Gigwise got the chance to catch up with Guillemots in the comforts of Guillemots HQ, aka a converted synagogue in the depths of East London. A quick glance around the perimeters of the building resulted in the location of a seemingly defunct pinball machine, a large metal guillemot currently wearing singer Fyfe’s bowler hat, a small cupboard where some of the second album was apparently recorded and other such gems. Guitarist MC Lord Magrão is hanging around the place having woken up five minutes earlier, and drummer Greig’s taken the day off sick, so here’s what Fyfe and double bassist Arista had to say.
How did the live shows go this week?
Fyfe: “They were good. We were really out of practice – we hadn’t played live in ages so we did a lot of rehearsing.”
Arista: “We tried to do a lot of rehearsing… the amount of rehearsing we actually did was quite minimal, so I think they went quite well considering.”
The press release for ‘Red’ mentions “the sense of something not being quite right” – is that in general or is it specifically pinpointed to certain parts of life?
Fyfe: “It runs through the record. It’s quite ‘up’ sounding, but there is a feeling in quite a lot of the tracks of someone on the edge of a breakdown. I don’t think the world today’s the most happy-go-lucky time to be alive.”
Do you think you’ve changed as a band since the first album?
Fyfe: “Not hugely. We’ve been writing stuff together, improvising and making songs out of that from before we did gigs, so it was just an extension of things really. It seemed like the natural thing to do. Each of us has learnt when to keep our mouths shut and when to leave.”
So tell me about that advert on Myspace for a new singer…
Fyfe: “It’s sorted! It’s just for live. Here there’s just the four of us but live there’s always been something extra – before we had two saxophonists to fill out the sound a little bit, and one of them’s really busy at the moment but we’ve found a girl who plays saxophone.”
Did loads of people reply?
Fyfe: “Yeah, quite a few. We got to hear some mad stuff…”
(Arista starts cackling)
Would you like to expand on that?
(More laughter from Arista)
Fyfe: “Well, no-one seemed quite right.”
Arista: “It’s hard to have a new member in your band especially when you’re on a bus together.”
You met loads of people then?
Fyfe: “Well this is the thing. I was terrified of having an audition day, and it was getting to the point where we were going to get the best few and invite them to the studio, and then a friend of a friend turned up and…”
Arista: “She’s just perfect.”
So aside from all that, how do you feel about ‘Get Over It’ making Radio 1’s A-list?
Fyfe: “I’ve never understood that ethic of making music and being worried about being on the radio or having singles do well, but I don’t think that accessibility and integrity have to be mutually exclusive. With the single, we put loads of time in the mix making sure it sounded really alive and electric, overloading the drums, distortion everywhere, really pushing ourselves. That’s exactly the sort of thing going on Radio 1 daytime and it’s a really nice feeling when something like that happens.”
So, I read something interesting about Fyfe using a bat detector on the record. Anything else bizarre going on?(At this point, Gigwise is shown the very bat detector used on ‘Big Dog’ on the album)
Fyfe: “Bits and pieces, bits and pieces. We’ve got really short attention spans so sometimes we need something better than a snare drum or a guitar. And it’s about amusing ourselves, I guess – when you’re making a record it’s quite funny recording a little bat to make a beat.”Arista: “And there’s recorders on ‘Big Dog’ too… three or four of them.”
What with all the different instruments featuring on ‘Red’, do you think you’re meticulous?(furious shaking of head by Fyfe ensues)
Arista: “It’s a random sort of meticulous.”
Fyfe: “The more interviews we do, the more we understand and find ways of explaining things. The record’s made up of loads of moments of spontaneity, but there’s days when you’re really struggling…”
How do you get around it?
Fyfe: “You work through it. Some days, it’ll be four in the afternoon and you just go home. It doesn’t help when you’re not in the right mood but there’s other days when you wake up and instantly feel great. There’s not really any logic to it. But most of the good stuff comes about really quickly.”
Arista: “There’s moments we all agree on. Some days there’s three people who really hate a part and the next day they all like it, and the person who liked it doesn’t anymore. It’s difficult to trust when it’s actually any good.”
Did loads of songs not make the album?
