The story goes that on our rider we ask for four baby pigs dressed in racing jackets, so we can race them… But I think we could update it for four gerbils…
It's been a long day, both for Brakes (who had just flown in following a late-night gig in London) and for yours truly, who had been working long and hard interviewing CoCo Rosie. Still, singer Eamon Hamilton and guitarist Tom White are happily relaxing in the afternoon sun, revelling in the fact that, instead of presenting them with a professional interview, I was content to talk rubbish.
IN: I was talking about Charles II and his dogs earlier...
Tom White is sipping his pint in a considered, ruminatory manner; "I'll tell you something interesting. Elizabeth I's foundation was lead-based and after a while it began to destroy her face. So the more she used to cover up her face to compensate, the more it would eat away at her skin."
Eamon: George IV liked his make-up I believe.
IN: There is the Brighton connexion with Brakes and George IV.
T: What I like about George IV are his palaces. They are incredible.
E: Pure excess. If you do the tour of the pavilions there's a sample menu of a banquet, and there's 90 courses. Think of that, 90 courses and I think it took 6 hours to eat!
IN: It is amazing the amount people ate at weddings; involving a ridiculous variety of courses, whole days given over to eating and drinking and making merry...
T: Obviously a lot to be said for the quality of the food. I suppose people then were much more curious and inventive about sampling different foodstuffs... People seem to be more bound to choosing to eat food that they are familiar with. My folks always encouraged us to try something different rather than presenting us with just chips and burgers.
E: that reminds me. I had cow's brains the last time I was in Amsterdam.
IN: Did you enjoy that?
E: Not particularly no. It's not very nice. It doesn't taste of anything apart from mush.
T: My dad was in China on a business trip. They had a starter and he said the whole table suddenly looked as if it had been covered in tarpaulin. It, (the tarpaulin), turned out to be a whole jellyfish. And that wasn't all. On another course he had this really stringy meat; when he asked the waiter what it was, he was told that it was called "chicken sister", which, he subsequently discovered, was squirrel...
T: It's a bit misleading...
E: I've seen that in Horsham in the farmers markets there. You can buy "tree rabbits" which turn out to be squirrels when you enquire.
Actually, this leads quite neatly into a question I was asked to ask you. The reason I ask this question is that there is a bet on that I won't dare ask it, but I shall. Here 'tis. Have either of you ever stroked a weasel?
T: I've held a weasel.
IN: What was it like?
T: Rampant. Lots of claws. An evil thing. They are longer than you think. They have got a very similar head to a hamster. There's no central point to which you can cling.
IN: What about you, Eamon?
E: (giggling) I have never, ever stroked a weasel.
T: People keep them, don't they?
IN: I think that's ferrets.
T: Oh, fuck no, man, that's what I held.
E: My mate had ferrets at primary school. They are very smelly indeed.
T: They are similar looking, aren't they?
E: Ferrets are pretty big though, compared to weasels.
T: I've got gerbils. They are brilliant. They've never bitten me, but I can't tell them apart...
IN: I'd better ask a question about the album now, after the gerbil stuff. I find it very strange album to be honest. I find there are a lot of contradictions inherent within it. For an example it's very short but it finds time to be very varied. It doesn't sit still at all. It's restless. I wanted to know if that restlessness is inherent naturally within Brakes.
T: It has certainly got purpose. The songs are not jammed, or anything. They are all pre-written by Eamon. Because we've all played in bands before so we kind of know what works.
E: I don't write everything. Just the bare bones of the song. There's also a fair degree of impatience there, because we hardly ever got to see each other over the last two or three years – so most of what we were doing, we were doing off the cuff, and it sounded great – especially as we had the collective challenge of knowing that we had to go into the recording studio and do the best we could in a very short space of time. Restless? Yeah, I'd say so.
IN: I think you are restless. It reminds me of a couple of Buzzcocks or Guided by Voices albums, where you have that feeling of the band trying to capture the essential spirit of a recording, whether or not there are mistakes made.
T: I think also it is a deliberately succinct album. There's actually a lot of thought behind it. The intention was to make something that was very easy to get. Not that what Eamon sings about is always easy to follow...
IN: What I liked about the album is that you have a very happy side to your music as seen by All Night Disco Party, yet within a couple of songs you throw up something like I Can't Stand to Be Beside You.
T: If you take a song by itself, you do listen to things differently. A lot of people try to make an album where one idea is presented throughout, but with Brakes, a lot of the music's message lies within each individual song, and differs accordingly. I reckon each song should stand up on its own.
IN: You fight against concepts...
T: I've felt that we all have for ages. In these modern times each band is represented more and more by one song. If the song is inherently weak, it won't be improved by putting it next to a good one.
IN: At present you could say the music scene is like 1965, where a lot of bands make two great singles and a bad album (not that you have, by the way!)
T: That's true, but we wanted songs right through Give Blood that would stand up and be counted.
