Wednesday, 8 February 2012

errors: stop making sense

if you've picked up a copy of this month's skinny you'll have noticed errors gracing the cover - here's my interview feature with the band!

Before Errors storm the land with their cosmic third LP, we sit down with the Glasgow trio to talk good fortune, aborted album titles and the joys of making a bedroom record.

Since their formation in 2004, Errors have forged twin reputations: first, as pigeonhole-shirking ‘post-electro’ soundsmiths; second, as reliable pun-providers. From How Clean Is Your Acid House? to remix LP Celebrity Come Down with Me, they’ve long exercised a penchant for baptising serious music with firmly non-serious labels.

By comparison, their third album’s title seems disarmingly direct, surprisingly free from irreverence. Should the lack of reference to Channel 4’s daytime listings be taken as a sign that the comedy of Errors is on the wane? “I think there was just less terrible chat when we were making this record,” suggests Simon Ward, discussing Have Some Faith in Magic just days ahead of its release. Not for the first time during our conversation, Stephen 'Steev' Livingstone respectfully disagrees. “I don’t know about that,” he laughs, “we just didn’t write as much of it down. One alternative I do remember we considered was ‘You Know Where the Bin Is’. We imagined someone giving a demo to a band, and the band just saying that in response. Not us, like, another band…” he hastens to add, preserving their upstanding reputations in the nick of time.

It seems their collective sense of humour remains intact, an observation borne out by the memorably eccentric promo for latest single Pleasure Palaces, which translates the track’s shiny, shimmering charms into garish, gif-inspired graphics and some silky dance moves (from a bubble-headed Steev in particular). Never mind placing faith in magic – they presumably had to invest a fair chunk of confidence in director Rachel MacLean [who also kindly designed the cover of this very magazine] not to make them look like eejits. “I was thinking about it this morning and I wouldn’t even know where to begin with doing something like that, just the amount of layers,” marvels a de-bubbled Steev. “It made me think that what we do is really primitive in comparison.”

Maintaining such modesty can’t be easy of late, what with Have Some Faith in Magic already rubber-stamped within these pages (and beyond) as the band’s finest work to this point in its seven year lifespan. “The reviews have all been pretty encouraging so far, and I think that helps you a wee bit ahead of going on tour, the fact that at least a few people think it’s good,” says Steev, before considering the potential brainwashing effects of such positive press. “Hopefully that will pollute other people’s minds, make them think it’s good before they’ve actually heard it.”

Are reviews, positive or otherwise, something they pay much attention to? “I try not to,” says Simon, “I think they can change your opinion, change what you thought of your own music in some ways – which I find quite worrying, that I’m so easily swayed.” For Steev, this has its advantages. “You’re not always really aware of what it is you’ve done and it can take other people to tell you,” he suggests. “I’ve noticed that a lot with response to the titles and the artwork, stuff that we didn’t really think about.” Simon agrees: “It’s amazing some of the interpretations that people come up with,” he smiles. “It makes us seem really smart, like we’ve thought about these things, but most of it is just by accident pretty much…”

Errors insist that such “happy accidents” are rife, yet ultimately they place great faith in their own instincts. “With past records, I’ve always kind of looked back, to go, ‘well, on the last record there was this tune, so we need to have a version of that for this one,’” says Steev. “But this time it was just about looking forward and not thinking about what came before.” The results are, in the band’s own words, their “biggest change of direction” thus far, though they’re keen to stress that any developments were wholly organic. “It was a natural thing,” suggests Steev. “We didn’t sit down and plan out how the album would differ from the others.”

The only exception was the decision to use vocals more extensively than ever before. “That was one of the few conversations that we had before we started writing the record,” starts Steev, but Simon looks puzzled. “Do you think it was as deliberate as that?” he asks. “Because I just said the opposite to someone else yesterday… I mean, I know we talked about it, but I think it came more through experimentation.”

Such dalliances have certainly produced unorthodox results, influenced by Panda Bear, Atlas Sound and, most tellingly, Liz Fraser of the Cocteau Twins. “I quite like the process she goes through,” says Steev. “Like, she goes through dictionaries, takes words from different languages, and puts them together. So it’s more like a collage, but it’s still emotional and powerful even though what she’s saying doesn’t make any sense. I think that’s quite a unique talent to have – to be able to say something, but not mean anything.”

