The Scottish indie-rockers made a big splash back in 2004 when they were spearheading the so-called new wave of post-punk revival, heavily-influenced by the likes of Gang of Four. Still signed to Domino, and following the release of their collaboration with Sparks, FFS, they are back with their first studio album since 2013’s Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. There are new members, a new sound, and a new lease of life for this durable Glasgow-formed outfit who are made for the live stage. Brightonsfinest caught up with both frontman Alex Kapranos and new kid Julian Corrie.
Hi guys. It’s Friday, and I’m looking forward to putting my feet up this weekend.
Alex: Nice one! We’ve got a day off tomorrow as well. I can’t believe it.
You’ve done the one gig so far, in Japan, prior to the release of the new album. How was that?
The first time we played some of the new songs was during the summer last year. We’ve been playing nine of the songs live for a quite a while now.
Was there a point in the last few years where the band almost called it a day?
Umm, I think journalists sometimes like to exaggerate things to get a story. I never thought about splitting up! You know how it can be. Everybody likes a good story, but that one is false.
How did you end up hooking up with the Domino label, who you’ve been with since the very beginning?
We were playing in Glasgow at that time and hadn’t really played outside of Glasgow. Our manager said we should play a gig in London, and people from the industry can come and see you. We were like, “God, do we have to go all the way down to London…” But, we went down and played this gig, and it was maybe the worst gig of my entire life. It was in the club Cherry Jam, and there was nobody in the audience apart from people from record labels. They don’t necessarily make for the greatest audience! I really hated playing it. I remember thinking afterwards, ‘Oh man, that’s it. We totally blew that. There’s no way anyone is going to want to sign that band’. But, we’d arranged to play at another gig with some friends of ours, at this pub. That next night was amazing, with friends and friends of friends. It was more like the sort of thing we were used to doing in Glasgow. It was like a party. We also didn’t think it was an industry thing. Except there was a guy called Lawrence Bell in the audience that night, the founder of Domino Records. He, rather smartly, had decided he wasn’t going to go to the same night as the other guys from the labels.
I’m so glad he did. We’ve been super close ever since. He’s been an amazing guy.
Playing live is your lifeblood?
I love playing gigs. I can’t get enough of it. When I first started playing live when I was 18 or 19 I couldn’t play as much as I wanted to. I’m not going to complain about it now!
Glad to hear it! Always Ascending is the first one to feature Julian Corrie. Hi Julian! How did you first get involved?
Julian: It was August 2016. We got together through mutual friends; Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai, and Paul Savage and Emma Pollock from The Delgados. I owe them. I really owe them.
Alex: You owe them a couple of pints, don’t you?
There’s another new member as well?
Alex: Yeah, Dino Bardot. Glasgow’s greatest rock star.
OK. Can you explain that?
Alex: When we made the record, we made it quite old school. It’s the sound of the four of us playing in a room together, and no overdubs. Apart from we allowed the space for the equivalent of one person for when we play, with another set of hands and another voice. So, when it came to play the songs live, “Well, the band are a four-piece. But, there’s no reason why we can’t get another person in to play the parts of that fifth person”. And, I was at my friend Charlie’s birthday party, and Dino had got together a band to play Charlie’s favourite songs and to get people up to sing them. I got up and I sang ‘I’m on Fire’, the Bruce Springsteen song. And Dino got up and sang ‘Purple Rain’ by Prince. Not only did he sing it, he played the guitar. And that is quite a guitar solo. As I was watching my jaw hit the ground. “Man, this guy is incredible. He’s like a total rock star. He should join the band”.
Julian: We recently did karaoke in Japan and he killed it.
Alex: No, actually you killed it Julian. Julian can do an incredible falsetto. He did it note-for-note, and word-for-word versions of ‘Wuthering Heights’. It was astonishing. In the correct key as well! And all the dance moves, too.
A future career possibly beckons?
Julian: The tribute circuit awaits.
Tell me about Always Ascending?
Alex: The album was recorded with Philippe Zdar, partly in London and partly in Paris, at the Motorbass studios.
Julian: He brought a lot of that French house flavour to the album, especially on songs like ‘Feel The Love Go’. He’s a master at it. He’s worked with a lot of different bands, especially his work with the house duo Cassius. We were all big fans of his work.
Alex: What was great about Philippe was that even though he is coming from that DJ, French house perspective, he still loves a live band and a live performance. Before we even went to the studio we were sitting around at mine, going through some old records. He was pulling things out like the first Violet Femmes record. And the first B-52’s record – “Listen to this! It’s so exciting, because it’s the sound of a band playing together in a studio. The tempo goes up, the tempo goes down, and it gets louder, because they are excited about the music”. And so, it’s incredible to have someone come from that world of dance music who is very glad to abandon the programmed side of dance music and understand that sometimes it’s a live performance that makes it sound cool.
Julian: We actually played with the B-52’s, our very first show with the new line-up.
Alex: They were really cool. Fred (Schneider) is such a frontman, totally charismatic. Backstage there was a piano, and their keyboard player was playing, and he was singing ‘Why Do Birds Suddenly Appear’ (the actual Carpenters song is called ‘Close To You’), but jamming and improvising the lyrics that I can’t repeat here. He was a funny fellow.
When we were making this record we wanted to do two things simultaneously; the performance side was really old school. We spent months rehearsing and learning the songs and knowing we could play them inside out before we went anywhere near the studio. It’s the sound of four of us in the same room, one or two takes per song, and took just six days to track everything. But, at the same time, using the studio and use technology to push it to the sound of the future. Trying not to be retrogressive, where everything has to be on tape or we are trying to recreate the sound of 1968. Forget all that stuff. The performance is what matters. As far as the sound goes, “Yeah, look to the future, something you haven’t heard before”.
Tell me about the title track…
Alex: When it came to choosing the title of the album it seemed the most appropriate title. When you’re in a band that’s what you’re always wanting to do, moving upwards and ascending from where you were and what you were before. For this album it really does feel like a new era for the band.