Y’all Is Fantasy Island’s latest album and third dollop of noise, ‘No Ceremony’ has been received as their most accomplished work yet. So why haven’t they been signed yet? Surely a band of such obvious worth cannot be beaten simply by the law of averages. With this in mind, Maitiu Corbett towed the treacherous trail out to Anniesland Cross to find out their views on the record industry, homicidal trees, and Jim, in a bath, naked.
Photo : Declan Corbett
The pale dirty white of the ex-Cinema building housing Adam Stafford’s flat bears a grim resemblance to the lead singer’s sallow skin, just as the building’s 60s recreation of 1920s Art Deco glory corresponds with Tommy Blair’s gnarly guitar tributes to the latter, darker 60s and early 70s.
This is strange, because the band’s actual demeanour sits better with the relaxed mood of the pub they meet me in across the road. Make no mistake of it, Y’all is Fantasy Island are charming bastards. If a decent record label could see past the crude sophistication in their sound, they would be an asset in PR.
The moment I enter Stafford’s flat I am showered with tea and pelted with biscuits. But enough about the Jaffa Cakes…
What do you guys think about all the nice wee reviews you’re getting about the new album ‘No Ceremony‘?
Adam: I don’t know, well it’s nice. I’d like to be taken more seriously by bigger publications I think but for publications like Plan B, The List and The Skinny to give us a look-in is flattering. I mean, there’s no way that we’re even gonna get a look-in with the NME, not that we particularly want to, or Pitchfork or anything like that without having a label or a marketing team behind us, so it kind of makes me a little proud that we’ve done everything ourselves – all our PR, we’ve pressed the records ourselves, we’ve written and recorded and mastered the albums ourselves – so it’s kind of nice that there’s some payback on the review side. It would be horrible if we just put something out there and no one noticed it, or they gave us stinking reviews. You never know, there’s the next album, so possibly the that’ll get stinking reviews. Hopefully not…
Jamie MacLeod (bassist): We could do a cover of Bad Review by Half Man Half Biscuit. [general sniggering]
Steven Tosh (drummer): I don’t think we could do that justice. Adam: It’s strange because I think we shine more live, I think that’s where our energy is. Obviously we put a lot of time into writing and recording the albums but it’s sometimes strange that the live reviews tend to be less positive than the album reviews, which strikes me as strange but we are at the stage now live that it’s quite forceful I guess.
Tommy: That’s the thing, at the moment when we’re playing the live sets the vast majority of what we’re playing is really really loud, so people that come to see us who have listened to the first two albums – which is generally a much quieter affair – they’re a bit like ‘what’s this?’.
The songs from No Ceremony have been around for a while, but was that a conscious decision to really push the boat out and get a bit louder, of did you just find yourself getting louder and angrier as time went on?
Tommy: Well we’ve been playing those songs for 2 years, maybe 3 years, so it was just natural to record it. I mean even before Steve and Jim joined we were playing really loud, and it is quite hard to take the quieter stuff off the first two albums and play it in a Cabaret Voltaire context, play it in King Tuts or whatever, because it doesn’t translate necessarily that well, especially when Adam and I don’t own acoustic guitars…
Adam: When we released In Faceless Towns Forever [first album] in 2006 we had probably 8 or 9 months when we did really quiet shows in Edinburgh and Glasgow and it just wasn’t really translating at all. What we should have done, in hindsight, is we should have… we played a really good gig in Tchai Ovna in Glasgow, the coffee house, and it was really good because there was chatty people there but they were told to be quiet.So we really should have toured and played out first album in those kind of venues but I guess, because we were naïve and we thought it would translate more, we were just ended up really getting fed up with people chatting.We still kind of do… Yeah, I think most artists, even artists that are pretty loud, still feel that the louder they play, the more people try to talk over them.
I read an interview with Brian McMahan, who was in Slint and The For Carnation, and he said that it irked him at the beginning because The For Carnation are quite a quite, brooding band but the more he toured with that material, the more he just realised that sometimes… I mean we’ve all done it, we’ve all walked into a pub or a bar and not known that a band’s been playing and stood at the bar and talked and had a drink – so there’s always that thing that you’ve got to understand that there are people there that are not interested in seeing the music.They’re just interested in standing there drinking, and I guess unless somebody gets up on stage of Leonard Cohen proportions they’re not really going to get it.
