like, well, lets make a double album! An album that’s too long.

So that there’s no hope in the beginning?

Peter: Well, its a very sort of rockist thing to do. A very rock thing to do, a really sort of rock pretension to it. There’s nothing wrong with…And I’ve been reading Brian Eno‘s diaries as well, and he redefined the idea of, erm, pretensious – he thought it was a good thing. We thought, yeah, let’s be a rock band and lets do a double album.

Just go crazy!

Peter: Well, kind of, yeah! There’s something hilarious about it, really, there’s something ridiculous about it. And yet, the idea of it is ridiculous, however, the way that we do the music isn’t, it’s still the same…you all right, Dave?

*David comes back in*

I’ve heard the album because I’m reviewing it for the blog, and it doesn’t seem like it’s too long. It seems fine.

Peter: Well we’ve failed!

David: I don’t think it’s too long.

I mean it’s long, but it doesn’t feel too long.

David: It makes more sense on vinyl or on 2 discs.

Peter: Yeah, it does.

David: And it’s a shame the promos weren’t on 2 discs AND the US version isn’t gonna be on 2 discs! Good job this is for a UK blog!

That’s really lame that they would do that…because originally I was thinking, was it intentional to do 20 songs, or did you just have so much built up from taking time off?

David: We thought for a while there might be 23!

*Skippy, the venue owner, comes in*

Skippy: Oh, you’re doing an interview, how’s it going?

It’s going well!

Skippy: Sweet.

David: Really?

I’m trying to make it go well! [laughter]

David: Sorry, yeah, you are trying!

Skippy: Can I do anything right now, at all? I know I already asked you this. You want to write Randy Newman fucking lyrics on the wall? [gestures at lyrics written on wall behind door]

David: Yes!

Peter: [Sings] I like your mother, I like your brother…

David & Peter: [Sing together] I like youuuu, and I like you tooooo…

Skippy: Field Music sings Newman! Wait, wasn’t there a Nilsson sings Newman?

Peter: Yeah, see!

Skippy: Well what I’m trying to get is my friend Carl Newman from the New Pornographers to sing Newman sings Nilsson.

Peter: Oh really? [Sings] Everybody’s talkin’ at me… I can’t live livin’ this without you.

Skippy: ‘Jump Into the Fire’ – That’s not exactly lyrical, that’s a jam.

Peter: It is. Anyway, sorry!

No, it’s fine [laughs]. So it was an intentional thing to do 20 songs…

Peter: Yes, yes it was. No, we decided, we said “let’s do a double album!”

David: We thought there might be 23 songs at one point! Peter started a lot of songs, some of them while I was gone, which was impractical, to say the least.

Peter: Yes, it was insane, it was stupid – too much pressure!

So how did you decide to have it be a self-titled album again? What was the reason behind that?

Peter: The idea of it was redefinition. We left Field Music because we thought our definition of it had got out of control, therefore we stopped doing it and we did other things, and we were at the point where we thought, well, we can redefine what we do with this next record, so we did, and we became Field Music again.

Field Music version 2.0

Peter: Yeah, oh that would be a terrible, terrible name for an album.

It would be, it’d be really bad!

David: Isn’t that what Liam Gallagher is doing with Oasis?

Peter: Oasis 2.0? I’ve got no idea.

David: I think he is.

Peter: Anyway, I’d like to pretend I didn’t care, but I’m quite interested, really.

So you guys seem to get on really well for brothers, is there a secret to that?

Peter: We put on a front!

David: We’ve got better!

Peter: Yeah, we have got better, yeah.

*David pulls Peter into a side-hug*

*Skippy comes back in*

Skippy: Be truthful, are you two gonna hang out or are you going home right after this?

Peter: [Chanting] Hang out! Hang out! Hang out! I’m fine

David: We’re not gonna hang out for very long.

Peter: 45 minutes?

Skippy: Okay, ‘cos I’m gonna go.

Peter: Aww!

Skippy: Well no, ‘cos if you’re not gonna hang out then I’m gonna go, ‘cos I’ve got diapers to change, look.

David: Yeah, exactly, you’ve got work to do!

Peter: Oh, fair enough.

*Skippy shows photo on phone to David & Peter*

David: Oh, my lord, what a beautiful child!

Skippy: She’s 9 months, but yeah, she’s beautiful and awesome and she’s in a band, but she fucking stays up all night, she’s doing like long division in her head, I don’t know what she’s doing!

Skippy: Do your interview, I’m sorry! [To Brewises] Well, I may still be here.

Peter: Well, if you’re not…

Skippy: If I’m not, please go home safe…You were ridiculous, it was awesome.

Skippy: [To MB] Right? Did you see any of that or did you just come for the interview afterwards?

No, no, I came for the whole show. I got here at like 5…I was at the bar for like 3 hours drinking cider!

David: She was here the same time as us!

Skippy: I may see you out front, I may have a ginger ale or something…it’s my fucking drink of choice! [While leaving room]

Peter: [Yells out of room] MAKE THAT TWO!

What were we talking about? I’ve lost my train of thought here…

David: We get on well as brothers?

YES! So what is your favorite thing and your least favorite thing about working with each other?

Peter: Erm, well I don’t really have a least favorite thing about it.

David: Yeah, you probably do.

