Dollars to Pounds: Night Works

April 12, 2012

Last month a video popped up by an outfit called Night Works, which caused quite the stir. Even though there are three men in the slow-tracked promo, it wasn’t clear who, if any of them, were behind this languorous track. "I Tried So Hard" never really goes anywhere, but it doesn’t matter. It's a just a taste of what's to come, hooked around a sweetly sad piano ripple, a sinuous bassline and the singer’s vocal, sounding both resigned and confidently comforting.

It slowly emerged that Night Works is a gent called Gabriel Stebbing. You may recognise Stebbing as the former bassist of Metronomy, or as the frontman of Your Twenties whose track “Caught Wheel” thrilled back in ’08 (you can watch the video here, although it may make you ill). Or perhaps you read a previous Dollars to Pounds piece, which mapped the lineage between Metronomy and Your Twenties, with members of YTs breaking off to form Male Bonding, Veronica Falls, The Proper Ornaments and Nzca/Lines (whose frontman also happens to be Stebbing’s brother, Michael), and all of whom grew up together in the seaside town of Totnes, Devon. At that point, I was not at liberty to reveal Stebbing’s new project, but at last, it’s out in the open.

Night Works full length, though recorded, won't be hitting the streets till later this year, but I’ve heard it, and it’s properly amazing. Sophisticated and spacious and riffing on a luxuriant groove, it showcases Stebbing’s ear for catchy, layered melodies and his deft musicianship—from subtle brass to silky synths—with nods to latter-day Steely Dan and Prefab Sprout.

Check out this exclusive Night Works mix and read our interview below.

Stream: Night Works The Night Shift Mixtape Volume 1

After you left Metronomy in 2009, there was a lot of love for the music you were making as Your Twenties. What happened between then and this new project? I started recording the album with Joe [Mount aka Metronomy] as Your Twenties was flying off into its different parts. We recorded a song called “Long Forgotten Boy” which made me realize that musically and lyric-wise, it was too different to the other material. Off the back of that I realized I just had to relax a little bit—that was the key. I was chasing the three-minute pop dream and for me that’s always been so satisfying. It almost defined my twenties, and defined Your Twenties, it’s what I’ve been trying to do since I first started writing. With “Long Forgotten Boy,” it’s five minutes long, it doesn’t go verse-chorus-verse so much—it’s just this presence, like a wave. I had to take my foot off the gas a bit, but I also knew that I had to scrap all the other songs I’d done.

Wasn’t that tough? I loved the Your Twenties songs “Gold”? It was fucking hard. It’s like killing your children or locking them away in the basement. They’re still there! Oh, no! It was kind of depressing. I took a year out just to write after that scrapping process, I was accumulating all this music on my own and feeling really unsure about everything. But when I came back to it in early 2011, I had a little epiphany and suddenly found I could finish it all in the space of two weeks. That’s when I booked the studio and we recorded it. The big step was also saying okay, I can produce this.

If “Long Forgotten Boy” was the jumping off point for Night Works how does it relate to the rest of the record? It’s that particular point where you’ve been through a certain sense of euphoria and you’re wondering where it’s all gone wrong. I think that’s something everyone has experienced to an extent, whether it’s when you’re hungover after a night out, or whether you feel like you’ve been working really hard at something for two years and you’ve been barking up the wrong tree.

I was writing in a personal way, but I also started to write in a way that was more outward looking. We live in this part of [east] London where tons of people like us are trying to make their way in a certain field, and there are people who have been here much longer, but are being offered less and less of a stake in everything, and it’s all rubbing against these insane people who are gambling with millions of peoples’ livelihoods. It wasn’t so much that I was interested in writing an album that was overtly political or about economics, but it felt like there was this point of psychosis that I could mine a little bit, because I could relate it to myself and to my friends.

It seems like your songs centre around characters … It’s not so much about inventing characters, because they were all little bits of myself, or people I knew, but I found there were these little scenarios that I could draw on. When I look back on it, I’ve actually had a really interesting run of it over the last ten years, in various bands, some of which skidded off into the distance and some of which hit a thread. You find yourself in these vaguely theatrical situations at 4AM, in the middle of some foreign city, and I had these experiences that I could draw on as well. Suddenly writing lyrics was really easy because I could take a position in each song.

People always talk about their surroundings influencing their music intangibly, but in this case it seems clear that your environment has affected your lyrics in a very concrete way. It definitely has. It’s a pretty urban album. I wouldn’t have written this record if I didn’t live in London. Also I’d spent my whole twenties kind of feeling my way towards what I should be expressing. In fact, with this I felt that there was something that was worth trying to capture about this weird time, but it wasn’t that I wanted to make a statement, it’s a personal thing too.

It is funny that your previous band was called Your Twenties and now we’re entering a new stage in life where, to some extent, a lot of people are making different choices than they would have before, coming to terms with certain things... When I turned thirty, it took me six months to get over it! I love it now, but it’s completely different. It is too ironic having a band called Your Twenties and then scrapping all the music when you turn thirty! It’s too much. It’s funny.

And finally, what’s in the Totnes water? It’s the right mix of bohemia and isolation. It’s like a little petri dish that’s been in the corner of the lab and everyone’s forgotten about it.

Night Works' The Night Shift Mixtape Volume 1 Tracklisting
1. D Train - Music Mastermix
2. B B & Q Band - Starlette
3. Death In Vegas - Your Loft My Acid
4. Steely Dan - Show Biz Kids
5. Wings - Arrow Through Me
6. Diagram - VII (80's mix)
7. Au Revoir Simone - Anywhere You Looked (Your Twenties remix)
8. Joni Mitchell - In France They Kiss On Main Street (live)

From The Collection:

Dollars To Pounds
Dollars to Pounds: Night Works