A feature for The Skinny…
Late of the Pier’s introduction to the mainstream in September was likely to have caused one of two reactions. Either ‘rush out and buy the album’ excitement (if you’re under 21, easily swayed by hype and still possess an open mind) or dismissal along the lines of ‘not another bunch of Klaxons clones’ (if you’re over 21, averse to hype and bullishly cynical).
That’s because the introduction came courtesy of an NME cover, which pictured the youthful Leicestershire band in the midst of a messy tribute to Jackson Pollock (sound familiar?), above a strapline that shouted: “What new rave did next”. But, dear readers (of all ages), please try to forget that image for now. After all, it had nothing to do with the band, according to bassist Andrew “Faley” Faley: “You don’t get any say with the NME. They use and abuse you, but at the end of the day they can do a lot of good, even if they’re using you. The new rave tagline was something that was bound to happen with them and there was nothing we could really do about it.”
Well, they could have said ‘no thanks’, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, because Late of the Pier have conceived one of the most imaginative, ambitious debut albums of the year so far. Fantasy Black Channel is a glorious mess; an unrestrained, unclassifiable, unexpectedly triumphant romp through blaring influences and genres, from the 70s camp rock of Queen and Bowie to the primitive electronics of Gary Numan, with echoes of 90s computer games and snatches of modern house.
As such, it isn’t particularly coherent – the tracks jostle for attention rather than recline together easily – but it’s a statement of huge musical intent from such an inexperienced band. So just how did it happen? “Em… accidents,” Faley sheepishly answers. “None of us have ever really had any training. I think Sam had drum lessons for two hours once. I used to play piano a bit but I was never really passionate about it. But apart from that none of us have done anything. Sam just sat in his room from the age of 12 making music and he slowly learnt his craft that way, and with the instruments it’s just been a case of teaching ourselves. It’s always about trying something new. The music’s just a big array of everything, literally everything. In music pretty much everything’s been done at some point but for us, since we didn’t live through those eras, there’s still something new and magical and fresh. It’s reusing old ideas with newer influences. It’s just accidents a lot of the time.”
The band weren’t just relying on their own sponge-like musical tastes and sheer chance though; they also had the input of Erol Alkan, the much-feted London DJ turned record producer. Alkan came to one of their gigs and promptly declared them “not just the most exciting new band out there at the moment, but THE most exciting band around.”
The flattery obviously seduced the band, because Faley reveals that they’re already working on a new EP with Alkan for a January release: “We’re taking bedroom recordings into the studio and refining it and tweaking it with Erol, turning it into a more presentable package. I think we’ll be working with him for a long time.”
Why another release so soon after the album? “We’ve just got a lot of ideas,” Faley says. “Most of the album was old songs that we were getting sick of, so we’ve been waiting to work on new songs. And there is that second album syndrome when a band comes out so exciting and the second album comes out a year and a half later and there’s just not the same excitement. We’re still excited about what we’re doing at the moment so hopefully other people will be.” And with an evident habit of naming their music in cryptic, wordy fashion, have they got any title ideas yet? “No, but I’m sure I could think of 20 bad ones though. We’re really bad at names – really, really bad at it, and so we end up just picking one at random or just picking one up. Even the band name just fell together because there wasn’t anything else that sounded that good. It does have a reference but it doesn’t really make any sense. One idea we had for the album was Peggy Patch and her Sequenced Dress.”
OK, so it’s probably best that they don’t make all their ideas public. With half the music-loving nation still grimacing at the unfortunate new rave reference, dodgy album-naming could be the equivalent of career suicide for Late of the Pier. All that remains to be said is this: just listen to the music.
Fantasy Black Channel is out now.