march 1st 2006 - L'Ambassade
interview with Nick Talbot by SEB WOOd
SWd: Hi, can you introduce yourself ??
Nick Talbot: Hello, I’m Nick. I am in Gravenhurst. We are from Bristol.
SWd: How are you ??
Nick Talbot: I’m good. Thanks. These are the last five shows in the tour. It’s going well. All the shows have been really good. We are exhausted though.
SWd: What was recording Fire in Distant Buildings like ??
Nick Talbot: It was good, it was quite liberating. We had some money to record in a friend’s studio and we were able to record drums and guitars really loud. The previous albums were done in my bedroom and you can’t record really loud in your bedroom without annoying your neighbours. We had money from Warp. We did about half the recording in the studio and the other half back at home. The good thing about recording at home is that you don’t have any time constraints whereas in the studio you are very conscious of the clock ticking because it’s costing money. In the future, I think there will still be some elements which I record at home where I can spend hours and hours making noises and feedback with the guitar…
SWd: Is this noisier sound and noisier spirit, this new direction due to the fact that you could go to a studio ??
Nick Talbot: It’s very much due to that. The first song on the album ‘Down River’ was written in 1997. That’s older than any other Gravenhurst stuff. That’s older than the stuff in Internal Travels or Flashlight Seasons. It’s just that I wrote it back then and thought ‘I can’t really do it justice, I can’t record it in my bedroom’ so I just needed a bit more money to record it.
SWd: What I really like about this album is that there are quiet songs, there are noisy songs, you wrote at different times but they work together and there is a cohesive aspect in this album.
Nick Talbot: Yes, hopefully, it’s cohesive. That’s the thing when you are trying to put an album together and work out the tracklisting, you need to make it a coherent record. Some bands just sit down and write an album, write like 14 songs and they end up recording them. For each album, I’ve always ended up taking songs I’ve written years ago and songs I’ve written really recently and just thought which ones go together well. It’s always had less to do with the time when they were written and more to do with the way they work together. There is a few more songs that were written for the album and that we decided not to use because it would have ended being too long. It’ s quite a long album anyway with only 8 songs. So we’ve got other songs, even newer songs which are gonna go on an ep that we are about to release which is the “Velvet Cell” ep. We want to try to get ‘Velvet Cell’ played a bit more on the radio so we are going to release an ep but it’s gonna have five other songs that are completely new. A 6 track ep like Black Holes in the Sand.
SWd: As you mentioned ‘Velvet Cell’, in my opinion it’s quite a cynical, even misanthropic song. Do you like the fact that the easiest song to listen on the album is the most cynical and is it why you want radios to play it ??
Nick Talbot: Yeah, probably, it’s kinda pervert (laughs). I don’t think it’s cynical though. Maybe a little bit pessimistic and there might be a difference between pessimism a cynicism. (thinks) But I don’t know what the difference is (laughs). It’s quite dark. It’s about the idea that everyone has the capacity for violence in them. There is something I like about having a very harmful tune. In fact, you’re right about that (laughs).
SWd: You just said you had a lot of good songs that have been recorded for the album. So why did you choose to include a cover in the disc ??
Nick Talbot: It made sense. Dave and I talked about doing a cover of The Kinks because I really enjoy doing covers. I think it’s quite fun for bands to do covers. To justify recording a cover version you have to do something really different with it. You need to reinterpret it.
SWd: I think you cover of ‘See Your Friends’ is really neurotic.
Nick Talbot: It was about the only Kinks psychedelic song. That is one of the reasons we did it because a lot of the reviews talked about how English Gravenhurst sounded. The Kinks are seen as the quintessential English band so we chose their song which was the least English sounding for the cover and we tried to turn it into sort of Spaceman 3. I’m a big fan of Mark Kozelek. He is a really good re-interpreter of other people’s music. He raised the bar so high in terms of reinterpretation with his AC/DC and Modest Mouse covers. He totally transformed the songs. To get back to this Kinks cover, it just really fitted with the other stuff. It was really hard to find out the right track listing, to make it all work together with stuff like ‘Nicole’ working alongside stuff like ‘The Velvet Cell’. But I think we managed it.
SWd: I read that the social background of Bristol has a big influence on your writing. Is it what you think or what people think of you ??
