The School Interview

TIH: How did this particular lineup end up together? [pause] Judging by your reaction, it’s probably fairly complicated.

Liz: It is pretty complicated. I started in 2007. I used to be in a band called The Loves, and we did some demos of songs that I was writing which were 60s influenced but more girl-group kind of things and then I recruited Ryan to play bass

Harri: I saw an advert you put on the internet that said “anyone who can play anything, please sign up”, but I was too scared…

Liz: Yeah, we’ve had quite a few band members. They’ve come and gone because we have so many instruments. It’s just different people’s commitments and stuff, because there are so many different parts going on. In Cardiff, it’s quite a small music scene so musicians are kind of rare.

Fran: I was actually looking for some place to live, so I typed in “musicians in Cardiff country” and came up with “wanted: female backing singer and trumpet player/musician” and I was like that’s me!

Kay: I found my advert on my own website, which was interesting. So I deleted it and took it.

Rich: I got in through the old guitarist. He recorded a demo of another band I’m in and they needed another drummer, so I joined that way.

Liz: Yeah. The rest were stolen from other bands. Ivan, I met at gig he was playing and I thought Ah, guitar.

TIH:You said that Cardiff has a small music scene, but it seems to me, at least from where I am (not that I’ve been there), to be really active or high quality.

Fran: Smallish

Ivan: I think it’s just small compared to places like London, maybe. Compared to places I’ve grown up in, it’s different.

Kay: There’s a lot of bands, but nothing major comes out of it as much as places like London. You get a lot of student bands, but they come and go really quickly. And that’s the problem with it. It’s that you get a burst of the same bands for about a year and then they all leave.

Fran: Wales is known as “The Land of Song”…

TIH: I mean, I haven’t been doing this blogging thing for long, just a little over a year, but it seems like all my favorite bands that I’ve found come from Cardiff or from Wales.

Ivan: I’ve found, because I’ve only been living in Cardiff for about the last two years, that the music scene is nice in Cardiff because everyone seems to know everyone and there’s only a handful of venues, but they’re really good venues, and they’re really good nights and there’s good promotion and it is good music, so I think the fact that it’s small doesn’t make it any less quality.

Liz: Right. It’s just small, so there’s less musicians—less people to find…less people to play trumpet that would be into the sort of music that we’re into, or people to play drums in the style that we need drums played, so it’s hard.

TIH: That’s one thing that I did notice. There seems to be a lot of—I don’t want to call it inbreeding, but

Liz: No, it is…

Ivan: Cross-pollination…

Fran: It’s quite a small city as well, so that helps. It makes it quite easy to get to band practice. Like in London you’ve got to go on loads of Tubes, but in Cardiff, you can just walk.

TIH: So do you think the Cardiff scene—does it have a “sound”, or is each band more self-contained?

Kay: There’s a lot of difference

Harri: Each band’s got their own sound, even though they share members.

Liz: But they all come together when there’s a bit of a buzz about something. There were a couple of other indie pop bands, but a couple of them have recently departed, like Little My and a band called Silver Gospel Runners as well. That pretty much just leaves us now, but then you’ve got more people like Islet are coming up.

Kay: They’re wicked.

Liz: Yeah, it’s more sort of experimental stuff as well. It’s the same people go to gigs all the time so it’s quite good how they all sort of seem to come together, even though it’s different songs.

Fran: There’s a really lively jazz scene as well. And also, if you go a bit further up to the valleys they’re quite into heavy rock.

Ivan: There’s a lot of metal in the valleys.

Kay: There’s a lot of metal going round.

TIH: Is there really?

Kay: Yeah. A lot. That’s what I seem to be getting quite a lot of at the moment for bookings.

Ivan: There’s quite a bit of hardcore as well, a decent bit of punk.

Fran: But jazz is really strong.

TIH: It seems interesting to me that there would be so much harder stuff there since about the hardest thing coming from Wales that I listen to is The Joy Formidable.

Ivan: Well, obviously bands like Bullet for My Valentine and Lost Prophets or the Black Hole or Funeral for a Friend. They’ve really made it big and they’re obviously really heavy. But I don’t know much about that scene because that’s not really music that I’ve been into for a while.

Fran: They’ve made them more angry at the Valleys.

Rich: But then you’ve got really good bands as well like Right Hand Left Hand. They’re pretty heavy and they’re amazing.

Ivan: Saturday’s Kids as well. I played with them at Buffalo and they’re pretty heavy.

Kay: Who?

