Silent Uproar: You have recently gone from a very reputable indie label in Fierce Panda to a major corporate owned label in Interscope. How has the transition been?
Tim: It's been great. We did the Fierce Panda thing because basically we had nothing else to do at the time. It was about this time last year we did our first single on Fierce Panda and Simon Williams, he's the boss of the company, runs it basically, I think there's only about three of them there, but he kind of plucked us out of complete obscurity and said, "Do you want to put a CD out?" And that was just fantastic. Obviously their thing is kind of small and indie, which is great and a really brilliant thing, but it was nice for us to have the chance to kind of reach out a bit further and a bit more large scale and have a chance to reach a few more people, which is what we've really always wanted to do. I mean we love those bands, the great Interscope bands… [like] U2, we've always loved them, and the idea of sort of being able to make music that affects a large number of people is what we've always wanted to do.
SU: Are you finding that big companies like Interscope really care about their artists or do they seem to be more interested in revenue? Are you finding any conflict with that now that you're on a major label?
Tim: No, we've been really lucky so far. We were in the very lucky position in that we had many record companies that were interested in signing us, which is very flattering, but the best thing about it is that you can choose carefully the people that you want to work with. And Interscope, I think, are just unmatched probably in the world in terms of a label who put the quality of the music and the freedom of the artist before anything else. I mean business is always going to be a part of it, but I think their whole ethos is that good music always comes through in the end. That's what people want to hear, so I don't think business and integrity are mutually exclusive like that. I mean they've been so good to us that I can hardly praise them too highly. They've treated us with so much respect and not tried to push us too quickly or anything. They've been about us taking our time and playing small shows and seeing how it goes. I think they believe in us as much as we believe in ourselves, and that's what you want.
SU: How does having no guitarist affect the writing process or does it? Does it affect the way you arrange things?
Tim: I think, yeah, it does probably from the very sort of initial thing of writing the song. I think for me the best thing about it is that I always write on the piano, well pretty much always, and I think if you're writing stuff on the piano, it can be kind of hard to convert that into a big guitar sound. For me, just knowing that I'm not having to make room for a big guitar solo halfway through the song means that you can be more concise and also the fact that the melodies aren't going to be sort of plastered in a wash of guitar and distortion. It means that you can be a bit more free with the melodies and really expressive and leave Tom room to have songs and melodies and words actually mean something and actually jump around and be always the focal point of the song. Because I think the tune that makes you want to sing along and the words that touch your heart are basically the most important things, or they should always be the most important things. And certainly for us, that's what the core of the song is.
SU: The Charlatans used to be such a piano/Hammond organ-driven band in their heyday, and I notice that after Rob Collins passed away, they have sort of shifted to more guitar-based sound. Do you feel like seeing what they've done has been sort of a reminder to you to stick with your core sound of letting the piano really speak for you?
Tim: Yeah, I agree; we have to do our own thing. I mean, we had sort of worried about the thing of being a band without a guitar because it definitely raises an eyebrow here and there, and people sort of think that you'll never be able to get anywhere without a guitar. I think that the view of bands always being guitar bands is so embedded in the way people think. I guess we worried that people would think that we were weird, but at the same time you just have to sort of shrug your shoulders and say "This is what we do. We love it," and the songs are the most important thing anyway. We just do our thing, and we hope people like it. And like you say, it's a bit unfair to say that about The Charlatans because they had a very tragic situation. I think that wherever possible, you've got to stick to your guns and do what naturally to you. I mean, it's always good to push yourself and try new things, but you have got to do what is instinctive. That's what we've always tried to do.
SU: You've been compared a lot to Travis and Coldplay and even, I read, "Radiohead covering A-Ha," which is kind of weird. Do you feel like those comparisons help or hurt you by pigeonholing you into something when the critics don't know what to say?
