With the release of their new album, Twisted Little Piggies, Leeds-based Whole Sky Monitor aim to shake the collective consciousness of the alt music scene. At a time, when good music attempts to twist away from the generic confines of “alternative music”, their brand of counter-rhythmic, yet anthemic songs are a breath of fresh air. The BBC’s Steve Lamacq called them “huge, hulking, anti-pop”. We like to think of them as organized chaos that bores a hole in our skull and runs amuck. Just the way we like it…..
Whole Sky Monitor are: Gogs – drums, John – guitar and singing, Owen – bass, Paul – guitar. Todd talked to the band about their influences, their supporters and the future.
TDOA: Your influences (The Fall, Wire, The Wedding Present, The Jesus Lizard, early Sonic Youth and McLusky) are a who’s-who of my favorite bands. While your music is clearly informed by these bands, you’ve managed to create a unique sound. People frequently complain about the derivative nature of current music. As you write, how do you edit yourself so that you don’t end up sounding exactly like the bands that you grew up listening to?)
Gogs: When John sings, he sounds like himself (he’s not putting on a generic mid-American twang) & this helps give us our identity. Also, the bass lines are written by an idiot-savant.
John: I think it’s because there are very few bands that everyone in WSM likes. The phrase ‘hey, that sounds a bit like….’ is either banned, ignored or no-one gets the reference – so there are no conspiracies to sound like favourite bands – I’ll just be thinking ‘hey, great, this sounds a bit like xxxx’ and Gogs will halve the beat or something.
Wire is the only band in the list that I really like by the way. Spotters might get the odd obvious reference – La Mouche for example we decided to go a bit Beatles Rain. Freakshow is kind of a rock band playing A Forest by the Cure.
Owen: Like John said, there are very few bands we all like so we don’t necessarily pick up the same references – I don’t think the other three are aware of the bass tributes to Stereolab! As soon as we work on something that sounds too much like something else it’s dropped or re-worked. I mean, where’s the fun in doing a song that cops a chorus melody off the Red Hot Chilli Peppers or sounds unnervingly like ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’? Lots of bands seem to coast along ripping off music their fanbase has never listened to – all those bands that sound like, say, Can or Neu! or the Stones in particular. It’s good to be compared to the bands you’ve named, but if we’re not sound-a-likes we must be doing something right for me the whole point of making music is to make something new!
Paul: We do have a kind of WSM rule book…nothing too Fascistic, just a few attempts at being slightly structured. I know my major rule is never discuss what something sounds like, cos I’m automatically gonna lead towards that sound (if I know which band the other 3 are talking about..hee hee)
TDOA: The challenge for bands that aren’t operating with major label dollars, is producing a record that doesn’t “sound” small. You’ve obviously overcome that hurdle in spades. Who produced the record and how did you get the massive sound that we hear on the new record?
Gogs Thanks. Credit goes to our mixing desk alchemist Matt Elliss. His main thing is producing albums for rock/emo/metal acts but he also has a secret history of producing major ‘high-gloss’ pop acts here in the UK! He’s got his own studios & is a proper gear-fiend – every session we show up to, he’s replaced the amps with some vintage kit sourced from the US. In order to get our sound he likes to track loads of guitars & use massive drums too.
John: Matt is also Mr Hip-Hop too – seems he got really pissed off hearing thin and quiet sounding British CDs and decided to work out why American ones were so much bigger sounding. If a meter flickers out of the red he hits it with a hammer – something like that anyway. His studio ‘Axis’ is above a bookies in Britain’s least fashionable town (Doncaster, South Yorkshire by the way, fact fans).
Owen: Matt ‘Lord King Iron Man’ (as he apparently makes his kids call him) Elliss is a genius at getting big sounds. We play very loud in practice and at gigs, so Matt is the perfect man for the job.
Paul: Yep… its all down to LKIM – he goes ‘what sound you looking for’ and creates one waay better than you wanted in the first place… he’s ‘the man’.
TDOA: I hear Mark E Smith, but I also hear a little (Fugazi) Ian MacKaye in your delivery on some of these songs. I’m fascinated by vocalists that use the syncopation of their delivery as a mechanism to deliver the beat. Is this something that you think about consciously?
