Interview: Liam Chapman – 'Everything on the album is performed live and on analogue, which I feel has created its unique personal timbre.'
As Prehistoric Friends’ debut album premiers on our site, we chat with the man behind it all, Liam Chapman
Liam Chapman, drummer in Miaoux Miaoux and Nichola Kerr, his viola-toting pal, have joined forces with some Glasgow dreampop pals to create Prehistoric Friends, a atmospheric alt.pop group. Their self-titled debut album is out on Fri 23 Oct, but we’ve grabbed an exclusive early listen and you can wrap your ears around it here. We also grabbed Liam for a chat about the Scottish music scene, anxiety and fossils.
Where did the idea to present the album in a cast of a fossil come from?
We will be releasing this album as a download, in part, from a lack of funds for a vinyl pressing. However, I had an idea to create hollow plaster casts of ammonite fossils, which my friend Charlotte Eva Bryan kindly crafted the mould for and produced; they encase the album code, kinda like a fortune cookie! There is only a limited run of 50 of these – I felt that it was really important to create a physical object as a memento to mark the release and share a unique relic with the people who have discovered us and would like to be involved in our story. The fossil symbolises the idea of preserving something of value, a story or memory that has been of certain importance at some time. I feel the conception of these physical pieces encourages a wider spectrum of creativity that both strengthens the music’s fantasy and deepens us in the mood aesthetic.
How important to you is mixing up music with art?
The other part to the album is the booklet. My buddy Raych Campbell helped to create the layout for this. It is a 24-page A5 zine that has wonderful thematic artwork for each track, the lyrics, story of the album and credits. The booklet comes with the fossil as a cohesive little bundle. I like the idea of music being an experience and a world that people can zone in to. I focused on using old 70s geography textbook styled images of landscape cross sections and caves. I felt this was a good representation of the album; mixing the idea of environments, evolution and discovery. The artwork also pairs aesthetically with the retro Casiotones and drum machines I used to record the music. I found it in a book from under a dusty pile at the Barrowlands market and it was so perfect.
Prehistoric Friends, as a whole, is like a supergroup of Glasgow's dream pop scene – how did you get everyone involved?
Firstly, Nichola Kerr and I began performing small shows together with organ, viola and a drum machine – it was more like a comedy act! We were invited to play at this exhibition night at Southside Studios once and when we arrived, we were told the theme was ‘sex is magic’, so in the panic of not knowing what to do, we regretfully requested the audience to ask us provoking, theme-related questions about our personal experiences. Anyway, Nic and I met by playing together in atmospheric/cinematic group Quickbeam. I think it is really important to play with people who are close, fun and who spread positivity in order to create a good live energy and for this particular band to understand the sensitivity of the music. I play drums in Miaoux Miaoux with Julian Corrie so naturally he has to play guitar in my band! Admiral Fallow bassist Joe Rattray is a best pal and we have had a bit of a rotation with great drummers Andrew Truscott and Joe Smillie but Fallow’s Louis Abbott, a good friend I met through Blochestra, is joining us on kit for the album launch. I am privileged to have such talented and great people to perform my music with. They are all a lovely bunch of coconuts.
How does flitting between Yetts O'Muckhart and Glasgow influence what you write about and your musical style?
Most of the music from the album was originally written and demoed back in the Yetts on my Technics church organ. I grew up spending time around hills, forests and fields so I’ve always been tuned in with nature and my surroundings. A majority of the music has derived from certain atmospheres I have picked up on while walking and driving through certain areas. That’s why there is perhaps a progressive valley-like flow and sound-scape vibe to some of the recordings. Without being overly spiritual, I believe there can be an unusual connection between your present thoughts and the different physical places your body and soul passes through. I am interested in environment influencing your emotions and imagination, whether positive or negative, and trying to capture these atmospheres quickly after they have happened through recording. Sometimes it can be hard or even impossible! I would always be driving late at night between Glasgow and Clackmannanshire when I was travelling to rehearse/gig five nights or so a week – this would sometimes give me quite trance-like thoughts and being an over-thinker, I sometimes had too much time to analyse about where my life was going and my existence. I guess this album is very much about the influences, dreams and worries someone has before leaving home and the adjustment of moving on to the next stage of their life. Muckhart is a place that I will always familiarise with home, family and where I grew up and I think there is a certain warmth on the recordings that comes across, which will always conjure nostalgia for me whenever I listen back to it.
I am grateful that I was not so influenced by the music scene in the city as it’s obtained the authenticity of my creativity as an individual, which is what I regard as most important. However, Glasgow has always acted more as something exciting that was going to drive me to work hard as a musician and I am grateful to live in such a thriving music city. I have been here for five years now and it’s great. I finalised a majority of the lyrics over in Glasgow that were originally written back home and recorded the album in a DIY set up studio with Andrew Pattie (Honey & The Herbs) and Gavin Thompson (Glamour Muscle) over four days in the Southside.