Tim: Well, I think we understand why people do that, but it's kind of frustrating because I think it's a little lazy to make those comparisons. Generally, because obviously I see it from a kind of weird perspective, but to me, we don't sound anything like Coldplay or Travis. I know obviously we're from the same general ballpark. I guess we're a British band, and we write songs; we're sort of classic song band rock, not some sort of hip-hop act or something. For us, I don't think any of those bands have been a huge influence on us or anything, probably because we see them more as contemporaries more than anything. We tend to look toward bands like The Smiths or David Bowie or U2 as people who've shaped our attitudes to music more. So yeah, I don't think it helps us a huge amount, I have to say because I think there's much more to us than that. I think we're very much our own thing. We've always just wanted to be our own thing and not pay to much attention to what anyone else is doing, and I hope people like it. We just make music that we love and not worry too much about trying to sound like anyone else.
SU: Do you feel more pressure to become successful in America where you are relatively unknown at this point or in Britain where you are already critically praised and winning awards?
Tim: Well, it's very early for us everywhere. I mean the album only came out in the UK two weeks before it did in The States, so there wasn't that sort of six month's delay or even a whole album delay. So we've had some nice things said about us in the UK, but it hasn't all been rosy. We're very happy to play anywhere. We feel that we've got a lot of work to do in trying to win people over. And it's the same in Europe or Japan or Australia, and it's very much the same in America as well. It's always exciting to come to anywhere in America. It probably doesn't seem the same as a resident, but for us it's kind of exotic going anywhere outside the UK. And we like playing to tiny clubs, and if we're playing to ten people in a tiny club in wherever, we'll still be happy, and we'll still give it everything because we've had years of that in the UK. We don't expect to be U2 playing Wembley Stadium every gig. It's about trying to remember those times. If two people turn up to see you, you should appreciate those two people and try to give them the best show of their lives. I don't think we feel under pressure. We love it, and we love the challenge of trying to get people excited about our music. Hope we can do that wherever people will have us.
SU: You mentioned playing in smaller venues. How do you feel getting ready to head back to England and play some of the larger festivals this summer? Are you looking forward to that or do you think you will lose some of the intimacy?
Tim: I'm looking forward to it. I think we're all excited about playing at festivals because it's really the first time we've done any of that stuff. I think it will be very cool, and we're playing festivals all over Europe. And I think we're playing one in Figi Rock in Japan. It's very exciting, and it's a kind of new thing, so we'll look forward to it and give it our all.
I must say, I'm a little scared of losing that intimacy, but then it's a completely different thing. I think if we were playing a different festival every night of the week, that could be a bit scary, but I think once in a while it's a pretty amazing thing to be a part of. It's nice to be able to play the small venues as well. We're lucky; we're getting the best of both this year. We're very lucky.
SU: Now that you've been living with the songs for a little while and have played them live several times, which tracks off of Hopes & Fears seem the most natural? Which ones feel good as album tracks and which ones translate best live?
Tim: It's funny how some songs to come across better live, and some sound better on the album. There's a song called "Bedshaped" on the album, which I think sounds great on the record; we're really proud of that. But live, I think it seems to be even better. It just sounds so huge, and it seems to get people really, really emotionally charged up, and loads of people just absolutely love it, which is wonderful for us. I'm glad that it has that effect on people. "We Might As Well Be Strangers," which is one of the quieter tracks on the album, I think is great live because it's so climactic. It goes from very quiet to start off with to being very big by the end.
To be honest, we cut the album in such a way; we didn't want the album to be this kind of weird, clinical sort of production where you can reproduce it live. We wanted to capture that excitement of a live band playing, which you know rarely happens on a record. We wanted that sort of feeling of power and impact to come through the speakers of your little stereo at home. So, I'm less worried about the live show sounding like the record than I am about the record having the excitement and atmosphere of a live show.