Peter: No, no, the thing is, if I don’t want to … If I want to do something on my own, I’ll just do something on my own and it can still be Field Music. I mean, some of the tracks on the album have almost nothing to do with David, and there’s definitely tracks on the album which have nothing to do… you know, we haven’t worked on, but we decide that its a kind of collective thing. Like I went on holiday, for instance, for like 3 days or something? 4 days? It wasn’t very long. I came back and Dave had recorded an entire song by himself – probably the best song on the album – and I was absolutely gutted.

Which song was it?

Peter: It’s ‘Lets Write A Book’

Okay, yeah, that’s a really good one.

Peter: It’s bloody AMAZING! And I came back and was like [sigh]…can I try something on it?

David: It wasn’t finished.

Peter: “Can I try something on it?,” and then I tried to do something on it and you deleted it!

David: Well I thought we’d better do a cowbell part, and you kind of play the cowbell with a lot more facility than I do, but it just didn’t work.

Peter: It was still shit, it was still shit, so you deleted it.

David: It wasn’t shit but it didn’t need any more percussion. Just didn’t need any on it…nevermind. Yeah, its good.

You guys seem to have a really defined idea of what you want to sound like and you want to be in control of every step of it, is that true?

David: Yes, that’s very true.

Peter: But it’s only because we have our own studio so it ends up being quite a natural thing to try and be able to do lots of different things.

David: We’ve always recorded ourselves from like two years after we started playing, we had a casette, 4-track recorder. And our primary connection with music is recorded music. Not particularly playing in a band. You know, at 12, really anything that you do as a band, live, is gonna be unsatisfactory in one way or another. Unless you’re that band, Tiny something something something? Possibly from Brooklyn? Tiny Teenagers of Terror, or something like that? [possibly referring to Tiny Masters of Today]

Peter: Tiny Teenage Mutant…

David: And they’re like 3 and 6. Erm, so we think in terms of a record, we don’t write a song for the band, we don’t write a song for us to sit there and strum away at it, we write a record. And when you have that in your mind from very early on in the process, you can’t turn it off, and it becomes very difficult to compromise because you know what it’s supposed to sound like.

Peter: BUT, the good thing is, one of the good things that’s different now than the way things were in 2007 is that I think we’ve coped, we’ve broken through our fear of playing live – not our fear of playing live, but our kind of dissatisfaction with playing live – in that…

David: You accept that it’s a different medium.

Peter: Yeah, you’ve got to accept that its a different…well it seems obvious, really, but you get into such a mindset of trying to make things exact that it actually becomes no fun at all. And we’re really lucky, essentially, to have Ian and Kev playing with us. But not only do they learn the parts that we’ve played, but they bring something to it of their own personality. And I don’t know how they do it, because you know I’ve done that for other people before, where I’ve played in somebody else’s band doing there part, and I made a complete pig’s ear out of it. I find it really difficult to do. Whereas Kev and Ian somehow are able to concentrate and bring something of themselves to our songs, which for me is really exciting. Because for the first time in my life I’m in a really good band, like a really good band. Which, apart from the album as well, this is like a really good band.

And you guys basically wrote the album in the studio yourselves and then had them come in for live?

Peter: Yeah.

And what was the reasoning behind that, not having them in the studio?

Peter: ‘Cos we actually record it quite quickly, and it’s more of a case of…most of the ideas on the record wont be…it takes ages to say, “Right, well you do that, you do that, you do that.”

David: When we write the songs, we’ve got this idea in our head of exactly what we want it to sound like, the arrangement and everything. It’s kind of cruel to have someone else there and say “Yeah, you should play this guitar part. No, no, play it more like me, more like me.”

Peter: We found that out. And sometimes I’ve wanted to say “Oh, Dave, will you play the bass for this? Because you’re the bass player in the band, really.” I’m the piano player, Dave’s the bass player, but actually sometimes it’s like…

David: You’ve got such a clear idea of how you want it to be…

Peter: …I should just play the bass.

It’s like that saying “If you want it done right, do it yourself”

David: Or…

Peter: The thing is about recorded music, you can do that and give the illusion of being a band, but that’s never my intention of what we do. I’m not interested in giving the illusion of being a band on the record. I don’t care about that. I want to use the idea of, well, basically the technology that’s available in terms of making a record to make the music that I want to make. Which people don’t really do anymore. People use to do it. The Beatles did it. Essentially, to me, they made, it’s a generalization, but like, the best records.

I agree.

Peter: And George Harrisson didn’t play on all of those records. Ringo Starr didn’t play on all of those records. They didn’t have specific roles. Generally Paul played the bass, generally Ringo played the drums, but not all the time.

David: I think that one of the things that we’ve done better on this record is we’ve used each other better. Instead of just like, we’re a band, you play this, you play that.

Peter: Ooh, used and abused.

David: It’s like, actually on this song, that thing that Peter can do much better than me, well he can do that on this! Peter said “you’ve gotta play drums on this one ‘cos you can do it better.” … ‘Cos we know each other’s style of playing and how we’re gonna approach something so well, that it doesn’t take a lot of prodding for us to…

Peter: Well, we just decide who’s gonna be better at the job, basically. We think, well we’ve got this job to do, I’ve got this musical idea in my mind, so we think, well, who’s gonna be better for it, me or Dave?

David: Or for practicality does there have to be some sort of compromise? And that’s okay as well.

Peter: Yeah, of course. Anyway, that was really long-winded, sorry!

No, it’s fine!

[End of Part 1]

Note: Part two of this interview will be posted on Monday, so make sure to come back and check it out!

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