Thousand Yard Stare were a five-piece from Slough. Having formed in 1989 they quickly gained a reputation as one of the most potent - not to mention conscientious - live bands in the country. Over the next four years, they released a handful of EPs and two albums, achieving a modicum of chart success at a time when indie bands breaking into the official Top 40 was front page news. By the time second album Mappamundi came out in the summer of 1993, Britpop was already in full swing and having been dropped by label Polydor soon after the record's release, the band called it a day.
Earlier this year, the band - Stephen Barnes (vocals), Giles Duffy (lead guitar), Kevin Moxon (rhythm guitar), Sean McDonough (bass) and Dom Bostock (drums) - announced they would be reuniting for a one-off show at London's Borderline venue, with all proceeds going to charity. Unsurprisingly, tickets for the show on Saturday 6th June sold out in a matter of days.
With the date getting ever nearer, DiS hooked up with two of the band at this year's Great Escape in Brighton. Now a band manager in his own right, frontman Barnes' latest proteges The Jacques have just played to a full house in the Albion Hotel's Rogues Bar where he is joined by Brighton-based guitarist Duffy. So without further ado, giving their first interview in over 20 years here's Thousand Yard Stare...
DiS: When did you decide to reform for the show? Has it been on the cards for a while?
Stephen Barnes: It just stemmed from the fact we'd been talking about getting back together for quite a long time. We met up for the first time in ages last November. It was the first time we'd all been in the same room for about 22 years.
Giles Duffy: It was just around the corner from here actually.
Stephen Barnes: We decided to do a rehearsal for old time's sake and initially, that was all we planned to do.
Giles Duffy: It was more a case of let's just see what happens.
Stephen Barnes: There's a lot of reforming going on at the minute and I don't think any of us were really up for that. We weren't really in the right place at that point because we hadn't been together for so long. But then after we had the rehearsal everything felt really good. I felt really confident about what we were doing. If I thought it sounded awful we wouldn't be doing a gig. We have been asked a lot over the years to do gigs so we decided to give it a go. The Borderline gig is only a one-off show for now. Thousand Yard Stare were always essentially a live band anyway. We were a live band who did recordings rather than the other way round. We did a lot of gigs in a lot of interesting places all around the country so we did have a strong live following. Hopefully a lot of people that saw us back then will come along on the 6th June and enjoy the show.
DiS: You've stated that the Borderline show is a one-off but also said there have been many offers over the years. Is there a possibility you'll play more shows or even consider touring again in the future?
Stephen Barnes: We're not sure. We just want to focus on this show for now then see what comes after that. At the moment there are no plans.
DiS: Are you writing together again? Will there be any new songs?
Stephen Barnes: I wouldn't say it's impossible but right now it's about revisiting that time back in the early nineties.
Giles Duffy: I write a lot, and if I came up with a tune that I thought fitted the Thousand Yard Stare ethos I'd send it around to the other guys and let them have fun with it.
Stephen Barnes: We don't all live in the same place any more but with modern technology there's no reason why we can't work on new material in our own time and then come together with it. That's one of the great advantages of the modern age.
Giles Duffy: If it ever came to pass I'd be as interested as anyone to find out what it sounded like.
Stephen Barnes: It would be obviously be rooted very much in what the band was about but I think it could also be very different to what people may expect.
Giles Duffy: We've all changed a little bit since we were twenty.
Stephen Barnes: I think it would be fun actually, but overall, we're not technically reforming. This is just a one-off reunion show for now.
DiS: What have you all been up to since the band split? I saw bass player Sean McDonough's old band The Mighty 590 a few years ago.
Giles Duffy: I've just recorded an album.
Stephen Barnes: I run a management company called Upshot. One of my bands has just played this venue (The Jacques). Dom (Bostock, drummer) has done all sorts. Everyone's been active.
Giles Duffy: Dom's been playing in a bunch of bands for years.
Stephen Barnes: Kevin (Moxon, guitar) has been living in Scotland for quite a while now. I don't think he's done much band stuff but he has been in and around playing with different people. I think that showed when we did the rehearsal. It wasn't a case of everyone picking up an instrument for the first time in 22 years. Everyone has kept their hand in doing other stuff. From my point of view it's probably better now than it was back in 1992!
