Nottingham's music scene is currently enjoying something of a resurgence. Sleaford Mods, Ronika and Indiana have all released critically albums this year, while the likes of Kagoule, Shelter Point and Amber Run have all made their mark in recent months. With the city's creative hub at its most vibrant in over a decade, there's a plethora of emerging talent waiting to be unearthed. Among the most promising are April Towers, a duo that specialise in electronic pop music. Intelligent and introspective rather than kitschy or throwaway, comparisons so far have ranged from New Order, OMD and the Pet Shop Boys to LCD Soundsystem and Chvrches. Despite only forming in the summer of 2013, the duo - Alex Noble (vocals, keys), Charlie Burley (keys, guitars, samples, backing vocals) - have already gained a reputation as one of Nottingham's most exciting live acts. A reputation that has seen them support the likes of Tove Lo, Kyla La Grange and Indiana in recent months. Earlier this month, they played their biggest headline show to date in front of a packed out Bodega. Beforehand, DiS caught up with the duo in the plush surroundings of the Broadway Cinema.
DiS: How did the band start and was it a conscious decision to focus predominantly on an electronic-based sound?
Alex Noble: I initially started April Towers as a solo project. Frontiers, the band we were in previously started to subside. We went our separate ways a little bit and I kind of discovered LCD Soundsystem a little bit late. So I started listening to their back catalogue and it was incredible. At the time, Charlie was getting involved quite heavily in the DJing world. Putting on his own house music and dance music events. It was a very intense period so I thought it would be good for us to have some time apart. I started writing on my own with the intention of releasing something as a solo project with an electronic feel to it, but still slightly on the pop-orientated indie side of things. I wrote a track called 'Peaks' and recorded it with Chris Moore, who used to be in Model Morning and Spotlight Kid. We did the demo in one evening and I played it to Charlie shortly afterwards. It had some really nice guitar parts in it, but Charlie had some other ideas about what he wanted to with the song. You weren't really on board then were you?
Charlie Burley: No, not fully. I saw lots of potential in that track, but at the time it was still a long way from my vision of what I wanted to do. So it did take me a while to get on board, but Alex planted the seed with that song.
Alex Noble: I was literally days away from putting it online, and then I started writing another song 'Tel Aviv'. I literally dragged Charlie over to my house to listen to it, and when he heard it his immediate reaction was, "Let's see what we can do with this." Charlie knew a guy called James Littlehales who'd mastered a couple of dance tracks for him, and he mixed 'Peaks' and 'Tel Aviv' for us. It was still very early on. Charlie was doing a music production course at the time but seemed incredibly confident about what we were doing.
Charlie Burley: It was just an experiment really. I still don't know to this day how 'Tel Aviv' happened. It was a complete fluke. The bassline and the guitars around it all came together at once. As soon as I sat down and listened to the finished version I thought, "Wow, we're onto something here." That was the point where we decided to put it online and do this properly. We literally went out in the morning before we put it online and took a press shot of us both wearing sunglasses stood against a wall. Then we uploaded that as the image on Soundcloud and there was'Tel Aviv'.
Alex Noble: Although at that point there was never really any intention to go anywhere with it. We were just finishing University and I was set to move to Manchester and work up there. With Frontiers, we were so strangled for content and ended up never releasing anything. So the first thing we did with April Towers was put a track online straight away for people to hear and have if they liked it. And it racked up a few thousand plays by the weekend on Soundcloud. Then people started emailing us and asking when the live shows were.
Charlie Burley: We were getting messages asking where could they hear more. And we only had this one track that was ready, so we scrambled together a few more which became the Peaks EP.
Alex Noble: Then we initially set a target of October 2013 for the live shows, but soon realised we needed to get a lot of additional equipment in to really make it work. And also because we were used to the two guitars, bass and drums set-up, learn how to use it. What we were doing now was so far from that. It was very different to Frontiers but still had a similar alternative element about it, but coming from a different angle. Charlie Burley: The six months where me and Alex stopped making music together was probably the best thing that could have happened for me. When I got back into it I was DJing and listening to a lot of electronic music and that reignited my passion to start writing and playing again.
DiS: Do you think there is a wider creative scope in electronic music for more challenging and innovative sounds than in a traditional four-piece band?
Charlie Burley: Definitely, especially with the technological equipment that's available. Take Jon Hopkins for example. The sonic landscape he created on his last album Immunity was just incredible. Whereas it's very difficult to achieve something like that in a four-piece guitar band. You've got to have something that can give it an edge.
Alex Noble: We'd spent five years in Frontiers writing that way, and by the end we were just bored of it. This opportunity gives us so much more material and freedom. It was so nice to write 'Peaks' and 'Tel Aviv' simply because they didn't have to fit any form or structure. Also, me and Charlie write separately. We never write together. That's been a big help, because with the previous band we'd all be stood around in the rehearsal room with our guitars trying to jam, which wasn't ideal.
