Stricken City make ethereal noises that invade your space; romantic but not too sappy with a hint of guitar riff. In 2004 vocalist Rebekah and guitarist Ian met in High School and now five years down the track the duo are a quartet. They’re a true indie band; one that combines hand designed tees and outfits with jingly musical art-pop. On 12th October the London collective, now comprised of Rebekah, Ian, Mike and Kit, released their mini-album ‘Songs About People I Know’, ‘a musical college of the last five years’.
For the interview we met on a sunny Friday afternoon at London’s Pure Groove Records. Rebekah was in the midst of cutting out water-colour animals, to use as decoration for the night’s show, while Ian quite happily let me evade his personal space with my Sony dictaphone. The banging background tunes competed with our own vocals but with enough persistence, and sly dictaphone poking in Ian’s direction, we successfully managed to proceed with our own session.
While I was researching some savvy questions to ask you, I read that your song ‘Gifted’ was recorded on a bus. Is that true?
Ian: Me and our bassist Mike were going to record it at my apartment but then we had to go pick up some band stuff and while we were on the bus we were like why not?
Was there anybody on the bus?
I: Yea we were at the back and we were like there are plenty of mental people on the bus anyway.
Was it double-decker bus?
I: Yeah, but we were sitting on the bottom and the driver probably thought wtf.
Talking of transport you guys recently did the Black Cab Sessions. How was that with the three of you and the instruments stuffed in such a confined space?
Rebekah: It was really cool.
I: Yea it was fine until you went around a corner.
R: It was funny though because the windows were open so people on Oxford Street were like what is going on?
Did you want people to see you?
I: Definitely. It was Mike, our bassist’s first ever gig and he was really into it. But so was the taxi driver!
Yea, I saw him do a little intro for the segment.
I: Yeah he told us he did this kind of stuff all the time. (Laughs).
Ian is it true that you learnt how to play the guitar in a week?
I: No, it was actually Rebekah. When we first thought about doing music together Rebekah brought a guitar and then I came back a week later and she had songs already written.
And what about you?
I: I still don’t know how to play the guitar. I’ve never had any formal training and I don’t know how to read music.
You just know how to make pretty noises?
So in 2004, you two met in high school and then started the band?
I: Well, originally I was meant to start up a band with my sister and her friend and nothing was really happening so Rebekah said why don’t you start a band with me?
R: And you didn’t believe I could do it. You didn’t think I’d be any good.
I: No, I’d just never heard you play that sort of music before.
So five years down the track it seems the band was a good idea?
I: Well we’ve finally got round to bringing out an album!
R: If someone had said to us then, that we would have done all this stuff by 2009 I would not have believed them, but it was such a gradual progression that it just seems logical.
I: We were also doing so much other stuff between, like we both finished degrees and band members came and left. So it’s not like we’ve been doing it full-time; it’s only the last year and a half that has been quite full on.
So you’ve supported Friendly Fires, Mystery Jets and you toured with Maximo Park. How was that?
I: That was brilliant.
R: Yeah they were so nice. We got on really well with them.
Are the clichés true about rock-stars on tour getting up to mischief?
R: Not at all. They were such good boys.
Oh I bet they told you to say that!
I: They’ve all got wives and serious girlfriends. There was one night in Manchester when Mike the bassist was with a girl and the whole of Maximo Park were kind of rooting him on.
Living vicariously through him?
I: Yeah and the next morning they were like ‘we were rooting for you, Mike’.
And was he successful?
I: Um, well when we got in the van the next morning we found a Leonard Cohen cassette. So he wooed a girl in the back of a van with Leonard Cohen.
Oh how romantic. The Tak o Tak and Lost Art videos were directed by Sam Crack. Who is Sam Crack?
R: He’s a really good friend of ours.
I: When I left university I started as a runner at this post-production company and he started at the same time. We have very similar ideas and we always planned on working together and so it was only natural that he’d come on board when we wanted to create videos.
