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

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If most bands went through the trials and tribulations that Baker Island have experienced over the past few years, they probably would have split up a long time ago. Originally the solo project of frontman Sean Dodds, his determination in the face of numerous line-up changes has meant they’re finally about to release Bobby Hundreds, an LP filled with gloriously fuzzy wonky-pop tunes.

First though, there was the matter of getting the band together. “I just didn’t want to do it by myself anymore,” Sean explained when asked why he wanted to transform Baker Island into a full band. A series of unfortunate events that would make Lemony Snicket’s problems pale in comparison (wine-loving drummers, “controversial” bassists, motorhome malfunctions…) followed this decision, eventually – and I really mean eventually – leading to keyboardist Chris, guitarist Kev, bassist Cathy and drummer Matt joining the band on a permanent basis. But they still had the mountainous task of putting the album together from two years of recordings. “I think in total there were about thirty songs to choose from,” Sean says.

It might not have taken as long as Chinese Democracy to produce, but Bobby Hundreds is still an amazing achievement for a group that have only really begun to settle down even if, as Sean puts it, some of the songs are a bit “random”. On the surface, it’s a record that sounds like the fuzzy love child of Pavement and Pixies, with Belle & Sebastian as an older sibling. Often bombastic and deliberately messy (in the best possible way), the record veers between the upbeat, catchy synth lines of single Spanish Trails to the tights riffs of Spine Walker and the pacey rush of drums, melodic bass and vocal hooks on Well That Sounds Fun, all underpinned by Sean’s often witty song writing.

“it’s a record that sounds like the fuzzy love child of Pavement and Pixies, with Belle & Sebastian as an older sibling”

If Bobby Hundreds sounds like your typical alt. pop record on the surface, repeated listens reveal a deep undercurrent of musical complexity. Not that Sean really likes that term, mind. “I’m quite, well, not anti-rock but anti that things have to be challenging,” he says. “It’s quite easy to make something sound complex. It’s not a big deal, just put some things together, change the time signature and there you go.”

Loose is perhaps a better word to describe the idiosyncratic nature of some of Baker Island’s songs. Sean picks the languid Sea Coal As A Metaphor, which utilises a number of synth motifs alongside its consistently changing drum patterns and improvisational guitar picking, as an example of their laid-back approach to song construction. “It literally has no structure, it’s just chords made up on the go. I could not play that song again unless I wrote all of the chords down and played them as I was looking at the sheet.” Kev singles out Well That Sounds Fun as a particularly challenging number: “We can’t seem to nail it live. There’s too much going on. It doesn’t sound like it should do.”

As occasionally frustrating as it is for them, that’s the beauty of Baker Island: their sometimes improvisational, often wonderfully unstructured sound feels effortless on record. They sound more like a band enjoying themselves than straining to be something they’re not, and that’s a wondrous achievement for a band that never gave up, no matter how much was thrown at them.

Baker Island release Bobby Hundreds on 3rd August. They play The Cluny 2, Newcastle on Friday 21st August.

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