INTERVIEW: Profumo | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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It’s a month of firsts for new Sunderland-based record label Forgotten City, as they announce their first release – the debut EP from Tyneside quartet Profumo. The indie pop band release Brutalism on 7th July, a taster of which is on their Soundcloud now to whet your appetite. Breton Stripes owes as much to Orange Juice’s quirky edge as it does to Belle & Sebastian’s fey whimsy, with a jangly guitar, charming vocals, an upbeat catchy chorus and swirly guitar breakdowns.

Ahead of the release of the EP, I talked to frontman Jack Bates about working with Marc Bird of Yellow Creatures, making songs about cruelty fun, the band’s wide-ranging influences and plans for EP 2.

Tell us a bit about Brutalism; what are the inspirations behind the EP?

I guess the sort of big inspiration was to match the really good sort of EP-level stuff that other groups around here were putting out. Marc Bird of Yellow Creatures kindly offered to produce the EP – it was his first experience producing for another band as well as our first EP recording so there was a real spirit of trying to make a big impact from both parties. We were already big fans of the Creatures and Lunar Bells (Marc’s other band with Tom Hollingworth) and that whole “scene” so I think that maybe we were trying to impress him a little as well! We were quite enthusiastic to really take advantage of the studio rather than recreate a “live” sound so a lot of stuff on the EP is really the sound of us getting into the toybox really!

Why did you decide to record a six-track EP? It’s almost like a mini-album, not that I’m complaining at all!

Marc had just finished producing The Year of Everything and Nothing EP with his band and he sent us a preview copy when he offered to work with us – that record has six songs on it as well, so I think we probably just decided that was a decent number. I liked the idea of having slightly more time to create our own perverse sonic world and with two or three or four songs you maybe can only provide a fleeting snapshot kind of thing. We always seem to have something of a surplus of songs so six seemed like the best amount we could get down without overextending ourselves.

Why is the EP called Brutalism?

The name sort of came from two places. After we’d chosen the songs to put on the record I realised that lyrically it was almost like we’d written a concept record about cruelty (more fun than it sounds, I promise!) and so I liked the idea of using “Brutalism” to describe a way of life rather than a school of architecture. It’s also a reference to the music – a lot of Ben’s guitar playing on the record is going for a quite abrasive and harsh sound, especially on Bright Young Things and On the Waterbed. I remember that at one point during recording, Marc and I actually offered the stage direction that Ben should make his Fender sound like a brutalist building looks which is a bit artsy and abstract but possibly worked pretty well!

Listening to Brutalism, I get the impression that you’re inspired by a wider range of genres, not just indie. Who would you say have had the biggest impacts on you musically?

I’m really happy you mention that because that’s always something we’ve tried to get across; the four of us have a lot of stuff in common but we’ve also got some fairly wildly varying influences over different genres. I think we all really like the indie/art-rock/new-wave/whatever “canon” but there’s always been an overt intention to try and open our horizons past that which is why we use bits of sampling or voice manipulation or weird instrumentation like bouzoukis and stuff. I think maybe there’s a problem with a lot of guitar bands today whereby they become too deferential to the past; usually when someone says they’re going for a “timeless” sound it means they want their record to sound exactly like it was recorded in 1971. Obviously we take influences and elements from our forebears but we’re really keen to sound like a 2015 band and to take advantage of all the great stuff at our fingertips!

Personally, it’s really hard to say for myself who has had the biggest influences on me musically because I’m always getting obsessed with various artists and proclaiming that I’ve found the new greatest album I’ve ever heard and so on. I suppose in terms of lyricists I’m always attracted towards the “angry young man” dryness of Elvis Costello or Luke Haines or someone like that – anyone who can really weaponise their words will always appeal to me! In terms of influences on our “sound,” I would think I really like artists like Bowie or XTC who never stuck around on the same sound for too long; I think it’s way more fun to listen to an artist who’s sort of all over the place in that respect and it’s certainly more enjoyable to make it that way! We found a lot of influences came from hip hop and electronic stuff as opposed to guitar music though; obviously we don’t really sound like Yeezy but things like using sampling and plug-ins owes more to Mos Def than Morrissey! Closer to home, I know that myself and Michael especially were blown away when we first saw Acrobatic Society and Lunar Bells and they’ve always been a touchstone for just how exciting and intriguing local acts can be.

