“I’ve consistently made decisions in my life which have prevented me from doing anything other than playing music. It’s gone too far now. I’ve got to make it work one way or another.” These are the words of Andrew Hunt, lyricist of the seemingly meteoric minor-indie success story, Outfit.
And his seriousness is apparent, as a conversation that had started off with Hunt and keyboardist Tom Gorton offering me an exclusive in return for a pint immediately becomes more weighty as talk turns to music, their responses instantly taking an almost poetic turn as they expound their views on the human condition, the connection between art, emotion and music, and dystopian literature. Never has a writer had to use a dictionary more, just to faithfully transcribe a band’s interview. And they’re from Liverpool. Who would have thought it.
Well, apparently, nobody. Nobody apart from them. Not a year ago, anyway, as the majority of Outfit bounced their way around Liverpool’s gig circuit in Indica Ritual with a colour-co-ordinated, eccentric fervour that placed them within the hearts of anybody lucky enough to see them, but seemed to also consign them to their city, apparently lacking that appeal outside of their home town. And that, somewhat erroneously, is often the charge that Liverpool’s music is often measured against; a lack of ambition, a lack of wider appeal. Here is not the place to question that often misleading belief, although I suppose it just has been, but regardless of the the truth of that momentous generalisation, it is emphatically not the case with Outfit. Their presence within these very pages is testament enough to that; but it was proved practically upon their birth, as even before the majority of Liverpool had had time to realise Indica Ritual’s demise, a couple of the NME’s on-the-money writers had helped make Outfit one of the most talked about bands in the country and London’s faultless Double Denim Records had promised us a 7″ from them. They’d been exported before they’d even made it in their own city.
Yet, despite their history in some of Liverpool’s most esoteric new bands, they have so far swallowed up everything in their stride with ease, clearly enjoying their swelling new audience. And so when I question whether they were surprised at being plucked from obscurity, they couldn’t seem more nonplussed, Andrew being far more concerned with the fact that the live picture in the NME depicted him as a “squawking bird”. Fortunately for his chiselled features, the release of ‘Two Islands/Vehicles’ on Double Denim looks to be just the first step in a career that could see them venerated many more times in those particular pages, giving him many more opportunities to look slightly less squawky.
Of course, this widespread support has left a small number of those without any context to place the band in questioning, with cynicism, how they could have risen so fast. Presumably, what they really mean to arrogantly question is how Outfit could have risen so fast without their indispensible support. In context, one of the obvious answers to this question is the connection between the band and Hari Ashurst, the co-founder of Double Denim records, who used to be in bands with both Andrew and Tom. And considering the enormous gestation periods of their old bands, ultimately leading to the birth of Outfit, what rise they have experienced so far can hardly be described as quick. Fortunately, and justly, most of their coverage so far has centred around the gentle, optimistic melancholy of their sprawling, suggestive and nuanced music, and hopefully that’s the direction that the conversation around Outfit will continue to take – simply because its soft touch of the avant-garde, married with inventive hooks, has the ambition to deserve the attention.
After all of the other bands you’ve been in (Indica Ritual, Balloons, Shadow Cabinet, Gorton vs Berger, aPAtT), what was the motivation to get Outfit together?
Tom: I think that we realised that we wanted to change direction, and I think that, in a way, we wanted to simplify things.
Andrew: It was a case of taking things that we’d learnt in other bands and making something that’s more streamlined and, in a way, really representative of what we’re truly into at our core. That’s how I saw Outfit: now that we’ve learnt all this stuff, now let’s try and make something that really says what we want to say. By then it felt like we’d developed quite a distinct aesthetic and we had a lot of shared interests that were very particular and single-minded, so it didn’t make sense to be doing all these different projects.
Do you feel like the music that you’re making with Outfit really is the music that you want to make then?
A: Absolutely in terms of our influences, but also I feel like Outfit songs are more open hearted and certainly have more of an emotional resonance than stuff that we’ve done previously, which I think helps other people connect with it more. Certainly, songs that I’ve written for Outfit really sum up something that I’ve been thinking for maybe the last year, a feeling that’s strong within me, whereas previously I’d be more scattershot about what I’d write about. Outfit’s certainly more personal.
