Field Music is one of those oddball bands, small and marvellous, who form part of the fine print in modern pop. A band that is big because of its singularity. They'll be playing at Primavera Sound, and they've just released “Plumb”, so we wanted to talk to someone as intelligent as David Brewis.
We need more bands like Field Music. Bands who make pop a bit more complex, who fight against the boredom of the rules and the triumph of mediocrity. The number of daring, adventurous groups is increasing, shaken up by the tsunami of impulses coming from the Internet and the infinite crossover possibilities this generates, but still, one gets the feeling that there aren't enough bands like brothers David and Peter Brewis. Surreal, aesthetic and cerebral, “Plumb” (Memphis Industries, 2012) is more proof of what good draughtsmen the Sunderland duo are, whether they're drawing the quadrants of their musical crossword puzzle or keeping the lines of the pentagram they're writing on parallel to each other. The Brewises know how to use a set square, and their handwriting is excellent, too.
Some people may find them twisted and affected, but they are, above all, a cultured group. So I'm not surprised when David answers my request for a recommendation of a book about musical theory with Scott DeVeaux’s fascinating “Birth Of Bebop”; or when he confesses to me that he makes music for himself, rather than for his audience; or when he talks about perfectly complicated pop songs like “Good Vibrations”, “Bohemian Rhapsody” and “Wuthering Heights”: “in order to write a perfect pop song, you need the element of novelty, or, at least the element of depth. If you have something that is new, but superficial, easy and cynical, it'll be boring.”
We talk for half an hour about how to fight boredom in pop and about some other more or less attractive things, like apologies, liberties, obstacles, measures, responsibilities and surprises. David speaks calmly, thinking about his answers while giving them, and he leaves exactly the same space between each word, as if he were following a metronome. Our next meeting: at San Miguel Primavera Sound, on stage this time.
In construction, the term ‘plumb’ is used to adjust the verticality and horizontality of floors and walls. As a title, it sounds exact and powerful. Why did you choose it?
For several reasons. Firstly, we're very straight people. Furthermore, we had just built our new studio, in early 2011, and we we'd grown familiar with construction lingo. And then there was “The Spirit Level”, a book we had both read that analyses the impact of inequality on social issues. Plus, we had been thinking about the album in volumetric terms, of imbalance between the heavy and light parts. So we had several options with the term 'level' popping up everywhere, and in the end, 'plumb' was the one that matured the best as a possible album title.
It sounds rather different from your other albums. Because it's more orchestral and fragmented, the fifteen songs feel like thirty.
We were facing loads of small pieces that didn't seem to want to grow, so we tried to find ways to channel them all. Usually we think a lot about how to fill the thirty or forty minutes an album lasts. Let's say that by shaping the LP with short pieces merging into others, and with those interludes linking them, we're clearly not playing by the rules of traditional song-writing.
Was it hard to come up with the structure? It sounds anarchic at first, but then you find out it's actually meticulously put together.
Not really. The truth is, it came out pretty naturally, though nothing on it is coincidental. Even though everything is built deliberately to transmit a certain feeling, I still think many people won't like the album, or that we're going to hear the typical “why didn't you make these pieces into actual songs?” [laughs]. What we do know is that we don't write conventional songs, and we're very lucky to have fans who expect us to surprise them, to do odd new things. One thing's for sure: if you're a bit narrow-minded, our music won't speak to you.
That means you constantly have to force yourself to surprise everyone.
Yes, but that's what's exciting to me as an artist: to hear something and not understand it immediately, to always be surprised. I don't want something predictable and easy to take part in. We write more for ourselves than for our audience.
And do you get feedback from your fans?
Yes, but it's something I find hard to deal with. I mean, there are many people who like this record, but I assume there are many who prefer the previous ones, and others who hear us for the first time and whom our music doesn’t really reach. It's nice to hear that people are into what you're doing from time to time, that it gives them the same kind of things you get from it, but it's better not to take it too seriously. It could become too much of an obsession.
In comparison with “Measure”, on “Plumb” you sound freer, as if you cared less than ever about 'what people say', as if you wanted to break with everything that came before.
There's always a bit of that on our records. After spending five or six months recording and a year on tour, our natural instinct is to change and do something different. Not repeating ourselves motivates us, and in that lies an effort to learn from what we have done before. Sonically, “Plumb” is a step forward from “Measure” and, in terms of structures and duration, yes, it's a deliberately very different album.
Did you each write half of the tracks, like you did on “Measure”?
We still write separately, and we help each other in the studio in order to make everything work on the record. What happened with “Plumb” was that though we work with tracks that stand on their own, we started to think about the transitions and structure from the very beginning. With “Measure”, that only happened during the last six weeks of the process.
Do you write the lyrics first, or the music?
I usually write the music first, and then the vocal melodies and lyrics come out pretty easily. I think Peter has a lot of already-written lyrics lying around and what he does is combine them on different tracks. The truth is neither of us feels like a writer. It's easier for us to do the music; the lyrics are always a bit harder.
Who'll Pay The Bills?
Albums Field Music - Plumb
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