I hope it’s not the end. It’s probably the dramatic bit about two thirds of the way through… it used to be a lot more dispersed, there were so many people involved with us. Now it’s just us four and a few key people, we’ve found a new way to forge ahead.
I’ve just been smuggled through to the veiled backstage area of Warwick Arts Centre to find Turin Brakes’ vocalist Olly Knights sitting across from me. The band’s early work has been placed in the ‘New Acoustic Movement’ of the early 2000’s, alongside peers such as Elbow, Starsailor and Kings of Convenience. Publicity photos from the period show Knights adorned in leather and a Kurt Cobain cut, gazing with intensity across a restless shore. “There were a lot of ideas and needs attached to us. We were supposed to kick the chart music out and finally bring ‘real’ music back’’. He now presents a figure of remarkable normalcy, with hair suited for a tepid family wedding and the clothes of your friendly suburban neighbour. As he speaks over the din of his bandmates’ pre-show tinkering, there is a certain satisfied quietude about his demeanour. “We’ve finally grown up and sussed out how to present this thing; we’ve worked out who we are”.
Later, he sings the refrain “I am the future boy”, stood before an ethereal backdrop reminiscent of Saturn’s rings. “We wrote this all the way back when we were 16”. As they enter the song’s bridge, he strides over to fellow founding member Gale Paridjanian. Flanked by drummer Rob Allum and bassist Eddie Myer, they watch each other’s fingers move in time over the neck. The backbeat is strong, the bass exuberant and the guitar parts woven together harmoniously. Backstage, Knights reveals that for their new album ‘Lost Property’, all the members of the band were involved in the creative process, with the result recorded directly to analogue tape – something evident in the fluidity of the performance. Each instrument makes use of ample room to breathe, while holding together continuity with startling competency. This is a band used to exploring musical terrain as a group rather than scrambling together a performance once the creative journey has happened.
It was like being strapped to the front of a missile. We went from being kids to being in this fucking band and being… everywhere all of a sudden.
For Knights, the creative journey is coupled with the passage of life: “I always think of myself as a kind of experimental human. Its about where my psyche is at now, I try not to get in the way of it.” The performance departs from their very first effort ‘The Optimist’, and encroaches on the present via apt selections throughout their back catalogue. Paridjanian dotingly introduces “the song which is the closest we’ve come to an indie disco classic,” before launching into 2003’s ‘Painkiller’ – the band’s hallmark track. They reminisce of those times as “like being strapped to the front of a missile. We went from being kids to being in this fucking band and being… everywhere all of a sudden.” I concur by telling him about a childhood memory of me dancing in the garden to the song crackling through a car radio. Contained within it is the confusion and excitement of the times. The lyrics present a whirlwind of sexual, sedative escape atop an alluring acoustic groove. They perform the song now with a stoic lightness interrupted by bouts of deliberate energy, as if to bury the bewilderment of youth once and for all.
Much of the rest of the performance was filled with their new material, exuding a markedly different mood. “Recently Kiefer Sutherland rang us up and asked to have one of our songs in the background of a scene in which the White House gets destroyed. Make of that what you will!”, so declares the charismatic Eddie Myer before a performance of ‘Save You’, an anthemic ballad drenched in hopeful melancholy. The song lays clear the band’s intention to “this time around go more for the jugular, be more obvious and paint in broader brush strokes”. Indeed, gone is the rarefied background noise and convoluted guitar interplay. In its place is more emphatic production, cleaner instrumental parts and bold melodic refrains. It is an approach that permeates ‘Lost Property’ from the tenacious hook of ‘96’ though to the playful chorus of ‘Keep Me Around’. It is as though the band have been let in from the cold and had their essence amplified into a more lucid and audacious form.
We survived, and now we’re in this strong place where we’re totally in control and know why we’re doing it, because we love it, and that’s it.
Before I leave Knights to join his bandmates, he tells me a story about them being flown to Los Angeles by EMI at the height of their fame in search of a second single. Within 48 hours they were shepherded straight to the studio from the airport, recorded a single which was in pieces on arrival, filmed an accompanying video “for the price of a small flat in Brighton”, and played a sold out gig at the Troubadour. “We didn’t know why it was happening and we didn’t stop to breathe…then we became very unfashionable and wondered what we would do with our lives. But we survived, and now we’re in this strong place where we’re totally in control and know why we’re doing it, because we love it, and that’s it”. I can’t help but think that as an outfit they at last have firm grip their own sound and direction they always wanted. Who cares if EMI is looking the other way?
By James Hicks