In the current musical climate, it is becoming all too easy for acts to feel the burden of being restricted to the confines of a particular genre. Many cases where this has happened falls down to laziness – an act have been likened to another vaguely similar act or lumped in with a scene they don’t belong to in order to generate interest and shift album sales. Luckily, there are bands like Housewives around.
Now with two full length albums, a slew of EPs and a live album under their belt, the London five-piece have so far managed to avoid this pigeonholing by constantly shifting their sound in new and inventive directions. While this may seem a little scatter-brained on paper, their reluctance to stay still – even within a single release – makes for a gripping listen that utilises elements from across the musical map in order to create something that still manages to be coherent. Sure, their records can at times be incredibly cerebral and challenging – especially for those less versed in experimental music – but the band themselves insist it isn’t always meant to be and that they’re simply trying to open audiences up to original ideas.
Moving on from the furious guitars and the occasional howls that characterised 2015’s Work, the band have since found new ground to tread in the unsettling computerised sounds of last year’s Twilight Splendour. As a result they are gaining a reputation for being one of the most unpredictable and uncompromising acts on the circuit in the UK. The way in which they manage to eschew convention is one of the primary appealing factors of the band and has notably earnt them such esteemed fans as Charles Hayward (of experimental titans This Heat).
In advance of a short trip around the country, vocalist Joseph Rafferty, saxophonist Ben Vince and guitarist/keyboard player David Moran talk about taking their mesmerising and primal show back on the road, the pros and cons of increasingly choosing to work with electronics and having a desire to make constant progress.
How is preparation going for the tour? Does it feel different from the last?
Ben Vince: It’s going good! We’ve just started making some new stuff so we’ve got our head in that game a little bit, but we just want to have a bit of fun with these shows and maybe play something new as well. It’s kind of come around really quick for me, I haven’t had much time to think about it. We’re very excited to play in Bristol again, it’s always a really amazing night and there’s a connection with the audience there, so I’m looking forward to that. Plus we also get to play a couple of other places we didn’t get to play on our last tour, so it’s nice to plug in the gaps before we head back to writing.
So there’s a little bit of a case of testing the waters with new material whilst also staying on the road and keeping the live side of things going?
Joseph Rafferty: I don’t know, sort of. I guess it will be new for us as well, not just the audience.
BV: We won’t be playing these cities for quite a while, so that’s half the point of doing these shows. We want to share another show with these people before we go away to make new stuff.
It’s been a year since Twilight Splendour came out – now you’ve had that long to digest everything, what are your feelings on the record, its reception and how proud you are of it in retrospect?
JR: Personally, I feel that it was a big step for us in a direction that we’re now following up on. What we’re writing now is not exactly the same, but [Twilight Splendour] feels like it acted as a good stepping stone to that. I look back on it as being a successful way of getting to where we’re at now and how we’re now thinking about stuff, and how it has also affected how we play and write together.
You noticeably ditched the guitars in favour of electronics this time around – did this feel like changing into a completely different project? How did you initially work around performing those songs live for the first time?
JR: We did it in quite a clumsy way, I guess. Because we wrote everything on computers, it got to a point where we had songs and were playing them, but we had to learn how to play them live. We also really didn’t want to be using computers live, so I think we kind of did it the wrong way around – we should have written it on the instruments we have now. We’re doing it differently again now, it’s going to be already in the form where we can play it so we don’t have to learn the songs because we already know how.
David Moran: It was quite difficult learning some of the songs, some of the drum beats in particular were hard to get to grips with because they were written on a computer. Some of the samples as well were really hard to play along with, so it did really feel like we did it all backwards. The production of the album we were really happy with because it was our first time self-producing like that, we just made it a completely different experience trying to play the songs. Essentially we were just trying to replicate what we’d done on the record which made it a different live experience to how we did things when we had our own instruments.
BV: We’re always working towards a better way of playing stuff as live as possible, whilst adding to or expanding the sound we can create between us. We’re using electronics more but it isn’t all electronic. We need the dynamism of people playing something, even if it is on a pad, but we do still have a drum kit and guitars – just about.
It still feels like it’s been quite a logical progression between [2015 album] Work and Twilight Splendour – do you feel like it has been too despite the number of large musical shifts?
JR: I guess we’re just writing and playing what we like, so for me it feels totally logical!
BV: It did feel like a bit of a departure and that there was a turning point when we were writing stuff.
JR: Mainly it’s just because albums take so long to produce from start to finish, it can feel like a big step but in reality there’s loads of stuff that happens in between that doesn’t really get seen. There’s loads of small, invisible steps that create a big change of direction, but I guess we’d been moving in that direction for a while anyway, even when we were recording Work.
DM: One of the songs, ‘Balm’ from the first album, it was one of the ones that we really liked the recording process of. It was the first time we were really getting into sampling bits and it kind of had this electronic sound to it already, so we recorded it live and then we’d just loop bits. I think that was one of the most successful tracks on the first album, so we kind of persisted with playing around with more production after that.
Do you feel that this change of direction helped you break free from a stigma of being labelled as a ‘guitar band’, when in actual fact what you were aiming for was quite separate from that musical climate?