Giles Duffy: For the first ten minutes everyone was nervous and then we played 'Version Of Me' and it just really kicked. We're playing the songs a bit more direct. Not radically different but more in your face and without the frills. Like Stephen said it just felt good.
Stephen Barnes: Most bands are known specifically for one or two songs, and that's just the way it is. I wouldn't say bands necessarily live off those songs but people will know them as the band that recorded this song or that song. And I suppose we did have a couple of songs that were minor hits back in the day which people might recognise. I was a bit worried whether we had enough good material to fill the set, but actually we have.
Giles Duffy: There's a couple we weren't 100% about. Mainly off the second album. Some I can't remember how to play at all.
Stephen Barnes: I was a bit funny about a couple, but I think we've got a good spread of material throughout those early EPs into the first album. Maybe two or three off the second album as well.
DiS: Did any of you keep in touch with one another after the band split?
Stephen Barnes: On and off. Giles saw Sean quite a lot as they both lived in Brighton so it was inevitable.
Giles Duffy: Me and Sean both played in bands here so we'd go and see each other's shows quite a lot. Dom came once as well, which was nice. But it's tricky as we all moved around to different places.
Stephen Barnes: We kept in touch every now and again. I think we first mentioned meeting up two or three years ago but for one thing and another just never came to anything.
DiS: Going back to the latter period of Thousand Yard Stare before the band split, was it quite a difficult time for the band? What caused the break up?
Stephen Barnes: It was a difficult time. We'd moved from being a fairly independent bunch that didn't really fit in with any scene. We were lumped in with bands like James because we'd played a few shows with them, and then we toured with The Wonder Stuff, Ned's Atomic Dustbin and The Sandkings so we became associated with them. But I don't really think we were that similar to any of those. Then we ended up being grouped together with bands like Ride and Slowdive because we were from the same region, and I guess looking back maybe there were all elements of all those bands I've mentioned after all?
Giles Duffy: I don't think we fitted in very well.
Stephen Barnes: We always felt like lone wolves and I think we thrived on that. Up to that point we did pretty much everything ourselves. We started our own label, designed our own merchandise, made our own records, we didn't have any help. And then suddenly there was interest and we fatally signed to a major. Which brought us lots of great things, in particular touring Europe with The Jesus & Mary Chain and going to America. But I also think as a band we weren't ready and the whole thing possibly came along a little early. I don't think we were quite settled on what we were trying to be. We all had different tastes at the time and I don't think that necessarily helped.
DiS: Was Mappamundi forced by the label?
Stephen Barnes: I wouldn't say it was forced. I was really pleased with some of it. It just felt different. It didn't really feel like us. When you're in the studio with someone like Stephen Street you have a specific amount of time and there are strict deadlines. I remember 'Version Of Me' being recorded during the last session on the last day. I sat in my car and wrote the lyrics and that was it. It had been sitting there for ages and we were all at a bit of a fractured point where we weren't talking very well at the time.
Giles Duffy: It was very pressured. It would have been nice to spend a bit more time on that record. There's definitely songs on Mappamundi which could have been developed better or recorded differently. It's easy to say in retrospect I guess, but even today bands always talk about that difficult second album.
Stephen Barnes: All albums are difficult but there is an extra pressure on album two compared to the first. Are you meant to be doing more of the same or progressing or what? All these different people are talking to you about what you should be doing and timescales change because while you're making the record some other band gets touted as being "the next big thing" so there's extra pressure to have your record out before theirs. We recorded the second session straight after we got back from America and I think it was quite rushed.
Giles Duffy: It did to me. There was a slight feeling of everyone being against us. The press were very bloody minded in their misunderstanding of what we were about. When you're in your early twenties and you're busy touring the first records and there's pressure to record another one that does rock the boat a bit. It was quite hard.
Stephen Barnes: I think that comes out on the album. There isn't the same freedom about it that the first record had.
DiS: Hands On seems very organic compared to Mappamundi.
Stephen Barnes: I think it was. We knew the songs really well by the time we came to record Hands On which helped whereas with Mappamundi, we'd only played three of those songs live before we had to go into the studio and record it.
