Broads (2015)

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Band Broads
Country United Kingdom
Genre Folk, Ambient
Link https://broadsofnorfolk.bandcamp.com/
Release date 2015/11/01


Interview


Please introduce yourself and your band.

I’m James, 37-year-old father of two from Norwich, UK. I am Broads.

Why did you pick this band name?
It’s a reference to the part of the world where I’m from – I’m really proud of my city, and the Norfolk Broads are just outside Norwich, so the name made sense. I’d say that my music reflects my surroundings to a large degree, so it was important to me to pick a name that referenced that.

It is not the first interview that I would do with your band, so I would like to know what has changed since the previous one?
A fair amount I guess – I moved house in May and converted the (huge) shed in the back garden into a studio/rehearsal space with my friend and DIY-mentor Joe Bear – it’s great to finally have room to spread out all of my instruments and have everything wired in and ready to record whenever I get the urge. Broads is now also a live band – Mark Jennings has been playing synths and helping out with electronic triggers and the like. There’s still a lot of limitations with what we can do on stage but the shows we’ve done so far have been fun and well-received.

How would you describe your music? Maybe you can also lay out how the band has evolved over time and how this has effected the sound and style of what you write and play?
I started off describing Broads as ‘drone-folk’, but I’m not sure that label really fits so well any more – the drone element is still central to what I do but there’s much less narrative behind the recent tracks… I’ve become more interested in dynamics and atmosphere than the personal, vulnerable approach of the first couple of records. That’s reflected in the instrumentation that I’m using at the moment – more programmed, electronic elements and less picky guitars and traditional lyrical structures.

What are the core essences of the music?
Slowly-built up layers, repetition, gentle crescendos. A minimum of fuss. Experimentation within tight, minimalist structures. A kind of non-specific nostalgia.

Why do you play this particular type of music? Or rather what makes this genre fascinating for you? What are its advantages so to speak?
I don’t really aim to produce a particular type of music – it’s just what comes out at the time. I suppose what I do is a sum of the opportunities and influences that I let affect my thought processes vs the limitations imposed on me by instrumentation, facilities, technical skill/knowledge etc.

I’m particularly interested in creating textural, layered sounds, and using that approach in a variety of contexts – some familiar and some semi-abstract… creating lots of ways in to the core of what Broads is all about.

One of your previous releases had been on a floppy disk. Do you have a certain fascination for this type of thing? Why did you choose the label that would release music in such a fashion?
The floppy disk release was a fun thing to do – I’d known Graham who runs the Wrieuw label for several years (he used to promote shows in Southend, UK and put my old band on a few times) and we were both really keen to work together. I suppose the actual floppy disk itself might be seen as a bit gimmicky, but I prefer to see it as a kind of collector’s piece – Wrieuw sold them really cheaply, and there was a free (hi-bit) download available too so the intention wasn’t to be wilfully obscure or elitist or anything… quite the opposite, in fact. It was nice to be able to give people the opportunity to own the music in a bit of a different way to the usual CD/ download/ vinyl/ whatever.

Well, your latest recording, what can be found on it?
OK, so the new album is called Hellas… It has 8 tracks on it, and clocks in around 30 minutes – one of these days I’ll produce an hour-long double opus but not just yet. It’s got that same sort of wobbly drone feel as the previous records, but there’s a bit more of a role for electronics than I’ve allowed previously – The Omno single was a kind of watershed in that regard. Here’s a track-by-track guide:


