Thursday, July 03, 2008

Archive Interview #3 - The Sky At Night

This interview dates back to June 2005 and was the culmination of email correspondence between myself and Glasgow band The Sky At Night.

Hailing from Glasgow, The Sky At Night create lovely, woozy, dreamy, elegaic sounds, reminiscent of the likes of Galaxie 500, early Spiritualized and Sigur Ros. Determined to do things for themselves and on their terms, their self-made and produced, self-released "Hope For Dummies" LP is a gorgeous slice of melancholia and a shining example of how a DIY ethic can bear fruit if it's properly thought out and followed through. Answering the questions, put by myself and John Mackie via email, was vocalist/piano player David Thomson.

The LP was self-made and self-released. What made you decide to go down that route? Was it a concious decision to make it a nice package (as it were!), to take a bit more care with it and give the people who bought it something a bit more special?

DT - I think we wanted to make something quite personal that we`d been intimately involved with at every stage, from pressing play and record to handmaking the packaging, putting the Velcro on the sleeve and sticking the CD in. It wasn`t really in our minds to try and sell them or anything, it was more just for the satisfaction of creating the whole thing ourselves.

It honestly doesn’t show but I would guess the LP was recorded on a fairly tight budget. There are some really nice lush sounds on there. Were you able to take a bit of time and experiment or did you do most of the tracks live in the studio? Also how important to you is “the recording process” in general?

DT - I think the budget consisted of a couple of bottles of wine and a curry. Myself, Andrew and Moira spent a weekend huddled around a 16-track in Andrew's front room and recorded most of it, then added bits and bobs later. There are a lot of flaws on there, things we could have re-recorded ad nauseum but we did want to keep things as much as we`d played it originally rather than iron out the imperfections. I think that helped retain a certain sound to the record which I quite like. That, and shitloads of reverb, of course.

Are you going to continue to put your own records out, or will any future releases appear on a label somewhere? Obviously, putting your own records out gives you more freedom to do your own thing, but what do you see the advantages and disadvantages are of doing so?

DT - It`s looking like we might be getting some help with the record from a small label in the next few months (there are only so many cardboard sleeves we can make!) - although as nothing's certain we can`t really comment at the minute. However, having done things entirely ourselves it`s certainly proved that things can be done on a certain scale without a label, I don`t see us as being one of those bands who pin all their hopes and dreams on winning The Deal, as so many new bands still do.

Following on, listening to the LP and seeing you live, I think the music you play lends itself well to the addition of the extra instrumentation (pedal steel, trombone etc), was it always your intention to not be as rigid in your sound and be able to bring more things into the mix?

DT - At the moment we`re kind of building a "squad" to play the songs - everyone who`s joined in has added something, and, we`re always open to adding different sounds, we`re not afraid to experiment. I quite like the Lambchop approach, where they seem to have a big group of players to add to the songs and who basically seem to turn up when they can make it - nothing too formal, just a bunch of friends making nice-sounding music. We try to avoid having a set idea of how things should sound, which keeps it interesting for us, and, hopefully, for people who watch us.

I see you’re not of the opinion that “home taping is killing music” and that you’re pretty relaxed about people sharing your music (e.g. if I were to convert the tracks from your LP into MP3 files and send them to a friend on MSN Messenger). Have the likes of file sharing and general word-of-mouth about your LP helped you get it heard a lot more than it might have been? (a consequence being that people will want to buy it anyway so they can own it)

I think file sharing really ups the ante for bands. The bands that don`t put in the effort are the ones with something to fear - those who churn out albums or who tack some lame album tracks onto a hit single will be found out and will lose out. By converse, those who put in a lot of work, both in creating music and in everything else that goes with it - it's more important to give something that can`t be downloaded, be it a look or a feel, just something extra.

Basically, for bands who want to make money, file-sharing is a Bad Thing, but for bands who want their music to be heard it is a Good Thing, and I`m pretty certain we're the latter.

You have to be applauded for sticking to your guns through the booming heavy metal coming from upstairs when you played with Damon and Naomi. It provided a unique challenge which you rose to very well. How easy or otherwise do you find it, as a “quiet band”, to play when there is a lot of background noise going on either through crowd chatter or metal?

DT - Ach, I`m normally in such a blind panic onstage that I don`t notice anything! I think I find chatter more irritating as an audience member than as a band member, but I`d say we`d been pretty lucky, we generally have played to pretty polite audiences, but you have to understand at this level not everyone is necessarily there to see you, there's nothing worse than a band in a strop.

The incident at Barfly where you were put on against heavy metal from upstairs made me think about the quality of venues which exist in Glasgow and Edinburgh Do you feel there are enough decent places to play, particularly for new-ish bands? Also, situations can arise which make it hard for some bands to get a shot at playing decent gigs such as where promoters put on the same band in every support slot going! How easy do you find it to get gigs, either support slots or on your own? Have you ever put on your own shows?

Again, it comes back to effort. We've never had a problem playing a gig when we want to play a gig, either through promoters or venues or by organising our own shows, but as a wee band you can`t just wait for things to happen, because they never will. So, for example, we wanted to play a Christmas gig, so we roped in some pals (Lucky Luke, Evan J Crichton and The Savings and Loan), hired out Stereo, put up some lights and handed out a wee CD in a Christmas card, and it made for a really nice night, and it really wasn`t that much work- just a wee bit of get up and go. All you need to do is switch off your TV set and do something less boring instead...

As mentioned above, you recently played with D&N. Who would be on your dream list of bands to play or even tour with? These could be bands from the worlds of both reality and fantasy!

DT - Cripes…off the top of my head:

To play with: Red House Painters.

To tour with: Pavement.

My dad played drums with a band of young hopefuls in the 60s, so my fantasy line-up would be with them, to see who's band was best (I`m quietly confident)

Lastly, I’m guessing Patrick Moore hasn’t been in touch about the name! I take it his right-wing maniac political views may bar him from having the opportunity to add some virtuoso xylophone sounds to any future recordings?!

DT - We were, of course, unaware of Mr Moore`s political orientation when we named the band, although, in fairness, in terms of crinkly-foreheaded-TV-bigots he still ranks some way behind Kilroy and Big Ron, so that's at least something.

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