Back in March, London folktronicists Tunng released their fourth full-length album, ...And Then We Saw Land, which we reviewed here. We had a brief chat with Mike Lindsay ahead of the band's appearance at this week's Hop Farm festival about touring the new record, touring with African desert blues band Tiniwaren, the troubles on building your own studio and a few other things, like most of the stuff associated with festivals and that.
DiS: How's it going? What have you been up to, mainly touring the new record? Now gearing up for festivals?
Mike Lindsay: Yeah, mainly. Kind of little tours and stuff like that. We did a really good couple of weeks around Europe, that was really cool. And festivals – we've got a bunch of stuff line up til the Autumn really, on and off. Yeah, it's been good.
DiS: How has it gone down live? Are you enjoying playing the new album
ML: We're loving playing it yeah, it's sort of getting better and better really. We're not a band who rehearses as much as we should and the shows have been really developing. Yeah, we're really enjoying playing them and people seem to be getting into them, which is obviously good!
DiS: If it's not too far in the past it'd be good to talk about the new record a bit...how did Sam leaving the band affect the whole process?
ML: Well, it affected it quite a lot, for the past two records he's had a bit impact on. He's a great songwriter and he's got a great voice. Without those two elements it set us back a bit of time to regroup and figure out how we want to do it. Once we got our heads round that it was quite a liberating experience – we got really into it. Vocally things change – Becky got into it much more and I did. Live we've been doing it like that anyway for quite a long time so it didn't feel really ridiculous, as Sam's been in and out of Tunng since it began. It just made us have to look in new directions which we would have had to done anyway, we didn't want to make the same record again.
DiS: Do you think it forced you to push yourselves that little bit more? Did it make it more hard, but enjoyable work?
ML: I think it definitely forced us to really challenge ourselves and try harder – to see if we could come up with a big sound that was representing the live stuff we'd been doing. I didn't necessarily know it was going to be this sounding record. We just wanted to make a bigger noise. Initially I thought it might end up being some kind of virtually instrumental electronic record, but it didn't really go like that. Maybe the next one.
DiS: Do you always have something clear in your head when starting to write and record the record, or does it change much as it goes along?
ML: Well, we didn't have a clear idea of the album – we were toying with the idea of doing a concept album but we didn't really find a concept. So it was kind of personal adventures, relationships and travelling, which had all been going on at the time really. But in terms of musically I think that once you start writing a few tunes it gives you a pathway to the rest of the record. I think things certainly developed in the studio.
DiS: Do you think you'll ever make that concept album then?!
ML: Yeah man! Gotta wait til I'm about 65 with a big white beard and then move onto the wizard album...
DiS: Obviously with three years or so in between the third and fourth albums, did it give you a lot of time to really think about what you wanted to do with this one?
ML: I don't really look at it as three years – yes the last one was out late summer 2007 but we'd been touring it and playing it until right at the end of 2008, which is when Sam decided to call it a day and do his own thing, so it more felt like a year and a half really. It definitely makes you think about the direction of the band and the future when someone as important as that decides to change tack a little bit. It makes you think that we could all just stop if we wanted – to go off and do other projects, but the five of us have been in this band since the beginning and we've been playing quite a lot. It just made us come together a lot tighter and produce the new record, which I'm glad we did because we're having a good time!
DiS: Where have you been on tour recently? Anywhere particularly nice or exotic?
ML: We're about to go to Sao Paolo in a couple of weeks, which will definitely be new. It's an arts festival out there and we're getting paired up with a Brazilian visual artist as well, which'll be cool. And we're playing Poland too, which we've never been to. Mainly just Europe at the moment, France, Switzerland, Germany, Holland - all great places really. We just came back from a great festival in Ireland called Summer Solstice the day before yesterday. Yeah, it's just good to be playing again really and getting out there.
DiS: How was touring with Tiniwaren – that must've been pretty amazing and eye-opening...
