Ahead of the release of their third album, Walk The River (Released 18th April, 2011), Guillemots have created a buzz around themselves by inviting fans to a handful of secret gigs. I caught up with the three men of the band ahead of their Birmingham secret gig at Ikon Eastside...
CM: We're here at the Ikon Eastside gallery tonight ahead of your secret gig in Birmingham, a secret that's just been leaked on radio. How're you feeling about that?
F: I'll forgive Hywel the DJ that said that... well, everyone probably knows where it is by now anyway. It'll be fine!
Did you have any say in the venue; obviously it's an art gallery...?
F: Yeah, with all the venues we work with they're chosen between us and our agent really.
Where have the other secret gigs been?
F: We've got another three coming up but we can't tell you
F: The first one we did was in Dalston
M: It was an art gallery as well in Dalston, no Shoreditch
G: Shoreditch, yeah
F: The Tabernacle in Notting Hill too, that was cool
G: That was a lovely gig there
So obviously you've been out of the public eye for a little bit as you've been recording the album which is out on the 18th; how's that been?
F: We just can't wait for people to hear it really!
M: It's been good having the time; I had a baby straight after we finished the last tour (Congratulations!) in 2008 so to be honest it's been great have had a little extra time at home before we started recording the new album.
Do you all write as a band?
F: Yeah, well kind of...
M: It's a combination
F: I felt like we kind of needed to wipe the slate clean and start off as a band again. Every time you do a record you need to approach it like it's the first record you've ever made. We spent almost a year before we started recording meeting up three times a week and play for hours each day, I'd then go home and listen to everything back and start thinking 'well there might be a song in there', but for a while we didn't even worry about songs we just looking for ideas.
So you didn't have an end point in your mind of the direction you wanted to go in?
F: No we just let it happen. It wasn't like 'right, we want to make this kind of record so let's start writing', we don't really work like that, we just spent months just playing and gradually we'd start saying 'ooh there's that song' and 'that really fits with that' and both of them have this feeling you start sort of getting a sense of what's what.
M: Starts to take shape naturally
F: Yeah, you start getting a sense of what you're making. Then towards the end of 2009 and the start of the next year, I started writing myself again quite a lot and bringing songs into the band and so that fed into it as well. It kind of happened very naturally; we knew that we couldn't take forever but we also knew that we didn't want to run into the studio as soon as we had ten half-formed ideas.
Do you have a preference between gigging and recording?
F: They're very different.... I mean, I love recording because I love just being in... the thing with recording, certainly when you're starting a record, finishing it is quite stressful, but when you're starting ideas off, it's like your world becomes music because you're in one place and you just lose yourself in it completely, whereas gigging, I love doing the actual gig but the actual touring and everything, a lot of it is non-music, there's lots of setup and this and that. I love gigging but it's a very different sort of energy, it's completely different playing the four of you by yourselves to playing in front of an audience; a lot of it is to do with that connection with the audience. If you get a great audience then it's a wonderful feeling but it's almost like it's less about the music and its more about the kind of energy flying around. So they're just quite different I think...
G: Again same things as Fyfe; I like touring, I like travelling to other countries and stuff, seeing other countries, whereas the good part of recording is when you're in the studio just adding stuff to it - you've got the main bones to it and then the fun starts really just overdubbing and creating something, or just that happy accidents when stuff happens and you go 'wait, what's that? Keep that!' - It's exciting. They both have perks!
M: Well I like both for different reasons. I think recording is about the focus point when you're working and being able to create different things and capture the right moment, but I love the live for the adrenalin you get on stage and it's almost like a drug; it's fun!
So Fyfe, you've done your solo project, how about the rest of the band? Have you got any side projects that you do aside from Guillemots?
G: Yeah, I've got a new thing called Elephant Shampoo
M: Yeah, it's a great name!
G: Yeah, just finished off this EP, looking for a label and then want to get a film made. It's twenty minutes long; all created one piece of music.
F: It's a sort of mad ambient thing, its great!
M: It's very good!
G: Talk to MC, MC makes films so I need to negotiate with him to make a film to go on the CD. I've made the record anyway.
