Incendiary interview the British Expeditionary Force


Incendiary interview the British Expeditionary Force


So I started trying to do a feature on the new shoegaze / electronic / experimental scene, whatever that means. I think I'd been O-Ding on Ulrich Schnauss at the time. What I found was a collection of bands with very little in common, apart from their ability to make journalists use ridiculous nonsense phrases trying to describe them. Harder to pigeonhole than most are The British Expeditionary Force, not least because as they complete their second album and embark on their first national tour, they've only just become a band in the conventional sense. I caught up with singer Aid Burrows before their Manchester gig and started by asking him about the interesting history there...


AB: The other guy I was in partnership with when we started, is Justin Lockey; I was in a band (My Architects) who Justin was producing, he was in yourcodenameis:milo and we were both doing a lot of different things too. He lives in Newcastle and I live near Manchester. He had a bunch of demos that didn't have any vocals and I said look, I've got some ideas, I'll throw it your way, and that started off our "internet band" if you like.


I would send something to Justin and Justin would go yeah, that's wicked, let's move on, and after a little while we started thinking we can change a few things, throw it back and I'll add to it, he'll take away or mix it differently, a proper sign of the times really! I think other bands should give that a go definitely, cos it's working!



During the whole creation of the first album we didn't even meet, so we didn't really know how we were going to pull it off live or anything - we didn't care; we didn't really feel like it was something we were going to need to do live. Then we put that out on Myspace, asking "does anyone want to release this?" and a label got in touch straight away and said "yeah, go on then" and that's the album that's out at the moment, Chapter One.


And then since then we've incorporated more people - as it grew a bit we thought "right, how are we going to take this out live?" and Justin's idea was let's find a place that's in the middle of us geographically, show up for a weekend, learn all the songs and start doing gigs...


IN: I'd say it's probably closer in sound to your old band than to his, but nobody seems to be able to put a finger on it. Some things I've seen in reviews: "post-emo electro tinkling" (!!) and "progressive experimindie" (!!!!)… So go on, how would you describe it?


AB: You know I've thought about this a lot of times and I don't think anyone should try and put anything in a box really, I think what we tried to do was just something different from what we were both used to.


Everyone else always described it dead simply, you know, it's post rock, this that and the other, tinkly things, but we don't really hear it as categories like that. We'll have one track that'll be like an electronic ballad and then another one which'll be all distorted drums that sound like the Beatles, but then on top of it we'll splice something else - but that's a tricky one anyway, I mean look at the Beatles, how many different sounds did they have?


IN: The first thing I heard of yours was Crack in The Clouds which fits kind of nicely into the sort of new electro shoegaze thing...


AB: Yeah we've heard a lot of that, we know a few the bands who were pushing a lot of that scene, but if we felt we were part of a scene I think we'd run a mile to be honest. It's bad karma! As soon as something like that springs up it makes it seem a bit forced, and you start rounding things off to be included.



IN: So what sorts of things are influencing The British Expeditionary Force?


AB: We're influenced all over; I know we've taken things from a lot of the modern hip-hop stuff; something like Timbaland - take something like that and take a little bit of Phil Spector, it doesn't sound so obvious to anyone else but to us we really hear that. Influences come from anything that's going on at the time. You can take influence from architecture, or if something's disturbing you in some way.


Most of the lyrics are coming from conversations, an argument maybe, different points of view where you can't put it into words then and there but you figure out your points of view later on. Hard times, good times, big beats, slow beats, you know.


IN: So having developed as a studio project you're on your first national tour, how's it going with the full band?


AB: We've been squeezed into tiny venues and been not squeezed into massive venues as well, it's weird hearing the sound coming through, but we've changed it - we're doing very different things from the record, we've progressed it on; we've got two drummers, got a vocoder doing the legwork for the harmonies, a female backing singer even though it's just me on the record, it's been interesting to hear all that going on.


But because we'd been an internet band the weirdest thing is when you go out and you meet people who've actually bought it and say good things about it. Myspace and talking to someone in the flesh are such completely different things.


IN: So when you're recording the next stuff is it going to be done in the same way or will you be recording with the band in a more traditional studio environment?


AB: It's been done, it's finished, we're just mixing it at the moment and it's been done in exactly the same way but we've used people from the band as a lot of the backing, they've been throwing in parts as well, and in the old spirit of it what's happened is that maybe we'll talk to the drummers and say "we're looking for this sort of mood, throw it down" and a lot of it's improvised - and then it's chopped up and built upon with sounds and moods.


IN: Finally, the name. Fascinating, and a bit strange. What's that all about?


AB: That's Justin's fascination with war! It's from World War One, (The Old Contemptibles - Ed) he really liked the name and the imagery that goes with it, and quite fitting because we span across England and it allows us to tie in a bit about what being British is about, you know? But a lot of people get confused, they say "ah yeah, we've heard of you" but they're talking about British Sea Power...


Could be worse I suppose. At which point I leave him to go and get set up and he leaves me contemplating what actually constitutes a band in the 21st century...


Words and Pics: Cath Aubergine