The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

Libraries, Latin & Horoscopes: Ex Libras Interviewed
Toby Cook , October 19th, 2010 06:46

Toby Cook talks to Ex Libras about their new EP Cut(s), being compared to Radiohead and their famous shed

Everyone needs a day job, right? No one is born a rock star. Just look at Sting - he was a teacher before the Police took off. Kurt Cobain famously worked as a school janitor; Korn's Jonathan Davis was a mortuary assistant and Billy Joel worked at the B&Q in Peckham.

Yet of all pre-stardom professions there is always one that is conspicuously absent: that of the humble librarian. Unfortunately Hollywood and popular opinion have rather besmirched the profession, landing us with the popular stereotype that all librarians are lonely pensioners with a vendetta against any form of youth and spend their time in dusty corners 'sssshhhhh'-ing, stamping and smelling of cabbage. This is simply not the case. Some are actually quite interesting. Some are murderers, some are even Mao Zedong, and some are rock stars. Sort of.

Formed little over two years ago, the three members of West London based Ex Libras were all at one point in the employ of their local borough book depositories before going on to commandeer a disused shed for their base and releasing their debut LP, Suite(s) - a remarkably mature collection of glitch filled post rock that hovers somewhere between 65daysofstatic and Radiohead. On a typically torrential evening in Hammersmith, guitarist Amit Sharma, keyboardist Kieran Nagi and drummer Ross Kenning took the time to fill in a few blanks for the Quietus...

So then chaps, how is everything with Ex Libras?

Kieran Nagi: Good... Sorry, I'd just rather put ketchup on my chips first!

Ross Kenning: [Laughing] Yeah, everything's good; band wise, we've just released our acoustic EP today, so it's nice to be out having a drink to celebrate that to be honest!

For the uninitiated, can you give us a short history of Ex Libras?

RK: We met around a rehearsal studio in Hounslow, a place called Riot Club Studios, which doesn't exist anymore. It was probably during the last year or so that that was running. We were all in other bands at the time, and we just kind of used to knock around in the same space.

So none of you really knew each other before you met at Riot Club?

KN: Well, Ross and I had known each other for a while – we'd been in other bands before – and Ross kind of knew Amit through Riot club, and then it's the usual story really. We hooked up, went to the pub, had a few too many drinks, talked about music and though "why not try and have a jam together?". We've all got similar musical backgrounds I suppose, so we kind of thought that we'd just see what happens at first. That's how we got to know each other, really.

Amit Sharam: I actually knew of Kieran before we met, funnily enough, through our secondary school. We didn't actually know each other back then, it was only once I started working at the library [with both Kieran and Ross] that we all decided to make something happen...

RK: Yeah, at that time we were all working in Hounslow borough libraries...

That's pretty rock & roll!

All: Yeah!?

Tell us about this famous 'shed' of yours?

KN: Oh, the Ex Libras HQ! We kind of just built it from scratch; it took us about six months to build.

And how long ago was this?

KN: About two years ago now; the shed was finished in about February 2008, and we've literally been in there ever since... We don't leave. It's actually where we all live.

RK: The first six months was actually spent just building the studio inside the shed – taking into account all the acoustic treatments, and noise considerations and things like that. And just doing a lot of research, really, on the best way to go about soundproofing it. During that six months I think we only caught two or three rehearsals, all in a 'proper' studio - but once the shed was done it was great, and we've been there ever since. We manage to rehearse there, we recorded the first album there, we've done a video and several photo shoots there – it's our main creative space.

So it's a fair size this shed then - we're not talking about something you would find at the bottom of someone's garden; a potting shed or whatever?

KN: Well the history is: The previous owner was a model railway enthusiast and he actually built the shed around his model railway. So, yeah, it's a fair size - once you take everything out. But with all our stuff in there – and we've got quite a lot of equipment – it can get a bit cramped. But it's enjoyable, we don't get in each other's pockets, so it's OK. The shed is about 80 years old, and we wanted to continue the creative space that the previous owner had left – he had his love of model railways, and we have our love of music.

RK: And we still have a portrait of the previous owner up on the wall...

KN: He looks over us.

I've a feeling that you've already answered this, in a round-a-bout way, but the name 'Ex Libras' - where does that come from?

KN: It's actually the Latin translation for 'from the library of...'

Yes, I should have guessed as much, what with you all being ex-Librarians!

KN: Well it basically means 'from the books', so it could be. From the book of knowledge... of literature... of sound... of anything really. It came to us in a vision.

AS: That, or the fact that every time you open up a book to scan it's there, staring you in the face. Well, sort of. Ex Libras, in Latin, should be spelled 'Ex Libris', but I think that by adding the 'A' it also conjures up different connotations; y'know, start signs, horoscopes...

KN: We could be Ex Liberal Democrats too.

Three of many, quite possibly. I assumed at first that it was more to do with astrology, is that something you are in any way interested in?

AS: Yeah, I'm deeply interested in it actually; from a purely intellectual point of view. I don't pay much attention to the horoscopes in the paper – although sometimes they have a habit of getting things right (although more often they have a habit of getting things completely wrong). But, and without going too deeply into it, I think that early man drew a lot of inspiration and guidance from the stars and the alignment of things, and from there they were able to tell when certain things were going to happen – and that's kind of how calendars originated. So in a very loose sense, astrology, you could argue, is the initial inspiration for all kinds knowledge or learning. If you imagine you're back then, there's nothing really; all you have is the ground and the stars so you'd be looking up at them in wonderment and be thinking, "well, there must be more to us than what we have around us". And I quite like that idea...