Giles Duffy: One of the reasons for that was we didn't want to go down the route of using samplers and sequencers on stage. 'Small Change' we played quite a lot. 'What's Your Level?' too. I think they're two of our better songs.
Stephen Barnes: 'What's Your Level?' was probably one of the few moments on the second record where it felt like we had total freedom. It was a difficult period and in retrospect, perhaps not the best time to be putting an album out. Even though I have elements of regret about Mappamundi I still stand by it. There are some great songs on there but if we'd had another six months we could have developed it better. I think we'd have explored a bit more. We were becoming a bit more experimental in our approach. It didn't go where it could have gone, and then everything just fizzled out soon after. I think we'd just come to the end of the line really. When you have record labels and all these other things around you putting a finality into things it did the job for us. The label dropped us and we just stopped.
DiS: Looking back, do you think Thousand Yard Stare were in the right place at the wrong time?
Stephen Barnes I don't think what we did was necessarily rooted in a time. When you're that young you are influenced by the things around you. Our music does sound of an era but I don't think we ever thought of ourselves as a band of a certain era. We never courted any of the scenes. We just soaked up what was around us and reflected it in our own way. I think that's why our songs still stand up today. There are certain bands who've reformed in recent years where I've ended up having to transport myself back to whatever year it was they were active to make it work and it just doesn't stand up today.
Giles Duffy: I think we made the only kind of sound we could have made. We were quite naive, but I like that in bands. It's an honest reflection of who they are, and I think that pretty much describes us.
Stephen Barnes: We were horrendously honest. We were just a very honest band. We weren't coached in any way, and that does come out as naivety. There wasn't a plan. We just loved playing live, playing together and reflecting everything we were soaking up. We're rabid fans, albeit in slightly different directions. Giles was heavily into Nine Inch Nails and I was listening to a lot of folk music back then.
Giles Duffy: The Cardiacs really got me.
Stephen Barnes: They were probably the one band that brought us all together. Everybody loved them.
Giles Duffy: They're an impossible band to sound like. If you try, you'll fail.
Stephen Barnes: I still introduce The Cardiacs to all of the bands I work with today. They were the ultimate outsider band. So I guess in that respect they were a massive influence on us. Even though we ended up on a major label we still did everything ourselves. Pardon the pun but we were very hands on!
Giles Duffy: We all went off in different directions. Sean's weirdly into his pop. He was a massive fan of The Police, especially the bass lines. Stephen was going through a very twee phase whereas I was going through a very angry one at the time. I met this guy in America who gave me loads of early industrial records and I wanted to make some distorted sounds using drum machines. In a way that's a nice thing to have.
Stephen Barnes: But then I don't think we had the capability at the time to always fuse that. I think there was a point where we had to try and compromise with each other.
Giles Duffy: Definitely between me and you. You were getting into Ministry and I was becoming a bit twee-er at the time. I think I probably reacted against you come to think of it!
Stephen Barnes: Exactly. Sometimes that'll work great but a lot of the time it didn't. Perhaps if we'd carried on for a couple more years we'd have found a way of fusing that together really well? Unfortunately it didn't happen.
DiS: For me, Hands On is one of the most underrated and overlooked debuts of the past twenty-five years. Do you think the label gave it the priority they should have done at the time?
Stephen Barnes: I honestly don't think Polydor knew what to do with us.
Giles Duffy: It's quite a jolly record, which wasn't hip at the time. The bands surrounding us were either angry and political, which I totally get, or referencing sounds from the past, mainly the sixties. We had neither.
Stephen Barnes: That's a very good point. We were all very forward thinking. We didn't form a band because we wanted to be like bands who'd been before. We didn't know where we were going forwards but we subconsciously made a decision not to reference anything from the past. We never talked about it as such, but I think it was a common factor among all five of us that we didn't want Thousand Yard Stare to be a sixties pastiche. I think that made it hard for people to throw a blanket over us, particularly from a journalistic point of view. We weren't part of any scene, we weren't referencing anything from the past, we weren't retro in any way, shape or form. I'm not saying we were a future band either but we weren't trying to be like anyone else. Giles Duffy: We had a lot of influences and ideas that came through. We loved hoedown, we loved dub reggae. 'Comeuppance' for instance fused the two. Which was quite different again. I guess we were an indie dance band to a degree.
