Life On Mars: East India Youth Interviewed
, October 25th, 2012 07:41
East India Youth's self-released, bedroom-crafted TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER was one of our surprise discoveries of this year, and swiftly graduated to regular Quietus office listening. A karaoke session later, he tells Laurie Tuffrey how the record came together
A few weeks back, following the below interview, a group including myself and William Doyle of East India Youth, were on the lookout for a drink. The only place open was a sports bar, where it soon became clear that a karaoke session was in full swing.
After a short while, Doyle announces, "I want to do something I already know all the words to... I think I'm going to do 'Life On Mars'," and promptly proceeds to make good on his promise. What follows is a blinding rendition of Bowie's cinematic warbler. The crowd, previously on the indifferent side, giving obligatory applause to the elderly mainstay of the mic whipping out 'Unchained Melody', take instant notice: Doyle gets a standing ovation and a man, previously minding his pint resolutely on his own, much in the way of a retired old label exec, comes over to shake his hand with silent reverence. (That he then goes on to cap it off with two other songs, 'My Way' and 'This Charming Man', also rendered immaculately, is effectively salt in the wound compared to the lukewarm response I get for my version of 'It's Not Unusual'.)
The patrons of Millers Pub in King's Cross may be saddened to hear that 'Life On Mars (East India Youth Edit)' doesn't make it onto Doyle's first release, TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER, but it bears up pretty well all the same. After Doyle handed over a CD-R of the album to the Quietus's John D at a gig, it's been on repeated play in the office and a no-brainer for our Jovian Bow Shock Prize shortlist.
'GLITTER RECESSION' opens up the album with a wheeling synth line, washed over by a rinse of digital distortion, followed by 'TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER I', the first of a four-part theme that recurs throughout the album, powered by tremolo heft and overwritten by aerial, metallic electronics. The album's centrepiece, though, and arguably its finest moment, is 'HEAVEN, HOW LONG', a three-part electro cut, powered by motorik drums that build to one of the finest chorus breaks of the year; the instruments drop away as Doyle's voice soars - an overused word if ever there was one, though here it feels apt - before the insurgent motorik rhythm resurfaces, colliding with braying guitars.
If it feels too adept for a first album, it belies the fact that it's Doyle's second time around. He previously fronted Doyle & The Fourfathers, an indie quartet dealing in literate guitar pop who were on the rise, backed by BBC 6 Music (who are now giving airtime to East India Youth) and completing an album and a clutch of EPs, as well as a tour with The Undertones. However, various events conspired to force the band to dissolve earlier this year, with Doyle then finishing up the predominantly electronica-based sketches he had been working on for two years into TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER. With almost infinite amounts of new music abounding, it's refreshingly clear-minded and genuinely fresh feeling. We couldn't urge you to listen to it enough.
Your previous band Doyle & The Fourfathers were getting pretty big, with a debut album released and a tour supporting The Undertones, but then dissolved - what's the story there?
William Doyle: I was doing solo stuff before the band while I was in college, and then when college ended I wanted a band to do live stuff with. Really quickly, within six months, it just went like that, whoosh! We sent an EP to Marc Riley at 6 Music and he really liked it, he played the first track six nights in a row, and then two weeks later we were in Manchester doing a session for him. 6 Music was being threatened with closure at the time and we decided to adhere ourselves to it; we got involved in some of the protests and ended up playing at some of them. Out of that we got some more radio plays, we got some management advice, who put a load of money into us and by the end of the year we'd recorded the album Man Made, which came out in February 2011. We'd played with Damian from The Undertones at a 6 Music thing; we kept in touch and they were about to go out on their 35th anniversary tour and asked if we wanted to come along, so we did.
Then last year, we recorded our last EP Olympics Critical which was four tracks and it had a really political edge to it. In hindsight, that might have been a mistake, because it colours peoples' opinions of you. So we recorded that EP, but we didn't know what we were doing and our management didn't know what they were doing at all. We were throwing money into a pit basically.
That last EP, four tracks, cost us an insane amount of money to produce and we weren't making anything back. We had Graham Sutton producing it [British Sea Power/These New Puritans producer] and he did an amazing job on it, but he cost a load of money, as you can imagine. By the end of March, we'd kicked our bass player out for various reasons; it was just in complete tatters. I was living in London for a bit in that period, but then moved back down to Southampton, and thought "I'm tired of this now, I'm not even interested in playing guitar, I'm much more into my electro music". I'd been recording loads of bits and pieces on the peripheral for the last two years and then I decided to put them all together - I thought, "right, this is a watershed moment", finished the album up in a day and shared it with a few people. Then a couple of weeks later I said to the band "I don't want to do this anymore".
Has it made you more skeptical about the music industry?
WD: Actually, it's made me more skeptical of the guitar music side of it. What I'm finding at the moment is that electronic dance music has got a very defined culture and it operates totally differently. The gigs are a good way to compare the two things: with guitar bands, it's all on the performance, it's all about the ego, it's all about the - this is a cliched thing to say - people. I mean it doesn't always have to be, but it tends to be like that. In the first half of this year, I've been going to a lot more dance music, electronic music gigs. The emphasis isn't on the performer; it's on the sound that's being created, and I think that's a really liberating idea. So I'm very skeptical of guitar music stuff, but I'm a bit more hopeful in the case of the integrity of people who are pushing dance music. My experience so far, with this record, people do something if they like it. It's not about how much money I'm putting in front of them necessarily; it's been a much more organic process like that.
