Interview The Wave Pictures: ‘It’s Very Unpleasant, The Music Business’

El Hunt chats to singer Dave Tattersall about recording, two-year album models and the death of guitar music.

The Wave Pictures are no strangers to releasing new albums, and ‘Long Black Cars’ marks their fourth studio album with record label Moshi Moshi. The band are back out on tour now, and with such a wealth of material at their fingertips, they are playing three nights next week at London’s The Old Blue Last; all with different set-lists. El Hunt chats to singer Dave Tattersall about recording, two-year album models and the death of guitar music. The Wave Pictures are some of the nicest guys in rock - just don’t you dare compare them to The Smiths; or bring up Kings of Leon either for that matter.

You’ve been consistently releasing material for a pretty long time now as The Wave Pictures, does it ever get any easier coming up with new albums?
Well, for us it was never difficult to make an album because we always really enjoy recording and playing music. I always wanted to write songs, and there’s always something new I want to write. It’s just always been fun really - and a pleasure. It’s not a struggle in any way for us, luckily. Touch wood [laughs]. I wouldn’t say it’s got any easier or harder. Sometimes you record and it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. The last couple of albums we tried a few different studios before we ended up with the recordings that we liked. It’s not as if we release everything, by any stretch, but yeah, it’s always fun!

You recorded ‘Long Black Cars’ over four days in New York, how did that work out?
We could pretty much only afford four days, so we just had to trust our friends who had said that it was a nice studio, and that he was a nice bloke. We’d never met the guy until the day of recording, and we’d never seen the studio – but he was great, and so nice. We wanted to record the drums with one microphone, like they did in the 60’s, and he was cool with that. A lot of things that normally engineers wouldn’t necessarily be happy with, he would try and experiment with it all. It was very easy and relaxing – up until the last day when we suddenly realised we were in a rush and started panicking a bit. Before we might’ve written 30 songs and picked the best 12. For this album we only went in with 14 songs, and we only left two off the album. It sounds a little bit tighter and cleaner than ‘Beer In The Breakers’ because of that, a little bit punchier sounding. We took the files back home and [Wave Pictures’ bassist] Franic [Rozycki] and I mixed it all ourselves on Franic’s computer, which is something we’d never done before. ‘Long Black Cars’ sounds exactly like we want it to sound; whereas all the other things we’ve done are the result of somebody else mixing, or a lot of other people contributing.

You mentioned the 60’s sound – and The Beatles and Bob Dylan immediately spring to mind as other artists who would often spend less time on recording. Do you think sometimes condensing recording can be a good approach?
Yeah, I think limitations are good. It’s sometimes good to try and do things quickly, and to try and be spontaneous. I tend to look down on bands that spend an awful lot of time and money on recording, and work away as if they’re creating some kind of masterpiece. They spend months and months, throw loads of money at it, and the result always sounds stale to me, dead. I like a lively recording; the old punk and rock n’ roll records. I don’t tend to enjoy very polished recordings. Also I think that while I can talk it up, this approach is mainly just down to our budget – it only enables us to do a limited amount in the studio. That can be a good thing though. If you were a kid coming along now, you would think that you had to spend a fortune to make an album. Almost everything, even indie music, is incredibly polished sounding, so I think it’s good to remember that you can do things cheaply.

What do you think about the ‘two-year model’ that a lot of labels use; where a band will put out a debut, tour, and then come back with something else within a two year gap? Do you think it puts too much pressure on bands?
I’ve seen it work from a marketing viewpoint, and it is very successful – but from a creative standpoint it would kill The Wave Pictures dead. I mean the reason we wanted to be in a band was to make albums and songs. We’d be doing that anyway even if we had less interest or less money than the very little amount that we have at the minute [laughs]. I think creatively it doesn’t suit all bands, I think it suits the industry. It has nothing to do with music; it is just a marketing thing. It’s always been a tug of war between the industry and the creative people, but I think bands have become incredibly placid and malleable. I don’t think there’s a great deal of opposition towards the mainstream any more. All the indie bands want those big success tunes, so the idea of being alternative has been corrupted in some way. That’s what talking about the two-year model makes me think. I’ve seen bands who appear like they’re the type of people who wouldn’t give a shit about being marketed in that way, but actually they’re stuck on this two-year model with the label. An arena plan with the booking agent, trying to build them up to play stadiums, all this stuff. It’s very unpleasant, the music business, once you find out that like everything else, it all comes down to money.

