The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

Pretty Boys Docking: Favours For Sailors Interviewed
David Moats , March 5th, 2009 12:01

Power-Pop Favours for Sailors on Literary influences, American Pop and the power of 'Whoa'

Favours For Sailors seem to capture solid reference points that are conspicuously overlooked in this spring of 2009. While their peers were spending time crafting their 'different' or 'new' image, Favours were spending time crafting good songs. _Favours' very American brand of power-pop has the intelligence of Pavement, the hooks of the Cars and the complex song structures of Big Star. Even if power-pop is not your thing, their unpretentiousness causes you to lower your defences. Their nuanced guitar play, literate lyrics and boyish good looks will melt the icy heart of even the most jaded musical cynic. Their first mini-album Furious Sons, produced by Test Icicles frontman Rory Brattwell is out next week courtesy of Tough Love Records. The Quietus sat down with frontman Jon, bass player Alex and drummer Dan in the first pub in Notting Hill that wasn't flogging antiques.

Do you think pop music needs rescuing and if so from who?

Jon: From us! [laughs] I don't think it's in that much trouble actually. Maybe the record industry needs some rescuing though.

How is it starting out in the music business now when it's in so much financial trouble?

Alex: It hard to say as we are just starting so we don't have anything to compare it to, but you do get the impression that there's not so much money around at the moment and you have to do quite a lot yourself - which is good because you get control over what you’re doing in a way which was maybe not possible in the past.

Is it true that when you were first being courted by record labels it was suggested that you might need to change your clothes?

Jon: I haven't changed my clothes in two weeks!

Alex: Yeah, some one talked about getting us a stylist - thought we weren't 'cool' enough. I think it was our manager at the time. He said he was going to get the Foo Fighters stylist to 'sharpen us up'.

Jon: Yeah, I was wearing shorts on stage this one time and he told me to never to do that again.

Alex: They were cut-off denim shorts actually.

Dan: You almost got signed with Mudhoney then.

Shorts on stage to me screams American college rock. A lot of your influences seem to be American. How do you define yourself as British?

Alex: We pretty much only have American influences.

Jon: Yeah, I never really listened to British music much. But, I don't think we sing in that American drawl where you can't tell where the band is from.

Dan: Maybe our Britishness is more about not taking yourself too seriously - having a bit more self awareness.

Alex: Speak for yourself I take myself very seriously.

What does seem very British about you is your attention to song-craft. The American end of power pop has always been a bit looser, more intentionally amateurish

Alex: Song craft is important to all of the music we like and admire - Beach Boys, Television, Big Star, Pavement

Do you think you'll be more appreciated in America

Alex: Maybe. It'd be a bit like selling ice to the Eskimos.

Dan: We've had some positive response from American blogs and we have plenty of American mySpace friends.

Alex: We would have to change the spelling of our name to make it big in America. [laughs]

Jon: We'd totally do that. We can sell out.

So am I right that the name is a Blackadder reference?

John + Alex: Nooo.

Dan: [pause] Oh right, when Baldrick gets taken to the docks..

Alex: Shhh! It's not supposed to be, we've never even seen Blackadder!

Jon: I just though it was a nice rhyming kinda thing, it had nice sibilance.

Alex: Yeah, we were attracted by the sibilance and then realised it had connotations and implications. Actually, we are quite often mistaken for being a gay band - people would just hear the name and think that.

Dan: But once they see how unstylish and ugly we are they realise.. [laughs]

For your style of music, production must be very important since your songs could easily be made to sound like standard NME rock or something else. Your record has a decidedly low-fi sound. Was that hard to achieve?

Jon :It's all about getting the right balance. We spent ages on the production. Its not too over produced but its also not too low-fi. There are some nice flourishes which we can't do live.

Like the strings on ‘Our Name’?

Jon: Yeah we had a gangsta version of that song with gunshots and police sirens at the beginning but we didn't go with that one.

How was it working with Rory Brattwell of Test Icicles?

Jon: A real pleasure, the nicest guy. Really knows what he's doing and he contributed his own ideas to the project.

How do you write your songs?

Jon: Well, it starts with just me...

Alex: ...alone in his bedroom at 4am... stark naked... hysterical... walking through the streets of Clapton at dawn looking for an angry fix.

Jon: Exactly, and then Ginsberg comes 'round and bums me... Sorry. Media training! Media training! I think of little bits and normally they grow into a song and then I'll record a demo with nonsense words.

I remember The Beatles released some demo versions that had some pretty silly nonsense lyrics

Jon: Mine normally start with 15 instances of the word "Fuck". Then we start playing together and trying different things. The whole process takes a couple of months to develop.

Michael Stipe once claimed that he wrote ‘Man on the Moon’ to beat Kurt Cobain's record for number of "Yeah"s in one song. You certainly seem to have set the bar for "Whoa"s with this record.

Jon: We're very big fans of "Whoa". Often the catchiest bits of songs are the "Whoa" bits. The Beach boys and Animal Collective use a lot of pure vocals melodies like that.

Agreed. A good "Whoa" section is always preferable to poorly thought out lyrics. Why disguise the vocal harmonies? You guys seem quite skilled at arpeggiating your "Whoa"s.

Alex: Yeah we have a "Whoa" machine.

Are there any musical influences that your listeners might find surprising? Is there any Sunn O))) on your shelf?

Jon: Alex has an emergency avant-garde collection that he carries around with him everywhere in case he goes somewhere and there's no avant garde. [laughs] That's genuinely true.

Dan: All I have in my car is Ace of Base.

Alex: Yes, Dan has the last surviving tape player in England which is in the car that we have to drive to all our gigs in. I got him an ipod but he broke it so now were back to the cassettes which consist of Bruce Springsteen, 2 Unlimited and an audio book of ¬Emma by Jane Austin.

Am I correct that you two [Alex and Jon] studied English?

Alex: Yeah, Dan too. He's actually doing a Phd in intertextuality between John Dunn and The Sex Pistols

Does that impact the way you work?

Jon: Well, we all read a lot of Nabokov, not to go down that Pavement route of citing Nabakov as an influence. It doesn't really impact our music.

The Crystal Stilts [on The Quietus] claimed they were influenced by Knut Hansom.

Jon: He's a really good writer.

Alex: Also a Nazi, wasn't he?

Jon: I'm going to listen to their album and pick out those bits.

Like when they break into Norwegian?

Jon: Well, music and writing, everything like that goes arm and arm - I mean the imagery in some of our songs is slightly oblique.

Alex: We also like Thomas Hardy [directly into Dictaphone]. One of the most underrated authors of the 19th century.

Dan: He's not underrated.

Alex: I think he is a bit underrated. Everyone just thinks he's miserable but he 's got a good sense of humour. Hey, don't stop recording we're giving you an impromptu Thomas Hardy lecture.

Dan: The funny thing about Hardy is he tortures his characters for our pleasure, which therefore puts us in quite a compromised ethical position as readers. That's what I find most interesting about Hardy.

Alex: That's a very interesting point because I was reading Claire Tomlin's biography of Thomas Hardy recently and she was saying that in the original draft of Duly Obscure only one of the children died.

Dan: Huh, he really turned up the volume then.

Alex: Really amped up the child killing in that one.

Dan: Child killing occurs in many books. Trainspotting by Irvine Welch might be a good example.

Alex: I'm going to pretend I've never read that just like I pretend that I never listened to Manic Street Preachers when I was younger. To end this interview, maybe I should carve "4 real" into my right arm.

Dan: ...and "Not really" into the left.