It seems from the outside that Guillemots is not just a band, it's a whole creative experience; from listening to the music, it's just like pure creativity, imagination... using as much material as possible.
M: It's good to explore a lot of territories I suppose. I really like writing and directing and stuff... I worked on a few short films, music videos and I also made music for a few short films. I like all cinematic aspects of things; it's really nice to work with images and in a way I guess it's a little bit easier to create music as well 'cos there's something already there, you just need to embrace it and bring it out more.
F: We get that while we write music anyway, that's what's always brought us together; whenever we've played music, we never really talk about the music in a particularly musical way, we're never like 'that beat when you were hitting the snare...', it's more about an atmosphere. Sometimes I'll get obsessed trying to recapture a sound on a mini disc recording from a rehearsal from four months ago to create what we're after. It's to do with non-consciousness when you're really in the moment and writing music it's just coming out of you, you're capturing... it's like being on auto-pilot in a way, you stop thinking about what you're doing and you're just playing not thinking 'what chord will I play next?', it just happens and so, of course, when you then come back to it to try and play it again, it's a different moment. There's a track on our new record called 'Inside', which is basically just a riff that goes round and round; that was something that came out of us playing in a room. We played it many times but we never did it sounding as good as the time we wrote it and then somehow in Wales when we recorded it we managed to get what we wanted in one take, it was a combination of the way it was recorded as well, David mic'd everything in a really great way, but that just came back with us. Literally the only way you can see that it's got it is the way that you feel. The hairs on the back of your neck and you feel like you're in that place again, which is why I always find mixing a record hard because by that point you're hearing the same track for hours on end; if your way of judging a track is if it makes you feel something and if you've heard something over and over again... it's difficult!
G: We get the emotional thing but it's hard to get it back...
F: But then I think that's what it is. I think music, more and more I feel like it's something that's just there in the air and like some people see ghosts, some people just hear music and it's almost like getting it out of there and putting it in a format that anyone can hear it and so of course what moods everyone's in each day, it's almost like I feel that that just creates a sort of aura in the room and then you play music and it all comes out in it.
And then you take it into a live situation and you get something completely different again?
F: Well yeah, you can do, but it's also like trying to get that like on the record. I definitely think there are a lot of ghosts on the record, there's a lot of everyone's emotional baggage, but that's a lovely thing, it sort of comes out, but it means making a record is sometimes quite intense. When we finished the record I felt such a relief, not because I hadn't enjoyed doing it, but it was like suddenly we could just hang out again instead of spending every moment thinking about this thing.
Do you guys have a lot of say in the final production of the album?
F: Oh yes, absolutely. I remember there were one or two tracks whilst making 'Red' we left with the guys who were making the record to mix the tracks and it was like 'yeah!', but it doesn't normally happen like that. David who we worked with on this record, was very much on our wavelength and he produced and mixed it but with the mix he'd get things to a certain point and then I spent about a week and a half just sat in the studio with him; we'd all feedback and just make the tweaks. Some tracks were easier than others as well, which is always the way; some just seem to suddenly go from being nowhere near finished to virtually there.
How do you think you've changed as a band since the last album?
G: More relaxed
F: yeah I think
M: Well we never had the advantage of knowing each other as teenagers, we really didn't know each other before the band apart from Fyfe and Arista (Aristazabal Hawkes - the band's fourth member), and I think over these years we just got to know each other better as people and as musicians. The way we work now is so much easier, it flows much better, there's a much bigger understanding between us on a music level and on a personal level as well I guess. When we're on stage, we pick up on one and others body language, there is just this communication without words.
F: You kind of know your positions more. It sort of takes a while to find how you'll slot in without thinking about it. I mean we had that from the start anyway but I think it just grows. These two couldn't understand each other for the first few rehearsals - a Scottish highlander and a Brazilian.
How did that happen? Dragging all different people from all over the globe together?
F: Ironically he (MC) found us in the NME
M: I saw the ad and I thought 'ah I might send a message to him and see if he gets back to me', so I sent a message saying that I play the typewriter
F: It was great, man!
M: And then he got back and I was like 'what the f**k?!'