Why the move to electronica?
WD: Well, for a start, it was something I could do at home, and I'd always had a fringe interest. In the last couple of years, I've only really bought stuff like that, so I was really interested to see the way it works. I suppose, in one way, it was being more interesting, the music itself, and in another way, it was a reaction to what I was doing in the band. I find it a much more interesting process, something I can have more fun doing. I can be more creative, and sit there and really labour over bits.
TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER has distinct sounds within the record - you've got pop in 'DRIPPING DOWN' and 'HEAVEN, HOW LONG', ambient in 'MIDNIGHT KOTO' and techno in 'HINTERLAND'. Is it a case that you're going to keep going down all of these avenues or will you settle on one?
WD: That's a question I'm asking myself. I suppose the record sounds that way because of the big expanse of time in which it was made; it wasn't my focus, there was always stuff I was doing on the side. Interestingly I think I've sequenced the record in a way that works but pulls in all sorts of different directions. I like it when people can do something different on one track, but it still sounds like them.
But I've always been like that - every song I've made sounds different than the one before. The stuff I'm working on at the moment is more dancey. I feel much better about my life at the moment, and I think this optimism I've got at the moment is being reflected in what I'm making. I suppose it's listening to dance music and getting that total, euphoric sense of hearing stuff, and you just go "yes!" I've experienced it recently seeing Factory Floor, for instance, where they're just pulling that one thing that just makes you turn round to whoever you're with and go "yeah, this is awesome".
Why call the record TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER? Is that a wry poke at indie past?
WD: Foals did that album Total Life Forever; it's not a dig at that, it really isn't, though people have thought that! When I first started doing stuff in November 2010, I had a notebook that I was writing phrases in and I just wrote "total strife forever" and I thought it was just a pun, you know. It's really hard when you do these things. I remember reading an interview with Tim Hecker, who said names for stuff are just things that you assign it and then that's its name. That's very much the way I've worked on this thing. At the time of me writing "total strife forever" the phrase, I thought that was more accurate of how I was feeling at the time than “total life forever”. I haven't got this boundless optimism that's encapsulated in the phrase "total life forever". By the time I got to May this year, I had that phrase kept over and I had four tracks which followed the same melodic theme. I had it running round my head for two years; every day I'd just think about that theme and I wanted to do it in a number of different ways. So I thought I'll name that 'TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER I' and then it just seemed like the album should be called that.
What are the main influences on the album?
WD: Brian Eno, Another Green World is one of my favourite albums, I like his mid-70s stuff. The guy has shaped music more than any one person, I reckon, and I love, coming from that, the Berlin-period Bowie, Heroes and Low, especially the second halves of those records, where they go into the instrumental stuff, that was a big influence. Fuck Buttons were a big thing, I've listened to them quite a lot over the last couple of years, that's been quite a revelation. Shostakovitch as well, I really like him; I wanted a couple of the themes on the record to be like "what if Shostakovitch was using a computer?" - 'TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER III' is a bit like that, I think.
Why the change, and did it come easily, from a band where lyrics were very upfront - had you just had it with words?
WD: All the lyrics on TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER I wrote in a day or less. I was using a technique that David Byrne says he always uses - he records gibberish over his backing track, which basically give you a shape of the natural way of how the vocals should sound and then he assigns words. I think it was because I used to labour over them so much with the band; again, it was a reaction to that. I think 'SONG FOR GRANULAR PIANO' does actually have some gibberish in there - I think there are some words in there that aren't words!
Have you had any enquiries from record labels yet?
WD: I've had a few people interested, yeah. I won't say who, because it might create some dirty deals. That's been cool. I really want to play it safe and evaluate all my options and go with the best one. So hopefully someone will come along and say "we really like that" and I'll agree to it and we'll see TOTAL STRIFE FOREVER on shelves next year or something like that.
With the live performances, what can we expect?
WD: It'll just be me. I might be able to get some other musicians later on, but I thought it'll be much easier to co-ordinate things if it's just myself. It's scary seeing how other people do things, because they've just got a plethora of wires and bits and pieces and knobs and buttons and stuff like that, and I haven't got any of that stuff! At the moment, I've been doing it at home really simply, and although I won't be doing much, as such, I will be having a guitar on stage and a bass guitar and I'll be doing live vocals so I can justify standing there, nodding my head and pressing the buttons for a bit, as long as I still have the live aspect to it.
My plans are to get a small set sorted and get 35/40 minutes down, book a few under-the-radar gigs, see how they go and, if they're a success, early next year I'll do a headline London gig. Then we'll just see how it goes from there. The cool thing about it at the moment is that I was under the impression that it would be too clinical and that I'd just be triggering loops and things would sound the same every time I'm doing it. When I've been experimenting, I have been doing every song differently every time - I think that's going to be really important to how my set is received. I've found that you can get more variety in than I ever could do being in a guitar band. I can extend sections for as long as I want, you can read the crowd better, so it's really exciting. I used to prance around the stage like Jarvis Cocker, but I'm going to have to remain fairly stationary now. So I'm going to have go like that [nods head] a bit more!