Eighteen months since the release of one of 2009’s dark delights, the epic Sun Gangs, Finn Andrews the New Zealand bred, England based leader of The Veils has released possibly one of the highlights of 2011 with Troubles of the Brain. Over the course seven songs Finn and his band mates explore less grandiose and orchestral avenues than those on Sun Gangs favouring instead acoustic guitars, simpler arrangements and a lighter air in general. From the upbeat indie-pop describing love’s first rush in “Bloom”, to the bitter flipside of the same theme with the folk/glam rock of “Don’t Let the Same Bee Sting You Twice” to the more familiar Veils emoting in “Wishbone” and “Grey Lynn Park”, it may well be The Veils’ most accessible record yet.
The EP also marks The Veils’ first release on their own label, Pitch Beast Records, after a nine year, three LP tenure on Rough Trade, and forsaking the professional recording studio for Finn’s home studio with production duties handled by Finn and indie producer par excellence Bernard Butler. Chris Berkley tracked down Mr. Andrews just before the release of Troubles of the Brain (the title of which is taken from Macbeth) to talk about the differences in recording at home, the reasoning behind an EP instead of an album, going out on his own label and having a fervent fanbase to help that transition.
Why an EP this time around, did you kind of want to break the album cycle? How did you end up with a seven track EP for The Veils?
Seven tracks wasn’t the initial intention but, as is often the case, you just start writing and find it hard to stop once you start. That was kind of it really. They’re just little experiments, all done at home for the first time, and we’re putting it out on our own label so it’s kind of an experiment in complete independence.
So did you wanted to test the waters with an EP?
It could’ve ended up being an album but it just felt like it was a nice structure, a new structure to try, as opposed to the standard ten song commitment.
Were Veils’ productions getting more elaborate as well, is that why you did this at home? I mean Sun Gangs was quite an immense piece of work.
Yeah, I guess it was an experiment really. I wanted to see what it would be like to do it at home and to do it in your own time and without the pressures of money and time and just to make it very organic. I think it’s turned out great.
Did you kind of feel that you were reeling it back in a bit though? The songs themselves are quite short, there’s no “Larkspur” (Sun Gang’s close to nine minute epic).
I suppose it’s a lot more concise and it’s a lot poppier than anything we’ve done before as well so that was kind of fun. Maybe a little gentler too.
Do you say to yourself I’m gonna write some short pop songs, or did they turn out that way? Which way around does that stuff work?
It tends to go completely the opposite way that I intended to go. I think I have gotten better at that as well — trying to be less and less involved in it and just write what you feel you need to and then put it out. Because of the way it was recorded you have less option to go make this huge kind of sprawling song, so I think it’s a slower, more intimate and experienced EP to anything we’ve done.
Did you manage to keep the band line-up for this Veils EP then? Was everyone that played on Sun Gangs involved in this EP or is this much more just a solo project?
It’s kind of a mixture I suppose; I played the drums on a few and Ray’s my relatively new drummer, he plays on a couple, and the other guys came and guested, I suppose, it was more that kind of arrangement.
And their egos are okay with that?
Yeah, they have the best egos really, they were very good about it, it was something I felt I really needed to do as a songwriter, to work in this way. It’s an EP as well so the whole thing’s a little more relaxed.
Because you had taken to releasing home demos on your blog, a year or two ago as well, you’d done this with at least one song, are you kind of enthralled by that idea of having things out more quickly?
Yeah I love it, I love that kind of turnaround and just being able to spend a few days on something and giving it away as well, I’ve been doing quite a bit, just like a Christmas, or a wintery kind of song, just write and record it immediately and you’re not dependent on anyone giving you the green light or needing to get lots of money off someone to record it. I love it.
It’s not a completely solo Veils thing as well, because you’ve reunited with producer Bernard Butler who worked on the first Veils album, right?
Yeah, he did one track on Sun Gangs as well. It was literally because I was learning to record things myself and I wanted someone I trusted and had worked with before to come in towards the end really and make sure everything was sounding okay.
So was Bernard just a glorified instruction manual then or did he have input into the way these songs ended up sounding?
Yes, I’ll try not to phrase it like that. He is great. You do very much run the risk of disappearing out of your own arse, we’ve got a MIDI thing and all that, it’s very easy to never stop working on songs when you have no time limit. He was good to come in and get to the core of what the songs were, really. It was a very simple, we only worked for maybe three or four days.
I guess all those songs were shorter so there was less work to do, Finn? Most of them actually clock in at very close to similar times that are around the 2:30-3 minute mark.
Yeah well a lot of my favourite songs are around that length and I didn’t see any point in swelling them bigger than they needed to be.
As you’ve mentioned earlier, this new Veils EP marks the departure of the band from Rough Trade. It’s a bold new world, was that something that was on the horizon or you wanted to do, or how did that come about Finn, that you guys left the label?
This whole EP has been more like an experiment with the idea that, that if you could do it all yourself and have that quick turnaround and no dependence on other people, that things would just be a lot easier, a lot less complicated and you won’t get bogged down in the album cycle which I always found really counter-intuitive.
And so you’re going okay as a label mogul as well then? Pitch Beast is your label.
I don’t know, it completely remains to be seen. It’s an experiment and we might well go running back to the big fat arms of a record company at some point, but I’d always really regret it if I never tried it.
Also with The Veils you seem to have that luxury now where you have a very fervent fan-base, so there will be people that follow you no matter what label or where a piece of music of yours comes out right, because they’re waiting for it?
Yeah, we’re very lucky with that. It’s totally something that seems wise to make the most of and everything’s changed, you know. The record industry is imploding on itself and no one really knows what’s going on and it seems like a good time to be experimenting a little and not being tied to the old ways.
It must shock to someone like your dad who was in Shriekback and XTC and signed to labels for years to see you working like this, have you spoken to him much about it?
Yes, I think he was delighted with it. It’s something he’d always wanted to do, but it was a lot harder back then to do something like this. I found it quite surprising how easy it is with the technology now to do this, to set up your own label. It’s the thing I think he always wished he could have done, he just hopped from label to label his whole life.
So is this a new beginning then? Are you thinking about making another Veils album and are the rest of the band involved in future plans, or touring or things like that Finn?
Yes, that will be the next thing, I think we’ll be going somewhere very different again for the record. I think we’ve kind of said what we needed to with the EP now, and I guess we need a bit more experimentation before we decide what we’re doing for the next thing. I’d love ideally, you know, it would be great if we could keep it on this label and never look back.
So there are still some ten minute songs left in you as well?
No, I think that’s enough of that as well.
You have to try these things, you know, you can’t pretend like you’ve got it all figured out. You’ve gotta try.
As long as brevity won’t always be the order of the day. You know you’ve never made an album in Australia Finn, so that’s something you should consider as well, maybe number four could be made here?
I’d love to, you’ve got some lovely studios there.
Interview broadcast on Static on 13/01/11. Static can be heard on Sydney’s 2SER (107.3 FM) every Thursday evening (AEST) or streamed at your convenience at Static’s Mixcloud site.
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