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Dollars to Pounds: The Proper Ornaments

February 02, 2012

There’s a saying around some parts of east London: the Totnes massive roll deep. Actually I’m probably the only person who says that, but it’s true. Totnes was known, if at all, for its pot, dreadheads and people digging drum n bass, but in the past decade this tiny town in Devon has produced some excellent musicians. Permit me to plant a Totnes musical family tree.

In their teens Gabriel Stebbing, Robin Silas Christian, James Hoare and Joseph Mount were all in a band together called The Upsides. Mount then started Metronomy, in which Stebbing played bass. But after four or so years, Stebbing left to form Your Twenties with Hoare and Silas Christian, along with his little brother Michael Lovett and briefly, a chap called Charlie Alex March. For a time everyone lived in east London. Hoare then went off to form Veronica Falls, Silas Christian formed Male Bonding, Lovett became Nzca/Lines (which Alex March produced) and Mount went on to garner a Mercury nomination for Metronomy's third LP The English Riviera.

But that’s just by-the-by. James Hoare is the man to focus on here. Despite having his hands full with Veronica Falls, over the years Hoare has maintained a musical partnership with Argentinian Max Clapps. Together as The Proper Ornaments they released their debut single "Recalling" in 2010 on San Francisco label Make A Mess. The twosome are clearly made for each other, their plush harmonies and lithe guitar lines sounding distinctly British and caught in a ’60s swoon. Check out the video for “Who Thought” above. Download “Shining Bright” from their eponymous EP out on No Pain In Pop and read my chat with Clapps below.

Download: The Proper Ornaments, "Shining Bright"

What brought you to London from Buenos Aires? I came six years ago. Things weren’t really well there and I needed a change of scene. All the venues were closed and I couldn’t do anything. My mum wanted to put me in a mental hospital. I was normal, but it was crazy times, it wasn’t a normal place. In terms of politics, people were crazy, it was too much. I basically ran away to England.

Was it something of a culture shock to come to London? Not really. I moved around a lot as a kid—grew up in India, Brazil and France. I’m used to changing. I’ve met really nice people in London, things work here. It’s quite chaotic in other places in the world. I needed a bit of stability which then helped me to start working on music.

Is it true that you met James Hoare in a women’s second hand clothing store? We did. I went there with an ex-girlfriend who had a problem with stealing and she asked me to distract the guy at the counter so she could steal some boots. So I went and spoke with James and we exchanged numbers straight away. She didn’t steal the boots in the end but it was pretty funny way of meeting someone.

What’s your relationship with James like now? He’s really talented and I've never bonded with anyone in the way I bonded with him in terms of understanding music, liking the same stuff—The Beach Boys, Velvets, The Lefte Banke, The Beatles, Love.

Has James’ commitment to Veronica Falls been frustrating in terms of waiting to work with on The Proper Ornaments? Do you get jealous? No. I’ve never been a jealous person because he’s my best friend I want the best for him and the fact that they’re doing well makes me happy for him. It was never a problem to do both. The thing is our relationship is so intense that it’s good to have a little break. These breaks aren’t very long, maybe a month and a half that we don’t see each other, but I still keep writing and so does he. I think him being in Veronica Falls helps us to not kill each other. So it’s a good thing!

Is it good to have such a strong network of musicians around? Oh yeah! You do get inspired by the people you’re surrounded by. I remember being blown away by Gabriel's [Stebbing] songwriting. We're all inspired by our friends. James is friends with Joe from Metronomy, people who are very, very talented. And in our band we have Ralph who played on the last Scritti Politti record and Wes from Let’s Wrestle, our favorite English band, it’s great to be around good songwriters. And Michael [Lovett] is doing so well. [For a time Lovett also used to play bass in The Proper Ornaments.] His record is amazing and you know Charlie Alex March who works on the production of Nzca/Lines, we work with him too. The Proper Ornaments wouldn’t be the same without all these people around us.

As a post-script to this interview, I'd like to add that with James being one half of The Proper Ornaments and an essential branch of the Totnes musical family tree, I tried to get in touch with him numerous times, only to be stood up on the phone, numerous times. So I gave up, but I'll leave you with this true story which has been pieced together from multiple accounts, and unbeknowst to me at the time, it featured my own house. About four years ago James went on a date with my flatmate, which ended when he passed out drunk on the couch. My flatmate went to bed only to be woken at 3am by the door slamming shut. James had sleptwalked out of the apartment and into an unlocked door down the hall, straight into the bedroom of a sleeping child. James only woke up when the father of said sleeping child punched him in the face. Awkward doesn’t quite cover it, but it's a good thing gun ownership is illegal in the UK otherwise this story might have had a rather gruesome end.

From The Collection:

Dollars To Pounds
Dollars to Pounds: The Proper Ornaments