F: For some reason I imagined a little Japanese guy because it just came as like 'Magrao' and it was all written in lowercase and was like 'yeah man, I play lots; I can play the matchbox, typewriter, accordion, glockenspiel, want to meet up?!' and I just imagined this Japanese guy with a little suitcase.
M: Oh really?!
F: Then we met at Tottenham Court Road for a coffee and we got buzzed on espressos but I sort of knew the moment I saw him, I was like 'yeah, he's a dude'.
How about influences along the way? Obviously four completely different personalities from different places...
F: Well we all turn each other onto stuff
M: Yeah, we all have very different tastes in music but at the same time there's always somewhere where it meets with what we listen to and even though we generally don't listen to the same types of music, we all appreciate each others' tastes otherwise we wouldn't be playing in a band together in the first place. I can see why Fyfe likes certain things and then I appreciate those things because obviously there's something there if he likes it, it's the same with Greig but I suppose Greig and I have more similar tastes.
Are there any bands that you know of that're kind of rippling beneath the surface at the moment that you recommend? That you've latched onto?
G: Zombie Zombie, they're a new band
F: I always want to go out and see loads of unsigned bands but I just don't seem to have the time. I want to do that more. I always feel like I want to be 'oh look, you've got to check this new band out', but by the time I find out about bands, they've generally already been written about.
M: There is this new band called Warship, they're pretty good, I think you'd like them
F: Oh yeah, I met them at the Everything Everything gig
M: There is this other band called 2:54, they're pretty cool
F: There's so much good music around. I just admire anybody that creates their own world, I think that's what it is, these days I tend to like bands that're in their own bubble like Wild Beasts or Animal Collective
M: Yeah, TV On The Radio, they're just their own scene. That's one thing I love about The Flaming Lips; if you look at their whole career it's like they went through so many things just always being themselves and creating their own thing.
So what's next for you guys then? Obviously the album release...
F: Yeah, and then all the normal stuff that happens when we do a record. We're kind of hyped as well because we're hyped about this one and then, because we wrote so much before we started making the record, we sort of know we've got our next record halfway there already.
F: Well, we've written loads and loads and when it came to making this album it wasn't like we tried to narrow it down to the best, it was more like what would fit together. There's all these other strands that we're going to explore and it feels like a very creative time. In terms of specific things, I'm not really sure because it all depends on how things go. We're playing festivals, hopefully more singles. Yeah, we're not doing loads of festivals but we're doing a few; we're doing a really nice one called Wilderness which I think Spiritualized and Mercury Rev are playing.
Where's your favourite place that you've played?
F: Various gigs stick out; when we played Somerset House, that was a lovely gig, and the Astoria, that was really nice.
M: The Faroe Islands was good.
F: The Faroe Islands wasn't such a good gig but it was an amazing place to play.
M: Just good to be there.
F: Yeah, we just hung out on a boat basically for a few days.
G: Barcelona Razzmatazz was a really good gig
F: Oh what the little room upstairs?
F: I don't remember what the gig was like at all
G: Good gig; I've heard people saying stuff
M: London Calling was really good
How about the strangest places you've played?
All: The cave!
F: The cave was weird. It was weird because I was really looking forward to it and I thought that it would be sort of atmospheric but it was kind of bizarre because it was a cave in Cornwall but then rather than having a huge acoustic, it was really dry sounding. I sort of thought it would be in this amazing acoustic but it wasn't. I thought it was going to be this beautiful, gentle sort of whispered gig and it was just a bit odd.
G: Long cave as well so the people at the back couldn't quite hear but you couldn't turn the PA up too much 'cos it was going to
Go to mush
F: Touring with Scissor Sisters was quite weird as well 'cos we supported them for a few gigs a few years ago. They were cool but because they had quite a big stage setup, there was literally a curtain and we had to form like an assembly line along the front of the stage, there was also loads of sponsorship for that tour so our intro music would be like an ad for tampons or something.
F: Insurance! And we'd come one and be 'helloooo!' Yeah... that was strange!
If there was one musician dead or alive that Guillemots could work with, who would it be?
F: I'd love to meet Rachmaninov. I was talking about him the other day; he wrote such beautiful music... gorgeous
F: Yeah, just beautiful
Thank you for your time; it's been cool chatting with you.
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