NYPC, formerly known as New Young Pony Club, are back with a new name, a new line-up and a new sound!
After Lou Hayter left the band to pursue a side project with Jean-Benoit Dunckel (one half of Air), New Young Pony Club duo, Tahita Bulmer and Andy Spence, openly focused their creative energy in order to write and self-release new record NYPC with current band member Sarah Jones.
Tahita speaks to us about the harsh, demanding industry, their new single and how different cultures perceive their music differently.
CM: You were formerly known as New Young Pony Club - does the change of the band's name signify a different sound or are you still maintaining the sound on your previous two albums, Fantastic Playroom and the Optimist?
Tahita: I think the sound has just grown. We've taken what we've perceived as being the strongest elements of the previous two albums and tried to make them into something which is mature and progressive. The NYPC signals that it's kind of a new era for us; we've come out of the closet as a duo, and we're creatively speaking as what we always were. Obviously, Sarah, our drummer has done some stuff on this record and is still playing with us, but she is also playing with Hot Chip and Bloc Party, and Lou (Hayter) is doing her new band with JB (Jean-Benoit Dunckel) from Air so it seemed like a good time to have a clean slate. We wanted to retain the sense that we are still New Young Pony Club which we are, it's just a new era for us and everything feels very fresh. We have a completely new management team and behind the scenes team as well and they're looking at everything with fresh eyes and I think they're just trying to update people's perception of us to something that is more authentic and more an expression of who we actually are.
CM: So parting ways was a mutual decision?
Tahita: Absolutely, there is certainly nothing acrimonious about any of those things. Sarah is still playing with us and we're still in touch with Lou and obviously wishing her well in her new band but Lou certainly made it no secret that she wanted to do different projects and that she ultimately saw herself as more of a front person and that just came to a point in terms of her work with JB where it felt like a natural leaving point for her. It seemed like our album would be out around the same time and it would be difficult for her to tour two records at once. It was like, 'It's been great and off you go.' (Laughs).
CM: Previously Andy's stated: 'It feels like a new band in one way'. Would you agree with this statement?Tahita: Yes, absolutely. It definitely does. You always go into any kind of major changes in creative line-ups with a certain amount of trepidation and I was actually really shocked at how fresh it felt with it just being the two of us and Sarah (Jones) or the two of us and Morgan or whoever else we may have complimenting what we're doing. It's been very freeing as well; obviously there are certain constraints with having less people in the band, like more has to go onto the backing, but I certainly don't feel like that's harmed our live performances and judging by the reactions that we've been getting overseas and in London I don't think the audience feel it's made much of an issue either. It's been incredible really.
CM: How was the recording process affected by reducing the band members?
Tahita: Well, Andy plays pretty much everything anyway and generally has done in the past. I mean Sarah's added drums to the Optimist and written drum parts for the new record as well, but for the most part, what we've done in the past has been programmed and then Sarah's learnt Andy's programmed drums or they've literally been programmed drums. Andy plays pretty much every instrument that's being used on New Young Pony Club's record, aside from the saxophone on the song The Optimist on the Optimist record and then on this record we have Fiber Bravo, the steel pan player playing on one of the tracks. When necessary we bring other people in.
It's a natural progression. All the backing vocals have pretty much been me, obviously we would use Sarah and Lou to sort of thicken things up or add texture with vocals but for most part, without blowing my own trumpet, I've got a much bigger range and I like to push myself - the higher stuff and the lower stuff is always me anyway.
CM: How will the live formation of the band differ now you're a duo? Will you require extra musicians on stage?
Tahita: Yeah, absolutely. Sarah is still involved, we also have another drummer who is also called Sarah who will be playing with us who's been playing with Gaggle and Ebony Bones. We have Morgan who has co-written one of the tracks on the new album which is a duet.