ML: Yeah, it was. It was brilliant for us especially because we were trying to write – we'd written a lot of stuff for the album at that point and it just took our minds off everything and as a band we really had to open our minds to working with these guys. They were fantastic, really sweet and pretty inspirational people. It was just a massive challenge to embark on four days of rehearsal followed by ten days of tour without having any kind of idea what the other people will do and trying to make it not completely twisted so it didn't offend too many people. I think we pulled it off – certainly the first bunch of shows weren't as good as the last lot of shows but we learnt a lot out of it and I think it was great for live music and to challenge other people as well. You buy a ticket for a gig and you know what you are going to see but it's interesting to see a gig that's only going to happen once. That's half the point of it – to put something together that you're not going to see much.
DiS: Do you think it changed the way you approached the new record, whether it be through recording or not?
ML: I think it's more likely to have an effect on the future record really because we had already written most of the stuff. There are a couple of rhythms on Hustle and stuff like that that had been infouence and the whole unity singing thing. One – it really helped us out because we really needed to push what we were doing. They do that a lot, that call and response vocal and I really like that. You wouldn't know listening to the record though, it's not like we have done a twisted African groove record and maybe that's not really our thing but there's certainly a limit to the sort of stuff you can be inspired by.
DiS: Was there anything in particular which did influence the record?
ML: Well, although it sounds more experimental and less accessible to what we've done before, but to me it was the opposite because we were using drums and electric guitars and synths that sound like things rather than cut and pasting. I was at one point thinking we were going to make an album that sounds like Love or something, like '60s really epic rock songs. Not that we really ended up that way, but there's elements of that. Certainly not so much of an electronica influence.
DiS: It must be nice to play some of this record at festivals...songs like 'Hustle' in particular...
ML: Absolutely, that's been going down really well. Although it's not actually that happy a song but it's definitely got a hook. I like melodies that stick in your head and the powered unison vocals. I guess it's quite an uplifting record really...
DiS: I read back in February that you were adapting your own studio again – is this process finished yet? What have you done exactly?
ML: Well that's a sore subject, that is! It's half finished – we've got this great 70s Soundcraft desk which would be great if it worked all the time! I'm producing an album at the moment for a girl called Hannah Peel who is amazing. She's really talented and the record has strings and trombones and stuff like that so I'm enjoying that. Possibly I might rip out this studio and start a new one, one that works!
DiS: Has the desk been a major pain in the arse then?
ML: Well, no. I mean you've got to take the rough with the smooth, it's annoying repatching channels and things like that but the results I've been getting have been good. I've been using one stereo and one bazooka mic on the drumkit and it sounds fantastic. That's good but sometimes it goes [makes horrible static noise] and you've have to kick it, but that's the joy of it!
DiS: Yeah, sometimes it's fun and sometimes it's not...
ML: Well yeah, exactly. But when there's people in here waiting to do shit it's a bit tricky. But I like it. Out with the digital!
DiS: Have you started thinking about the next record yet, or is that something that's way, way off?
ML: We started talking about it...and when we should start thinking about it. We're going to America in November as well, so I think late Autumn is when we'll start putting our collective ideas together and think about doing another one. I do really want to do another record but it's too early to say anything yet, I'm guessing maybe end of next year.
DiS: How has America been for you, playing live?
ML: We haven't been there since the last record, when we did a two-week tour over there, which is what we're going to do again. It's great. Admittedly the last one we did was a headlining tour of America, the East coast and a bit of Canada but most people really had no idea who we were. So we'd turn up and play in Boston and there'd be 20 people there. Sometimes they are the best shows, though, you get to hang out and meet everybody. Then the big cities would be sold out. I think we'll do a similar tour in November – driving, taking pictures, eating in dodgy diners and meeting new friends...
DiS: It must always be a great feeling to have people come up to you if they like your music, even if the show was poorly attended
ML: Yeah, especially if you're in a new town and you don't know anybody and you actually get a chance to do stuff, to get shown around the city and get some new fans - maybe they can tell their friends and come back three years later and then they might remember you! We're on Thrill Jockey in America and it's quite important to go over there and show some kind of presence.
