Interview: The Boy Least Likely To
Published on April 23rd, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
Purveyors of liquid sunshine and all-round good eggs The Boy Least Likely To return this week with their third album The Great Perhaps, which sees their beaming signature sound granted a fresh lick of paint by the seamless integration of cuddly synthesisers. Rocksucker caught up with singer/lyricist Jof Owen – one half of the operation alongside multi-instrumentalist Pete Hobbs – for a chat that took in Don Quixote, Winnie the Pooh and a cat with a balance problem…
What brought on all the synths, and who played them?
Pete played everything on the record, basically, apart from some drums. It’s just the direction we thought we’d go in; we’ve done banjos and glockenspiels before, and it felt like synths suited the themes of the album because there’s something quite cold and spacey about it.
What inspired the title The Great Perhaps?
It’s a famous saying by the writer François Rabelais, supposedly his last words. He said he was going off to seek “The Great Perhaps”. I don’t know what he meant exactly, The Great Unknown I guess, but I liked the idea of it. Everyone chooses a path through life that they take so there’s always another one that you didn’t take. There are a lot of ideas about that on the album, and there’s the song “Michael Collins” which is of course about space, The Great Unknown.
“It Could Have Been Me” springs immediately to mind as tallying with what you’ve just said.
Yeah, exactly. Despite all the things you’ve done, there are so many other things you could have done: that sort of thing. The Great Perhaps!
What is “Taking Windmills for Giants” all about?
It’s like the bit in Don Quixote where he thinks the windmills in the distance are giants so he attacks them. It’s that idea of having a false enemy, things that you build up to be something that they aren’t; it’s the idea of outgrowing all these little ideas and problems that you have in your head, all those things that you thought were so important but they turn out not to be.
To my ears, part of the melody of “I Keep Falling in Love With You Again” mimics the theme tune to Disney’s animated series The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and it just so happens that you’re a fan of said fictional bear (you’ve even referred to yourselves in the past as “the Winnie the Pooh of indie pop”). Have I caught you red-handed or is this merely a coincidence?
I only know the books so Pete’s definitely to blame for that (laughs). I’ll have to have a word with him! Maybe he’s been sat at home watching a bit too much Winnie the Pooh.
Whereas it’s generally quite easy not to notice the lyrics of songs without the aid of intense focus, this has never been a problem on The Boy Least Likely To records, where they tend to be clearly enunciated and prominent in the mix. Is this something you work on, or does it just come naturally?
Yeah, we keep them quite high [in the mix]. I didn’t notice this until the other day when someone said exactly that, that they’re always quite clear, but then I’ve never written lyrics that were too weird or obscure as I’ve always wanted us to be a band that people identify with and understand. Those are the sort of lyrics that I’ve always liked.
It’s like lyrics in country songs: you can always understand them, there isn’t a sort of great poetry hiding the meaning or anything. I suppose it’s true that there are some bands whose lyrics can be hard to make out; like Manic Street Preachers, for example, where you need the lyric sheet to know what they’re singing about.
You must be thrilled by the response your Pledge drive for the album had; at the time of writing it’s reached 165% of its goal!
Yeah, that was nice. They asked us last August if we’d like to be involved, and it had been three years since we’d done a record so we thought it would be good to do something that brought everyone back together. Fans can disappear so it was good to have a few months to get them back and get them interested again. It felt like a nice way to do it, as opposed to just putting an album out and hoping that people remember who you are.
We’ve got such a great fan base and it was nice to read stories that people emailed in about the part that we’ve played in their lives. It’ll be good to make some money from the record as well!
What’s the split in your fan base between American fans and British fans? Pitchfork have championed you from the beginning so presumably you have a decent following on the other side of the pond…
Yeah, it’s always been easier for us over there. I don’t know why; they seem to understand what we’re trying to do, and maybe the English-ness of it appeals to them. It’s probably about a 75/25% split in favour of America. We’re just a much bigger deal out there! (Laughs)
One of the Pledge options is to have a song written about you. Have you had many takers for that so far?
Yeah, I think they all went so we’ve had to write all of those. Some people don’t know about them yet because there are a couple that have been bought for other people; one of them is a song for someone’s marriage proposal, so that’s been quite fun.
Exactly, it’s a big moment: if she says no then it could have been down to our bad songwriting! They’ve all been so different: there’s been one for a cat with a balance problem, one for someone’s daughter, none of them are the same. It’s a weird collection of songs and they’ve been fun to write, because I’d never have written songs about the things I’ve been writing about: all the different people’s stories, the things they’ve done, the places they’ve gone…
It would be nice to put them all out together as an album but it would just be such a weird record! “Why did they write about this? Who are these people?” It’s been really fun to do, though.
Did you say “a cat with a balance problem”? Presumably not money-related?
Yeah, a cat that keeps falling over. I think it’s got some sort of problem with its spine or something. When they sent me that, I thought it sounded like something I’d write about anyway! It’s quite a specific one so there are so many words and images you get to play with, and it’s nice to write without having it in mind that there needs to be some level of universal understanding of what I’m writing about.
You can’t be too weird: this is about that cat, so you can be pretty weird. I don’t know if the cat knows about the song, though (laughs).
Will you be playing at any festivals this summer?
Nah, I don’t think we’re doing any sorts of shows. At the moment we’re just putting this record and we haven’t really thought about the live thing. We’ve always enjoyed the studio side of things and we’re doing videos, some animations and stuff, just getting involved in that. We haven’t really thought about doing festivals.
We might end up doing something if something comes forward but at the moment we haven’t planned to do anything live, which is a bit odd, I suppose. Being over here, it feels like we’d need to have America in mind if we were going to do something, so in a way making music and videos services our fan base more than touring around England or whatever. There are some really nice festivals, though, so if they ask then we’d be up for a nice day out!
What music have you been enjoying in 2013 so far? Or is there anything you’re particularly looking forward to that hasn’t come out yet?
I really like the Adam Green & Binki Shapiro record, been playing that a lot over the last month, and I thought the last Kate Nash record was a fun sort of pop music take on riot grrrl and punk; that’s something that hadn’t really been done before. The new Camera Obscura record coming out is pretty exciting, and the new Leisure Society one sounds pretty nice.
There’s a lot of great music out there at the moment; it feels like so many bands have come back with good records this year. Last year was pretty quiet but this year’s been really good. I’ve also been listening to a lot of older stuff, a lot of country and other stuff.
Finally, if you had to spend the rest of your days in solitary confinement with the entire works of just five different artists, musical or otherwise, whose would you choose?
I’d take Kenickie because they’re my favourites; I like that they wrote very upbeat stuff but with sad, reflective lyrics. It suits all moods, you know? I’d probably also take Dexys, the Manics, Tammy Wynette and George Jones.
Jof Owen, thank you.