INTERVIEW: TALKING SWEET MUSIC WITH BILLY PILGRIM 0 137

The quartet that make up Sweet Billy Pilgrim; Anthony Bishop, Jana Carpenter, Tim Elsenburg and Alistair Hamer, have been part of the music industry for over a decade, delivering song after song of what they describe as “Thrash Pastel” sound to ears everywhere. As they prepare to embark on an eleven date UK tour which begins in Manchester on September 2nd, together they agreed to chat with me and talk longevity, influences and future plans.

You’ve outlasted a number of bands and artists during your time together, what do you think is the key/secret to your longevity?

That’s easy. We get to do something we love with people we love, whether they be our fellow band members or the people who come to see us. Don’t get me wrong; it is hard work, and sometimes the rewards for that hard work seem all out of whack, but whenever it all gets a bit overwhelming we just remind ourselves how lucky we are. Our shows tend to be a conversation – both literal and metaphorical – between members of the band, and between the band and the audience. I guess the aim is to achieve something approaching a feeling of celebration in the end, so a shorter answer would be that we basically became hippies.

How do you think you’ve evolved and grown as a band since you started out?

We’ve learned to communicate better, and the songs have opened up sonically and lyrically as a result. We love the first two records, but they were the sound of a band always looking inwards, and shows were difficult because we just wanted to get the notes and the sounds right. It was only when Jana joined that, through her background in acting and improvising, we really discovered how to tell stories; how look outwards and invite people in. Yes, the notes and words are important, but now we share them, where – in the early days at least – we might have just performed them.

Have there been any difficult lessons you’ve had to learn along the way?

Just that, really. That most people are less interested in hearing an album played accurately live, and more interested in being connected with. That, and the more obvious how-to-keep-our-heads-above-water thing that most of the musicians we know are grappling with from day to day. Oh, and making sure that when we’re touring Jana gets caffeine and breakfast within 15 minutes of requesting them. Missing that deadline was a difficult lesson to learn!

Do you have any favourite memories so far?

Walking onto the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with a banjo and harmonium in front of a sea of very impatient people with feather cuts and fishtail parkas waiting for The Who to play ‘Quadrophenia’. That felt strangely liberating. We also did a house concert recently for a family where one of the parents was fighting cancer. It was humbling and joyous and emotional and drunken, eventually all at the same time.

You’re soon to embark on a UK tour in support of your latest album ‘Motorcade Amnesiacs’. Is there any venue or city you’re most looking forward to playing?

All of them. We genuinely can’t wait to get out there and play the new songs to people. Our only regret is that – without an agent – we weren’t able to persuade some venues to have us, so there are certain parts of the country we’re not going to make it to.

If you could play any venue, anywhere in the world, that you haven’t yet, which would it be and why?

Anywhere intimate, beautiful and with great acoustics. Preferably in a city we’ve never been to before, with a day either side so that there’s time to explore.

Which four bands or artists, who can be living or dead, would you most like to share a stage with?

Sonic Youth circa ’Sister’, making an unholy racket… maybe we’d do some three-four part harmony singing with Gillian Welch, The Band backing Jana and I singing something and Robert Fripp in the midst of his Bowie / Scary Monsters screamy-guitar phase, soloing over one of our songs.

What do you think sets ‘Motorcade Amnesiacs’ apart from your other, earlier material?

It was written to be played live. None of the previous records grew from that specific intention.

Has the song-writing process gotten easier or harder for you, or does it still depend on the subject matter you’re writing about?

It’s the same really. Drafting, redrafting, re-redrafting. Endless musical and lyrical possibilities whittled down, usually with some idea of a unifying theme at the backs of our minds as we move from album to album. We work really hard at trying to make albums that are a bit of a journey; that give you something back if you commit to them for 45 minutes. It’s a pretty old-fashioned idea, but we want to at least give people the option of listening to the music like that so that they get that sense of the sum being greater than the parts.

What, to you makes a good song, and which, in your opinion, is the greatest song ever written and why?

It’s got to have the hairs-standing-up-on-the-back of the neck moment.‘River Song’ by the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson is probably top because it seems to be entirely built out of those moments.

How necessary do you think it is for bands and artists today to be involved with social media? Have you found that it’s helped you?

It’s now an integral part of the relationship between the artist and the audience; another way to connect. We write songs; people weave them into their busy lives; people are curious about us; we’re curious about people… it’s a vital and almost always fun part of the to-and-fro.

You’re a Mercury Music Prize nominated band – how important is recognition like that to you?

Well, it doesn’t sell more records for a band like us, but it does open doors. It’s a great calling card.

