Last week Edinburgh’s Wozniak released their debut E.P. ‘Pikes Peak’ on Morningside Young Team Records and for my money it’s right up there with the best records of the year to date.
Whilst the band describe themselves as shoegaze there’s a lot more to their repertoire than the original 90s concept. Which is, perhaps, to these ears a good thing as. whisper it, I don’t have an awful lot of shoegaze in the collection.
For me shoegzae at its purest was about dreamy vocals breathing amongst a wash of guitars. Wozniak do a bit of that, certainly, but there’s an awful lot more going on than that and ‘Pikes Peak’ is proof of that.
Lead track ‘El Maresme’ (exclusively previewed on MPT a few weeks back) is the only song on the E.P. to follow that traditional template. In fact it’s the only tune with vocals in the record at all. Even at that though Sarah’s singing is almost subliminal against a brooding giant of a song.
‘Paper Hat’ is altogether a lighter prospect- its guitar lead bringing to mind the jauntier side of Mogwai’s recent albums, infused at the same time with something of a dance sensibility.
‘Kreuzberg’ returns to the band’s moodier side, the insistent guitars aiming this time for tension through repetition whilst background feedback lends the song a disturbing air.
‘Colombo’s Car’ demonstrates the band’s heavier size with its fuzz laden bass providing the impetus for the more melodic lead. E.P. closer ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ is something different again – a feedback symphony the pitch of which is modulated to unsettling effect.
Ahead of two launch gigs in Glasgow (Friday 20th) and Edinburgh (Saturday 28th),guitar maestro and effects pedal fetishist Simon Cuthbert-Kerr talked to MPT about …
MPT: How do you approach the band – do you have any particular aims you’d like to achieve? And what sort of dreams do you have about what might, just might, happen to/for the band?
SCK: “Well, Wozniak’s first and foremost about getting together to make a huge racket and play with pedals, so we try to make sure that happens.
“Beyond that though, we do want to feel like we’re moving forward, so we went from rehearsing, to playing some gigs, to putting out a single and now the EP’s out. We’re working on a few new songs at the moment which is always good for keeping things fresh.
“I think we’re all alive to how rare it is to make a living at music now so we don’t have ridiculous dreams of champagne and stadium tours, but certainly 50 per cent of us are dreaming of a support slot with Slowdive. Make it happen, people!
“Failing that, it would be good to play a few festivals, so that’s one of our plans for next summer – it’s long-term planning!”
How hard is it to get a band noticed these days? And how do you manage it?
“I’m sure it a bit of a truism, but the internet has made it so much easier. Blogs, social media and internet radio stations are all legitimate ways to connect and promote music and to build both an audience and a connection with other like-minded people, and I think we’ve really made use of those routes. We’ve had lots of really positive support from blogs across the globe (although Manic Pop Thrills was there first!), and have had lots of exposure on internet radio stations. Although ‘Pikes Peak’ is only our second release, I feel that Wozniak is part of a community of people who are into shoegaze, psych and post-rock.
“That said, band promotion is still hard work. Most of Wozniak’s PR stuff is done by Sarah, who is a communications professional and so seems to know what she’s doing! We’ve worked really hard to get the word out about ‘Pikes Peak’, and it’s not something that has just happened by accident.
“Whenever we get some coverage by a blog or a station plays us, we’re always grateful – there are loads of bands out there, and everyone has the same routes to make contact, so it’s still very gratifying for someone to take the time to write about us or play us or ask us for our views on stuff.
“So we take it seriously and also try to pay it back by sharing stuff and doing our bit to support other people.
“We also ran a Kickstarter campaign to raise some funds for recording the EP, and it was really amazing to make the target. That also helped us to make some connections to people, and for people to have been willing to pay up front to help us out was absolutely incredible.”
How much of a challenge is to get gigs outside of Edinburgh?
