Gerard at Stereo, Glasgow last weekend
I’ll confess up front that I’ve spent most of the month listening to the Blue Aeroplanes. Some of the older stuff, a fair bit of the live albums but mostly the new album ‘Welcome, Stranger!’ which is a strong contender for album of the year. Already.
Consequently, I was looking forward to last weekend’s Scottish dates with a huge amount of anticipation. But I ended up getting slightly more than I’d expected from the weekend after an attempt to interview the Aeroplanes main man Gerard Langley by email didn’t come to fruition. Instead, thanks to the good offices of Aeroplanes’ bass player Chris Sharp, I was fortunate to fit in a quick chat with Gerard ahead of the Glasgow show.
To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more under-prepared going into an interview as I was feeling almost technophobic about the prospect of recording the interview solely on my new phone. Fortunately, the technical side turned out fine whilst Gerard not only gave interesting answers to my idiot interviewer questions but even occasionally answered better questions than I’d actually put!
With a band like the Aeroplanes an obvious starting place was the reasons behind their longevity. Their perseverance in the face of the demands of ordinary life, setbacks in relation to labels and multiple changes in personnel is nothing short of remarkable but, for Gerard, the motivation for continuing is very plain and simple.
“Why not? (laughs)
“Let’s put it this way. No one really asked Mississippi John Hurt that question in the 60s – no-one asked BB King why he was carrying on.
“It’s only because, I suppose pop music was originally identified as youth music but it isn’t now.
“So why would you stop if you think you’ve got something to say and if you think what you do is as good or better than most people doing it?
“And also that question started being asked by a lot of journalists, particularly 15 or 20 years ago, who had no intention of stopping themselves. They just wanted the bands to stop!”
I don’t feel beholden to our past.
Conversely the turnover in musicians (48 individuals have been or are members of the Blue Aeroplanes at the last count) hasn’t proven to be much of a hindrance. Rather it seems to have been the, um, jet fuel that has kept their engines running over the years as Gerard explained.
“After the split of my first band, one of the guys who was mostly responsible for the music left. It took me a while to realise I wasn’t going to rely on anybody so I worked out a way of doing things with other people.
“So, if I get really good musicians who are sympathetic to it, they either get it or they don’t. If they don’t get it, it doesn’t matter how good they are – they’re never going to get it. But if they get it, it’s relatively easy to do.”
That working method is also what Gerard credits with the fact that, regardless of the changes in personnel, the Blue Aeroplanes end up sounding like the Blue Aeroplanes even as they move in new directions.
Most recent recruits Bec Jevons and Mike Youé have written the bulk of the new album with Gerard yet joined the band with little knowledge of the band’s existing catalogue.
“Someone like Bec, when we first started jamming, would just come out with stuff, riffs she had around or riffs that Mike had around. I would say, play a bit more of that and we were shaping it all together.
“Then they came round my house and I played them some older Aeroplanes stuff. Bec said ‘This sounds like what we’re doing’! She’d never heard it! Yet it was quite in keeping with what we were already doing.”
‘Welcome, Stranger!’ seemed to be in development for quite a while as recording was talked about even when the band did the short Singles tour at the tail end of 2013. For Gerard there’s one over-riding priority when making a new record.
“If we’re going to do an album, we need material that’s really good then we need to record it properly.
“To record it properly is quite hard because you got to go to a really good studio with really good equipment and we stayed in a residential place that has food and all that sort of stuff.
“But we haven’t got the money to do it for like 3 months like major labels do. So we could do it but we had to rehearse the hell out of it and basically record live, do two or three takes and pick the best one.
“Then it’s a question of organising stuff, doing the overdubs and working on it until it’s right. If things aren’t right then you work on them until they are.
“Then, you’ve got to come up with a good enough title and a good enough cover idea. And the graphics have got to be good enough.
“Once you’ve got something you want to be really good, you’ve got to make every bit of it really good. That’s not easy to do, but you work at it.”
