The Wave Pictures are a three piece band who are prolific in making albums. Since the band came to life in 1998 they have released 14 albums, their most recent (Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon) being a collaborative effort with the legendary cult artist Billy Childish who co-wrote and produced the album. It was all recorded using Billy Childish’s equipment, including his 60s Selmer amps, a 60s drum kit and his rocket-ship shaped guitar, which all helped to bring out a different side to The Wave Pictures music. The band are renowned for their amazing live performances, never using keyboards or guitar effect pedals, but still creating the perfect encompassing sound. I spoke to guitarist and lead vocalist, David Tattersall, to find out more about the band.
How did you all meet?
Franic and I went to the same tiny school in the same tiny village, then the same high school until we left home at 19. I went to art school in Glasgow and he went to art school in Cardiff, and then we moved to London together.
So how did The Wave Picture come about? Can you remember when you both thought, “Let’s start a band”?
It was really me and another guy called Hugh Noble who played drums. When we were 16 years old, he got this drum kit from a second hand auction for like £5, and it came with a bass guitar. Franic got given the bass guitar as he was hanging around with us –never having played it before. We stuck post-it notes on the neck of his guitar to say what the notes were, and then said “this song goes EFEAB” and he would try and play it. So it was a real punk band. Then Hue left as he didn’t want to do it anymore and wanted to become a singer songwriter. For years it was just me and Franic playing without a drum or with random drummers. Sometime Hue came back to play drums, sometimes we asked other bands if we could borrow their drummer. Then Jonny came and played drums for one gig, and just kept coming back. He then moved to down to London with us and became the permanent drummer.
You recently played in Paris, how was it?
We got stuck there for an extra day because of the fire in the Channel Tunnel. Which meant I missed the snooker. Paris is always really really fun and a good show to play, it’s a just great city. The rest of France is tough to tour, compared to Germany or Spain. There’s lots of small towns which tend to be quiet.
You have a busy tour ahead, it’s always a test for band relationships. How do the three of you keep sane?
We all get on really well considering. Even though we are all sick to deaf of each other after along tour I still want to see them, and go down the pub to play pool or darts.
BrightionsFinest.com are big fans of ‘Great Big Flamingo Burning Moon’, especially the name. What is the story behind it?
The idea of the song is that the moon is kind of watching over us. It is sort of a benevolent eye in the sky. I sang about a pink moon on a song on the City Forgiveness album, ‘The Inattentive Reader’. I had this thought when at a zoo, I saw that the flamingo have a very still eye, almost like a dead eye that watches the world. I put them together – the moon is watching over us, seeing all the silly things we do. It’s a bit like Edward Lear, a silly idea that’s not total nonsense. It means something to me, but doesn’t have to make sense to the listener. It is risky to talk about lyrics. People come up to me at shows and ask me about songs, and they always seem hugely disappointed. I saw this once with Darren Hayman (from Hefner) where a fan got really angry when he asked what a song meant.
How did you come to work with Billy Childish? I can imagine he is quite particular which who he works with.
We were having a drink with Mark Riley from BBC 6music after a session we did. We mentioned that we were listening to a lot of Thee Headcoats, one of the excellent bands Billy Childish has been in. Then Mark said he knew Billy. So I just said if he could ask him if he would be interested in recording with a band that he has never heard of before. But apparently he wanted to do it straight away. Mark had sent him ‘The Woods’ and he liked it!
Wow. If you don’t ask you don’t get. How was it to write music with him?
My original plan was to record blues covers and make it a vinyl only kind of thing. But it was Billy’s idea to write the songs together. We went to meet him in his studio where he’s wearing his overalls and a beret. He then starts painting on a huge canvas and starts talking for about 20minutes about the album. I then go to his house without the others, and we start writing some music. A bit nerve racking at first, but we got on well. It was only after recording the songs that we decided to make this the next Wave Pictures album as it is exciting and a slightly different project than what we would have done. It was a very brief but intense experience, and I think the record sounds exciting because of that.
Sounds like an amazing experience.
I really can’t believe it. A year ago I would never have thought it. Billy really is a genius, a really intelligent guy. What he can do with sound, how he gets the sound that he wants is extremely impressive to see. He knows exactly the effects that he wants to create, everything from how the drummer plays to the mixing and the post production.
You must have a real affinity with Creedence Clearwater Rival to have two covers on the album and another on the B-Side of ‘I Can Hear The Telephone (3 Floors Above Me)’?
They are quite a touchstone band for the Wave Pictures. It is one of the band we talk about most. Billy didn’t know about Creedence Clearwater Revival which astonished me. Their definitely one of those bands that created their own world which you enter when you put on their records. The lyrics have the same left wing politics that you hear in Bruce Springsteen later on – a feeling for the common man or a feeling for injustice. They (CCR) also create this very dark poetic world, a very mysterious dark visionary that felt very strong to me. Like in the same way as when you listen to the Velvet Underground, it takes you to a different world where you can immerse yourself in the band. That’s definitely something to aspire to in our own sound.
Do you have a favourite song on the new album?
‘At Dusk You Took Down The Blinds’. It is very sparse, and makes you a little nervous listening to it because it is so empty. It could have only been written by myself and Billy. I would never have come up with it without him and he wouldn’t have come up with it without me. So it has a special unique quality to it. Then you have got ‘Green River’ (CCR) which is the complete opposite with a real swampy beat. Jim, the engineer of the album is playing that amazing harmonica over it which is great. The lyrics of that song are beautiful, and I’m so happy to sing them each night. They are really cleaver, dark and mysterious, but then very plain as well.
You are prolific with your albums, almost releasing an album each year.
I really want to do more. I would do 2 or 3 albums a year if I had my way, and if there was the demand for it but the record industry can be slow. They want about a year from when you deliver a record to when they put it out. You can lose the excitement of it whilst waiting for people to respond to it.
Do you think the concept of an album has change with the digital age?
I don’t think most people listen to albums in their entirety anymore, they just listen to a couple of tracks. Which is a great shame to me as they are always conceived as albums and have a great deal of thought put into the track listing, especially if its vinyl with sides 1 and 2.
You must find the recording process an easy thing to get into?
I love recording, but I think I’m most excited when writing an album. Recording is enjoyable, but it can be quite stressful sometimes. If you keep it fun by making it spontanious and involve other people in it, is always really enjoyable. It’s always embarrassing to hear your own voice though, but no one likes hearing their own voice.
What are your future plans?
There’s going to be a video for ‘I Can Hear The Telephone (3 Floors Above Me)’, which was one of Billy’s favourite tracks. Then the next single will be ‘The Fire Alarm’ which was the very first song we recorded on this album. There will be a video for that as well. Then there’s a Jonny ‘Huddersfield’ Helm EP coming. We have recently been doing more recording and have made another album. We are all playing acoustic instruments around one microphone and it sounds really good with its own unique sound. Now we are just waiting to decide what to do with it.