Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Before their set at SXSW, I had the opportunity with J. Willgoose, Esq. and Wrigglesworth at SXSW. We discussed the latest full-length album, The Race for Space, Carl Sagan quotes, tea, and Spinal Tap moments.
You recently released the full length album The Race for Space just about a month ago. It seems like there is a lot of physical space between the instrumentation throughout the tracks, was this an intentional strategy to make the listener feel a sense of spaciousness?
Willgoose: Yeah, there are some tracks where we definitely did still throw the kitchen sink in but I kind of feel like our first album was quite full on. There was really only one breather in it. The final song was a bit slower. We wanted it to be a bit more grown up, I suppose, in a number of ways. Having a bit of restraint was part of that. If anything, there's a bit more room for thought, I suppose. A bit more room for personal interpretation rather than just being hit by tons of sound.
Since you're so well versed in sampling, I'd like to assume that maybe you've been inspired by Delia Derbyshire. How would you say she's shaped your sound, if she has at all?
Willgoose: The Radiophonic Workshop, they're one of those kind of things that's like Kraftwerk. I don't think you could be not influenced by it if you're in any way doing any kind of electronic music. I think maybe we've kind of heard the stuff that's been filtered down from that from the generations after that and then when you go back and listen to the original originals you're like 'Oh yeah, that's where it came from.' That kind of happened with a lot of Krautrock stuff as well like Neu! and stuff like that whereas we maybe got ours from the next generation passed down.
My next question... well first I want to read this Carl Sagan quote and then the questions are based on that.
Willgoose: Wow, going really deep here.
I know, this is really deep for an alleyway discussion. Okay, so the quote is: 'We are a way for the universe to know itself, some part of our being knows that this is where we came from. We long to return and we can because the cosmos is within us, because we're made of star-stuff.' So my question to you is what kind of implications do you think being made of star-stuff has for people, if you think there are any?
Willgoose: That's tough. I think it's the kind of thing a lot of people don't like to think about because it tends to lead you down a kind of almost literal sort of black hole of 'why? what is the point of everything?' That's an existential crisis. I think it is amazing, the fact that we're all here on this weird planet. It's weird. It's ridiculous. If you're not religious, like I'm not, and I don't think he is, trying to come up with a reason or an understanding or a system of living that makes any kind of sense here is... yeah, it's weird. Trying not to think about it too much.
Going off that, do you think creating this album was a way for you to connect with the cosmos?
Willgoose: That sounds a little bit too... floral, maybe, for my taste. It's an attempt; you can't help, when you're working with this material, contemplate, at least your place in the universe, which is the smallest possible size you can make between your thumb and forefinger.
Wrigglesworth: Might be smaller than that.
Willgoose: It helps you have a sort of sense of humility when you're writing music. Not getting kind of carried away in your own ego and how amazing this music is that you're writing. It's going to be tough with that stuff anyway, I suppose. It reminds you of the tininess of everything. Or it should, sometimes you do get distracted by minutiae, that's life I guess.
In your guest column for Q Magazine you described how you used to be really opposed to concept albums and now you've opened up to the idea a bit. Now that the floodgates are opened are there any concept albums you're revisiting or you find yourself enjoying?
Willgoose: Not really. The thrust of that article was trying to explain that maybe I had been listening to conceptual albums all along without really realizing it. I think a lot of musicians get very sensitive about it if you'd said to an artist that it was a concept album, they'd kind of throw it back at you and say 'Don't say that' because then they're going to get tired of some idiots self-indulgence like 70s Rush or something.’ I can understand not wanting to be associated with that. The overblown seventies stuff is still not really my style. If it's conceptual it's more like the kind of PJ Harvey style thing; that was an amazing album. That's how to do it properly if you're going to do it.
I noticed you were going to be playing a lot of festivals this year, yet it seems like your ideal shows are indoors in perhaps dark venues so you can relay the images on the screen. Do you find it difficult to maintain that same sort of atmosphere when you're at a big outdoor festival?
Wrigglesworth: Well, it does make a slight difference, especially if you're on mid-day. Then it's sort of impossible to do the same show. That is always a slight issue, we're tending to hopefully start getting later sets in the day, anyway. I do like big tent gigs as opposed to a big stage outdoor.
