In recent years, British indie has been all angles. You couldn’t step into your local toilet venue without risking a near-fatal slash across the forehead from some young blade’s razor-sharp fringe, and you can feel like a unique little snowflake if your ears haven’t been ripped up by the current vogue for jagged guitars. If you’re shocked and appalled by the jarring thrash of The Futureheads, Maximo Park and the like, you might just like the cut of the Guillemots’ jib: they’re a bunch of Londoners with more than post-punk on their minds.
When Clash caught up with lead singer and top bod Fyfe Dangerfield to share a corporate coffee and shout into a dictaphone over the clamour of 20 ratty tourists, he’s feeling a bit worse for wear after playing two sold-out shows at the Scala, yawning before politely asking “How are you going to spell that?”
It’s no wonder Fyfe’s feeling a little wrecked: the last few months have seen the band leap from the beer-sodden caves of the indie circuit to venues with proper stages and everything, with all the attendant column inches and hype. “We only played our first gig with this line up in the start of 2005,” says the frontman. The group are frankly a little bemused by all the attention: “Are we the darlings of the indie music scene? I don’t know…” Judging by the enthusiastic reception their new album, ‘Through The Windowpane’, has received from all and sundry, it’s maybe a safe bet to say yes…
So what’s this hip new sound, then? You could, if you were prone to coining piss-poor neologisms, call it post-pop: clever arrangements meld the shimmery hooks and melancholia of Brian Wilson’s contribution to the canon with expansive swathes of delicately wrought noise. All a bit of a buzz to produce, apparently: “Getting to use an 90-piece orchestra was a dream come true. It was one of the best days of my life when they came in. On ‘Little Bear’ I actually had to go out and sing live with them. I was a wreck! I put on a suit and everything, and tried to get into it like Sinatra!” All very different to the current Gang Of Four revisionist trend. But why?
“It’s a conscious decision,” says Fyfe. “But I wouldn’t have done anything else. It wasn’t like ‘What shall we do?’, but I think it’s a bit lazy that everyone’s like it’s 1979 again. We never would’ve wanted to do that. I’d like us to be different, to play in our own little bubble.” The ingredients that go into the band’s musical stew are many and varied. “We couldn’t sum our influences up, we all like different stuff. Through conversation, we found out we all like Bjork, John Coltrane and Stevie Wonder, though. To be honest, we’re as influenced by the noises in a café like this as much as by records. It’s a massive melting pot.”
Comprised of Brazilian guitarist MC Lord Magrao, Scottish drummer Rican Caol and Canadian double bassist Aristazabal Hawkes, the band mix self-taught bedroom chops with a more studied sensibility. “It’s a nice mix: we all pull in different directions, but it manages to work. I wanted to find musicians that I didn’t have to tell what to do, and could go off on tangents. We spent a good six months just playing. It can be embarrassing to play with other people, but there’s no self-consciousness in the band, it’s really naked.”
Things are always going wrong with our shows, but that’s the fun of it.
The sense of space on ‘Through The Windowpane’ is the product of this diversity, and also an artistically Luddite attitude towards recording. One important decision was to go for a “really good analoguey sound. I hate the way things are mastered and mixed so brightly these days. This guy Chris we’ve been working with would give us a mix and say ‘I think it’s done’, and we’d have to say no, and get him to unmix it.” Warming to his theme, Fyfe continues: “On The Beatles’ stuff, you can hear the dropped notes and tape joins. It’s much more listenable. I love records like Van Morrisson’s ‘Astral Weeks’. You can tell it’s the first time a lot of the musicians have played the songs, they’re fucking up the chord changes and all that.”
Being able to see the seams is also important to the band’s live outings. While there are lots of strings and detailed layers of sound on their recordings, things are obviously a bit more restricted when it comes to stepping out in public. “You can’t match the records, so we want the gigs to be a bit different.” Agreeing with the noble sentiments of Yeats and, erm, Husker Du, the Guillemots have decided to embrace the idea that the centre cannot always hold. “How can it be a thrilling gig if there’s no risk of it falling apart? Things are always going wrong with our shows, but that’s the fun of it.”
Before Clash flees the cackling hordes of Invicta backpacks for the relative safety of the day job, we have to pop the lazy journo question and ask about the name. Fyfe laughs, and happily points out “We come up before the bird on Google now.” So why the avian moniker? The answer is typically British and eccentric. “Because I bird watch, and also because of the memory of going bird watching with mum and dad, of going to the coast. They’re mysterious looking birds. Oh, and the name sounded like a French electro band to me.” Zoot alors, and insert your own shit joke about things coming home to roost here. Best grab your binoculars and keep a weather eye peeled for this lot, though. We expect great things of this lot (yeah yeah, flying high, whatever)….