Turin Brakes don’t hang about. The estimable London 4-piece release their eighth studio album on January 26th, 2018, followed by a UK & European tour. After seven studio albums and a million records sold worldwide, Turin Brakes might’ve been excused a bit of downtime, however… 2016 saw them return to national radio playlists with all 3 singles from the critically acclaimed album ‘Lost Property’, coupled with 18 months touring across the UK, Europe and Australia. Along the way new songs just kept on bubbling through. The band made a hasty return to the legendary Rockfield Studios in Wales to record their 8th album 'Invisible Storm'. Mark Millar caught up with Olly Knights for a chat about the album.
You and Gale Paridjanian have known each other since childhood. When did you start writing your first songs together?
I think the first song we ever did was when we were about 11. I don't think it was that great; the lyrics went something like; "my name is Olly, and his name is Gale." It was like an ugly punk pop thing. I remember a few years after that we did the artwork for a pretend album and then we would fill it up with little jams and bits of song ideas. Gale would sometimes try and write a song, and then I would try and write one. We were playing around with the idea of writing songs and being in some band together since we were tiny. I guess it developed from then and went through lots of different stages maybe that's why when it came out publically when the Optimist Lp came out it was seen as this very fully formed thing and people were surprised how mature the songwriting was. I think that's because we had been doing it for years before that but we didn't believe that anyone would care (Laughs). But yeah its been a lot of songwriting for many many years.
Did you both listen to the same kinds of music together growing up?
Yeah, we crossed paths if you can imagine Gales influences as one big circle and mine as another big circle. Both edges of those circles crossed right over and in the middle of them was a common area, so we influenced each other a lot and got each other into different things, but then there was always things outside of that. When we were young Gale was really into blues which I liked but didn't get into it in the same way, but I did get into singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and people like that. We both brought in more influences from the sides into Turin Brakes that we weren't necessarily both into at the same time.
What is your songwriting process?
Initially no we don’t tend to sit in a room with a blank sheet of paper and invent something straight away. We probably did do that a bit more when we were younger because we’d get to hang out with each other without any external stuff going on but we have both families now, so it is harder now to sit in a room with each other and just mess around until a song comes up. Most of the time with Turin Brakes stuff it’s me that starts the ball rolling.
I would get a bit of a song together or what I think is a song and collect a bunch of them and show them to Gale. Recently I gave him a CD-R full of bits and bobs and said; "listen to this and see if anything is worth keeping."
So are you already starting to think about the next record?
Oh yeah, I'm usually about a year ahead of where we need to be. I must admit this time around I'm starting earlier than usual. I usually wouldn’t start thinking about the next record until the end of this year, but we have waited quite a long time to be able to put this album out. The songs I wrote for Invisible Storm I started writing at the end of 2016, so I've moved on in my brain I'm ready to do the next thing. About 20 different ideas are hanging around which might not end up being part of the next record. But what happens now is I'll show those to Gale, and then he'll come back to me with ones that he likes and feels like he can add something. Then between us, we will see what those are and then we will see a thread and then I'll starting writing more towards that thread, and we will both see a common goal with where we want to get to with the material, and then we come together and almost re-write them and change them around.
Gale will put his influence on them and then a little bit after that we will bring in Rob and Ed who are leading members of the band now, and they will put a bit of influence to the songs so at the end of the process everyone has had their moment with the material and has been allowed to influence it in some way. Some songs are practically perfect, and other tracks go through a lot of changes and then end up really good.
Do you approach songs differently when writing for the band than you would when co-writing with other people or your solo work?
I guess when I'm writing for the band I’m reasonably unconscious but I quite like knowing what I'm writing. So if I feel like I have to write something for Turin Brakes, there is slightly more of the legacy of where we have been. What I want to remake and what I don't want to remake. I kind of know what I don't want to do when I’m writing stuff for Turin Brakes. If its music for myself like the solo record I did a few years ago I allowed myself to be a bit more experimental with it because I’m not taking care of a legacy whereas with Turin Brakes I'm super aware of the history. We are fortunate we have a hardcore fan base who are very dedicated, and the last thing I want to do is serve them up something that I think is going to disappoint them. But it’s a challenging game to play because I don't want to give them something rehashed that’s just playing it safe. It's interesting because on this record we again went somewhere new with it. You can tell its Turin Brakes, and we have kept all the essential elements of the band, but it’s also quite an extreme record for us. It’s far more 'poppy' and aware of itself than other albums we have made, and I think it will be a bit of a shock to some Turin Brakes fans.
