INTERVIEW / TEAM PICTURE
In the upcoming issue of Delinquent, Nathan Fogg features Team Picture and their newly announced mini-album Recital, an exciting and, at times, ridiculously fun record, due to be released on June 1st. Even some of their biggest fans may know only little about the band, who have covered their tracks with an air of intrigue - abstract social media postings, press-shots of grainy polaroid photos of themselves in full band-uniform, and singles sometimes released under the name of Group Photograph. Over nearly two hours Delinquent interviewed Josh and Ross from the band, who declined to give their surnames, both wanting to promote the idea of a group identity where no individual member is bigger than the rest. Conversation started with a focus on the album, and meandered into a deep-dive on ideas behind creativity and music-making. Make sure to pick up a copy of Delinquent when it hits the stands in a couple of weeks. For now, here’s a transcript of a portion of the interview.
Delinquent: So, your manager sent me the SoundCloud link for your album...
Ross: Oh really, oh cool. I didn't know you'd heard that.
Josh: I don't know how many people have heard that now actually.
D: There's like 20-odd views on some of the songs. Not too many, it's not been leaked or anything.
Ross: Not yet... well it would only go up to 25 if it did anyway.
D: The first couple of songs really focus more on a synth-pop sound. You’ve had synths in earlier work, but that was more atmospheric, with these songs it seems to be used more as the main hook?
Josh: That was 100% the plan. I suppose the idea of Recital is that it's divided into two halves, or acts I guess. That was the entire idea, that the first half would have a decisively synthy sound, maybe a more cleaner sound.
Ross: Definitely more controlled.
Josh: I think there were a lot of reasons behind it. It was partly because we all really enjoy synth-pop, a huge part of my listening taste is music that really heavily features keyboards. It's a lot more poppy than maybe some stuff we've done in the past. And I think as well it's to try shake off a little bit... not oh we wanna confuse people or anything, but kind of like… here's something else we can do. The word 'psyche' is thrown around a lot these days for bands. I don't think it's accurate. I think it's a bit of a lazy term, in the same way that terms like 'grunge' have been thrown at bands in the past, this term that you all of a sudden start to pigeon-hole loads of different bands in. I think it was a decision to do something really consciously poppy, we knew that it would hopefully shake off some of that 'Leeds-based psyche band' kind of thing.
D: It almost seems now that anytime a band does something upbeat and poppy, it's kind of refreshing.
Josh: Yeah totally, I feel like since I was really young, super up-tempo, major key compositions have always been things that I've been super like yes! about. I just love blissful music. Why is pop a dirty word, ever?
Ross: I think we’ve definitely revelled in that at times, haven't we? Not necessarily in the band, but outside, just kind of listening to music, talking about music. As we've gotten to know each other as people more we've found that our musical tastes have a lot of crossover. There’s kind of a movement from things that are a little poppier in the first half, then to playing on those lighter psyche things that we've mainly been lumped into before. I think it's only really described like that because there's maybe sometimes...in a good way, the cohesiveness of a song comes undone a little bit, it becomes a little bit more ethereal. That's maybe where people start just throwing that word about. But I think if you were to maybe say anything on that release is psyche, I think that 8-minute song in the middle ['Theme From Flint'] would probably be it. So, there's a little bit of a delve into things like that.
Josh: I would be really suspicious of any band that said they know. They were like 'oh we're this genre'.
Ross: Yeah, totally. We don't really have that agenda do we, and that's the entire rationale behind a release that's being called Recital. It's kind of an exploration in what it is we're doing... in the least wanky way possible. It's a lack of, and also a pride in, not really knowing what it is we're going for right now, because I think that's something that bands - and I'm just gonna say bands in a general way, not pigeon-holing or whatever - when people try and come across as something straight away, there's no acceptance that sometimes it's alright to just not have a clue what you're going for entirely. As long as you're moving forward, trying stuff, and having a good time doing it, there's nothing wrong with that. And if people are digging it great, if people aren't digging it, just keep going.
D: Being at an early place in the band, still figuring things out, is that not scary when putting out music? Do you look back at old work and think, ‘we've improved so much, how did we ever put that out?’
Ross: You don't have to be fully there knowing what you are, defining yourself and putting yourself into that box. You can still do something you were proud of and still produce it to a level that you are happy with, that was the best possible level for that time. I think if you've done that, with all of yourself behind it, there's nothing to look back on and not be proud about. Because you can then look at yourself from that point in the future and think, 'that's where I was then'. I don't know man, sometimes I just feel people think they have to have it all figured out, and it's not the case at all.
Josh: I'm really proud of what we've released since we began, but also at the same time I know we'll never do anything quite like what we've already done again. And I also know that we'll never do anything quite like Recital again. The next thing will probably be something that's completely different, or it'll be more of some things, less of some things, and probably some things that are completely new as well. But I'll still look back and think 'well we had to do that so we can get to this'.
