Interview: Robert Stevenson and Spencer Walker of A Silent Film (Part 1)

By on Tuesday, 31st July 2012 at 11:00 am

Before their show at Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, Maryland, Robert Stevenson and Spencer Walker from Oxford band A Silent Film sat down with Cheryl to talk about success in America, getting back to England to play and scary wild pigs.

You have made a big splash over here, but that’s not the usual MO for a British band. Usually you make it big at home and then you come and try to ‘crack America’, why do you think it happened the other way here?

Spencer: I think there’s no template for how these things work and I think it wasn’t part of the grand master plan, it was something that happened, kind of one thing lead to another. I think that’s the way a lot of this stuff works.
Robert: You should SEE our grand master plan, though!
Spencer: We’ve got an AMAZING grand master plan!
Robert: If we pull that off….
Spencer: I don’t think the world is ready for our grand master plan! But yes, one thing led to another and we found ourselves here and ‘You Will Leave a Mark’ did enough on the radio to allow us to come out here. And then we made the decision to do as much as we could while it was fun over here and see where it led. We didn’t set out to ‘crack America’. I don’t know if that worked in our favor, because we didn’t have that pressure coming on us from a label. We expected nothing, so the fact that things were happening, it built and built quite naturally, organically. I think that going between England and America, it goes both ways. We are fans of a lot of American bands who really hit it big time in England before – the Killers, White Stripes, the Strokes, Kings of Leon. It was all around the same time, they blew up in England and then went back to America. And now they’re all massive global bands. But I feel like they needed England maybe as much as we need America.

The other thing you are doing that’s bucking the trend is summer means festival season and you’re not doing festival season over there, you are here. So, do you like being here, or do you miss the mud?
Robert: (laughter) I don’t miss the mud!
Spencer: We played some festivals over here and the load-ins are so amazing. They’re like car parks and there’s tarmac and it’s hot.
Robert: And you can park the van somewhere in the vicinity of the stage to put the equipment on the stage. Yeah, we played Glastonbury once and it was…..
Spencer: …muddy. I’ve seen pictures of festivals this year where it’s just……like Isle of Wight, just horrid.

Oxford’s got this amazing vibrant music community. Stornoway, Richard Walters, who I was hoping would come and support you here like he did in London at the Barfly gig…
Robert: Oh, we talked about this. He’s coming across to do a bunch of shows in October, we are hoping that we’ll be near him as well so we can grab him for a few shows.

The spectre of Oxford music, did that influence you at all, Radiohead, Supergrass?
Spencer: Oh yeah.
Robert: Just growing up in that town, there’s a road called Cowley Road, where it’s just the hub of Oxford music. Straight out of school we were on that road just living and breathing it and all the bands come from there and come back to there. It’s a really, really good space to come from. It’s very creative.

Did you have any family influences to go into music, do you come from musical families?
Robert: There was a lot of Meatloaf played in the car. And Bonnie Tyler. So there’s a general sort of what to avoid. Sorry Mum, sorry Dad….. No, they played me Beatles and the Beach Boys, I’m just being silly.
Spencer: My uncle had a studio in his house, not in any way a famous musician, just a guy who played everything and turned the basement of his house into a studio. So that was definitely a big influence on me and my brother when we were growing up. It’s nice to be introduced to a Hammond organ when you are young, or a double bass when you are 5. It was my dad’s brother and he is actually going to come see us play for the first time when we play Toronto in a month. Because I’m half Canadian, my dad’s family is from there. So I love playing in Toronto and it’s going to be the first show he’s been able to make. I’m actually really excited about it.

‘City That Sleeps’ came out eons ago. (All three of us say “eons” in unison.)
Robert: I knew you were going to say eons!
2008, because obviously I am talking about the UK release and ‘Sand & Snow’ doesn’t come out until next year. That’s over 4 years. Why?
Spencer: This goes back to the same thing about no grand master plan. The album came out, it did what it did, we worked it, we released it in Portugal and did a load of work there, we were starting writing for the next album and then got picked up over here. It just kept getting put back and put back. Because obviously when we decided to come and play here, it was a big commitment.

But why such a gap between the US and UK release of the album?

Spencer: And again that comes down to the simple fact if you are going to do America, as you are aware, it’s a huge country, and we didn’t want to just come over and spend a month playing America and hoping to crack it. We are way more invested over here.
Robert: We’ve already got our teeth into it, everything’s just building really naturally here. We equally didn’t want to just release the album in England and not be seen over there. And honestly we’re not on a big label, there’s nobody bankrolling it to release the album all over the world. We’re very happy doing things at our own pace and sorry people who have to wait. But we are going to come and spend a lot of time in England.

So how did the gig at the Barfly go?
Spencer: Great. It was amazing. The idea is really that you want to do justice to each place. This is our America year. But it was amazing, we hadn’t played there in so long. Early next year is when we spend time in England and Europe.

The second half of this interview, which includes a part where Cheryl asks Robert and Spencer to be ‘tattletales’ on each other, will post on TGTF tomorrow.

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