I wouldn’t describe it as traditional Turin Brakes it’s a bit more out there. It's all a balance of taking care not to piss people off but also taking care so that they have a new experience and get that thrill that you get when you hear new territory in a record where a band is clearly, going somewhere new with themselves. When it works, it’s exhilarating as a fan, so I don’t want to give people exactly what they think they want all the time because that's weirdly disappointing I imagine doing that.
Is there a theme running through Invisible Storm?
Yeah, I think there is a bit of a theme I wouldn't say it's a concept album, but it's going towards that. There is a theme of the idea of all the characters in the songs and suggesting that pretty much every human being on the planet is always fighting some Invisible Storm; there is some kind of war going on in most people. On the outside, they may look one way, but on the inside, there could be world war 3 – there could be a hurricane going on inside. There are all sorts of internal weather systems going on. So it was just bringing that out and talking about that as an idea and the fact that this is going on all the time inside of us and we used that to inspire some art. That is a bit of a theme the reoccurs all through the record – sometimes very subtlety but its there.
Did you go into the recording with any preconceived ideas how it would sound?
Yeah, this is our 8th album, and the more we do, the more openly discussed each record is. It used to be that I would just write songs and no one would particularly question it, and now we have much more discussions about it and we pre-produce the records very firmly so that we have this solid blueprint and idea of where they are going to end up. So by the time we are making the album, we pretty much know what it’s going to be. That's very different to how it used to be. It's partly a budget thing no one can sit around in expensive studios for six weeks anymore experimenting those days are over for everyone apart from Coldplay and Noel Gallagher and people like that. For anyone else you just cannot afford to do that. So you’ve got to find a way to make a strong record with much less time and much less time for experimenting.
So how we do that is we do all of our experimentation beforehand at home. I have a little home studio so we get together in there and we make our mistakes in there rather than the studio. We need things to work very quickly in the studio these days. Because of that pressure, we are much more aware of making a point and having an end point to get to whereas before it was much more directionless and was allowed to be what it wanted to be whenever it wanted.
Invisible Storm was recorded in the legendary Rock Field Studios in Wales where the band has recorded before and where Queen recorded Bohemian Rhapsody, and the Stone Roses spent years recording the Second Coming. Other great groups have recorded there over the years. Is it an inspirational place to record; is there something in the walls?
There is something in the walls. I remember listening to a scientist talking on the radio about how its possible that organic material can behave like a tape recorder – it can record historical events. And he was suggesting that perhaps that’s how some people claim to see ghosts or feel spirits and have weird moments and I always think of them whenever we go to Rockfield because it really feels like that. There has been so much good music made there that you just feel like it's in the brickwork somehow. And it is a lovely studio as well it's adorable humble people that own it and look after you when you are there.
You get entirely isolated when you are there. You live there in a farmhouse, so you have this complete other life. I live right in the middle of London and so do the other guys, so its a complete contrast to our very ‘city' based lives and we get to go and have this farmyard existence and make a record and its very 70s. There’s not a lot of computer gear it's all very analogue.
Is there a particular song on the new album that you thought “this is why we are doing this”?
Yeah on every record there always these little moments of magic where you are like – “oh wow! That’s really special." The moment for me on this record was on the very last track, and it’s called Don’t Know Much, it's almost like an acoustic palette cleanser. At the end of the record, the drums have stopped, and it all goes hushed and calm, and right at the end the whole band sang some of the lines in unison, so you get almost like a mildly out of tune gang of men singing this very heartfelt lyric. I didn't expect it to be emotional but it really is, and when we did that I just thought "wow'. That was a real moment that I knew we were on to something with this record – it was a magic time.
I really enjoy the track Smoke and Mirrors. At the end of the song, I keep thinking it's going to go into Inner Fight by Primal Scream. Was there an influence there?
(Laughs) I don't think we mainly talked about Primal Scream then although we sometimes do. That track is a real band favourite as well. Turin Brakes have always had this element of a subtle psychedelic edge going on. Its never been something we have pushed. But there has always been a bit of psychedelia in Turin Brakes – on every album; it bubbles up even if we don't want it to and funnily enough on this record, we didn't push those elements although we have done a lot more on the record before. We felt it was time to move somewhere else this time, but with that track Smoke and Mirrors it just came out anyway. Its such a languid, beautiful, long slow kind of motif musically its one of those songs where you allow the space for stuff to happen. That track is almost like an antidote to the rest of the record which has been much more carefully placed and very stringent and had more of a pop mentality of making everything happen in 3 minutes and cut all the fat. That was really the mentality of the record until Smoke and Mirrors where it lets you off the hook so you end up with this really organic lovely thing with all the strings moving and there are no rules at that point. Everyone in the band loves that song.