  1. Minim - a phasing, swirling sort of MIDI drone with a bit of clunk at the end.
  2. Soft Homo - one of two tracks that involved Mark - this one is a long (7 mins), slow build kind of layered synth epic. If you’ve seen us live recently it’s the one with the housey beat and wobbly RS09 / 3-note sub-bass section at the end.
  3. Sometimes I Feel Like I’m a Terrible Dad - one of those tracks that really developed out of almost nothing - I was mucking about with looping some audio I recorded on my phone during Grouper’s set at St. John’s Church a few of months ago (one of the most brilliant things I’ve ever witnessed outside of childbirth) and suddenly that was opening out into an echoey nylon-string guitar piece, which then turned into a really churchy, choral thing with help from Milly Hirst (Wooden Arms etc.) and Anna Knowles (The Middle Ones, The Living End! etc.). It’s sort of a more organic take on the triptych thing I was experimenting with on Wren’s Egg (Link to song) and In The Sink Locale (Link to song). We’ve been playing a very different version of it live.
  4. Paris Garters - it’s a pop song. Sounds a bit like The Notwist, apparently. I was sort of surprised that this fitted in with the rest of the album actually - it’s the only real songy song on the record, but it sits quite happily among the drones and swells. Features the Philicorda GM754 at its loveliest.
  5. Soul Taps (Link to song) - the only appearance of the Farfisa on this album, and as such it comes over as a slightly more driven, digital companion piece to Sloe Foresting from the Care & Handling EP. Fun to play live, as it basically involves me pressing 3 buttons and nodding my head a bit.
  6. Hellas - a title track, as I like to provide. This is the most (only) abstract piece on the album, and the only track not to feature any keyboards - it’s all edited hiss and feedback from various guitar amps. It came out of an attempt to re-record Limbs In, which was the improvised opening to our set for Shells Rattle Radio (Link to song), but I eventually got bored with the keyboard part and mixed it out entirely - Hellas is what was left over. Lots of space and weird-sounding undulations.
  7. Straight Up Tea House - a re-edit of the re-structured improvisation from the Shells Rattle session. newly-looped guitars and generally brightened up a bit. tech-shoegaze? Whatever next?
  8. Kit Party - overdubbed filmy/picky/looped guitars (a la Marine Layer), some swishy, high-pitched GM754 and a sweet sample of the boy. a nice mellow ending.


It is a bit more eclectic, isn't it? The listener is thrown hence, hence there … at least it comes over as considerably broader.
You think so? It’s really hard to judge that sort of thing for me, as I’ve lived with the tracks for so long – to me it feels like the most focused thing I’ve ever done but maybe you’re right… I suppose the addition of more traditional electronica elements (‘Soft Homo’, ‘Straight Up Tea House’) broaden the palette, and ‘Paris Garters’ and ‘Hellas’ sit either side of those tracks at either end of the chirpy pop/abstract spectrum… overall though I’d prefer to think of the listener being guided rather than thrown

I’m always fascinated by albums that cover a lot of ground sonically and make that listening experience relateable – cLOUDDEAD, Sebadoh III, most Swirlies records, so I take ‘broader’ as a compliment.

How would you describe the role of vocals in your music? There are harmonious ones in Paris Garters and some that tend to put me off somehow like on Straight Up Tea House. I this narrating in the latter track a sample taken from somewhere?
I’ve always viewed vocals as no more important than any other instrument – it has to move the track along in some way or I’ll try something different (or just have nothing there). Hellas is largely instrumental, but I think that helps the couple of songs that do feature vocals to stand out as contributing something different to the album. Paris Garters is a real pop song that I didn’t think would end up on the record, but it somehow seemed to fit despite being very different to everything else around it. I really enjoyed putting together the choral vocals on Sometimes I Feel Like I’m a Terrible Dad – Milly (Hirst) and Anna (Knowles) had both appeared on Broads tracks in the past and it was really special to be able to combine their talents.

The speech at the beginning of Straight Up Tea House is a cut-up sample of a guy talking about the noises that lungs make – I found it on youtube and just liked the way it sounded. It’s only a few seconds at the start of the track, so hopefully it doesn’t spoil it too much for you

Is there a special reason that you use electronic drums or would real ones not fit into the conception of your music? I ask it because electronic percussion elements have always a slight sterile sound to them.
I know what you mean – but the pay-off for that is a kind of rigidity and compactness that’s really necessary for what I do… it means I can be a bit more free-handed with the live instruments, which opens up a lot of possibilities for me. Having said that, I’ve just set a live kit up in the studio, so I’ll probably start experimenting with some more live drum sounds (probably sampling & looping) over the next few weeks. Ideally I’d like to work with a combination of live and programmed drums, so we’ll see what happens…

