Saturday, 21 March 2015

Interview: Public Service Broadcasting

Public Service Broadcasting The Race For Space Interview

Public Service Broadcasting, 'Go!'

Info: Along with Panda Bear's Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper, London duo Public Service Broadcasting's The Race For Space has easily been one of the best albums of 2015 for me so far. Aside from the two excellent singles, 'Gagarin' and 'Go!', the album, like it's 2013 predecessor, Inform - Educate - Entertain, is brimming with atmospheric and energising tracks such as 'Sputnik', the menacing 'Fire In The Cockpit'. In some ways it feels like a chronological segmented voyage, telling the individual stories of space exploration from it's beginnings, before pausing for thought on the final track 'Tomorrow', which could easily have had a question mark at the end of it's title. 

I've often found it strange that it's now been almost 43 years since astronaut Eugene Cernan became the last man on the Moon when he climbed the ladder of Apollo 17 back in 1972. Climbing aboard the shuttle he paused and said; 'As I take man's last step from the surface, back home for some time to come – but we believe not too long into the future – I'd like to just (say) what I believe history will record. That America's challenge of today has forged man's destiny of tomorrow.' As well as the music itself, I think that thematically The Race For Space is perhaps unwittingly a reminder of past endeavours whilst sharing the hopefulness of Cernan's words. I was fortunate enough to be able to pick the brain of banjo maestro / multi-instrumentalist, J. Willgoose, Esq., and find out more about making of the new album ahead of the pair's two Irish dates in Mandela Hall in Belfast and The Button Factory in Dublin on the 3rd and 5th of May respectively (more info below).

Hello chaps, how are you doing? Congratulations on another fantastic album with The Race For Space and the amazing video for your single ‘Gagarin’.

Hello! We’re fine thanks. A bit tired (currently in New Zealand and still don’t know what day it is, really) but all is well.

Obviously a central trait to your songs is excerpts from old archival footage, particularly information broadcasts and propaganda pieces, how do you access such material?

We use a variety of sources – for the new record it was a combination of the NASA Audio Collection and the BFI’s (British Film Institute) collection of Russian space material, and we’ve previously used the Prelinger Archives, more BFI material and worked with Studiocanal too.

The themes you cover explore topics such as war on your first album, Inform - Educate - Entertain, and now space exploration on The Race for Space, do either of you have a background or particular interest in history?

That’s the funny thing – no, not really. I gave up history when I was 14 because it seemed like too much hard work, so I just did languages instead. And even PSB didn’t start out because of a love of history – it started because of a love of the sound of these voices, of the character and evocativeness that they lent to our music. As we’ve gone on, the historical side of things has become much more closely woven into what we do and why we do it, but it really started off as just a happy accident.

Your first single from the new album, ‘Gagarin’ has a deliciously funky sound that could have been the title music to a 1970’s cop tv show, is old funk music a favoured genre of yours?

Yeah, I’ve got quite a few funk records in the collection and Wriggles is also prone to a bit of it. He can really play, too, so I wanted to write something that’d stretch him and make him use his full set of skills on the drum kit – he hasn’t thanked me for it yet, but maybe one day! I just think life is too 
short to restrict yourself to listening to only one style of music, or, worse, making only one style of music, so I listen to all kinds of stuff in the hope that some of it filters through into our own stuff.

Public Service Broadcasting, 'Gagarin'

When I was listening to tracks like ‘Fire In The Cockpit’ and opening song, ‘The Race For Space’ I started imagining them as the backdrop to scenes from films like Duncan Jones’ Moon and Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, would you enjoy the opportunity to record an OST for a sci-fi film? And while we’re on the topic, have you any favourite space-based films?

Moon is a great film, I loved it and especially its soundtrack. Yes, I’d love to do some soundtrack work, but it’s an extremely competitive area (and quite a closed shop too, it seems) so I’m not expecting a call any time soon. In a way this album is our own soundtrack to the space age. My favourite science fiction films would be 2001, Blade Runner (not strictly space-based but with an amazing soundtrack too) and I have to admit to being a bit of a Star Wars nut.

A lot of people’s jaws would drop at the idea of mixing the bluegrass of the banjo with electronic sounds but it works a treat, tell us a bit about how it became integrated into your music?

I like both styles of music and I bought a banjo a while back, so it seemed fairly natural to me even if it was a bit of an odd choice! The banjo is a great instrument though and really versatile. Played in the melodic style it can really have a lovely, melancholic air to it.

Public Service Broadcasting The Race For Space

Given the audio-visual nature of your live shows, I would imagine a concert with a full orchestra could prove to be a pretty exciting combination of the two, is it something you’ve ever thought of doing?

I don’t know – I’m always a bit wary of throwing too much into the equation because it seems that that’s something bands do when they’re running a bit short of inspiration. But doing bigger live shows with more musicians would be fun – I just think you’ve got to be careful not to get ahead of yourself, that’s all!

You played in The Button Factory in 2013 following the release of the first album and return there in May this year, a good choice of venue for the type of show you put on. One stand out memory I have of the venue is seeing Death In Vegas there after The Contino Sessions was released, visuals, done correctly, can really have a huge impact, what are the logistics involved in setting up for such a performance?

It depends on the size of the stage and the amount of production equipment we’re bringing but it can be a challenge. We’re still a fairly small, self-financing and self-releasing outfit so we always seem to be doing things on the cheap and almost killing ourselves through over-work in the process… it’s worth the effort though.

Finally, I really loved the video for ‘Gagarin’ and watched the ‘making of’ clip you recently posted online, it looked like immense fun, have the two of you broken out into the dance routine in public yet?

Ha, thanks. We need a bit more practice first though – it’s been a while since the 'Gagarin' video shoot!

*Public Service Broadcasting are currently in the United States as part of their world tour and return to Europe in April for the U.K. / Ireland leg, with shows in Brighton, Manchester, Birmingham and London already selling out. With their two shows in Belfast and Dublin only weeks away now is the time to get tickets if you're thinking of heading along and want to experience a spell-binding live performance like the one below, you can get ticket from here.