DiS: Why didn't debut single 'Wonderment' make it onto the first album?
Stephen Barnes: I think we'd become bored of it by then. Again it was a progressive thing. It would have felt a bit retrospective to put it on. I think it may have ended up on the Japanese version?
Giles Duffy: A lot of our early EP songs sound like that. Basically us jamming with a groove appearing over the top. We'd done that with most of our songs from the start and we reached a point where we decided not to do it any more.
Stephen Barnes: That song was a classic case of the sum of the parts we had at the time. We were still faffing around learning to play the guitar, and I realised early on I wasn't good enough to do that kind of thing. So we drafted in Alex (Lidgate, original rhythm guitarist) and then Kevin and the songs developed from there really. We used to rehearse in Dom's basement and we were so quick at times, mainly thinking about the next gig. If we'd spent six months planning what we should be doing and rewriting songs I don't think we'd have achieved a great deal early on. We'd just decide on the spot if a song was good or not and it would be in the live set by the weekend.
Giles Duffy: We ad libbed a lot while we were playing and it seemed to work with the crowd. You get shaped by your audience to some degree.
Stephen Barnes: I was a big fan of repetitive beats at the time anyway. I used to run indie clubs and then at the end of the night I'd go to The Full Monty which was an acid house night. I liked that kind of thing but at the same time it wasn't my world either, so I didn't want it coming into a band environment.
Giles Duffy: 'Keepsake' is quite a housey song. You could reproduce it as a dance tune.
Stephen Barnes: I also liked the repetitive riff thing. I still do. If it's a great riff it's a great riff.
DiS: Giles, you and the other three carried on without Stephen and recruited a different singer. You released a single 'Stationary Man' under the name Euphoria. Do you have much of a recollection about that period?
Giles Duffy: It was a mistake. I hung on in there for a bit then I decided to leave too. It didn't work. I guess it was born of confusion to a degree. That musical stuff we'd tried to develop mutually before kind of manifested itself again, but the results weren't great. I don't remember much about that time to be honest. Everything was spinning out of control by then.
Stephen Barnes: All of these things come from the pressure of being part of the machinery. We never felt comfortable with any of that. Even when we played festivals we tended to keep our own counsel most of the time. Not out of trying to be aloof but more because we didn't know what was going on. We'd see other bands who were clearly well coached in what they should be doing and saying and we'd be goofing around or doing something else. We were never really up for playing the game. It didn't feel right. When we did interviews we just said what we felt. Or I did at the time.
DiS: Are there any other songs from your back catalogue other than those on the second record which you won't be revisiting for the live show?
Stephen Barnes: We won't be playing everything off the first record. I think we're playing seven, maybe eight songs from Hands On. When we first rehearsed we played seven songs. The fairly obvious ones people expect us to do really. Then once we'd decided to do the gig and realised we needed more than seven, it was more about choosing the songs that would work as a live set than anything else. It flows really well. We touched on some of the lighter songs like 'Seasonstream' yet when we played it live it sounded big. Tough even. So that fitted in straight away. A lot of the songs chose themselves really. There's a couple of either/or's too I guess.
Giles Duffy: We've rehearsed 15 songs in total.
Stephen Barnes: All killer, no filler! There might be a couple of surprises in there. Giles came up with one that I didn't even look at, 'Another And On'. I was moving house at the time and my record player was stored in a box somewhere, so I had to listen to it off the internet. We played it and it works really well in the set.
DiS: The band ran their own fan club, Yardstick, back in the day. Will you be relaunching it to coincide with the gig?
Stephen Barnes: We've talked about it but I think probably not. I found an old Yardstick fanzine the other day actually. What was that all about? I know it sounds a bit cliched but we really were all about the fans. We loved that kind of closeness and we felt like outsiders that wanted to be part of a club and I think it appealed to a lot of our fanbase at the time. Again, it was very naive but also pretty much what indie was in those days. Whereas we live in a different era now altogether.
Giles Duffy: We were quite open to the idea of having our own community.
