One afternoon in Autumn 2016, a Japanophile mate texted me, saying she'd heard the band name, Wasuremono on 6Music. She'd got wildly over-excited, quickly got over the disappointment that they weren't the new Shonen Knife and then got wildly excited afresh when she heard their breakthrough track, "Cuddling", and needed to share the joy.
Wasuremono comprise of Will Southward (vocals and guitar), Madelaine Ryan (keys and backing vocals), Isaac Phillips (drums) and Phoebe Phillips (bass). Their cinematic sound is as ethereal and shoegazey, as it is avant-garde and krautrocky, with some visceral basslines that you feel as much as you hear. It's like a voyage through deep space, via Mordor, during the best, most intense cheese dream you could possibly imagine.
Having been played on Radio 2 before they'd ever played a gig together, it is no wonder that, four years on, they appear to be on the verge of something huge. Contact Music met with Will and Madelaine from the band recently at their own studio, The Wilderness.
Contact Music (CM): Can you tell us about the origins of the band name?
Will (W): When we were in development we were called Billy Williams in Turbulence, but when we started doing more recordings, we settled on Wasuremono. The Japanese say Waz-ure-ay-mono, but we just say Waz-ure-mono, because it's easier. It means, "Forgotten or left luggage". You hear it in stations in Japan if something's left on a platform and we just liked the meaning. Also, I thought, 'Bon Iver has a French name, so we can be clever too and have a Japanese one'.
Madelaine (M): It's ironic that it means 'to be lost or forgotten', as it's the most forgettable name ever, but then, everyone discusses it because they want to know what it means.
W: Radio presenters seem to say it about four or five ways.
M: And have listeners ring in from Devon telling them how to get it right.
CM: So a happy hook, maybe. What was the genesis of the band?
M: We all went to school at St. Lawrence in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire.
CM: Who assembled the band?
W: Me, I suppose. I played with Isaac the drummer in another band for a few years before this one. I knew Madelaine and knew she could sing and play keys. I hadn't sung lead vocals before. I would play guitar and write music, so there was progression in putting lyrics and melody on top of what I was already doing.
M: Will was working his arse off, playing guitar, singing, playing the bass with his feet, using a Moog Taurus - basically dancing around, so we thought, 'Let's get a bassist' and Phoebe, Isaac's sister, wrote to us saying she really liked our music. She came round for a practice and it all went from there. We knew her a bit from school, but mostly from local bands and gigs. She's taken on a lot of our design work, like the cover for our last EP, "Kaboom". The band's beginning kind of relates back to the whole band name, I think. The idea of 'to be lost or forgotten' was, I guess, that we would put music out there and if nothing happened, then we'd just forget about it.
W: We thought, 'Why not make a bunch of recordings that we want to make and then just put it out there and see what happens, before we invest too much into something that people might not like?'
CM: And you've produced your own EPs so far, haven't you?
W: It's the production side I've really got into. I wasn't much good at anything else at school, so I did music tech for A Level. I've started geeking out recently on microphones, old pre-amps, compressors, analogue equipment, drum machines. I produced and mixed the first two EPs, after which Phoebe joined on bass. At that point we all decided to go and record an album in London with Ian Dowling and Guy Massie, which was great and which we are, technically, still doing.
M: We haven't released anything from that, apart from "A Lesson to Learn". That hasn't been officially released, but it's on YouTube.
W: We've still got another five unreleased tracks that we recorded with them, but recording was taking so long that everything was getting stale. We recorded the Kaboom EP ourselves subsequent to that, but we've still got these old songs, so we're working out what to do with them.
M: We're just trying to see whether we can alter them to fit with the sound we got on Kaboom.
CM: How do you record your music? Do you capture the full band sound in the studio, or do you overlay it, track by track?
W: In London, we were recording as a full band, but in our little studio here, it's hard to do that. Kaboom was recorded using overdubs. The best thing about having your own studio is that it's really easy to capture little moments. I might work on a guitar line, with some drum pads, and Isaac can come over a different day and put down the actual drum line. If you have your own space, you have all the time in the world, which you can't do if you're paying for a studio.
M: After recording in London, Ian came here and we'd sit experimenting for hours until very late with sounds we could make, using barbecue utensils or Pringles cans. We didn't have many weird noises on Kaboom, though.
CM: Except for paper-eating noises on "Eating Paper".
W: That's true. On a previous EP, you can hear the birds at the end of "Dead Man's Opera" and you can hear my dad hitting some piping outside with an axe. It's a bit like Rammstein.
M: Those kinds of happy accident make the records more fun.
CM: What are your immediate plans?
M: Kaboom has already been released on CD and we really want to get it out on vinyl. We all really love vinyl. We're working on a deluxe version, which we want to have a couple of extra songs on it.
W: Me and Madelaine have been working hard on our own label, Wilderness Records, and because we've been having lots of plays from people like 6Music, we're feeling more confident about self-releasing and less worried about getting signed. It's great that there are a lot of people on the radio willing to support unsigned bands.
M: With the progression of technology and the way people listen to music, the rules are always changing and the old way of "I need to get signed" is getting thrown out of the window. I was convinced that we'd have to pay radio pluggers to get us on the radio. People had told us that we'd need that, but we just did it the old-fashioned way; we just hand-wrote some postcards, basically with "Hi, we love your radio station, here's our music" and sent them off.
W: Tom Robinson's site, Freshnet, has a really good guide to submitting CDs to radio stations and making them look like they're from proper labels. We did that for our first EP and got some airplay on Radio 2 on the Dermot O'Leary Show. We did the same thing with "Cuddling" with BBC6. I was heading to the pub on a Friday night and I discovered via Twitter that we'd been played 26 hours previously.
CM: What has it been like getting airplay?
W: When Steve Lamacq played "Cuddling" on his Recommends show, we thought that would be it, but he then played us on the daytime show, as his Lamacq Livener, for two weeks, which gave us ten plays up to Christmas. Then Lauren Laverne picked it up too.
M: It was so exciting, because I used to listen to his Evening Session show years ago. Along with John Peel, Steve Lamacq was always one of those people that would introduce me to new music.
W: Because of all that, we were added to the 6Music Recommends playlist on Spotify. Ever since, the plays of "Cuddling" have gone over 90,000. It's been insane. It made me wish that we'd had a music video for it. The global audience is mad - we were getting people from all over the place tweeting about it who had heard us on 6Music, which just shows how powerful a station it is.
CM: Apart from yourselves, which up and coming bands would you recommend?
M: I'm looking forward to hearing the new Low Chimes album. They have been recording a new album and we've enjoyed gigging with them.
W: Port Erin are releasing a new album soon too. They're an amazing live band.
CM: What has been your biggest lesson learned so far?
M: Keeping the DIY attitude, whilst expanding our immediate network as much as possible. I'm from a theatre background; this is my first band. Theatre is very strict on time, where if you're five minutes late you don't get the job, but music is much more relaxed. If the sound guy says to turn up for a 6.30 sound check, I will still turn up on time, but I know that it will happen an hour later.
W: Biggest lesson? Don't buy an instrument from adverts in the Medieval Times. I have an instrument in the other room called an organistrum, or something. It's a really early hurdy gurdy that some guy was commissioned to make. He came round with it and I was really more interested in his massive beard. I bought it from him and it broke the first day I had it. (At this point Will fetched said defunct instrument and demonstrated the noise it made - like a cello with chronic emphysema). Arcade Fire used a hurdy gurdy drone at the start of one of their tunes, so I thought it'd be cool to experiment with that sort of sound. It just sounded awful.
Interview with Jon Kean