| 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
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
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?
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
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
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/
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:
- Minim - a phasing, swirling sort of MIDI drone with a bit of clunk
at the end.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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?
- 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.
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
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
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
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
You can listen to and download all of our music for free at
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.