So Outfit is more driven by emotion than past projects?
T: Yes, completely.
A: And that’s not something that we’d done before in bands previously, but was something that, more and more, we realised is something that we like about music, or what made music ‘excellent’ as opposed to just ‘good’.
T: I think that we chickened out on emotion really in previous projects through abstraction, and there came a point where we wanted to end that.
I think that does really come across in your music. It does instinctively seem honest.
A: Certainly. ‘Two Islands’ for me is a song that could really only come about out of our environment. It’s a song about living with 20 other people in a big house – being surrounded by people and stuff and information and feeling still a disconnection or a sort of loneliness through that, and I think that that’s something that a lot of people feel, even if it’s particular to me in some ways, but it’s that ‘alone in a crowd’ type of feeling. That’s key to Outfit’s trajectory, I feel.
Your identity does feel quite fully formed. Even with the artwork, it all seems to tie together.
A: I think we’ve hit our stride now, and I’m glad that you’ve noticed that, as we developed the visuals and the imagery alongside it, which was coming out of the videos that me and my brother were making. And we really started to do that at exactly the same time as we started to do Outfit songs, so they just sort of developed in tandem really.
Is the visual side of things important to you?
A: Yeah, it goes hand in hand really.
T: Some of the video feedback projects I think certainly are really synonymous with the emotion and disconnection that you have in a song like ‘Two Islands’. I don’t do any of the video stuff so it’s something that I really appreciate and find inspirational and really take a lot of influence from. When we practice in the basement sometimes we have the visuals projected there.
A: You can get into an atmosphere down there when you’re in this dark room cut off from the world.
I think it does make a big difference. I think that lots of people like to think that they’re just listening to music, but it’s impossible.
A: Definitely. Everyone gets sucked in by the package. But that doesn’t make it cynical or contrived. You’re getting across a whole world, not just a song.
T: People are suspicious of a band sometimes, like they’ve got some sort of ‘game’ .
A: Yeah, people seem to get suspicious about bands putting out interesting, cool, slightly esoteric things, but then also be annoyed that they’re not telling you like your entire life story. That information’s completely superfluous. Nobody cares about that really.
Exactly. People never seem to suspect that a professional image could just be the result of four talented people into art.
T: Yeah, I mean that’s what a band is. You get four or five talented people and it’s art. I think it’s very rare to get musicians who take absolutely no notice of any other art form, like I think that literature really informs the way I make music. Things like Raymond Carver, Kurt Vonnegut…
A: Stuff that has a certain dystopian vision is the stuff that feeds into Outfit’s aesthetic quite nicely.
T: There have been some people talking about it like we’re trying to sell them double glazing, but we just have a wide range of interests, so get fucked, we want to show you.
So are you excited about the vinyl?
A: Yeah, it’s transparent vinyl which is going to be pretty cool. The packaging is going to be superb, the sleeve itself has an image on both sides, and it has this PVC sleeve which has all of the credits and song names embossed into it. You almost have to feel the song names. It’s like Braille.
T: We’re already working on two new ones as well that we’re really happy with.
A: Yeah, the good thing about us is that, although we’ve had a lot of attention early, I could not be more confident about us keeping it up and not drying up. Because we’ve been working together for ages, it sort of feels like the sky’s the limit in terms of new material.
So the media attention doesn’t put pressure on you? You don’t feel like their are eyes on you?
A: It does put pressure on you, but in a positive way. You kind of feel like you’ve got to deliver.
T: It’s nice to know that you have an audience there who are waiting to hear your next stuff, so I think it just makes you excited.
Have you got a large body of work that’s looking like an album?
A: It’s coming together, yeah, but I feel like we’ll probably do an EP at some stage, possibly at the end of the year of at the beginning of next year, and then an album at some point next year. We’re at the point now where we can sort of pick and choose.