Ivan: Saturday’s Kids. They’re like a hardcore punk band. They’re doing quite well.

TIH: About a year ago I read an article about Neko Case and she was advocating “mixing up the teams”, basically having girls in the band. You’ve got a good distribution, as it were

Rich: It’s a good ratio.

TIH: Do you think that makes a difference?

Harri: It’s boring if it’s just four boys with guitars in there. It’s just like standard…

TIH: American

Harri: Well…

TIH: It is. It’s ok, you can say it…

Rich: I think it’s just up to boys being too naughty.

Ivan: They keep us under wraps. There’s been no debauchery on this tour so far. I’m very upset about that.

Liz: Musically, I don’t think it makes a lot of difference.

Kay: No, I don’t think so.

Ivan: I think the only obvious difference it makes having girls in the band is when you’ve them singing. Because we’ve got Fran and Steph and Kay doing backing vocals and makes a big difference. And that’s really nice, I think, to have the mix between the female vocals and the male vocals for the harmonies which I think is really nice.

Fran: It’s quite rare to have a girl horn player, as well. Like when I turn up to play gigs, a lot of people, when I’ve played with other bands, they’ve said Ah, so you’re the vocalist then, are you? And I go [begin angry voice] No! Girls play horns too! [end angry voice]

TIH: So, as a band, you’ve been together in some form or another since 2007, right? But this is the first LP. It seems like it’s been a long time coming. So what was the process of getting to this point like?

Liz: Yeah, well I’ve been trying to work out why it’s taken so long, and I think it’s because quite a lot of fuss was made over our really early demos and normally, when I hear about a band, it’s when they’ve either released a couple—like a single and an EP and they’ve already got signed and they’re there—and an album, that’s when I normally hear of a new band, unless they’re local. I don’t normally hear them based on a demo apart from, I think, Black Kids was the last sort of big demo that you heard that caught on. So I think maybe that was why. We had only just formed when people were starting to pick us up, and I think that’s just how long it takes. We were quite fussy about the album as well. Changing over the band members didn’t help things in terms of my songwriting for a while. There were at least six months when I was not writing as much as I would have done. But I also didn’t want fillers on the album. I wanted the album to be full of pop hits. So it was also that process as well—just writing and writing and writing and then picking one in ten for the album. There was a lot of that.

TIH: It was what, four gigs before you were picked up by Elefant?

Liz: Yeah, but they didn’t see us. They were based in Spain and the minute I did the demos, I sent them off to a few labels. I think I sent one to Track and Field and one to Elefant and those were just two that I really would have loved to do something with.

TIH: I’d always wondered how you ended up on a Spanish label. There’s something of a distance between Cardiff and Spain.

Liz: Well, you’ve got Helen Love down the road. They’re from Swansea, but they’re also on Elefant.

TIH: So, what does this new record include? Does it have some of the earlier songs as well?

Liz: It’s half and half. It’s got seven new songs and six that have been put out before. It was going to be just five, but then we had a song featured on a Spanish film, so we added it.

TIH: Which one was that?

Liz: “I Don’t Believe in Love” and the film was Yo Tambien. The EP was released something like a year before that film came out and people would have missed that. That’s why we put it on the album, so if you like the soundtrack of the film then there’s the album as well. There’s “All I Wanna Do” and “Valentine” came out, so those are on there, but again it was a limited edition, only 500 copies of the single, so that’s on there. It’s mainly giving new fans, if they’ve only just heard of us, we don’t want them missing out on the old ones, but also giving them new songs as well. And with the new ones, you can see the direction of the second album coming out a bit.

TIH: For people like me who came round too late to get hold of certain things.

Ivan: It’s never too late…

TIH: So the songwriting…You guys have nailed the 60s girl group sound, better than just just about anyone I’ve heard. It’s right up there with Camera Obscura, maybe a little higher, I think.

Liz: Thank you.

Kay: You just made her night.

[Liz collapses into a heap, insomuch as it is possible to collapse into a heap when already seated.]

TIH: So was that the intent—the sound you were pursuing from the beginning?

Liz: Yeah, I think so. I was playing around with a lot of sounds at the beginning. I started off trying to go a bit more Beatle-y than we’ve ended up as well, but that didn’t quite work, I don’t know why. There were a few songs, but I suppose all that use of the piano is why.

TIH: And the songwriting, how does that go about happening? Is it a group effort…[everyone points at Liz] You again. I’m trying find something someone else can answer to give you a break, but it’s not working…

Liz: It’s me, yeah. I write a lot of it. I come up with a lot of the parts at the moment, but I think just because a lot of our members are still quite new. Ivan only joined…

Ivan: It’s only my fourth gig tonight.