We literally just got back from Kazakhstan yesterday and Morgan came with myself, Andy and Sarah and that was a load of fun so I think we'll probably be utilising that formation a lot. We've also got Lou's nephew Chris who's been filling in on certain gigs where Morgan couldn't come with us. It actually does feel more of a club now - going along with the name.
CM: You just mentioned Kazakhstan and have toured extensively in some remote countries, how do they differ from UK and Western Europe?
Tahita: Absolutely. We were saying this only the other day that Sarah mentioned to Hot Chip that she was going to Kazakhstan with us and Hot Chip had gone: "We've never gone to Kazakhstan" - We do get a lot of that. I think the perception of us in the UK is that we're a bit of a flash in the pan - that we were a band that had our "New Wave" thing, that we never considered ourselves to be a part of anyway and then maybe we weren't quite as successful on the second record and who knows where we are now, but elsewhere in the world, I think that that perception doesn't exist and we're considered to be a global property so we do get taken everywhere.
CM: That seems to be true for most unconventional bands. Do you find that the crowds react differently to your music in different cultures and locations?
Tahita: Absolutely. The UK is so trend led as well and things come and go so quickly, especially when you don't have that infrastructure around you. Since the first record we didn't have a traditional kind of label structure. We've put records out ourselves, and you can't compete at a marketing level with a major label in terms of getting that level of exposure.
Elsewhere, because things are not so trend led, journalists are happy to write about bands that they've written about before, and that's still of interest. The music is something that drives people's interests, whereas in the UK it's more about whether it's new or if it's trendy. Having a lot of friends who are journalists, I know a lot of editors aren't interested in bands unless they're very new or very hot.
It's a terrible shame considering how much talent there is out there, especially in the UK. We should be supporting our UK bands.
CM: You've mentioned self-releasing your records; do you feel record labels are prejudiced in terms of the artist they sign?
Tahita: I think it depends on your label. Obviously, there are some incredible labels around, especially the independent ones, who are very supportive regardless of how un-commercial an artist's music may be and more power to them!
You have to have a certain level of 'cool' around you, especially in the UK, for labels to be even interested in you. I think for us, as artists, there's always been that sense of mistrust, because we see ourselves as a pop band, but as a pop band in the sense that David Bowie is pop or Talking Heads are pop. It's been very difficult for the UK to get a handle on where we sit because we're not saying 'We're not pop' because we obviously are, we make alternative pop music in the same way that Prince made alternative pop music.
I think we'd have appreciated having a label behind us because at the end of the day we're artists and we'd much rather be leaving the production side of making a record to people who have that as a job.
We've made two strong records, we've finished this third incredible strong record - we played it to a lot of people, a lot of people said 'This is an amazing record, but given the album sales on the previous record, we're not willing to put out' which is where this idea that albums sales don't affect an artist's future is bulls***. If a few more people who are fans had bought that record we'd be in a slightly different position now but there you go - that's the nature of the industry these days.
CM: Your new single Hard Knocks has just been released; can you explain the creation of that song?
Tahita: Of course. It started off as a very different thing and it languished for a long time because we were thinking what is our new direction going to be? And I listened to a lot of dance hall around this time last year and that song got dragged back from the brink of being discarded. We ripped out all the original instrumentation and went down a more dance hall root with it and it revitalised it. In terms of the lyrics, I think it's pretty obvious I'm talking about 'Life being the school of Hard Knocks' I think for a lot of people in the position of being creative, when you have a certain level of success, it's almost human nature to wonder when it's going to end and when life is going to kick you in the b*****s. You have this sort of weird, dual state of feeling positive and feeling happy about where you are but also waiting for the axe to fall, and that's kind of what that song's about.
CM: When did you start writing for the album?
Tahita: We started in 2011 and this album was pretty much finished by the middle of last year, however we didn't have the team around us that we have now, so we couldn't really put it out.
CM: You've done extensive touring around the world, have you got any favourite geographical locations?
