In a way, Erland & The Carnival shouldn't exist.
Unassuming Orcadian musician Erland Cooper travelled to London almost a decade ago, playing small, unannounced shows in folk clubs. Bonding with former Verve musician Simon Tong, the pair embarked on a strange, beguiling journey which has resulted in two sterling studio albums.
Yet for their third record, the pair seemed stuck. Refusing to go backwards over old ground, Erland & The Carnival threw out a full album's worth of material before finally reaching a point which satisfied them.
Although the process behind the material was lengthy and complex, the sessions for new album 'Closing Time' took place in just three days. When the dam burst the creative waters flooded forth, with Erland & The Carnival even inviting Paul Weller into the studio for two memorable guest appearances.
Utterly ruthless with themselves, the results could well be their finest material to date. Simon Tong certainly feels this way, commenting: "it feels like pruning a tree – when you cut away the needless and weaker branches, what you get is something much fresher and stronger coming through."
Out on August 25th via Full Time Hobby, Clash is able to bring you the first play of 'Closing Time' alongside a track-by-track guide penned by the band themselves.
Check it out now.
1. 'Closing Time'
Simon: The title could be considered negative but in this case it’s not- it’s the closing of a troublesome situation, putting behind negativity and the possibility of a newer more positive situation.
Erland: It’s about moving onwards. Like moving into spring, the death of winter and birth of summer. Everything comes to an end but that doesn’t mean everything has to be or remain crap. The end section was adlibbed whilst having pneumonia so I remember it being incredibly hard to sing and I wondered why but I layered it up 10 times to make it sound better and it ended up nodding to Brian Wilson. It would have been easy to just repeat the chorus again so it was good to spin it off into it’s own little world half way through the song instead.
Simon: We are both big fans of Kurt Vile's ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’ album and we tried to make this track in a similar vein sonically. But as ever when you try and directly reference something it ends up being it’s own thing anyway – which is what you secretly always hope will happen.
Erland: Most of the lyric comes from a Japanese poetry book called ‘one hundred poems’ translated to English. Supposedly in Japan they grow up learning these poems off by heart, playing games with them as children on memory cards and they’ve done since the Thirteenth century - when the first two lines of the poem are read they’re prompted to remember the last. I watched Mark Chapman on youtube talking about shooting Lennon and I was thinking of how things can get to being really wrong, to the point that they can be persuaded to be right. It doesn’t make sense. I suppose one minute a person is in one place and before they know it they’ve made so many mistakes they don’t know what is right is anymore and by that time maybe it’s too late.
3. 'Quiet Love'
Simon: (Co-written with Hannah Peel and Soren from Indians.) It has a slight George Harrison feel and this song swayed us with the decision to add strings to the album. John Grant was a big influence on this track too. It’s an unashamed twisted selfish love song.
Erland: Originally wrote it for Indians as pretty much a throw away song but then decided to claw it back and twist it up a little further when it kept me up all night. After working on it with Paul Weller, the middle section took another lease of life. I think we all like to be alone but not for too long, we kop out and crave company until we’ve had too much.
4. 'I Am Joan'
Simon: The title is a light hearted play on how Erland tends to be a martyr, carrying the troubles of the world on his back and burning at the stake rather than giving in. It became a running joke on tour that led to him being known as ‘Joan of Arc.’
Erland: Playing around in studio13 with whatever Damon had left in the room from the day before and the middle section we dropped someone in doing primal scream, as they were better at it than me.
Simon: Radiation was an instrumental piece that our long time keyboard player Andy Bruce had written for piano. The production is a nod to John Hopkins and we purposely turned up the squeaks and creaks of the piano sustain pedal. Erland: We tried to keep the production as simple as possible and just used found sounds and vinyl crackle sustained to give a glitched rhythm under the piano like a geiger counter. Simon wrote this beautiful two part vocal melody and lyric and I tried to make it my own after listening back at the demo and trying to figure out what the hell he was singing. To me, when Haydon Thorpe sing’s really straight, no falsetto, it’s majestic and I was trying to reference that in my own humble way.
6. 'Is It Long Til It's Over'
Simon: We aimed to give this song the simple feel of the first Strokes' album but again it took on a life of it’s own. It has a lightness of melody that seems to float over the cantering rhythm section. We wrote the lyrics and recorded the vocals in Basement Jaxx studio. I was reading a book called ‘Return Of The Soldier’ about a shell-shocked soldier after the First World War who returns to his home in the country side and has to adapt to normal life. It’s not directly about that - but we lifted a few lines from the book and so the song has a feeling of re-building your life with the help of others around who care about you.
Erland: Aiming for a Scott Walker song and landing somewhere else completely. The end is my favorite on the record because it would have been easy to end abruptly. This drifts into it’s own world again, slows and speeds up and lets Simon’s tasteful score lift you along to the end which is somewhere completely different from where the song starts. It’s like a resolve to the main lyric.
7. 'Birth Of A Nation'
Simon: The title is taken from the 80’s tv play ‘Birth of a nation’ directed by Mike Newell about an inner city school where tensions are high and it eventually erupts into a riot. It was part of the same season of plays that included Tim Roth’s ‘Made in Britain’. The pounding John Cale-esque piano really drives the song along and the chorus lyric is probably the most up beat lyric we have ever managed to write. I’m not quite sure how we did it. I wish I could remember. Erland: It’s a wall of guitars, piano and melody. We had to load up our new drummer on various substances to get him close to the bite and energy of his predecessor, so hat’s off to Mr Nock, you were supposed to play this one but hated the song.
8. 'That's The Way It Should Have Begun (But It's Hopeless)'
Simon: The opening lyric is taken from a Lichtenstein painting that we saw while on tour in Switzerland. It was the way we felt after the last E&TC album when relationships within the band had got so strained we didn’t feel we could do another record together. Erland had written the verse and I had a chorus- that was inspired by Stephen Sonheim. Erland isn’t a fan of ‘show’ tunes and would yell “It sounds like a musical!”- but we turned it inside out and upside down and came out with something we hadn’t expected.
Erland: The Magnetic North was a cathartic break and my ears changed completely after working on it, reminding me that you can do anything in a song and every recording can be it’s own self-contained symphony. We actually referenced ‘Born Slippy’ towards the end but really wanted to bring out Simon’s deft touch on guitar further on this album. They sometimes sound like they’d be simple to play but I can’t even come close to getting that sound. He’s a painfully modest genius.
9. 'They're Talking About You Again'
Simon: One of the first songs we recorded that set the feel for the rest of the album. A much more laid back sound than the previous two albums. The opening lyrics are from a traditional hymn – our only foray into English folk lyrics on this album. It has an almost Arabic piano line with a Vangelis synth line that combine to take the song into a strange, nether world.
Erland: My favorite on the album, a vocal done in the middle of the night as I find the day is too distracting to really lift out of your head. To me it’s about the love for something you didn’t know existed or could actually have until it arrives and then messes you up for a bit until you accept exactly what it is, how simple it is, and what your responsibility is. It’s a calming reminder.
Simon: Erland wrote and recorded this after the birth of his daughter and half a bottle of whiskey. We purposely made the production and arrangement on this album much more restrained and simple and this song is probably the simplest and most moving.
Erland: I’d recorded this on my phone and then reversed the vocal which then accidently, and to me perfectly, turned into a backing vocal that sounds like it sings ‘…I wont ever give up’ in parts. Was trying to write and record the simplest song that can say a number of deeper things while saying something completely obvious. It’s more about hopeful reassurance than departure. To be honest, that pretty much sums up the entire record to me.
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'Closing Time' will be released through Full Time Hobby on August 25th.