Stephen Barnes: It was a big driving force of being in a band. That you could hang out with lots of like-minded people. And when you come from a town like Slough you have to go and seek out people that are relatively like-minded. We were quite surprised when we went to the Aldershots and Derbys of this world by how many people had a similar ethos to us. It also reminded us of the deadness of Slough playing in those kind of places. We thought there must be people like us in places like Aldershot. Call it naive but that's what we believed. I remember the first time we played in High Wycombe and it was quite a big deal. It was one of those places that made Slough look cosmopolitan. We played at a venue called Heroes & Zeroes, and there were about 20 people there. One of the bands we played with came from Shoreham and they invited us to play a show in their town, so we did. We'd have liked that to carry on in every other town we played. Even now I try to encourage gig swaps for the bands I work with. What's the point in travelling to York on a Tuesday night and playing to three people when you could be playing with the city's biggest local band then getting back to your town the following week?
Giles Duffy: Michael Azerrad's book 'Our Band Could Be Your Life' about the American hardcore scene talks about this. A lot of those bands posted letters to each other and gig swaps eventually became tours.
Stephen Barnes: Slough did have an outsider feel about it but that's what drove us. We were looking for people like us. Whether that's self-validation or whatever I don't know, but it goes to explain an awful lot about our band. That was how we focused rather than concentrate on becoming a massive band. Looking back on album number two we hit a cul-de-sac really. It is more a question of why are we looking to do anything next rather than what are we going to do. There was an element of closure about it. It felt like we'd done what we came to do. I say this to bands all the time. Stop thinking there's a destination because there is no destination. It's all about the journey.
DiS: You played the Slough Festival in 1991 with Ride, Slowdive and a host of others in an event that's now attained legendary status. Were you instrumental in organising that? Is it something you'd contemplate becoming involved with again?
Stephen Barnes: We weren't instrumental in organising the festival but we did have some influence around it. It's probably not that much of an achievement but we were the biggest thing happening in Slough at the time. And probably since to be honest. Brother had a try but it didn't work for them.
Giles Duffy: There was also Soul Family Sensation back then as well. They played the festival too.
Stephen Barnes: They were a very different kind of band to the rest of us on that line-up. Most of the people in Soul Family Sensation had been around a bit playing in other bands whereas most of the others such as ourselves were just starting out. Interestingly, we really got on with each other which I guess is quite surprising as we didn't have much in common at all. I admired them for the fact they seemed to know what they were doing and we didn't. We did a show together at Slough College and made a special 'TYSSFS' t-shirt to commemorate it. And it was a great night. Real validation for us both. I'd just started to work out the method to this music game then got distracted and didn't follow it through.
Giles Duffy: The Slough Festival ran for two years. The first one we played in this little tent round the side. I think Utah Saints may have headlined?
Stephen Barnes: That's right.
Giles Duffy: Didn't The Cardiacs play as well? I was just there to see them.
Stephen Barnes: It was a big deal for anyone who was into music in that area. The music scene if there was one in the area was Windsor based because of The Old Trout, The Full Monty, the Arts Centre and the College. I started going to Windsor College after grammar school and sixth form and it changed my life. I had this whole new social set within three months and there was Revolution Records just around the corner. I started putting on indie nights and I wouldn't say it was calculated but it was at that point when I thought we could get on some of the better band bills here. Teenage Fanclub, Pixies and Flowered Up were all coming through while I was there and we managed to get on some of the bills with these bands. It helped to elevate us a little bit over some of the other local bands. I think other bands felt they were in competition with us but I never saw us as being in competition with them. That probably helped us become the local band that could support touring bands passing through and eventually go on to play festivals. What's nice about the Slough Festival is it only existed for two years yet is almost in aspic now. For something like that to happen in Slough - my hometown - is nuts!
DiS: Since announcing the reunion, have Thousand Yard Stare been approached to play any festivals?
Stephen Barnes: No, but then we haven't really advertised the reunion other than on Facebook. The show sold out pretty quickly which is cool and we were under a bit of pressure to upgrade the gig to a larger venue but we just don't want to do that right now.
DiS: Why did you choose The Borderline for the show?
Stephen Barnes: Two reasons. Firstly we didn't know whether anyone was going to buy any tickets. We didn't know if anyone really cared.
