Distortion and Happiness – Edinburgh School for the Deaf interview

Since they last appeared in Dundee back in March Edinburgh School for the Deaf have released their debut single ‘Orpheus Descending’ and their debut LP ‘New Youth Bible‘, both on Bubblegum Records. Ahead of their performance at Dexter’s on Thursday, Manic Pop Thrills finds out from Grant and Jamie from the band  what’s been going on.

MPT – What do you remember about the last Dundee show supporting Vic Godard?

J – A little. It was an honour to play with Vic, he just seems so at ease and able to command the room. It was good hearing those songs live too.

I thought we had a terrible gig, but then I always think that. It’s that sliver of Calvinism within most of us. The people that came to see us were really cool though, and very forthright in telling us that they had enjoyed it. It reminded me of an interview I had read with Kevin Shields where the interviewer had laid his cards on the table as a fan. He then went to describe in detail the best show he had ever seen My bloody Valentine play, he said it was the best gig of any band he had ever been to. Mr Shields ruminated for a while then said ” Yeah I remember that one, we were shite.”

G – Just how much I loved Andy and how the Candy Store Prophets are quite surely the great lost Scottish Band. How Vic didn’t disappoint and was pretty much the most gracious, sweetest hero that I’ve ever had the honour of meeting and how in heaven you will get love letters delivered by God’s own postie Vic!

I also recall a strange whaler bar in the middle of a shopping arcade with a stag head and the football on Al Jazeera and a teenager asking me for pills in the toilet.

MPT – The album’s out on Bubblegum Records. Tell us a little about how you ended up signing for them?

J – We played a show a while back in Perth, some people that had been fans of Saint Judes came along to see us. They hooked Gary, who runs Bubblegum Records, along. The stars aligned and we had a good gig, and maybe Gary had a few more glasses than he should have and, onomatopoeic explosion sound, we are on Bubblegum.

MPT – What sorts of things, musical and non-musical, inspired the songwriting and making of the record?

J – The record was done in three short bursts, 11 kinds, run with the hunted and lonely hearts were all recorded around Christmas, so there was an influence from Phil Spector, Motown, the Ramones – the colder it gets outside the warmer the music needs to be.

The rest of it was mixed and recorded during what qualifies for summer here and we were listening to Deerhunter and watching spiral, and Valhalla Rising, and eastbound and down, and I was reading “how the Beatles destroyed rock and roll”. We just tried to throw in as much as we wanted to hear, regardless if it ‘worked’ or not.

G – Noise was my biggest inspiration. . I had been sick and lying in a hospital bed I came to realise that the thing I wanted to do most, beside all the usual desperate human emotions of the comfort of loved ones etcetera, pah! etcertea… was to shake an unholy noise out an electric guitar. I spent all my time in a cramped hospital bed dreaming of a new little red bass guitar. It become totemic to me, with an almost religious fervour. I held that guitar up as the beacon that would lead me ashore to a beach of noise, saturated with distortion and happiness. I tried to keep that intensity, that devotion to the salvation of speaker hum and distorted, cracked sine wave, how noise can be almost transcendental, can be the needle that draws after it the thread of salvation.

Music wise I was listening to The Fall, Selda (Turkish freak-beat heroine – swoon! swoon!, that fuzz guitar), Queer Noises (1961-1978) – perhaps the greatest mix tape ever!, Arab on Radar, Spaceman 3 – for all the fucked up children of the world, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs (my dads favourites), The Cramps, Sammy, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Bo Diddley, Galaxie 500, more of the Fall, and Alex from the Young Spooks was really into Vietnamese and Cambodian garage music (I am internet music illiterate but it seems to have exhibited the one positive effect in that the young team have an amazing scope for great music !) Portuguese fado music and Russian revolutionary avant-guard – the Baku – symphony of sirens box set (which pisses all over the Harry Smith anthology of American folk music.)

Non-music: Running, drinking, Jean Genet and I was obsessed with Russia for four months and I’m really into East European football, especially Polish football and Wisla Krakow. I am also writing a biography of Russian Avant -Guarde dance pioneer Tolya Yashin. It’s called `From Grace to Disgrace, from Revolution to Revilement` Contemporary and Avant-Guard dance in Soviet Russia, 1974 -1977.` Tolya is pretty much the Chic Charnley of Avant-Guard ballet and he doesn’t even have one biography! Therefore I would love to honour the chap. It seems an insanely difficult task but in my darkest hours I ask myself if Mark E Smith can write a ballet…

MPT – Grant and Ashley also wrote a lot of songs for Saint Jude’s Infirmary – how does the ESFTD material differ from SJI?

J – I think we all contribute a little bit more, and by that I meant we all slovenly pull in completely different directions until we can get to a point that we are all happy with.

