Southampton based alt/prog rock duo BirdPen released their new studio album, ’There’s Something Wrong With Everything’, on 12th October. Melding heavy/psychedelic guitars, rolling basslines, Krautrock drums and old school electronics, the record creates a doom groove ambience with Dave Pen’s lead vocal sitting atop. Mark Millar caught up with Dave Pen to discuss making the album. Welcome to ‘There’s Something Wrong With Everything’. Welcome to the world of BirdPen.
BirdPen have released your fifth studio album called There's Something Wrong with Everything. Did you go into the recording with any preconceived ideas how it should sound and what kind of songs you wanted to write?
DP: Initially, from a lyrical point of view, my thoughts were about families and the whole world of advertising and how you're supposed to keep up. There's just no escape from it no matter how hard you try, there's just nothing you can do, and kids have to keep up with other kids. It was something I was always thinking.
I live in the city, and it's not like living in the middle of nowhere where you can live in a little bubble, you kind of have to face up to the times you are living in and know it’s there but try and get some control over it yourself, I think. So the initial idea was about families in the future and where we would end up, and how you can look after it all. Another huge thing was when Trump was getting sworn in, I was at home by myself, I had the fire on, and it was getting dark outside, and it was just so surreal. It was like watching some weird dystopian sci-fi movie – but it was real. People were panicking and crying - it was a bit like Brexit. When it happened, no one thought it would be just like Trump. Brexit was a prime example that you couldn't take anything for granted these days because propaganda, the press, and fake news or whatever is there and people believe shit, and it worked. That's where the song There’s Something Wrong with Everything came from, and those two ideas were what merged the album together. Going into other songs on the album like The End is on TV it is about families sitting around and if the world were to end so many people would see it on the TV. All those concepts came into my head, and that's what the album is about really.
This Is Your Life is a great opening track. It deals with information overloading, fake news spreading, fear-mongering, and brainwashed modern age. It represents the album very well; is that why you decided to out it out first?
DP: Yeah, definitely that. I think it sums up so much of what the album is about and how we wanted to start this new chapter with this record, and I think the video and song went so well together. The opening up of the tune with the Pink Floyd-esque synth sound rises like a dawn. And then the first line is "Welcome to your day..." Everybody's day begins, but for so many people it is the same day over and over again in different places, but they are all doing the same thing. It sums up the times we are living in, faded dreams and the screams from inside screaming out that there has to be more than just this. It was the perfect opening for the record and for the first song for people to hear.
The album deals a lot with paranoia. Do you think social media fuels a lot of that?
DP: Its weird. It sometimes does, but I know age groups divide a lot of social media. Facebook has turned into an older group – it’s a lot of people on their soap boxes getting their frustrations out by putting up anti stuff about the Tories or their fears. There is stuff on my feed from friends, and sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming because it's not overly positive. There is a lot of negativity from peoples’ frustrations, and then you have Instagram which in a way is kind of 'throwaway' for the young because it’s only pictures and it seems all it is, is a lot of young people having a good time. It is weird because it seems like a comfort if you haven't got these things then you're not in the loop. There are so many selfies on Instagram – it’s just bombarded with faces of people looking perfect. Its very weird, I think social media does play a big part in paranoia but I also think you don't know what it’s like for young people you don't know what they are talking about and what their fears are – you're not supposed to have fears when you are young, but surely they must have. All these social media things get corrupted in a way, and they can become very poisonous for people, and very addictive. Young people spend so much time involved in this thing that doesn't matter. We would still exist if that shit wasn't there and would probably be doing something a lot more exciting, but It plays a big part in everyone's life now.
The album subject matter can be very dark so was it an enjoyable experience recording the new album?
DP: Yeah, we have always tapped into the darker side of concepts and thoughts – it's just what we've ever done. We don't write happy songs and never have. I don't know how to. It's great that people can write feel-good tracks, but I still feel our music has a feel-good quality because there is so much energy in the music, and there is optimism within it, and a lot of it is about trying to break away and be free. But I really enjoy writing about the darker side of things. It’s easier to express that way because you can keep going with it. Being happy and writing a song about how lovely the day is, seems very limited to me, whereas I can channel a lot more thoughts and ideas into how dark the underground is or how twisted people are, and you can explore a lot more things. It’s a vent at the end of the day, and it is a better way to get it out. Some people get things out in other ways, but for me, writing has always been about exercising those demons in a good way and feeling good about it in the end. You feel like you've got them in the place you want them to be.