I think most of the songs translate well both ways actually. There's one "Untitled 1," which is a kind of beatsy, funky number, which is a bit hard to play live. But that's cool. It's good to have those little things to throw you a bit of a curve ball. To be honest, I think we'd absolutely love to play it live. The thing is that we have literally been so busy that we haven't had a single day that we could go and rehearse a new song. And there's another one called "On a Day Like Today," which we'd love to play, which is on the UK album. I guess those are the two hardest tracks to play, and we want to get them right and not give a sort of lazy performance of them. But we're very proud of all the tracks that we've got, and we're very happy with the live show. We're even playing a couple of B-sides in the set just because they're songs that we love. I think it's good to be able to do that and not worry about whether the live show sounds too much like the album. Sort of focus on the moment and the people in the room and give them a good time.
SU: What's the strangest show you've ever played?
Tim: [Laughs] Well, one that really sticks in my mind as being…I don't know if you could describe it as strange, but it was certainly memorable for its sheer awfulness…was at a place called The Void in Stoke, which is a fairly miserable town of the Midlands in England. It was horrible. It was back in the days of our first ever attempt at a tour. It was just the three of us driving around in little vans, sleeping on people's floors. We eventually found this place called The Void, and as it turned out, it was very appropriately named. I mean, literally, the guy who we were staying with that night came to see us, and there were two people in the corner who appeared to be doing drugs, and there was literally no one else there. But we still got up there, like I was saying earlier; it's a good discipline to get up there and play a good show. I don't know why we bothered; I don't really know in retrospect, but I guess we just love playing music. And I do remember very vividly playing the entire gig to pretty much a completely empty room. I think once you've been to that kind of low, you really appreciate every single person who turns up to see you after that.
SU: Do you think you guys will start doing variations or new arrangements of the songs as you keep playing over the next six months or so?
Tim: Um, yeah, we'll probably mix it up a bit. We try to play a lot of acoustic shows where it's just me playing the piano and Tom singing away. We like doing that, so we get a good amount of variety anyway. I'd quite like to take one or two of the songs that we're playing quite rocky at the moment and strip them back or something like that. We'll see how it goes and maybe try to work in a couple of new ones cause we've got some new songs. If we can find some time to rehearse, maybe we can get some new stuff out there and see what people think of it.
SU: What bands do you want to see live if you had the time right now?
Tim: I'd love to see The Strokes play - still haven't seen them. I'd love to see Death Cab For Cutie - they're a great band, but I've never seen them play live. So that would be very cool. I am absolutely furious because I'm a big fan of Ron Sexsmith, and we've missed him twice on this tour so far. It's driving me mad; I've got to try and track him down. I was actually my birthday on Wednesday (2 June), and we had a night off in San Diego, and I found out the next day that he'd been playing at a small club that night…one of our few nights off on the tour. And I couldn't believe that none of us had thought to look at the listings, but that's the way it goes. Another person I would like to see play is Rufus Wainwright, who we are all just absolutely massive fans of. And, of course, he was playing in London the day we flew out. But we'll catch these people sooner or later I'm sure.
SU: Ok, last question: Right now, with everything that's happening and all that the band is going through, which do you have more of, Hopes or Fears?
Tim: I would say a lot of hopes at the moment. It's a really great time for us as a band. And like I say, when you've had so many years waiting and working to have the chance to put this record out, and now we really appreciate every day and every person who comes to see us or says that they love the music. It does give us a lot of hope. Things are going so well, and just having the chance to play all of these shows all over the world. It's crazy; it's just so cool. So we are all sort of very happy, and it's just brilliant. It makes me feel very hopeful.
I know there are things that we are kind of scared about as well. It gets kind of overwhelming sometimes. You can't quite…it's kind of hard to handle what's going on. It just seems too much, and it all seems so strange and kind of foreign that you don't know how to deal with it. But we're very lucky; we've got friends, and we've got each other to kind of keep each other sane and support each other and just keep having fun.
SU: Well thanks so much for talking to me, and best of luck with everything.
Tim: Oh, it's a pleasure. Thank you so much.