You and Sam studied Film at University, did you ever want to get behind the camera?
I: I did a little bit but we’d go over our ideas and his ideas were always better than mine! I did work on the Lost Art video with him and also some of the stuff on the DVD that we have coming out with the album.
What was the decision behind the supplementary DVD to go with the album?
I: We wanted to put out a 12 inch but we were told that wasn’t the best idea in terms of how music is selling at the moment. So we thought this would be the next best thing. It’s a whole package not just a CD.
What was the idea behind using Super8?
I: It looks really lovely, it covers up bad camera work and it’s mute which means it doesn’t pick up our voices. So it’s a nice little college with music over it. The film covers the whole history of Stricken City.
Was it a conscious decision not to have too many remixes of your songs?
I: We didn’t have any money to pay anyone to remix our stuff but we were lucky to have some talented friends who did it pro bono. Skellington who remixed Pull the House Down also produced our first single and hopefully he’ll produce the next album as well. For the next album we’re going to record it with him and then get him to remix it all, and then we’ll go back and work on it and make it sound completely different again. They’ll be completely new songs with new vocals and guitar riffs.
So layer upon layer?
I: Yea. I read about when Talking Heads made Remaining Light with Brian Eno and they did sessions to record it and then David Byrne and Brian Eno basically remixed it and made the album.
Rebekah I know you studied Women’s Wear at University, did this have a big influence on the amazing outfits in the Tak o Tak video clip?
R: They were actually part of my collection for a university project and it seemed like a logical idea to kill two birds with one stone, you know? We were so frantically busy so we decided to integrate the two.
Are you no longer designing?
R: It just took up soo much time that I had no time for the band. So at the moment it’s been put on the side-lines to allow me to concentrate on the band.
What do you think about the importance of costume in music videos?
R: I think image is important. If someone is watching a video they’ll remember what the colours were and what the shapes were without really realising and subconsciously relate that to your band.
I: For the Lost Art video Rebekah’s look was inspired by Talking Heads and David Byrne. So it’s more of a look without being in your face.
R: Yea, it’s not like I’m being styled and someone is like ‘you have to wear loads of crystals’.
In saying that, what do you think about Lady Gaga and her outlandish outfits?
R: I love Lady Gaga because she does exactly what she wants. What I can’t stand is when you have people who wear big, crazy stuff because they’ve been told to.
Some people think that Lady Gaga is just this travelling PR stunt who attracts lots of attention regardless of whether it’s negative or positive.
R: I love it.
I: But that’s what pop-music should be. It’s like Michael Jackson, now that he’s died they’re having all these photo shoots and exhibitions of his costumes because that’s as big a part of him as his music.
R: Yeah, when you think of Michael Jackson you don’t think of what he looked like today, you think of the glove and the hat. Costume is more of an immediate connection than the music because you see it straight away.
The band has a Facebook and a Twitter. Are you into the social media aspect?
R: Well, you just got to move with the times. We write stuff and occasionally we get direct replies.
Do you reply?
I: Occasionally. No I do. Well it depends what they write. Well we have a manager that tells us we should be ‘tweeting’.
R: That’s basically why we do it. Seriously otherwise he’ll write something on it and we’ll be like ‘no’ and go and delete it.
You guys are on Spotify now as well? What do you think of it?
R: I think it’s really cool.
I: I like it but I’d prefer that stuff never existed. Before I used to have to go and hunt for music and you couldn’t get it unless you could find it.
Is that just nostalgia rearing its head?
I: No, because if I’d get an album I’d really listen to it. If you pay for an album you usually appreciate it a lot more and know it back to front. I’d rather the internet never existed but today all you have to do is go on Hype Machine or Last Fm.
Speaking of Last FM, your most popular song is Pull the House Down.
I: Oh great that’s our favourite song!
Stricken City will play Adventures In The Beetroot Field on 28th November.