DiS: Do you like playing festivals in general, or are you more of a club show kind of band?
ML: It all depends, really. I love playing on an outdoor stage and generally you play to a lot more people, or we do anyway, because you get everybody who is already there that knows who you are...well, hopefully you get a bunch of people who do! And everyone's always in a good mood anyway generally so festivals are great and we seem to go down pretty well. You get a good amazing sold out venue and everyone's come to see you then that's good too. As long as the sound's good it doesn't really matter but the problem with festivals is that you get a 20 minute changover and panicked line-check and half your set cut because the band before went on for too long, so you have those problems, but the vibe's always really good.
DiS: What festivals are you particularly looking forward to this year?
ML: I'm looking forward to Bestival. I haven't been there for a couple of years and it's always got a good atmosphere. Glastonbury on Sunday on what was the Jazz World stage, which is a big old stage, so always looking forward to that. This one in Poland, just because I've never been to Poland and I'm sure there'll be something interesting to remember it by, somehow!
DiS: Do you get a chance to see many bands at festivals?
ML: I'm going to go down on Friday to Glastonbury, actually and spend the whole weekend down there. So yeah, I'll ge a line-up and then go from there. That'll probably go to shit though because you never know what happens with that festival! I love Glastonbury, though. Some people I know find it a bit much and prefer smaller festivals, which is partly why Bestival's so great because you've got the ethos of Glastonbury and the party atmosphere too, with 30,000 people instead of 150,000 people, though.
DiS: So you're playing Hop Farm festival, which is one without any branding at it interestingly, is this something you pay much attention to as a band?
ML: I've been looking forward to that one actually, mainly because Bob Dylan's playing and I've never seen him. The sponsorship thing? Yeah, I guess it's great to put on an event that isn't corporate and funded by massive companies, I don't know if it's making money or anything...good on him, though. A friend of mine went to the first one and loved it. I'll tell you again when I've been there and what the vibe's like, without big Orange phone stickers everywhere!
DiS: I also see that you've got a show at the Forum in London lined up, Tunng and friends. Tell us a bit more about that and how it came about and what we can expect from it?
ML: It's sort of as it says, really! The day after fireworks night and we've been lucky enough to take over that space and invite some people to play. We'll be playing and there might be some form of collaboration but we're still confirming who we're getting at the moment so I can't say anything. I know there's going to be this great French band. I can't really say anything else but it's going to be good, for sure!
On the festivals theme, what current three or four bands would you pick to play your festival? What's been on your stereo recently?
ML: I like the Laura Marling album. A lot. And there's this band called High Places that are on Thrill Jockey that I'm rating. I dunno...I've just been doing stuff with this girl Hannah at the moment so I've been really immersed in her music. She had a single out on Static Caravan which is called Music Box for which she did covers of 80s tunes, and that's amazing. All sorts, and if you ask anyone else in the band they'll tell you something different!
Is it something you try and keep up with a lot. It can be quite overwhelming...
ML: I've never really been a massive record collector, so I just get involved with whatever I'm doing at the time. Phil from the band works at the BBC sound archives so he's often coming in with records to share and display, so we do get to hear a lot of stuff. Sometimes when you're making music all the time you don't always come on and stick on an album...
DiS: I also read that you were composing a soundtrack to a film – is this something you'd like to do more of or just a side?
ML: It's a kind of bittersweet French comedy, which was interesting. The director was a fan of Tunng and wanted a Tunng type soundtrack which was great. I ended up doing the whole film, it's the first one, I'd like to do more.
DiS: Was it nice to move out of the band environment and do something different?
ML: Yes. I've done stuff like that before but not for a full feature film and that was also while we were doing the album so it was good to take my mind off doing the album and go back to the record and get ready to finish it. I'd love to do more of that thing, it's a really different method, you don't have to write a song that people are going to listen to, it's kind of liberating.