When Clash finally tracks down Peace frontman Harry Koisser he's stood on the steps of a museum in central London.
It's sunny out, and he's enjoying the day; there's press commitments, sure, but he's also got free time, time to unwind a little.
The band's new album 'Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll' is out now, with Peace playing some of the finest, most electrifying shows of their career to date.
It's a record that occupies a number of firsts: It's their first on their new independent home of Ignition, and it's their first to be produced by Simone Felice, at his base in Woodstock, upstate New York.
Right now, though, Harry is more concerned with the museum, with soaking up information. “It’s pretty good – lots of old bits. It’s my favourite place to go and look at frames. They’ve got loads of really old bits, and an armoury. Can’t go wrong with old stuff that people used to fight with!”
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This record feels much more nuanced…
Definitely! I think there’s light and shade on the record, dynamically and thematically.
Peace shifted labels between records – from Columbia to Ignition. Does that impact on the way you create, or is it more like background noise?
A lot of it was just in the background, doing a few things and signing a few things. Basically, we got to a point on the second record where we became self-sufficient, and we didn’t really rely on major label funding to make the record, we made it ourselves.
So that put us in the position where we could use an indie label or someone who is more suited to our… thing! Rather than taking massive advances to put the whole thing together we kinda had the cash to do it. So it’s a bit more of a modern way of doing things, but it’s great because the team at Ignition know what they’re doing. It’s a nice feeling to go in there.
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It’s a bit more of a modern way of doing things...
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Was there a temptation to simply wipe the slate clean with this record, and do something entirely different?
We kind of thought, whatever happens, happens. Let’s just roll in, write some songs in the country, and whatever may be, may be. It took us a lot longer than we thought… we thought we’d take a year out, basically, and it took closer to three.
We wrote so many songs. We wrote 60 songs in the farmhouse and then wrote more afterwards. Just a long record to make. We didn’t know who to make it with, we didn’t know whether to stylistically change everything. Whether to go electronic, whether to do 10 minute songs. We’ve been all over the place in the past, so choosing one thing to do was almost impossible.
And then it turned out that after all of the different experiments we just went back to the original intention for the record, which was: just go to Woodstock with a great producer and whatever comes out is the record. You just roll with it, and it made a record that we’re happy with.
Hold on: 60 songs…?
Yep! In the six months that we were there we ended up with a folder which had just over 60 songs in. Which is mammoth for anyone in an A&Ring role or a management role or a producer to go through all of the songs and give them all the time that they need to make the decision on whether this is good enough to make a record. Which is probably why it took us so long!
If we’d only written 20 songs and had to choose 10 we could have done that pretty fast… but 60 was kind of a big number to whittle down. Especially because all of them were on the same level.
All of them were real, and all of them were revealing in some way about something, and all of them had something to say to it was difficult. It was a big ol’ block of wood to whittle down!
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We just went back to the original intention for the record...
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Simone Felice has had an incredible career, with real depth. Is he someone who you had met before?
He was suggested by my manager. Basically, I’d been talking to my manager about what I wanted to do with the record, and what I wanted to do with my life. And he was like, you need to meet Simone, you have to chat to him. So Simone called me and we chatted for ages, and then all the other options and people that we were thinking about just went out the window.
Simone’s got this amazing songcraft, and the production within the song, the power and energy… and he’s working with Ryan Hewitt who is sonically incredible – he’s at the desk for Rick Rubin. When I spoke to them I immediately knew these were the two guys we were going to do the record with.
It was kind of a dream team. We couldn’t really think of any other way to do it after meeting them.
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And to do it in Woodstock, which is such an evocative area.
It’s kind of a dream come true that I don’t think we knew we had. When Simone said: you’re coming to Woodstock to do it here, we were like… wait, have we wanted to do this our entire lives? Because it feels like it!
It’s quite a big thing to do in our position as well. Everyone advised us to make this cheap third album, hire a studio in London and knock out the record. So to go and make it in Woodstock was a massive risk, but it felt completely comfortable.
It was like: the record is called ‘Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll’, the band is called Peace, we’re going to Woodstock to make it, and this is it. Which went against the advice of pretty much everyone.
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It was like: we’ve recorded it, it is what it is, now go!