I am actually quite curious how the final result will be like, because the unmastered stuff is already quite interesting. Who would be responsible for laying the final touches on the album and why did you pick this person?
The album is being mastered in Krasnodar by Evgeny Shchukin, who is part of the Fuselab collective. He records under the names Feldmaus and WOLS - Feldmaus’ ‘Places’ is one of my favourite electronic drone albums, so I’m really excited to have him working on my record – he definitely knows what he’s doing

How do you approach the issue of song-writing? How long does it take you to get something done? Do you have an extensive backlog?
I tend to work in bursts – I’ll get a lot done in a short space of time and then step back from it all for a little while – Hellas, for instance, was almost entirely written, recorded and mixed in about 8 weeks in March and April this year. The actual songwriting process varies from song to song, but most of this album was based around edits and loops of improvised synth work or guitar chord progressions – I’ll start playing, find something I like, record and loop it into some kind of rough structure and then build around it. Sometimes the original improvised parts get mixed out entirely if the track starts moving in a different direction (the track ‘Hellas’ is a good example of that). I try to keep an open mind as far as possible – just let things build and layer up organically and see where a particular set of sounds takes me.

I tend not to build up a significant backlog of tracks – If I’m not working on a particular album/EP then I’d prefer to just put something out for free on bandcamp than have it sitting around waiting to be shoehorned into a different context.

By which label will it be released and when will it see the light of day?
Hellas will be out in CD/ download format in November on the Fuselab label – the same Russian electronic/ ambient/ experimental imprint that released the self-titled Broads album (and the Care & Handling EP) in 2014. They put out a lot of really beautiful records – their website at http://fslab.net is a real goldmine!

What equipment have you used for your latest album? Any new “toys” that have joined the ranks since the previous interview?
I suppose the most significant new ‘toy’ has been embracing MIDI instruments and programmed drums – I’d used Ableton Live a bit on Care & Handling, but it’s something I’ve really expanded on since then. That’s allowed me to play with a wider variety of sounds on the new album – something which has also been helped by Mark’s involvement – he’s got a fine collection of old and new synths, many of which have made their way onto the record and into our live set – a geeky list off the top of my head: A Philicorda GM754, Farfisa Pianorgan 1 and Roland RS09 for organ sounds, the JP8000, V-Synth and Juno6 for more digital stuff and the Korg MS20, Minibrute and BassStation 1 for low end. Only the first three of those were in the arsenal this time last year. I also invested in a Tascam US1200 audio interface which has been a revelation in allowing me to multitrack instruments really easily.

How do you see the issue of playing live and on stage? Is this something that might be the proper way of creating a special atmosphere with your music?
The live show is developing all the time – this year has been a real learning curve in working out what we can achieve, and how we need to approach things on stage. Mark and I have spent a lot of time thinking about which songs can be played more or less as they were recorded, and which need to be stripped down, or have new parts added – as a result the live show is quite different to how we sound on record… generally starker and perhaps a bit more aggressive dynamically. We’re at the stage now where we can pick between tracks depending on the venue/sound system etc, which is great because we were finding that some songs that really worked in a bigger space through a loud system didn’t really have the same impact in a smaller space and vice versa. Now we can tailor things a bit.

How can someone get in touch with you and where can someone find your music?
You can listen to and download all of our music for free at http://broadsofnorfolk.bandcamp.com. Write to me at broadsofnorfolk@gmail.com.

I also update http://broadsblog.tumblr.com fairly regularly, and there’s a facebook page out there too.

What would be the future plans for Broads?
More shows in early 2016, and a few different recording projects – I’ve got a new track going on Fuselab’s 5th anniversary compilation, and I’m starting work on some songs for a split album with Mark’s (currently unnamed) solo project, that we’ll put out ourselves once it’s done. After that I’d like to plough straight into another LP, but these things rarely work out as planned so we’ll just have to wait and see.