I’ve been a big fan of Over the Wall ever since their 2008 release The Rise and Fall of Over the Wall. They fuse together traditional folk with electronic samples, Bontempi organs, trumpets and earnest vocals to create perfect intelligent pop songs. Consisting of duo Gavin Prentice and Ben Hillman, the Glasgow based band have just released their single ‘Settle Down’ on Motive Sounds Records. I caught up with the duo to talk about ‘Settle Down’, their forthcoming album, Fabian politics and the blossoming Scottish scene.
So, you have a new single out, ‘Settle Down’, can you describe it for us?
Gav: I’d say it’s more of a realisation of the ‘euphoric pop’ ideal we’ve been banging on about for a while than anything we’ve done before. It has a big sounding guitar solo in it. The beat is probably one of the most danceable we’ve had too. People seem to be saying it’s a departure from the likes of ‘Thurso’ cos it’s not really very folky but I remember when I was first telling people about it I said that it’s the same feeling as the loud part at the end of Thurso, but right the way through the song.
The b-side of the single is the excellent ‘A History of British Welfarism 1945 – 1984′. Somebody a politcal history geek? I always liked earlier folk like Tawney, personally…
Gav: Good shout on Tawney. You fucking geek! The Fabian socialists were really quite moderate reformers so I’m not sure how cool it is to reference them in songs, or to advance a political view that could probably be broadly described as ‘old Labour’ – but there you are. It’s probably more cool to ironically vote for Boris Johnston.
It’s a kind of tongue in cheek title as the song obviously isn’t a run down of events, but people should recognise the significance of the dates. 1945 was the year that Attlee’s Labour party beat Churchill and began constructing the welfare state, and 1984 saw the miner’s strike and quite an explicit declaration of war against the British working class from the government. It’s probably a good point to mark the death of the post-war consensus on the importance of community and collective action, and its replacement by Thatcher’s “there’s no such thing as society” society. But it’s quite a personal song too, an old couple looking back at the changes for better or worse.
Ben: So as you can clearly see Gav is the geek. It’s strange because there is a massive political historic backdrop to that song but I remember when we first starting writing that my Grandad had just passed away and a lot of it is as Gav says, an old couple looking at the changes that have taken place over the course of their life. How an idea can rise and fall and those born into a new way of living never get to see or fully realise what has taken place in order for them to get there.
Your last E.P focused mainly on being uncomfortable with growing older, ‘Settle Down’ seems to continue this theme. Will your upcoming album also focus on this?
Gav: It does seem to be a broad theme but the album affords us the space to go elsewhere, and not just lyrically but with the sound too. We’ve previously found it difficult to drill the breadth of what we do down to one track or a short live perfromance so we’re looking forward to getting more of an idea of that breadth out there. Other topics covered on the album will include: sporting success, women we admire, body image, the inability to drive a car and social awkwardness. But yes, the themes of getting older, finding your place in the world and how that relates to where society is in general still permeate, as you can probably hear in the single and its B side.
Ben: I guess this theme will get tiresome if we are both 56 years old and singing songs about hating having wrinkles and challenging responsibilities, I just hope i’ll be more bothered by/interested in totally different ideas by then. I say hope, i’m really not that confident about that.
The artwork for the ‘Settle Down’ 7″ was done by Richard Paul Todd (who also gave a hilarious introductory speech at their single launch). What is your relationship with Richard and how did the artwork come about?
Ben: I remember the first we met him was at a party somewhere in Glasgow and he was telling us a story about an area of woodland with haunted trees, which he called ‘Terror Trees’. Richard is always coming up with ideas and stories like this and his drawings are much the same. Each one tells some kind of tale and he was really keen to try and involve themes of the song into his illustration. He wanted to use the idea of the frustrated office worker but then bend and contort it so that it tells you a little more about the song. He always manages to draw himself into his drawings, so the guy on the front is actually him. He promises this is not vanity but in fact due to the ineptitude of others in pulling the necessary expressions on their faces.
Grass roots music in Scotland seems to be healthier than ever. Who are some of your favourite local bands?
Ben: We have recently been out on tour with Three Blind Wolves (formerly Ross Clark & The Scarfs Go Missing), which was brilliant. They are a fantastic band with some great tough country tunes and brilliant harmonies.
Gav: John B McKenna, who also plays his songs with a band called Monoganon, is superb, he’s a singer songwriter that tends to let things get proggy, which we’re generally all for. I’m just going to throw names at you now, Lyons, Gdansk, The John Knox Sex Club, Zoobizarretta, Deacon Blue. All great Glasgow bands. And we very much approve of this The Twilight Sad, Frightened Rabbit, We Were Promised Jetpacks triumvirate that appear to be at the vangaurd at the moment, so much so that Ben graciously helped Frightened Rabbit’s last album by providing it with trumpet, and we’ve played with Jetpacks many times. Three of them used to live on the same street as us so it was a match made in heaven, or Park Road to be more accurate. I wish I could declare war on a Glasgow band and start some sort of diss battle but I’m afraid I haven’t been afforded the opportunity thus far.
You are associated with being a duo. Do you ever think about expanding the band?
Ben: Yes and no. There are obvious limitations with there only being two of us but the same can be said with having many members – it’s just the limitations are different. We occasionally get other people involved on stage to blow an extra trumpet or play an extra keyboard but in general it’s just us two lonely figures. There is a lot you can do with just two people and there is a lot left for us to explore as well. Obviously it will take a greater level of agility, ability and grace but I still haven’t learned to play the bass with my feet and the stylophone with my eyebrows, god knows they’re bushy enough.
Describe the process of recording your forthcoming album?
Ben: Wake up. Get out of Bed. Drag a comb across Gav’s head. In reality it has been quite a new and strange experience. We recorded and produced the last EP ourselves which was great because we could do everything a zillion times in a tiny bedroom until it drove us insane. This time we are working with Mark Whitelaw who actually knows a few things. We demo’d pretty much all the tracks at home as per usual then ported them all in to the studio. Then we tore a lot of it apart and built it up again much like the sonic version of Gordon Ramsey. The overall sound is much bigger than anything we have done before which is cool. It still drives us insane but we are all working hard to make sure it sounds as good as we can make it.
What can we expect from Over the Wall in 2010?
Gav: Our debut album, Treacherous should be out in September on Motive Sounds, and the main thrust of our efforts will be to promote that and play shows in front of many people to that end.
Ben: We are also doing the music for a theatre show called Hitch at the Edinburgh Fringe festival in August. It involves our music reworked to fit around a guy’s story hitching across Europe from Glasgow to the G8 protests in Italy. It is a totally different experience to playing a normal gig, one where it isn’t acceptable (less acceptable) for the keyboard stands to collapse into a crumpled heap halfway through a song for example.