2014 seems to be the year that Scottish indie discovered crowd funding.
First out of the blocks were Edinburgh’s The Last Battle followed in rapid succession by both Meursault and Wozniak – all of whom have featured on these pages before.
And all of whom were looking to crowd funding for different reasons. Meursault were looking to fund a trip to the States for SXSW via a specially recorded LP and Wozniak simply to cover the recording costs of their new EP. But the Last Battle took a more interesting route – to pay for promotion for their already recorded second LP.
The Last Battle’s approach seemed both interesting and proactive. And combined with a promo copy of the new record, ‘Lay Your Burden Down’, it prompted me to get in touch with Scott Longmuir, the band’s singer/songwriter to discuss both the crowd funding and the new record.
But it was really that notion of funding promotion that intrigued me and we started talking about that aspect of the record. It was clear that the experience the band gained with their debut album ’Heart Of The Land, Soul of the Sea’ was obviously an important factor in how Scott approached record #2.
“We made a lot of mistakes with the first album. It was a great learning process, but we were too insular with it; we produced and mixed it ourselves and I did the album artwork, and we had no one else involved in it bar Ed Jupp whose label 17 Seconds released it.
“It was recorded on the fly in our bassist’s front room, using shitty equipment. It wasn’t properly mastered or anything, it was a real D.I.Y effort.
“This time we had Keith Murphy work on recording it tirelessly, Reuben Taylor master it and Gillian Anderson from Glicious-foto do all the album photography, not to mention all the people who helped fund the whole thing on crowd funding website Indiegogo.”
Circumstances ensured that funding wasn’t needed for studio costs.
“The actual recording process didn’t cost us anything except for petrol money back and forward to Wallyford where Keith Murphy’s studio was. He was super generous and let us do it for free, although the down side was we were limited to when we could get in, because Keith is a high school music teacher by day and a father of two at night. So it took a lot of organising to get in there. That’s mainly why it took so long to finish, but I’m grateful that Keith gave us so much of his time.”
With the recording taken care of, Scott instead started thinking about what else could benefit the finished album.
“The main problem we faced was not having a label to put it out this time around. Last time, Ed at 17 Seconds Records paid for the pressing of the record, but since then he’s stopped running the label, so we knew that was going to be the next hurdle.
“We approached a handful of labels but they had too much on their plates so we were faced with putting it out ourselves. We knew we needed at least £2,000 to successfully get the album pressed and promoted and out there, so we turned to crowd funding. Initially we were all sceptical about it, but it really took off and we hit about 60% of the target we were after.
“Of course I don’t think we can promote the album as well as a label who have way more contacts and experience than us, but the main things we were aiming to be able to pay for were promo copies of the album for sending out to press and radio, and physical copies to sell online and at shows, and we’ve managed that. We did hope to have enough to pay for PR, but it looks like we may have to do that ourselves!”
These days, no matter how good a band’s work is, it will unquestionably be released into a very competitive market and, perhaps more than ever, getting attention for a record is essential for a band to fulfil their potential.
“I think we can get it noticed a lot more than the first album. That’s not to say that Ed didn’t get it good exposure, but I just think we’ve been far more organised in sending promos out for reviews and to radio this time around. I hope it gets good word of mouth, and it would be nice for it to get in a few end of year polls! I think if we get some really good reviews to start with then it shouldn’t be too hard to get the album noticed, then after that it’s up to us to go and play the arse out of it!”
One of the challenges that any indie band faces in devising a credible crowd funding initiative is to settle on the extras – the options which potentially may pull in a few significant contributions. The pained way that Scott related the band’s struggles with this aspect only confirmed that this isn’t easy.
“Yeah, it was really difficult, because you don’t want to come across like absolute wankers, but ultimately you probably will to somebody, so you kind of have to stop worrying about that aspect of it.
“We looked at other bands and what they were offering, and some of the things were ridiculous for the size of band they were. I felt a bit wanky offering signed CD’s, but we actually do get quite a few folk asking us to sign our first album – and no, not people we know – so I came to terms with that, and once quite a lot of people opted for it I felt more comfortable.”
The band, however, discovered that making a mistake in assessing the potential popularity of one or more options could create other headaches!
“I thought no one would go for the ‘write you a song’ option, so we made 10 places for it totally believing maybe one person would pay for their own song and then they all went really quickly! Which I’m now fretting over as I’ve got to go write and record an album’s worth of songs in the next few weeks!