Whilst the band have only released three full studio albums in the last 20 years, it’s the new material that interests Gerard the most. This has been demonstrated most dramatically on the current tour with the band performing every song from ‘Welcome, Stranger!’ That’s clearly important to Gerard.
“As I keep pointing out at the gigs, it’s not a nostalgia exercise.
“I don’t feel beholden to our past. We’ve got some good songs but, in a way, we might as well be doing cover versions like ‘Breaking In My Heart’ when we’re doing ‘What It Is’.
“It’s not (a cover), because I wrote it and we play it really well, but the meat of it is the new stuff.
“It’s not like, in this set, something like ‘Jacket Hangs’ comes over as being way better than something like ‘Dead Tree’ does it? Because it isn’t. We can always play ‘Jacket Hangs’ that’s great, everyone really likes it. But now it’s just another song in the set.”
I could see us just doing new stuff.
Although it’s taken nearly 5 years for ‘Welcome, Stranger!’ to follow previous album ‘Anti-Gravity’ it seems that there won’t be a similar wait for the next Blue Aeroplanes studio album as Gerard explained.
“We actually did 16 tracks in the sessions for this album. But some of them were good songs we didn’t quite nail in the recording because you don’t get a 100% strike rate.
“But we’ve got pretty much half to two thirds of the next album there. If we can write a few more things, I’m aiming to try to get another album out this year. I say try because you’ve got to go for quality, right? But that’s what we’re going to be doing when we get back.”
Further Aeroplanes live activity will likely follow on from that record but when it does Gerard will be taking an almost Wire-like approach to these shows.
“If we get the stuff then, yeah, I’d like to be back in all these places in November.
“With this album and if we do another album then the old stuff could come down to three songs. (Laughs) I could see us just doing new stuff. Some people would be disappointed but a lot of people won’t.”
Gerard is always quite playful when requests are shouted from the floor during shows but he’d better be prepared to handle more such shouts in future. A lot more!
Anyhow. The singer has seen a lot change in the music business over the duration of the Aeroplanes’ career. From the days of an influential music press and national radio shows the music scene has become far more fragmented.
It’s something that Gerard acknowledges but he still sees opportunities for bands.
“There’s different ways of doing things now. There’s word of mouth and there’s internet stuff. Now most of those internet things, like your own, don’t have a huge audience compared to compared to the NME or Melody Maker had but you have an audience and if you add them all up that’s the theory of the long tail.
“It’s an economic theory which is that all the coverage is given to the top two per cent of things but if you add up the 98% it actually sells more than the top two per cent. So all told, if you can get as much as possible, the potential from the other end of things, you’re building up a quite a lot of stuff.”
Whilst the Aeroplanes have done a good job in getting ‘Welcome, Stranger!’ out there, unusually for a rock musician Gerard doesn’t seem to have a lot of interest in any form of commercial success.
“I don’t really care! I don’t sit at home or sit in a café or get an idea on a bus to think ‘ooh I could sell x amount of records out of this, I should write something’.
“We just write a riff and play it because we like it. Then we put a good cover on it because we like having a good cover. And then we take it out to anyone that wants to book us and we play some gigs. We’ll play a really good gig to people who want to hear us.
“And then what happens, happens. And then it sells or it doesn’t – I don’t care. (laughs) We don’t do it for that.”
Gerard might not care whether or not people pick up on the new record but MPT unequivocally thinks you should. You won’t be disappointed.
The Blue Aeroplanes still have some dates left on their January UK tour:
Sat 21st Jan London, O2 Academy Islington
Wed 25th Jan Oxford, The Cellar – SOLD OUT
Thu 26th Jan Sheffield, Leadmill
Fri 27th Jan Norwich, Arts Centre
Sat 28th Jan Brighton, Patterns
Sun 29th Jan Exeter, Phoenix Arts Centre
The new album ‘Welcome, Stranger!’ is available at the shows or from the band’s Pledge Music site.
And here’s the album’s second video:
Previously on MPT
Live review of the recent Edinburgh and Glasgow shows.
MPT Review of ‘Welcome, Stranger!’
Live review of Glasgow show on the 2013 Singles tour.