Interview: Field Music – Part 2

By on Monday, 8th February 2010 at 12:00 pm

As promised, here’s the second half of the interview with David and Peter Brewis of Field Music after their gig in Brooklyn on 30 January 2010. In this half, we discuss topics as diverse as their musical influences, music history, music piracy, “staycations” and the future of the band – aren’t you glad you came back?

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

Well, to me at least, you seem to have a very unique sound. So are there bands that you listen to that influence you?

Peter: Thank you very much! Oh, yeah, yeah…

And what are some of those bands?

Peter: Contemporary bands?


Peter: Beatles, Roxy Musicthe BandFleetwood MacPeter GabrielKate Bush

David: Thelonious Monk hugely for me, in terms of what he does with melodies.

Peter: And Duke Ellington in terms of arrangement. Béla Bartók. Stravinsky. And really, Beethoven as well, but that goes without saying. Bach. Erm, Prince?

David: On the new album there’s loads of things where I’ve been “inspired” (in quotation marks) by David Bowie, i.e. I’ve stolen things from him or I’ve done a song and thought “I should do this in the style of David Bowie”.

Peter: Peter Green[of Fleetwood Mac], Eric Clapton

David: He’s gonna list all of the different guitarists…Deerhoof, for me, Fiery Furnaces. Not in, not so much that I would take ideas from them, just that I’m like jealous of some of the things that they do.

Peter: I mean, everything that’s good. The thing about music is, that, it’s really, what’s the word, it creates dichotomies.

David: But we’re in an era which should embrace the dichotomy.

Peter: Absolutely, absolutely.

David: [whispers] Sorry!

Peter: You hear something, and you take the things that you want from it, and you edit out the things that you don’t want.

Pick and choose.

Peter: So for us, any bit of music that you hear, it might be something that I don’t really like at all, however, it might just be that we edit ourselves so that whatever happens we don’t do that.

Peter: We used to do that when we were very young. Well, not very young, like 23 year-olds, we used to write manifestos, and things that we weren’t allowed to do. Like I don’t know if you know the Futureheads

Yeah, yeah.

Peter: They’re a Sunderland band. When we were very young, me, David and Baz and Ross and Jaff from the Futureheads, we used to write, basically, these art manifestos and things we weren’t allowed to do in the band. We weren’t allowed to cross our hands not matter what, so even if you were a drummer, you weren’t allowed to cross your hands, you had to like [mimes rotating in seat without moving his arms].

That’s a bit ridiculous.

Peter: Well it is ridiculous, it is ridiculous. BUT, it’s a process, it’s a boundary in which you can do anything that you want, within that little frame. I find that sort of thing really interesting. Really, really interesting. Giving yourself a basically ridiculous boundary…I mean, we did that with the first Field Music album, really. We said we were gonna have a really limited palette of sounds, and sonically it’s gonna be really boring, it’s gonna be pretty straightforward. It’s gonna be no sonic surprises: acoustic guitar, clean electric guitar, some distortion…just some guitar bits and drums and pinao, and how can we make that different? How can we arrange that to be a different thing?

And I think that’s one of the great things about Field Music, there’s nothing super weird about it, it’s just the way you put it together with normal instruments it just makes it sound more interesting.

Peter: Aah! But the thing is, that what people think is weird, sonically, sonic weird things…But if you cut the sonic things out, which I’m not saying you should do, I think it’s really interesting…you take all the sonics away, lets say, from – which is an impossible thing to do – but if you take the general sonic weirdness away from most music that’s considered experimental, it’s actually pretty lame, pretty boring. But if you take really lame, normal instrumentation and do something else with it, well basically that’s ourexperiment. That’s the Field Music experiment.

And you can definitely tell. That’s the feeling that I get from it, that…I think it’s worked [laughs].