John: In the past I’ve never thought about the beat when singing and just kind of ignored it. I’ve been bullied by Gogs to do stuff like singing on (or deliberately off) the beat – or shouting anyway…I’ve also been bullied into playing the guitar like a robot moron too (intro to ‘Sold’ for example) so maybe I’m just a bit more in time generally. The words have generally come after the music too so it probably fits better because of that.
TDOA: Steve Lamacq has spoken highly of the band. Do recommendations from someone like that have tangible results? When John Peel used to give his backing to a band, it made a huge difference, so I wonder if that’s still true in England.
Gogs: Having a tastemaker like Steve Lamacq in your corner is great, especially here in the UK as national radio is still a big influence on the scene.
John: A lot of it is more ‘validation’ than anything like a spike in sales I think. That was the same with John peel I think – he played loads of songs by my previous bands. He’s the one famous person I can honestly say I still miss – and not just because of getting played. He had a programme on national radio and never seemed to worry about ‘hitting the demographics’ .
Owen: I suppose if you were say writing a book you’d have you publisher providing support and encouragement so you’d know you were on the right track. With Whole Sky Monitor we put together tunes we’re happy with and just push them out there not knowing what the reaction (if any) will be. So as you can imagine to be championed by Steve Lamacq is just brilliant.
Paul: Yeah it is rather nice to have a dude like SL playing your stuff. I just wish he’d play the record regular and we could make more records…CASH WANTED.. any currency will do…
TDOA: Can you talk about how you think the new album differs from your first album Bland Bland Bland?
Gogs: It’s angrier, more bitter & more…twisted
John: Some of the things we’d done by accident on BBB we did on purpose on TLP, though there’s still a lot to explore – we have odd sections with different time signatures and we don’t always play everything in groups of 4 bars. From my point of view it’s more shouty – and as I said I’m only allowed to play so many strums a bar! The lyrics are probably even darker. If people find out what we’ve been saying we’ll be in trouble…
Owen: It’s a progression. We’re getting closer to what we want to be with TLP than BBB. When we came up with songs or bits of songs the question would be ‘It’s good, but is it Whole Sky Monitor?’ or ‘How do we make it Whole Sky Monitor?’. There was no such problem with the songs on TLP, they came together quite naturally.
Paul: Its better.. more variation.. and very weird, dark and freaky… Bland Bland Bland still sounds really good though.
TDOA: The video for Sold indicates that your live shows are as intense as your records. Which do you prefer? Playing live in front of a big crowd or sitting in a studio getting the sound just right?
Gogs: Studio for me…every time!
John: Being a bit of a ‘glass half empty’ sort of person whatever we’re not doing at the time seems much more interesting, exciting and much less like hard work.
Owen: I’d say playing live purely because at least you know you’re connecting with your audience. We can put together what we think is a killer tune in the studio, but we might be the only four people in the universe who like it!
Paul: I like both. I love being in the studio and wish we could do it more. I still love playing live though. If you’re talking intense though.. the records beat the live shows hands down.
TDOA: Any plans to come over to the U.S.? Please?
Gogs: Can we stay at your house?
John: It’d be nice, but we don’t have enough money to get ourselves down the road to the next city. Nor are we one of those bands that have lots of cool multi-national friends. OJ used to live in Canada – but I don’t know if anyone would remember him…
Paul: Yeah that would be cool… we’re toilet trained and everything…
TDOA: Beyond touring, what’s next for the band?
Gogs: …..the killing of John Parkes.
John: As you can see, being the rational and entirely reasonable one in the band doesn’t always lead to universal popularity. Also, it takes us so long to get stuff together that we rarely have the luxury of planning anything ahead
Owen: The single release of ‘Freakshow’ in the New Year and a few more gigs in the UK around then. We might record a song to be played over an art film made by Boris who shot and edited the video for ‘Freakshow’. We’ve got the germ of a ‘surf’ EP, but will it ever be taken to the studio? It would be nice to be able to record again soon…
Paul: Listen to John ‘Drone’… find ‘a forest’ somewhere and put on our own little ‘freakshow’. Dress him in his ‘white skin suit’ before feeding him to the ‘twisted little piggies’… I guess then it’s time to make another record even angrier than this one…
To purchase their new album, Twisted Little Piggies via iTunes click here:
in the U.S.: Twisted Little Piggies – Whole Sky Monitor
in the U.K.: Twisted Little Piggies – Whole Sky Monitor