Alex Shields has a band called A Grave With No Name and awesome long metal dude hair. You might expect him to wear a pained expression while singing about how "a stream of hope will destroy this corrupted cell," but no, he is a Weezer-loving festival hater and the name is a joke, an emo caricature inspired by As I Lay Dying. AGWNN balance grungy feedback with woozy, featherlight vocals on this track from their debut EP, out today. Wallow in their mesmeric contradictions as Alex explains why his music is “not some Neutral Milk Hotel meets Lord of the Rings bullshit.”
Tell us about the EP.
Half the EP was recorded in a converted church I was living in at the time, and the other half was recorded at my parents' house. The ones I recorded at the church speak much more outwardly, whereas the ones recorded at my parents' house are much more subdued and inward-looking. If there's one theme that ties all the tracks together, it’s loss. A song like "Stone Setting" addresses my Nan losing her sight, my girlfriend being in a different country, a fight I had with a friend, and another friend of mine who committed suicide. I guess I’m the type of person who concentrates on what's missing rather than what’s there.
My extensive research (Google) tells me that Mt. Jade is in Taiwan. Is that where you're singing about?
"Mt.Jade" was just a name that I pulled out of my subconscious, and then later on, I discovered it was situated in Taiwan. In the context of the songs, it’s a just a barren place remote from everyday life where I can focus my songwriting. It features in some way or another in most of my music, although I seriously hope it doesn’t come across as some Neutral Milk Hotel meets Lord of the Rings bullshit.
To me your music seems to be essaying some kind of epic (non-Tolkien-related) quest...
There’s definitely some form of thematic quest flowing through the majority of the songs; one which is pretty personal, but what’s way more important, however, is the impression the melodies have. I’m hoping that people can have definite ideas about what the songs are about, without having a direct explanation laid out for them. The songs are really about the relationship between melody, sound and personal interpretation. Whatever I am actually saying with the words is pretty irrelevant to anyone else. Music which relies entirely on lyrics to get its message across doesn’t interest me at all.
Do you still record everything in your bedroom?
All of the songs were recorded in a bedroom of some sort. I'm pretty difficult to work with to be honest, and tend to write the songs on the spot and just use whatever equipment I have lying around. I went through a long-period where all I had was my acoustic guitar and a set of sleigh-bells—"Stone Setting" came out of that, but you know, I am glad that period is over now, it was pretty restrictive.
Lately a lot of bands have been embracing lo-fi techniques. Why do you think that is?
There are a few answers to this question—first of all, there are some really creative people who have access to cheap recording equipment who don’t want to be restricted by budget or time when making music. Then there’s people who spot a trend emerging and set out consciously to make "lo-fi" music, because they think it’s cool, or whatever. Also, there’s obviously people who have grown up with bands like Sebadoh and Pavement, and are influenced by them in terms of both songwriting and recording technique. To be honest, I think yelpy, second-rate punk rock sucks a whole bunch, and there’s way too much of that going on in London right now. I’m way more influenced by really detailed, creative records like The Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips or The Glow Pt.2 by The Microphones, where both the songwriting and the production are totally inspired. Producers like Dave Fridmann and RZA are a massive influence as they create whole worlds with sound. Sound can be such a three-dimensional thing, so I don’t know why some people don’t try and utilize it to its full potential, whether that’s on a four track or in a full-blown recording studio.
Second-rate punks aside, London is a pretty awesome place for bands at the moment.
There’s some truly amazing music around in London right now —my friend Ferry who does our artwork is in a great band called Celestial Bodies. Other bands I’m listening to right now are Trailer Trash Tracys, Banjo or Freakout, Deep Shit and The XX. We’ve played with these bands and hung out for sure, but the band I have the most admiration for and gratitude towards is The Big Pink. They took us on tour with them, and I think that was pretty much the most fun week of my life. I’ve known Milo and Akiko (who plays drums for them) for years—they care so much about their music, they fed us from their rider, and we just hung the fuck out, getting drunk every night, watching Smashing Pumpkins videos on YouTube. I have a great video of Robbie sexy-dancing to Kylie Minogue on my phone.
Do you like festivals? Are you going to be playing any?
I fucking hate festivals. Being surrounded by thousands of retards on MDMA isn’t my idea of fun.
What are your favourite happy songs? I'm not sure what this means, but my answer would be "Stepping Out" by Joe Jackson which is super inspiring and will always make me smile and think of dancing with my girlfriend.
Those dancing with your girlfriend songs are the best. It’s just pure euphoria, and it’s so hard to write a song that evokes that feeling. For me, it’s gotta be "Alex Chilton" by The Replacements, although I pretty much love any party-rap song in heavy rotation, and pretty much anything by The Strokes, Phoenix and Weezer as well, obviously.
Where would you like to be buried?
Ideally, I’d like to have my ashes scattered from the summit of Mt.Jade soundtracked by "Runaway Train" by Soul Asylum.
A Grave With No Name’s debut EP is out today on The Popular Recordings.