Interview: The Soap Company
Published on February 18th, 2014 | Jonny Abrams
We don’t often dole out the full five-quail treatment on these pages, so to do so in January – for The Soap Company’s fourth LP I Keep Dreaming About You – came as quite the pleasant surprise.
Well, it wasn’t all that surprising – we’ve been a fan of The Soap Company’s for a while now, so much so that this is our third interview with group leader Tony SoapCo. It’s also perhaps the most thrillingly righteous and laugh-out-loud funny to date, which believe us is high praise indeed.
Ladies and gentlemen, we bring you our latest exchange with a man truly at the top of his considerable game…
You’ve intimated that I Keep Dreaming About You will be the last Soap Company album. Is this still the case, and if so are there any other musical projects on the horizon?
I remember this type of ‘threat’ before (laughs), this time is a little different though. This may be our last interview ever so I’d love to say just ‘YES’ & ‘NO’, but I think I’m going to go off on one.
Basically, the cash ran out for recording, then our radio show went kaputt after a dumb bunch of red tape – and just before that, our four year DJ residency was cut because the club thought a football table would be more entertaining for the crowd than us. Who knows? (laughs)
They’re now shut completely (whistles idly). Strangely, all of this happened within a 15 day time frame, it was like someone was trying to tell us something (laughs).
I admit we’re shamefully unambitious, but we’ve been writing and recording every week for nearly ten years without a break and that’s been a massive commitment, so it seemed a natural point to either go and get jobs as a night watchmen on the Isle Of Lewis, or at least take a breather and take stock and see if inspiration comes back naturally.
I’ve seen births and marriages in the line up over this time (laughs), I was even in the studio on 9/11 not knowing what apocalyptic carnage I’d emerge into daylight to (laughs).
It’s been a killer to get press, radio this time round too. Rocksucker have made our day by being so kind to us, especially the five-quail review, that’s better than being knighted (laughs) but really, the whole business side generally sucks ass and we’d much rather be in the studio working.
All of this “to be successful, you have to be a marketer, accountant etc” is fine if you’ve got a stable line-up and people in the ranks who are trained, but I’m not sure if everyone working on our tracks even tells their friends about it (laughs).
We’re also fighting for attention and people’s pounds against some other small but noteworthy things this time.
Old bands getting back together for example, it’s been SO prevalent while we’ve been working this particular record and it’s one more extra barrier between us ‘newbies’ getting out there, especially with the type of record the new one is and who it may appeal to mainly.
Sending out promos is now almost pointless. Even leak sites ask me for a bloody press release when I contact anonymously.
I completely understand that Slowdive, Terminal Cheeecake, Danse Society and whoever are going to be far better now than they were when I used to go and see them in Camden dives in the ’80s and ’90s (laughs) and they never had the festival and press exposure they deserved in the first place I guess, but…well, you know what I’m getting at? What constitutes a legend?
When Oasis get back together for their inevitable run of Hyde Park shows in 2015, the whole of the mainstream music press will have no work to do for a year will they? This “nostalgia” industry will remain prominently in overdrive now I think.
The amount of publications now running retro pieces is larger than ever, reappraisal seems to shift more units regardless of genre and there’s no real artistic high ground to be had on this anymore really. One woman’s Backstreet Boys is another man’s Slint.
A mate of mine was apoplectic that his wife spent £70 seeing Take That at Wembley, but he thought nothing of zipping down to Shepherd’s Bush Empire and shelling out £40 to have a huff and a puff down the front at a Steve Ignorant show to a few Crass ‘hits’. Fascinating (laughs).
Besides, we’ve never made it in the first place, have we? We can’t even split and get back together now (laughs).
The lion’s share of higher profile stuff championed lately seems to have to be pre-approved by the BBC or some sort of hipster ‘body’ which rubber stamps it before we’re allowed to like it.
There are a million people between us and the front-line fan now which is why crate digging sites like yourselves are so important. I’ll admit there’s far too many of us, bands that is, (laughs) but seriously?…Unless you impress with the first ten seconds of public interface now, you’re basically digital landfill.
Impacting the profile more, we came off most social media recently due to another rather frustrating new phenomenon.
High decibel public figures like Russell Brand, Caroline Criado-Perez, Owen Jones, Stan Collymore to name a few, seem to think that Twitter is more a personal marketing service rather than a public forum and their policing and pre-crime antics really began to grate.
We fully acknowledge their brands need protecting and people can be astronomical twats when they have ‘access’ to their threads, especially with anonymous accounts, but it’s a real eye opener when people are now getting jailed for stuff they say there.
