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Interview with One More Grain

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I’ve just arrived in north Cumbria, about a mile from the Scottish border, to start work on some new material over summer. It’s wonderful to be staying in a house with hot water again.

What’s on your schedule at the moment?
Harassing our cover artist Stuart Humpage, setting up a simple studio here to work on ideas for two OMG-related albums…. my next ‘solo’ release and Andrew’s album, plus initial lyrical ideas for the third OMG album, tentatively titled “Grain Fever”.

One of your latest songs is called “Having a Ball”. With regular concerts, a great debut out and a second album in the making, would you say that song title describes your current mood pretty precisely?
Things are going very well at the moment. The second album is now finished. We’re producing a lot of material that we’re happy with and hopefully this will continue for a long time. But the song you mention is actually a celebration of a nervous breakdown! Part of what I had in mind was the film Clockwise starring John Cleese…quintessential English humour.

Talking about concerts: When I listened to “Pigeon English” I thought to myself: This music is great – but it probably works even better on stage. Would you agree?
Sometimes it probably does. It’s different each night because we don’t stick rigidly to the same lines and structures all the time. But I find it hard to concentrate on listening to all of what’s going on in an unbiased manner when I’m part of it so I’m probably not the best person to ask! We were all surprised at how good the recent split-label live release of our Brighton show came out and we’ll definitely look into a full-length live album soon.

You’ve been performing at a couple of very different clubs, some of them leaning more towards the rock end of the spectrum, some with a tendency towards jazz. Would you say there have been strong differences in the perception of your music at the respective venues?
I think it’s fantastic that we have been invited to play at such different nights because it’s a perfect rebuttal of the suggestion that we are too strange to have broad appeal. The Juno synth was looked upon with great disdain at a pompous folk night disorganised by Ben Fogle type people we played which ended in chaos. The London indie audience have so far seemed to be quite open-minded, despite unforgivably mistaking my south Lakes accent for a Salford one. Often it’s certain venues on certain nights that you can pretty much be sure of a reasonable, if garish, crowd. The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch has always proved successful for us. For my part, I like being reasonably close to the audience so that they can be part of the narrative should they wish.

How do your live sets differ from the studio album? Are you taking pieces to extreme lenghts or rather presenting them even more poignantly?
We make a conscious effort not to just ‘jam’ endlessly for the sake of it so most songs are about the same length as on record, if not shorter. At the moment we like playing short but raucous sets. There is always an element of improvisation.

The band line-up got shuffled quite a bit since the debut album. How did that happen? How has the new constellation affected the sound and songwriting of the band?
Gal gave up the drums after recording what I consider to be his best rhythm ever, on “Jon Hassellhoff”. DuDu had a lot of other things happening in his life. If there had been more cash I expect they both would have stayed. London’s a tough city when you’re poor. Still, change happened so we embraced it. Laurie and Merek were the first people to reply to the adverts and they turned out to be ideal. It seems to work that way for us. They gel together very well. “Isle Of Grain” is a transitory album in terms of personnel, but it’s looking like this new line-up is a stable one. For the third album we’re working “bottom-up” in that the initial rhythms are the seeds from which the whole thing will grow.

How would you describe the second album compared to the first one? How are label talks progressing?
Broadly-speaking, “Isle Of Grain” is a night-time album, and, in terms of the lyrics, mostly within an urban context where there are a lot of people on the brink of madness or beyond it. “Pigeon English” was done in three short sessions at a studio in Islington with excellent microphones and two wonderful producers. “Isle Of Grain” was recorded here, there and everywhere across London over the course of a few months, by Andrew and I, and often with hideously cheap microphones. I regard it as important to create under whatever circumstances you are confronted with and use any limitations to your advantage where possible. The general aim was to record an album that was more commercial and yet more experimental than the debut and I think we’ve achieved it. It’s more lo-fi but has more depth, I’d say. My dad thinks one track sounds like Steptoe and Son which is surely a good sign. It’ll be out in the autumn on White Heat Records, preceded by “Having A Ball” as a 7” single.

With so many different influences thrown in the blender, I was amazed how coherent the material of “Pigeon English” was. Is there some kind of concept behind the band that is holding things together after all?
There is no single concept though if I had to be quick on this I’d say we’re trying to incorporate quite unusual and disparate musical and literary ideas into a relatively digestable and hopefully non-indulgent format. I have lots of inbuilt musical pointers, or strange conclusions I’ve reached which help me to say ‘no, that’s a bad idea’ or ‘yes, that’s great’, and I follow these intuitions like a religion. It’s helpful for sculpting away at the irrelevant elements to leave a nice bold streamlined form of a piece instead of an over-cluttered jungle of ideas pulling in different directions. Textures are very important in our sound, chord changes much less so.

Right or wrong: One More Grain are more about Soul than about Punk!
Right. The third album’s going to have a real Smokey Robinson feel to it.

Right or wrong: One More Grain are more about Dub than about Jazz!
Wrong. Laurie’s drumming has been widely acknowledged as a major influence on the direction John Coltrane took circa 1965.

Right or wrong: One More Grain are less about Krautrock than the first press release claimed!

I’d say we have quite a lot in common with Can. I’m pretty sure all the Grains like them a lot.

On the One More Grain site you mention that you thought you’d written enough songs about hills, yet on your personal webspace you reveal to still dream of the mountains. Does that mean that Freud was correct in claiming you couldn’t hide your past for too long (and that lyrics could well tend towards the countryside again soon)?
As I’ll be mostly living up north over the summer there could well be a re-emergence of landscape-influenced prose. However I would never want to retread old ground without some kind of development taking place. I don’t mean a housing development. To tell you the truth I have no idea exactly how they will shape up so we’ll just have to see…..

Has anyone ever requested a song from the Suilven-era as an encore? How do you personally look back on that time?

We do play “Northern” from time to time and Merek our bass player has asked if we could do “Channelkirk”. That may happen at some point although we’re all more interested in moving forwards. As for the label, I’m glad I’m not doing administrative nonsense anymore. It was all worthwhile but I spent far too many lonely nights with a guillotine.

The Guardian was quoted as saying: "One More Grain are a strange bunch" Do you get that reaction a lot?
Yes we do but I take it as a compliment. We even got called ‘deeply disturbing’ which I found amusing. The new song “Lad With A Balloon” pretty much sums it up and exacerbates it.

Pigeon English (Victory Garden Records) 2007

One More Grain at Myspace

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