An interview with The School

There is nothing “normal” about Edinburgh. I passed two hours reading epitaphs in an overcrowded, haunted kirkyard before following adverts scrawled in chalk on the walls of medieval buildings to the Wee Red Bar (which I never would have found had it not been for a handful of strategically placed wall scribblings, because Edinburgh is a city that never fails to confuse the hell out of me—and I love it for that reason) where The School would be playing later that night. So, when the eight of us—87.5 % of the band and me (violinst Steph was not present)–piled into the van that would tow them about the country on tour, I had no idea what to expect.

By the time we’d finished, Liz (lead vocals, keyboards), Ryan (bass), Rich (drums), Fran (trumpet, backing vocals), Kay (violin, backing vocals), Harri (guitar, glockenspiel, backing vocals), Ivan (guitar), and I had covered everything from the new album and the Cardiff music scene to chat up lines and 6 Music. And what I found amongst more than half an hour of clever, insightful answers to questions I didn’t even know I wanted to ask were seven people with real interests, opinions, and the sort of multifaceted personalities you’re not allowed to express in the grown up “real world”—the sort of people I miss having around.

An excerpt from the interview is below, but I highly recommend you read the transcription in its entirety here.

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” 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…

[Read the whole interview]

The School in session at the Wee Red Bar, Edinburgh

I’ve been known to travel a good distance for the right gig. You may recall that, about five months ago,  I drove 400 miles for an opportunity to finally see Emilie Simon perform. It was easily the farthest I’ve ever traveled for a gig. Until last week.

On 6 March, Indie Handbook favorites The School set off on a tour in support of their long-awaited debut LP, Loveless Unbeliever (Elefant). Despite my best efforts, I was unable to be at the official release show in Cardiff, but I managed to meet up with the band at the Wee Red Bar in Edinburgh on Friday the 12th. (More wee and red than it is a bar, the venue is the sort of place you go to hear things before everyone else. Judging by the concert posters covering nearly every available inch of wall space, I’d say it’s a role the relish and fill admirably. It is not the easiest place to find the first time around, but well worth the effort.)

Getting the night off to a psychedelic start was Django Django. Until Friday night, the only Django I was familiar with was the gypsy jazz variety, but if there is any justice in the world, another one will be inducted into the musical vernacular. With captivating energy and song structures and a sound that is as hard to pin down as it is to ignore, it won’t be long before the lads from Django Django assume their rightful place on the throne where the pretender-Kings of Leon now sit.

You may remember Allo Darlin‘s brilliant “Silver Swans in New York City” from Bubblewrap Collective’s 12 Days of Christmas compilation. It was, hands down, one of the best songs of 2009, but you’ve never experienced the dynamic range of a ukulele until you’ve heard Elizabeth and company perform their live set. Long a staple of the twee scene and navel-gazing faux-folksters, the band reclaim it in the name of rock and roll. And they do so with passion and abandon. Don’t believe me? Catch them at SXSW or back in the UK for the final dates of The School’s Loveless Unbeliever tour. My one regret about the show: I got so caught up in talking with one of the band members about Buddy Holly, 3-D movies, and everything in between, that I forgot to pick up a copy of their LP.

Then, of course, there was The School—the reason I scheduled my trip when I did. They’ve gone through some lineup changes in the last year or so, most notably, perhaps, being guitarist Ivan who made only his fourth appearance with the band that night in Edinburgh. I mention this only because, even if you had been there, there is no way you could have known. Yes, perhaps there were one or two hitches over the course of the night (as there are in any live performance—emphasis on the “live”), but most importantly, the spirit of The School came across perfectly intact. That sounds a tad new age-y. Allow me to explain.

If you’ve listened to The School, you know that they have possibly the most innate understanding of the 1960s girl group sound of any band currently active—so much so, that it is not so much a reconstruction of an old style as it is the embodiment and continuation of it. But such a sound is only achieved through intricate orchestration and the vital interplay of melody and harmony, all of which is easy enough to execute in the studio—live performance is another matter entirely. And yet, new as this current lineup may be, it is all there. Common sense says it will only get better, and that is an exciting thought.

Don’t take my word for it, however. The tour is far from over, so those of you in the UK (or headed there this month) really ought to make an effort to get out to one of the remaining dates. In my professional opinion, the London gig on the 27th promises to be especially tight. As a seasoned concert-goer, I can say with complete confidence that last Friday was one of the most memorable performances I’ve ever attended, and worth every one of the 4000 miles I traveled to be there. So what are you waiting for? The remaining dates are posted below. Plan accordingly.

  • 20th Mar – BIRMINGHAM Victoria Inn
  • 22nd Mar – CARDIFF The Gate
  • 27th Mar – LONDON Bush Hall
  • 28th Mar – BRIGHTON Prince Albert
  • 31st Mar – CHELMSFORD Basement

More details about the venues and support acts can be found on the band’s blog. Come out to one of these final dates and see what my friends* can do.

* I say “friends”.  It may not be 100% “Facebook official” (yet), but you know what I mean…