If that was their intention, it’s a lesson successfully absorbed; the lyrics are so masked in digital effects that it’s impossible to tell whether they’re profound or gibberish. “It is gibberish,” deadpans Steev. “It’s mostly just a stream-of-consciousness, just whatever is in my head at that time. It’s more about the sounds that the words make rather than what the words are.”

With their prior comments regarding peculiar misinterpretations of song titles in mind, I wonder how they feel about the prospect of lyric websites trying to elucidate said gibberish? “I don’t really want people to know what the actual lyrics are,” says Steev, “because it’s not important, but people will try and figure out what they are regardless.”

Elsewhere in this issue’s takeover, Errors have interviewed a range of artists about the different spaces in which they work, investigating how environment influences expression. It’s perhaps an inevitable talking point for the band, what with Have Some Faith in Magic having been written and recorded predominantly in Simon’s flat after their studio’s roof collapsed. “It probably changed the actual sound of the record a bit,” reckons Steev of their forced relocation, “because it was obviously a more relaxed space, and we could take our time. We could take plenty of breaks if we needed to; before, you kind of felt that if you weren’t getting anything done, then you were just best to go home, where at least at Simon’s, you were at home already."

The close quarters helped foster a fairly regimented routine. “We just got on with it,” Simon recalls. “I think it was a good set of circumstances in the end. It didn’t really affect the way we worked too much, in terms of just getting stuff done.” By Steev’s reckoning, “we did more or less seven days a week for three or four months – it was pretty intense, but in a good way.”

Does that make going out on tour less of an adjustment then – if you’ve already spent all that time living in each other’s laps, what strain could a few weeks on the road add? “I think we’ve kind of gotten used to that in a lot of ways, particularly with the American tour [by Mogwai's side last spring], which was five weeks in a car together. Not a van,” Simon stresses, “a car.” Coping mechanisms were swiftly improvised. “I think we did pretty well considering the lack of space,” says Steev. “We all just put our headphones on and ignored each other for a month.”

2011 culminated with a show at the Barrowlands, again supporting their label bosses. “We tried a couple of the new tracks there, and they seemed to go down pretty well,” says Steev. “But the thing that made me feel quite comfortable about the whole show was getting up, and looking out, and realising I knew loads of people in the first few rows. I was shitting myself up until that point.” Simon takes somewhat less comfort from performing to friends and family, stating a preference for “a faceless mass,” to Steev’s amusement. “Really, you’d prefer just loads of bald Mogwai fans looking back at you, aye?” he mocks, but Simon’s steadfast. “Oh definitely – just loads of bald guys, like the cover of Being John Malkovich.”

This month they’ll set out on a headline tour of their own, placing Have Some Faith in Magic squarely in the spotlight for the first time – a daunting prospect, all things considered. “With this record, we didn’t think about how we were going to recreate it live,” says Steev. “Since it was more of a bedroom record, we didn’t jam in the studio – there wasn’t even a drum kit set up.”

Complicating rehearsals further is the band’s recent line-up change, with four becoming three following the amicable departure of guitarist Greg Paterson to pursue a career in dentistry. “We just carried on, not really thinking about how we would deal with it, in terms of our live set-up,” says Simon. “It was just a case of ‘finish the record, and worry about that sort of stuff afterwards’.” The band's downsizing affects new material and old alike, but they’re confident they’ve got all bases covered. “We’re keen not to just have Greg’s parts running off a laptop,” says Steev. “We want to cover as much of that as possible with what we do, but obviously that’s difficult when there’s just three of us, and only two of us playing keyboards and guitars. But I think we’ve worked out a way of doing it.”

Ignoring their previous warnings against reading too much into their album’s title, I ask whether they feel lucky to be doing what they’re doing. “There is a big chunk of luck, definitely,” reckons Steev, pondering the break that led to their signing with Rock Action. “I mean, if certain people hadn’t been at early shows, who knows what would have happened…” He pauses before joking. “Maybe there would have been a guy from a better label, who knows. I guess it’s best not to think about these things…” Faithful? Perhaps not entirely. Magic? Oh aye.

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