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Escape Velocity

Instant Coffee Isn't Always The Best: PVT Interviewed
Simon Jay Catling , December 2nd, 2010 08:13

Simon Jay Catling talks to PVT - formerly Pivot - about their new album Church With No Magic, Australian identity and dodgy puns

It doesn’t take long to get talking to Australian three-piece PVT. The Warp-signed experimentalists have been forced to talk about their enforced name change from Pivot all year (“just a rubbish band in the States who’ve never done anything,”) but really come alive when discussing recent album Church With No Magic. An evocative work that sees man battling machine, it’s ultimately the beating human heart that prevails within the group, the LP marking their own questioning search into life and its communities, how they co-exist and how they affect each other. This is all done amidst a back drop of darkening electronics and rhythms that are at times bludgeoning in their brutal simplicity yet always within touching distance of taking off in a maelstrom of sound. When combined at maximum velocity they threaten to rip singer Richard Pike’s vocals from the very larynx from which they emerge.

It’s Pike who formed the group at the turn of the Millennium, along with brother and drummer Laurence. Starting as a five piece, they’ve eventually tightened up into a lean, concise trio with Dave Miller joining the siblings on laptop and live sampling duties. As discovered later on in the evening at Deaf Institute’s Victorian-decorated dance hall, PVT take on a presence greater than the sum of their parts live; a locked-in unit of mesmerising sound that simmers and froths at times and at others cools with an understated beauty, the constant ebb and flow encapsulates the trio’s ongoing musical exploration.

Church With No Magic came out this year; for me, in comparison to your previous work it feels a little more stripped back, more compact sounding; where’s that come from?

Richard Pike: Erm, a desire to make a more stripped back compact album? I’m not sure about it being blunt though...

Ok, I guess what I mean is the percussion that underpins - it’s almost industrial.

RP: Yeah, I guess that’s just us having fun. A lot of this record was us experimenting more than before. We’ve been asked this question before, people seem to think that our previous record was more experimental but we feel like this one was because we were challenging ourselves more, we were doing things that we didn’t know if they were going to turn out right or not.

LP: It was pretty unknown territory for us. It was like taking a big step…on a Segway off a cliff. [Laughs] Not really; we’ve just been talking about the Segway CEO dying by driving a Segway off a cliff, it’s the most amazing thing I’ve read in years. It’s pretty funny – well it’s sad, but it’s pretty funny.

RP: He died doing what he loved most.

LP: Looking awkward on a stupid machine. Can you imagine him just going “Oh shit!”

All: “Ohhhh!”

RP: His last words were “how ironic.” [Laughs]

Dave Miller: “I’m sure people get the ironyyyyyyy!” [Laughs] Anyway.

RP: Yeah, the album…

Was it a difficult album to make?

RP: Sorry, sorry, sorry. Hey Laurence, that was a really good Segway into current affairs. [Laughs] Yeah, I guess so, but I think that’s a good feeling. Anytime you don’t really know exactly what you’re doing that’s a good space to be in when you’re making a record. If you’re too certain of it then you’re probably not taking quite enough risks.

DM: Like you’re treading the same path.

RP: We certainly didn’t want to make the same album again, we wanted to make something different and expand our horizons a bit.

How was the recording process?

RP: It was all over the shop. We started with a few loops and ideas and we did some rehearsing like a traditional band does and tried some new written structures and songs. We went into the studio and had hours and hours of jams and had audio material to cut up; that was an important thing for us because we thought this would be a good way to flesh out some new ideas and go somewhere where we hadn’t been before, but also make it sound more live. We wanted to get that real vibe and energy, and gradually we added electronics and overdubs and developed a record.

So did a lot of stuff come from the live jams and then evolve naturally?

RP: Yeah, we were touring the old record for a while and trying out new stuff. We said to ourselves we really want to harness that energy, we did like 150 shows in 18 months or something.

You do tour an awful lot and it seems to be a big part of who you are as a band.

RP: Yeah, we did loads.

LP: Well there’s not really any other way to promote your music anymore.

RP: Well there’s plenty of ways to promote your music.

LP: Sorry, I should probably say it’s the only way to earn money.

DM: And also, we enjoy it and it’s something we feel is probably one of our best assets. We enjoy playing and people seem to enjoy our shows, and they see something new each time.

