Inspired in part by classic rock and 1980’s synth, Late of the Pier have an original sound that is making a big impact with listeners globally. The young English foursome recently released their first album, Fantasy Black Channel, a diverse collection of songs on the forefront of electronic music. I had an opportunity to have a conversation on topics ranging from music to social and political ideas with singer Samuel Eastgate and drummer Ross Dawson during their most recent stay in New York
Your music definitely has an 80’s feel to it. How did you incorporate the sound into what you do? What’s your process like?
Samuel Eastgate (S): Most importantly it’s not completely 80’s- I think the best few moments of the 80’s are remembered in our music for that kind of sheer individualism. People just looked ridiculous in the 80’s, sang ridiculous songs, and played ridiculous guitar riffs and things like that. Though I think when we make music it’s bad to always veer away from that. I think a lot of musicians think they’re being cool and veer away from those more obscene kinds of sounds which were so popular in the 80’s. When we make music we want to go to those extremes, the 80’s being one extreme- a synth sound or a type of production and we juxtapose that against things from other decades like classical rock from the 60’s and even a modern, more electronic club sound. I think we just have this love and hate affair with every decade of music.
Ross Dawson (R): Yeah, that’s true, it’s weird
The funny thing about the 80’s is that much of the music was kind of shallow and in a way it represented the culture. People often mention the same influences when they speak about your music, do you feel a stigma with the 80’s influence?
S: Some of that is just repeated journalism that might’ve happened a lot in America. One English interview said something like “this song sounds like Gary Newman” and it’s been recycled a few hundred times and now we’re just some Gary Newman tribute band.
R: Yeah, people try to lump us in with New Wave and really we just sound nothing like it.
S: The best way to battle against that is to just play our music for people.
Yeah, one thing I respond to in your music is that you seem to experiment and then push things forward. What is your process for doing that? Do you set aside time to play around as a musician or does it just come across organically?
S: It’s a mixture of a few different processes. When I was writing bits of songs they would just be an hour in my day- in a day where otherwise I was probably just doing something really boring- I was at college for a lot of this stuff on the album. For awhile I was wondering if I should be at college or not and some days I’d just go home and write 30 seconds of music and feel okay. I really liked that 30 seconds of music and I’d think I had done really well so it deserved the half a day off of school. Later you just go and make something out of this song and rather than just repeat that thing over and over again I’d get another idea and figure out how to make those two into some kind of song. You get this thing repeated over and over and then sometimes it’s like an epiphany where you just go oh my God, those two fit together perfectly. It’s kind of an obvious thing for us because so many songs have been just ideas from different times, maybe a year apart that just belong together in some way. Who knows, they could’ve worked with another combination of melodies and things on our album could’ve actually worked in a completely different order? It’s a crazy thought, I never really thought about it.
R: Yeah, really neither have I.
S: They are in a constant evolution. We’ve changed songs so many times that it’s really just a particular moment in that songs life that’s on the album.
What about the remixes? You guys have a whole lot of remixes. Do you do the remixes or do you work with other people?
S: We’ve done a couple of remixes of our own stuff but we like to get other bands to do them. Other times we just try and impress people who we really respect with our music and see if they will do a remix- often that’s worked really well. We managed to get a few such as Hot Chip which is really good.
R: Yeah we’ve got some commissioned but Faley, our bassist, who in particular is really into meeting these people and you see their Myspace page, you don’t know who they are really but you’ve heard they do the best remixes. He’s really up for interacting with them and working with them.
S: Faley talks the talks.
R: Yeah he definitely talks the talks.
S: He’s a bassist but he started off as a manager (R: and networker) for us. He was like the manager role in the band so he would always get up the next day and say leave me alone because he spent 5 hours on Myspace last night. We were all like well…OK, did you have to spend 5 hours, but he did get us a lot of our early gigs.
Wow, through Myspace?
S: Yeah, I mean that’s the crazy thing, we got our first gigs through it but then we really didn’t know how to use it properly- we were always a bit late on the ideas that people had on giving away free music. We didn’t catch on to that early. It’s probably because we didn’t have any proper music recorded so there were these little snippets of demos, then playing gigs to the all ages crowd, mostly based in London. People just get excited– I think they thought this was something that they could truly say was there own and that’s probably when we work best is when people think that this is a small thing that they can really identify with and call their own. So for instance when we had this massive press coverage in magazines in England I think people feel like their little band was being taken away from them a bit. I think we are just trying to prove to people that it’s not the case, that we’re still doing it for those few people so we still play small gigs and try to make sure they don’t forget about us. We come back and surprise them- “Late of the Pier, we’re still here and as young and foolish as ever.” We’ve not become a stadium band.