Fans were able to preorder the new album through PledgeMusic. Do you think it's a useful tool for bands in today's climate?
DP: Yeah, I do. The music industry has changed now, and I think it’s great that artists have a lot more control about their content and their copyright and their overall control of what they are putting out. It can be a lot of work because for Mike and me it's our label. We self-record and produce, and we self-manufacture. We have a distributor we use, and we license the record once it’s out, but in the initial period, it’s all been done by us. We did all the artwork, we were in touch with the manufacturers, we chose the vinyl, the coloured vinyl, and we put it out on tape. It's great because we are learning what its like to run a small label ourselves. To be in this position and to have had such a great response so far is what I think every artist strives to be. You want complete freedom and no one telling you what you should do and you are in control of your destiny, and that’s what I feel we are. It feels great, and our fans have been fantastic and have supported us. We smashed the target we had in mind within three days so we can already make the record now and print up everything we need to do and the rest is going into more records that we can make which is brilliant. I'm all for PledgeMusic, it’s definitely a good thing.
Do you approach songwriting differently with Birdpen than do with Archive?
DP: Yeah, I do in a way because Archive is a collective and we will have conversations about subject matters beforehand. The process with Archive is a bigger and longer process because there are a lot more elements that come into it. I write a lot with Darius Keeler, and he thinks everything through. In his mind he is thinking of orchestras we are going to put on tracks, and where the strings go, and how other members can get involved on the songs, whereas with Mike and me in Birdpen, it’s very off the cuff and organic. We tend to write songs really quickly when we are in the studio. It’s always our goal to write two songs a day. We will write in the morning up until lunchtime and get one track finished, then we start another one and come back to it the next day. With Birdpen it’s very free and more guitar-based and with Archive it’s a lot more electronic, cinematic, and synthesized with guitars as well, and a lot more to think about, whereas with Birdpen there are two of us, we know what we want, and we go with our gut instinct, and the results are always what we aim to achieve. If there's something doesn't work, we scrap it pretty soon and then start something entirely new.
What recording techniques did you use recording There's Something Wrong with Everything?
DP: At the moment, it’s a mix between two. With the last album, we were still using Logic because it's so easy to use, but then when we mix, we transfer everything into an analogue desk. In the studio that we use, there's this fantastic Trident desk from the seventies, and all the natural valves and compressors are all in it. So we strip everything back pretty much, and then we put it all through analogue to mix it, so it’s kind of a mix of both things.
Are there any plans on the horizon regarding new material with Archive?
DP: We are releasing an album which will be called '25' which will be an ultimate collection of Archives music. And we have also been recording new material and have done some collaborations with some cool artists which we are excited about, but I can't say the names yet. And then we are recording a live concert next May in Paris for a live DVD to celebrate twenty-five years of the band. It's going to be great to play the songs and reflect over twenty-five years. The thing with Archive that is great is there is new material as well, and that is what Archive is about - it's all about moving forward. The fact that we have got new songs to go with the old songs is exciting, and I'm buzzing. Next year is going to be great, and with the Birdpen stuff, I'm in a fortunate place musically.
Do you have a record that you always return to?
DP: Recently, I had returned to Deserters Songs by Mercury Rev. When it came out, Mike and I had just become friends, and we both loved that record. It was the first gig we went to together, and we didn't have any tickets, so luckily there was a guy outside who gave us a pair for something like £7.50. We thought this was amazing because it had been sold out for months. So we went to the gig, and it blew me away. I also come back to Animals by Pink Floyd quite a bit.
BIRDPEN ‘THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH EVERYTHING’
1 This Is Your Life
2 There’s Something Wrong With Everything
3 Eyes In The Sky
4 Easy Life
5 Star Of The Half-Time Show
6 The End Is On TV
8 Oh So Happy
9 Good News
10 Natural Rewards