I’ll say it again: you don’t need big budget production and ten people in your band to make a big sound. Britain’s own Ten City Nation produce enough racket to bring out your inner Steve Albini. Having come of age during Seattle’s Nirvana heydey, it’s somewhat unsettling that the best grunge in the world seems to be coming from England. To their credit, they’re able to dial it down at times and show you that they still sound good even when the amps aren’t dialed up to 11. Imagine Ben Lee still rocking the Noise Addict sound while having the maturity of his solo work, all on one record.
The band took some time to answer the questions that will be on your mind upon listening to their new record, At The Still Point.
TDOA: The production values on the new record are amazing. I’d have never known you were a three-piece just by listening to the record. How much multi-tracking did you have to do on the guitars?
SP: Wow, thank you! There are three guitar parts on most songs – we generally recorded bass, drums and one guitar track live, and then added two extra parts to each song. We did the whole album in three days, mostly on Mike’s farm with our friend Sam Marsh, who used to be in a band called Jacob’s Mouse in the early ‘90s; they’re not well-remembered but John Peel and Kurt Cobain loved them. They recorded all their records in a shed and they always sounded fantastic so we wanted to try and get the same sense of rawness, rather than just going to a run-of-the-mill studio and ending up with just another homogenous, slick FM rock record.
TDOA: How much of the record was written in the studio and how much did you have written ahead of time?
SP: We had everything written and rehearsed before recording, so that we could get it all done as quickly as possible! We have a rule in the band that we’ll spend 6 months of the year playing gigs, and then 6 months writing and recording; generally we’ll stop gigging in October and then record in February, so we’ll have had plenty of time to rehearse before we get anything on tape. Mike (bassist) is the main songwriter and he’s constantly writing, so by the time October comes around we’ll have loads of new ideas to play around with.
TDOA: The new album starts out with the pure rock of Flashing Lights and Silent Disco, but then segues nicely into a much mellower second half of the record. As you wrote the new record, did you make a conscious effort to vary the speeds and emotion of the record?
SP: Not really, but we could definitely feel the mood of the album taking on a life of its own, as opposed to with the first album, which to us just sounds like a collection of the songs we happened to have at the time – mostly because it was! We don’t make a conscious effort to be eclectic, it’s more that we’re into loads of different stuff and we’d get bored if we were just flogging the same ideas over and over again.
TDOA: You’ve released your albums as free downloads thusfar. The marketing of a new band has always been a challenge. Do you think the internet makes it easier for a band to generate publicity or are there so many bands doing it, it’s still hard to get noticed?
SP: The internet’s been brilliant for us, simply because we can’t afford that much in the way of advertising or publicity – we don’t really know people who could help us, we don’t fit in with what’s going on so being able to give free downloads away without necessarily having to sell ourselves is perfect for us. Granted, there are a lot of bands using the internet to try and sell themselves, but for one thing most of them are still clinging to the dream of being signed to a massive corporation and becoming the next Nickelback, which isn’t a dream we’re chasing at all, and for another thing, 99% of the music out there is just crap. The good stuff filters through, one way or another, in the end.
TDOA: In the U.S. it seems that the only bands that get written up in mags and blogs are those that are “friends” or have made some less than sincere connection. How hard is it to get noticed by the media in Britain and why do you think bands struggle?
SP: It’s exactly the same here in the UK. I’ll never understand what makes something “cool”, but that’s probably for the best. I do know people who are “in” with the industry but most of them burn out very quickly and it gets to the point when you’re so worried about factors that have nothing to do with the music that you forget why you loved music so much in the first place. It nearly happened to me a few years ago in my old band – we got so carried away with chasing this phantom notion of “success” that we lost our perspective completely and in the end we just couldn’t write songs any more. I went completely mad in the end, literally, a full-on mental meltdown – by the end of it I never wanted to play guitar in a band ever again. You can’t live your life that way if you want to carry on making music; in the end YOU define your own level of success, and other people’s perceptions don’t come into it. I feel successful now because I’ve made records that I’m proud of, and that’s more than enough for me.
TDOA: We’ve interviewed The Boxer Rebellion, always loved their music and been amazed at their ability to have so much success with what seems like a homegrown campaign. Recently a few bands we’ve talked to have insinuated that there’s a little more money behind the band than they let on. Are you familiar with the band and do you think it’s possible for a band to become hugely successful without having someone bankrolling the operation?
SP: I don’t know The Boxer Rebellion, which I feel a bit ashamed about, I’ve heard they’re really good! I think there probably does come a point when you need a bit of “outside help” to get really, really big, or at least an enormous joint income from day jobs. But we’re happy just to keep doing what we’re doing – it’s almost like an experiment, to see how many people are listening after 5, 6, 7, 8 years of us giving albums away.
TDOA: The promotional video for Silent Disco is tremendous. Was the music recorded live? Tell us whatever you can about making the video and any future plans for doing videos.
SP: It’s the album version, and the backing was recorded live, but the video was just taken from a gig we did in London and then painstakingly edited to make them sync up! It’s our friend Henry DC Williams, he just comes to gigs with his camera and films you, then two weeks later he posts you a video. We’ve got some slightly more high-concept ideas for future videos, which mostly involve blowing stuff up.
TDOA: On stage or in the studio? Where do you prefer to be?
SP: We love both, but you have to strike a balance. I’m probably happiest recording guitar parts, it allows me live out my Johnny Marr fantasies. But 6 months of gigs and 6 months of writing and recording pleases all of us, so we never get bored of either.
TDOA: Any plans to apply to SXSW or any of the American showcases? When might we see you in the States?
SP: My next plan is to try and make friends in the States, we’d love to come over and tour but trying to finance it completely independently without endangering the next record is a right pain in the arse! I’m going to start sending albums to every independent record store and label and radio station I hear about over there, so any helpful advice you or your listeners could give us would be hugely appreciated.
TDOA: I’ve read that you’re going back into the studio. Prolific writers, eh? Can you give us a preview of what the new music is sounding like?
SP: The plan initially was to make a semi-acoustic mini-album and a full-length, full-on rock album, but the lines have blurred and it’s more likely just to be the one full-length album. I’m not sure how it’ll sound, but of the three songs we’ve played most, one sounds like Led Zeppelin and the White Stripes, one sounds like AC Acoustics meets dEUS and the other sounds like more recent Radiohead. So your guess is as good as mine really. We’re filming one of our gigs soon as well, so I’d like to have a bonus DVD of the live set in with the next album as a cheeky incentive to buy the physical copy, and also because stuff like that rules.
To purchase the new Ten City Nation record, visit their website at: http://www.tencitynation.com