Published on July 29th, 2013 | Jonny Abrams
So mesmerised were we by Tunng’s fifth album Turbines that we described it as an album of the year contender. This wasn’t hyperbole on our part, for subsequent ventures into its wondrous recesses have only consolidated this notion.
It’s rare for a group not to founder after the departure of its main voice – in this case Sam Genders, who released one of our favourite LPs of last year as Diagrams – but if anything Turbines represents Tunng’s finest work to date, the sweetly understated vocals of Mike Lindsay and Becky Jacobs dancing gracefully through a magical secret garden of fiery-bellied folk-pop and bouncy, crinkly electronics.
Rocksucker winged some questions over to Mike in that way we tend to do when we like a band and aren’t shy of letting them know about it…
Do you take pride in making music that reveals more and more of itself with repeated plays, and does it frustrate you when other bands don’t bother with detail?
Well, we always take care when making and producing our music that there are sounds and twists that take your mind slightly out of the actuality of where you are listening. This album is more subtle in that way but there really are many layers to each tune and I think they do start to pop out with repeat listens, even for me.
Once the album was released I put it on in my little old Jeep (great for getting out in the wilds as long as it doesn’t break down, which it does sometimes!). It was the first time I had really listened to it since we mixed it about three months beforehand.
I had it on repeat and I suddenly noticed things that I really had forgotten we put in, like a certain percussion take done outside, or little bits of granulated speech. So there are new discoveries even for us.
I think most bands and producers do bother with details, often more so than we do but not necessarily in the same way. We won’t spend hours on mic placements or even mic choices. I like to just grab whatever is around and find a good way of using it quickly so we can keep the flow. Often those are the takes that get used and the things we spend hours on, or they don’t end up working so we ditch them.
You’ve described Turbines as your “sci-fi folk rock album”. Is this something you set out to achieve, or did it just turn out that way?
We were really not sure what we set out to achieve other than a record that we all had full input on, and a record that we made all together in the same space as much as possible.
The sci-fi thing started to happen when we got to Benge’s studio in London and started playing with his magnificent collection of vintage synths and modular sequencers. At one point there were no guitars at all, just synths, which in retrospect would have put a great mix of the record…but then naturally other layers came in.
Also one of the working titles for this was Snake Plissken, because early versions reminded us of escape from New York!
How are the songwriting duties divided up within the band? Alternatively, what’s the usual starting point for a Tunng track?
Well the first two records were mainly written by Sam and I – he would take most of the lyrical duties and me the sonics – but over the next three albums the rest of the band got more involved in the studio.
Normally one by one they would come in and Phil would kind of exec produce, but for this album we all lived together and had equal opportunities to write. This can of course cause a little healthy conflict but that’s all part of the sound. Ashley took a lot of the lyrical duties on this record, as did Martin, Simon and I. Becky then would come and change them all! Hehe.
We started all in one room just playing together, which is something we have never really done (oddly) and then people would drift off into their own spaces: Marty in the piano room, Phil and I editing in the control room, somebody cooking, somebody sleeping and somebody writing lyrics. With regular drinking intervals.
What made you decide to get rid of the line “welcome to our smug village”?
Agh…I must have mentioned that line in another interview…maybe I shouldn’t have. Sorry, Ash.
Well, it was vetoed, firstly by Ash and then slowly the whole band. It’s probably for the best, although it made us laugh for a long time.
Why did you move to Iceland? Do you think the location bled into the sound of the record at all, and if so in what way?
I think it did, yes. Some of this record was recorded in Reykjavik and all mixed here. It’s a magical place, even in the rain and the snow. It’s certainly a cosy place for recording and I think that feel has definitely entered the sound.
But also the fact that I now live here meant that we all had to make an effort to get together to write and record, whereas before there was always the east London studio. These days we have all spread out a bit. By finding places where we could record and live together, we found a new feel for Tunng.
You all have quite a similar singing register/style. Do you work on achieving this unity, do you think the music demands it, or is it just coincidence?
Well, it’s a choice. If Becky had her way she would be more Aretha, Ash would be Tom Waits…and I would be Neil Diamond. We choose to understate instead, although that does sometimes go out the window on stage, depending on the pre-party. But yes it’s part of our sound that we are proud of.
Do you keep in touch with Sam at all? Do you like what he does as Diagrams?
Yes, we are all in touch with Sam. He’s one of the greats, both musically and in general human goodness. And I like the Diagrams record. I was so happy that he was writing again and I can’t wait for the next one!
Have you heard the new album from your forthcoming support act Pinkunoizu? It’s also great.
I’ve only heard snippets of the new one – I think its only just come out – but I really like the kinda Krautrock vibe it has, and I really admire what they have done in the past. I’m really looking forward to touring with them and perhaps doing something together maybe…maybe.
Is there any other new music from this year that you’ve particularly enjoyed?
Grúska Babúska on Static Caravan. Check ’em.
Mike Lindsay, thank you.
Turbines is out now on Full Time Hobby.
Tunng will play the following live dates in Europe and the UK across September and October:
27 Copenhagen, DK – Loppen
28 Hamburg, DE – Reeperbahn Festival
30 Berlin, DE – Festaal
1 Frankfurt, DE – Zoom
2 Munich, DE – Ampere
3 Zurich, CH – Viadukt – Bogen F
5 Amsterdam, NL – Bitterzoet
6 Brussels, BE – Botanique – Rotonde
7 Paris, FR – La Maroquinerie
8 London, UK – Heaven
11 Bristol, UK – Colston Hall
12 Kendal, UK – Brewery
13 Glasgow, UK – Broadcast
14 Birmingham, UK – Hare & Hounds
15 Manchester, UK – Band On The Wall
16 Reading, UK – South Street Arts
17 Bury St Edmonds, UK – The Apex
19 Hebden Bridge, UK – Trades Club
20 Liverpool, UK – East Village Arts Club
21 Brighton, UK – The Old Market