Aside from your UK tour, what else do you have in store for the rest of the year?

Hopefully some European touring! We’re also working out how possible a series of deluxe reissues of the previous albums with bonus materials might be. That’s something we’d love to do because the label we’re with – Kscope – are so great at curating beautifully assembled and presented back catalogue stuff.

What’s your ultimate goal as a band? At what point would you be happy to say ‘yeah, that’s it, we’ve done all we wanted to. Let’s call it a day’?

Just to be able to keep doing this. Some of us aren’t great being ‘in the moment’ and so being on stage is probably the closest we ever get to that, so projecting forward sort of defeats the object! Just before work on this album began, there was at least one occasion where we almost gave in to cynicism and called it quits because the effort-reward ‘system’ seemed so out of balance. Then we soon realised that we weren’t going to stop writing songs, or recording them, or wanting to share them. That feeling never really goes away, so while we can still stand and carry our own amps we’ll be out there somewhere making music.

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MAC MILLER FOUND DEAD… APPARENT OVERDOSE 0 44

Mac Miller has been found dead at the age of 26.

The rapper, who dated Ariana Grande for around two years, was found in his home in the San Fernando Valley at around noon on Friday (September 7) and was pronounced dead at the scene, TMZ reports.

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THE LAFONTAINES TALK NEW TOUR & GETTING BACK IN THE STUDIO 0 47

Following the release of their new single “Up” and as the band prepare to embark on a tour of the UK and Europe later this month, ThisIsTheLatest caught up with The LaFontaines guitarist Darren McCaughey to talk live fan favourites, the venues he’s most excited to play and post-tour plans.

TITL: You’ve just released your new track “Up.” What is it about the song that made you decide it was a good fit for your next single, and is there a particular story behind it?

Darren McCaughey: We had a slight line-up change at the beginning of the year and this was the first track that we wrote following that. It felt like a new chapter for the band and a positive uplifting track to come back with. It’s maybe my favorite song we have ever written.

TITL: You’ve just completed a UK and European tour supporting Don Broco, and are gearing up to head out on your own headline tour of the UK and Europe this month. Are you ever NOT on the road, and what do you miss most about home when you’re away for long periods? 

DM: We relish every opportunity to get out there and play our music to as many people as possible so apart from the obvious things like friends & family etc. there’s nothing else we would rather be doing. The weather here can be pretty grim so it’s nice to get away sometimes.

TITL: How do your support slot shows differ, if at all, to your headline ones?

DM: With the support shows you want to get out there and make an impression and win over the audience. I’d say the majority of our fan-base have heard about us by seeing us support someone else. With the headline shows, we have already won the audience over so we just have to focus on giving them a night to remember. If you were to compare the two side by side there would be no difference in the actual performance just what’s going through my head.

TITL: For fans who are seeing you for the first time on this tour, what can they expect from your performance?

DM: A unique, entertaining and energetic performance.

TITL: Which of your songs do you find go down best with live audiences? Is there one that stands out or can it differ from place to place?

DM: We have a song on our latest album called “Torture” which has been going down really well. It’s a lot slower and mellow than the rest of the set but gets a great reaction and brings a different type of energy.

TITL: Is there one particular venue you’re most excited to play on this tour and if so, which is it and why?

DM: I’m excited to play in Milan & Warsaw as we have never been to either of those cities before and both look like great places to visit.

TITL: You’ve amassed quite a following since first bursting onto the scene, but how much of that might you say is down to the power of social media, and how have the likes of Twitter and Facebook helped get your name and your music out to a wider audience?

DM: We have always gained fans from supporting other acts and people seeing us live at shows and festivals. Social media has allowed us to promote our music to them and helps existing fans stay up to date with what we are up to.

TITL: Do you think, as a band, there’s such a thing as too much ‘reliance’ on social media? Do you think you could have drummed up the support you have over the years like you have without it – if you had to go ‘old school’ like in the 80’s and earlier? Is it possible for bands to succeed today without that online connection? 

DM: I think for us personally we could have drummed up the support we have without social media as we have always gained fans through live performance. Although I think now it is such an important tool and such an ingrained part of the culture that it would be very hard to get by without an online presence.

TITL: Finally then, with this new tour taking you through to early October, what does the remainder of the year have in store for you? Are there any plans or projects you can tell me about? 

DM: We’ll be heading back to the studio as soon as we come off of tour and in December we have a big festival appearance in India, then we round off the year on the 23rd of December for a homecoming show in our hometown of Motherwell.

The LaFontaines UK & European tour kicks off on September 12 in Perth, Scotland. Tickets for all shows are available now.