Jamie: It’s also about… if you go and see someone and they just play the record, it’s kind of boring, do you know what I mean? If you go and see someone and they’re put out a record, so they play the whole thing and it sounds the same, you might as well have just saved your money and put the CD on. Isn’t that what you guys were going to do at the Captain’s Rest?
Tommy: Well we don’t play it like… well we do play it like the record but it’s not a carbon copy.
I did notice that one song was significantly augmented.
Tommy: A lot of the stuff we play live isn’t on the record, a lot of my guitar parts, for instance, are made up on the spot [Adam laughs in surprise, and possibly in opposition…] so there’s a lot…
Steven: We’ve got that on tape now. Yeah, this is going down in history, this could come up in court. Especially if there’s a battle over the rights to songs, they could be like ‘well, you didn’t really write any of it…’
Tommy: Aye, well when we record it I just make it up differently, but it’s always quite spontaneous when we play live, it’s always a bit different.
Adam: I certainly think that on record you definitely had all the guitar parts written beforehand…
Tommy: I just played them really quickly and it seemed that way but no, I made them all up.
Adam: Right OK… I was gonna contest that but…
How long did it take to record your new album?
Tommy: Well we did it in my living room, but it took longer in terms of weeks. We did the first set of drums… when did we do that? In April or something?
Steven: If you put it in actual recording time it didn’t take long at all, it’s just because it’s spread out.
Tommy: Yeah it was about 10 days in total but it took us about 3 months to get it all done.
Adam: Well the first session was started when Jonny [McCall, original drummer] played drums and that was back in 2007.
Tommy: -but that track was done within a day.
Which track was that?
Adam: We actually recorded 5 songs from that session, but only 2 that went on the album which were Hell-bent O My Love and Jack Montgomery, and we would have rerecorded them but the cellist who played on the songs had since joined the Musicians’ Union and we couldn’t afford to pay her their new rates. And plus Tommy and I were also scared that if she did come back in to do the cello it wouldn’t sound as good.
So you already had ‘the take’?
Adam: Pretty much. I didn’t see, technically or performance-wise, with Jack Montgomery any… I think Hell-bend O My Love was probably the hardest song on the album to mix.
Tommy: It would have sounded better if we had re-recorded it and Steven played on it, but it was done.
Tell us more about winningspermparty.com. You guys seem to have a fairly good link with the people who run the website. How do you submit material to them?
Adam: Well usually what happens is I give Robert Alexander, who runs Winning Sperm Party, a phone and we meet for a curry [chuckles]. And I say to him ‘would you mind doing this or doing that?’. I mean we’ve got a film soundtrack album which we’re thinking of putting out perhaps just as a download [Infanticidal Genuflector, on the site now to download for free] and we’re like ‘do you want to put it up?’ and I give him a CD and a date I want to put it up and he says ‘yes’.
Tommy: He’s not said no yet. There’s a lot of faith there.
Adam: He went away and set up a whole online shop for Wise Blood Industries [YIFI’s self-run label] on the website, which has got our 4 albums on it and you can download and buy them from there.
Actually, talking of Wise Blood… what do you think about the rise in popularity of music downloads?Are you wanting to secure a deal for yourselves or just see if you can go it alone?
Jamie: If you can get paid to go and rehearse, then that’s quite good. That doesn’t mean we want to go and buy a yacht.
Tommy: There’s two extreme’s right now. I mean you get a crap deal and end up working in Tesco or you can get a massive deal, which isn’t really gonna happen nowadays. It’s pretty rare for bands to get big deals these days. Maybe Biffy Clyro… there aren’t really any Scottish bands who’ve made serious money recently.
Jamie: Glasvagas have done pretty well… Yeah, they were pretty much sponsored by Connect Festival…
Tommy: It would just be nice, if we did get a record deal, to just be able to play the music and not have to worry about everything else that goes along with that. We’re just doing that all the time. Well, Adam does the majority of it but I’m sure I could speak for him as well.
Adam: I think, as well, it would give us more of a chance to practice because sometimes that’s a bone of contention with us four, organising to get together and do it for a day or two days, whereas I’m pretty sure that with other bands even on small labels, some of our friends’ bands that are signed, they can practice and spend full days in the studio
Tommy: –and it’s all paid for by somebody else. Broken Records got a permanent space down in Leith.
