Guillemots Interview

Exclusive interview with the Mercury-nominated stars

Unlike a whimsical infatuation Guillemots are back with their new album ‘Red’.

The follow up to Mercury music prize nominated ‘Through the window pane’ sees the band take what progress they made on the first album and really develop a unique sounding record that is as equally different as it is familiar to their experimental pop sound. With its ability to detach you from normality with differing angles of genre; ‘Red’ will convince you of its exemplary credentials the more you listen to it. got the chance to chat to MC Lord Magrão to talk about the new album.

Tell me about the new album, how has your sound evolved from the first record?

To start with it was a bit of a nightmare…

With the first record it was mainly Fyfe’s ideas with the song writing and with this one we wrote all the songs together, we did a lot of improvising and that’s where we got a lot of the songs from. We didn’t want to repeat ourselves with the things we did with [Through the] windowpane, so we challenged ourselves in a different way. We tried to do all the things we weren’t able to do with [Through the] windowpane which we had to get it out of our systems really.

With all four of you taking control of the direction the music went, how did that pan out?

To start with it was a bit of a nightmare as we all had different ideas and we kind of knew that we weren’t able to fit in everyone’s ideas, so we started filtering the best ideas to put into the album. We knew that certain people had better ideas for certain tracks and each one of us would lead different tracks in different directions and we’d combine everyone’s ideas.

For instance ‘Get over it’ could have been more 60’s sounding and Grieg thought it should sound like a very modern track and we were trying to get the best of both ideas together to put in the song. So it sounds really modern but it has all these other elements that bring it back to that 60’s sound.

So because of the different input and directions various songs could take, is that partly the reason why the album took so long to make?

In part yes. We were touring for a year and half before we started recording and we only had a couple of weeks off, so we were really tired by the time we got to the studio and the studio wasn’t even ready for us anyway. We had no lights, no heating and it was freezing in March last year. We were also doing the summer festivals during last year, so we never had more than four solid days recording. It was on and off and it took us a while to adapt to the idea of four of us producing and didn’t help that we’re all perfectionists. We’re always looking for perfection when maybe we should be looking for energy. Which was sometimes frustrating but in the end we got what we wanted out of it.

Did you have any expectations about how you wanted it to sound before you started rehearsing and recording?

Not really, we kinda knew what we wanted to do but we weren’t very clear about it. We wanted to make the album sound poppy and big compared to most of the pop records out there and we didn’t want to keep repeating things and playing safe with it. We wanted to combine different sounds to create new sounds and that obviously takes time, so we kinda had ideas in mind that it should sound massive with unusual sounds but made by ourselves.

With improvisation and experimentation playing a key role in the creation of your music, how does that shape the process of creating music?

Improvisation has always been a big part of what we do, like to start with the first time I played with Fyfe and Grieg we improvised for two and a half hours, we didn’t want to talk to each other we just turned it on and played. Then when Arista joined we did the same with her but this time we turned off the lights and played for three hours – so it’s a big part of what we are as a band.

For the album we did the same thing – we sat down and we were like “Does anyone have any ideas?” “No?” Let’s improvise, record everything so we can listen back to it and see how it goes.

Things like ‘Get over it’, ‘kriss kross’, ‘Last kiss’, ‘Don’t look down’ all came from improvised sessions. In fact ‘Don’t look down’ came out of two different things the first half of what we called ‘The Youtube song’ and the other was a crazy drum and bass track and we thought lets try and fuse the two into one song and that’s what we did.

It’s great in a way when your improvising and experimenting with things, as when you least expect it you get the best out of it. Because you’re free, you don’t question yourself you don’t try and be clever it’s about the music.

You’re renowned for using different items and a full range of instruments; what is the most interesting item you’ve made music from?

You feel the pressure but it came from ourselves

My hands [laughs] I don’t actually know. We didn’t actually use anything that we were like “Oh my god that’s crazy!” We’ve been using things like we have before like drills and a typewriter and all those wacky things that people keep saying about us.

I mean the main idea was to combine sounds – bass guitars, tea trays etc. We’ve got this old lift at the studio and we used it to record some drums inside the lift, we also used it to create a metal sound by banging on the lift, but I wouldn’t say nothing crazy, just normal things but we tried to get different sounds out normal instruments that hadn’t already been done before.

After such a critically acclaimed first album the second album sounds more confident, did you feel more confident whilst making it?

Not at all. With the first album because we had been rehearsing those songs for a few years we knew them inside out. So we were very confident about the different parts and arrangements. With this one because we didn’t have time to think about it and we were like “Let’s get this done”. I mean we had moments during the album where we were like “This is sounding great” but then we had other moments when we were like “Are we doing the right thing with this? Are people gonna get it and is it too confusing for people?” We were trying to record a new thing and you question yourself some days on whether something is the right thing to do.

You guys seem like a really laid back bunch but did you feel any pressure to deliver another successful album?

Kind of. You feel the pressure but it came from ourselves. We weren’t trying to prove ourselves or anything but wanted to get the best out of each other. We had no problems with the record label saying “You guys have got to finish the album” but had the pressure from ourselves saying “We’ve got to get this done” and you spend a lot of time going round in circles trying to get that little moment when you’re like “Yes that’s what it is” and that takes time, sometimes a whole week.

Songs like ‘Get over it’ at the start we were all really excited about it but then we lost that excitement and thought that the song was lost. Then at the last minute when we were mixing I came up with this bass line and that’s when we all got the excitement back for it. The same thing happened with ‘Don’t look down’ until we got the mix back and we were like “This is great, that’s it!” Sometimes you’re so close to things that you can’t see beyond your own imagination unless someone from the outside comes in and can suggest things, then you realise there are things missing to make it a really good song.

So you think that ties in with your perfectionist nature as a band?

Yeah it does, that’s something which is quite annoying about us, we spend too much time looking at details and then we get carried away and lose what the song is about. We somehow drive ourselves back to the starting point and we realise what was originally good about it and like “So why are we changing it?”

I think your music is something which if you invest time in you get more and more out of it the more you listen to it, compared to making up your mind after a quick first listen. What do you think?

I don’t think it’s just our music but just music in general, you need to give it time. You can’t listen to it once and have an opinion about it, I can’t do that.

Most of the time if I listen to an album and I like it straight away, I know there’s something up. The albums I listen to and I don’t really get it, I give a second chance and they grow on me.

For instance the new Radiohead album; when I first heard it I was like “I’m not sure”. I mean I’m a big fan of them and I really like Jonny Greenwood I think he’s an amazing guitarist as well as the whole band in general and Kid A is by far my favourite album. But when I heard ‘In Rainbows’ I was like “I don’t get it” but the more I started listening to it – I got the vinyl’s, I listened to it on headphones the more I liked it and that’s great as I know in 10 years time I’ll still love it compared to giving it a quick listen, not liking it and not giving it a chance and I think the same is with our album. When you first hear the melodies they are right there and in your face but there are a lot of little details that are going to take time to realise they’re there and you fully notice all those little things and it’s those details that make things really special.

I think if you’re a true music lover then you give things a chance and time because we spent 9 months recording it and we gave our lives to it. So you can’t just give it half an hour and make a decision about it, I think that’s rude. Music doesn’t work like that; it depends on your mood. If you’re in a bad mood then you’re probably not gonna like it but if you’re in a good mood then you’re going to change you prospective on it. Music is not like a painting that you can spend time looking at, music you can’t touch so if you just give your first opinion about it you’re not getting it and not getting what the music is really about.

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