Sometimes you’ve got to have some meat and potatoes to enjoy the tuna and custard more appropriately.
For their gloriously brutal new record ‘How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident’, Future of the Left went to Pledge Music to ask fans to help fund it. Within 5 hours they had reached 100%.
For those who had the faith, it’s money very well spent. It’s the sound of a band at the peak of their powers, balancing an exhilarating sense of experimentation with the essence of what makes them so thrilling – plus a healthy dose of Falco’s acerbic lyrics.
We spoke to Falco and Julia from the band to discuss why they went down the Pledge route, the sound of the new album and adopting the voice of a ‘BBC newsreader from 1952’ on one song.
How happy are you with the new album?
Julia: We’re very happy with it. We were happy with the last one as well but this one, not just in terms of the songs, but also the overall sound of it we’re delighted and putting it out ourselves has been really satisfying.
Jim and I especially prefer this one as it’s a thing for us. It just feels more settled in because we’ve both been in the band for a while now and we definitely felt like we contributed more to this one.
Falco: It happened very quickly and very easily but I think this album, although it doesn’t fall too neatly into the trap, is more easily appreciated by people who liked the band in the first place. It’s definitely more coherent and flows more as one piece.
We listened to the vinyl last week and sonically it just sounds so present, it’s just really rich.
J: … and this richness you’re getting is because we’re doing it ourselves which meant we gave it the go ahead.
Was it a conscious decision to have a different sound or is that what happens when you start writing?
F: No – we just write some songs. I always want to do a pop record although, as I’m often told by people with a far greater understanding of the world than me, my idea of a pop song is not the same as everyone else’s – hence the record sales – but you just try and write a really good bunch of songs which pay regard to the people in the room writing it.
J: There wasn’t a conscious effort to go “Hey it’s gonna sound like this now”. We weren’t thinking “‘The Plot’ was ok but let’s make it sound different to that record.” It’s just where we were at that time when we were writing.
And it did come together quite naturally – if one idea wasn’t working we dropped it. And, to me anyway, it’s got a few darker twists to it which I quite like.
F: There happen to be more keyboard songs on the last record because they happened to work at that time and when we tried it on this occasion they just didn’t work as well. Or rather there was just a lot of nasty sounding guitar stuff. It wasn’t really written in reaction to anything just sometimes you wanna pick up a guitar and chuck it at someone and sometimes, like on the last record, you want to do a really tongue in cheek tribute to the B52s and those things either work or they don’t.
I guess it’s just time that changes people and subsequently makes for different music. In another world this album could have happened then and ‘The Plot (Against Common Sense)’ could have happened now… assuming all time is linear of course.
Did starting your own label and putting it out yourself give you more freedom?
J: The kind of freedom it gave us was on an operational level – just how we conduct our business which has been quite liberating and satisfying because we choose what happens with the money, we choose who we want to work with and they have been great and genuinely enthusiastic and they love the record and you can just tell that straight away. It’s been hard work doing it yourself – don’t do it! – but we’re very proud of it and the reward comes when you go “Hey, we did this ourselves and we did a really good job”.
F: There’s a certain size of band, which we probably are but only just, who can just about get away with it because there’s a pre-existing interest in the band and there’s a certain devotion which I’m very proud to say some people have to our music (if not to us personally) which means something like the Pledge worked. It means we can finance the making of the record, even though it’s not going to help us put a down-payment on a yacht.
J: It’s a natural progression for us because we’re at that level where we can justify doing it to raise the funds. We need to deliver it the way we want and with the current climate in the music industry – right now a band at our level trying to get signed to a label is nearly impossible. Forget about it. Labels are terrified of putting money into bands right now unless you’re a brand new band that they hope they can create a buzz about.
So we fall into this weird bracket and we’re very lucky we’re in a time when we can do it ourselves because of the good old internet and things like crowdfunding which we were originally not into.
So what changed your mind?
J: We realised it’s how you approach it – we weren’t pitching ourselves to play people’s living rooms, we just said “Do you want to help with the cost of making the music?”
F: But you know it’s entirely appropriate to the character of some bands that they go and play a show in somebody’s living room because that’s the way they communicate with their fans. They can say with a straight face “We want you to be involved – come and sing backing vocals” and it works. But for us you’re not singing backing vocals on our record because the members of the band have to sing it right to sing on the record,
J: And for the record I want to say that the Brewster’s Millions package was a piss take. All those people out there – you know who you are.