Peter: Yeah, I think it’s worked for us. It’s probably gonna mean we’re gonna be perpetually unpopular, because it doesn’t hit those buttons: those harmonic buttons and those structural buttons that basically, people want to be pressed by. Or certainly radio programmers want. To quote a lyric from our new album, people want something familiar, they want things that are familiar to them, and then familiar once removed. If you take that sonic palette which is so familiar, you know, the same sonic palette that Buddy Holly had, and you do something structurally, harmonically different with it, it actually becomes quite unpallatable. Which is a really odd thing. I mean we’ve done that less with this Field Music record. We’ve kind of, we’ve indulged in some cliches, which we’ve really enjoyed, really enjoyed.

You sort of let loose a little bit?

Peter: Yeah, we’ve had fun, but that was the idea, to kind of indulge ourselves in like, cool things.

And do you feel like playing the songs live, are they more fun, the new ones? Or do you like all of them the same.

Peter: God, no, the new ones are terrible to play live, they’re really hard, I’m really nervous. I mean, we’ll get better at it. I have most fun playing ‘If Only the Moon Were Up’ and ‘Tell Me Keep Me’ or something like that, or, erm, ‘Shorter Shorter,’ where I know what I’m doing.

It’s a familiarity thing.

Peter: Yeah! Which is also a bizarre thing, really, because it goes against what I’ve just said!

It’s a contradiction.

Peter: It is, really, but maybe that’s something about live music. Well yeah, you can only listen to live music once. You know, there’s no such thing as live music, until there was such a thing as recorded music.

David: Until there was such a thing as the record. Before there was recorded music, if you heard music it was because someone was there playing music.

Peter: But in 1888, or 1887, depends on who you believe…

David: Yeah, because it’s not just about recording it, you have to replay it as well.

Peter: You have to replay it…

David: Because somebody invented a machine, a French fellow whose name I’ve forgotten, which converted the vibrations of sound into the movement of pencil on paper.

I used to know that…

Peter: Oh, right, okay, yeah.

David: But it’s only been recently where they’ve been able to play…it’s fascinating.

Peter: It’s really interesting, actually, I’d forgotten about that French guy.

David: I can’t believe I can’t remember his name! And I don’t have my laptop with me so I can’t check it out.

So are you guys really into music history and that sort of thing, or is it just collected over time?

Peter: Oh, yeah, absolutely!

David: It’s quite a new artform.

Peter: Well recorded music is, essentially, well, rock ‘n roll music is, I dunno, 60 years old, 65 years? Recorded music is 120 years old, and you’ve gotta realize there was – I found this, bizarrely, today – there’s this tradition of, like, sonic, that’s called, like the Classical Period, really…It gets really cloudy, this thing, but lets say from like Bach to Wagner, it’s like 250 years, 200 years, of – well, pre-Bach, as well, really – of people writing a certain type of music. That’s down to technology, really. That’s down to the development of manuscript and the development of the printing press, and that had a real stranglehold on what people listened to, what people played. And that happened with recorded music up to a point, and it’s changing again, it’s doing something different where basically with the digitalization of art in all it’s forms – well basically, music now is 1s and 0s.

David: Infinitely reproduceable.

Peter: Which is infinitely reproduceable exactly. I mean, basically, our album is all recorded digitally. If I had a pen thin enough and I had enough space, I could write our album out with 1s and 0s on the wall.

That’d take a long time.

Peter: It’d take a long time, it’d probably take, you know, well, years? Too long, 20 songs, I mean…That’s a really significant thing, a really significant thing.

Since you do use such traditional instruments do you think that’s an intentional thing to try to get away from all the stuff thats happening with music these days with autotuning and all that crazyness?

David: For me, it’s like, that’s what we play, those are the tools that we have.

Like you don’t need anything beyond that because you can do fine without it?

Peter: I think we do need beyond that, but it’s just that I don’t have the skills to do it! I mean, I’m an okay drummer and an okay guitar player, and a really terrible piano player, so I have to do something with that.