BV: Yeah definitely, I think some of the shows we were being booked for it was more obvious that we were somewhere that we didn’t fit. We played a lot of psych and noise festivals which I’m into personally, but it gets a bit much when those are the only things you’re booked for. We’ve had a lot of amazing bookings all over Europe, but we did want to distance ourselves from that sort of thing. In terms of the music it didn’t affect it that much, we still made those decisions out of interest rather than feeling like we needed to escape.
JR: I don’t think we were ever really in it, because we never said we wanted to be in the ‘guitar band’ scene or the ‘DIY scene’. We often got lumped in with other stuff, which is fine because it’s good to be involved with lots of different things, but there is a problem with labelling and being a group of people playing guitars, it became very easy to lazily put us into one group. I think that we address it in the sense that all we’re trying to do is write songs that are moving in some way, so our instruments are just tools for that.
With the direction you’ve begun to move in now, do you feel it’s a little more liberating when trying to get ideas down?
BV: That’s the best bit for me, working out as you’re creating. There’s lots of different stages to it because of how you have to work to be able to play it live, and playing it live is great. Making new stuff and feeling like you’re breaking new ground is the best bit though. It does feel challenging sometimes, ideas come from different areas and those aren’t immediately obvious in terms of how to perform them.
JR: I guess the challenging thing comes from trying to create the right feeling and not really knowing how to do it. You might think that something really needs extra percussion in one place, but nobody has any spare hands. It’s mostly about the fact that we’re getting what we’re trying to do across, and that’s maybe why it sometimes seems challenging. It’s fun though, feeling on the edge of not being able to actually play (laughs).
To some ears, your music can come across as being quite abrasive and discomforting – is it intentional to confront the listener in this way or is it the primal way in which it comes out for you?
JR: I think that goes back to what I was just saying, those things are used as tools really. I think with the abrasiveness or maybe the lushness of other stuff, the more interesting thing is what happens in between those bits and what that juxtaposition does. I don’t think we’re especially abrasive, only when we think it should be.
BV: It’s a taste thing as well, my comfort is in the dissonant beating between notes in a particular bit. It depends who you’re asking, really, but we don’t make it to be uncomfortable. I’ve always thought live performances become a bit of a battle and you have to dislodge some people’s ears in order to get somewhere else.
JR: The way people do or don’t enjoy live music seems really standoffish; it’s constructed in a strange way. Even a stage is already a barrier, so it sometimes feels like we’re trying to create an energy which is shared by us and the audience and it’s sometimes really difficult to do that.
In terms of constructing a song, do you begin with an idea and add embellishments, or do you have small ideas that you think might work together? How individual or collaborative is the process?
JR: It’s kind of different now. For Twilight Splendour it was very separated, at the start at least, but now it’s more collaborative. That was one of the things we discussed about the last record that we wanted to try differently with the new material that we’re writing. It seems to come together quite organically in my mind, little bits go back and forth, and once there’s an idea it just evolves with as we play it. In terms of the initial idea, it comes quite separately, or it did for Twilight Splendour anyway. Somebody comes with an idea, we learn that idea and we go to different places with that basis for a song.
Twilight Splendour demonstrates a fascination with the good and bad sides of technology – what do you make of current advancements in technology and are they making it an exciting time for experimentation in electronic music?
BV: I kind of feel it’s always been the same… (laughs) it just means everybody’s making stuff. It’s a double edged sword because there’s more shit to wade through. I think it’s an exciting time because good music is being made and it’s better than it was a few years ago, but even then the majority of it is less than inspiring, or maybe slightly inspiring. There aren’t that many good bands or live acts; everyone’s making electronic music and they don’t know how to do a fucking show. I’ll go to shows and I won’t mind the music but the experience is really dull. That’s how I feel anyway.
How about capabilities and different ways you can approach making the music? For example, the use of artificial intelligence influencing music?
JR: I don’t know about AI in music to be honest.
BV: I’ve heard there a TravisBott which is a Travis Scott AI, and it’s better than most of his tunes. I guess that’s because it’s very recognisable and people can feed it easily to make that. But I don’t know on the whole, if you like the sort of thing bands like Autechre do, where they build patches that compose music for them, I find that to be a bit of a brainwank situation to be honest.
JR: I’m much more excited by humans making music that sounds like it’s made by a robot. I think Arca is a very inspirational artist, probably one of my favourites at the moment. It’s not just music, but it’s performance as well –
BV: Yeah, when I saw an Arca show a few years ago, she used technology in a visual sense to make the show more impactful. Not just on screens, but there were props, and it’s really interesting when artists use it creatively and technology is there to do a good thing. If you ask the right questions, you could stumble upon a new way of doing something, but it has to be relevant to your performance. There’s no point in doing something just because it’s cool or because other people have done it. It’s something we are interested in – we’re doing this one show in London which will have a visual element to it which we haven’t ever done before. I’ve never really had experience with live visuals before but it’s definitely going to influence the performance.
JR: We’re thinking a lot more about how we’re on stage, and how to make the link more interesting between performers and the audience. I think we’re focusing more on that, because I think the one thing we all agree on is that watching electronic music in a live setting can be extremely boring. There’s so much potential to make it more interesting but so often it’s just about someone standing in front of a screen, which is really frustrating. We don’t want to be doing that; I don’t think we’ve ever been boring…
Words: Reuben Cross Photography: Tom Glencross