Staying true to yourself, no matter how little you earn, no matter how much scorn you face – is that not the true aim of an artist? To do what you love and keep doing it despite the wind blowing cold into your face? The Wave Pictures from Wymeswold in the UK (i.e. Franic and David hail from there) (Jonny Helm (drums), Dave Tattersall (guitar & vocals) and Franic Rozycki (bass)) do just that and do it in heaps and with joy. Find out in this interview with The Wave Pictures, May 2017.
Since 1998 they have released (wait for it) fifteen albums, toured relentlessly and poured out the songs – all of them little funny and touching and handmade with love wonders.
The Wave Pictures released their album “Bamboo Diner In The Rain” in November 2016 and went straight on tour. On the last day of their tour through Austria and Germany, Offbeat had the chance to see them perform and speak to them.
They delivered a long and skilfull, laugh-out-loud and moving to tears set with covers of Creedence Clearwater Revival, a Van Morrison rendition by Johnny and old and new songs galore. Shining on all instruments percussion was their tour guest David Beauchamp from New York. Their conviviality, their craftsmanship and the sheer joy, was rewarded plenty by an enthusiastic audience that came to see and hear them on a Monday night (first warm evening this year) into a dark WWII bunker in Aachen, Germany. The Wave Pictures made that last day of their tour a memorable one for everyone and here they go, in their words.
Thank you already The Wave Pictures for coming inside from a just started stroll outside, for the interview, for the fabulous gig and also to their label Moshi Moshi/PIAS for arranging this.
Interview with The Wave Pictures, May 2017
Offbeat Music Blog: Thank you very much, Dave, Franic and John for taking the time! How has the tour gone?
The Wave Pictures (Franic): It’s been a success…I think. (Johnny) Fran’s the man in charge, so if he says it’s a success, then it is a success.
OMB: Listening to your album “Bamboo Diner In The Rain” (Moshi Moshi), it is hard to believe, if it weren’t for the lyrics, that you are actually a British band. From, what I thought, initial quirkiness and jangliness, it is sort of full-on American now. How do you see your own development?
TWP (Dave): Well, we wanted to do something bluesy but we didn’t want to do a blues album. That was the starting point for “Bamboo Diner In The Rain” really. Then we put the acoustic guitar instrumentals on there, so there are a sort of ragtime/John Fahey kind of style songs there. We tried to do some bluesy kind of rock but with our type of lyrics. We are big fans of American music, especially blues and rock’n roll and we just wanted to bring that out a little more without changing anything fundamental about the band, I suppose.
OMB: But has it been creeping in a little more over the years?
TWP (Dave): It’s always been there, probably. What do you think, Johnny? (Johnny) Yeah, I think, it has always been there. We all love rock’n roll music and the birthplace was America. Trying to play like an American blues or R&B band is definitely something that we would aspire to do. I suppose, doing the Creedence covers on the previous album, the album recorded with Billy Childish, was kind of a more obvious step towards that old-style American rock’n roll music that we all listen to a lot.
OMB: Have you always listened to that kind of music?
TWP (Dave): Yeah, that’s our first love really. (Johnny) That and the Rolling Stones, English sixties rock’n roll as well.
OMB: How was it to work with Billy Childish?
TWP (Dave): Oh, really fun! Really good fun! We were very nervous when we went to meet him on the first day because we didn’t know what he would be like. And we thought that maybe he would be kind of an aggressive punk guy. And he wasn’t really (laughs). He was painting in his artist’s studio with his beret on and his painting clothes. He was just this funny, eccentric kind of guy, very enthusiastic and he wanted to write all the songs for the album. He had never heard of The Wave Pictures! We thought, we’d do a covers album and get him to produce it. But he wanted to write all the songs together which was great, immediately great fun. Because then we knew that he wanted to have fun with us and make something up.
OMB: And really get into it?
TWP (Dave): Really get into it. He is just the same as we are. We got along great. He just likes doing stuff, loves being creative. He’s fun, like a child at play, Billy. Of course he is a genius with the sound. He knows exactly to get the right sound for his kind of music. It was sort of “anything goes”. He knows what he likes. We liked one another and it was really easy and super fast. I went to his house twice or maybe three times. In three songwriting sessions we wrote about four or five songs every time. We recorded it in two days. It was a very fast, fun thing. We haven’t seen him since…(laughter). It was very fun and exciting because we listen to his records a lot.
OMB: You also have been associated with the Anti-Folk music scene? Do you approve of that?