DiS: So how does the songwriting process work?
Charlie Burley: It completely varies. When we first started out, Alex would come up with a vocal melody and a bassy keyboard part with maybe a drum beat.
Alex Noble: I had this old Yamaha keyboard where I'd preset the drum parts. I'd record it then send it over on my iPhone to Charlie, and he'd build the track from that. He'd upload it to Logic then build it from there. Charlie Burley: I try and architect it into a song rather than it just be a simple melody. From there we'd then work around additional melodies, backing vocals. It's just a case of building a track rather than writing a song together. I've written a lot of music recently and passed it over for Alex to add some lyrics on top, and we've come up with some really unique stuff like that because it's a completely different way of writing.
Alex Noble: Listen to an April Towers set and you can always tell which tracks were started by Charlie and which ones were started by me. I tend to air on the side of the more verse-chorus-verse based tracks whereas Charlie's are the more clinical dance ones. When it comes together it works really nicely. In the last few months we've erred a lot more towards the guitar side of things too. At the beginning we made a conscious effort to avoid using guitars, but over the past few months it's become clear that they enhance the live show both sonically and visually, plus Charlie is also essentially a guitarist by trade.
Charlie Burley: Basically I've just fallen back in love with it. It was so difficult walking away from Frontiers. I didn't pick up a guitar for a very long time, but now we've got to a point where I see the guitar as being an essential part of our music. It really drives the live show.
DiS: I see you're planning to bring a live drummer on board. How did that come about and are there plans to bring any other musicians in?
Alex Noble: The live drummer is still a work in progress. We've been working with him for a few weeks with a view to him joining us for live shows next year. That's going to be a really big transition because all of our tracks revolve around electronic drum beats. It's about finding the right balance between electronic and acoustic drum sounds. We're working really hard on that at the moment. Hopefully by the new year we'll be able to unleash him.
Charlie Burley: There's no real rush. We just want to be at the stage where we're confident enough to play with a live drummer. At the moment we're happy doing April Towers as a two-piece.
Alex Noble: If that works, and we get the means to do so, we'd love to bring in other additional musicians, especially some extra keys players. We've got big visions for where we want this to go. Obviously there's costs and logistics to take into account, but we constantly have people asking where the live show is going to go next in terms of musicians, and we definitely do want to bring them in.
DiS: You've already mentioned LCD Soundsystem and Jon Hopkins as being influences but your music has also been compared to pioneering acts from the 1980s such as New Order, OMD and the Pet Shop Boys. Do you listen to a lot of electronic music from that era as well as the more contemporary modern day stuff?
Charlie Burley: The weird thing with the eighties comparisons is we've never really listened to a lot of music from that period. Me personally, I've barely ever listened to OMD. I could probably only name you two songs. I just think it's a coincidence. New Order on the other hand, we're both massive fans so that probably has come through in a sense. I guess 'Tel Aviv' does have a similar sound to the Pet Shop Boys and because we're a duo it's quite an obvious comparison to make but it's not something we ever set out to do. We're just bridging the gap between electronic and guitar music.
Alex Noble: I think some bands want to shy away from that whole "who your influences are" debate. We're under no illusions that there's a massive amount of artists and bands we both appreciate, and that comes through in our music. It's a compliment if someone says our music reminds them of New Order. I don't get too het up about it. If it reminds people of other bands from the same era we're fine with that, but then on a more contemporary level we've also got a big student fanbase and not one of them has ever mentioned New Order to us. They're more likely to compare us with people like Chvrches who we're also huge fans of and other artists that specialise in big, orchestral, electronic, synth-led pop music. So I guess you could say we have the best of both worlds.
DiS: You've recently been working with producer and Gary Numan collaborator Ade Fenton. How did you meet him and what does he bring to the band's sound?
Charlie Burley: I actually met Ade at a house party a couple of years ago. It was a case of looking around the room and thinking who's the most interesting person here I could go and speak to? That guy over there! And I started chatting to him and we spoke about music and he asked him what he did as he'd been talking about all these shows he'd been playing. So when he said he played keyboards for Gary Numan my mind kind of exploded a little bit! He gave me his email address on a piece of paper and said feel free to send him some music any time. Lo and behold, when we started April Towers, I just happened to unearth this little piece of paper with the address on it so I dropped him an email to see what he thinks of our music. He got back to me the same day and asked if we could meet up for a coffee and a chat, which we did, and he offered his services for production. So, a bit further down the line when he had enough songs ready, we got him on board and it's probably the best thing we've done as a band so far.
Alex Noble: He was based in Long Eaton. Not a lot of people probably realise that Gary Numan's latest album Splinter was mixed in Long Eaton! His technical knowledge and experience has been invaluable to us. He's been so accommodating and taught us a lot. He's actually moved down to Bath now but he's built us this living space where we're also going to be recording.