Liz: Yeah, it was only a few weeks ago. Fran and Kay are quite new as well, so parts were sort of given to them as they were in my head, but I think the plan for the next one—and also the first album was recorded in bits because we couldn’t take the time off of work to be there, just two or three of us would go in at a time, and I didn’t like that situation—the second one, I would love us to all be in one big room and to spend weeks on it and be up all night and day working on an album, perfecting it. That’s probably not going to happen, but that’s what I’d like to do.

TIH: Have you heard about this project in the Netherlands called In A Cabin With, where they basically stick musicians in a cabin somewhere for a week or ten days where they write and record an album?

Ivan: Isn’t that pretty much what Bon Iver did? He just went off in a cabin and did it.

Liz: Well, before I formed The School, that’s what I wanted to do—go somewhere in the middle of Wales, lock ourselves away, and see what happens at the end of it.

Ivan: Zeppelin did it with II, or was it III, in Wales. We should go to the same house.

Kay: If we could go away as well, have a holiday and record. Yes, please!

TIH: So how many shows have you played on this tour so far?

Ivan: This is the third, I guess.

Liz: Yeah, Cardiff was the album launch and the Sheffield was last night, so this is the third.

TIH: And how’s it going so far?

Liz: Good, yeah. Yesterday was a little shambolic..

Ivan: I wouldn’t say it was shambolic…

Kay: It wasn’t shambolic, it was just a little bit ropey…

Fran: I think we were all tired.

Kay: We were shattered.

Liz: We’re perking up now, well, I’m perking up. I’ve had less sleep than I did yesterday.

Fran: My trumpet fell off the stage and the mouthpiece went somewhere and I couldn’t find it.

Liz: There were a few things that went wrong.

Harri: It was really cramped up there as well.

Kay: It was. We were more or less on top of each other, let’s not lie.

Liz: But tonight we have the entire room to play as the stage.

Ivan: The stage was literally about the size of this van.

Kay: And dark. We couldn’t see anything.

TIH: I wanted to get your opinion on the whole deal with 6 Music.

Ivan: I’m literally—personally, I’m furious about it. I got a song played on 6 Music the other day on Tom Robinson’s show, and I think it’s the same as what everyone’s said basically, that it’s the best thing in Britain for new music. It’s the best thing for unsigned music. It’s the best chance to get new music played to a national audience. And I think it’s just horrific, just appalling. I can’t tell you how angry that’s made me—when I found out about that.

Kay: Radio 1 is not exactly playing the best of music at the moment, and if they get rid of 6 Music, it means they get rid of their weekend shows, which are more teen orientated. So they’re gonna lose all their teen audience, and just to compensate for the fact that they’ve lost 6 Music, they’re going to put someone on there, but it’s not gonna help because it should be on weekdays—it should be on all the time. And it’s rubbish. Someone made a mistake, and Pop Justice wrote about it just the other week, apparently someone from BBC made the mistake of saying that everyone who listens to 6 Music can find something they relate to on Radio 1. And he went absolutely mental and wrote the biggest essay about how the crossover is really bad. They did a crossover with Capital radio and they did a crossover with another radio station and they said Radio 1 was literally about 8% crossover and they said they’re going to lose all their listeners. And they will, because someone else will pick up something thinking 6 Music was a great idea, let’s make something like that, and they’re gonna lose out big time.

Ryan: I think the main thing for me is that it’s support for new bands. I mean, they were one of the first places that played us on the radio and I think it’s the same for most new bands. No other place supports new music like they do.

Ivan: No, there’s nothing.

Ryan: Especially when it’s the BBC. They’re supposed to be providing something that’s not available in the commercial sector. Things like Radio 1 is available anywhere else, whereas nothing else is like 6 Music which is exactly what they should be doing.

Kay: And because Steve Lamacq is only 6 Music and Radio 2 and he doesn’t play as much new music on Radio 2.

Ivan: And it’s not like they’re even genre-specific. They do it for so many different kinds of music. You’ve got at Bruce Dickinson’s show, which has just ended already. He was doing the rock show and that’s gone. Jarvis Cocker’s got his show on Saturday mornings. Tom Robinson has the late night show and he does a lot of new stuff. But…It’s just really sad, to be honest. It’s just really sad.

