New Young Pony Club: Mercury nominees talk Einstein
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Some people act like bands appear from nowhere. Some people might think that London-based band New Young Pony Club achieved easy success by jumping on the nu-rave banger bus. But this band has been three years in the making, and they have puked their guts out, literally, to get where they are now. NYPC swing easily from sexy sultry tunes to upbeat agitating avant-pop, bearing busty b-lines and taking in Talking Heads, New Order and ESG on the way.
Having recently been nominated for the Nationwide Mercury Prize for their debut album Fantastic Playroom, released earlier in July, DiS found a few minutes to sit down with core songwriting partners in crime Tahita Bulmer and Andy Spence (the band is completed by Lou Hayter, Igor Volk and Sarah Jonesto) find out if it’s all just smoke and mirrors, or if there is a method to their music.
Along the way they also demonstrate a desire to aspire higher than the prick-tease politics of music industry chauvinism, and provide the low-down on one of 2007’s standout albums. Oh yeah: don’t forget that she didn’t throw a microphone stand at Lily Allen, okay?
Looking at stuff that has been written about you, there are loads of different movements people want to fit you into, but actually…
Tahita: We’re a new movement.
Yeah, but in fact there is not much around like you at the moment… you’ve a new sound.
Andy: Avant-pop, we want to call it.
Tahita: In five years’ time we’ll look back and go, “Ooooh right, New Young Pony Club will be the start of all that, then.”
Andy: Yeah, why not.
Tahita: In the same way you can say Blur started Britpop with Modern Life is Rubbish, New Young Pony Club started avant-pop with Fantastic Playroom.
Andy: I hope so as well. We were saying this yesterday in an interview that we would really like the charts to be full of that stuff again.
Tahita: Yeah that was really amazing, that was when it was really fun going out to buy singles and stuff. If you want to revitalise the singles chart you have to bloody well let some people make some great music and put it out.
In the past the music industry has been called chauvinistic: do you still think this is still the case?
Tahita: Yeah, definitely. Maybe a bit less so than it was 20 years ago, but I still think that there is this idea that women are happy to be exploited if they can be successful and get on the cover of Heat and go to parties and stuff. Women have been their own worst enemies in that, because the harder part to fight for what you want to do, to be a solo artist or to fight for music you want to get made, might mean you don’t get the million pound deal.
Andy: Yeah, I think the record companies are really chauvinist through greed…
Tahita: Sex sells.
Andy: They don’t care – they want to work with men or women so long as ‘it’ sells. They have found that working with male artists is often mostly sold, because a lot of the driving force between music sales is girls and women, so they found cute boys in bands works and have repeated it ad infinitum.
Tahita: Female solo artists are easy to exploit or want to be exploited. There’s a history of strong female singers, but if you actually read the biographies they have really horrible stories about what happened to them when they were 16, saying things like, “I married my manager and he exploited me, then I divorced him”. So I think it still is pretty chauvinistic, but I think to a certain extent female artists have bought into that chauvinism as an easy way of getting to where they want to be. I think now it’s about women standing up for themselves and going, “I don’t have to sleep with you, I don’t have to take my clothes off and I can make the music I want”. That seems to be happening now.
How about with NYPC – have you had any contact with those sorts of people yet?
Tahita: Not really.
Andy: No, not really. We were quite lucky because Modular came to us quite early on and they are a really easy going label. They don’t have many female bands on their label do they?
Andy: But they certainly weren’t, "We want you to do this, we want you to do that". They’re a music label, and we signed to an independent label for that reason. They believe in the music, that’s what they care about.
Tahita: They were happy for us to produce the album, which a major label would have said, “You have to get this so and so svengali in”.
Andy: Yeah, and there would definitely be no point. I’ve always made the music and that’s always been the reason for me to do it, to have that opportunity. There was no point to do it any other way really. We’re not just in this to make loads of money.
Tahita: That would be nice, but we’re not in it to not make money.
Andy: But there are better ways to make lots of money. The money we make simply enables as to keep going.
Tahita: To make more music, to become a better band and make better albums.
How long did it take to make Fantastic Playroom?
Andy: We spent quite a long time. It hasn’t been continuous, though, as we have just been chipping away over two or three years.
Tahita: Songs get written and you have to go off and do something else. I was temping as well at the time, so you would have to go off and work for two or three months and come back and write two more songs, and then go off and temp a bit more.
Andy: We’d only been working on it continuously since last year.
Tahita: Yeah, June last year.
Andy: But even then we were touring and gigging.
Tahita: Yeah, we toured for six months.
Andy: There was a lot going on. It's just been very bitty over the last two or three years. It's been nice being able to go away from it and come back.
Tahita: Dip in and out.
Whereabouts did you record Fantastic Playroom?
