The staff at the Mogal-E-Azam Indian restaurant, just a stone’s throw from Nottingham’s cultural triangle of music venues (Rock City, The Rescue Rooms and Spanky Van Dykes), are always delighted to welcome the night’s performers to their humble establishment. The owners and waiters act with such enthusiasm and appreciation that a group of musicians would choose to bless them with their custom, that you suspect they go to great pains to get the meals exactly right. Given the barnstorming set performed by The Wave Pictures at Spanky’s later on, supported by the hilarious band The Thyme Machine, and a post-show pub visit with both acts where the gorgeous actress Alicia Vikander walked up to the bar in front of me to order a drink (if it wasn’t her, she has one Hell of a doppelganger loitering around the Midlands area), I’d say it was a pretty damn successful evening all round. David, Franic and Jonny peered over their restaurant menus to answer a few questions…
Your new album is called ‘A Season In Hull’. I always found the place hopelessly grim, yet somehow brimming with character. I’m intrigued to know what appealed to you about the place enough to make you want to base an album around it?
David Tattersall: Well, the title is just a pun on a French poetry book by Arthur Rimbaud called ‘A Season In Hell’. I don’t particularly LIKE the book, but I just thought it was a really funny title, and that’s why I wrote the title track. We’ve always had a nice time in Hull, and I suppose I like that Philip Larkin lived there, and worked in the library there, so there’s a nice romantic association with the place. Since we made the album, though; we’ve found that not many people know the Rimbaud book, so whereas it was meant to be an amusing title, it really doesn’t seem to have amused very many people much!
It’s a vinyl only release. What is it about vinyl only releases that appeals to bands these days?
David: There are lots of reasons. One is purely because we love and buy vinyl records ourselves. Another reason is that it makes it a kind of special and distinct project, so when we were recording it, we knew exactly what it was going to be for. And I suppose it was because, these days, with music being all on the internet, I think we’ve lost something that the band thinks is quite precious in a way, which is the idea of ‘Album as Album’. You know, something that you have to sit and listen to as a piece in its entirety, because with the internet, all the music’s just flying around in the air, and people just click from one to the next – which is fine. But technology has changed the way in which people listen, and relate, to music. It’s inevitable with any huge technological change, I guess, but making it a vinyl release, if you want to listen to it, you’ve got to sit and listen to it, and not just be online for 45 minutes.
On your last record (Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon), you worked with the great Billy Childish, of course. In which way did he push you that was different from your normal approach?
Jonny Helm: In a much punkier way! That’s the obvious answer anyway!
David: He did a lot of the musical side of things – he brought a lot of riffs and things like that…
Jonny: It was much more of a collaboration than any of the previous Wave Pictures albums… Although it ended up with just our name on it and not his!
Bit of a weird question this time – when my father-in-law passed away in November last year, we complied with his wish of having ‘The Birdie Song’ played while everyone danced to it as the coffin went behind the curtain. As a result, bizarrely, whenever I think of my father-in-law’s funeral, I laugh. It makes me think of The Wave Pictures, in a way, because it’s like… marrying the ridiculous with something that makes a lot of sense. Is that kind of a “vision” you had when you made your records? Does that make any sense at all, in fact?
Jonny: It does!
David: Well, I quite like it if people take things as more ridiculous than if they take it super seriously.
Jonny: Yeah, I think a lot of bands take things just a little bit too seriously, and that goes for recording techniques and how they try to project themselves in the world and everything really. It doesn’t mean you have to be Half Man Half Biscuit, but it’s good to inject a little humour into it.
I think I said in my review of the album that you were “the Marr to your own Morrissey”…
David: Oh, I read that review! That’s true as well…
Jonny: …Though he’s probably a bit better than both of them, aren’t you Dave?
When I was in bands and approached cover versions, we used to only ever choose songs that we thought weren’t that great and could make better…
David: …Whereas we like to take great things and make them worse.
I wasn’t going to say that! I was going to say you do some very brave covers – Creedence, Springsteen, Van Morrison…
David: A friend of mine pointed out to me that it’s a bit of an indie trend, taking some rubbish pop songs and doing them in a sort of “meaningful”, indie type of way, and we don’t want to do that. If we’re gonna cover a song, it’s gonna just be because we love it. We don’t do the ironic indie cover game. It’s almost more to show a different side to yourself, these things get pigeonholed, and people think there’s no relationship. I mean, people see the way you dress, and they just assume you’re just like all the other bands who dress like that. So you do a Creedence song, then you’re showing a different side to yourself, but also how much more music there is in those songs, rather than just being a certain type of song. As soon as I sing them, they just sound totally different, but it’s not a joke thing; if it doesn’t work when we try it, we just sack it off. We’ll try 10 covers, and if one comes off, we’ll do it for another couple of years. The words have to be meaningful to me, though, otherwise I can’t do it. When I covered the Creedence songs, the first thing I thought was that his (John Fogarty’s) songs were closer to mine than you would think because he’s interested in memory songs. So that appealed.
So, now that you’ve worked with one of your heroes in Billy, is there anything else on your “bucket list”?
David: That’s a good question. One of the things that we thought when we got to work with him was that we couldn’t imagine anybody else who would remotely compare to him in terms of how good he is with the sound. And now what we’ve done, is we’ve gotten rid of Billy, but we’re still using his studio! It’s all worked out fine! I don’t think there is anybody else, really. The trouble with it is, most famous records now by the people you’ve heard of, they sound really bad; and the people who made the best sounding records from the sixties or whatever, those guys are all dead or barely functioning, so I don’t know if there’s anybody left.
Jonny: We’ve always said that we could give Bob Dylan a hand to make a good sounding record again, because his most recent albums have got a bit boring!
Well, you’ve been around for 17 years now, so you’d have the experience! At one point, around the time of Instant Coffee Baby, it seemed like you were going to become really big…
David: It never really happened, did it? We don’t know why. We were confused by it – we should have been really famous (laughs). No, we were on Moshi Moshi Records, and we saw all these other bands on these very specific career paths, with management and long waits between releases and very controlled plans to get famous, and we thought that seemed really stupid. We thought it’d be better to keep releasing records and be totally independent – and of course, in some ways, that is better, because we’ve got a real fanbase. On the other hand, all of those people got really famous and we didn’t! We were on the label at the same time as Metronomy and Slow Club and both of those got much more famous than us. But then in order to do that, they had to do things that we weren’t prepared to do. We were very inspired by Herman Düne in particular, and Jeffrey Lewis – people we looked up to, who were very independent, and didn’t have management or any of those types of things. It was difficult because we always tried to keep the music business at arm’s length. We’d go and meet these people – me and Fran would go to meetings with these horrible people – booking agents or managers – in horrible offices, and we couldn’t relate to them at all, so we just stayed away. And maybe that’s why we’re not famous. It depends on the way you look at it, though, because we’ve done things in exactly the way we wanted to, so in a way, we’ve been very successful. We’ve probably made hundreds of mistakes, but they were our mistakes that we thought were a good idea at the time. But now… Yeah, I guess it would be nice to be a little more famous!
And you can’t fault the guys’ work rate. No sooner has A Season In Hull been released (and critically acclaimed, incidentally, having attained Album Of The Day status on 6Music), than there is talk of another new album to be released in October!
Whatever successes The Wave Pictures do have, or whatever level of fame they ever do manage to muster, they sure as Hell deserve it.
Oh, and it may not be obvious to the inattentive reader, but you may have noticed that Franic Rozycki didn’t answer any questions. This is not true, however, as I’m sure he did. Sorry about that Franic, if you’re reading this – it’s nothing personal, honest!