Nick Talbot: It’s true. I agree with that. I’m really influenced by a sense of physical geography, by the things around me. It’s like an urban tarot (fortune telling cards). I don’t believe in tarot. It’s all bullshit but the idea is that they are kinda like archetypes. It’s very rural and old-fashioned but decaying buildings, prostitutes, crack dealers, nazis, blokes drinking and beating the shit out of you are archetypes for me. And being surrounded by those things has the kind of magical resonance for me that, I imagine, some fucking hippie in Glastonbury gets from … unicorns or something. I find magical resonance in urban decay. Bristol is very beautiful, very green, hilly, it’s built on 7 hills, but it definitely has a sense of transience. There is a big student population. People come and go. People come 3 years and leave again. It used to be a port. It’s not really a port much anymore. I think a lot of port cities have a sense of transience about them. Ports tend to be quite rough. Bristol is interesting because it’s really wealthy but it has a lot of poverty and they are living next to each other. It’s like that in London as well. You have an area and half a mile from one street it will be really wealthy and half a mile down it will be really dodgy and you have to avoid it. Privilege and poverty next to each other.
SWd: When I listen to your album, I feel an atmosphere of failure.
Nick Talbot (laughing): Failure ??
SWd: For example the album opens on an acknowledgement of failure: ‘the plans we made, we planned in vain, a waste of time…’
Nick Talbot: Failure. Mmh. (thinking). It’s not so much about failure for me. I would say the main theme in the lyrics is about control and the lack of self-control. Maybe it’s a bit of pessimism there because I don’t think that human beings have as much free will as we might think. I’m a determinist and there are two things you can take from that. You can be very pessimistic about it or you can see it as liberating and stop blaming yourself.
SWd: There is a song (‘Song from Under the Arches’) which I think is really reminiscent of Slint. Are they a big influence ??
Nick Talbot: Actually, Slint was more of an influence on the song ‘Down River’ because I wrote it in 1997 when I first heard Slint. ‘Song From Under the Arches’ was more influenced by Low and Richard Thompson. There is a Richard Thompson song called ‘Sloth’ which is on the Fairport Convention album Full House and which lasts about ten minutes. It goes through lots and lots of parts and builds up and up and up… and that was a big influence on that song. That and Black Sabbath (laughs).
SWd: What’s next for Gravenhurst ??
Nick Talbot: I think the way we’ve been playing live will probably have an influence on the way we’ll record the next album because Dave wasn’t in the band when we did Fire in Distant Buildings. But I don’t really know how things will turn out before I’ve done them because the way I tend to write is I start off often with an album title and then I come up with the song titles and then from the song titles I make the music. I write a lot of music on the basis of the titles, the way they make me feel and then I come up with the lyrics last of all. Vocal ideas, extra parts, organ piano, arrangements, I don’t know what they gonna sound until I’ve recorded the first few bits. The songs get written as the recording process happens. After this tour I definitely want to start working on a new album when I get home.
SWd: How was your American tour ??
Nick Talbot: It was great. Most of people who came to the gigs did not come to see us. They came to see Broadcast. Actually a few people came to see us. But it was a really good tour and Broadcast are great.
SWd: Now silly questions:
“Was you ever bit by a dead bee ??”
Nick Talbot: I was eaten by a live horse.
SWd: What freaks the hell out of you ??
Nick Talbot: Dead Birds.
SWd: What’s your favourite chord ??
Nick Talbot: I don’t know what it’s called. It’s like a G# minor barre chord but with some open strings.
SWd: Who is underrated ??
Nick Talbot: The pop band War Against Sleep (www.waragainstsleep.co.uk)
SWd: What is your favourite pick-up line ??
Nick Talbot: I WANT TO FUCK YOU
SWd: Which Hollywood star (dead or alive) would you most like to date ??
Nick Talbot: Kate Winslet. If she is unavailable, Jennifer Connelly. Both preferably.
SWd: Since when America has gone wrong ??
Nick Talbot: The drift Right-wards happened after Jimmy Carter. The War on Drugs was a reaction to 60s liberalism. The rise of the Religious Right, so I guess the 70’s.
SWd: What becomes of the broken-hearted ??
Nick Talbot: They either get over it and fall in love again or they don’t.
SWd: What is your favourite curse word ??
Nick Talbot: CUNT.
SWd: What question would you ask in this list ??
Nick Talbot: All of them, they are good questions.
SWd: Thanks a lot.Nick Talbot: You are very welcome. Thanks.