Engineers, who released their third album last month, are embarking on a tour of the UK this very week. Recently bolstered by the addition of Daniel Land and Ulrich Schnauss, their music feels rejuvenated, fresher and more alive. I caught up with band leader Mike Peters to chew the fat on influences, record labels and selling out.
Firstly, congratulations on the new album – it’s really great, we’ve been enjoying it a lot over at TLOBF. How come you put it together so quickly, after the big gap between the first and second albums?
“Thanks for your compliments on the album. It came together so quickly because I wrote most of it alone and recorded and mixed it at home. Doing it this way means you can work whenever you like and as intensively as you like. Also, due to circumstances beyond our control, we stopped touring the last album pretty shortly after it came out, so I had plenty of time to focus on working on this one by the time we’d done our last gig. Even though ‘Three Fact Fader’ only came out last July we started writing it in the summer of 2005 and it was virtually finished by the end of 2007. Touring took a lot of the focus away from working on that album, so If we had recorded that in a similar way to this one I’m sure it would have been completed it in the same amount of time.”
What were the major themes and influences behind the album?
“The major theme on this album is change, the realisation that it is unavoidable and that at the same time it can be both a positive and negative thing. I’ve been a lot less pre-occupied with specific musical influences on this album, as I wanted to to make an album that works as a whole piece as opposed to a set where you pick out certain songs that you like. The way each song was turning out influenced the next one, and I really wanted to pay special attention to the fluidity of the album. Also, I am really happy with the previous Engineers records, so I think the desire to begin to create a solid body of work has also been an influence.”
The album feels more laid back and ambient in nature than ‘Three Fact Fader’, it sounds like there’s a lot more synths and less guitars. Was this a conscious decision or just a natural progression?
“I think this album is one of those records where people may possibly mistake guitars for synths – for instance, the non-rhythmical sounds at the beginning of ‘Subtober’ and ‘Press Rewind’ are treated guitars, and I often team together keyboards with guitars to create more individual sounds. It certainly wasn’t a conscious decision, although I do think that we explored rhythmical electric guitar playing quite a lot on the last album, and I don’t think it’s interesting when every album by a band sounds the same.”
Did the additions of Daniel Land and Ulrich Schnauss change the dynamic of the group at all?
“Yes, and I have to say I don’t think we could have found a more apt set of musicians to join the band. Daniel has contributed backing vocals and Ulrich co-wote and produced ‘Twenty Paces’ and the title track, so even though their presence is definitely felt on this record. I really think that the next album is where it will really feel like a proper ‘band album’ by the new line up. I am really excited about the live aspect at the moment and how quickly that came together. We plan to make full use of that energy on the next record and really push the limit of what you can expect from this kind of band.”
With this being your third album, did you feel any pressure to produce a special album? Do you think the changes to the band line-up brought new attention and additional expectation to the group and album?
“I haven’t felt under any pressure this time apart from wanting to create an album that I like and feel proud of. All of the career conventions that bands fall prey to these days can lead people to some very unsatisfying results. I don’t see Engineers as an overtly commercial band that suddenly writes a daytime radio hit and soars to mega-stardom overnight. Fair play to people who do that, but I think our strength is the atmospheric nature of our music and the natural progressions and subtle differences that our fans (and fans of any band) might study and appreciate from album to album. I think there will be a certain amount of attention that the changes will bring, but the truth of the matter is that they are not the product of a corporate game plan and have happened simply because the musical connections between us are very strong.”
Can we expect the live shows to be different? Does the change of personnel in the band dictate a change of approach to some of the older tracks?
“As I said before, I’m really excited about the live show, and the UK tour that we have coming up in November and December. The change of personnel has meant many changes to the way the older songs are played and I feel that these differences have breathed new life into the material. We played two supports earlier this year with Serena Maneesh and Chapterhouse and, enjoyable though they were, we were still finding our feet. When we played our first headline show at the end of September at The Old Blue Last, it felt like the real new beginning for the band.”
Do you feel part of the new ‘shoegaze’ scene that seems to have arisen recently, with the likes of School of Seven Bells, Sad Day for Puppets, etc? Who would you class as your peers?
“We have been connected to a ‘new shoegaze scene’ since our first record came out in 2005. As much I have respect for a lot of the other bands connected with it, I really feel like It’s best not to talk and think too much about this any more, as scenes can be quite claustrophobic and can often repress the freedom and newness that they originally set out to promote when bands begin to move away from the strict formula that defines them. I got into music so that I wouldn’t have to live by a regime, but if people want to see us that way then fine, although I’m not going to go around waving the nugaze banner until i’m too fat to fit into my Ride T-shirt…”
Some of your songs have been used on television shows, how do you feel about someone else using your songs and maybe changing their meaning and context?
“You have to accept this as a necessity now because of the way things are and the uses of your music can be in turns both disappointing and often quite interesting. The recent use of our track ‘Home’ as the theme song of the HBO series ‘Big Love’ was subtle and gave a new perspective on the lyrics and the inherent tension of the track despite it’s mellow exterior.”
You’ve had some issues with records labels in the past, do you have any advice for new acts and how do you see the music industry changing in the future? Can it be sustained with the current model?
“As with the shoegaze issue, I’m also very wary of becoming some kind of totem for how things can go wrong for bands in the current climate. Let’s face it, everyone would love it if we could go back to the days where even niche acts are selling 30k, but without shutting down the internet that’s not going to happen. This is essentially an ethical debate now and it’s really just going to come down to the record buying public’s conscience, which is certainly going to be a new thing for major labels to try and manipulate. I would like to think that we could return to the home-made DIY ethos of the early-’80s, but there needs to be more substance than bands tweeting about what kind of crisps they like to eat on their tourbus. If past trends are anything to go by we are on the verge of a movement that dismisses all current media and gives young people something symbolic and politically aware to relate to. For instance, The Durutti Column’s first album sleeve was made out of sandpaper so as to actually destroy other records on the shelf and they where named after a militia of anarchists in the Spanish Civil War. This to me is much more subversive (given that the music was very beautiful and original) than the Sex Pistols releasing their album on Virgin with much of it played by seasoned pub rock sessioneers and encouraging drunken teenagers to spit on each other in trendy clubs. John Lydon now advertises butter on TV, whie Vini Reilly’s tribute to Tony Wilson last year is every bit as vital as his early works. So, my advice to young bands is: beware fake heroes and make music that YOU like.”
Lastly, do you take an active interest in other music? What artists and bands would you recommend for our readers to check out?
“The best music around at the moment in my opinion is electronic music, and I think Luke Abbott’s ‘Holkham Drones’ is brilliant, Nathan Fake’s ‘Hard Islands’ last year was really innovative and the drum and bass producer Seba has just released a track called ‘Never Let You Go’ which is a classic in my opinion.”