"I guess rock music was a sort of blank canvas for us to throw all this other stuff onto..." hmv.com talks to Field Music
Sunderland-based brothers Peter and David Brewis, better known collectively as Field Music, have been quietly building a name for themselves over the last decade, winning critical acclaim for their clever brand of intricate, cerebral pop music. Since their last album, 2012's Plumb, both have become dads and they've taken on a range of side projects, solo albums and even created a soundtrack album for a 1929 documentary about herring fishing.
Their new album, Commontime, is as eclectic as you would expect and it may just be their best record yet. We grabbed Peter Brewis for a chat about working on their latest record, where he discusses rediscovering the Beatles, how having kids has changed their approach to writing lyrics and why making music isn't a democratic process...
Before we talk about the new record, it's been four years since your last album proper, Plumb. What have you been up to in the meantime?
“Well David's done his solo record, under the name School of Language. He does all that himself, playing all the instruments and producing it himself, so it's a solo record in the strictest sense! Then I made and album with Paul Smith from Maximo Park called Frozen by Sight. It's possibly the most collaborative thing I've ever done, we got a big band together for that, with a string quartet, double bass, tuned percussion and all that, which was really good fun.”
“The other main thing we've done is we've both started families, we've both been quite hands-on dads. Well, in context, I'm sure our wives have done most of the work!”
So what was the starting point for the new album? When did you start working on it?
“We started around February last year. We knew it would take a while to do things because we were only getting three days a week in the studio together, but we have our own little studio. I think we knew we were going to do a new record by the December before, we'd been throwing around some ideas about the sort of thing that we wanted to do. We just wanted to go in and have some fun together, singing around the one microphone, which is why there's lots of conspicuous backing vocals all over the record.
“We'd been introducing our sons to the kind of pop music that we liked when we were younger, and that we thought they'd like, so we actually ended up listening to a lot of the Beatles. We were listening to these really famous songs on repeat, again and again, getting slightly bored with them, trying and hear something new in things like 'I Want To Hold Your Hand'. But there's this joy when John, Paul and George are singing and I thought 'that's something that I want to try and get to'.”
What other stuff have you been listening to for inspiration? The album is very eclectic...
“Yeah, well the Beatles is a very obvious one, but I do sometimes think people misinterpret their influence and miss the point. They were kind of like magpies, you know? They took everything that was around and transformed it into their own style of music. They were very experimental, but in a really commercial way, so I suppose in a way that was what we were trying to do, combine all the different things we've been listening to over the years and condense it into something coherent. So I guess rock music was a sort of blank canvas for us to throw all this other stuff onto, things we'd borrowed from jazz, early 20th century classical music, Stax and Motown, early American R&B, all of that.”
You're both known for being involved in lots of different projects and bands, does the Field Music stuff happen in between or do you set aside a block of time to do it?
“When we do a Field Music thing we need all of our focus on it really, just because it gets quite intense. Not in a bad way, but because we're playing most of the instruments, recording and producing it ourselves. We have got some other musicians on this one though, there are some great horn players, there's a string quartet. But we're in charge of everything.”
Being brothers, how does that work in the studio? Is one of you always in charge, or is it quite democratic?
“Oh, it's not democratic at all! Normally whoever came up with the initial idea will get veto. So if Dave comes in with an idea for a song, the material itself will normally be fairly finished. I might suggest different things, he might take it on board or might just shoot me a look. He doesn't have to say anything, but it means: 'You know what? This is my song, so just shut up', haha!”
Are you the kind of band that likes using loads of vintage gear?
“It depends, we like fairly esoteric stuff. I mean, we use a mac to record on and some of the software synths that are in there, if they do the job. We have some old gear, but it's normally stiff that's fairly cheap to pick up. You know, some people might go for a Fender Rhodes electric piano, but that starts to signify a kind of pseudo-authenticity that we're not really interested in. I don't really buy into that.
“We got this electronic piano called a CP30, a Yamaha, which didn't really find its way onto many records. It doesn't sound great, really, but it's a very specific sound. You can hear it on Tusk by Fleetwood Mac, Daryl Hall used one as well I think. So we found one of those for about £120 and we ended up splashing it all over the record! It's an odd-sounding thing.”
What kind of record is this lyrically? It seems a bit less political than some of your albums...
"Yeah, well we write a lot of words that are not necessarily intended as lyrics, but they become the material that we edit down for lyrics. With Plumb, we were singing stuff that was perhaps a little bit more political, but in a personal way, and I think with us having children now it does shift your perspective a bit, in terms of your responsibilities and stuff, so that does come through I think.”
So is Field Music your main focus for the foreseeable future, or are you both off doing different things again?
"It's the main focus for the next few months, definitely, because we're going to be playing a lot. We've got some UK dates coming up and then we've got a few dates in America as well. I think it's about four dates, doing club venues. We're looking forward to it, we haven't been there in about six years. After that, we've been commissioned to do another soundtrack. We're collaborating with another band from round our neck of the woods called One Digit. It's for a film called Asunder, it's basically about Sunderland during the first world war, different stories of life there during wartime. I've no idea what we're doing for it yet though, but it'll be very collaborative.”