TWP (Dave): Kind of. When we were kids, Franic and I grew up together. We were very much on our own with the type of music we wanted to play in Wymeswold in the East Midlands. We had gone and played nights with other bands and nobody liked us or understood us at all. Except for our parents who were always quite enthusiastic and nice about it. When we first went to New York and met Jeff Lewis and Turner Cody and Prewar Yardsale, Brian Piltin…these so-called Anti-Folk musicians liked us a lot. That was the first time when we had a lot of friends that were musicians. So, in a way, it is okay. In another type of way, I think, Anti-Folk music doesn’t really mean anything. It is just the people who play in The Sidewalk Cafe and the likes in Manhattan. A lot of them are terrible, some of them are very good. It would be weird to like all of them. But it was an important part of our lives really. We had lots of friends and musicians we were friends with in New York when we didn’t have any in England. (Franic) One of them is on tour with us now: David Beauchamp used to play drums for the Jeffrey Lewis band for a long time. (Johnny) And Franic sometimes plays mandolin for Jeffrey Lewis. So those connections are still there, they are still our friends.
OMB: Some artists like their lyrics not to be misunderstood, very clear. Some sing about personal things, but leave their listener their own perspective, their own handle on them. Some rather not sing about anything personal at all. Some artists say, their lyrics don’t mean that much or don’t think about it. Where do you stand?
TWP (Dave): Ooooh. Well, I think, the lyrics are very important. I always write the lyrics first…
OMB: That’s a very rare thing!
TWP (Dave): Yeah, but my Dad always used to say: If you write the lyrics afterwards, after you got the music, you might as well just go “la la la la la”. You are just making words to fit a tune. It is not communicating anything. But I find it very boring if the songs are straight-forward and easy for people to understand. They are not really supposed to be understood or puzzled over. They are supposed to make a strong impression that you couldn’t say in any other way, I suppose. There is not a message or a riddle to figure out.
OMB: You’ve been virtually churning the songs out over the years. Do you put all the new songs on an album or do you actually select the tracks to make an album – even though again that is rare today.
TWP (Dave): We do make a lot of effort to select specific tracks that go on an album and debate it a lot for a very long time. What we do is, we record very quickly, write songs very quickly and then spent a long time arguing about what to release. That’s The Wave Pictures’ method. We always have loads of stuff left over from any album. Lots of songs don’t make it onto one album, but make it onto a later one because they fit better or they disappear entirely.
OMB: You still think in terms of an album, even with A- and B-sides?
TWP (Dave): Yeah, that’s really important to us (all nod). We think about which song starts side two of the album, which song starts the album, which song finishes it and the flow. We plan them all for vinyl, for the two sides or even the four sides of a vinyl in the case of “City Forgiveness”. Even though we know that nobody listens to music this way anymore. They just listen to them in a random order on Spotify or just watch the videos on Youtube. Albums is where we really come from in terms of being music fans. We are always trying to make the best album that we can, complete things in themselves. Albums are very important to us, yeah. Even though, we don’t know if there is that many people who relate to albums any more. But for us it is the only way to think. I couldn’t imagine for instance thinking that a single was important. I know that singles are supposed to be important and I appreciate that they get played on the radio and people watch the videos. I know all this. But I can’t relate to it because I’ve just never been a singles guy. I don’t think I ever bought a single in my life. Whichever song somebody wants to be a single, is fine by me, most of the time. But what’s on the album is really important to me.
OMB: You’ve stayed very true to yourself. Do you feel sort of misplaced in the UK?
TWP (Dave): We do feel out of place in the UK. (Franic) We used to feel even more out of place than we do now. People didn’t like us much at home at first. That was why we were hanging out with people in bands from New York or France much more. We don’t really have as many English band friends still. But people are starting to like us a bit more and not think we are so ridiculous. People are just more aware of what’s fashionable and we didn’t really fit in very much in the UK. That was a problem. But in Germany – we just came here and people liked us straightaway. Which is really cool and feels good. We didn’t realise until we got signed to a label. Because we grew up in the countryside, as Dave says, kind of isolated, we didn’t really think about the fashion stuff. There was no fashion in Wymeswold. Then we moved to London and signed to a label, people kept telling us we did everything wrong, the clothes or the guitar solos, videos or all this stuff which we didn’t think important because we grew up just listening to albums all the time. But it’s much better now than it used to be. But Germany and Spain, the rest of Europe is much easier to come and play and people criticise you less.
OMB: In an ideal world, you could retain what you want to do and still sell a lot. So what do you think of today’s music scene?
