As Public Service Broadcasting prepare to release their new debut album ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ Louder Than War catch up with them prior to taking the stage for a ‘ Tacheless promotions’ night at Scunthorpes ‘The Light’, in which they turn in one of their typically captivating performances. The London based group who’s thrilling and imaginative live fusing of lo-fi energy & classic film footage have already produced mini epics like ‘Everest’, ‘London Can Take It and the massively popular and much raved about ‘Spitfire’. We talk to the man behind the magic, J. Willgoose, Esq., on the bands journey so far and whats next for Public Service Broadcasting.
Louder Than War: Where did it all start for the band?
Giles: Well it started as just myself, solo shows and it was still good fun and went down quite well but it felt to me like it was missing something. So I started adding the visual side to it all as well with the TV footage showing at the same time but when I was booked for a festival I just thought ‘I can’t fill a festival stage on my own’. It was just one guy, me and I felt a need to add something else, so that’s when Wigglesworth came on board and gradually it started becoming more of a two man thing rather than a one man thing which is where were at today.
Tracks such as ‘England can take it’ and ‘Spitfire’ have been very well received on YouTube in particular, when did you realise that PSB was starting to take off?
Probably with ‘Spitfire’ last year, at first when we put it out there it didn’t do so good for a couple of weeks until picked up on it on 6 music. We did have a single before that which had won the ‘rebel play-list’ on 6-music to my amazement but it was Spitfire, with no pun intended, that really ‘took off’ and has been going ever since really and is kinda doing its own thing now, like its nothing to do with us, a life of its own.
If War Should Come is one of the stand out tunes on there for me.
Of the songs on the E.P ‘London can take it’ is probably one of my favorites songs on there actually and we released it due to being really taken back with the reaction the song got, so we released that back in August, like a re-release with a physical distributor on board as opposed to a ‘proper’ release into shops. ‘London can take it’ is definitely a favorite of mine but ‘Everest’ is another stand out track, we put it out end of last year and did a little tour around it.. which was to just keep the momentum going while we finished the album, but to be honest I felt it didn’t make the impact I thought or felt it could of- probably for various reasons but I feel there’s a lot more to come out of that one…I think its our best song.
I’m curious as to what genre you think you fit into. Is it a new one do you think? On the net you describe it as Ethno-funk so are you pioneering something new with Public Service Broadcasting?
I’d never be arrogant in saying that, we’re not a new genre but I feel we take a lot of different genre’s, so its hard to say were any one of them. There’s quite a lot of electronic stuff in there and there’s definitely an aspect of dance, its like we ended up a trance festival last August but the set still went down well because the music has elements which that kinda crowd can really connect with and get something out of it. Equally our latest single is probably the heaviest thing we’ve done to date with comments that it sounds like The Queens of the Stone Age, so really were coming from from a whole range of sounds and styles, not just from one or two genre’s.
So what actually are the influences on Public Service Broadcasting?
(Thinks)…I suppose the one thing I was definitely trying to aim for putting the tracks together was DJ Shadow and Massive Attack, which I fell way way short of but still seemed to come up with something alright, and since then a whole lot of stuff has gone into ht e mix. Its like Radio Head a massive influence in a lot of ways but for the ‘War Room’ it was pretty crazy, the number of different elements that went into it.
For ‘London can take it’ was mostly inspired by a Jamaican dance-hall compilation and the rhythm came from that, a song called ‘the invasion of the Mysteron killers’. Other things come from really random stuff like South Indian soundtrack music, if your on various mailing lists of labels and shops they send out some pretty amazing stuff…and of course Wigglesworth is bang into his old-school hip-hop, most of the writing comes from me originally but then for the drums we go into a studio and record them and there he’s free to put his own spin on things
Can you tell me about the visuals, how did they become part of the sound and effect?
Well actually it comes from a weird circular story but I heard a radio programme Tom Robinson was presenting (Tom Robinson Band) about these archive films that had been released. So I went on online, looked them up and played about with them ending with making a song which I played to a few friends, who actually liked it which was a rarity for the music I’d made before. I really enjoyed working with these archives and ended up putting together about 6-7 tracks which I played a few gigs with and it was then when Tom Robinson himself played it on his introducing show, and so I ended up going in to do an interview with him and told him he was indirectly the reason behind the whole thing starting.
It was at the end of the interview he said “one day when your doing these gigs you’ll be able to run the videos at the same time, it’d be great”, and I was like “Tom Robinson, he’s done it again” you know, really pushing us forward. A great guy and really supportive of us and the band.
How important are the visuals?