As a visual artist I wanted to ask you what some of your influences are outside of music?
R When we were younger, we used to discuss all sorts of art forms, varying from film and photography. Me and Sam both studied art for a time.
S: I did photography and for a long time we were definitely considering being artists instead of musicians at the start of the band.
R: You were leaning towards graphic design and I was leaning more towards photography.
S: I kind of hated graphic design in some respects because I was too arty for graphic design and too graphic for art so I always did an odd sort of mixture, then I did photography as well. Actually the best thing I ever did was when I found this website called “Deviant Art” – it’s a huge website now but when I was young it wasn’t, do you know it?
R: I wonder if they’re still up there, they probably are?
Yeah, they should be they- that stuff stays up forever.
S: Do they? Well they’re probably still up there. I’ll let people try to find them themselves. Yeah, so we really just didn’t know if we were going to be a band. It’s funny, of course we design all our record covers also.
Well that seems to make sense. From the clips I saw online, your live shows are almost performance art piece at times.
S: We try to make every gig memorable.
R: You never know what you are going to get.
S: I remember one gig when we hit the nail on the head completely. We built this huge purple castle out of cardboard- went through all the pain, got a crown, and then I had those wooden slats that I play hanging from the ceiling- it was a spectacle. We had this wooden horse that we found in a skit in London and all these crazy things. At the end of the gig, amazingly the support band came on with hammers and smashed the castle to pieces, we didn’t ask them to do that but…
R: God, I nearly got hit in the head with a hammer- this hammer was like “woof,” past my head (laughing) “careful!”
S: Some days it’s better than others, you know. We’ve really been put on the treadmill recently, which is something we are really eager to just step off and maybe get back to doing what we do best which is probably one-off shows and a bit more writing. Next year, apart from the U.S. tour, which is going to be in March, it will be much more of an onslaught.
R: I think we’re definitely into the idea of making the U.S. tour different from what we’ve done so far.
S: We don’t want to play the same gig like a hundred times
This year is an election year here in the U.S. and there’s some tension in the air. I wanted to ask you guys, coming from England, about some social and political issues. Do you talk about any social issues?
R: Yeah we have a lot of political and social ideas.
S: We’re very strong minded about things like that. Education is one of the things we usually talk about. People ask about how you start as a band and one of the things we say is that we were bored [in school]- we feel that not everybody has to go to University.
R: I guess everybody wants to say they were going through some kind of rebellion.
S: Once upon a time, University was only for a few select people, nowadays there are so many people going to University that it kind of loses its meaning for a lot of people. Although it’s good for them to be around like-minded people, I think sometimes it gets watered down. People now want something more than University, something more suited to them. For us the only way we could get that was just to leave it behind- I think that’s the way we became friends as a band.
R: People are just scared though really, to get off the road of education.
S: It’s not an easy thing for people to say no to University. We found it extremely hard.
Did you guys meet in University?
S: No we met before A-level
R: We were about 16 or so.
S: We really got together, I guess because we were the kids who were a bit worried about whether it was right for us to go to University considering we had such unconventional ideas.
R: I hated school really.
S: We went to a bad school.
That’s interesting because I teach art and film in high school and I always have students ask me if they really need to go to college and even when they aren’t sure I tell them it’s a good idea to go- even for just a semester or a year to know whether you should go or not.
S: Well I had a couple of amazingly good teachers. The last teacher that I had before I quit school basically said “well you’re a really good student you should stay but I think you probably want to leave for a good reason.” He still sends me emails now and then. He’s supportive of us. We always talk about how education could be better for people. I think because of the growing number of people, it puts a stress on schools and the education system. It’s the same problem in England.
Yeah, I’ve heard.
R: Well you should probably just not be there if you don’t want to be there. It would probably make it easier for everyone wouldn’t it?
S: But also there’s the obvious problem that teachers nowadays are told more and more strictly what to teach and how to do things.
R: Which is the problem we had with ours. I used to get C’s and it used to just really get me down. I’m not a C student.
I’ll end with the question of what advice do you have for musicians or artists coming up in the industry?
S: Just keep plowing your own path and understand that if people tell you there’s one way of doing things they’re probably being forced to say that by the government.
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