It’s leaving little doubt these people believe themselves to be highly elite. Sorry, but if you search your own name on there, be warned, not everyone loves you (laughs) and if you press people’s buttons hard, expect a response.
You’re now a ‘troll’ if you simply disagree with someone apparently. What are they going to do next? Bug pub toilets? The most worrying thing is that there’s a genuine Big Brother style punishment being handed out by complicit authorities.
Issue a death threat in 140 characters online, seems you’re going to jail. Mug an old lady on a bus in ‘real life’? You get to paint an uplifting mural on your local estate with a bunch of mates doing community service. This is territory new and we’re sleepwalking into a world of shit.
Brand thinks there should be a ‘revolution’? Fair enough, but his revolution is just going to turn out to be another consumer riot, isn’t it?
We don’t have the right DNA in the UK to blow up politically like Greece and Egypt and we certainly don’t have politicians who can be leant on to emulate those say, as in Iceland – and if I’m to be starkly blank to our comedy friend, I’d rather not be hiding under a bed armed with buckets of water and a stash of knives again knowing that he’s actually watching his ‘revolution’ on YouTube via a cinema-sized screen in the Hollywood Hills while being noshed off by two models.
I also had to gently smile when I saw Jones’s new book is called The Establishment and How They Get Away With It. The proceeds from which of course will go nicely alongside his skip full of mainstream print media and omnipresent TV appearance fees (laughs).
He’s even got a glossary of what you can and can’t say to him now. I imagine that slug George Osborne’s next book will be called The Enemy Within or something equally satirical (laughs).
A lot of this sort of thing inspired our track “Mercedes Benzedrine” – people do seem a little passive about knowing what’s really at the centre of this and what’s at stake. It’s bad enough having politicians reining in your civil liberties, but public commentators getting people arrested and jailed?
Like I say, a new phenomenon, branded ‘anarchy’, pun intended. Hanging out your victimhood in public to coincide with a ‘campaign’ of some sort? Please get out of my face. How about perspective and responsibility?
Our view is to be rather more sophisticated and a whole lot less tribal about stuff if we’re going to get results. These people are clearly NOT interested in being friends with everyone because it would be bad for their business, so we do deserve better. Joe Strummer will be spinning in his grave (laughs).
It’s frankly toe-curling and a buzzkill to see, but we don’t seem to have a choice, not that these people would even consider that, hence the close-down.
We’ll have to come back on the sites soon I guess because it’s bad for business – we’ll have to publicise this for starters (laughs) but we’d much rather connect with people one-to-one. It’s difficult for us though because we don’t even do gigs so we can’t even meet after and sign body parts (laughs).
All of this I guess is a long way round of saying we’re unhappy being part of this very fickle circus, and it’s all more nails in the coffin of us just wanting to split. There’s an overused saying in this outfit: “We get what we deserve”.
So in answer to both of your questions at the top: maybe (laughs).
Tell us about the various collaborators on the album and how you went about sourcing them.
There are less people on this record than normal actually and I think it definitely benefits from it (laughs).
Megalomaniacal comments aside, we know everyone as friends first and have a good idea of what everyone’s capable of, and the speed this album was made was positively breakneck so it was simply a matter of who could come down to maximise the output of each session.
Craig, AKA ‘One-Take Craig’ (laughs) who also plays in the fine dance acts Port De Clichy and The C-Jays, nailed four tracks in two sessions. He’s the easiest person on the face of the planet to work with, I prised him out of his comfort zone a little here apparently and it worked a treat. He said friends didn’t recognise him, which was interesting.
I knew he could do it though. Someone said he sounded like Billy Mackenzie from The Associates, which was one of the biggest compliments ever I’d say.
Ed & Varrick, AKA The Casual Sexists, did their parts for “Insect Banquet” at home in New York which was incredibly sweet of them.
Cagey Bee, incredibly, came in straight off a train on the way back from a foreign holiday for his parts and was done in a flash, consummate professional that he is, and Robyn sent her harmonies for “Distortion At Ozone Park” by mail leaving Nikki and Lorraine to typically come down the studio and party while recording, heavily (laughs).
There’s a fair social element to it, to be fair. We once asked someone down we didn’t know very well and it didn’t go at all well (laughs) – so now, everyone’s groovy before a note is warbled.
What’s “Ex-Tamer Lion” all about? Mad as a box of frogs it is, but utterly ace with it.
Incredibly kind of you to say so. In short, we had one 16-hour session left before the cash ran completely out, an album unmastered and some finishing touches to put to at least three other tracks, so the words basically had to be written on the tube on the way up or the track wasn’t going on!