I was watching another interview you did with NME at Benicassim Festival – and you were talking about Kings of Leon’s infamous stage storm off. What do you think about bands having tantrums; do you think that so-called ‘rock n’ roll’ bands have become a little mamby-pamby?
Well, yeah, in that particular instance we were sort of joking because I gather that it was very windy, like, life threateningly windy. I was sort of messing when I said that Kings of Leon were being wussy then, but on the other hand I’ll take any opportunity I can to slag them off. They’re total toss-pieces, wastes of space – their music has no value, and I assume they have a terrible attitude towards making music. That’s more or less the state of affairs as I see it [laughs]. Nearly all of the bands around are absolutely useless. It’s almost a unique time in history in that there’s just almost nothing with any soul selling any records. It’s almost as bad prog rock in the early 70s. There are good things if you root around enough – but Kings of Leon is just an example of a band that have absolutely no ability. It can only be marketing, because they have fantastic marketing. For my money, they don’t have one good song. I have a very reasonable opinion about Kings of Leon, as you can tell [laughs].

A lot of people in the industry are talking about this big crisis within music right now and calling it the “death of guitar music”. Do you think that’s a genuine concern?
I have no idea about what sells but commercially at least, guitar music might be dead. There’s every reason to think it might not sell in the quantities it used it. Creatively though, I can’t see any reason why guitar music should be on the way out. The electronic music that’s supposed to have come along to replace guitars I suppose is only slightly less old -the first electronic recordings were early 60’s, and the electric guitar really is a thing that only goes back to about 10 years before that. It seems absurd to me the idea that guitar is very old-hat and electronic music is still some sort of novelty. In fact to me it seems like guitar is very much creatively viable. There are so many new songs to be written. But again, commercially, sure, for all I know guitar is dead – I have no idea what makes record labels money; in fact blokes with guitars probably don’t. Creatively, no, guitar music is never dead; it’s such a wonderfully versatile instrument. It’s so easy to learn, a very good size, and a great harmonic richness compared to everything else. I can’t see people not wanting to play guitar. Any talk of guitar music dying out has to be commercial, to be honest.

What kind of musicians do you like then? Did they influence ‘Long Black Cars’?
I think the new album was the first time where we weren’t particularly thinking about anybody, but we’ve been listening to African music actually, and also a lot of [Filipino rock band] Franco. Other than that, the same old things: Herman Düne, a lot of Jon Lee Hooker. A big mix of stuff, but I don’t know how much it really makes a difference any more because we know what we want to do most of the time…I think.

Reading reviews of your albums, I’ve seen the same comparison to The Smiths time and time again. Obviously they’re an iconic British band, but does the comparison ever get tiresome given that you listen to so much more than just them?
I have to say; it’s a difficult one for me and The Smiths. I think it is a lazy journalistic comparison. If you’re bookish, wordy and English you do get compared instantly to The Smiths, and actually, the way we play, and the way we sound; we don’t sound at all like them at all. However, I’d also be lying if I said I didn’t like The Smiths, because I do [laughs], I mean Morrissey wrote some of the best songs I’ve ever heard, such beautiful songwriting, and I’m sure it was an influence on some level. If you’re interested in lyrics, you’re interested in Morrissey to a degree. They are such big figures, I mean we played in Derby two nights ago, and there was a huge poster of Morrissey in the venue. It can’t be denied, the power of those records. I do find it tiresome though. I would rather not be compared, just because I think it’s a very boring, untrue comparison.

‘Long Black Cars’ sounds more American to me than anything else. You recorded it in New York, and ‘Spaghetti’ in particular reminds me of bands like The Strokes far more than The Smiths. Does American music influence you more than British rock?
I have to admit I don’t like The Strokes but there’s such a wealth of great American music going right back to the 20’s. At least 90% of what The Wave Pictures listen to is American, yeah. Jazz from Louis Armstrong up until the 50’s stuff like Ornette Coleman. Then there are all the blues artists that we love like Chuck Berry, all the rock n’ roll bands too. New wave bands like Television and the Violent Femmes. We also like 90’s alternative rock of course, like Pavement and Silver Jews. Bob Dylan and Lou Reed too, you know, all of that is just a far bigger influence on us than English music. American music has very good unpretentious lyrics, more humourous I think. In terms of that I think of Lou Reed– he’s really great. We never consciously tried to sound American though. I always think it’s really dodgy when bands who are English adopt this American accent – really lame. I’d much rather keep my English voice - you don’t want to be like The Proclaimers doing an exaggerated version of your own accent or anything ridiculous like that. I don’t want to be Bobby Gillespie – I’d sound like a twat [laughs]. Most of our influences are American though, to be honest.

So, what’s next for The Wave Pictures then?
As the album comes out we’re going to tour America for a month, and probably a lot more touring after that. We’ve already started working on a few songs for a new album, we’ve started getting ready for a whole lot of touring and recording and doing a whole lot more of the same sort of stuff, so yeah!

The Wave Pictures’ new album ‘Long Black Cars’ will be released on 2nd April via Moshi Moshi. Catch the band at the Old Blue Last, London 2nd – 4th April.

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