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How long did it take to nail the record in the end?
A month. A full calendar month. It was September – from the first to the last day. And we came back with everything recorded, and then Ryan – who’d engineered the record – did one mix of it, and sent it over. And we listened to it, and we were like: we have no mix notes. This is as it needs to be.
It was like the first time that we’ve never had to add anything. It was like: we’ve recorded it, it is what it is, now go! Very, very painless.
What was the environment like over that month?
Very relaxed but also very intense. In that there would be a lot of time when we would be all in the studio nailing it for long periods of time, but then there would be a lot of time when you had the whole day to do just one little bit while someone else was doing something.
When you’re in there with Simone it’s a very intense but also a very comfortable environment. It’s not negative. There’s all different kinds of incense burning, the room smells great, the lights are low, and he encourages and massages the takes out of you. It’s an intense thing, but very relaxing as well. There’s a duality to it. There were no uncomfortable moments.
One time it would be intense but then you’d be out in the forest with Simone. It was unlike any other recording experience I’ve ever had.
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Very relaxed but also very intense.
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And you kept writing, despite already having 60 songs to your name. ‘Power’ was largely written out there, wasn’t it?
A lot of stuff was edited out there, in the writing, and re-written. Most of the songs took on a new form when we were out there, just because it was impossible to not be inspired. We were constantly writing. It wasn’t just like go in, record, and then leave, it was about creation. There was no holding on or being precious about things.
Simone used to say: “We’re making real good sausage here! You’re coming to Woodstock and we’re going to make real good sausage.” I was like… what? And he said: “I don’t care what goes in it, how the meat is grinded, as long as it tastes damn fucking good!”
We had to prove to him that all we wanted to do was make good music, and it doesn’t matter how we do it. If it needs something, then do it.
We’re not precious about anything. There’s a few bits that got cut out of songs that I was loving, a lot of guitar solos that I loved, but Simone was like: Nope, there’s nothing going on emotionally when I hear this guitar solo! It made me feel cool, and that’s not good enough.
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‘From Under Liquid Glass’ was a brave track to return with, being so open about your mental health issues in that manner. What made you think now was the right time to write about this?
It was the culmination of a plethora of reasons. To actually write the song having always hidden depression as something which is an essential part of being a songwriter but you never speak about it. It’s this weird thing that has this very bizarre role in my writing.
And definitely the climate that we live in helped me write the song but I never intended the song to see the light of day particularly… and I definitely didn't intend for it to be the first song!
But again, it was Simone helping me. He was the first person to hear the song and he made me feel very comfortable about it. Through art and culture is really how change comes about in society and if I’m willing to put this out on the line and be open and comfortable about it then that’s a really positive thing.
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The climate that we live in helped me write the song...
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We’re not going to save the world with just that but to contribute to a movement of good things and change and to appeal to other artists, or to make people feel better by listening to the song and not feel as bad then we’re at the point where it’s like, job done.
Without that encouragement I might not have let the song see the light of day, but it was just one of those things where it was moving out of control. It just happened.
And people’s response is that they’ve been comforted by it, so maybe it’s a song that needed to be written. I’m not sure what the bigger picture is, but I’m sure we’ll find out.
That's a very self-aware approach.
It’s a very self-aware record. The record is called ‘Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll’ and the title song is extreme. And it’s something I truly believe in, 100%. I see it fucking everywhere. And the song in itself is this two minute, idealist, colourful escape from everything. And it’s aware of that everywhere in the record. But also it’s serious. It’s a double edged sword.
Songs like ‘Choose Love’ are about that. It sounds stupid to literally just say, but also… fucking hell, someone has to choose love!
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It’s something I truly believe in, 100%. I see it fucking everywhere.
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‘Power’ is linked, seemingly, to the lightning bolt of energy, something that fans certainly have. Are you aching to be out on the road?
Yeah totally! I’d never realised how on it AC/DC were when they spoke about thunder and lightning, this rock ‘n’ roll sound.
It’s never really registered with me, and now I’m really all about that. In our live show I want to see how far we can take that. I’ve realised now that we have it, the four of us can make this big sound.
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'Kindness Is The New Rock And Roll' is out now.
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