When bands split into solo factions, the parts are rarely greater than the sum. For every Wings there’s a Ringo, for every Gorillaz a Fat Les, for every Phil Collins a Mike & The Mechanics. Not so with Field Music. Late last year the criminally underrated Sunderland trio announced they were suspending Field Music operations in order to work on their individual projects— David Brewis as School Of Language and his brother Peter as The Week That Was. Brows were furrowed. But when they played a celebratory gig together at the Luminaire last week, their peculiar decision was instantly vindicated.
David and Peter are odd, engaging chaps with college lecturer haircuts and a nice line in self-deprecating banter. They’re also prolific musical polymaths who seem to be able to play every instrument going, and have no trouble switching from Field Music’s pithy Blur-play-Bacharach nuggets, to School Of Language’s fibrous clang, to the dense, Sylvian-styled sophisto-pop of The Week That Was. They’re also, as I discovered, keen connoisseurs of North-Eastern ales…
Download: The Week That Was, "The Good Life"
So chaps, what’s the logic behind suspending Field Music to work on these ‘solo’ projects?
David Brewis: The idea of Field Music had become fixed in people's minds and in a weird way it became fixed in our minds too. We felt we had to write songs in a particular way. But that's not what I got into doing music for. We didn’t make enough money from it for there to be that huge financial imperative to do Field Music, so it's not like we're throwing away the fucking goose that lays the golden eggs.
Peter Brewis: We might have been able to scrape a living by touring incessantly – no tour manager, no sound engineer, no crew, just the three of us in a van playing all the time…
D: I discovered my girlfriend was making more money than me working part-time in WH Smith. So we thought, 'Well…'
P: We got to the stage where each of us had written a new album's worth of music individually and we figured there was nothing to lose by releasing three different albums, and retaining Field Music as a name for the production company.
D: It's still the same three of us, the same invoices, the same letterheads, we share the same studio, we use the same gear, we all play together all the time… we just wanted to make it fun again. And we've ended up with a bunch of music that I think is even better than what we did before. It's getting closer to what's going on in our heads.
Was it ever a concern that you might confuse or disappoint people who were into Field Music?
D: Maybe the people who are really into Field Music will find it, and it means we can be totally free with what we do and we're only bound by what we can do than what we think we ought to do. There are lots of songs on both of these records that couldn't have fitted in with what Field Music had become. You can only take these records our way. Their weirdness is quite robust.
Was there an aspect of feeling misunderstood?
P: Yeah, we never saw Field Music as an indie guitar band. We wanted to sound like The Beatles.
D: All these bands who say they're experimental, they're just C, F and G with distortion or a funny widdly synth over the top. We thought we'd do the opposite: dry drums, clean electric guitars, strings, piano, clear space. The weirdness was within the songs. But nobody heard the weirdness and people thought we sounded like… Snow Patrol.
P: People only listened to the sonics and thought it was just summery, jangly pop.
Was it strange to write independently of each other after so long?
D: We always wrote individually anyway. But it's easier to make decisions on your own. I didn't have to go 'Oh, I'd better ask Peter if I can add a hi-hat on this track'. We did come to a point sometimes with Field Music when we were arguing for hours about whether to use fuzz bass on a particular section – 'I wrote the song, fuzz bass is not what this song's about!'
P: And I'd be thinking, 'This guy's an idiot! We'd sell millions more if it had a bit of fuzz bass on it!'
There’s definitely more sonic looseness on the new records but they’re still defined by an appealing precision. Is that just how you operate?
D: If you're recording in a studio, in order to put those things noise freakouts on the album they have to be really contrived anyway. People will say, 'Oh, that Fratellis album, it's got loads of energy'. When actually the producer has worked really hard in the studio, artificially making some shit band sound exciting. We've started to leave more accidents in, maybe not on The Week That was album, because that's very meticulous. But we would never write a song by thrashing it out in the studio. It always has to start from a tune that's happening in our brains.
Is that why you’re slightly reluctant live performers?
P: I suppose so. I still can't quite figure out the balance between live stuff and recorded stuff.
D: My epiphanies have mainly come from recorded music, not gigs – the first time I heard ‘Revolver’, Big Star's ‘Third’ or ‘Meditations’ by john Coltrane. Those are experiences obviously I could never have had live. So I think mine and Peter's attachment is to recorded music. It's one of the reasons with Field Music why live is not the natural environment for it.
Your were talking earlier about these beers named after Mackem phrases…
D: They’re from a brewery called Mordue. They do a beer called Radgie Gadgie – a guy who's a bit angry. There’s another one called Workie Ticket, that's somebody who's deliberately being agitating or mischievous. A wind-up.
P: Jarrow Brewery do one called Rivet Catcher.
D: It was a job at the shipyards. Rivets had to be very hot but they couldn't be heated up at height, so they had be thrown up, and the guy who caught them and hammered them into the ships was the Rivet Catcher.
P: Dangerous job. Our Great Granddad was a Rivet Catcher.
D: Health and safety would have something to say about that now. We had to move all that work abroad. The Korean's do the Rivet Catching now.