D: If you look back at old releases, were you ever fully satisfied once it was out there and you started getting the reception? Or is that the point of creativity, to never be satisfied?
Josh: I've always been satisfied with the songs, in the sense that we wouldn't have released them if we weren't completely like, yeah this is the song that we recorded. This is how we wanted it to sound. We don't really allow ourselves the luxury to worry about how things are received. It's always about the next thing that's happening.
Ross: I agree, you don't afford yourselves that because I think anybody who creates things has a mental checklist of stuff that they wanna do. That's the pleasure and curse of being people who make things. Once again, in a non-wanky way, but that's just the way it is, people who are creative probably have lots of stuff in their head they want to do. That's just the state of being for anybody like that. You're just looking to do the next thing. You can totally take criticism, good and bad, to heart if you want to. But I think it's just a distraction from moving on to the next thing, it can be demotivating just as much as it can be motivating, and I don't think any of us are particularly too bogged down in any of the stuff that's gonna be said about it. I think we just enjoy being part of the project, so it's not something that's a burden to bear really.
Josh: I wouldn't be fazed by negative reaction to a recording for example.
D: I guess the idea is that if 50 people tell you it's amazing it's never enough is it, maybe that's the point of being creative. If you were completely satisfied then that would be it, you finished what you wanted to do.
Ross: Yeah, people will also overlook 50 good reviews at the expense of one bad one, so it's a false economy for me really.
Josh: Yeah, I think it depends on why you're doing music as well I suppose. I think things like putting the music out and making sure it's seen by as many people as it can be is something that you do because you know that's maybe the way to make something sustainable, as opposed to something you do because you're like 'I really wanna hear what people think of it'. I dunno, the amount of people that say whether it's good or bad isn't really a point of satisfaction or dissatisfaction, it's more just a thing that allows you to keep on doing more of it.
Ross: It's not exactly qualifying is it. There are obviously good and bad things in good and bad feedback. Bad feedback can inspire more and can be the start of something else. You might take that on board and do something with it.
Josh: This is another thing that's fantastic about working with somebody like Matt [Matt Peel of Nave Studios, the producer on Recital]. You have a sounding board of someone who's not afraid to say something like 'this bit is rubbish'.
Ross: Oh God yeah, it's brilliant.
Josh: I love it when somebody says something is rubbish, because usually if something is rubbish you've already got a suspicion in your head that it's shit anyway, and you can say like 'yeah it is shit isn't it?'. What can we do instead, y'know?
Ross: Yeah, the recording process was definitely informed by a lot of straight-talking and cutting crap.
Josh: Which is exactly what I always hoped it would be. It's not like people can just go around and do music that doesn't mean anything, and not have any criticism, not have anyone in the studio saying to you 'well, this is shit' if something actually is shit. You 100% need to be told about it, because this isn't a creative world where people can just waste time anymore and get away with it I think. There's no point in doing that. If you are a band that's just happy to let things slip by, I would say that you're doing things wrong. It's great to be in that situation where everybody is just completely un-self-conscious about giving each other really straight criticism.
Ross: There was one point that was cause for contest wasn't there, on the release.
Josh: Oh yeah, we had a tambourine at one point in one of the songs, 'Lifehack'. It was probably the only bone of contention on the album where the band disagreed completely with Matt, and he was just like 'no, it's rubbish'.
Ross: But we reached a compromise didn't we.
Josh: We were just like, 'the tambourine is staying'. The tambourine is the song.
D: I don’t think I picked up on the tambourine, I’m gonna go home and re-listen to it straight away.
Josh: You probably won't even notice it, nobody would. The only reason we did was because obviously we know it's there. Shoot me a text and let me know if you think it's too Christmassy.
Ross: I think Matt did about 4 versions of it with alternate things other than a tambourine, we were like 'no, we really want the tambourine'.
Josh: 'We're going to go with the original. Which is the tambourine'.
D: I find that one consistency in your music is your ability to write a catchy hook. You have a song called 'Birthday Blues' which has that great guitar hook that the song comes back to - that must open up so many possibilities for what to do with the rest of the song. I saw you play Oporto a couple of weeks ago and you really built it up and then crashed into it, it’s great to be in the audience knowing what’s coming…
Ross: It's kinda funny isn't it? Yeah, I think there's a lot to be said for anticipation. That's why thriller movies work so well, that anticipation… 'shit, what's going to happen here'… We've had a lot of fun with it. Obviously I'm just talking out loud here, but I think that might be one that keeps reappearing and twists its form in some ways.
Josh: When we've not been practising the set for a long time, if we've just been working on new material, we go back and practice and we play through that. It fills me with so much joy, you're almost approaching it as a different band. We feel like we're so much better at playing these songs than we were.
