Exposure: Broken Records
Broken Records - If Eilert Loevborg Wrote A Song, it Would Sound Like This
Broken Records, a group now consisting of no less than seven multi-instrumentalists from Edinburgh, have been enjoying copious amounts of praise and admiration over the past three years since their formation, as the result of frequent touring and the release of a particularly well-received debut E.P. last year. Now gearing up for the release of their debut full-length in the summer, Broken Records now look set to turn even more heads and break a few hearts with their epic, orchestral endeavours. In the meantime, however, the band will be one of the near hundreds of acts to play this year's Hinterland festival, next week, so to get you even more acquainted this lot, here's the multi-talented, Ian Turnbull.
So how did Broken records first come to be? Had you all dabbled in musical endeavours before this?
Broken Records was originally meant to be Jamie (Sutherland)’s plan for setting up a small independent label and collective similar to the Fence Collective or Bright Eyes and Saddle Creek. The idea was to get a diverse group of Edinburgh bands and musicians together to self-record and release their own lo-fi projects, and Jamie would then borrow these musicians to play on his own songs. However, we didn’t actually get round to being a label so Broken Records just became the band name instead. Unfortunately the name causes confusion and we still keep getting people sending their demos to our MySpace hoping we’ll sign them!
Jamie and I used to play in another band together at university in St Andrews, so when we moved back to Edinburgh we were joined by his brother Rory on violin. Arne was over here from Berlin studying Law at Edinburgh University but we invited him to join us on the cello and he’s stayed on permanently! We had a couple of friends from St Andrews playing bass and drums with us for a while but they left to pursue other careers. We finally settled on our current line-up in December 2006 when we were offered a support slot at Bannermans with Degrassi so we wanted to have a full band again to compete with their volume! I knew Dave (piano) and Andy (drums) from university where they’d played in a different band together. Jamie brought along Gill (bass) who I’d also studied music with at school, and it’s been the seven of us ever since.
Your music is very bold mix of different styles. Did you have an idea of what sound you wanted to create from the beginning or has this been somewhat of a gradual process?
I’m not sure if we had a clear plan for a specific sound we wanted to make when we started, but we were definitely bored to tears with the standard guitar, bass and drums set-up. I think we wanted to be more ambitious and produce a dark, dramatic and full sound. And we’d mix up the arrangements a bit, so instead of playing a lead line on a guitar we’d get the cello to play it. Because we were writing on traditional acoustic instruments including strings and accordions, some songs like Eilert Loevborg and A Good Reason did naturally take on a bit of folky feel. But at the same time they’d be sitting alongside angry distorted guitars, and other songs like Nearly Home and Slow Parade are much more orchestral so I don’t think our sound and style can be pigeon-holed as just one thing.
Are there any significantly influential artists or perhaps even events that you feel have shaped the music you make? Would you say you all had fairly similar influences?
Not at all! Everyone has very broad tastes, influences and musical backgrounds, but I think we can all agree on how much we like Nick Cave, Tom Waits and Yann Tiersen. These artists certainly have a strong influence on the music we make – I think Jamie has taken some influence from the conversational story-telling style that Cave and Waits use for his lyrics, and we like the way that Yann Tiersen and Waits use a lot of interesting instruments that aren’t traditionally used as rock instruments. That aside, Jamie is big fan of Bruce Springsteen, but also cites minimalist composers like Phillip Glass and Arvo Pärt as influences, Rory really likes the violin work of Warren Ellis and Yann Tiersen, Dave has a background in classical music and me and Gill really like the abrasive guitars in things like Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine and post-rock. We do get a bit annoyed that people keep comparing us to the Arcade Fire, although we do like them, but those comparisons are just lazy. They forget that they weren’t the first band to have more than four members and groups like The Bad Seeds and the E Street Band have been much more influential on our approach to making music. I’m not sure about the others but for me the most significant event was seeing Godspeed You! Black Emperor (supported by Sigur Ros) at The Garage nine years ago. It was so inspiring to see nine people making the most beautiful, dramatic and uplifting music with guitars, strings, two bass guitars and two percussionists. It made me realise there could be so much more to making music than the standard two guitars, bass and drums set-up.