TIH: I mean, I just found out that I can listen to Tom Robinson’s podcasts, that’s about all I can do in the States, but I have already taken to using that for finding new music, they’re even going to play one of my recommendations in the next couple of weeks.

Kay: They’re also quite active with their listeners. They do listen to you. When you email them, they do listen.

Ivan: And it’s not like a linear station. It’s not designed to be listened to like that. There’s the fact that you can always go on to iPlayer and listen to the tracks and the shows again. I think part of the excuse for shutting it down had something to do with the number of people listening to it, but that was based on the amount of people listening live, not coming from the figures of people listening back and listening to it again.

TIH: Something I read said the BBC was claiming that only 20% of people even knew it existed.

Ivan: 20% of who?

TIH: That’s what I thought. No one asked me!

Fran: That’s still a lot of people. Twenty percent of the population of the UK is a lot.

Ivan: It’s not like the aim of the station is to be listened to by 100% of the population, that’s not what they’re going for.

Kay: Just because Chris Moyles has the biggest ratings for radio doesn’t mean he’s good—doesn’t mean it’s good music. It means absolutely nothing.

TIH: We don’t have anything like that out in the States at all. There may be one station out in California, so I hope they get that worked out, or someone comes and rescues the idea.

Ivan: I think as long as people keep making a fuss over it, because quite often, when something like this happens, people get outraged for a while. And I think the BBC will be relying on people being outraged for a while and then giving up and saying we’re really upset about this, but we’re not going to do anything about it. But as long as people keep lobbying and keep writing in and complaining and emailing and making a fuss about it—if there’s a big enough public fuss about it, then surely they’ll have to do something about it, because it is a public service and it is paid for by the license payers which is us.

Kay: [sarcastically] It could be just a stunt to make people listen to Radio 6 more. Maybe they’re doing it to advertise it. And everybody will be like Oh no! I’d better listen to it now!

Fran: It shows the power of Facebook.

Kay: And Twitter.

TIH: That’s true. Even I joined all the groups and signed all the petitions and added the “Save 6 Music” thing to my Twitter avatar, and I don’t even pay a license fee. Or get to listen to it.

Ivan: Yeah, I was moaning about it, but I don’t have to pay since I’m a student.

Fran: You still have to pay your license.

Kay: Not in Ivan’s house…

Ivan: I still get angsty about it. It’s my right.

Kay: You don’t pay for it!

Ivan: I don’t care! That’s how it works in this country!

TIH: Where I live, we don’t have to pay for any of it. It’s all free.

Ivan: It’s the land of the free…

Fran: But that’s why ours is better.

Ivan: Now let’s not start that. Don’t pick a fight with the interviewer.

TIH: Well, no, she’s got a point. If you’re getting the money regardless…

Fran: Invest in quality..

TIH: Right, invest in quality, or, as I suspect the BBC are looking at it, afford to take risks, which we can’t do.

Ivan: I still don’t think 6 Music is a risk.

Fran: More niche things can be covered and you don’t have to cater for just the mass market. For example, in Wales we have our own TV station and Welsh radio just in Welsh. That is funded quite a lot and maybe, if people weren’t paying license fees, we wouldn’t be able to have that.

Ivan: There’s a big fuss about that, isn’t there? It’s 80 million, isn’t it?

Fran: Yeah, because they’re saying that hardly anyone is listening to it.

Ivan: And it’s coming out of BBC and ITV, isn’t it.

Kay: ITV pay for it.

Fran: But it’s very important to keep it.

TIH: The same thing is going on in the north of Scotland, trying to cut funding to Gaelic language things all over the place, which is a completely different issue that we won’t get into.

Ivan: So, back to The School…

TIH: Right. Your band. Actually, I’ve been collecting indie music chat up lines and I was wondering if you could help me come up with some.

Kay: Oh, God! I never use chat up lines.

Ivan: We don’t have to use chat up lines. We’re in a band.

Fran: Well, they’ve always got glockenspiels, haven’t they. You could use that.

Kay: You want to come back and see my glock.

Fran: Hey, that’s a nice big glock you’ve got there.

Harri: Mine is blue and it’s got stickers all over it.

TIH: Yeah, what is it about glockenspiels? How is it that they end up in every single indie band?

Ivan: It’s just nice…

Kay: Harri…You haven’t spoken at all…

Ivan: Yeah, what is it about glocks, Harri? What’s the appeal?

Fran: You can ring my bell…Sorry, I keep thinking about chat up lines.