F: They were saying “Can you believe those pricks are asking for £10,000? Who do they think they are?” If it had been for any of those people there would have been a prick tax applied.
Were you surprised how quickly you reached 100%?
J: It blew our faces off. We were hopeful – to be honest we were thinking maybe a month. And then when it happened in 5 hours we were like ‘“OK, then”
F: It spat on my nipples and introduced me to its mother, if I may invent an allusion? It was a really surreal experience. I don’t want to say it was a vindication because, ultimately, we shouldn’t be insecure enough to need that as an indication but it was really heartwarming and beautiful.
I’d like to think that day the Pledge launched was the only day about money and the possibility it brings. And, relatively speaking, we got very little flack for it and I’m very pleased. People seem to have faith in it and this album will repay that faith several times over.
To focus on the album – where does the title come from? Does that sum up the themes?
F: I wrote a song in 2006 called ‘How To Stop Your Brain in an Accident’ and the most remarkable thing about the song was the title but with a lot of ideas the title is there waiting for a song. Like titles with ‘You need Satan more than he needs you’ that title was there for ages before it was a song. Every song we wrote we’d go: “Can we crowbar that in here?” But with that it was filed away and then all of a sudden when all of these songs were happening there was, not a theme emerging, because it can be really obvious when you just enforce a theme on a record, but there was a sense of trying to make sense of a chaos which just immediately seemed appropriate. I said “What about this title?”, and that was it.
Why did you choose ‘Bread, Cheese, Bow and Arrow’ as the lead off??
F: I just think it’s a really good song.
J: And we asked a few other people cos we have someone putting it out on radio and funnily enough he chose that one as well. It’s been really nice working with him cos we’ve been agreeing with his choices a lot. There’ll be another one coming out before the record comes out. We think that one makes the right statement.
F: I’ve seen some people say some stupid things like it sounds like Korn. And you’re like, of course, it does mate. That speaks to a person’s frame of reference as in ‘I heard a detuned guitar once and it was on a Korn record’.
J: And on the last record we sounded like Genesis to someone.
F: Although we’re not sure whether that was Peter Gabriel era or Phil Collins era Genesis cos there’s a big difference there.
J: But we thought it was a really great song to launch into the new album with.
F: It was just easy and effortless and it’s a song we’re very proud of. It’s got a certain melody to it which you’ve got to find. It’s a challenge to write a riff like that, to write music like that and also to shape melody from it. As much as I enjoy something a bit post-rocky I don’t find any challenge in writing inter-connected riffs. And similarly normal pop songs don’t interest me – I want to try and do both at the same time and it won’t work for some people but they’re invited to start their own bands.
‘Male Gaze’ and ‘Johnny Borrell Afterlife’ were on the EPs – were they always intended to go on the album or did they just fit?
F: Yeah they were pretty much always intended to be on the album. When a song’s strong enough it tends to make its own case for the record. I’ve always loved Johnny Borrell – is it Bor-rell or Borrell? Whatever that character’s name is. He’s not a real person, he’s a character. I loved that song from the start – the structure’s very weird it’s got that weird falling apart indie sound to it and two basses. There’s just something very lovely about it.
There are other songs on the record that are one dimensional, like ‘Things to say to a Friendly policeman’ which is silly clappy thing but it works very well there, because it’s sandwiched in between songs which are a little bit more multifaceted. You don’t’ want to bore people by going off in too many different directions at once. Sometimes you’ve got to have some meat and potatoes to enjoy the tuna and custard more appropriately.
On ‘Singing of the Bonesaws’ – that voice, how did you decide to do that?
F: It was just a decision taken in the moment. Like the first time you decide to try skiing and if you’re in Trinidad and Tobago tough, you’re just going skiing. Initially when I performed the lyrics I wasn’t sounding like a BBC newsreader from 1952 – it just happened.
I think it’s a confusing song because it starts by talking about the music industry then self-evidently moves on to other topics without as much as a by your leave. Which I hope is understood. It’s weird, with ‘Robocop 4’ off the last record, so many people have come up to me and said ‘What’s your problem with action films?’ I say my problem with action films is that you don’t actually die in them – because you have to be an idiot to not realise that songwriters write in characters. For example I don’t pronounce Cannes Cans but I’m writing about a particular character. And yeah I’m not a big fan of Michael Bay films like any cogent adult but there are degrees of truth.