RK: Just to add on to that. What we're talking about, 'do the stars have any influence on our lives' I think that every astral object does, in some sense. I mean, if you look at something as obvious as the moon, you're looking at the effect on menstrual cycles and the tides, all these kind of things. So I think that we'd be naive to assume, with our intellectual hat on, as some people do, that there is no influence at all.

AS: It does make us all sound like tragic, new age hippies though.

Given your name, and your passing interest in astrology, can you give me a horoscope for today?

KN: Well, I'm a Leo/Virgo cusp, so I can maybe give you one. What can Virgo's expect today?...

RK: I'd like to say that they are possibly going to have a good day?

KN: Yeah, I'll say that that; they'll have a good day, and lot's of energy.

AS: And be very aware of the number 462, or 462.5, if you're born on the cusp.

So the EP, Cut(s) is out now, and it's obviously acoustic re-workings of several album tracks. Why did you decide to go that route, rather than release some totally new material?

AS: Well, we got offered an acoustic gig by this girl Ester, who's in a band called Quiet Choir, and she used to run an acoustic night in Kingston (South London) and asked us to play. And, us being us, we don't like the traditional idea of an acoustic rendition, which is usually: swap your instruments for acoustic ones, and play the song exactly the same way.

It sounds a bit naive and a bit stupid to say that we're boundary pushers – because fundamentally, I don't think that we are – but we like to try new things and we enjoy being a bit adventurous with our music; it's another side to us. Because we all come from different musical backgrounds we all have other musical sides to us. I think a lot of bands have that and I think it's shame that they don't necessarily convey it – unless it comes out in a kind of garbled concept album, or something. But this was almost a way for us to do something that we felt would be a good parallel to Suite(s), but at the same time also be something quite different.

RK: A lot of it was also to do with the fact that we weren't tied down in a position where we weren't able to do this, as some bands may be, depending on what influence their label or manager is exerting on them. It was something that we wanted to do, and so we tried it out. I jumped on the bass – we used a drum machine for the beats – and we had a few jam sessions, we enjoyed doing it and just thought 'Yeah, why not?'.

A friend of mine recently described your music - Cut(s) especially - as sounding like "they've just made something that they could stick on the end of Kid A or Amnesiac". How do you respond to that?

RK: Actually, it's something that's been brought up before - not so much with Cut(s) though, but people have made references to Kid A in the past. But for myself, I'm not really a huge Radiohead fan, and to be perfectly honest I've never actually heard the album Kid A... I know that's probably something I should say quietly. But I think that we just take it in the best way that we can, which is as a massive compliment.

AS: To be honest, it actually brings up a question that I've been asking myself recently. I've been thinking: We've done one album, but we're not a very well known band by any stretch, and now we've done something that's strikingly different – by comparison – and I wonder what people's perception of that change is? Do people expect more of Suite(s) , or more of Cut(s)? And if somebody can actually attach a reference point to our music, I actually think that's a good thing, regardless of what the reference point is. To me Radiohead's a compliment because they're a huge band, and a band that have done things without a lot of - if any - compromise. They've always stuck to their guns. It really doesn't bother me too much. We're always trying to keep moving forward and the new stuff that we're writing right now is so far removed from what is on Cut(s) that... well, I'll be interested to hear what your mate has to say about it went it's released. What do you have to say about Cut(s) then? In reference to Suite(s) if you've had a chance to hear it?

To be perfectly honest, I can see exactly where he's coming from. That said, he - like a lot of people - only really listens to popular music and so his reference points are going to be a lot more limited. Obviously Amit, you're a Radiohead fan, and any musician, in any band, is going to see their influences come out in their own music to a certain degree. That's probably what a lot of people are picking up on.

RK: Totally. I mean, people have made that reference before, but they have always continued to make a point of saying, y'know, it's not just that. And again, I think that when you're a reader, reading reviews, and you haven't heard the music you need reference points. And for us, 'Radiohead' is a good one... to a degree.

KN: I think that's everyone's first basic instinct when they hear something new - they immediately think of a reference point.

RK: And you have to, I think, because you're not listening to the music there and then through the review, so the reviewer has to paint this image of sounds, with the words that he or she puts down, and musical reference points are like the goal posts really. Bands say that they don't like being pigeon holed, and that they "sound like nothing you've ever heard before", but I'd hate to introduce Ex Libras like that because... well, you just sound like an idiot, don't you?

Both Suite(s) and Cut(s) are available now. Ex Libras are embarking on a short UK tour throughout October and will play the following shows:

October 26 The Luminaire, London
November 11 Sofar Session, London
November 12 Mello Mello, Liverpool
November 13 The Blue Room, Blackpool
November 14 The Head Of Steam, Newcastle
November 16 The Forest Cafe, Edinburgh; followed by Whistlebinkies, Edinburgh
November 17 Cafe Drummonds, Grampian
November 18 Argyll Arms Hotel, Argyll
November 19 The Buff Club, Glasgow
November 20 The Bar Continental, Barrow

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.