Penny Black Music [Es]: Interview
Based in Cardiff, 60’s indebted indie-pop band The School have been around for over 8 years and are releasing their third album, ‘Wasting Away and Wondering’, at the beginning of September. They are currently in the middle of a clutch of summer festival appearances and headline shows.
Their driving force, singer-songwriter Liz Hunt, found time to bring Pennyblackmusic up to speed on the new record, band influences and the current indie pop scene.
PB: You’ve got an ace third LP, ‘Wasting Away and Wondering’, coming out soon. It’s probably your most complete. Are you pleased with it?
LH: Wow, thank you! Yes, we’re very pleased. This album seems like a continuation of the second album, ‘Reading Too Much into Things like Everything’, but slightly more settled as a band.
There was quite a transition after ‘Loveless Unbeliever’, our debut where we started exploring more influences and arrangements, but this really feels like we’ve taken that a step further. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
PB: You have retained a very 60’s sound and lyrical styles across all three albums. What are your influences both old and new?
LH: I adore 60’s music and I don't think I have the ability to write lyrics in another way. It just doesn't feel right.
I saw Burt Bacharach last week and cried through the entire set, I hadn't appreciated just how much his whole career meant to me. I love anything Wilson, Spector, Brill Building, Shangri-Las, singers like Francoise, Dusty and Serge, anything on comps like 'Girls in the Garage', 'One Kiss Can Lead To Another', ‘Nuggets‘…The Left Banke, Love, The Byrds, The Beatles, Roy Orbison…
Growing up in the 1980s/90s in a musical household I absorbed so much pop like Blondie, Bowie, Ramones, Duran Duran, Queen, anything on ‘Top of the Pops’ really. Then Britpop/indie in my teens, and now more indie pop/noise pop and music from other countries.
Bands like Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Aislers Set and Saturday Looks Good To Me have a huge influence on our sound. When I was writing this album I was listening to Go Sailor and Talulah Gosh/Heavenly a lot. Maybe that sneaks out in songs like 'Every Day' and 'I Will See You Soon'.
We all go to lots of gigs and three of us are promoters, so we're always listening to new music and finding new influences. I love the recent Alvvays album, Hospitality, Houndstooth, La Luz and lots of Burger Records bands like Aquadolls and Shannon & The Clams. That Summer Twins self-titled album is just flawless. It's a real favourite of mine.
PB: Most of your songs are about love and relationships, I presume you have a vivid imagination and not all are autobiographical?
LH: Actually most are pretty autobiographical in some way! But starting with a small idea then it normally goes off in another direction. It might just be one line or a hint. Or paranoia.
I called this album 'Wasting Away and Wondering' because lots of the songs touched on those life-changing situations that we all find ourselves in at some stage – maybe it's a job or going to university, leaving home, starting a relationship or deciding to come out of one. We all get these moments and I think they should be celebrated. It's so unpredictable and you get really weird feelings of fear and butterflies in your stomach.
PB: You played at the first ‘proper’ Indietracks in 2007 and you are back there again this year. Have you got anything special lined up, such as a cover version?
LH: Ahh Indietracks 2007, so young – it was one of our first gigs! We covered ‘Tonight You Belong to Me’ for that one then The Zombies ‘I Want Her She Wants Me’ on the train. We’ve covered so many songs (Jonathan Richman, Shangri-Las, Left Banke, Of Montreal, Irma Thomas), I think this is the first year we won’t be playing a cover. We’re going to do a few songs from the new album. It’s an even mix of all three releases.
PB: Who are you looking forward to seeing at Indietracks this year?
LH: I've never seen Cinerama and they're on after us. It'll be great to see The Go! Team again and The Pains of Being Pure At Heart, also Mammoth Penguins, Colleen Green, Desperate Journalist, Pete Astor, so many more! Laura K and Chorusgirl were great at Indiefjord last weekend too.
PB: I have been to a number of indie pop festivals over the last few years (Indietracks being the most extensive) and was amazed just how many like-minded people there are out there, many of whom travel around Europe to attend. Do you have an affinity to the current indie pop scene and any bands in particular?
LH: Yes, I love the dedication to these events and how far people travel for them. It’s such a supportive scene, lots of shared band members, collaborations, helping each other out and putting on shows. It does feel like part of something special and I don’t see it ever dying out. I’ll still be knee deep when I’m super old.
PB: Your line-up has been fairly constant with seven or eight members. Is it difficult rehearsing for gigs and finding time to get everyone together to record?
LH: Very! Four of us are self-employed. We all have various commitments and one lives in London so it’s tricky. But I’m a terrifyingly organised person most of the time so it just takes a bit of forward-planning.
PB: I was fortunate enough to see you support the Primitives in Manchester a few years back and you all seemed to be having a really good time on stage. Is the live arena where you feel most at home, or do you prefer the songwriting and recording aspect of being in the group?
LH: Live is where we’re more of a group, I write the songs and when we record it’s only a few people at a time, so being part of that finished product on stage with all of us is the best feeling.
PB: You do some PR work for Elefant Records. Are there any bands you’ve come across that are yet to break, who you would recommend we look out for?
LH: Lia Pamina is a beautiful singer from Spain stuck in the 60s. She’s released a 7” so far (including a 13th Floor Elevators cover), I’d love to write a song for her. Alpaca Sports are releasing an album soon, I have such high hopes for them; they’ve got something really special.
PB: On the cover of the new album you are looking through crates of vinyl – are you an avid collector and where do you stand on the vinyl versus CD versus download debate?
LH: That's at Kelly's Records in Cardiff Market! I buy on vinyl whenever possible, but am happy to buy CDs too. I download a lot of singles then will buy the album if I really like them. Thinking as a band, we try to make our music as widely available as possible. It's something Elefant believes in strongly and seems to pay off. It's really important if a band can do it, but if they can't I'll buy whatever format they have. I don't have a tape player though. If I'm at a show I'll try to buy vinyl from the band because in most cases that's where they'll make the most money, T-shirts too.
PB: Finally what is your favourite ever record?
LH: I don't have a favourite album as I'd rather have twenty favourites that I keep going back to, I feel lots are perfect Iike Camera Obscura 'Let's Get Out of This Country',Sonic Youth 'Goo', Ash '1977', Weezer 'Blue', the Phil Spector Christmas Album, but I wouldn't pin anything down as top, or restrict a band to a single release. Most of the time my favourite song is The Ronettes’ 'Be My Baby', of course..
PB: Thank you.
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