London art-pop four-piece, Hatcham Social, release their new album on Tim Burgess’s label, O Genesis. ‘Cutting Up The Present Leaks Out The Future’, the follow up to last year’s ‘About Girls’, is the band’s third long player and is already widely seen as their most accomplished set of songs to date. Here they interview themselves.
We walk into a small public house in East London. Many bands live in East London and this can be a vexing situation: you may want to hear from a band who lives in Warsaw. That is fine but there is a reason so many people of certain types live in certain areas at certain times: shared interests and a need to get away from the normative ideas.
So, anyway, we are in a pub. It is a nice enough place, nothing special. There are three members of our band, Hatcham Social, at this meeting and the presence – in spirit – of a fourth man: Richard Davis. Richard Davis runs a publication called River’s Edge. River’s Edge want an interview with Hatcham Social. More than this, they want us to interview ourselves – a strange concept, but one we feel we can accommodate.
We sit down around a small round table. Placing bags on the floor, and coats of the backs of chairs; all that kind of stuff. We order drinks and sit back down. We have: one gin and tonic, one whisky, one lager. Richard has a lager too. Or at least he would do if he was here. We remember the conversation that started all this:
‘I want you guys to interview yourselves,’ said Richard.
‘What? That means we do all the work!’ said the band in harmonized unison.
‘Er, that’s rather negative,’ said Richard. ‘But no, it means you get to ask yourselves the questions nobody ever asks.’ Richard paused. Then he continued: ‘And it means, admittedly, that River’s Edge don’t have to do any work.’
‘Hmmmm. Ok. Right.’ David looked at Finn. Finn turned his head and looked at Toby. Toby stared at the floor. ‘Ok. Let’s do it,’ we said.
This is what we did: we wrote out a list of words, we moved those words around into sentences and then upon reflection threw the sentences away. We thought over this for days and nights. Drank, ate, slept. Then we wrote out a list of questions, while holding our breath, and tried to answer them as quickly and as non-thought through as possible. Which brings us back to the pub. And the questions.
What is more important? Public recognition or critical acclaim? Or the respect of one’s peers?
It all seems to mean nothing when you see how arbitrary that all the above gets. It is all just taste. But, as the Romans understood, a man is only what people think of him: you are your reputation. So I think all of the above are important, but if you are doing things right you will not receive acclaim from all quarters – in fact you will hope that some people struggle to see it. In many ways though, the work (and this may seem like a cliché, but so many clichés derive from truisms) is an exploration for the band and is a personal journey. The best art perhaps is something that goes deeper than commercial opportunism.
What is the point in making an album?
Like any craft, there will always be people vying for trade. We are in the trade of making something to make people’s lives better and more fullfilled: for entertainment. We hope we bring something that nobody else is doing, that can make people feel something, fill a need. The point though, more than anything, is because we need to.
Why make a third album?
Because we want to. Oh, and because this one was really important. We could have finished after the first one and then done something else, but the second album took it on a tangent and we really only felt it fitted as part of a run of albums.
What makes the third album better or worse?
It is the best complete album we have made. It is the most clear a vision yet.
What makes music valid?
Making something that gives you something you cannot get somewhere else. Maybe. There is a fundamental idea in our culture that going forward is better, that invention is the height of man’s powers. If this is so then something that feels fresh is valid. Also though, perhaps humankind’s problems are more perennial than this and music is something that gets re-invented with new surroundings: so it is worth doing if you feel you can refresh for your time and place.
Where do you get your lyrics from?
Me and Finn write the lyrics (says Toby). We work in different ways. We write a lot of lyrics and keep a lot of writing and then sometimes things seem valid and to have resonance. Sometimes the concept comes first – you have something you want to express, and you let these things fall out. I will usually still let a lot of words drop before choosing. Although there are times when you want that first initial unedited reaction like the beat poets; something like ‘More Power to Live’ worked like that.
Do you think craft is important?
The craft of music is like the grammar in writing: you want to use it to make your point or your feelings heard. If you dive in and enjoy it you can manipulate it in the most creative ways.
How does the band deal with genres?
Genres are marketing ploys first, but humans are tribal, and certain types of musical experiments have gone into certain directions that relate to certain moods and people and lives. It is fun to jump around genres but know what you are doing also.
How does it feel playing live?
It can be the most amazing social feeling. It can also be very strange and disconnected. Sometimes it is not a place you want to be, but you must. Sometimes you connect and the audience are there with you and it is a shared experience that is like no other.
What do you think about videos now?
Internet has made video culture different from when we were kids. People should play with it more.
Is electronic music more valid than guitars?
No. It lends itself to a less physical approach. It’s equally rewarding, but a very different aspect of your body that communicates with the machines.
Why is space so amazing?
It just is.
What have you been doing?
We are currently touring in Italy. We will be in Germany, France and UK after.
The new LP came out the other day. Other than that, Finn released a solo project EP late last year called Blue Moon. Toby has been working on an LP with singer/songwriter Amy Studt. Learning a few new chords.
What are you trying to do in the long run?
Make the great European novel in music form.
Who do you write for?
We are all writing to please the people in the band: if we like it then we figure there must be other people who feel the same. We might be wrong.
Does anyone even like you?
Seemingly a few do. Although not millions. Yet.
Do you always do the first thing that comes to your mind?
Is politics important in music?
Yes. Music should react to the world you live in. Humans are social animals, music and art are inherently political. Bands like Pussy Riot on one extreme are overtly anti-capitalist. We reflect the capitalist vs communist divide that has been at the heart of modern political thought. Maybe we will move away from those two ideologies soon. We should, perhaps, remind people that the way we dress, the way we talk, the way we buy or don’t is all political. In the song ‘Spirit of ’45’, we wanted to express feelings about how people worked together towards the common good in the period after the Second World War, inspired by the film by Ken Loach of the same name.
Maybe people can be inspired by this again. The song puts across a more overtly political message without revealing to much at the same time; there is a feeling in it which connects people, a feeling which people feel in different way; but it is definitely there.
What do you do with a drunken sailor?
Throw him over board. Or have a party and sing some sea-shanties.
What is a good breakfast?
Banana and peanut butter on toast.
Why is there only one answer, as if only one of you?
We hate reading interviews where people all answer. It is rubbish. We have melded our thoughts into one group mind.
What sentence would you use to describe yourself that would say to people why you should be in their lives or not in their lives?
Listen. No actually listen.
Why was it important to make the record in the way that you did?
We wanted to show our true selves better. We felt that doing it this way we let that through and kept it. If people are going to judge us harshly or love us, then let it be on our honest thoughts and loves.
These questions seem ill-thought through and somewhat random. Why did not think of any good ones?
Because it is how it happened. We are ill-fitted and bad journalists. We have said some things that we have not been asked that we have found interesting, in the order it came to us. And we have tried to make our responses reflect how we feel at this point in time. It would have been different a different day.
Any last thoughts?
Have fun. Thanks for being River’s Edge and thanks for being River’s Edge readers: people of curiosity.
Hatcham Social’s new album, Cutting Up The Present Leaks Out The Future, is available from Rough Trade and other most excellent record outlets.