It’s like what Stewart Lee said – and I’m not comparing the band to Stewart Lee – he plays an exaggerated version of himself on stage. He couldn’t be that person or he wouldn’t get through his life. And to a degree there’s something about that in any good art. If there was a caveat on everything you said that said “actually I know he’s a really nice person” you would never get towards saying anything of any critical use.
Where did the voice came from? A deep illness living inside my mind and belly.
Where do you get inspiration to write those types of lyrics?
F: With ‘Singing of The Bonesaws’ I was reading a book about the American Civil War and it talked about when the doctors were operating in the Field Hospital, they talked about the singing of the bonesaws, which is when they’re amputating limbs and when the saw cuts through the legs and I just thought that was a very striking image. It just started a chain of events in my mind that I suppose I am partly responsible for.
J: I can’t speak on behalf of him but over the last few years, as I’ve been living with him, it’s been interesting because obviously I read his lyrics. It’s fascinating to see what he’s absorbed in; just mundane conversations that even we’ve had and I’ll see it pop up in lyrics even a few weeks later. It’s like he’s this big sponge that’s absorbed everything he’s heard, read, seen and he’s just squeezed it out.
Sometimes I even question that “Where does he come up with this shit from?” I’m not saying they’re all from external influences – there are the darker parts in that brain that mix in it with it.
F: I spend a lot of time writing. The stuff that works is written pretty much in the time it takes to hear it. So you write and write and write and write and if it doesn’t work and then you go “Oh This” and there’s a whole song and it doesn’t take any effort at all. If something takes effort it sometimes sounds constructed.
And ‘French Lessons’ is that a love song? That’s how I took it…
F: It is a love song. It’s a love song about all the things people tell you about long term relationships and marriage, about the way they tell you the way it’s going to change your life in quite mundane ways but it’s about how it doesn’t have to. Or at least, and this is the way I write songs, that’s the way it starts off. Then it starts to be about these arse holes who advertise a venue called LiveLounge in the centre of Cardiff who ride around on unicycles trying to shove flyers into your hand. And then my mind wandered to a home and the truths of domesticity that lie under the carpets.
And there’s the mini album ‘Human Death’ being released on the same day – did the songs not fit?
F: The songs wander a little more but not in a bad way. For example there’s a song called ‘Fucked Up Runners’ and it was written deliberately as a song that sounds like Shellac though not exactly as Shellac are, dare I say it, a more subtle band than us and less of a song structure band than us.
J: They’re not off-cuts. It’s not these weren’t good enough for the album. Yes, they were good enough, but for stylistic reasons or whatever it just doesn’t fit on the album and that’s why we decided to release it exactly at the same time as the album because to us the songs are just as good and were recorded in the same session as well.
J: We didn’t want to make a double album – this isn’t ‘Use your Illusion’, no one can beat that so we thought normal album and we’ll do a mini album
F They’ll definitely be people out there who prefer the mini album – they’re quite possibly dangerous sexual criminals – but there’s nothing on there that is anything less than the best we could have done.
How’s the set work now with the mixture of songs?
F: ‘Lapsed Catholics’ still works really well as a closer but we’ve been wanting to change the way the set starts for a while but similarly even though you don’t want to repeat yourself you do want to make sure the opener has the impact of an opener. ‘Arming Eritrea’ has been the opener for a while because it’s the best opener but now we’re kind of swinging between thinking put one of the songs from the new record either ‘Bread, Cheese…’ or ‘How To Spot a Record Company’; those songs have that impact and that instantaneous feel.
The set will pretty much always go – some guitar songs, some keyboard songs in the middle just so there’s some variation and then some other guitar songs and then a bloody big fuck around at the end – that’s always the structure of the set it’s just that the actual songs move round.
Some people always want old songs and some people want just new songs and you have to find a middle ground to disappoint them all.
Was winning the Welsh Music Prize a big a thing for you?
J: It was nice to get that support from the Welsh music industry bods. What was nice about that for me was that it was a surprise because we’re not really that deep in the scene.
F: People were very complimentary but I was quick to remind them that it was a good album before it won an award. It was a weird thing because quite frankly you can’t be a band who stake your reputation, and your reality, on what you want to do and not really respecting those tropes of the music industry and then the second you win an award go “Cool!” – now awards are good because we won one. But it was nice and my mother was proud and she’s not easily impressed – unless it’s a good bagel toaster. You could easily be too cynical about it or too hypocritical and I’m going to try and be neither.
Finally, has married life affected the band?
J: No not at all. It’s a bit calmer if anything.
F: The next record is going to be a collection of Christmas songs.
Live: Heaven – November 13th