Charlie Burley: It's like an outhouse that's adjoined to the side of his house. It's a purpose built studio quarters with a little kitchen and everything. So we can go down for three days at a time, live in Bath and work in the studio all at the same time. It's great.
Alex Noble: He's been through so much musically. Some of the stories he's got are unbelievable. He's helped us so much with the live show as well because he controls both the lights and sound for Gary Numan. He's so experienced in that respect. We couldn't really have done the live show without him.
Charlie Burley: He's been instrumental in a lot of what we've done.
DiS: Your first single 'Arcadia' was released last week. Was it an obvious choice for a single and what inspired the video?
Alex Noble: I think we knew by the summer that 'Arcadia' was going to be the single. Mainly because it had an instant chorus and we wanted to convey the pop side of April Towers, but with a darker element to it as well. 'Arcadia' does have that darker element which Ade laid a hand to with the production. Then we looked at what we could do with the video, and through our manager met a guy called Sean Robinson who runs a company called Never Never Productions. 'Arcadia' is about a place you can go to when you want to escape reality and we spoke to Sean and gave him a brief about what inspired the song. He came back and suggested we use this big circle as a symbol of what 'Arcadia' is. So the video is about this girl who's essentially fed up of reality, and she constructs these circles to try and get somewhere else. The video ends with this huge candle circle - almost like a crop circle - where she eventually goes to 'Arcadia'. When Sean told us the concept for the video we loved the idea, although how long it must have taken to light all those candles is anyone's guess! His vision is absolutely incredible. I can't wait to work with him again.
DiS: The band themselves don't feature in the video. Was that yours or Sean's decision?
Charlie Burley: We talked about this quite a lot and we decided there wasn't really any point in us being in this video because it didn't match the vision for what we wanted to do.
Alex Noble: We wanted the 'Arcadia' video to be about this girl's solace. She's on her own and very individualistic, so there's no one else in the video apart from a few extras as she walks past a bus stop who probably don't know they're extras or in a music video. Going forwards, we'll more than likely be in the next video.
DiS: The single ended up being played on daytime Radio One by Fearne Cotton. How did that happen?
Alex Noble: I got a call from Dean Jackson, who presents 'The Beat' for Radio Nottingham, at eleven o'clock that morning. He said, "It's BBC Introducing Day on Radio One today and Huw Stephens is working in the uploader all day, so have you uploaded 'Arcadia'?" Funnily enough, Charlie had uploaded it five minutes earlier. So we sent it down to Huw and a couple of minutes later received a notification by email saying, "Listened to by Huw Stephens." Then we got a call from our manager saying, "I think we're gonna be on, I think we're gonna be on!" Charlie wasn't sure if they meant today or tomorrow, and we were actually going to be on in twenty minutes time. So we were having to change our plans as initially we'd planned to put 'Arcadia' online the following Monday but now had to bring it forward to Thursday to coincide. Everything was ready to go by the time it went on air, so I think the total time from being uploaded to the broadcast on Fearne Cotton's show was approximately forty-five minutes, which may be some kind of record. Hearing it on daytime Radio One was surreal. From there, people started to take notice. It was one of the weirdest mornings I've ever had. We got to the studio as we were supposed to be recording that afternoon but couldn't really concentrate.
Charlie Burley: I remember you coming round to my house straight after and we just sat there and I said, "Do you want to go for a pint?" It was the only logical thing to do at twelve o'clock in the afternoon.
Alex Noble: We went for a beer to calm down.
Charlie Burley: We had to just go and chill out.
Alex Noble: It was such a weird feeling.
Charlie Burley: But that really kickstarted it for us.
Alex Noble: And then Huw Stephens played it twice again afterwards. Those plays have been invaluable to us, especially on a local level. There was a big buzz around our performance at the Hockley Hustle a few weeks ago. We were on at 2pm same as we were at Dot To Dot festival in May, and we were really worried no one was going to come. But then everyone flooded in at about two o'clock and it was really busy.
DiS: Do you have a follow-up single planned and when is it likely to be released?
Charlie Burley: We've already started the conversation about releasing a follow-up and we're hoping it will be out early next year.
Alex Noble: We're not 100% certain as to what the next single will be but I'd like to think it will be out by February at the latest. We're also planning a whole load of live dates to coincide. We want to get out on the road next year and play as many cities as possible. We had a nice taste of it with Kyla La Grange last week.
DiS: As well as supporting Kyla La Grange, you also played with Tove Lo earlier this year after only a handful of live shows. How did that come about?
