Dollars to Pounds: Amateur Best

February 28, 2013

San Francisco-born Kim Taylor Bennett fled to Europe at 11, currently resides in London and once played guitar onstage with Green Day. She’ll report on new British music every other week.

Once upon a time, circa 2009, Joe Flory was known as Primary 1. He collaborated with Riton on some squelchy electropop bangers, sang a cosmic duet with Nina Persson of The Cardigans, released one seriously high-def video and wrote Other People, a cleanly conceived solo album that featured glossily off kilter, synth-strafed, new wave tunes. Then Joe Flory broke up with himself.

He picked up some color markers and drew a lot of comics, he played drums with Chilly Gonzales and he started to pour his heart into what would become No Thrills, his first album under the guise Amateur Best. There’s a new and surprisingly welcome melancholy to Flory’s compositions, but more often than not, whenever the lyrical navel-gazing gets too bleak, the listener is bouyed up by a chillwave synth-funk groove and Flory’s plushly disconsolate tones. Check out Flory playing “Pleased” live, for proof.

I met up with Flory the week of the No Thrills release. Check out the video for “Ready for the Good Life,” featuring Chilly Gonzales on piano, and read an interview below.

I’ve been spending a lot of time with your online comics. For someone who isn’t au fait with the storyline, what’s the basic gist? The story is of this character James who’s this loser alcoholic DJ from London, who’s kind of not getting anywhere—I don’t know where that came from! Ha! So he’s getting by, but he’s really paranoid. Then his ex-girlfriend gets murdered and found in the Olympic Velodrome.

Topical. So did he murder her? Well, you don’t know! I thought it was the greatest story never told and then I slowly realized it was just ridiculous. Have you seen my Minor Truths series?

I love them. They turned out to be so much better than my fictional stuff. Now I’m pretty much going to do the true stories. People really like them.

Minor Truths is pretty intimate. They’re often more revealing than your songs. Yeah, definitely. I think that’s why I like them so much. When I do songs, I end up doing quite classic songwriting where it’s quite universal, I hope. That’s the great thing about comics: it can get so intimate so quick and I think that probably bleeds into the songs a lot. You can get an interesting impression of a person.

In Minor Truth #42 you said your muscular legs are your best quality. Really? One of them. They’re really muscly. It’s all from cycling. When I was little, we never had a car. My dad had this idea we were going to save the planet or something, so we’d just cycle everywhere we’ve ever lived. The whole family! Now I occasionally do some bike courier stuff where I live in Birmingham, which is the worst city to bike in. It’s a horrible car city.

It feels like London is quite a big character in both your visual and music narrative. Yeah massively. With the comics I genuinely wanted to write a story about living in London. Obviously I’ve never done comics before so it didn’t really work, but it was a really interesting way to get inspiration for the songs. The record is about living in London and leaving London. Everyone has this dream of living in London and it’s different for everyone and it always slightly fails to live up to it.

What was the dream for you then? I just always wanted to release records and I thought I could do that in London and then I did. No Thrills has been very simple: do it and put it out.

With Primary 1 you were signed to a major label. Did you feel like there was a lot of interference from them with the album? Possibly. To be honest, it’s really boring. All I’ll say is that if you want to put records out you have a responsibility to make sure they fucking rock and that’s it. You have to take responsibility for everything. A label’s not going to make it happen, be they big or small. All I feel about Primary 1 is that I really tried, but I couldn’t get it to go where I wanted it to go.

Were you sad to see those songs go? I’m never really that sentimental about songs once they’re written. I listen to my own stuff a lot. I make records to listen to them. With No Thrills, just this last week I’ve listened to it so much because it’s my last chance, and now it’s not mine anymore. With Primary 1, I just didn’t listen to them anymore. It’s over. It’s always about the next tune. 

You moved to Birmingham a few months ago. Is your love affair with London officially over? Yeah I really had to leave. You know that thing where you live in this amazing city and you never do any of the things that it offers. That’s where I’d got to.

Your mum is Norwegian, you were born in Ipswich and you lived in Singapore from when you were seven until you were 17—those are pretty formative years… Musically that was definitely a big deal because that was when I formed this dream of London, because I was listening to all these English records. I was totally obsessed with British music like Basement Jaxx. I remember that coming out and just being like, “What the fuck is this!” At one point I had all the Blur and Oasis CDs. I didn’t realize you were supposed to choose between them! I was like, they’re both really good!

You studied film at university right? Yeah, in Roehampton. I thought I was moving to London—this university says it’s in London!— and I’d never been there before. I got the tube and it just kept going! But I loved it. Films are still pretty much my biggest inspiration. Making films is the hardest thing in the world, even making a terrible film. I have great respect for all of that.

Were there any films that inspired this record? It’s more directors. Stanley Kubrik, obviously everyone knows and respects, but the thing about him that’s so inspiring is he’s totally obsessive. Everything has to be a certain way and I can really relate to that with the making of the album. I really try to remind myself that you have to be super vigilant to make it work and have that neatness of vision. When I make music, it’s not a super clean sound. It’s quite messy in a way, but I just have to edit it and try and make the message really clear. That’s how you get better songs.

Are you heartbroken at the moment. No. Not anymore.

Are you more productive when you are? Yeah unfortunately, it’s really related. Whenever I have a girlfriend and I’m happy, all my music is totally shit. Honestly! It’s terrible. I’ve set myself a challenge for the next record. I think this record is positive, but it’s kind of a bit of a fight. I really would love to do something that’s just about being happy and enjoying things.

From The Collection:

Dollars To Pounds
Dollars to Pounds: Amateur Best