I vividly remember when Guided By Voices became a media darling with the alternative music press. Robert Pollard gave endless interviews where he was asked to explain why everything was recorded “lo-fi”, why he was so prolific and how he was able to consistently write brilliant melodies. I had a flashback as I heard the brilliantly named, Captain Polaroid and the Betamax Conspiracy. A solo artist, haling from Birmingham, England armed with a four-track and the keys to your heart. @aemccarthy does the honors. No pictures necessary for the reclusive Captain.
The Same Rules Always Apply by Captain Polaroid and the Betamax Conspiracy
TDOA: Okay, first question: the name. Explain!
CP: Captainpolaroid was originally my ‘internet name’ and is disappointingly just a combination of two Idlewild songs – Captain and Satan Polaroid. I wish I’d used something different, as Captain is an overused prefix. Adding ‘The Betamax Conspiracy’ at the end makes it better but it isn’t technically part of the name and doesn’t appear on any releases. It was going to be the title of an EP about technology but I didn’t finish it. I kept hold of it because I liked it.
TDOA: Your song titles are all quite interesting. How do you choose them?
CP: Thanks! I’ve been known to make purchases based solely on the length of the song titles, I find them far more interesting than titles with one one or two words. I try to include at least one that begins with ‘When…’ on every release in the hope that it’ll become a series not unlike Hefner’s ‘Hymn for…’ or The Mountain Goats’ ‘Going to…’ songs. Most of them relate in some way to the content of the songs, but not always.
TDOA: Your vibe is very lo-fi, and has a very homemade feel. What do you think contributes most to that? The biggest contributing factors are my budget-priced equipment, lack of attention to detail and the fact that it is indeed homemade!
TDOA: I love that your Myspace bio is handwritten. What made you do that?
CP: I tried typing out a bio several times but it just didn’t look right. The internet is brilliant, I spend far too much time on it, but it can sometimes lack personality. I like handmade things and wanted to include that on my site and in most of my artwork.
TDOA: How do you respond to Conor Oberst comparisons?
CP: Conor was a big influence on me when I was recording ‘Spitting Facts, Splitting Fractions’, I loved how simple his songs were musically. I didn’t set out to sound anything like him but I’m more than happy to receive comparisons. I haven’t enjoyed his last four albums but I still listen to the earlier Bright Eyes material and the Desaparecidos album a lot.
TDOA: Most of your songs are just a little over two minutes. What do you think keeping it short adds to your sound?
CP: I have a short attention span when it comes to listening to music, I much prefer simple pop songs over long-winded, technically impressive guitar-fests. Why spend five or more minutes listening to something that can be summed up in half the time? When I came to make music, I found the same feelings occurred and after a couple of verses of saying what I needed to say and a chorus to break the song up I’d want to end it. I’ve recently dabbled with short solos but I still rarely pass the three minute mark.
TDOA: What role does noise play in your songs? Is it intentional, or just a part of your style?
CP: Due to the way I record, unintentional noise is inevitable, but I spend more time adding extra noise than I do recording the intelligible parts. It’s a great way of covering up my flaws, particularly vocally. Even if I used a proper studio I’d probably insist on layers of noise on top of the nice clean recordings.
TDOA: From what I understand, the Midlands is a very techie/progressive region. How has your home country received your music?
CP: I’m not sure I’d describe the Midlands as progressive but I’m glad it’s getting some good press somewhere! As I don’t play live the concept of region is mostly irrelevant, someone in Japan has the same access to my songs as someone who lives on my street. In fact, without the internet there is no way I could continue doing what I do, so thank you Tim Berners-Lee.
TDOA: Your lyrics are very much a story, but still stream of consciousness. What is your writing process like?
CP: My lyrics are just that. Most of the time I’ll have a set of chords and play them over and over, singing complete nonsense until I’ve decided what it’s about and gradually it becomes something that makes sense. Other times I’ll think of a title, write a song around that and set it to music. I don’t make many edits and a song will normally be conceived and completed in a few hours.
TDOA: Since my last name is McCarthy, tell me a little bit about how McCarthy influences your sound.
CP: McCarthy were such a great band, everyone should listen to I Am A Wallet at least once. A little like The Smiths, they wrote excellent three-minute indiepop songs that were overflowing with humour and political satire and that’s something I’m continually trying to do.
How to Lose at Video Games by Captain Polaroid and the Betamax Conspiracy
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