Fyfe: “No. We had a few weeks at the start where we wrote a load of stuff but in terms of recorded stuff there were only two other tracks. One of them was a song I’d written, and the other’s a ragga, kind of R‘n’B type thing. We’re thinking of finishing it as a demo and selling it, taking it to a publisher and getting someone to sing it.”
Arista: “Sean Paul or Whitney.”
Wow! So how about the order of the record – was that more troublesome?
Fyfe: “I was on a train going to Birmingham, listening to the mixes we’d got so far, playing around with the order on my iPod and I’d got this one order I thought was great. I texted everyone and they all thought it sounded good, so that meant that two or three months before we finished the record the order was complete. There’s a track on ‘Red’ called ‘Cockateels’ – if it was in the wrong place it could sound really overly twee, and weirdly putting it after ‘Last Kiss’, because it’s so different, it makes ‘Cockateels’ sound better because of the variety. “
How do you feel about reviews - do you find it hurtful to read something you don’t believe?
Fyfe: “I think we’re getting to the point where we’re not so bothered by it – you’ve got to be thick-skinned. We knew the NME were going to be like that because we’re not a cool band, it’s just one of those things. It’s a gossip magazine and it has been for quite a long time. Though getting a two star review from Uncut though – I was like ‘fuck, it’s a good magazine’. It’s one person’s opinion but it was quite shocking. It’s been the same with the live shows – in the Guardian we got a two. Were they even there? They said ‘Get Over It’ left everyone bored but everyone was loving it so I don’t understand.”
Arista: “With the last album I read everything, but this time round I haven’t paid it any attention. I feel a bit cut off but ultimately we’re not going to stop doing what we do because of what some people say. What’s the point in making your life miserable for no reason!”Fyfe: “Reviews are funny things as well because even with the good ones, they look at things in such an analytical way.”
Do you wish that you weren’t written about? Obviously people do have the opportunity to just listen to your music, but do you sometimes wish the middle man was cut out?
Fyfe: “I think the nearest thing is if your girlfriend says ‘why do you love me?’ – you can’t really…”
No, you don’t need to…
Fyfe: “You can’t really list things or go anywhere near explaining what you feel. And the same when you hate someone. It’s like that with our record. We’re a bit of a mismatch as people and influences, and if you add it up mathematically it won’t work. And I reckon a lot of reviewers have only listened to it once.”
That’s not enough.
Fyfe: “You can’t get it after one listen. Most records that we like you don’t get after one listen. There’s some that you do, but generally speaking, most records I think are amazing first time aren’t the ones I come back to. Whereas Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Fall or Tom Waits – the first time there’ve been one or two tracks I’ve liked, but there’s been something that makes you want to listen again and by the fourth listen, you’re obsessed with it.”
Changing the subject, what are the plans for the next single? How do you intend to get across the diversity on the album?
Fyfe: “It’s going to be ‘Falling Out Of Reach’. There’s a side of us that wants to put out the most experimental tracks, but everyone from radio to our record company really likes it. And we’ve got a really exciting video being planned for it which we’re keeping under wraps.”
And why’s the album called ‘Red’?
Fyfe: “Partially because we couldn’t think of anything better.”
Is it to with the colour of the sound, in an LCD Soundsystem or Beatles kind of way?
Fyfe: “It does feel like a red record, yeah.”
In what respect?
Fyfe: “Well red’s very in your face, it has connotations of lust and greed and warmth, all these things on the record. There’s a sense of stop and start – red can mean stop at a traffic light or in recording it means ‘go’. It wasn’t those reasons though, it was instinctive.”
And finally – is there much common musical ground between the four of you?
Fyfe: “There are things. It’s hard to find, but that’s why the band exists. Because that’s how we make our common ground in a way. There’s a certain type of music that we want to exist, and none of us really had those records. So that’s why we try and make stuff – to try and make that record that all of feel is missing in our collection I suppose.”
That was Guillemots. And after about five listens, ‘Red’ is thankfully more than living up to Fyfe’s ramblings – in fact it looks set to be one of 2008’s great pop albums, whatever pop can be deemed to constitute these days. And despite the ‘eccentric’ moniker that’s permanently attached itself to the band, today they’ve proven themselves down to earth, frank and oh so humble. Now to make it back to the train station without getting run over…