If you could play anywhere, with anyone, who/where would it be?
I’m not sure but I suspect Jamie would love to play with The Boss! I think it would be quite good fun to play with a full orchestra behind us, kind of like Portishead live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York, or at least with Kronos Quartet helping out for extra strings! As for where, I’m pretty sure everyone would love to headline the main stage at Glastonbury. I also thought the Live 8 concert in Berlin looked very cool with a million people packed in all the way down Unter den Linden. We’d get Arne to play ‘cello from the top of the Brandenburg Gate!
There seems a to be a good few more bands these days that are willing to embrace traditional instruments and mix classical/folk elements with slightly more modern styles, but what do you feel, if anything, sets you apart from other bands?
I think our diversity of styles might well be the thing that sets us apart. We may be using traditional instruments but we use all our instruments in very different ways for each song. Dave’s style of Piano playing is totally different to Jamie’s, and Gill plays guitar in a totally different style to me, so even when we’re using the same instruments there’s still quite a variation in sound. Although we aren’t the only band that has members who can play lots of instruments, the fact that everyone can play at least three instruments definitely works to our advantage. You may only see Andy and Arne playing drums and ‘cello, but it’s just because no-one else is as good as them, and they can play other things. Andy’s regularly threatening to ditch the drums for a banjo! I think it makes it interesting and exciting for the audience to see us all running around and swapping instruments between (or during!) each song.
Can you tell us a bit about the forthcoming album?
We had a really good time recording it in January down at Monnow Valley Studios in Wales. We’ve tried to capture the energy and intensity of our live shows, which I think has been missing on some our earlier recordings. And producer Ian Caple has done a really good job of balancing and finding space for all the instruments in the mix. We also brought in a few session players to add extra brass and strings to a couple of tracks and it’s helped us to properly realise the big orchestral sound we’ve been looking for on those songs. Having said that, a lot of the album still has a really rough edge to it, and it’s quite dark punctuated with moments of quiet beauty. I think we’re all very happy with how it’s turned out. Frankly we’re all quite relieved to have finally finished it because it’s taken us over two and a half years to get to this stage!
There seems to be somewhat of an uprising in alternative/folk-influenced artists in Edinburgh with the likes of Eagleowl, Meursault, Rob St. John all building audiences. What do you think of the current musical environment in the capital?
The current musical environment in Edinburgh is greatly improved compared with what it has been in the past few years, although there still seems to be a shortage of decent venues to play. The city is pretty well served for good smaller venues like Henry’s Cellar Bar, Cabaret Voltaire, The Caves, Voodoo Rooms and the recently opened Bowery. But since the Liquid Room closed due to fire there are no decent or readily available medium-sized venues to play, so there’s a huge gap between the small venues and the much bigger Picture House and Corn Exchange. What’s really good to see about music in Edinburgh is the diversity of bands and musical styles going on right now. Because of this I wouldn’t say there’s a specific scene in Edinburgh, although a bill featuring Eagleowl, Meursault and Rob St. John would be a very complimentary line-up! Instead you’ll regularly see these groups on very diverse bills with other bands like Jesus H. Foxx, Come On Gang and Chutes who have a totally different sound and style. Right now everyone seems to be very supportive of each other’s musical endeavours and you’ll see the same groups of people coming to all the different gigs. There are also some really good local music blogs which are very supportive of Edinburgh music, including Song, By Toad and 17 Seconds. Both of them have diversified into setting up their own small independent labels (they’re making a much better job of it than we ever did!) and between them have released records by Meursault and Aberfeldy. So while I don’t think there’s a specific scene, there’s definitely a feeling of community spirit for music here.
Can we expect a somewhat rigorous touring regime around the release of the album?
Yes it’s all going to get a bit busier around June when the album comes out. April’s fairly quiet on the live front and we’ve been spending the time preparing for the single and album launch, as well as writing new material because it’s not very practical for the seven of us to work on new things when touring. We’ll be playing a few more shows in May, starting with the Hinterland festival in Glasgow, and we’ll be starting a two week tour around the UK the day after the album comes out. After that it’s straight into festival season which we’re really looking forward to.