E: Everyone changes within the album's recording anyway. You get angry while you're playing then that feeling suddenly goes. Maybe those feelings get picked up in the ether somewhere.
IN: What is it about Brighton? There are so many bands. All your bands for starters...
E: Well, 80s Matchbox, Electrelane... there are tons, I agree.
T: It's been on-going since punk. The real down period was 1995 to 1999, where there was nothing going on. But since 2000 or 2001 things suddenly sprouted.
E: The Electric Soft Parade got signed and that kicked everyone up a gear.
T: The problem with Brighton is that whilst everyone agrees it is a really artistic town, no-one really does anything about it...
IN: Similar to Amsterdam...
E: All the bands from Brighton have different sounds, so it is a case that each band wants to prove something to the other bands around. When Electrelane turned up with that sound they have, which is amazing by the way, it was like a fresh challenge.
T: They are playing Metropolis aren't they? I don't think I've ever played a gig with Electrelane.
(A discussion then ensues over the relative merits of Metropolis. Brakes seem excited).
IN: I'd now like you two to furnish all my readers with an eccentric image that they can cherish as a personal gift from Brakes.
E: A carriage pulled by mice and weasels.
T: Or a bus pulled by weaners. A bus which has got Brakes in it. We like pigs. The story goes that on our rider we ask for four baby pigs dressed in racing jackets, so we can race them... But I think we could update it for four gerbils...
E: Gerbils running round with little parachutes attached, so if they want to jump from a high place, they can.
IN: All set to a backdrop of Stalin's speeches.
T: I'd like to get some fake gerbils, just in case one gets injured.
IN: I think you'd only get those in London. I'm sure there is a shop somewhere in London selling fake gerbils.
T: Model gerbils. We got model pigs once, these little model pigs...
E: Yeah! Yeah! With racing livery painted on.
IN: Okay. To change the subject back to Give Blood. It's a very romantic concept, to go into the studio, press go, record, and then wrap it up in a week and return to your other bands.
E: It was a self-challenge. To prove that bands can do it.
T: Musically you don't need anything other than the band. Most bands make a record by sprucing up what they've already got, using technology, pro-tools and so on, to edit it. We wanted to make a good record like a record from the 1960s.
IN: Satisfaction was conceived, written, produced and in the shops in something like a 14 day period.
E: That's excellent! Nowadays it's more like three months. There was so much magic when we recorded Give Blood. It was so focused.
T: And also we did a bit of rehearsal... playing-wise we knew we'd be up to scratch, because we'd also been playing it over in our minds for a while. There was a feeling inherent in all of us that said "let's give it all we can". We only did one overdub on each track, if that; maybe a bit of piano, and then Eamon did the vocals live.
E: I did indeed (laughs)
IN: That's how a band should work. You always run a risk of things not working out and there are moments when I personally don't think it works on Give Blood, but when it does exceed my expectations at other times.
T: That's what's good about the album, in that the human element is very much present within the recording process.
E: We all made mistakes on the album, didn't we? After five days, we talked about whether we should change things, but then we thought, well, why should we change anything?
T: We deliberately kept it rough, we could have added other guitar parts to smooth everything out, and it's so refreshing to make a record like this – having worked with other big labels before – it's like a dream come true. I can't ever see myself making another record differently again. I've made stuff all alone, in a room, endlessly changing things. But when you've worked with a band, you have to capture the moment. If it sounds slap dash and shit, that's the band's fault. It frustrates me when a band lambastes a sound-guy, because its down to the band to get the sound sorted. Another benefit to creating an lp like this is knowing that you can put a good show on every night...
E: It's also been good playing to a hip-hop audience because recently we've been touring with Buck 65. At the start of every night you can see the audience looking at us thinking "who the hell are these guys with their guitars?" But we usually win them round!
IN: I rather think you and Buck 65 have certain similarities, in that you both put forth your views, however quirky...
T: I asked Buck if he played anything, and he said he can replicate virtually everything he does in a studio. People get this perception that he's a rapper but I don't think he is...
Time's up Richard....
For the second time in the day I ran out of time, or rather, ate up the valuable interview time of some other journo. Ho hum... I decided to retire to the bar to recover from the gerbil discussion.
Later, press duties safely completed, drummer Alex White and bassist Marc Beatty decided to use my local knowledge to reconnoitre the area, with the express intention of sampling the herbal cigarettes that seem to be all the rage with the young nowadays.
Still later that night Brakes proved as good as their word, sound-checking in about 5 minutes with nary a comment, (save Alex wondering if there was not enough thump on his base drum), and then blasting out a live radio set on 3voor12 that got more ferocious the further it proceeded. They were tight and despite the Dutch meeja crowd's initial chatter, seductive and ultimately triumphant, blasting out Cheney twice (well, why not, it's only 25 seconds long). Roll on Metropolis.
Words: Richard Foster.
Pictures: Courtesy of www.brakesbrakesbrakes.com