16 May 2021 - Thorsten
Birmingham has “produced” some of the finest and most interesting bands and many of them rooted in the metal and doom songs that Black Sabbath gave birth to. Birmingham’s Outlander definitely have learned their share of Doom and will release a new record soon. Reason enough to talk with the band.
So folks, you have just recently announced that you will be releasing an EP in June through Church Road Records and also have already shared a first song called “Sundowning”. How did the collab with Justine and her guys come to be?
I sent over the two-track and Justine e-mailed back to say they were interested in releasing it for us. We were planning to self-release unless the right label came along so we were pretty surprised and very stoked when we heard back from them - CRR are putting out great music on a monthly basis and really have their finger on the pulse so it’s something we couldn’t be more pleased to be a small part of.
“Sundowning” is an interesting track because I had the feeling as if the beginning of the song was among the most straightforward things you guys had ever recorded. Was that an intention as many people see you as a “Doomgaze” kinda band?
This song was written shortly after we released The Valium Machine which was the culmination of a pretty long writing/recording process and I think at the time we were especially conscious that we wanted to develop our sound and do something new for the band. With this song we kind of tried to create a wall of sound by spreading the chord progression over three different registers - regular scale guitar, baritone and bass. The aim was to achieve a singular progression with subtly shifting harmonies within that movement, which may be why it comes across that way. When we started writing together our music would naturally seem to end up with lengthy, linear structures so it’s been a conscious decision to try and write with a more song-centric style at times. It’s always felt quite strange to use repeating sections and more conventional structures so more recently songs like ”Sundowning” and ”Sinking” have been fun and challenging in equal parts, but I think we’ll always do a little of both. The end of the song sits in the place where we’re probably most comfortable and I think where we’re best, but we’re always looking for different ways to present that part of our sound.
What inspires you for your records? From where do you draw your inspiration?
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where our inspiration comes from. We try to pull it from everywhere; a lot of our writing is a release of energy built up from the mundanity of day to day life. This being said, we’re constantly drawn to elements across all art mediums - art that leaves you a little bit empty when it’s over. I guess that’s what we’re trying to do to you.
Your new record also breaks with a certain aesthetic: You used seemingly everyday-on-the-travel-to-work snapshots which also hold some kind of little secret in them, the new record keeps up with the mysterious, but only shows a black-and-white-image. How much was that an initial plan for the record?
In some ways The Valium Machine was a culmination of a lot of things we were working towards for a long time. For the new EP, Sundowning / Unconditional, we changed the recording studio and tried a slightly different general approach so it made sense to retire that artwork format for now in favour of something new. I always liked the idea of having them organised visually into series - maybe one day we’ll revisit that format. We’re not that organised so I don’t think it was as much a plan as something we kind of felt out as we were making those decisions after we got the mastered project back. It’s worth mentioning that all of the photography across the most recent two records is from the archive of our friend Richard Lambert (@auspices on social media) who is an incredible photographer from Birmingham - his art is great and really worth checking out.
I can totally understand the idea of labeling you as a sort of doom-band – however I hear a lot more shoegaze-elements in your songs. Would you agree or would you label your band differently?
I think there are definitely elements of both in our sound and ”Unconditional” leans much more heavily on the doom side than ”Sundowning” for sure. We really like that our music seems to have naturally fallen into the doom/shoegaze crossover thing and we like a lot of the other bands involved but it was never something we did intentionally. We’re always exploring new ideas, and we’ve never really felt like there’s any avenue we couldn’t or wouldn’t pursue within the band. We love jamming together and nothing has ever seemed off the table in terms of ideas or inspiration for us. I’d like to think in the future we could make something that doesn’t resemble either genre and riffs on some other influences - I think we all really rate it when bands have a varied back catalogue and are unafraid to challenge themselves and change things up over their lifespan.
One thing that can be easily perceived are the very hushed vocals, which are even hidden behind all those walls of sound. Sometimes I had the feeling as if they are merely another instrument?
It’s been a learning curve for us in terms of making the right stylistic choices with lyrics, delivery, tonality and general balance within the songs that have included vocals up until now, but it’s been cool to play around with. We knew that vocals were something we wanted to include from the start of writing The Valium Machine but we’d never really tried writing with them in mind until then. With Sundowning/Unconditional we definitely felt more confident about how we wanted the vocals to sit on the record, and it’s very much another layer of instrumentation rather than being the focal point of the songs. Some of our favourite records have the ability to reveal little intricacies in the recordings after years of listening, and we definitely strive to include that level of detail when we’re recording.
Did my research turn out correct, that this is the first band for each of you guys which ends up releasing their songs? How did the band come to life?