David: What’s happened with people being able to digitally manipulate what they do, is they’ve gradually taken out the human element, the performance aspect. I mean, most commercially successful records are done to a click track. They’re done in an exact, fixed tempo. And for me, well, music has never been like that and doesn’t need to be like that. And in fact, the push and pull between performers and a group tempo is what makes music interesting. So, erm, to take that out seems mostly insane to me.

It sort of takes the soul out of it, I guess.

David: Well, if you take the human elements out or you manipulate things to the point where there are no inconsistencies, then it…

Peter: There are inconsistencies in machines as well, though…

*awkward pause*

David: Tell me about them!

Care to elaborate? [Laughs]

Peter: Erm, … well there are inconsistencies in machines. Well, we know about it!

David: Yeah, but they don’t manifest themselves as something which is musically interesting.

Peter: No. Exactly, that’s the thing!

David: They manifest themselves as things which are mistakes. And actually, human mistakes aren’t really mistakes. Human mistakes are interactions with the situation.

Peter: “Honor thy mistake!”

David: “As if it were thine intention!” – Brian Eno! That consistent injection of the human element is why no matter how tempted I am to go towards electronic music – and the School of Language album is more electronic – I pull away from it because I don’t want consistent tempos and I don’t want…

Peter: ‘Cos what we actually enjoy is me and you, in a room, one of us playing drums, one of us playing another instrument, and movin’ some air between us, and, well, I dunno, just basically creative performance.

David: This is about communication between human beings. Well if you create communication without any communication between human beings, then it’s like, well, most modern music communicates fuck-all to me, except maybe sentimentality. Erm, you know, like, I could pick anything, and I don’t just mean, like, Miley Cyrus, I mean, the Killers? I mean, for me, it comes across as sentimentality. It’s so manipulated that it feels like no communication other than, you know, the egotism of somebody wanting to make a record. And it has to be sort of in there, but when that’s the only communication, bollocks to that, I say!

So are there any contemporary bands that you do really like or you’d reccomend to people?

Peter: Fiery Furnaces, Deerfhoof.

David: I quite like Joanna Newsom and I like what Bill Callahan does. Erm, it varies from record to record.

Peter: Esentially, I think in America, there’s certainly a kind of nurturing spirit for independent minds.

David: It’s a larger market.

Peter: Well, exactly, this is an economic thing. This is one of the problems that Britain has, is that it’s actually a small market, but it’s an intense market. Therefore there’s a lot of competition.

David: You can’t make a living by doing something esoteric in a subtle way.

Peter: No, you can’t. Well we can’t. We live on the bones of our arses! We found out yesterday, no, 2 days ago, in the Guardian, that we are within in the bottom 1% of earners in the country! And I’m not surprised, really, because I’m absolutely on the bones of me arse.

David: We earn so little we don’t have to pay any tax whatsoever!

That’s almost convenient!

David: Kev got tax back for tax he paid like two years ago[laughs].

It’s like, “Clearly you need this now, so we’ll give it back.”

Peter: Nah, you know, we’re absolutely fucked! But that’s not gonna make any difference to the way we make music. I wouldn’t know how to write a hit song if I tried, and to be honest, I don’t want to be in the same competition as these…but it goes back to the same idea of feeling like you’re in a competition to try and win someone’s money and make somebody part with their pounds. You may as well be selling towels on a market. And you think, well, I’ll do that! At least people are gonna get get something that does something for them. If I’m making music, and it’s meant to be an expression of what I’m doing, how can I expect to make any money from that?

And I think it’s difficult because a lot of people aren’t paying for music in the first place, and you’re doing something sort of different from the sort of cheezy crap that’s out there, so even fewer people are going to want to pay for it. I mean, they should want to pay for it, because it’s great, but…

Peter: Yeah, well maybe we’re at an advantage a little bit, then, because I think, basically, I’ve never downloaded anything illegally in my life, and I refuse to, because…

David: Because you know!