You've said in the past that you found it hard to get the album off the ground and that you struggled with anxiety and a lack of self-peace. What was happening that was holding you back?
Yup, it was actually recorded 2 ½ years ago and I sent out over 30 different individual emails with the album and press pack to labels that I’d like to be involved with – there was some interest but nothing happened. It’s hard enough sustaining yourself by needing to be a freelance musician let alone funding the production and PR campaign of an album.
I put too much pressure on myself to make the album something successful and the more I kept sitting on it, it seemed to add more burden. I strive for everything I work on to be of high quality and presented professionally and I guess I felt the songs deserved this as they are very personal. I was also moving on as a person and maturing musically, which made me go through a spiralling phase between loving and hating the songs. I’ve just had to release the album in to the wild for my own peace of mind. I had to have a hard think about what success meant to me and realise that I had forgotten what was most important, which is to create out of love and share my music with the people who do enjoy it. Accepting this now has given me confidence and I am proud to self-release it as every development we have made as a band has been through our DIY efforts and help from our friends. It makes sense.
How difficult it is to gain a footing in the music world? Do you think it's easier in the Glasgow/Scotland music scene than elsewhere?
Depending on what you are trying to do musically, I feel it is very difficult to make a living out of purely being an artist as there is a large saturation of popular music in the industry. It is overwhelming and can sometimes be easy to feel like your efforts are a waste of time. There is also often very little financial reward. I’m not driven by money, but music performance was my study and after a while it gets pretty wearing as a career and you are required to have an endless supply of energy. When you start to become mentally exhausted from constantly driving yourself to the ground just to make ends meet, and after years without a holiday, the love for what you do and appreciation of your lifestyle can disappear; therefore where is the compromise? I have found the way it seems to work now is that you need to be active within many projects as an individual artist/musician. I have to be all of a session drummer, writer, workshop runner and coffee-maker! I’ve worked very hard and created some great opportunities and amazing experiences for myself but as a result I’ve been a zombie for a while now. I am not a fan of overhyping my art and shoving it in people’s faces either. I believe there is good merit in spending a lot of time working hard at something and producing honest work and hopefully then the respect and support will build in a more organic manner. There can be such a great buzz about something that doesn’t have much substance or story then it can die out within a short period of time. What’s in trend can change with the wind and the industry can also be very unforgiving and fickle, which has often challenged my values as an honest and passionate person. I believe that longevity is what pays off.
On this album, which was your favourite song to work on? Least favourite?
My favourite song to work on was ‘Gentle Giant’. It was the most challenging track because it has the same chord progression throughout and it is verse-heavy – it is based on dynamic progression and its instrumental development for it to work. The track is basically one big build up from start to finish and I enjoy the tension throughout the song. I recorded this one on the Technics organ and tracked the Bossa Nova beats from the organ live too. It has that nice vintage rhythmic sequencer feature on it that follows the beat patterns. Everything on the album is performed live and on analogue, which I feel has created its unique personal timbre. I loved recording the whole thing but I’d say the song that I was most nervous about was performing ‘Vanished’. It’s quite hard to force yourself in to the right kind of headspace for a song so raw and can be quite uncomfortable when other people are listening to your lyrics and little whimpers in another room for the first time!
We've previously described you as 'Bon Iver meets Idlewild' - is there anyone you wish we'd compared you to instead?
I don’t mind, I find it interesting! Someone told me they heard a bit of ELO in the music; I’ve heard I sound like the guy from Death Cab for Cutie a bunch of times. I guess there could be comparisons drawn with bands like Beach House, Youth Lagoon and Throw Me the Statue with their style and instrumentation. I guess I grew up with a variety of stuff from Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Hornsby and 10CC so there’ve always been those classic sounding atmospheric reverberated vocal and synth components that I’ve brought with me along the way. I’ve always had an influential side from folk music too and I’m interested in the idea of mixing traditional elements with the soundscape synth side of things and trying to combine them into a giant warm atmospheric blanket!
Where do you hope to go from here with Prehistoric Friends?
I’d really like to gain some new experiences first of all. In a way, I’ll be relieved to move on from the debut as there are aspects of naivety that I am self-conscious about and I’m excited to be able to just focus on writing new music again and move in to a new area lyrically. I want to create something bigger and explore a little more outside standard pop forms and experiment in creating new sounds. I’m going to buy Nichola a delay pedal for the viola for Christmas! I’d also like to approach field recording next and perhaps make my own instruments and use them. I have always wanted to make people feel like they are involved in an experience and I’m always thinking of unique ideas to create and present music so mysterious things may be coming your way!
Prehistoric Friends is launched on Fri 23 Nov at the Hug & Pint Glasgow.