After taking a lengthy break and finding a label Engineers have finally released their new album Three Fact Fader. TLOBF’s Peter Bloxham met Mark from the band one warm summer afternoon as they were gearing up to support the release by playing their first concerts in two years.
It’s been a fair old while since you last had a record out. What’ve you been up to?
Well we finished this album or kind of nearly finished it at the end of 2006 early 2007 but then the record company we were with – Echo, stopped being a record company and became just a publishing house. So rather than wait around for another label to come on board we decided just to have a break.
A few labels approached us in the meantime but we just decided to wait until the right one came along, which happened last year, Kscope approached us and it seemed right, the right ethos, the right attitude.
The conversations that we had were more about us as a band as opposed the album as a product. They didn’t even know that there was another album when they approached us, they’d just heard the first album and thought that we would be a good act to have on the label.
So you’ve avoided that feeling that perhaps you could sign to a label, release the album and then find yourselves out in the cold a bit?
Ha, well there’s always a potential for that, I mean the business is what it is these days, so I’m not living under any illusions of being babied for the rest of my life, but…
Sure, but at least Kscope seemed to be interested in the act itself on the whole.
Yeah and also I think what the act means from an artistic perspective instead of just… y’know number crunching.
Sure, sure. So what’s happening on the gigging front?
Well we’ve been rehearsing but we haven’t actually played a gig yet. We’re playing on the 10th of July to follow the release on the 6th.
So that’s the first in how long?
Uh, two years.
Nah, actually! I play in a few little things here and there so I still play gigs quite often. I think we’re all really, really excited about it. The last few gigs we played were really amazing I think they were the best few gigs we ever played really so I think we’ve all missed that really really terribly so I think getting back to that place is going to be really good fun.
Did you get to play the material on the album?
Yeah that’s what the last few gigs were we just played- I think, we never said but we always felt that this album we’d written with more of a view to it being a much more exciting set of material for us to play live. And when we did play it live that was definitely the case
So what’s the plan after the release? Tour?
Er, well things are starting to come in now so we’re going to decide what we want to do. I mean, I don’t really enjoy just playing the kind of night-on-night tour, it’s good that people want to see you but we prefer to hand-pick the right events as opposed to just being another band on circuit.
You’re not into just hitting venue after venue every night, student unions etc?
Yeah well I mean… it’s not for being snobby or against that or anything, I mean student places are great! They’re always there for the right reasons. It’s just when you’re playing some crappy bar on a Thursday night someplace where nobody’s really that bothered and it’s just another gig on the promoters list…
…Back in the van, down the motorway a bit further. Burger King, next venue.
Yeah. It’s not like we’re saying ‘Oh we want a big tour bus’ or anything like that. It’s just that all of that takes away from… well you might as well be in a shit covers band doing that.
Ha. So, hand pick the events. Make sure you’ve got a crowd that want to be there…
Yeah, make it into an event. Not just like ‘Uhh, here’s another gig…’ y’know?
Yeah I get that, makes each gig more special. Grinding away, playing the same setlist for two weeks to lukewarm crowds can really sap the energy of a band’s performance.
Yeah and then every last thing that you do…I mean all of us in the band, the instrumentalists we’ve have an element of not necessarily improvisation but something different. And when you’re going it every night you just start to fall into a routine of like, I play this here, this is where I go loud…
…let’s not muck about lads, let’s just get it done for another night.
Yeah totally, like jobbing… kind of. Which I suppose musicians have done from time immemorial.. but y’know there has to be a spark.
So you wrote this album Three Fact Fader, in 2005?
Yeah starting writing 2005, started recording early 2006.
So between then and now, you’ve written more stuff.
Yeah there’s lots of new stuff I mean it sounds like a bit of a cliché but there wont be anywhere near the amount of time between albums for the next one. We were kind of a victim of circumstance rather than wanting to be in that situation.
So you’re looking forward to getting that out, too? Doing the gigs and hitting the ground running for the next album too?
Yeah definitely and I think now we have a label that understands what we want to do and they wont give us any pressure to be anything that we’re not then we can just be what we want to be.
So all this would mean that as well as hearing stuff from the new album, audiences are going to get to hear stuff from the next one too?
They certainly will yeah, there’s one that we’re going to play that’s never been heard before.
Suddenly you’re becoming quite prolific!
Yeah…. the last gig we did we did we wrote something specifically for as we always like to add things and make it kind of new and exciting for ourselves. Never get into the habit of just playing the album..
So how long has Engineers been a band?
Erm, we started in 2003, late 2003 and signed to Echo in 2004.
So over this decade have you found the changes in the musical environment in the UK have changed anything with how you write music?
To be honest I’ve never really been all that mindful of UK music when writing. Recently I’ve got into a lot of the interesting US stuff. Such as Beach House and Panda Bear and I don’t think they’ve made their definitive album just yet but Deerhunter.
Ahhh, fantastic band.
Yeah I love that guy, the Atlas Sound album that’s kind’ve a big ‘un for me.
So over the years has the way you write these albums changed?
Yeah I think the first album the mini-album was very… it was quite stylized we had a very firm idea that the music had to relate to visual ideas, we watched a lot of films while making that album it was almost film music for a film that didn’t exist. We wanted to create it in a way that almost architectural and that tied in with the album covers. This album was a lot more sort of throwing paint at a canvass. Every song came through a different way of working, some we’d improvise on different scales, listen back, cut stuff out and work out the track around it we’d take little samples from records and build on that just really having fun basically with the aim of having something that work really well in a full-on live situation, something was just a map of really brilliant experience.
So less calculated, more feel driven.
Yeah and that’s part of the reason we got Ken Thomas to work with us because the first one we’d been quite sort of wrapped up in the details of music making, so in a lot of ways with the early stuff we were more the creators, more taking the overview than being ‘in there’ so there was a little bit of a detachment but we wanted more of ourselves to come out and for it to be more performance based.
So that must be a really helpful thing then because if you’re a band initially when you start out and you have to be the self-critic it can stifle the creativity a bit but if you allow yourself just to go right in and let someone else from the outside hold the compass….
Yeah and you have to trust that person completely and we met John Leckie who got on famously with but we found that there was a little bit too much… we had a little too much in common with our Manchester, Northern music experiences. So working with Ken we found him to really be a kind of neutral presence at the studio and we felt that we would slot in there and just help us.
Yeah and a fresh personality too. And someone who understood the different levels on which we wanted to present the album.
What kind of influences do you have? Jazz?
Yeah I think Jazz is what took me away from a really classic approach to songwriting of just four chords, to the chorus and I think that’s where the Engineers became more about a subtle progression as opposed to a A, B, A B kind of songwriting. I mean Jazz for me is a continuation of that.
I mean anything goes as long as it’s got the right feeling.