Peter: Well I think a lot of people know, a lot of people are like…

David: You’ve copied CDs!

Peter: You’re right, I have, I’ve copied CDs, but…

David: I only – I try to only copy CDs of people who are dead.

They can’t complain.

David: Even then, it doesn’t happen very often.

Peter: No. I don’t copy CDs anymore, either.

David: Morally…

Peter: I mean, I could’ve downloaded the new Jim O’Rourke record, but I thought, you know what? There’s absolutely no chance I’m gonna do that, because, well, he’s alive, he’s trying to do different things, he’s trying to earn a crust, you know? And he’s good! But even if he wasn’t good, I’d either just not have it or I’d pay for it. I was quite happy to go like, “there’s my money for this Jim O’Rourke record!” Some of that’s gonna go to Mr. O’Rourke, and that’s like, yeah! That’s a political statement, it’s like a political thing.

A lot of times, especially with English bands, when they release an album it doesn’t come out in the States for forever, which makes it really hard for music fans over here, because it’s like, do I want to pay 20 quid to have it shipped across the ocean, or am I going to try to find it somewhere?

David: It’s a cynical ploy by record companies to get music fans to do that.

Peter: But I think it’s coming out the same day.

David: It is coming out the same day.

It’s the 15th in the UK and the 16th here, because they come out on Mondays in the UK and Tuesdays here. But still, it’s close enough.

David: You wouldn’t be able to ship it from the UK any faster.

No. I just think it’s really cool that you’re putting it out at the same time, because a lot of times…

Peter: Well that’s down to our record label, it’s not really down to us. I mean, in terms of things like that, we have some say, I mean if we twisted their arm, I suppose we could get them to do anything we want, really, but they’re a bunch of good guys, basically, they’re good guys trying to earn a living from the same sort of weird…

David: Putting out weird music.

You guys seem pretty happy with what you’re doing right now. Do you plan to stay doing music as “Field Music the band,” or are you gonna take a break from that.

Peter: I dunno, I assume what we’ll do is we’ll start recording and start making music and we’ll do it together, as and when it needs to be together. And then it’ll come to a point where it might be like “actually, yeah, this is gonna be a Field Music thing” or “actually, you know what, these things might be separate.” And that also might come to a point where we’ve played and we’ve slept in the same beds togther in the US for two weeks or whatever and we’re like, “Eurgh, I need to do something on my own.” [David laughs] And I think we’d be okay with that, that might even still be called Field Music. Like Dave might write a record all on his own, and that might still be Field Music, and vice versa. Well really, if we were gonna make a record like now, personally, I’d be like “Oh aye, [snaps fingers] let’s go down the studio and let’s go make another record together.”

David: If we had a few weeks off in between finishing the record and the record coming out – and essentially, we’ve had no time off at all – we probably would’ve started recording the next thing. We kind of planned to do it, it’s like, oh, well we don’t have anything really on in January, and then you realize that your day is absolutely full of stuff.

Peter: But that’s okay, that’s alright.

David: It should be a good time to productive, in between finishing a record and it coming out. ‘Cos it looks on paper like sitting around time.

Have you been doing a lot of press, or what has the time been filled with?

David: We’ve done a fair bit of press, we did a lot of gigging in November, erm…[long pause]

Where did the time go?

Peter: I dunno! I haven’t been drinking enough. Basically I’ve had one pint and a shot. I mean, I am tired as well, but I just feel…eurgh.

David: We’re up to 26 hours, although you slept on the plane.

So you guys are going straight back? Tomorrow or something? Why aren’t you anything else, even just seeing the sights? There’s just too much on?

David and Peter: We can’t afford it.

That’s a good reason.

Peter: No, I mean, we need to get back, we need to … I’m a really bad tourist. I am a really bad tourist. I mean, I love seeing new places, but I’d like to see things quickly, and basically I want to be home. No offense to anywhere!