Stephen Barnes: Well, you just don't know do you? The second reason, for me anyway, was that I wanted to play somewhere that was around when we were playing and in Central London. So it was a choice between there and the 100 Club, which wasn't available, so it was as simple as that. I used to be involved in a night there called Midweeker during the Britpop years which became quite legendary for a while, so I have some very interesting memories of the place as well. I don't think we ever played there either so that confirmed it.
DiS: Why did you choose Cancer Research and the Laotian Village Community Fund (LVCF) as the two charities for the show?
Stephen Barnes: We always said any reunion gig would only be for charity.
Giles Duffy: We chose Cancer Research after a friend of ours from school passed away recently. She was a really grounded, funny, outgoing type of person and what happened was quite horrible. Also at the time, my dad was ill so that drove it for a start. There's actually quite a lot of connections come to think of it.
Stephen Barnes: The other one's a very different charity. It builds schools and water systems in Northern Lao. I've been there. I did the first ever cycle trip across the north of Lao which was quite amazing. I've been doing this for many years now. I met this Scottish guy who asked me if I'd be interested in doing long distance cycle tours with him so I've been to Mexico, Vietnam, Base Camp Everest and Lao. It's a very interesting country. When I first went there it didn't have any proper roads. They have them now which lead all the way through to Thailand but what struck me most were the villages in the north. They don't really exist. If you look at a map of Lao there are no places listed in the north beyond Luang Prabang. None of these places are even recognised by their own people so we helped build a school out there which was quite a big deal. Their kids need to be educated to a point because the Thais and Vietnamese were moving in. It's a very long story but something that I'm really connected to. Lao is the most bombed country in the history of mankind. America dropped all its bombs there in 1967 because they thought it was where the Khmer Rouge were coming in from. Even today, thousands of people lose arms and legs as a result of unexploded bombs left lying all over Lao. Both charities are close to us. We have direct connections in one way or another, so they both seem appropriate for this show.
DiS: Why did you choose SubRosa5 as the support act for the 6th?
Stephen Barnes: SubRosa5are made up of members of two bands we knocked around with a lot when we started out - Triple Blind and SubSound. They're still really good. It felt right to have something connected to those early days.
DiS: Are there any new bands you'd recommend Drowned In Sound and its readers should be listening to?
Stephen Barnes: I'm probably quite biased because I work with new bands so I won't say all the obvious ones but I will mention The Jacques because I think they're great. They just remind me of what a young band should be. They wear their influences on their sleeves. They're all aged between 16 and 20 and if they carry on writing songs the way they are now I think they're only going in one direction. Slaves are probably the best band I've heard in a long time. I think they're really exciting. I haven't heard an awful lot bandwise that's blown me away recently but they have. Obviously the Bristol scene is great. Spectres, The Naturals, Oliver Wilde. I genuinely believe it's a lot harder for bands now. There are less opportunities for a break. Timing and a bit of luck are massive for any band. We had a bit of luck, let's be honest.We forced it a little here and there as well. Giving our record to the drummer of The Wonder Stuff for example. He then passed it on to their press officer and things started to build from there. I listen to quite a lot of electronic stuff as well. Things like Little People and Boxed In.
DiS: What advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
Stephen Barnes: Be brave. Don't think too internally about what you are. I have this problem with bands an awful lot. They strive for perfection. There's no such thing as perfect. Because of technology like the internet everyone is more clued up. There's hundreds of blogs telling bands how to do it. "The 5 things you're doing wrong as a band", that kind of thing. And I wonder why on earth bands bother reading this stuff? Just go out and be yourselves. If people want to buy your records and come and see you play what more could you possibly want? It really is as simple as that. All these so-called theories are redundant because there isn't a way of doing it. There is no formula. For a while I did music lecturing at colleges but then I stopped because it was all bullshit. Read this book and you'll be a better band? No, go and rehearse if you want to be a better band! If you don't know that already then you shouldn't really be in a band. It goes back to what I was saying earlier. Don't think about the destination, enjoy the journey. Being in a band can be both the best and worst things in the world. Most of the time it's shit. You have no money, you end up in places when you're not meant to be there, and the perceived expectation of the punter is so high. And that's what drives bands to distraction.
For more information on Thousand Yard Stare visit their official Facebook page.