Andy: In various studios in London. Basically, it was pretty much a home studio where the ideas were formed and recorded. That would just be in my attic or bedroom, wherever. When we got a deal we got our own studio for a bit. Most of the good tracks on there were done in some attic room somewhere or a cupboard.
Tahita: I don’t think we wrote much in the cupboard. We hated it.
Andy: No, the cupboard wasn’t good.
Tahita: The cupboard was really bad.
Andy: Think we did ‘Talking Talking’ there, though.
Tahita: I remember Phil came to the cupboard, and he was horrified by the cupboard.
“Don’t speak ‘cause your mind is amazing” is a line taken from single ‘The Bomb’. Is this track about geniuses?
Tahita: Yeah, kind of. Before I wrote that I was reading a biography of Albert Einstein and the suggestion that this biography took was that Einstein’s wife was his scientific muse and when she died he stopped doing anything. He then just became an anti-war pundit, appearing at parties with Marilyn Monroe. His wife had been the driving force but was never spoken of because women weren’t supposed to have a voice in terms of science. But being a driving force behind somebody like that, who might have been complacent about getting stuff done… if he hadn’t had a woman prodding him going, “Write this bloody treatise on relativity or else your dinner’s going cold”, he would never have achieved what he did. They were saying the woman drove him because he was depressive, he had a tendency to think badly of himself, and he was dyslexic. He was like, “I can’t even write properly, so how am I supposed to explain this?” It’s also that kind of battle of the sexes as well, and it’s also the reversal of that. I am taking that as the place where the metaphors come from, from that relationship, but in terms of the actual song lyrics it’s about people being egotistical in relationships and taking roles for themselves and saying too much. There are lots of complicated ideas in there for a three-minute pop song.
How do you like to “get gone” (from ‘Tight Fit’)?
Tahita: Well, it depends. The song’s like, life’s a bit of a tight fit – slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, that type of concept. Then there’s that whole thing of people getting lost at the weekend: they live for the weekend, they get a little gone and dance all night and they do it all again the next week.
Andy: I think vodka is the answer to that question, isn’t it?
Tahita: Yeah. It’s cheap and plentiful.
Vodka, loud music?
Andy: Yeah, vodka loud music…
Andy: A bit of cake.
Tahita: Cake’s a great drug.
What’s your favourite track from the album?
Tahita: I think you love all of them when you’re writing them.
Andy: The older ones tend to lose favour because you know them so well. I’m not that fond of ‘Ice Cream’ now, and if I listen to the album – and it’s rare that I do – I skip that one. I still like ‘The Bomb’ a lot, and I think that’s one of our best tracks. I think ‘Talking Talking’ and ‘Get Go’ are good. The last is one you can’t pigeonhole so much.
What’s the favourite remix you’ve had done of one of your songs?
Andy: I think the Phones one, of ‘The Bomb’, is pretty outstanding
Tahita: Yeah definitely.
Andy: That’s up for a DJ award, apparently.
Tahita: We haven’t really got the remixes we wanted on most of our stuff, but the Phones one is one that we wanted. We actually got that. We always want ‘big’ people to do them.
Andy: The one I was most surprised by is The Teenagers’ one of ‘The Bomb’. At first I really hated it, but then I listened to it a few times and thought, “Yeah, this is good”.
Tahita: I really like the Herve one. It’s so funny – he basically said he cut up the lyrics, because he wanted the lyrics to say something different: ‘I Scream, You Scream, We Scream’.
What do you think of Whirlwind Heat?
Tahita: We played with them, didn’t we? At the ICA?
Andy: I think we thought they were awesome. I can’t remember them, actually. I think we thought they were incredibly good fun, great rhythm section.
Tahita: Very cute as well.
Was that a good gig for you?
Tahita: It was weird.
Andy: That one wasn’t great. I was puking up. I puked up before I went on stage… I had some kind of bug.
Tahita: Lots of people came, though.
Andy: It just wasn’t very good, but it was one of those early ones when we hadn’t done much in London, so it was a bit of star turn out with Mylo and Chris Cunningham and all these other people checking us out. It was a really flat gig – if you see us now, it’s changed. We’re a lot more confident. We weren’t particularly on the ball that night, and we were a bit nervous. Since then we have done three major tours, the Lily Allen tour, an NME tour and our own headline UK tour, plus shit loads of festivals. We’ve flown all over the world, been to Sydney, and did the V Festival. We are a completely different band.
Say something about Lily Allen…
Andy: She didn’t chuck a mic stand.
Tahita: I didn’t chuck a mic stand at her, she’s cute.
Andy: She’s not as bad as everyone makes out.
Tahita: She’s actually very nice.
New Young Pony Club’s debut album Fantastic Playroom is out now. Freshly nominated for the Mercury as it is, you’d best go check out the DiS review right here.
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