Ross: You can also approach it from a fairly improvised way as well, in the way that the chord progression is the same essentially all the way through. It only really changes in structure in terms of how long you dwell on particular things. It can be lead vocally as well, which is something that's kind of been borne out of letting it find its own way to a set. For example, at the end of that set we played at Oporto there's just a whole load of noise, and then it's kind of indicated… you know that song's coming, but until it kicks in, like Josh counts it in when it's worked up to a point, we fall on board and know where the song begins. And then when we practice it there's room for experimentation for it, so it's kind of like a nice pallet cleanser at practice sometimes.
Josh: We just need to write another one like that.
Ross: Yeah, what do you think about 'Christmas Curse'?
D: There are musicians who will drive themselves insane trying to perfect a recording of one of their songs, and others who are happy to go in and record in a day and take whatever they come out with. Which of those approaches resonates with you more?
Ross: I'm personally open to both approaches. I don't know... I wouldn't particularly look back at something and say that it's not perfect, because I think it’s a very, very dangerous thing to try to pursue perfection. Nothing is ever like it is in your head. When you come to realise it, it's absolutely not, and chasing it is very dangerous. It's quite serious, people tear themselves up about it. Some people will sink themselves into depression because of it. It's not a great rabbit hole to be going down.
D: It does looks cool though, the tortured artist image…
Ross: Oh yeah, there's definitely an idealised version of it.
Josh: I think if you're a band and you're truly a group of musicians then it's all about compromise. It's all about understanding that what someone else does on a piece of music that you've written isn't always gonna be what you would do. You need to be able to embrace that, embrace that it's someone else's vision, over the top of your vision. I feel like when you become comfortable with that, that's when you can have really productive musical relationships.
Ross: Yeah that's so important man, the relationships thing is big. The tortured artist who tortures himself for torture's sake is probably not living fulfilling relationships in order to get out of that hole. And then you could look at somebody like Daniel Johnston for example, who battles with his own demons, not to be that tortured artist, but for necessity. He writes songs because that's what he does, that's the way that he lives his life, without writing those songs he doesn't live. There's that, and then there's doing it to be that idealised person. The person that is a true tortured artist isn't really thinking as themselves as a tortured artist, I don't think. I'm willing to be wrong.
D: Does any of that come out in your lyrics, are there any themes like that you want to get out?
Josh: I think maybe looking for specific lyrical meanings is the wrong thing to do, some of my favourite bands are bands like Throwing Muses or even Talking Heads where so many lyrics are just non-sequitur, where the meaning isn't spelled out to you. I'm far more interested in what someone else would get from the lyrics, rather than just saying 'this is what this song is about' or anything like that. Because essentially it's irrelevant, it doesn't matter what.
Ross: The whole David Byrne example is perfect for that, it was kind of impulsive writing wasn't it. And David Bowie did it a lot in the way that he might have just picked stuff out of a newspaper and thrown it together, there's different ways of doing it and they're all as valid as the next one. There's a snapshot of that on this release, there's elements of reflection on there, there's nonsensical post-rationalised things, there's stuff that's been written just because we needed some lyrics for a song. There's a whole host of different things on there that have kind of come to fruition in the release.
Josh: The meaning is applied retroactively I think. They're not like narrative songs y'know… 'this is what I've set out to communicate with this song'. It's more like the meaning comes afterwards.
D: Yeah, recently The Orielles released their album and the first song is about mango juice, at least on the face of it. But I read one bemused reviewer being like ‘is this all they write about?’ Which I guess kind of misses the point…
Josh: Yeah, if that's what they know and what they want to sing about, then who the fuck cares? Who is anyone to say that anybody else's subject matter isn't valid? Just because you don't write lyrics like Bob Dylan or whatever, why does that mean anything?
D: Even Bob Dylan had some weird stuff, 'the sun's not yellow, it's chicken'…
Josh: Oh, he's got some absolute brilliant, there's some fantastic...
Ross: He's got like the nonsensical but then he's got 'Hurricane' for example, which deals with some really intense issues. But that's it isn't it, there's validity in writing about mango juice, that's great if somebody wants to write about that, you know?
Josh: Kero Kero Bonito are a good example of that...
Ross: Oh God man, yeah. There's one song about a trampoline...
Josh: There's one about just listening to a song on the radio.
Ross: There's one about graduating, but it's sung in such like a primary school way, in some of the tracks anyway, that it's just really, really interesting to listen to. Doing stuff in that way can sometimes bring on a much deeper message of the actual thing. It's like Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, right, where he just describes everything very, very, very simply, to the point that it creates completely new meaning about the world as you know it.
Josh: There's an absolute beauty in the simplicity of it.
Ross: Yeah, it makes you look at stuff differently, because the world's very complex now, so sometimes just focusing on the simple things... Wow, we went down a hole there didn't we.