Collaborations you would find many in the music scene. The best are naturally those that were not initiated for commercial reasons but because of the incentive of the musicians themselves. In the case of Minor Victories we were surprised by an initially casual idea for two artists collaborating turning into a whole band releasing a great self-titled album – a treasure trove of diverse and yet distinctive songs. Minor Victories have been taking their songs to the stage since this summer and Offbeat music blog had the opportunity to see them live and also presents you a fresh Minor Victories Interview.
The history so far: Rachel Goswell (Slowdive) and Justin Lockey (Editors) had been wanting to pen some songs together. As there was need for a guitarist, in comes Stuart Braithwaite from Mogwai who Rachel knew. Justin Lockey’s brother James, film maker and mean bass player joined as well. The astounding thing about the resulting songs and whole album is that the four members only met personally all in the one room late into the stage of album making. Up to then the songs were created, took shape and grew via email exchange, each member adding their bit to the songs on the album.
If anyone wonders how a band like this can work on stage – we are talking accomplished musicians here who are refreshingly down-to-earth and respectful of each other’s music. Don’t miss the opportunity to see them on tour, either on the current one or supporting Placebo in December.
Minor Victories deliver a performance that is very complex and yet tight and intoxicating. From tender moments with Rachel Goswell’s amazing voice to trance-like walls of sound, set in songs that are diverse and compelling, lyrically and musically. The whole performance is underlined by James Lockey’s videotrack on the big screen.
Offbeat saw them in the ZAKK, Düsseldorf, Germany, which offered a good wide stage for this audio-visually impressive gig. Their supporting act was a young band from Wuppertal, Germany, called Darjeeling with a good array of self-penned songs and their own style comprising many genres, preparing everyone very well for what was to come. Minor Victories played a gig that impressed those new to them and really wowed those who were already acquainted with their work.
Rachel Goswell and Stuart Braithwaite even took time for an interview from which you can hear excerpts on Kaleidoskop, Monday, 5-6pm CET on www.byte.fm and Offbeat, Thursday, 8-10pm CET on www.novumfm.de as usual and can read the whole shebang here.
Thank you very much Rachel and Stuart for taking the time and being really really nice and the whole band for a great gig as well as a big thank you to Steve Clarke, tour manager and Julia and Mitja at PIAS and of course everyone at the ZAKK in Düsseldorf.
Offbeat Music Blog: Thank you so much, Rachel and Stuart, for taking the time for an interview!
Every review and every article and every announcement on the radio starts with the ominous word…you know what it is…
Stuart Braithwaite: Rubbish? (Loads of laughter).
OMB: Noooooo, that’s not the one. Its…
OBM: That’s it: Supergroup. I know that you don’t feel too happy about it. Supergroup has this sort of seventies rock star feeling where the label wants to make some money but nothing really spectacular comes out of it musically, well, usually something rather commercial. In your case, however, it seemed to result into the true sense of the word super, adding parts up and something beyond that, better than the sum comes out of it. Were you surprised at the results? That it became something so its own?
Stuart: Yeah, from my point of view: As the project went on it got better and better until it was finished. Considering how it all was at the start, it seems incredible. Definitely, I was quite surprised.
Rachel: We did not have any particular expectations when we started. Doing it was just like “Let’s try this and see what happens.” It definitely became more and more exciting as the months went on and things became finished.
OBM: Surprisingly, whenever I think, a particular song must have been written by a certain member of the band, it turns out to be someone different. How did you work out who takes over a song?
Stuart: It did not really work like that to be honest. We all just contributed some songs as it went. A lot of the production like the string arrangements and that side was Justin. He played a big part but it was very democratic really. There were no real arguments or fall-outs. We all agreed on what was going to be the best for the songs. And it turned out really well, I think.
Rachel: Yeah, I don’t really have more to add to that.
OBM: Was that difficult, you all coming from different bands where everybody knows their territory and has their say in the “normal” bands? You already said that it was very democratic but you probably went into a different space, a different territory now or had to give up your usual way of doing things?
Rachel: For me, it was surprisingly easy. I think we all have mutual respect for our areas of strength. I found the process incredibly easy. I did not have to give anything up. If anything, I did a lot more with Minor Victories than I would in Slowdive from a writing point of view and a singing point of view as well. Yeah, I got to do a lot more with this project and things that I probably would not have imagined vocally to be able to do, had I not done this. Because I would not have done it in Slowdive.
Stuart: The only thing that was unusual for me was that I did a lot of my guitars quite early on, so I did not really know how the songs where going to end up. I ended up doing an awful lot of things because I was not quite sure what was going to happen. Whereas, as this was with Mogwai, we’d be all in the room and could just talk and go: Right, what’s that song going to be like? Is there any point in me putting a twelve-string acoustic guitar in it or is this just a rubbish idea?
OBM: Like a shot in the dark?
Stuart: Yeah, so I was trying but that made me think on my feet, so it was not a bad thing. But a bit different from how I would normally do it.
OBM: Rachel, you wrote most of the lyrics and sing them obviously. How is it for others to set music to someone’s innermost thoughts?
Rachel: All the vocals were done right at the end. All the music was already written. Apart from “Breaking My Light” – that was slightly different. Originally I had done a demo with just a piano line, one verse and one chorus and then sent it to Justin. Eventually it came back round to me after everyone put their piece in it.
Stuart: It was a lot longer.
Rachel: It changed a lot from my original kind of idea of it. With all the other songs the lyrics were written post all the music being done.
OBM: And were you happy with the way it came back to you?
Rachel: Yeah! I loved it. It was much bigger than I imagined it. I just had this little small idea. I loved what came back.
OBM: The videos seem to tell a different story altogether than the lyrics. They are quite abstract.