Adam: I think though that part of their success, and The View’s as well – not mocking Broken Records – was that a management company got behind them, which is kind of instrumental. It would just be nice to be able to re-release the first couple of albums on small run and do a massive release of No Ceremony, even on a mid-size label, that would be like, you know, all the years of hard work had finally paid off. I mean it’s quite difficult for the average person now to buy any of our records, unless they come to see us live, or just happen to stumble across a good review or a link or a blog and then get redirected to the Winning Sperm Party shop.It’s not like we’ve got racks like Glasvagas in HMV.
Tommy: Don’t we have racks in Avalanche now? [Adam laughs] I noticed that the other day. I just suggested that because we have 3 albums now we should probably have a section.
Do you think music should just be available for people to download for free?
Jamie: It’s better to have your music distributed than not at all. I mean, if you can find it on the internet then you can download it, so you might as well just accept that fact and not be like Metallica. They try to make money out of everything. There are some bands that just want to get paid, and they don’t mind if you enjoy the record or not because they’ve already been paid.
Tommy: I think downloads are a great thing because (a) there’s more music available and (b) more people hear new music, but it definitely breaks the link between a band and a certain product, so it is really hard to make money these days. If everyone who’s got a copy of one of our albums had paid a tenner for it, we’d probably be doing alright, but they haven’t so I not sure quite where I stand on it.
Adam: Even when you just release a record, it’s back up on somebody’s computer and appearing on Soul Seek.
Tommy: It’s just about whether or not, with all that music being free, it sets the bar higher for small bands to jump from making the odd £50 to actually earning money.
Adam: We’ve already put out a free EP and a free album this year… and Jim and I were saying that next year we could do a 10-track compilation from our first two albums which you could download for free.
Jamie: It comes down to: of you don’t have a record deal then you might as well make your stuff as freely available as possible across the internet, and spread it virally through blogs and stuff, because then people will hear your music and you have the possibility of getting signed because your music’s been distributed widely.
When you pick up your respective instruments, who is the first person you think of?
Steven: Jim, in a bath, naked. [general laughter and, possibly, some agreement]
Adam: you think about Jim naked?! Apparently someone asked Charles Mingus what he thinks of and he just said he looks at the drummer and thinks “fuck you! Fuck you man!” [more laughter]
Adam: I think John Lennon said that he used to think about trying to write a song like Chuck Berry but then it would come out as something completely different. That’s sort of a rule of thumb in song-writing, that you sit down and try and write a song that sounds like, or you hope will be as good as, a song you admire and then somehow it morphs and turns into something else.
Jamie: I think about Ross Clark. [of Ross Clark and the Scarfs Go Missing] I reckon he thinks about you as well.
Adam: I used to think I was a black man from the Mississippi when I was like 21 [general sniggering] but now I really don’t bother about that sort of thing.
Tommy: I guess I think about my pedals and what I can do with them. I just think about the song. That comes from the point of view of a guitarist but a lot of guitarists think too much and try to make it too fancy. I basically just think about ‘this is in C, so lets play a C…’.
Adam: I think on all our albums there’s elements of other people. Sometimes I listen to Rescue Weekend and think there’s a lot of Lamb Chop in there.
Jamie: I don’t know, you go on, you plug in, make sure you’ve got enough beer, make sure everyone’s alright, and then you just… play.
If you were about to die, who would be the last person you would think about?
Jamie: Ross Clark. [more laughter]
Steven: Jim naked in a bath. There’s a theme developing here…
Tommy: Probably Robert Mugabe…
Jamie: If you were about to die?!
Tommy: Exactly. [yes, laughter]
Adam: It depends what kind of death it was.
So if you’re going to be killed by a person you’re probably going to be thinking about them?
Adam: Well, yeah, you’re going to think ‘don’t kill me’ you know? What if you were killed by a randomly-falling tree?
Adam: You wouldn’t have time to think. I think if you were in a plane whose engines had died out and you knew you were going to die, I guess you’d probably think about your immediate family and your girlfriend and just all the people you would miss but I think if you got shot outside of a grocery shop you wouldn’t have time to think until you were dying on the ground. Yeah you probably not going to be thinking ‘aww, I left the washing out, it’s started to rain now…’.
Steven: Or ‘wasn’t Jimi Hendrix really good?’ [laughter]
Tommy: I’m not entirely sure what I’d think about… ‘why am I dead?’ … ‘I wish I’d moved to the left when I saw that f*ckin’ tree coming.’