Just last week, we posed some questions to Goldheart Assembly, on the occasion of a new album and supporting tour. Jim Fletcher is their interrogator; John, James and Jake are the subjects.
Backseat Mafia: Goldheart Assembly – how are things at the moment?
James: In limbo.
BM: You’ve a new record out (“Long Distance Song Effects”), do you think that it builds on the first record, or moves away from it musically? Or something else completely ?
John: It’s hard to see it as anything other than different. When we recorded it we were different people than we were during the first album. I think to a certain degree we wanted to distance ourselves from the first record because it’s old and largely irrelevant. We were aiming at producing something more in tune with our lives now. Some people might see a ‘development’ or traces of the first album, but for me it’s completely different. Much like The Casual Vacancy is to the Harry Potter series.
BM: Certainly to us, it sounds more cinematic, more ambitious maybe –is that just that you’re becoming more confident, more skilled?
James: Wolves and Thieves was largely an attempt to capture the way that those songs were being performed live so in that sense the recordings were always going to be limited. This new album was conceived in the studio and we spent a few years really making sure that we were creating something that would stand up as a body of work and not just a collection of songs.
Jake: At times in the studio I think we all felt very confident and freed by our being away and were bang up for trying out ambitious ideas. But we didn’t eat a lot and that affected our mood so at times we felt like helpless children on the brink of emotional ruin. It was bittersweet.
BM: It’s difficult to pigeonhole your sound (I think anyway) – do you have a lot of influences that mix into your music, or do you set out not to be part of a scene?
Jake: I am happy to hear that. Pigeon-holing is something necessary in the popular arts in order to give people quick understandings of things. But as a band it is just annoying. It is precisely the thing you are trying to avoid when you make a record as you are aiming to create something completely original. So no we don’t set out to be part of a scene.
John: We have no influences. That’s our scene.
James: We have a huge range of artists who we’re obsessed with from Tom Waits to Sam Cooke to Big Star to Sonic Youth to Charlie Parker to Neu. I could go on and on. I’m not exactly sure how that manifests in our music but it’s all in there somewhere.
BM: Your music is richly scored, with all sorts of folk and orchestral instruments adding to the sound – is that something you like to work with/utilize?
Jake: Using orchestral instruments was something we hadn’t done before, and for a second record you are looking for as many new ideas to play with as possible so that you move forward and avoid repeating yourself. We thought it would enhance some of the songs and I think it did.
James: Ideally I would have loved to have had orchestral arrangements on our first record because I’ve had a Scott Walker itch that has needed scratching for about 6 years. I’ve done it now though so we can move on.
John: We equally enjoy banging bits of metal.
BM: How did the sessions go for “Long Distance Song Effects”? Are you becoming more comfortable in the studio?
John: The sessions are bit a haze to be honest, but on the whole were relatively incident free and enjoyable. We’d demoed all the songs exhaustively beforehand and done a far amount of preproduction so we knew what we were aiming at. We felt more comfortable recording this album. The studio in Switzerland felt like a home-from-home and it is certainly nice to get away from London and lose yourself in the recording procedure. I think the main thing you have to learn with regards to the studio is to be patient.
James: We were very fortunate to be taken off the streets by a very generous Swiss producer and engineer called Tobi Gmür who gave use free rein in his studio so we became very comfortable, probably too comfortable.
Jake: We slept in the studio on several nights. In our sleeping bags. It was quite comfortable yes.
BM: And you chose (or at least the record company may have had a hand) “Stephanie and the Ferris Wheel” as a single – was that a tough choice, or unanimous amongst you all?
John: I think initially we were skeptical about leading with it because we felt, aside from the orchestral ending, it was not enough of a departure from the first record. We were more inclined to go with something a little bit uncompromising and bolder. The powers that be were pretty set on it being the lead single so in the end we bowed to that, and in hindsight it seems like it was a good decision on their part.
James: I was expecting Into Desperate Arms to be the first single so I was surprised when our radio plugger insisted on it being Stephanie and the Ferris Wheel. It seems to have gone down reasonably well though.
BM: You’re out touring the record from the end of August through to the start of October – do you enjoy the live shows?
John: Most of the time, it depends how many mistakes we/I make.
James: We enjoy them if the audience engages with us. We’re not fussy where we play whether it’s in front of 40 or 4000 people but if people aren’t interested in giving you a chance then there’s no way you can enjoy the show. We played to some amazing crowds around Europe with Band of Horses but the biggest show of the tour was disappointing because it was in a stadium and it was hard to tell whether people were really listening or just politely clapping at the end of each song. I’d rather play small clubs full of music fans than places that size. I think Band of Horses felt the same.
BM: Any favourite parts/parts you hate about touring? The riders/travelling weighed up against hours on a bus and constant ginsters and bad coffee?
Jake: Touring is great. Hanging out with your mates, seeing new places, playing music. The holy trinity.
James: We don’t eat Ginsters anymore. Yes precisely, bad coffee; the curse of the road. Apart from that we love touring, especially in Europe.
BM: It strikes me that your music is quite complex; do you have to rehearse a lot before you go out on tour, or do you just play that much that it all just comes together?
James: Historically we rarely ever rehearsed as a band but for this record it has taken a fair amount of thought to transfer the songs from record into a live environment. There were a lot of hurdles to overcome, Linnaeus and Sad Sad Stage have 4 basses on them for example.
John: We usually convene at the steam engine museum in Norfolk where we recorded our first album so we can spend some time sorting out how to play some of the more complicated songs. We’re trying to replicate a lot of the record, including the segues between the songs, it involves a lot of moving around and changing instruments between songs.
BM: What plans do you have for the rest of the year, after the tour is over?
James: New album finished by Christmas.
John: Hopefully by the end of the year we’ll have much of the new album finished. The next one won’t be taking take 3 years.
BM: And finally, the best record I have heard this year is……..
John: Deerhunter – Monomania
James: Mine are EPs so I’ll have two: WALL – Shoestring and Padraig Whelan – Sealed Knot.
You can catch them on tour as follows:
Thu 29th Aug – LONDON – The Barfly
Fri 6th Sep – EXETER – Phoenix
Sat 7th Sep – FALMOUTH – Pavilion
Sun 8th Sep – GLOUCESTER – Guildhall
Wed 11th Sep – PONTARDAWE – Arts Centre
Thu 12th Sep – COLWYNBAY – Theatr Colwyn
Sat 14th Sep – POCKLINGTON – Arts Centre
Sun 15th Sep – LEICESTER – The Y Theatre
Mon 16th Sep – STOCKTON – The Arc
Wed 18th Sep – EDINBURGH – Pleasance Theatre
Thu 19th Sep – INVERNESS – Iron Works
Sat 28th Sep – ASHFORD – St Marys
Sun 29th Sep – NORWICH – Arts Centre
Tue 1st Oct – COLCHESTER – Arts Centre
Wed 2nd Oct – HEBDENBRIDGE – Picture House
Thu 3rd Oct – BUXTON – Arts Centre
Fri 4th Oct – KENDAL – Brewery Arts Centre