RP: Yeah, we feel like we’ve got something pretty unique to offer on stage.

This has been brought up in other interviews recently, but there’s a lot more singing on the record, and the lyrics…some of it’s quite open ended.

RP: Yeah, I think a lot of them started from a place, a subconscious use of words as we were writing melodies and then a few things started coming out so we focused on them and our title Church With No Magic was something floating around - and that was one of the last songs we wrote. It seemed, by that stage, that we knew what the album was about so that song embodied a lot of what it was about in some way – at least lyrically and theme wise.

Where did the title come about from? It’s quite an apt description of the record... I mean it’s quite a grand stately sound, but within that there’s a really dark simplicity.

RP: [Laughs] Yeah fortunately we haven’t had anyone write a pun statement- “there’s definitely no magic here” or anything like that.

DM: It’s generally been on the positive side.

RP: It’s generally been "Church With No Magic is full of magic” or some positive pun like that, but I do remember someone at our record label say when we told them the title “Well that’s probably opening yourself up for bad puns.”

LP: To which I responded that if we started doing things in anticipation of what reviewers might say we might as well give up.

Definitely, anyone who pays attention to what we’re saying is…

RP: [Laughs]

Do you pay attention to reviews?

RP: When you finish a record you put it out into like a hole, and then we’re in this process of doing lots of interviews and trying to promote and yeah, you read stuff.

DM: I think our manager only shows us the good ones.

Well it’s been a positive response across the board.

LP: I think we expected a lot of mixed reviews to be honest, when you try and do something different and fuck with people’s expectations of what they thought you were about you’re always going to get a reasonable amount of people going “I don’t get it.” But overall it’s been really positive.

RP: There’s been a couple of fence sitting ones. Occasionally you get someone who goes “I really appreciate that they’ve done something different – I’m not going to put my whole weight behind it though.” That’s just weird. I guess that’s the nature of music criticism these days though, you’re scared to say “I really like this” or “I don’t like this.”

LP: In a lot of ways I like abstract reviews, at least they’re putting something out there. There are very few people who commit to discussing ideas about music and its context, why or why it isn’t important. It seems that most music criticism comes from a place where it’s about someone just validating their own ego on the internet, which is kind of boring.

I think there’s a sense of writers waiting to see what everyone else thinks first at the moment too.

LP : Of course, yeah. There are a great deal of people that’ll wait for certain tastemakers to tell them what their opinion is and how safe it is to go out on a limb.

RP: We find that happens a lot in Australia, they listen to the world a lot about what’s happening in their own back yard.

Do you guys still spend a lot of time there? Dave, do you live in London now?

DM: I don’t anymore, but Richard does. We’ve swapped. We’re not able to live in the same city; the city is not big enough for both of us [laughs.] I guess we do, we play Australia once or twice a year and we’ve recorded there because it’s more comfortable for us, we know more people there.

Do you still feel comfortable going back there? We’ve got a skewed view over here, which is ridiculous in the 21st century, we’ve all this access to music on the internet and yet we don’t really know what’s going down in Australia.

LP: It’s pretty obvious to us what people’s perceptions of Australia are on the whole – people still turn to AC/DC, INXS and stuff like that in the mainstream sense. And there’s a few bands people know about, but largely I think people don’t really know what to expect, which kind of makes it difficult for us in a lot of ways when we come to Europe and the UK and compete against English and American bands, because they instantly get preference. Everywhere you go, even in Australia.

Really?

LP: Yeah! Unfortunately. In the UK and America they don’t give international touring bands priority; I’m not sure why Australia insists on doing it. “The grass is greener…” very much so in Australia.

DM: Yeah…sorry what were you saying?

LP: I’m just saying how there’s a weird perception of Australian music. If there’s a band from Brooklyn people have in their minds something, but from Sydney it’s like “oh, do they sing about kangaroos and things?”

DM: Lot’s of people tell me after shows, “I can’t believe you’re from Australia,” what does that mean? Because my tan’s not very good? It’s ridiculous.

.Who’s to say what’s Australian anyway?

RP: Well yeah, but then people associate the country with beaches and outdoors, and taking it easy and drinking beers.

