Following the fine 4AD legacy of signing nascent bands like Pixies, Red House Painters and The Cocteau Twins that later become influential ground-breakers, their recent acquisition was the London duo The Big Pink who released their tantalising debut album A Brief History of Love last week to an outpouring of critical acclaim. Combining this with the recent announcement they would be supporting the world conquering Muse on their forthcoming tour would make it sound like it’s all coming up roses for The Big Pink. Catching up with the band in the middle of rehearsals for their own tour in October, Chris Berkley of Static recently spoke with Robbie Furze, one half of these electronic/shoegaze wunderkinds.
It must be a pretty exciting week for you guys in The Big Pink. The album is out this week. Does it feel like a big milestone birthday? Do you feel differently that the album’s out?
I don’t know. It’s been quite a big build-up to this point. Now that it’s out, it’s a pretty amazing feeling I guess. I want to go see it on a shelf. I haven’t done that yet. Haven’t bought a copy for myself. My mum and sister went and got copies today. It still feels pretty cool.
I’m glad to hear they were first in line at the store. It must feel like the album’s been a while coming, but it still has been a relatively quick rise for the pair of you, has it not?
Yeah, it’s all gone really quickly. I don’t know why. I guess I hope it’s because we write good songs. For us, it’s been a big rise where wonderful things happen to us pretty much every day. It’s been one thing after another and I really don’t want it to stop.
You and Milo had only formed the band in 2007, but you’d known each other a lot longer, right?
Yeah, we’ve known each other for something on ten years now. We met at Millennium, a rave in South London. We sort of hit it off, and then teamed up and kept partying together and then started talking about music really. We sort of fluttered around doing different things for a few years and then one Christmas he called me up and said ‘let’s start a band’ and I said ‘alright. fuck it, let’s do it’.
Well you guys spent a lot of time doing music for other people. Is that why it took you so long to get around to doing The Big Pink? You played with some people including Alec Empire. Is that right?
Yeah, it’s true. In early 2000 or so, I started playing with Alec and then Milo and I started a noise label called Hate Channel and we wanted to sort of out-do Digital Hardcore Records. We wanted to make the most extreme noise label in London and we put out a few EPs under the name Panic DHH and then I went and signed a deal with Digital Hardcore records with Panic and then went on tour. That’s when Milo went and started Merok (record label). So we were together, but we went off and did different things for about three years, but Milo would always come out to Panic shows so it was all kind of tied in with each other.
And for Milo, running something like Merok, was it partly rewarding and partly frustrating being the person who helped bands like Klaxons and Crystal Castles get on the map and not having it be yourselves. Is that why you put The Big Pink to the forefront?
Yeah, I think so. I think he really wanted to be in a band. I think he saw how much fun it is to be in a band. I think it wasn’t until he met me and realised he didn’t really have to know how to play an instrument roughly to actually make music…
You guys have got the biggest secret there down pat, haven’t you? You don’t have to know how to play!
No, really you don’t. I’m a reasonable guitarist but Milo can’t play a note. The way we do it is we make noise, and making noise is a really different process. You give up all restrictions of chords and classical structuring of compositions. It’s a freer process, really. It’s all about judgement rather than technique.
Do you think it’s more about having a good musical taste? You guys, I’m guessing, were really music nerds. Were there many music discussions about what The Big Pink was gonna be like?
In the beginning we just wanted to be like a digital Velvet Underground. That was a loose basis for what we wanted to be. We’d been contemplating where our influences came from but I think we’d pretty much taken every band that we’ve listened to growing up and just put it all together. There’s Smashing Pumpkins, there’s Ministry, there’s The Stone Roses, and more extreme stuff like Einstürzende Neubauten. I think we just all threw it together really rather than making a conscious decision what to sound like.
I like the fact that, as you said, The Big Pink doesn’t shy away from distortion or shuddering beats either. Were you determined to not keep it too clean or crisp?
Yeah, I guess we love that hard edge but then we’re massive soul fans as well. We love that kinda thing. There’s definitely a soul element that we really wanted to get into it. It’s less distorted than the stuff we used to do in Panic. It’s a development I guess from what we used to do.
There is still some attainable elements of A Brief History of Love. A song like “Dominos” is almost stadium rock, and the title track is a lilting country duet. You have embraced some pop elements for the album as well.
We really like melody. We like white noise, but you don’t wake up in the morning humming white noise, you wake up humming a melody of some beautiful track. For us, a good tune is so important. Just the idea of making really great songs, timeless songs, is something we really wanted to try and do.
If you cut to the chase for the subject matter by calling the album A Brief History of Love, and as you’ve already pointed out in some press, most of the songs are directly about love. Were you determined to make the lyrics of substance as well?
We never made any decision, it all sort of happened. We sort of figured out what we wanted to say just by getting together and finding out the most important thing in life is love and what turned us so much about life is the ups and downs of every part of love, every aspect of love in life, be it girls, partying, hanging out, being in love with each other. It seemed like that’s the most important thing. What else could we sing about? Nothing else seemed to excite us. It just made total sense. We were never ‘let’s make an album and call it A Brief History of Love and let’s do eleven songs about love. That wasn’t what happened. We called it A Brief History of Love after the whole thing had been finished and it seemed to sum up the whole record. For some reason we get asked ‘Is it a concept record?’. It’s definitely not a concept record. It all came organically and very naturally.
Most songs are about love. You’re sticking on good subject matter.
Tell me, as guys who put out other records and run labels and stuff like that, we you the fanboys that got excited when 4AD came calling?
Just to be on 4AD is such a privilege. The legacy that is 4AD is just so special and we were blown away. We love so many of the bands. Some of them, I didn’t really know much about the back catalogue, other than Pixies, This Mortal Coil and that kind of thing. It was nice to delve into their back catalogue after we got signed and kinda strange enough we fitted really well in the whole 4AD catalogue, and I think 4AD is really British, really English, and they hadn’t signed a British act in 10 years and so it was a huge privilege.
So you’re bringing it back home. You’ve even got the V23 artwork and some of the more esoteric things about 4AD that I like where you released the single “Stop The World” but it’s not on the album. I like when bands do stuff like that.
That again wasn’t a pre-meditated decision. We did it, and finished it and we put it out and then Milo and I ended up hating it. We kept trying to play it live and it wouldn’t work, and we kept trying to figure out why it wasn’t working and we became very negative about it.
You’re too young a band to be dropping songs from your set!
(laughs). I guess I like the song, but I don’t know what it was about it that just didn’t feel right in the end.
Well look, I’m going to come down the front and start yelling out for “Stop The World” in the encore.
Maybe we’ll try and play it better and play it for you. We’re actually coming over to Australia in February/March.
First broadcast on Static on 17/09/09. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) and via the Internet (www.2ser.com) every Thursday evening (AEST).