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“we don’t really sound like Yeezy but things like using sampling and plug-ins owes more to Mos Def than Morrissey!”

On songs like Breton Stripes and On The Waterbed, the guitars have this particular sound to them that makes me think of country music – was this an intentional feel?

This was definitely intentional, and I suppose it links in with the last question in terms of trying to bring various textures out of left-field onto the EP. Ben grew up in Allendale out in wildest West Northumberland and comes from a really musical family which means that there’s a really big sort of Americana/folk influence in some of his playing – it’s maybe a style that’s quite unfashionable at the moment (even Mumford and effing Sons have disavowed it!) so I think using it satisfies a contrarian impulse in us as well.

Some of the lyrics on the EP are oddly witty to me; how do you go about writing your songs and are some of the lyrics meant to be intentionally humorous? Or am I just weird?

Definitely there are lines where I’m making a pun or being sarcastic or whatever; I guess there’s “serious” stuff as well but I as a songwriter I could never pull off a completely straight-faced or super-dour song because it’s not really a reflection of how I am usually. If one’s trying to paint a realistic picture of these people and these situations then I think most of the time there are all sorts of feelings and what have you going on, so I try and throw in a bit of that messiness. In terms of how we write our songs, it’s a really collaborative effort other than the words. Usually someone will come in with a chord progression or a bassline and we’ll just jam out our individual parts around of it until everything sounds good and then I’ll try and be a Smart Alec over it.

Has anyone ever told you that you sounds a bit like a less nasally Brett Anderson?

Strangely enough I was showing someone Animal Nitrate the other week and they made that same comparison. I didn’t really see it at first but I guess it’s pretty cool, I like Suede. I think with both me and Brett a lot of it is the Bowie influence of not being a really technically proficient singer and getting forced into getting a lot of mileage out of throwing the voice around rather than just trying to belt out notes like Pavarotti (although to be fair if I could I probably would).

There’s something very comfortable and effortless about Brutalism as a whole when listening to it; is that a reflection of where you are as a band? Do you feel comfortable with what you’re doing right now?

It’s a very kind thing to say but I guess it’s quite funny that you use the word “effortless”; we came into the recording process as relative newcomers but were still holding ourselves to a very high standard which meant there was a quite a bit of trial and error and doing loads of takes and re-recording stuff until we were really happy with it. Occasionally recording was pretty arduous; for various reasons we had to record all the drums very, very early on Sunday mornings in the deep midwinter which was sometimes quite testing – once or twice it felt as if we were method-acting the Brutalism idea perhaps a little too much!

Having said that, most of the recording was really great. Marc’s an excellent producer who really “got” us and helped us get the sounds we had in our heads on to tape and I’d thoroughly recommend working with him to anyone. Through him we were also lucky enough to work with Paul Gardner (of Slow Decades and Yellow Creatures) who arranged and played keys on the record and Kate Edwards (of Agerskow) who provided some additional vocals and there was a real feeling of excitement as everything came together.

In terms of being comfortable as a band I think we’re all really proud of the EP but also really eager to start playing the stuff live and get working with Marco on the next one! Personally I think I’m probably the most excited that I’ve ever been in my whole life.

What do you have planned for after the launch of the single?

The EP comes out on Tuesday 7th July and after that we’ve got plans to play a couple of warm up gigs and do some radio sessions and then do a big launch in Newcastle shortly after that. We’ve also just mastered a fairly vicious new single which we’ll put out fairly shortly; after that, we’re currently demoing a load of stuff for EP2 which will hopefully top Brutalism!

Profumo release Brutalism EP on 7th July via Forgotten City Records.

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