DM: And they forget that Nick Cave’s Australian.

What would you say were your influences then?

RP: I think that’s what is Australian about the music, Australia is a distant place from the rest of the world and it does feel like an outside, strange place. Even when you’re there you feel the distance from the rest of the world and I think there’s something in that, that sort of isolation.

DM: I think the big difference between now and when we were growing up is that when I was growing up the only way you could find out about new music was on the radio and on music television or magazines, and I would do that. I’d read whatever, go to record stores and check things out. Bands and trends didn’t come to Australia so quickly – things would take years to get over. Three years after grunge you’d get some grunge bands, whereas now you get bands starting in Australia that sound like Animal Collective’s album that came out three months ago.

RP: That’s the younger bands though.

DM: But that’s happening now, and that’s a weird thing about the internet – going off on a bit of a tangent – you get this instantaneous feel, and I think it lacks identity, because there’s no distance? No distance from the rest of the world, people are just consuming things via the internet.

RP: It does seem like the music industry in Australia, maybe because of young kids copying music, it seems like there’s a short memory for our musical history. It’s as though it’s forgotten about AC/DC and INXS as well.

DM: The Triffids…

RP: To a certain degree Nick Cave, which is why he lives over here.

DM: But, erm, our influences…I dunno…they’re varied.

RP: When Laurence and I were growing up our older brother was into heavy metal and he was a real sporto – that was the household we grew up in, and at the same time we were introduced to stuff like The Police and Prince and that kind of stuff, which has stuck with us. Laurence and I studied Music and went to the Conservatorium in Sydney and explored music in its many facets and played in lots of different bands.

LP: We’ve always been attracted to things that tend to take more chances in some ways.

How did you find studying music? It seems in some cases it can be quite restricting.

LP: You can learn an instrument to the nth degree, and having studied the drums and got to a certain point with it you feel like you need to step back.

RP: You feel like you want to start unlearning; I remember getting to a point at 20 or 21 where I just thought “I don’t need to know all this shit,” I wanted to get back to a point where I could approach the instrument and enjoy it in the same way as when I was 12.

Do you end up seeing everything through a set of templates and guidelines?

RP: You start the path because you want to learn and because you love music and want to know how to make it, and then you want to master your instrument and then it unravels a thread and you keep learning and learning and before you know it you’re out of University doing a Music course. I left my course; I was studying Composition and that was all like avant-classical, experimental, orchestral, modern classical stuff - and that was really great - but there was definitely a moment where I thought “I don’t really want to make this music,” you suddenly get to a point where if you want to be a song writer you do a bit of soul searching and find out what you really want to do, and what’s true to you, and you have to unlearn what you’ve learned and get back to some kind of instinctual, primal thing.

I think that shows in your work now, it never sounds overly regimented or too calculated.

LP: Yeah, I think the search is to make music that’s more pure, or reaches back into something simpler. It’s ongoing for us; it’s why our music’s always changing.

RP: And I do think for Laurence and I this process has been going since we were kids, and this album we’ve made this time is one more step towards what we were all thinking about when we first started trying to write songs. We’ve met a like minded soul along the way in Dave who has always had a really vast listening background, which is very different from ours. Dave hears things differently from us and tells us when we’re playing too much.

DM: That’s going to happen a lot on the next record [laughs]

RP: One note per bar, we’ll have a rule.

Well it’s great that you’re on a label like Warp who’ve always been open minded and allowed their artists freedom.

RP: Yeah, completely.

LP: I think going back to being from Australia and people’s perceptions of what Australian music is, but also because we’re not a two dimensional band in the sense that you couldn’t make figurines of us for merchandise in terms of branding us and we wouldn’t make carbon copies of albums, I think we’re realistic that it will take time for people to make a fuller assessment of what’s actually going on with us.

DM: And we’re finding that already that it’s taken time for the album to sink in. We’re getting people coming to our shows who’re catching up on the old record and are just getting to hear about the new one, and then we’ve had people umming and arring about the new record and wanting to see it live first.

I think it’s a record that does take a few listens to fully appreciate and get into, and I guess the reward’s richer in that sense.

LP: Yeah, it’s like a difference between an espresso and an instant coffee. Things aren’t always better when they’re instant.

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