David: For me, when you’ve been touring for a few years, the idea of going on holiday to a different place really loses its appeal.

Peter: You know what? We’ve started having holidays at home! Me and my, erm, I supposed she’d be called my fiancée now?

David: Wife-to-be.

Peter: Me and my wife-to-be, we have holidays, like basically at home. We say, like, lets pretend we don’t live in Newcastle and we’ve gone on holiday to our town – what would we do? We do that. And it’s actually pretty good. It’d be harder to do in Sunderland, I suppose.

Yeah, there’s this really stupid term over here called a “staycation,” which I think is the dumbest term ever, but it’s a good idea.

Peter: It’s good, but I imagine you’d get bored of it going to the same place.

David: I actually quite like seeing other places, but one of the things when we’re on tour and it’s the four of us, four daft lads from Sunderland…

Peter: Two dafter than others.

David: We don’t know where to go, we don’t know what to see. There are the most touristy sites. And the best time for me finding out what towns are like was when we did this School of Language tour in the US, where I was playing with musicians from Chicago, erm, and they basically knew somebody from every city we went to! Instead of me just wandering the streets going “Oh! I feel very unfamiliar with all of this, I’m probably gonna go have a coffee in Starbucks…argh! [Makes face]”

Peter: Yeah, you have a coffee in Starbucks and you go to the famous museum or something, the famous gallery, and really thats not…

You don’t get the feel of the place that you’re in.

David: It’s great to go and somebody there says “Oh, we should all go to this place to eat, it’s really nice and then there’s some cool record shops here,” and those are the kind of things that aren’t in any tourist guides. Or you go on a 20-day tour of the US – that’d be a lot of tourist guides.

Peter: Yeah, it’s kind of hard to navigate, really.

David: I couldn’t be arsed. We spend all day driving.

Yeah, the US is a really big country so it’s hard to get around, unless you’re flying, and that gets expensive.

Peter: It’s a shame, I really like playing over here, actually.

David: I really like service stations in Ohio.

I don’t think I’ve ever been to one!

David: They’re really clean, really shiny.

That’s good to know. You guys need to come play in DC, because they’ve got a lot of good venues there and lots of British bands don’t come to DC, it’s really frustrating.

Peter: There’s a band I want to meet from there. Is it Medications?

David: I’ve met them.

Peter: You’ve met them?

David: I’ve played with them!

Peter: Oh, you’ve fuckin’…what?

David: ‘Cos School of Language played in DC and the gig was really good. The guys from Medications are great. Strangely, considering that we make kind of, well, what’s seen as kind of light music, pop music, we have this connection with Dischord bands. Bands on super post-hardcore Dischord Records.

Peter: I think that makes sense! It’s anti-establishment in a different way.

David: I need to see if Medications have finished their new record.

Peter: We understand it, and we understand each other. There’s this really hardcore band, the Paper Cutouts – basically it’s the most unlistenable, complicated music – in Newcastle, and I really feel that kinship with them. And we essentially quote Billy Joel in our songs! But doesn’t everybody?


Peter: [Sings] “I love you just the way you are!” … that’s his worst song, actually.

Well I don’t think I have anything else to ask, do you have anything else you wanna…

David: Do you not think we’ve said enough?

You’ve probably said quite a lot, yeah. I mean, you can keep talking if you want, but I know you need your sleep, so I don’t want to keep you up.

David: Lets go and find this hotel and hope that they have 24-hour reception.

Peter: Do you think they might not?

David: No, I’m fairly certain they will.

Okay, well thanks for taking the time to sit down with me for like an hour .

David: Thanks for coming all the way from DC for this.

Oh, it’s no problem, thanks for coming all the way from England!

David: Is it a long drive?

Well I took the bus, but it’s about four and a half hours, so…

David: Oh, really? Jesus!

Well I just listened to the album on my iPod and took notes…multitasking.

Peter: Notes like “Why?”

“What is this?”


Alright, so…the end!

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