“It varies. I suppose the more traditional way of doing gigs (eg, sending your music off to big name promoters and asking for support slots) is still pretty hit-or-miss: especially if you’re a fairly small band, it’s tricky to get picked up.
“On the other hand, there are loads of people putting on their own gigs these days, and so that has made it easier to get out to other places – in particular, people like Andy at the Cool Cat Club in Dundee and Kenny at Goop Shop in Glasgow are playing a really important role in making sure that bands get opportunities to play that don’t require them to beg to be bottom of the bill on a Monday night supporting a band who the NME might have mentioned once in passing.
“Since starting, we’ve made lots of connections with other bands and promoters and that’s led to invitations to play in various places, which is always fun. In return, we promote gigs through Morningside Young Team and like to bring bands to Edinburgh who we like but who might otherwise not get the chance to play there.”
Describe in one sentence (ish) what it’s like to be on stage with Wozniak.
“In my case, sweaty (sorry everyone…). Here’s a proper answer: loud, intense, exciting, a bit nerve-wracking (particularly in case of technical malfunctions) and good fun.”
If there was one frustration about MFMB/New Hampshire it was that it only told a fraction of the Wozniak story. How far do you think that the new E.P. fills in (some of) the blanks?
“The two songs on the single were some of the earliest tracks we did together as a band, and I think they’re a fair statement of where we were then.
“We’ve developed since they were recorded, and I think that shows on the tracks on ‘Pikes Peak’, where the songwriting is maybe a bit more complex and we did some more playing about with what you can do in the studio. I think the underlying approach is still the same, and we’re drawing on the same kinds of influences and trying to make the same sort of music, but it’s definitely a more developed sound.
“Of all the songs on the EP, I’m most surprised by how ‘Paper Hat’ turned out – that’s a song that we played at our first ever gig, but the recorded version is pretty different, with a bit more of a laid-back feel than the live version. I’m also very happy with ‘El Maresme’ – it’s amazing what you can achieve with two chords, some effects pedals and a fantastic rhythm section! We’ve also developed in that the EP features piano, played pretty much on the spot by James.”
Did you have anything specific musically you were aiming for with the new E.P.?
“Not really – we wanted to make sure that we represented the songs as well as we could. We were also keen to record some of our longer songs after the single, which was (for us, at least) fairly accessible and straightforward. There were a couple of musical touchstones that we used consistently throughout the sessions – volume, distortion and reverb!
“Listening back to the EP now, I think there is a consistent mood, and while that wasn’t necessarily deliberate it does seem to have been an undercurrent.”
What have you planned to mark the release of the E.P.?
“As well as a media barrage, co-ordinated by Sarah, our very own Director of Communications, we’ve a couple of launch gigs organised. We’re playing the 13th Note in Glasgow on 20 June with We Came From The North and Inuit, and then on 28 June we’re back in Edinburgh to play Opium with Gigantic Leaves and Our Smallest Adventures.”
And once that’s out of the way what next for Wozniak?
“We’ve got a few ideas for getting back into the studio, with a bit of a plan forming for how we might release the next songs. We’d also like to get more gigs arranged, particularly out of Scotland. We’ve all been so busy recently that we’ve had to turn down a couple of opportunities, so hopefully we can get a few things organised. We’re also just about to start planning our Christmas gig, too!”
You’re just back from Primavera in Barcelona – what were the highlights of that? And how many other Scottish indie bands did you trip over? ;-)
“Yeah, we bumped into one or two faces from the scene!
“The highlight for me was seeing Slowdive – I didn’t manage to see them at all the first time round, so I was super-excited to see them, and they absolutely lived up to my expectations. Godspeed You Black Emperor were also reliably immense, and a band from Chile called Follakzoid were also great.
“Lots to, ahem, borrow from those three bands. We also managed to meet Kim Gordon, Mick Harvey and Warpaint, so it was pretty good fun.”
You can buy the E.P. here. And to help persuade you that you should here’s the video for ‘El Maresme':