Exposure: Strike The Colours
- 10 August 2009
Strike The Colours - Breathing Exercise
Strike The Colours is the song-writing vessel of Glasgow-based multi-instrumentalist, Jenny Reeve. Cutting her teeth on a plethora of guest appearances and tours with the likes of Arab Strap, Idlewild and The Reindeer Section - not to mention frequent collaborations with Malcolm Middleton - Jenny has since taken time to hone her own craft and, with the help of an array of extra hands, Strike The Colours' debut mini-album The Face That Sank A Thousand Ships was released in 2007. The record is one of tranquil yet melancholy beauty, mixing folk elements with rich flashes of orchestration to thrilling effect, paving the way for it's follow up, Seven Roads, which is scheduled for release in September.
As Ms Reeve and co. gear up for the album's release, here's the ethereal voice of the group herself to give you a proper introduction.
How did you first begin playing music? Did you have lessons when you were younger?
As toddlers, me and my brother and sister used to go to a group called Rhythmics, which was run by this Swiss woman and we'd do percussion and stuff - basically run around mental. And then, when we were a bit older, we learned how to make pipes from bamboo with the same woman. My sister wasn't into it though. When I went to school, I started violin lessons.
What would you say first attracted you to the idea of writing your own songs? Were you in any bands at school?
I wasn't in bands at school, but I played in an orchestra so I was doing classical stuff on the violin. One summer on holiday when I was about 16, I picked up an old guitar that was lying around and started messing around on it. I know it sounds like a total cliché but it's true! I found I could play it pretty easily, I guess because of the violin and things, and because I couldn't play it very well, I just played simple chords and sang. I became a bit obsessed with playing and singing after that and spent hours learning songs, then it just seemed natural to start writing my own ideas and to put words to the melodies.
Has there been any specific record or show that has had a particularly strong impact on you and the music you make?
Blue by Joni Mitchell is a record I grew up with and that i'll always come back to. I saw Low play in Glasgow when I was 19 and things were never the same again, I floated away from the gig and I've spent the last 10 years trying to come close to that performance, though I don't listen to them that regularly now. At the moment I'm addicted to The National.
Over the past few years you've been roped into working and touring with various different groups and musicians. Has there been a particular collaboration that you've enjoyed the most, or one that has meant the most to you - perhaps as a fan?
Well, working with Malcolm (Middleton) means a lot because I've been playing music with him for nearly eight years - which is ages. I'm really proud of those records, even though they're Malc's, not mine! They've informed my own music, I'm certain of that.
The Reindeer Section is the collaboration I get associated with most often, but was the one I was probably the least involved with musically. With so many people contributing, I really just went in, recorded my parts and left again which was in the spirit of those records and I think they worked for that reason. We did some live shows which were a lot of fun, just one big party most of the time, but not so many really. Not like the tours I've done in the past with Arab Strap or Malc or Strike The Colours which have lasted for months sometimes.
Can you tell me a bit about your forthcoming album?
We recorded the album last summer at Chem 19 which is in Hamilton and is the studio belonging to Chemikal Underground. Paul Savage produced it. I wrote most of the songs in a short space of time - between the winter of '07 and the Spring of last year. Davey my guitarist co-wrote a couple of the songs with me too. He's brilliant. Without having someone there to go 'try this, try that and be your sounding board for material, it's really hard to gauge what's shite and what's not.
So we recorded them all and mixed them all in two weeks, and I think you can hear that continuity in the songs, the way they relate to each other and the way the instruments pass melodies and ideas back and forth. For example, we ditched parts we felt were too obvious in favour of some more angular arrangements at different points throughout the record. At one point Davey played a part that sounded like an angry cat - to us, sleep-deprived and locked in the same room for hours at a time - so I took that and played it in a similar way on the violin using pedals and driving the amp. The first record is essentially a selection of demos, so we didn't have the scope to relate the songs to one another in quite the same way.
If you can, what would you say has inspired or motivated your writing this time around?
I'd written a couple of the songs from the record before I started putting a lot of time and thought into what they were finally going to be a part of because we were still involved in promoting our first record. Those first songs were about very definite things - pretty personal things - and I wanted all the songs that followed to be in a similar vein. There's a lot of travel references on this album, and references to roads. The more I wrote the more I began to dwell on the idea of belonging - to a person or to a place - and wondering if this is what defines who we are. Of course, there's the obligatory songs about heartache and longing in there too, but again that all ties in with the push and pull of needing to get away, then of wanting to stand still and be with someone. There's a lot of references to trees too.
You've often managed to rope in various guests of your own, both live and on record. Are there any new faces that have lent a hand this time around?
On this record I have Gareth Russell and Davey McAulay as usual; Jonny Scott is playing drums, he plays with Take A Worm For a Walk Week; Stevie Jones, who plays with Malc sometimes too, is playing piano and double-bass and Jamie Savage, Paul's brother, also makes an appearance as does Craig B (Aereogramme).
At this point in time, do you have a favourite place to play?
Not one place in particular, no. I really love An Tobar in Tobermory, though I've only been there once. The Thekla in Bristol is really cool, it's an old Russian boat. I'd love to play a gig on The Tall Ship in Glasgow and places like Stereo and Sleazys feel like home to me.
Any live show horror stories? Sometimes the grim ones are the most 'character-building' – apparently!
Well, I've never fallen into the drum-kit or anything like that but there was the time I fell up onto the stage in Norway, I was carrying a full pint of beer and I went sprawling on my face in front of the whole crowd and got soaked. And I got stuck at the bottom of an end-of-set scrum once years ago. Fully grown men too. I got kicked in the head and had concussion and whiplash for days afterwards. Nothing all that exciting really. Once Gareth had to play an entire show with a bucket beside him because he couldn't stop throwing up. poor Gareth.
What would you hope people would take from listening to your next record?
Hopefully not prescription drugs
Seven Roads is released on 28 Sep through Deadlight Records. Strike The Colours play Glasgow Stereo on Fri 2 Oct.