Tahita: Certainly, I think a lot of bands would agree with me that South America is really opening up, economically speaking, and that means much more scope for the promoters out there to bring bands over from the UK, from the US, from Australia, from everywhere in the world and it's wonderful to go to this magical land that you've heard so much about and the people are very welcoming. Obviously, they love dance music, they love dancing, so they were particularly welcoming to us.
We played with Cut Copy, and various bands from Chile and Brazil and it was amazing fun!
We loved Kazakhstan which we know nothing about in the UK. When journalists there asked us 'What do you know about our country?' I have to say 'Well, nothing' - it is very beautiful if you like the outdoor life; it's like mountains and skiing and there's incredible fields filled with wild horses and you're right next to Mongolia and China and it really feels like it should be on the backpacking trail. It's amazing to be in a place which is so unspoilt. We did this gig to 2,000 people on top of a mountain with cows and wild horses wandering around!
When we were sound checking they were building the festival around us and this guy came down from the top of a mountain where he'd been practising with his Samurai sword and said 'I heard you playing, it sounds amazing! Are you playing tomorrow?' - and he's like standing there with this huge sword. (Laughs).
CM: Obviously, it must be hard to leave locations like that but are you planning on coming home to tour the UK?
Tahita: Yeah, definitely. We did a London date last week. Once the album's released we're definitely due another London show where we will do Manchester and Glasgow again and hopefully some of the smaller cities where we seem to have quite a good fan base. It's always lovely to tour your home country but again there's always that thing of, is there really a fan base for us here? I think in terms of this record, it's going to open some eyes.
CM: You mentioned you don't like being immediately defined. What artists have inspired your sound?
Tahita: I think it comes from everywhere. If you're a music lover, if you're a human being, you're constantly being influenced by everything you see and everything you hear!
As a music lover, you're influenced by music you've loved since you were a teenager; it influences you when you're not even aware of it. There's stuff you've heard yesterday that influences you.
I think with us - we're music lovers and we're musicians and we're producers - we're always listening to things that excite us. I think when we're in the studio, when you're in that zone of feeling very excited with adrenaline running through you, you feel that anything is possible!
CM: You've been around since 2004 and therefore have witnessed the impact of the internet on the music industry. Do you feel the internet is something that is helping or hindering the music industry?
Tahita: I think it's both. I think it's very positive in the sense that obviously there is a great deal of choice now for consumers of music, and you can get music from anywhere, and you can listen to it anywhere but I think for bands it's really pulled the rug out from under us and I think there's probably a lot of people who probably aren't making music anymore that we were probably making music with in 2004, but it's just not viable because you're not being paid for what you do. Imagine if you, as a journalist were being told 'We're only going to pay you when you're giving presentations, we're not going to pay you for anything else you do'. To state that you're an artist and what you should do should be for free is a little bit offensive to say the least.
It's a double edged sword like so many things in life. It's giving people tremendous scope to promote themselves and people who are good at that are doing brilliantly out of it. For those of us who see ourselves as musicians and artists, harnessing that self-advertisement is more difficult.
CM: Congratulations on preserving and managing to remain a band despite the demanding industry. Is there any advice you would give to somebody approaching a career in the music industry?
Tahita: I would say three things: Perceiver. In the words of the great Barry Seven 'Decide whether you're going to be real or fake and stick to it' because you can't be both! I think people think they can have their cake and eat it but, unfortunately, some things about the music industry and perceptions of things in the industry have not changed. I think a lot of young musicians these days think they can make really gritty, innovative music and are still going to be massive - and then they're surprised two years later when they haven't been signed and they're all still living like c**p and are still spending all their money in the Dolphin on a Friday night, and you just think, well, make the decision real or fake. And stick to your guns!
CM: Thank you very much for speaking with us!
Tahita: I always like to be as honest as possible. I feel like a lot of people in the industry paint a picture of everything being fine and it's very dishonest. I'm in the front line here, in the trenches.