What would you like people to take away from listening to the album?
I guess a short, sharp journey that gets makes you feel that by the time you've got to the end of it you have been transported from something that's maybe quite visceral and kind of surface to somewhere much more in-depth. By the time you get to the last song that you feel like there is a much more profound emotional connection with the record, and hopefully, it'll be one of those things that just keeps growing. The album starts off very consciously 'poppy' for a Turin Brakes album. I say ‘pop,' but even when Turin Brakes do our most extreme pop, it's still nowhere near what I would consider being regular mainstream pop. But for us, it starts off fast-paced and kind of almost aware of how fast the world is and how quickly you need to get your point across now to people. We are as mindful of that as anyone. We didn't want to make something that takes half an hour before you have even begun to get it. We wanted to make something that within 2 or 3 tracks the melodies and the hooks are all working on you in a very classic pop sense. But we didn't just want to do that for ten tracks in a row we tried to suck people down further into a more exciting place slowly. I think the idea of it is to be initially very immediate but then to bring people into a deeper connection with it that hopefully lasts longer. I always think that the deeper connections are the things that last decades and we always want to make records that hopefully are around for a long time that still sound good and still feel good in years to come.
Turin Brakes start touring in March what can fans expect from the shows?
We are looking forward to it. Live for us is really where the real magic is. We have developed as a live act so much especially in the last five years I would say we have hit a new stride. There is a positive energy in our live shows that is very strong now and so playing live is always a big deal. Half the new record will get played in the new set, but it’s a balancing act because there is a huge amount of material now under our belt, so we cherry pick what we feel is the most important stuff to hear at that moment. Every year it changes a little bit, there are classic Turin Brakes tracks that if we didn’t play – people would feel pretty gutted. We are crowd pleasers we don't like turning up and playing b-sides for an hour and a half and sending people out frustrated. Our main aim is to send people out completely buzzing.
What have you been listening to recently that you could recommend?
I have just discovered Mac De Marco properly. I had heard of him and heard other people mention him. There is something especially silly and playful but yet deep about his stuff that I’m trying to get my head around. I love his last two records’ I really enjoy that they come across almost like ‘throwaway' like he doesn't mean it, but yet it really is effective music – it makes you really feel something. I have enjoyed his homemade, lo-fi attitude; it’s very inspiring to me. Our band in the past came from a similar lo-fi place, and I really like the fact that he is doing that and achieving huge things with it. It makes me feel like it’s still possible to make noncorporate music and be huge. In this world that’s amazing.
Do you have a record that you always return to?
Probably my favourite record ever made is Hejira by Joni Mitchell. It’s all about travelling; it’s just gorgeous it’s almost a bit psychedelic but its folk. That’s a record that never gets old for me it’s one of my best friends. I always, always go back to it. I still enjoy Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd I love the grooves and the melodies on that record blow my mind even though everyone knows it and it's tired to talk about but despite that when I put it on I’m still impressed, and that is saying something. I always go back to classics from the 70s. I like records that remind me of that stuff like the last Beck album – Morning Phase; I really liked that; it’s a gorgeous, beautiful sounding record.
The band recently announced a16 date UK tour in March 2018 including a show at the London Palladium (yes, the fancy theatre in Oxford Circus). Dates are:
08 – The Apex BURY ST EDMUNDS
09 – Leadmill SHEFFIELD
10 – O2 ABC GLASGOW
11 – Tyne Theatre NEWCASTLE
14 – St Georges BRISTOL
15 – Palladium LONDON
16 – Town Hall BIRMINGHAM
17 – Rescue Rooms NOTTS
21 – Cathedral MANCHESTER
22 – The Stables MILTON KEYNES
23 – Tramshed CARDIFF
24 – O2 Academy OXFORD
28 – City Varieties LEEDS
29 – Phoenix EXETER
30 – Concorde 2 BRIGHTON
31 – Wedgewood Rooms PORTSMOUTH
Turin Brakes are: Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian, Rob Allum and Eddie Mye