They are a big part of the live show but I do think the songs stand up for themselves, the reaction we’ve had from radio alone speaks volumes because radio is where everythings come from, there’s no images on there obviously so I think were doing something right on the musical front. The visual stuff is kinda like a bonus and gives a live audience something to hook on to.
…and what comes first when you’re producing, is it the music or can it sometimes be the film?
Its a tricky one, like what came first, the chicken or the egg…it varies. There’s normally a very basic idea and its from that I might know which way a song will go, either finding the footage or going back to something I’ve seen previously which I could match mentally in my head. For Signal 30′ I’d already
written the main driving guitar line and I thought ‘this would be a good song to drive fast too’ so maybe it would be quite an ironic thing to do to make it a ‘driving safety film’
Can it be quite hard to get the rights for all the footage you want to use in your videos?
It can be, there’s been stuff that I’ve wanted to use but we’ve not been able to, if we can’t get the permission we simply don’t use it. BFI and Studio Canal have had the rights to a lot of things we’ve wanted to use, particularly the BFI who have been amazing telling us they like what we do so go off and do what you do. We do use a lot of public domain stuff as well which is copy right free to all intense and purposes which covers a lot of the US material but with the British we have to be a bit more careful with it so that’s the stuff we go through BFI for.
So what are your performances like, plenty of jumping from one instrument to another?
Yeah, fair to say there’s some quick change overs between instruments, it’d be nice to get a guitar tech one day. There’s also Wigglesworth with the electric pads which he also plays, some of what he plays comes through me then gets looped but as much as it is possible to play live we do, I always kind of figure that it can always go wrong, or should be able to go wrong because we are live. Its not like standing up there and just pressing buttons, it should be about a performance while the video’s play and a lot of effort goes into that, it can become quite tense. When my friends come and watch me they’d tell me they’d get nervous watching me dart around from one instrument to another, almost like watching somebody spinning plates.
When you play live is there any particular reaction or atmosphere you try to achieve with the crowd?
I went to a Flaming Lips show in 2001 and remember looking around the crowd and everybody, and I mean everybody, just had these massive smiles on their faces and having a whale of a time, You know they’re quite theatrical aren’t they, bleeding head and the walking across the crowd, well were much more understated about it but its that kind of atmosphere I suppose I’m after, people having a great time. There always seems to be a good atmosphere at our gigs, always seems to be a nice bunch of people who come to see us and its that sort of feeling you get at festivals, where you feel like you can just start talking to the guy next to you, that feeling…if you can generate that yourself that’s great.
So what kind of reactions do Public Service Broadcasting get live?
(Laughs)…er..confusion, anger…no not really but sometimes we can find it a bit weird actually because people get hooked into the video so much. The video is kinda the front man live so that’s natural I suppose but I think they forget there at a gig at times, you know – being a little bit quieter than we expected but then we’ll finish our set and get loads of great feed back with people telling us how much they enjoyed our performance
The Album, ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’, is due out on the 6th May. Is it all ready to go?
Yeah, its all done, just waiting for test-pressings on the vinyl and waiting to press the Cd’s but the album itself is finished.
How did the recording go?
Well ‘Spitfire’ is on it which was already done anyhow, at the time of recording we were actually up in Scotland playing Glasgow Edinburgh and Aberdeen and was really hard fitting in recording times as we were really busy. So it was a friend mine up there who co-owns a studio, apart from 2 days off at Christmas we were just at it solid, drum editing, getting some older demos and up dating them so it sounded like an album rather than bunch of different songs, which was for me was important and something I wanted to achieve.
Are you busy with promoting and playing this year?
We’ve got about 4 days off in May so yeah fair to say its going to be intense but good fun, but the album tour starts properly in Edinburgh on the 7th of May, the day after the album comes out. Before that though we’ve got 6 days in the Highlands with gigs in Mull, Skye and other places around the Islands. Both myself and Wigglesworth enjoy a single malt now and again so were looking forward to that, something a bit out of the ordinary.
A bit like the venue the band are playing tonight a converted church?
We’ve played some weird and wonderful venues in the past, we’ve got a great booking agent, we’ve got good management, we’ve got all that but were self releasing. There’s not somebody from Sony going ‘ I know so & so from so & so arena, I’ll get you on there’ we’ve worked it ourselves. You know, what British Sea Power do, the way they pick interesting venues to play…that’s the kind I’d like to do myself, again its something out of the ordinary which suites our music and what we do live.
So what are you looking forward too this year the most?
I’m slightly worried about the album still because no reviews have really come in yet, but I’m looking forward to it coming out and seeing how it does. I’m looking forward to playing live this year. I’ve waited a long time and put in quite a bit of work to be doing this, being in a band, enjoying touring and travelling around a bit and it feels like its starting to pay off a little now.