TWP (Dave): I feel that we would sell a lot if people got a chance to hear us. Every time we play, everyone comes over to us and says “You guys are great”. So I always think if they played our music all the time on the radio and television, we’d sell loads of records just as we are. I think it comes more from the media in a way because we don’t fit in. I don’t think we make music that is difficult for people to like. It’s pretty accessible. It is not avantgarde music or anything. That’s my theory. I may be wrong about that.
OMB: No, you are addressing the right person. People do not listen to the radio that much anymore and if so, then on the side. The commercial radios have to play what the attracts people or what they think attracts people, so they play what is being given to them by the big labels with the big money and mostly public broadcasting does too. People buy what they hear and then strengthen those artists who would not really need anymore strengthening. I am always surprised by listeners going: Oh my word, that was an excellent song, where did you find that….It is because many listeners don’t go out and search for the music anymore. The money involved in the industry makes it very difficult for bands and it makes me cringe. You really don’t get a chance.
TWP (Dave): Yeah, exactly. It feels that way. And also, what Franic was saying, it seems a bit difficult for people to place us sometimes because we have guitar solos like in classic rock and also something quite indie. We are too indie for the classic rock fans and too rock for the indie fans. You can get booed by indie fans in London for playing a guitar solo – they’ll boo you (laughter). They don’t like anything except for Belle & Sebastian and The Smiths. Nothing from the whole history of music do they like. Fascists, they are extraordinary.
OMB: In the States there is a whole generation getting into say, American primitive music, psych, folk, John Fahey…a whole crowd of musicians are into this now. The original musicians are turning up again and going on tour, like Michael Chapman. And then you have all the younger artists getting into this music. Not a keyboard in sight. It seems to work there. I am not saying they are selling that great. But they have a very very strong following, are very well-known and you wonder why it cannot work in the UK even though Michael Chapman is and Bert Jansch for instance was from the UK.
TWP (Dave): Yeah, I know! Exactly. But I don’t know the answer to that.
OMB: What can an audience expect from a typical The Wave Pictures gig?
TWP (Dave): Every gig is different because we don’t use setlists and we don’t plan the shows out in advance and we improvise a little bit. We do very old songs, from when we were fifteen and very new songs and a couple of covers, a Van Morrison song or a Jonathan Richman song. I don’t know what I play immediately before I play it, let alone anybody else. It is usually pretty rocking and pretty good. We are probably at our best live.
OMB: Do you get to tour much?
TWP (Dave): I guess, about a hundred shows a year.
OMB: On your latest album, you also included instrumentals there. Did you find it difficult, just to do instrumentals?
TWP (Dave): Not really because I when I started out playing guitar, I started with acoustic instrumental stuff. It was not difficult and I suppose we thought, once we have recorded them we don’t have to release them but they fitted in perfectly and they came out great and Franic played some really beautiful mandolin and the songs just came out really nicely. One of them in particular “Meeting Simon at the airport” is maybe my favourite track on the album. It was easy but kind of a big deal for us to try something a little bit different. We are pleased that it worked.
OBM: It is all handmade music. No synths, not even effects?
TWP (Dave): No effects pedals, no click track, very little overdub even. It is pretty much as playing in a room live. I was reading in a magazine the other day, Brian Eno was saying that he hates it when he hears a record and he can just hear four people in a room playing music. And I read that and I thought: That’s exactly what I like. The complete opposite of Brian Eno. Which makes sense because I don’t like his music. (Offbeat shushing photographer, big Eno fan…) I like four people playing in a room, Jimmy Reid, that’s what I like.
OBM: Who would you like to collaborate with?
TWP (Dave): We always talk about being a band for Bob Dylan because we always think Bob Dylan’s band aren’t very good. We would be a much better band for Bob Dylan and I think he would have a good time hanging out with us. If he’s interested, get in touch. We’d love to do that and it would be jolly good fun.
OBM: So, Dave, you write the lyrics and then you come in with the songs and everybody joins in for the music or how does it work?
TWP (Johnny): That’s pretty much it. Dave will come in with a complete song that he has written and the guitar’s already there. We join in. That’s mostly how it goes. If I am doing something that he really doesn’t like, he might say: Try this.
OBM: That’s very diplomatic.
TWP (Johnny): Yes, he is VERY diplomatic! Surprisingly diplomatic (laugher). (Franic) Yeah, most of the time it is pretty easy. It is not experimental music, it is classic. Sometimes I try, when I have been listening to something, to copy it and fit it in. If it doesn’t sound like what I copied, but all the small differences make the songs. You just try and make everything sound good. Hard to explain. I guess, once Dave’s written the song, that is the hard part over. Then you just try and make it work together.
OBM: Thank you so much, Dave, Johnny and Franic from the Wave Pictures.