G –  The song writing in St. Judes was Ashley and I in hock and thrall to the great song-writing teams of pop. We imagined that we could by force of our teenage despair and ambition, conjure into being some new and greater Scottish enlightenment of Brill Building pop! With ESFTD everything is looser and more cooperative. We are a team. We are a little terrorist cell and everyone has a mission and everyone has a purpose and alone we are nothing and together we are dynamite!…or at least Semtex!

MPT – You’re already playing a number of new songs live that aren’t on the record. Why?

J – We just kept writing after the record was finished, it’s like an addiction. When we first started playing live we tried to do one new song every gig, it didn’t always end well, but it was exciting for us to do. We have less of that now, but we always try and change things – cut, chop, and edit to keep us on our toes. It’s different to painting or writing in that you are giving what amounts to a facsimile of what is already nailed down, so with that in mind you can push and prod it in different directions. Not to sound too obtuse though, mostly we just play it louder, faster and little bit more ramshackle.

G – The total and utter self-immolation of the music industry means that there is no point in a band of our size and music even trying to be successful within terms of the previous dogma. I don’t want to be in a band if I feel I have to kow-tow to some schematic marketing doctrine of playing the same old set to sell the album. I love the album. It sells itself, it doesn’t disappoint but at the same time I want new songs that make me panic when I take the stage. I want that awful, butterfly in your stomach moment when you reach down towards the fret board with drunken, swollen fingers and panic! .

MPT – The single to precede the album ‘Orpheus Descending’ was a download only release but you didn’t put it on the album! What’s going to happen to the song? Will it feature on a future release?

J – Orpheus is part of the Bubblegum Records ‘for singles only’, which is limited to 200 downloads. It also includes a poster as part of the download. I think Gary wants to inject some cache and excitement into buying singles again.

G – Yes. The squadron never dies. ‘Orpheus’ will feature on a future release, albeit in a re-recorded, remixed, redrafted, re-dux, refracted version. It feels like a little lost child at the moment. We want to usher it into the shelter of an album – even as a secret wee track at the end. We love Kieran our guitarist and it reminds us of him, we don’t want it to spin off towards that blank ether of the internet.

MPT – Given the new songs you’re playing live now, does the record already feel a little like ancient history?

J – My defacto answer is, sorta. It feels a little strange to hear some of the songs now; they are things we would have done differently, but that is true for most things. I like it as it serves as a postcard from that period – I can hear how excited and stupid and gung ho we were about everything.

G – Yes. It is strange because it feels like a completely different band – which is good as the next album wont just be a bad xerox of this but something different! The album was recorded as a testament to the birth pangs of the band and while it may sometimes sounds a little incoherent and discordant, it brims with the joy of blindly striving forth towards the light. I’m a big fan of first albums in general. Everything after that is compromise and neglect (apart from us- the second album will be deadly : ) )

Most of the songs staggered in the studio just after they were messily conceived so didn’t have time to be polished or edited. The album essays the panic of a band playing new songs that they are not entirely sure of, that they are not at all confident on. I think you can sense the tension. It was recorded live so you get that `Oh sweet Lord, I’m getting to the last bar of this, it’s the 25th take, please, please oh, please don’t let me goon this up…` mixed with the bravado of getting to record loud! Oh, we got to record so loud and we got to drink beer in the studio. It was exactly how my idiot 12 year old younger self imagined a rock and roll album would be made. Beer, sandwiches, A big whirling reel of tape, trying to make things sound as loud as possible. For that we doff our caps to Green Door in Glasgow. They even hooked up a white noise generator – the kind of thing that is used to test the sonic integrity of new office tower blocks!

MPT –  What’s been the reaction to the LP? Any interest from radio?

Reaction has been really positive, although we did get called “a disgrace” after one of our Glasgow shows – which was great 🙂

MPT – What are you doing to support the record in terms of touring?

J – We just had our album launch in Edinburgh which went really well, it was even too busy for us to do our usual mental routine. We’re playing this gig in Dundee and we have gigs in Birmingham and London, and we will be getting a Glasgow launch. Then some more shows in August.

MPT –  What would the perfect ESFTD gig be like?

G – It would be inside a giant bottle of Debowa Vodka. You are all invited bring your trunks and tankinis!

Well, we can’t promise any giant bottles of Debowa Vodka nor (hopefully) trunks or tankinis on Thursday but we can promise another incendiary set from Edinburgh School for the Deaf. And if their last outing was them off form then Thursday could be absolutely spectacular.

Edinburgh School for the Deaf play Dexter’s in Dundee on Thursday 30th June with support from Man Without Machines, Hookers for Jesus  and the Shithawks. You can get tickets for the show in advance either online here or in Groucho’s and in the process save yourselves a few pennies. Cos they’ll cost a fiver on the night. Doors at 7:30 pm.

And here’s an indication of what to expect from Edinburgh School for the Deaf, a couple more of their tunes as performed at the Grassmarket festival back in May.