The secret history
They may not indulge in Liam’n’Noel spats or Jack Daniel’s-soaked excesses but Malcolm Jack finds Aberfeldy are more than twee, they’re an undiscovered gem.
Launch a pop career with the opening gambit ‘I love everyone/everybody underneath the sun’, as Aberfeldy did in the first lyric of 2004’s debut album Young Forever, and you will fight against a certain tide of conceptions. Particularly if you a) are a bit folky b) utilise cutesy boy/girl harmonies, and c) sing a song called ‘Vegetarian Restaurant’. All these elements of course contributed to making Young Forever one of the damn finest first albums of recent times. Perhaps equally, however, it’s left them with something of a weight around their neck; that eternal scourge word so often synonymous with Scottish bands of a breezy disposition: ‘twee’.
One lengthy chat with enigmatic front man, songwriter and Aberfeldy founder member Riley Briggs later, and such impressions are at least in part stubbed out. Chain smoking his way through a pack of Camels outside a Leith bar, a sense of his determination that this band be taken as something more robust is palpable; as is a slight vein of despondency at their not yet having made a step up to the next level.
‘It’s pretty much all the same places we played last time,’ he says, in regard to their forthcoming UK tour in support of second album Do Whatever Turns You On. ‘Well, maybe some slightly bigger places. We’re doing the Bush Hall in London this time. The last gig we did in London we didn’t really enjoy. London’s quite . . . pish. I think the audiences are just spoiled down there. But otherwise, pretty much same places as last time.’ He pauses, before adopting a mock sarcastic tone to proclaim: ‘we’re going nowhere! This band is going nowhere! We’re supposed to be building an audience!’
Whether so far big enough or not for Briggs, the following Aberfeldy feverishly garnered over the last two years will certainly not have been turned off by their latest long-player, a groovy synth-wrapped crystalline pop record that takes them neatly into new territory beyond the homespun ethic of their debut release. While admitting he would have liked to spend more time in the studio, Briggs is glad to have not dwelled on it as long as the much feted one microphone technique utilised on Young Forever necessitated: ‘People might say, “oh, it’s not got the lo-fi stripped down simplicity of the first album.”’ he says. ‘But I’m just like: “no way”. The first album took a fucking year to make and cost a lot more than this one, which took two weeks and came in under budget.’
It’s particularly impressive considering that recording took place with a new drummer added late to the fold in the shape of Riley’s brother Murray. Are there sibling rivalries to contend with now in the Aberfeldy camp? ‘No. We actually get on shockingly well,’ he says. ‘We’re total best friends. We haven’t had a crossed word since we were 18. But when we were kids we used to really kick fuck out of each other.’
Murray’s credentials as a grindcore sticksman might add a little extra stiffness to the band’s backbone, but his presence is as much a soothing one as anything else: ‘It’s funny because I’m in a band with my brother and my girlfriend now,’ says Briggs. ‘Which is good, because it kind of encourages me to behave myself. If I wasn’t I’d probably be a complete animal on the road. I’d be like Lemmy.’
Liquid Room, Edinburgh, Mon 18 Sep; ABC, Glasgow, Tue 19 Sep. Do Whatever Turns You On is out now on Rough Trade.