“I think the pricing was the hardest thing to do. We put up the guitar I wrote the first album with, which has lots of illustrations that I did, for £200. I’d seen other bands charge crazy amounts for a similar thing, so didn’t think that was too unreasonable, but it wasn’t until we lowered the price that someone from San Francisco of all places bought it. It’ll probably cost more than they paid to post it out to them!!
“Other than that I think we thought out every option really thoroughly though, and I think the only option no one got on board with was the ‘album playback party’ which would have basically involved meeting us in the backroom of a pub and getting drunk with the album on full blast and eating as much crisps as you could handle. I think to some people it’s a bit daunting going somewhere to meet 5 people that you don’t really know but they all know each other, so in hindsight that was maybe a bad idea.”
Inevitably slightly more far out suggestions were made during the process, but Scott reckoned that a line had to be drawn somewhere!
“The discussion of offering dinner with the two single males in the band – Liam & Craig – came up, which I think was probably started by themselves. That was quickly vetoed! We’re a band not a dating site!!”
Moving on to the actual music, there’s no doubt that ‘Burden’ is a worthy follow up to the excellent ‘Heart of the Land, Soul of the Sea’. That first LP was almost totally acoustic (and in that respect, a little out of MPT’s comfort zone). But the sheer quality of the songwriting and melodies on the record won me over.
The Last Battle Mark I
But, as anyone who has seen the band live in the last few months can testify, the Last Battle are a somewhat different proposition, in person at least, as Scott readily acknowledges:
“I think the new album massively differs from the first one in many ways. Circumstances were different during the making of this one compared to the last, and let’s not forget, the line up of the band has completely changed; myself and drummer Liam are the only two original members!
“I knew we couldn’t make another quiet acoustic album. ‘Heart Of The Land’ was a reaction to me playing electric guitar in a post punk band for too long – I desperately wanted to go back to simple songs with simple chords.
“I think the new album in turn is a reaction to that; whilst it’s no loud blaring rock album, it’s certainly a lot louder than ‘Heart Of The Land’.
“For ‘Burden’ things were going great then about half way through both Paul and Arwen left which put a stop to proceedings for about 6 months until we found new band members. But when Craig and Caroline got on board everything clicked.
“I also wanted this album to sound like a live band. I wanted a set of songs that would make for a great gig in a sweaty basement. As much as I love ‘Heart Of The Land’, a lot of the songs are slow and rather quiet, which can be great in small doses, but I think for my own sanity and to keep myself interested I needed to write more up beat stuff and get Liam to bang his drums that little bit louder.”
If the new record musically takes the Last Battle in a new direction, then Scott admits that the lyrics are a departure too.
“I think ‘Burden’ is a more personal record than ‘Heart’. I definitely hid behind a lot of metaphors in my lyrics on that album, whereas this time I made a conscious decision to try and be more open, even if it did upset some people close to me.”
“Personally, I think ‘Lay Your Burden Down’ is a better album, and I think it’s a great snap shot of where the band are just now. We plan on making another one as soon as we can, as this one took way longer than I wanted it too, so don’t be surprised if there’s another one in 12 months time!”
With plans laid for the album’s release, Scott has ambitious plans for its associated live shows.
“We’re planning on two album launches – one in Glasgow, one in Edinburgh early May. We’ve spent a while looking at people we’d love to have on the bill and so far we’ve got the openers confirmed for both nights which are both completely different artists.
“The second on the bill acts we’re waiting on confirmation – they’re way, way bigger than us and I actually questioned if I had the gall to ask them but I did. I guess time will tell when we announce the gigs and you see the names and go “how did they do it?” That we’ll have pulled it off, and if not, then we got told to beat it.
“We got King Creosote to support us once which I thought was the cheekiest thing we’ve ever done. I mean he made us look totally shit, but everyone had a great time in the process, but the people we’ve asked this time I think is a little over ambitious, but the signs are looking good – we got a positive response: it wasn’t a ‘no’ anyway!”
MPT doesn’t know where, when or who but we do know that you won’t have long to wait because the shows are scheduled to be announced at the end of this week.
Finally, when asked if he had anything to add, Scott was clearly still bowled over at the support that the band had received through Indiegogo.
“Just a big ‘Thank You’ to all those who got involved with the Indiegogo campaign!”.
‘Lay Your Burden Down’ is officially released on 5th May but you can pre-order both the CD and digital versions of the album now from the Last Battle Bandcamp.