Friday, 28 August 2009
The Big Pink Interview
When The Jesus And Mary Chain first started recording demos in 1984, comparisons to The Ramones resulted in them adopting the feedback that would eventually come to define their sound. William Reid, one sibling half of the original line-up, said: “That’s why we started using noise and feedback. We want to make records that sound different.”
These days any band seeking distinction would be ill-advised to assume the same tactic – noisy records are everywhere, swinging back into vogue as the past is endlessly rehashed in search of something new. But what Jesus And Mary Chain did was take something simple – Beach Boys pop and Ramones punk – and confound it with fuzz. No one would listen – in the early days the band had to sneak into venues and pretend to be the support act to get gigs. Then they moved to London and got signed to Alan McGee’s Creation Records on the strength of a sound check. A few months later, one NME writer declared them the best band in the world.
In the words of Willy Wonka – strike that. Reverse it. Take a duo – Milo Cordell and Robbie Furze – who met at an underground rave and discovered a shared love of feedback – straight up white noise – and launched a record label called Hatechannel to release digital hardcore records that were, in their own words “really very aggressive”. (The clue’s in the name.) There was already an eponymous label, Digital Hardcore Recordings (DHR), at that time “but we wanted to go one better,” Milo explains. “Hatechannel is supposed to be more offensive and aggressive than Digital Hardcore. We wanted to be the loudest.”
Somewhere, in these ambitious, arcane, a-melodic origins, The Big Pink was born.
Neither Robbie nor Milo, two Jesus And Mary Chain obsessives, are new to the music industry, and it shows. Milo’s the founder of Merok records, a label that has signed bands who could barely play an instrument before their first gig and then went on to become huge: Klaxons and Crystal Castles among them. He’s well-spoken and clearly business minded, traits inherited, perhaps, from his father, Denny Cordell, the producer responsible for Procul Harem’s ‘Whiter Shade Of Pale’. Milo’s brother, Tarka, famed for flings with Kate Moss and Liv Tyler, was found hanged in his house last year on the eve of his own album release.
Robbie, meanwhile, comes from less conspicuous origins. They both claim to be in their late-twenties but Robbie’s weathered features tell a different story (though the babyfaced girlfriend he brings along to the interview suggests he’s not lost his charm just yet). He’s done his time touring every squat in Europe with hardcore bands, most notably as the guitarist for the founder of the aforementioned DHR, digital pioneer Alec Empire, and also with his own hardcore outing Panic DHH. No, Robbie’s no stranger to the notion of noise. But pop – the kind of scuzzed out, hook-laden pop that The Big Pink purport – is a new direction for him.
“When we first started we didn’t have any manifesto, really. We didn’t know what The Big Pink was going to be,” says Robbie. “It was something that we just did at home – twenty minute soundscapes of pure noise. At that point we were like ‘ah, man, we want to sound like the digital Velvet Underground.’”
“And then,” Milo interjects, “we added beats.” It isn’t just beats that make The Big Pink what they are today, although the fact that their music belongs on the dance floor as much as in bedrooms is undoubtedly part of their appeal. Where The Jesus And Mary Chain needed that feedback, The Big Pink needed the very opposite: melodies.
“The thing with the stuff that we were doing before is that there was no song structure,” Robbie explains. “We’d have seven or eight minute songs and we’d go off into six minutes of white noise. To try and do and three and a half minute song is a lot harder, but it’s more fun, it’s more interesting. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up humming a noise track. A good melody is everything about music.”
Melody is everything? Coming from two men obsessed with amp fuzz? “With the record label I signed loads of pop music,” justifies Milo. “Alec Empire writes pop songs as well. It’s just pop music hidden behind distortion. Other people decide that it’s pop music, not us. I want people to decide for themselves what it is.”
And people will. With their debut, A Brief History Of Love, now out on 4AD, six months after NME gave them the Philip Hall Radar Award for best new act, there’s a lot to be decided in the coming months. Top of the list will be whether they can shake off the scenester tag that’s dogged them ever since a drug-fuelled interview with Vice man Andy Cappa and a few homoerotic photos preceded the mainstream release of any of their music.
“All this other bullshit’s so boring to be honest,” Robbie says of the media interest in their social lives. “I think we’ve made a really great record, whether we take drugs or party is irrelevant.”
“We write really good songs. Of course it’s the songs,” says a slightly paranoid-looking Milo when asked why people are so interested in this band. He’s right in some respects. There’s substance here – there’s a label man and seasoned musician, there’s obsession for music, and there’s the time spent distilling noise into songs. They’ve got plenty of ambition. But like Jesus And Mary Chain before them, who struggled in the early days to shake off the hype and get people to actually listen to the music, there’s still a lot to prove.