Interview: School of Language
Published on January 30th, 2014 | Jonny Abrams
We were excited when news of new School of Language album Old Fears arrived at our inbox the other day – in part because we love the first LP Sea from Shore, but moreover because School of Language is the brainchild of David Brewis of Field Music, whose Plumb was the very best of the 300-odd albums we listened to in 2012.
Brewis proved a generous interviewee when we spoke to him back then, and he was kind enough to do us the honours once again during some rare time off from the studio…
What are you busy in the studio with?
Tons of things! As well as rehearsing the School of Language band and all of the sampling and synthesising that goes with that, we’re on the way to finishing three different records.
One is a recording of the film score we were commissioned to write for a live performance at Berwick Film Festival last September. It’s for a 1929 documentary about North Sea herring fleets by John Grierson which we did as a part-improvised thing with the original three-piece line-up of Field Music.
We’re also recording a collaboration which Peter did with Paul Smith for a one-off performance last June. They set some of Paul’s travel writings to music and Peter arranged it for a 9-piece band including string quartet, double bass and vibraphone.
And the other big project which is drawing to a close is an album we’ve been helping to record for our old pal Ian Black, who played bass in the Measure-era FM band. It’s pretty eclectic and wildly overambitious so we’ve just been there pressing record and trying to figure out how to translate Ian’s wild ideas to a record.
Is there any significance to the absence of Field Music’s name on the album this time (ie. just School of Language rather than School of Language & Field Music)? How much of the instrumentation and production did you handle yourself?
At the moment, I just think of School of Language as a way to bracket anything I do on my own rather than in collaboration with Peter. In principle I don’t think either of us would have a problem with doing a Field Music album where one of us wrote all of the songs but this record seemed too solo and too personal to do it like that.
Other than the saxophone flourish at the end, the music has been very much a one-man production. Peter helped at the end, listening to mixes and giving me a bit of perspective which tends to be in short supply when you’ve been holed away for a couple of months.
Is there another The Week That Was album in the offing?
Peter’s got a lot of music which he’ll hopefully do something with soon. I’d be surprised if it was a Week That Was album – that was always intended to be the name of the record rather than the name of a band or a pseudonym.
Who is “Moment of Doubt” addressed to?
To me. Most of the record is addressed to me!
I saw you the night of your Mercury appearance and you said you were knackered from all the touring, promo and whatnot. Have you managed to have a good rest since then, Eleanor Friedberger tour notwithstanding?
I’ve had a working rest. Last year was musically my busiest year ever. As well as the projects above that are coming to a close, I also did a one-off improv gig with Bernard Butler, Jackie McKeown and Warm Digits, toured with Eleanor’s band, recorded Ross Millard’s new band Rivals, finished a record for our friend Pea Sea and did a few gigs for that too, helped record a few little things for the next Hyde and Beast album and did music for a literary prize event and a young poet’s radio show and film too.
If I go back a little bit further, straight after the Mercurys we also did some recording for Maximo Park’s new album. It’s been busy. But good.
How did the Friedberger thing come about, anyway? Have you met her brother and Fiery Furnaces bandmate Matthew? He’s one of the best interviewees we’ve had.
I’d met Matthew previously. When I signed to Thrill Jockey to release the first School of Language record in the US, the Fiery Furnaces had just released Widow City. We met properly when he came across from Paris to do a session for Marc Riley and my wife and I went down to Salford to watch. I ended up being roped in to play guitar on the session!
The link-up with Eleanor was also Marc’s doing. I think she was wondering about coming over to the UK and having a band here rather than having the expense of bringing her US band over, which would probably have made touring unfeasible – though I also think she just likes to change things around to keep it interesting.
She asked Marc if he had any recommendations and he suggested me. I’m a fan so at the point, for me, it was just a question of how to make it work, musically and logistically. I’m even more of a fan now – she was genuinely quite inspirational to work with – so quick and willing to try things and willing to drop things too if they weren’t working – I think that’s quite an underrated skill.
Apparently Al Kooper named Field Music as his favourite new band. Did you know about this?
I did. We’ve met Al a couple of times too. He’s been incredibly kind. To be complimented by someone who’s done so much is really gratifying. I think he sees us as carrying on some of the things he liked about XTC. He’s voracious when it comes to new music – a genuine music fan.
Has a new Field Music LP been discussed, or is it on hiatus?
I’m sure it’ll happen eventually but there’s a lot going on so it doesn’t feel like there’s any rush.
Finally, do you have any favourite albums or songs from last year?
My favourite record released last year is definitely Eleanor’s record. I really enjoyed Mac Demarco’s second album and I’m quite excited for his new one. The other new record I’ve listened to most is Impossible Spaces by Sandro Perri, but that one came out in 2011. I think it’s worth mentioning though as it’s astounding.
David Brewis, thank you.
Old Fears will be out April 6th on Memphis Industries.
You can buy Old Fears on iTunes.