Charlie Burley: We've just been really fortunate with the live stuff. The Tove Lo show was literally an email from SJM Concerts saying we'd been put forwards to support her at the Deaf Institute in Manchester. When we spoke with Tove after the gig, it turned out she'd been sent a list of potential support acts to listen to and she picked us out, which is unbelievable.
Alex Noble: She was great. It's definitely one of the best shows we've played so far.
DiS: How many shows have you played so far?
Alex Noble: I think tonight's is the 20th. So it's still very much in development but I think it's testament to how far we've come, especially on a local level. I don't think we had the same momentum in the past as we have now.
Charlie Burley: It's nice from a musician's point of view to be approached by people asking about our shows. It's always hard when you first start a band because you want people to come down, but sometimes it feels like you're begging them to come along whereas so far it hasn't been like that.
DiS: Are there any plans for an album? If so, do you have any timescales as to when it's likely to be finished and released?
Charlie Burley: I always consider us to be constantly recording an album. We've never stopped writing this whole time and we have such a back catalogue of music. Songs we're really proud of that are just ready to go.
Alex Noble: It's going to be a nightmare deciding on a tracklist for the album but it's a good dilemma to be in. In terms of a timeframe as to when it's likely to be finished I couldn't possibly say. We'd love to put something out in an April, then follow it up with a Tower related tour. We'll see how the next single goes and if there's a window to do something that will be absolutely fantastic. It will be a very proud moment to get an album out.
DiS: Are you looking at continuing to release your music independently? I guess in the current climate getting signed isn't really that important after all.
Alex Noble: Again, it's not something we've really thought about to be honest. It's been so nice with 'Arcadia' having that control ourselves over who we have working for us, how we put it out and when we put it out. If someone comes forward for the second single that's great, we'll talk to them but we haven't specifically spoken to anyone. We know where we want to go with this.
Charlie Burley: We're just happy working away doing what we're doing. It's worked well so far. Why change that? If something comes along that's appropriate and we think would be a step in the right direction we'll consider it but I want this to be as organic as possible and so far it has been.
Alex Noble: We've paid our dues on the Nottingham music scene so it's nice that we're getting quite a lot of recognition now. It's nice that we've got so many people behind us on this, and that's testament to the way the city is at the moment. It wouldn't have happened four or five years ago.
DiS: Do you see yourselves staying in Nottingham for the foreseeable future?
Charlie Burley: We've had discussions about moving away but if it ain't broke don't fix it. I'm really content here. I think it's a great time to be a band in Nottingham. The music scene's good. You've got a nice creative hub here now. People are now looking from the outside in and going, "Wow! Aren't things good there at the moment." Why would you want to leave your own city and try to latch onto another scene? It doesn't make any sense.
Alex Noble: I don't think there's ever been a better time to be a musician in this city. And we're right in the middle of the country. Nothing's too far away. That's such a nice thing to have. Charlie's building a studio as well so I think we're always going to have some kind of base in Nottingham. We might end up in other parts of the world for a while but I think we'll always have something here. It is home after all and it will always be home. We can't forget that.
DiS: What advice we give to any new bands or artists just starting out?
Charlie Burley: For me, the biggest piece of advice I can give is let things grow organically. There's no point in trying to force things upon people or trying to convince them that what you're doing is revolutionary. Just enjoy the music you're making and be proud of the music you're making. If it's honest people will take note. There's no point trying to ram things down people's throats.
Alex Noble: Learn to deal with rejection because it happens all the time. It doesn't matter whether you're the biggest act in the world. There are people that won't like what you're doing. We've been guilty in the past of getting ourselves worked up over people saying no, so essentially learn to deal with that because it will happen a lot. Also, it makes the times when someone says yes a whole lot better. And just to reiterate what Charlie said, don't be too pushy. There's nothing worse than a band who are constantly in your inbox, constantly in your face. Obviously you want things to progress as far as possible and you need the industry's help to do that but if it's possible, let the industry come to you.
DiS: Finally, are there any new artists you'd recommend to Drowned In Sound and its readers?
Alex Noble: Locally, OneGirlOneBoy have just released an amazing electronic record that's worth checking out, and they're also massive supporters of the Nottingham music scene as well. They're getting television coverage in America too which is incredible. We're big fans of a girl called Aja who's been around for a while. Her visual art is amazing as well as her music.
Charlie Burley: For me, a band I discovered recently called Halos. They have this song called 'Dust' that's just incredible. I think they're London-based. There's very little online about them but if that track is anything to go by I guarantee you'll be hearing more about them in the coming months.
Alex Noble: Also, for the future, we did a remix of a band called Owyl. They're a two-piece from Nottingham - one's thirteen, the other one's fourteen - making electronic music that's well beyond their years. They produce everything themselves as well. I first picked up a guitar when I was fourteen and I couldn't even write a song for two years let alone do what they're doing on a big scale.
For more information on April Towers visit their official website.
Photo by Shaun Gordon