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Happyness on Other People’s Books

28 September 2016, 10:15

Happyness' Benji Compston on the second hand books that have provided procrastination and structural integrity during their album recordings.

Our studio sits directly above the stock room of a second hand charity bookshop operation, where people’s entire book collections are donated and sold.

Both are housed in a structurally unsound old carpentry workshop an hour outside of London and in order to get into the studio part you have to dodge huge piles of books, climb up a ladder and try to step on the right bit of flooring so as not to collapse the whole thing.

We recorded our first album, Weird Little Birthday, in this studio and have done the same with our second.

Thousands of books have passed through this studio, thousands have stayed in exactly the same place - looking hopefully on like teenagers at a school disco. We have picked up a few for some light reading in between takes or in the evening, when we can’t play loudly due to the neighbour.

Apart from merely procrastinating with these books, they’ve played a structural role in our studio set up. Our laptop is balanced on two books (currently The Power of the Praying Woman and The Secret of the Taoist Orgasm – seemingly unconnected) so it doesn’t overheat and we’re convinced all the paper plays a role in soaking up some of the sound.

Frank Zappa once said (allegedly), “So many books, so little time” and in all the hours and days we’ve spent sitting in our studio, we’ve managed to come up with a small cross section of books, from erotic slasher paperbacks to “The Well Dressed Salad” (which features in the music video for our song, ‘Anything I Do Is All Right’). Here’s a few that have interested us along the way.

Weegee [Photo Poche # 21] by Photo Poche

Downstairs is divided loosely into sections and we found this mistakenly placed in the religious section, the assumption being it was a book about the occult. The book’s a collection of photos by Weegee, a Ukrainian –American photojournalist based in New York City throughout the 30s and 40s (and beyond). He was allegedly given his pseudonym [from the word 'Ouija'] because of the speed at which he would appear at crime scenes and his photographs often focus on the general public gathering around corpses. It’s been sitting around the studio for the whole of this new album session – above is one of my favorite photographs from it.

Man’s Place – Intelligence in Dolphins, Whales and Humans by Karl Erik Finchtelius & Sverre Siolander

Jonny picked this out a few months ago, perhaps because of the captivating title (and gently psychedelic artwork). The authors appear to be Swedish biologists who, as the foreword insists, “[wish to attack] the deeply rooted notion that man is the most remarkable thing God ever created, it should help us to understand that we are a part of biology. The book is propagandistic, but not in the sense that it compromises what the authors think is true or scientifically probable.” It feels a bit like a more convincing, biological-literary equivalent of Interstellar and is filled with wonderful facts about all areas of biology. For example, the Portuguese Man-of-War is apparently a number of different animals working together as one ‘unit’ – called a ‘colonial organism’. We’re still in the process of reading it, so it may well turn out to be a science-fiction-Asemic-writing-odyssey in the final pages – we’ll keep you updated.

Memoirs of Charles P Melly

Charles P Melly was a Victorian businessman and philanthropist from Liverpool. He is widely credited for bringing the public drinking fountain to Britain and ensuring the general public had access to safe, clean (and free) drinking water and this is his life story. I have no idea how this copy ended up in the studio, but it’s signed by Charles Melly’s son on the inside page, “Edward P Melly 1889” and has the inscription, “Edith Romilly from her affectionate cousin”.

Words and Pictures [Pilot Issue] by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard have been working together as filmmakers and visual artists since the early 90s, when they met studying fine art at Goldsmiths. They’ve made countless short films and experimental movies along the way, as well as working with musicians such as Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Scott Walker and Gil Scott-Heron. This not-quite-book is basically an A5 size cardboard box, held together with staples and filled with contributed art pieces from various artists. It appears to be part of a series that Forsyth and Pollard did between 1994 and 1997 and is one of our favorite finds from downstairs.

Kwai Chang Caine – Master of Kung Fu no. 2 Chains by Howard Lee

We saw this lying around somewhere the other day and had to pick it up, if only for the wonderful cover. It’s based on a 70s TV Kung Fu odyssey and contains some poetic pieces of dialogue, such as the following:

Master Kan was saying. “The entire world is wet and round and bright. But there are twelve fish and, thus, twelve worlds”

“But only one pool”, said the boy Caine.

“Many rather. The one you see, the one I see and the pool of each of these glistening carp”.

We’re moving out of this studio space in a weeks time as it’s being redeveloped and converted into a living space and so, in the future, we’ll be finding an alternative space to record (suggestions welcome). It’s been as important to the music we make as anything else in the band and we’ll be sad to see it go.

And if anyone’s short of books and wants to send some requests over to us, hit us up at

Peace and Love, Benji

Happyness’ new EP Tunnel Vision On Your Part is out now via Moshi Moshi

Happyness are hosting EP release shows on 30 September at The Finsbury in London, and on 8 October at Vauxhall City Farm in London.

They embark on a full tour in October, tickets and full tour dates are available here.

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