Fujie did a great job to get the shrieking down in super-speed time, she then left me to do the melodica and xylophone ‘solos’, mix the track, then master the full album all through the night up until 9am when the morning engineers arrived with minutes to spare.
The ‘idea’, if you can call it that, came from the fact that all over the summer I’d been living with all sorts of insects flying around the place through the open windows and doors and they were having the run of the place. There was a grasshopper literally living in the bathroom for about three weeks watching my every move, I actually became quite attached to it.
Also, giant moths flying into my face while I was asleep, it was like something out of The Secret Garden, and I’m not really one to go on killing sprees. It was also very interesting just how dominant they became.
The rest of the words tie in to the slightly unsettling and chaotic vibe of the rest of the record I think, but in effect, the track actually means nothing however hard the rhyming dictionary was hit (laughs).
The title is a switcheroo of a Wire song from their first album if anyone hadn’t clocked, mainly because the music sounded a little like them, so there’s another reference too.
You’ve hinted that “B.L.E.A.K.” offers a clue as to what the title of the album is about. Care to elaborate on this still further, or is it for us to work out?
What is this? Piers Morgan’s Life Stories? (laughs) Actually, popping any mystery a little, that particular set of words are possibly the most plain and literal set we’ve got in our entire canon.
It’s really just about friends and family and ‘maturing’ and being a bit more melancholy and aware of it. It’s probably fair to say the second verse is a fair bit darker than the first, but that’s the general gist overall.
The origin of the album title mentioned in the lyric is slightly more interesting maybe. It comes from an unusual series of dreams I had every night for about a week during the making of the record which featured a specific person I know.
I just thought it was odd dreaming about the same person randomly for so long, it evoked the phrase and in turn, I thought it sounded nice for the record title.
I’m not sure if there was any telepathy involved here, but I do genuinely seem to get contact from this person when I think about them, which I did straight after the dreams – so for me at least, it’s quite significant.
Would you say there was a theme tying the album together, like with Amyl Nights?
We actually started the first track “Bad Times” in the same session that Amyl Nights was finished. We’d spent 13 months on Amyl Nights and were desperate to get away from the fairly strict dancefloor constraints we’d given ourselves, so there’s a conscious effort to be more concise, less oblique and eclectic and much more punchy and direct.
We wanted the new record to sound like a true band effort, basically. There’s a rough template of the same set of sounds for a start which wasn’t on the last one, it kept us in check to a certain extent.
There are common links all over the place really, but no real central concept apart from the conscious repetition of fairly dystopian themes, chaos, debris, dissent, fleeing etc. (laughs)
Also recurring themes of ours like advertising, celebrity culture, technology Vs nature, dodgy politics etc are brought more to the fore here I think. There’s much more emphasis on words here.
It’s also much more in your face: “Ex-Tamer Lion” is out and out punk rock, and we sampled the Factory Floor track I helped mix on “Otaku Baby” and it’s got a real whizz to it.
One thing, while it was being made I was listening to lots of post punk, uncheesy ’80s sounds and loads of Berlin-era Bowie, and one real promise was that we’d have an unorthodox running order like one of those records rather than the now seemingly customary 3 big tracks then 7 fillers.
It gets a bit strange around the halfway mark, but then there are some of the strongest tracks near the end as well.
It may be shooting ourselves in the foot a little to first time callers, but it makes for a more interesting journey we think.
The committee-based precision of which big albums seem to be made now is pretty disdainful of the artists involved, I think. It’s pretty horrific when you hear about A&R depts going into radio stations with freshly finished, or in one case we heard, work in progress, to discuss with the playlist bods which tracks should be ‘the singles’. Far too much power wrestled away from the artist there.
Finally, we’d ask about your top albums of last year but we can just link to your list! So if there are any you forgot to include, now’s the time to make amends.
God’s honest truth, everything we’d include without exception is on either the top 50 album link or on one of the twelve small monthly recommends lists that accompany it. We’re nothing if not thorough (laughs).
In all, about 1900 albums went through the ear machine, and it averaged out at about 25 really good ones a month, so that’s around 300 we’d recommend in total for the year.
With that volume you’re lucky you’re not talking to someone who wants to live on a sound-free desert island right now, let alone us including more and answering questions like this (laughs).
Our top album, Julia Holter though eh? Whoa! When we can’t work out how someone made a record, it holds SUCH a spell, and the writing and arrangements on this are like something from another planet, it’s astonishing stuff.
God only knows where she’s going to take us when she builds even more of a head of steam, it makes us weep it’s so good, which I think is pretty much where we came in, crying! (laughs)
Tony SoapCo, thank you.
Buy I Keep Dreaming About You and check out the custom-made videos for each track on The Soap Company’s website.