Rachel: They are. They are completely separate (laughs).
Stuart: We did not make them.
Rachel: That’s James. Primarily James, and Justin has some input as well. It’s the Lockey brothers.
Stuart: I like the contrast though. “Scattered Ashes” is a really emotionally heavy song that has this really daft video. I really like that. It appeals to me.
OBM: It leaves the listener some imagination.
Rachel: Yeah and like the video for “Cogs” – that’s veeeryyy daaaaark! That’s all come from James. James is (points at head).
Stuart: James is crazy.
Rachel: So I look at James and go “when you make that video what are you going to do?” – James whispers loudly: “It’s going on in your head.” Quite frightening really.
OBM: You only all met personally way into the making of the record. But then the success of the record demanded you to go on tour with it. How was that to bring a record to a stage with people you had not rehearsed with?
Stuart: Well, we did rehearse eventually. It was a nice experience. Playing a first gig is something you never expect to do again when you have been in a band for a long time. Rachel and I, our bands have been going an awfully long time.
Rachel: It was quite nerve-wrecking! Our first show ended up being in London which is kind of the worst thing in the world having to do your debut gig in London.
Stuart: And the same week was the first live Mogwai soundtrack gig. So it was playing two gigs all new songs that I never played live.
Rachel: You did well. It was me who messed up the singing in London. I came in in the wrong place in “A Hundred Ropes”.
Stuart: I did that last night!
OBM: Sure not too many people noticed.
Stuart: Well, shows it’s live.
Rachel: Justin was like: “Carry on, carry on!” And I was saying: “No, no. Just stop it”. We did stop it and did it again and I think I missed it again (laughs). I got flustered. It’s been good fun doing the shows.
OBM: You’ve been doing a few dates live by now.
Stuart: We are getting it together.
Rachel: We are into swing. I think I finally know my lyrics without needing my prompt sheets. They are still there though.
OBM: It’s not as if you were newbies to the music scene. The time restraints must be really oppressive for you, this being a side project and then going on tour. Is that not really stressful?
Stuart: It’s tiring. I would not say it is stressful. When we next put a record out, I want to just keep some space and just do that. Jumping from tour to tour has been quite tiring. I am not getting any younger.
Rachel: No, well, you’re younger than me.
OBM: It’s good though that people want it to happen, the touring.
Rachel: I had five Slowdive gigs and the last one was in July, so for me it wasn’t too bad from that point of view. For Stuart it has been a really busy year.
OBM: It’s still like that though: For women, for mothers it is harder than for the guys in the band, isn’t it?
Rachel: I inwardly constantly struggle with not being at home with my son. It is difficult. I am alright for a week. But if it is more than a week, you do have that guilt that sets in when you are not at home. It is half-term this past week and I haven’t been home for half-term. I will miss his Christmas play because we will be out with Placebo. It is difficult. We skype. I don’t think it will get any easier to be fair. He is well looked after at home anyway. He’s happy.
OBM: When you set out with the project, did you have a certain sound or atmosphere in mind?
Rachel: It was originally Justin who contacted me with a few pieces of music and he wanted it be cinematic and really big and beautiful with a female vocal on it. “Out To Sea” was the only song that came out of that group of songs. The other five we did not do anything with in the end. Having Stuart coming into it was me going: “We need more people!”. I had met Stuart before and we got on well.
Stuart: I’ve got a guitar…
Rachel: He’s got a few guitaaaars….
OBM: That comes in handy.
Rachel: So big and beautiful was the inital idea.
OBM: Are you happy with what you achieved?
Rachel: Oh yeah.
Stuart: It’s going well. I am happy.
OBM: I already knew from Hazel Wilde from Lanterns On The Lake that the name Minor Victories comes from their EP “Misfortunes And Minor Victories” and that Paul Gregory from the band was mixing your album. So I was already really excited well in advance. Your music kind of reminds me of the way Lanterns On The Lake sound, the building up of song, the female vocals and lyrics set to the music. Did you feel that too?
Stuart: I like their band! I’d probably put that down to a lot of shared influences.
Rachel: I haven’t heard them to be honest. Should start to listen.
Stuart: They are a good band. Probably growing up listening to a lot of music we listened to. 4AD bands.
Rachel: Can’t be. They are much younger than we are.
Stuart: Maybe we were an influence…(laughs). No, you know, 4AD and Sonic Youth, that kind of stuff.
OBM: You have additional guest musicians on the album. How did you fit them in on top of it all?
Stuart: You asked Mark Kozelek, Rachel, because you’re friends?
Rachel: Yeah, originally Justin wanted to have different guest vocalists on every song. And I wondered how was that going to work. I am a singer. I don’t want to do a record with 20 vocalists. It’s just beyond me. But I have know Mark for a very long time and I sent him that piece of music (“For You Always“) and he emailed it back a couple of days later. And then James (Alexander Graham) was through you, wasn’t it, Stuart?
Stuart: I could not sing high enough!
Rachel: You wanted a male vocal on “Scattered Ashes”. Stuart tried it. I was: “Try it!”
Stuart: “Try it again!” (*laughs) *“Try it with someone else!” James is a friend of mine and his vocal style is very projecting and quite powerful and it worked out well.
OBM: So after this rather strenuous tour and after the Placebo tour what is going to happen with Minor Victories?
Stuart: I guess, we just start the process again. James actually already has some bits and pieces of music. So we just start…
Rachel: …emailing again. (Lots of laughter.)
OBM: Did work well that way.
Stuart: So we just start it again.
Rachel: Do it inbetween.
Stuart: It is a very cheap way to make a record.
Stuart: Actually, the first Mogwai album was even cheaper…but that was a long time ago.
OBM: Thank you so much, Rachel and Stuart!