Willgoose: What you do end up losing visually you gain in the attitude of the crowd at festivals. They're always the best crowds because they're there to have fun. That really helps because if they don't like it they'll just walk away, they won't just sort of stand there and spread negative energy through the crowd. They'll just leave. So you just get the fun people left and have a bit of a dance. In fact, sometimes the visual stuff distracts people from having a bit of a dance because you just zone out, so it can go the other way. We've done shows without visuals. Sometimes you get a bit more movement from the crowd, they focus a bit more on the music.
A give and take, then.
Willgoose: The cosmic balance of the universe.
Nice, bringing it back full circle. What are some things you're listening to while you're traveling between states in your tour van?
Wrigglesworth: We haven't had any.
Willgoose: We don't do communal listening much, do we?
Wrigglesworth: It's just because the sound system in the van isn't great. It gets a bit annoying.
Willgoose: Occasionally someone will put a compilation CD but we don't sit there, singing along to stuff, really. Well, sometimes we have a little sing along. What's the one you always sing? Daniel Bedingfield.
Wrigglesworth: Daniel Bedingfield. That's a classic.
Willgoose: Every now and then, it starts spontaneously. So that, really. That's the one.
I read that tea is a very essential part of the touring and production process.
Willgoose: There's a schism down there because I do most of the writing and the finishing up of things which tends to be a quite a lonely process. That is definitely 100% fueled by tea, but when we're on the road there's a line. He prefers coffee, I prefer tea. It gets quite ugly.
Wrigglesworth: I prefer a real drink. He's more of a--
Willgoose: He's more of an effete metropolitan coffee drinking modern man, shall we say. Whereas I'm more of a rugged outdoorsy adventurous... some might say macho.
Are there any essential teas in the songwriting process?
Willgoose: I'll tell you the nonessential: Twinings: don't bother. PG Tips: double bag it if you have to. Lipton: leave it in the packet, awful. Is this libelous? These are my personal opinions, if you like them that's perfectly acceptable.
Wrigglesworth: Other products are available.
Willgoose: I think that they're all awful. Yorkshire tea is good. I keep trying to get an endorsement. Desperately trying to get them to put our name on it. They do it for some bands, they put their name on a bag of tea.
Wrigglesworth: Our name is too long, it won't fit on.
Willgoose: They did it for The Horrors, they did it for some other bands. We keep asking and they keep saying 'You can buy our teas at these shops.'
One last question. You both have seen This Is Spinal Tap, right?
Willgoose: He hadn't seen it until last summer!
Wrigglesworth: We watched communally in the van.
Willgoose: I had to make him watch it.
I think it's an essential thing if you're an artist.
Willgoose: You need the frame of reference, you know. If you're walking around back stage and just shout 'Hello Cleveland' nobody knows what you're talking about if they've not seen it.
True. My question is, in all your touring experience what have been some of your most This Is Spinal Tap experiences?
Wrigglesworth: Have you seen our show?
Willgoose: Some of our sound checks get kind of close to that jazz odyssey. We used to really annoy our previous sound man. I don't know why he left us, but I used to really annoy him by just fucking around on the guitars. By the end of the tour it would just be pure nonsense, he would get really annoyed and just walked off.
Wrigglesworth: I've also got lost a couple of times backstage, that's never fun.
Willgoose: You never exploded.
Wrigglesworth: Not yet.
Willgoose: We also haven't got a bass guitarist and a double-necked bass guitar.
Wrigglesworth: You do have a lot of guitars though, you could hold two at once.
Willgoose: To be fair, we built our own version of Sputnik which sort of rises up on an eight foot rise, that's not here tonight. That's getting a little Stonehenge though. We don't have a little tiny man to come dance around it yet.
Wrigglesworth: Maybe we could ask our tour manager to do the dancing [laughs].
Willgoose: It's actually, instead of being smaller than scale, it's bigger than scale. This is very interesting, Sputnik was only 58 centimeter in diameter, ours is 1.2 meters.
Wrigglesworth: You should turn your recorder off now. He’s just going to go off on a rant.
Willgoose: So really, we're like Spinal Tap plus eleven.
Wrigglesworth: Nice. Very nice.
Willgoose: Thank you!
For more information on Public Service Broadcasting: