The Wave Pictures on working with Billy Childish, their writing process, analogue vs digital, zoos and their favourite tea.
|Photography by Eleonora C. Collini|
Hailing from a tiny town near Loughborough in Leicestershire, since 1998 The Wave Pictures have been creating bright, brittle pop and woozy, warm ballads, enriched by a cosy, sessiony analogue feel.
After nearly a decade in obscurity, self-releasing a string of cult albums, guitarist/vocalist David Tattersall, bassist Franic Rozycki and drummer Jonny Helm relocated to London a few years ago and signed to the well-regarded British independent label Moshi Moshi.
One of the most prolific, independent, and yes, awesome Brit indie bands, The Wave Pictures have collaborated with the likes of Daniel Johnston, Darren Hayman, Jeffrey Lewis, The Mountain Goats and more recently Billy Childish, who co-wrote and produced the band’s last effort Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon. Bursting with energy and ignited with a garage-rockspark, the album (which came out in February) rings loud and bold, showcasing Tattersall's searing guitar solos and sharp lyrical wit.
I took the boys to Tufnell Park Playing Fields and we discussed their writing process, analogue vs digital, zoos and their favourite tea.
Johnny: It really worked out better than we thought it would, it was just an awesome experience.
How did you guys meet him?
Dave: Through the BBC Radio 6 DJ Mark Riley, who knows him a little bit and knew we were big fans. I got Mark to ask Billy if he was interested in working with the band, thinking that nothing would come out of it, but he was actually excited about working on a new project. He had never heard of us before, but apparently if someone asks him he would probably want to do something with you, because he just wants to work on something all the time. We were very lucky to have him on board, and then we also got on really well making the album.
Was Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon recorded live and analogue like your previous albums?
Dave: Yes, we recorded everything live onto tape machines, and then there were a few overdubs, but just little pieces, like a bit of guitar or percussions, or the glockenspiel that Billy played in one of the songs because he was feeling very adventurous. But the basic things and some of the songs are just all live tapes, and Billy did a great job recording us live in his studio.
Did you use any different instruments you were particularly happy with?
Dave: Not really, because the main thing for me is always the guitar. As for the other stuff, you may put a little something in there to add just a little bit of colouring and flavour, but the most important thing is the guitar and to a less extent the bass, the drums and the vocals.
Franic: And definitely Billy’s ideas, as we wouldn’t have come up with some of them on our own….
Dave: I really like the glockenspiel, but it’s not the most important part, as that is the instrumentation and the interaction of the three us playing live.
Have you ever recorded anything digital, and if not what do you most dislike about that type of approach?
Dave: Yes, we have. The whole album Beer in the Breakers was actually recorded all on a digital 8 or 16-track..I can’t remember now… I don’t like it as much, but you can do interesting things with digital sounds. Given the choice tough, it is always more exciting to have reels of tapes rolling around as it gives a warmer sound. If I do things with digital, I would still approach it the same way and try to get the same sound. We never build up a track at a time, it always starts with the three of us playing in a room.
This is your 14th album in 17 years, so I guess we can safely say you guys are very prolific. How do you approach the writing process? Do you deliberately sit down to write music or do songs come to you in a more spontaneous way wherever you are?
Dave: That is a good question….. it varies from song to song. Sometimes I sit down to write a song just because I feel like it, with no ideas at all, just for fun, thinking it would be good to write some music. Other times the songs present themselves to me when I am not expecting them. It is a real mix, and I often would be writing 10 or 20 songs all at once and leave them half-finished to then build them up all together rather than write one song at a time. I like that way better because it is easier to write 10 songs and get maybe 5 good ones, than writing one at a time and have 5 good ones that way. It is usually just me writing the songs on my own, but for this record, I mainly only had to write the lyrics, take them around Billy’s house and then he came up with the music on his guitar. I had no ideas of the tuning while I was writing the words, so some of them were terrible and needed lots of editing, and also, that way you can’t have too many songs to start off with, which is my usual approach. This time, I just did the same thing with Billy that I do on my own, writing lots of lyrics and then turning them into songs later.
So you tend to write lyrics first?
Dave: Always. Occasionally though, I might come up with some music first and then add the words, but usually it is a matter of writing lots of lyrics and then sit down with the guitar trying to fit them together. I always think that if the words don’t come first it’s usually bad, as I don’t like lyrics when they are written to fit the melodies someone has come up with.
But are they lyrics with a sort of melody?
Dave: No, just nonsense that doesn’t even scan, which is quite important, because if you write lyrics so that they can scan and rhyme, they are going to sound more like song lyrics. So initially, my lyrics don’t scan, don’t rhyme, and I might make them do that later. You don’t want anything to stop you from getting them all out, that is why I don’t think about form when I am writing them at all and just fit them to the music afterwards. Whereas most songwriters I know would write them more as poems.
You mentioned earlier that you sometimes write a bunch of songs at the same time and then only end up using some of them. Do you ever go back to old songs?
Dave: Yes, all the time. Some songs don’t work straightaway, so you just have to leave them for a couple of years, and then you might find them in the drawer or not, or you might half remember them, go back to them and only then they might sound like a good idea.
The video for “I Could Hear the Telephone (3 Floors above me)” shows what life on the road is like and how The Wave Pictures love a nice cup of tea before rocking out on stage…. What is your favourite tea?
Dave – English Breakfast tea I think.
Franic – Earl Grey.
Johnny- I also like normal English breakfast tea.
The new record’s title was inspired by a visit to the London zoo where you, Dave, saw the moon in the still eye of a flamingo. Do you go to the zoo often, in London or elsewhere?
Dave: No, I don’t, and I made that up, as when you finish an album the label asks for a track-by-track analysis, and of course you don’t always have everything to say, so you make up stuff to fill out the thing. I am actually not that very keen on the whole idea of zoos, as it seems a little sad to me. But I have been to the London zoo.
You have collaborated with lots of artists… is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet and would love to do a collaboration with?
Dave: We were actually thinking of Van Morrison as we are big fans. I don’t know how it will come about, but if he wanted to go back to his roots in a rock and roll band and make a grungy sort of rock record we would be up for it! I would even pay him to do that, he wouldn’t have to pay me. Apart from that, I always think it was good when we did the tour with Daniel Johnston, so more realistically it would be nice to do another tour playing as his band. Doing something with Jad Fair would also be good, and also lots of other people, but Van Morrison is probably on top of the list at the moment.
Franic – Well, I could play bass in the Stones, which would be an improvement probably.
Johnny – And Dylan obviously, as he needs a decent band these days and I think we could help him out.
You guys are originally from Leicestershire. What do you miss the most about the place where you grew up?
Dave: I don’t particularly miss Leicestershire, though somehow I miss the early days of the band, as those were the most fun. We were in isolation in a country village, so it was very exciting to form a band and write songs for the first time. But I don’t miss anything else about living there as nice a place as it is. London is such a great city and I am the happiest I have ever been living there.
To me you are the epitome of what true English indie music is, but I am always surprised to hear you list mainly American bands among your influences. How English do you actually feel?
Dave: We didn’t know what being English-sounding meant, but I knew I didn’t want to put on an American accent when I sang, which is going to make you sound very English to people. Also, if you sing about a place it makes more sense to be singing about a place where you have been to or lived in, that is why I sing about English places. There is actually no difference between being from Loughborough and singing about being in Loughborough, and being from Texas and singing about being in Austin, but as soon as you sing about Loughborough you are called quintessentially English. Most of the bands we like are actually American. We like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, but they sound pretty American too. It just seems that the roots of the music we like come from the blues and early American music, so yeah I could say we spend way more time listening to American music. I guess the fact that the band sounds English is completely unintentional.
If you had a super power, what would you want it to be?
Franic: The same
Dave : Me too probably
What upcoming record are you most looking forward to?
Dave: By someone else other than ourselves? Oh god no! We don’t listen to that rubbish! But we have got another record coming out around Christmas time, a vinyl only acoustic album, recorded all with just a microphone. It is going to be very special and I am really looking forward to that coming out.
"Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon" is out now on Moshi Moshi Records