Kay: Harri’s going to talk now…

[…]

TIH: I mean, take Los Campesinos!, Gareth seems almost embarrassed that they even have a glockenspiel.

Liz: I think they’ve sold theirs on ebay, haven’t they?

TIH: Yeah. I bought it.

Liz: Oh, I remember now. I thought I saw something about that.

Ivan: I quite like glockenspiels. I went and saw a band the other day and they do sort of Americana, acoustic stuff and they have a glock. I don’t think it’s just indie pop bands. There’s quite a few bands, like when I went to Latitude festival in 2008, you couldn’t move for bands with glockenspiels. You really couldn’t. It seemed everyone was using them.

Liz: Yeah. Xylophones and anything bigger, they’re too expensive. So it’s just a really cheap option and it sounds quite nice with the music.

Ryan: I think the Los Campesinos! problem is that it gets associated with tweeness, it’s sort of like a toy instrument. It’s kind of a convenience thing for us. We’d love to have a big, huge set up

Liz: It’s just that this fits in his bag, so it’s a lot easier.

Kay: And also, when you record stuff, at least you’ve got something else that they like rather than all this extra production and electronic stuff, you’ve got something that sounds really different that can be played live.

Fran: And it gives you a big range of sound as well, because it’s so high up and you’ve got this nice big range of sound.

Kay: Plus, it sounds pretty.

Rich: There’s nothing really else like it.

Ivan: And the sound carries through over the top of everything else.

Kay: See, Harri, you’re really important here in our band. You’re like the most important person here.

Harri: I like it because it’s easy to play.

Kay: He thinks we hate him. We sit there talking about him all the time.

TIH: I used to think it was a recent development, but then I was listening to some Buddy Holly one day and realized that he had made ample use of it. And I thought to myself did he invent the modern indie scene 50 years ago?

Ivan: I wouldn’t put it past him.

Kay: I should have made that my dissertation.

TIH: Do you get labeled by people as “twee”. I wouldn’t call it that, but does it happen?

Liz: Only a couple of times. It’s mainly “cutesy twee” we get and that annoys me a bit. I like to think that we’re a bit more pop. And then, if anything, indie pop.

Ryan: We get it quite a lot. I think it’s a fairly lazy description.

Liz: Yeah. It’s never said in a positive way, so that’s why I don’t like it, I think. If it was said by someone who knows what they’re talking about—because I don’t know the A-Z of C86 and all of that, I’m not an expert and I don’t claim to be—but there are a lot of lazy journalists in the UK who will say just because you don’t sound like, as you said, Fleet Foxes or Animal Collective, they’ll just say oh, it’s twee and just dismiss it and that’s it.

Ryan: I mean, I like a lot of twee bands, but I don’t associate that with us at all, really. I think we’re more of a pop band than anything else.

Kay: Like comparing us to Silver Gospel Runners. They’re really twee. We’re not twee, I don’t think of us as twee when I listen to people like that.

TIH: Honestly, I think it might be the glockenspiel. They just hear one and they write it off.

Ivan: And that happens with lots of music genres. You’ll hear one instrument and instantly lump it together with other things. Like there was that thing for a while that, whenever you saw a band with a violinist, people would automatically say oh, they’re a bit like Arcade Fire.

Kay: [frustrated] Yeah. We got that today. Who was saying that?

Ivan: Just because you’ve got a violin and a couple of extra instruments.

Fran: But some instruments are suited to certain types of music, aren’t they. Like ska music, you’ve got horns everywhere.

Liz: Whereas we’re just trying to make a mini orchestra, really. That’s what I’m trying to do. More this sort Beach Boys idea of trying to build up as many parts as possible. It’s just a quick way of doing it.

TIH: I think you’re right. It’s definitely lazy journalism. Any term that can be used to lumps Belle & Sebastian together with Los Campesinos! in the same breath is probably lacking

Liz: Yeah. It just worries me a bit. I don’t like how it leads people to just write us off, or I think they might just write us off and not see just how far back we’re trying to reach, which is quite far.

TIH: Well, I hope they don’t write you off, because I love your music. I would like to see you in the States, actually, but I know that’s probably a ways off still. From people I’ve talked to, that’s a hard trip to make.

Liz: Oh, it’s on the cards. But it’s going to be really expensive. We’re talking about maybe New York Popfest and maybe San Francisco Popfest. We’re not sure yet. We’ve got to work all that out.

TIH: I know the US government doesn’t necessarily just let you come over.

Ivan: You can blame the Beatles.

TIH: I’m willing to do that.