You guys have been living in the notorious “Lodge” in Liverpool which has been home to some incredible musicians (Mother Earth, Ex-Easter Island Head, Balloons, Loved Ones, James Rand). How has it been living there, and do you think it’s affected your music?
A: Absolutely, it’s been so good to live there. There’s some quite practical things that feed into it. Because there’s so many people living in one house it’s really cheap to live there, so you don’t have to work which means that you do have time to do music. You can be in the basement, making music all day. There are so many creative people around who can help exchange ideas. Ex-Easter Island Head being there and Nick playing guitar with us has certainly fed into the way that certain guitar parts have gone. I’ll look back on this time with a lot of fondness.
T: It’s been very important to us, but I think that it’s something that we’ll realise the true importance of in retrospect. Naturally, at the time you take it for granted, because it’s just there.
A: It’s been so much fun, throwing parties and getting bands to play and making visuals around the house. Because it’s such a big place you can do what you want with it and have it almost like a venue in a way. But we had a potential murderer in our garden the other day. There was this guy who had just savagely beaten someone up on our street who was in hospital with serious head injuries. I’d just come home, I came down the drive and there was this weird guy in the bushes by our house. He came out to me and was like, “Alright mate ‘ows it goin, yeah, what I’m doing, right, is having a can in the bushes where no one can see me. So there’s no problem is there mate?” I was like, “No, no, see you later man.” I came back later and there were police tents and shit everywhere.
You said that when you got together it was a focussing of interests, but did you have an ambition?
A: Being in Liverpool for years, I think we started to think that we wanted to make music for a bigger audience. It’s important to be ambitious like that when you start out because that’s when you’ve got the motivation to do all the really important bits like make a sound and an impression. We had a lot of ambition at the start, I think, and we still do.
T: We didn’t want to do gigs for our friends forever.
So where would you like it to end up, ideally?
A: Well in terms of what we’d see as our perfect career trajectory, I think that when you get to the point where you can work within your own language, and people respect that. Where you can do a Radiohead and work in different styles and change from record to record and still have a continuity that runs throughout it, despite its variations. That’s where we’d like to end up, with that freedom.
T I’m a massive Radiohead fan and I have a lot of respect for The Horrors and where they’re going at the moment.
A: They’re giving themselves a lot of flexibility to move in different directions which I think will be very important for us, because I don’t see us making the second album like the first album.
T: We’d like to do exactly what we want to do, and retain complete control.
Your lyrics do seem so dark, and yet vivid. Where does that come from?
A: We both have a tendency towards a sort of melancholy. Things that we touch on lyrically tend to come from the more introspective side of our personalities, but I would hate for that to become too navel-gazing, but essentially they’re things that everyone experiences but don’t necessarily talk about all the time. I think that a lot of people have felt alone when they’ve been surrounded by people and activity. As much as I’ve talked about how much I enjoyed living at the Lodge, there are times when it can be very alienating. For instance, my room was right by the front room and there would be a party going on there every fucking night, and you get to that point of saturation where everything’s so close that it actually makes you feel distanced. Those kinds of feelings, the feeling of personalities being in different places, fragmentation of self, those are things that we naturally gravitate to.
You did mention before that you’re moving down to London, and that you’ve been here a long time and you’d like to do something different. Is that what’s behind the move?
T: I think it’s like igniting our creative information by being in a different place, there is a danger that if we lived in the Lodge again it would just be too familiar and too similar. Certainly the move and being in a new place and not knowing where you are will certainly inform our process and change us as people, I think that’s what we strive for, to avoid stagnation, we’re just not people who could stay in the same place over 10 years. We’re natural explorers.
A: I think there’s times in your life when you need to make yourself uncomfortable. We wanted to do it before we even made the band. It was a life decision, it wasn’t necessarily a music choice.
So there’s not going to be a new Lodge, but there’s going to be a new city to inspire you.
A: Yeah, exactly. It’s the spirit of that invention and that positivity really, but you just have to do it in a different way.