We’ve all been in bands and had various projects in the past, but this is the first band where we’ve really worked collaboratively from start to finish and put out material we are completely happy with, which is really important to us. We’ve all been working on other projects outside of the band too, with COVID and being in different cities it’s been great to have another way to play music that can happen more frequently. Jack and Joe have been playing together in a version of this project since university with a few different musicians, then Dan joined sometime around 2014, at the time we were playing more straight up post-rock at the time with our friend Chris on guitar. We recorded Take Turns b/w I’ll Get Mine Too as kind of a demo then Chris left and we met Ian in 2016. The vibe got darker and we wrote and recorded Downtime b/w Plans - we’ve been playing together since.
You come from Birmingham, the place where “metal” - started but also a place where corrosion and rust is a topic, right? How do you see your city? And – in your opinion – is that in any way audible in your songs?
Birmingham is a working class, industrial city in the middle of the country - It’s quite a big place that feels like a small place with lots of really cool music. Over the past 10-15 years It’s been slowly letting go of it’s reputation for being quite a drab, grey place but that’s made it a pretty fitting backdrop for our music and I think it’s definitely been a massive influence on our sound.
Your first full-length was called The Valium Machine. What is that “machine”? How can is soothe us and our problems? And even more specific – what is The Valium Machine?
The title of that record was taken from a song by the band Valium Aggelein, a Duster side-project. They were a huge influence on us so i guess it was a way of paying tribute to them, while adopting an idea/title that felt like it encapsulated the sound and themes of the music. We felt like it was evocative of a kind of suburban haze; the numb, bleary-eyed version normality we were trying to write the soundtrack to.
“The Machine” is a term very often used by musicians – is that an anti-capitalist, anti-traditional term in your opinion? Or what is it for you?
It can be/is used that way. I think in our case it was more in reference to all of the infallible systems that make up normal, everyday life. Some of the dissatisfaction is political, some with the structure of working life, the repetitiveness of it all - we were trying to represent a kind of detachment from all of it.
Many bands have spoken out about their struggles during the pandemic, I’m sure, you yourselves also had problems – but how did you cope with it as a band, not as individuals?
Unfortunately right at the start of the pandemic we had a run of shows in Europe planned around a slot at Dunk!Festival which got postponed, it would’ve been both our first tour and first time abroad so we were pretty disappointed, but what can you do? Hopefully we’ll be able to make our way over and play those shows when the situation allows us to. I think in the grand scheme of things our problems were relatively minor compared to a lot of people and in some ways the pandemic happening has forced us to diversify our approach to writing. We spent a lot of our time getting to grips with working individually at home, and sharing our ideas via the internet which is a pretty big contrast from how we’d normally do thina. Before all this, we’d usually write music collaboratively, meeting in our rehearsal space as often as possible and jamming until something starts to resemble a song or we catch a bit of inspiration. We were quite fortunate to have a backlog of fairly embryonic songs recorded on our phones that needed working out and expanding upon, which really helped us keep momentum through the months where we were locked down and unable to get together.
What becomes pretty obvious when listening to your music is the thoughtfulness of the drum patterns, with the drums seemingly being even more important than the guitars, as the drums push the songs forward. How important are the drums for you?
Jack’s drums are incredibly important to our sound. Often the guitars are fairly static, angular or textural, so Dan and Jack have to occupy quite a lot of space to carry it all forward and keep things driving. We try to capture drums in a way that’s as natural and dynamic as possible. On The Valium Machine we recorded drums in a church for the natural reverb and very little was done to change those captured sounds and on the new record. We all played together with Jack while he was recording, dropping the click track out after a couple of bars to allow each section to push and pull as they would live. We love the way drums sound in a good room so we’ve always tried to record them in that way.
Many of your songs exceed the 8-minute-barrier easily, but only a few of them have been shorter. Is it more difficult for you to write shorter songs? To focus on keeping it short and simple?
It’s quite natural for us to write that way, it allows us to try and create sections that are hypnotic and repetitive and really sit on ideas until they reach a level of energy we’re happy with. I definitely sometimes feel like I’ve not done enough in a song or almost like I’m cheating if we leave something short/with a simplistic structure, but I think we’re getting more used to knowing how to write in different ways with age. Some of our lockdown demos have been deliberately written to be much shorter so we’ll see how they go once we get to working on them in person.
And now a few very quick questions:
Spotlights or Cathedral? Spotlights are pretty cool. I liked Love And Decay.
Candles or professional lighting? Candles - we can’t afford professional lighting!
Snapshot or arranged composition? Snapshot, much more natural and relaxed.
Favourite record of last year and why? Impossible to choose just one - here’s a list of recent favourites we did collaboratively.
Glittering sunlight or obstructed singular rays? Obstructed singular rays.
Beer or Wine? A good pint with the boys is hard to beat.
Build-up and collapse or minimal ambient flow? Minimal ambient flow, it’s the less obvious choice and more difficult to do well.
Sunrise or sunset? Sunset - I’m more of a night person.
Favorite spot – stage or studio? Stage is a lot of fun for us, but studio time has been the highlight of our calendars - all living together, trying new ideas and obsessing over gear choices.