Back for good
They’re not lazy and they insist they’re not twee. Malcolm Jack catches up with The Pastels, and finds them on the cusp of more great adventures
Given that they’ve released just one album in the last decade, a movie soundtrack at that, The Pastels could justifiably be accused of resting on their laurels. Perhaps doing things differently is precisely what’s kept Glasgow’s original enigmatic indie ‘almost pop’ outfit going for 25 years though.
‘We haven’t burned out like most bands because it’s never felt too much like a career,’ says frontman Stephen McRobbie. ‘There’s been times where we’ve done it with the same intensity as other groups do, but that’s only ever been for, say, a six month period.’
The result might not have been any particular commercial success. Their laid-back approach has, however, allowed The Pastels to make some of the most winsomely strange, diverse and challenging music of their time, from stirring garage-pop 1987 debut Up For A Bit With The Pastels, to 2003’s The Last Great Wilderness - a lavish score for David Mackenzie’s film of the same name. A new record was intended to surface last year, although it’s currently still stuck in the works. ‘We’re using an American engineer, John McEntire from Tortoise, so it’s been sporadic,’ McRobbie explains. ‘Also, immediately after we did the first sessions, Teenage Fanclub became really busy, and since Gerard (Love) and Norman (Blake) play in The Pastels these days, that really slowed things down. Plus it’s taken us a while to get the music that we really like. We want to come out someplace new.’
A phase the band are certainly determined not to revisit is that of their C86-affiliated shambling indie days. Despite having created an ethos and sound embraced today by the likes of Belle and Sebastian, this period gave them a certain reputation they’re still struggling to shake. ‘We’re not some kind of cute pop song group,’ he insists. ‘I don’t think we ever have been, although obviously some people do. I absolutely loathe twee music. It makes me feel sick. For instance that new Cocorosie record is just absolutely unbearable. I like when music has got something strong about it, and darker. I’m not really interested in making daisy chains and skipping through the park.’
Suggestions of laziness definitely pale when you consider the group’s myriad other pursuits, including co-running record store Monorail, writing the soundtrack to stage production Do I Mean Anything To You, Or Am I Just Passing By and starting up a film club at GFT. They also manage their own imprint, Geographic Music, via Domino Records; releases pending include an album from Glasgow glam-indie-pop sextet The Royal We, and a Pastels collaboration with Japanese lo-fi duo Tenniscoats (both of whom appear with the band at their Triptych shows).
‘There was a period a few years back when running a label did slow up The Pastels,’ Stephen admits, ‘but now with Domino, we’ve got an understanding that we’ll only release about two or three things a year, I think because Domino’s keen to put more Pastels records out.’ So there might be a little something coming from them too in 2007? ‘There will be new Pastels music released this year in some form,’ McRobbie confirms. That’s what we like to hear.
CCA, Glasgow, Sat 28 Apr; Bongo Club, Edinburgh, Sun 29 Apr.