Greetings Gentlemen’s Club! We are three years later in our modern age, reflecting on the Victorian Age and I am honoured to do the next interview with you, this time on behalf of ‘Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes’. How are you doing? What’s going on in the Gentlemen’s Club right now?
The Gentleman: A lot of running around, vicious deadlines, tiredness, late nights, the endless clatter of typewriters, lethally dangerous workshop conditions (i.e., normal workshop conditions), cups of tea, various prescription drugs, a large amount of alcohol, some rehearsals, blind panic and one (1) bucket of blood. We still haven't managed to work out who's blood it is, though – we're all looking rather pale at the moment - so it could be for fashion's sake or something more malign. Questions, questions…
Well, I think the amount of live gigs has increased a bit since we talked for the previous album and that was what you hoped for, isn’t it? How do you look back at the tour cycle for ‘Beware The Sword You Cannot See’? Any highlights or special happenings?
The Gentleman: Yes indeed, though sadly, it's never what you ultimately hope it to be. I wish that for every single person that sends us a kind message, we could to come visit for tea and play a selection of songs, but – alas – crushing reality unfortunately puts a damper on that sort of nonsense. That doesn't stop us being ambitious (or “unrealistic”, as it's apparently termed), but The Club can dream... All the gigs we've played for the last album were truly a lot of fun – I certainly don't remember anything catastrophic, either because it didn't happen or I've wiped it from my memory. I think the highlight was that at every gig, no matter where we went, the venue was full of patrons, and they were there to listen to the music – you could hear a pin drop in the quieter moments of our songs. It was truly, awe-inspiringly flattering that people would give us that amount of attention and respect. It really continues to move us and we are forever grateful.
I remember The Gentlemen was already writing some ideas for the new album ‘Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes’ when we did the interview three years ago. What about this writing process, the first time Mr. William Wight- Barrow was involved too?
The Gentleman: I always seem to be out of synch with the rest of the writers in the band. You can't just put the muse on hold when she comes knocking; you have to at least acknowledge her presence, tip the hat and demo it up quick-smart before she legs it. Who knows when she may return, or indeed if she decides she's had enough of your crappy taste and moved on? Once again, I've already got a few songs written up for the next album, and I think that's just the way it'll be. Mr Wight-Barrow has proved his worth a thousand times over. He fit into the Club straight away, has been an invaluable spirit, a far better musician than the rest of us put together (oh boy was that embarrassing – for him. He's had to lower his standards). But he's written plenty of parts for the new album and done a fantastic job of them too; he truly understood what we were doing right away and has fit into the writing perfectly. We could not be happier! I have no idea if he feels the same way, of course (we're British, we don't talk about these things); That will have to be one of life's little mysteries.
Were there certain developments or directions you had in mind before starting?
The Gentleman: Yes and no. We work on the basis that each writer does their own thing initially, then we pool the results and see what that suggests. At that point, we will have a clear idea of what direction we'd like to go in and will then discard what doesn't fit and write new material to crystallise the decided course of action. I make it sound very regimented; it most certainly isn't. It's like an emotional bomb site – musical chords strewn recklessly everywhere, bloody guitar parts ripped asunder, and always, but always, someone's favourite (and very personal) passage of riffs a gory mess of mutilated flesh, organs and shrapnel. But, there's always tomorrow, and there's always new riffs. I'm not bitter.
Why the title ‘Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes’?
Curse: The title refers to the inevitability of loss (of faculties and otherwise) and death; grave mistakes leading to six foot pits. Errors that could have been rectified left untended while old man death whisks away those who deserved better. It is also a reference to the human condition and our innate inability to make right our wrongs whilst we have the opportunity.
Of course this is another wealthy art, inspired by the Victorian age. Can you tell a bit more about the lyrics and the more detailed themes you cover this time?
Curse: I have re-trodden old ground as always, though with the so-called benefit of further hindsight. We speak of death, madness, putrefaction, disaffection and the importance of laughing openly in the face of it all. Wild eyed, spittle flecked ridicule of self-important human systems of so-called belief in higher powers and attempts at spiritual one-upmanship. Also the inevitability of decline whether physical, moral or spiritual. Welcoming the end times with open arms, girded loins and a bawdy wink at the very least.
I read in the info sheet that William Blake – might be the most important author of that era – and ‘Proverbs Of Hell’ happens to be an important inspiration. Can you do deeper into that?
Curse: In actual fact, Blake wasn’t a direct influence on the lyrics of this album, though his work is always at the back of my mind without fail. He has been a tremendous inspiration across the years, but there is no one author that has directed the lyrics on this album; it is entirely the product of introspection and paranoia.
The struggle against insanity is more than once mentioned as topic. One good example of that is ‘Premature Invocation’ I think with really intense vocals (well, all are intense, but surely this one). Can you tell a bit more about this song?
Curse: There is at least a little madness in all of us, though it certainly appears to dog some of us more than others. ‘Premature Invocation’ was written in a stream of consciousness, which is very often the case. If I remember correctly there was a fair bit of codeine involved, amongst other herbal remedies. It is a reaction against the fact that however good intentions may be, life has a habit of throwing shit, banana skins and shitty banana skins at me wherever possible. It is the vocalisation of my frustration at continuously falling well before the final hurdle and absolutely never coming up smelling of roses. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Your demanding hectic parts are always beautifully contrasted by quiescent fragments. The song ‘Taken By The Sea’ with vocals of Katheryne might be the perfect illustration of that. Can you go deeper into this track?
Katheryne (making a special guest appearance): The initial outline of ‘Taken By The Sea’ was something I wrote a few years ago, on violin and piano, and really represents a time of personal grief, and loss. The lyrics speak about just that; the helplessness of never being able to see a loved one again, of someone taken by a force beyond your control. At the time I sent it to Mr Kettleburner, and later we got together and he wrote some guitar and cello parts which helped make it into the more complete song that appears on the album.
Kettleburner: I am thankful for you bringing it to the table. I think the song also represents a real statement on the album that we can wander quite far away from our core sound but still produce something congruous with the rest of our work.
What can you tell about the recording process? I guess Robert Hobson was involved again?
The Gentleman: Rob was indeed involved. We recorded almost everything ourselves as per the usual, and then when staring at the resulting chaotic mess of tracks, it's always nice to dump it in someone else's lap and ask them to transform it into something that actually makes sense and can be listened to. I'd say it was fun to watch Rob slowly lose his marbles as the mixing process went on, but that would be cruel and unkind (even for me) to a good friend who's been with us for nearly all of the journey. In terms of recording, we have no choice but to be organised, due to the sheer number of layers, instruments and arrangements; you have to be quite careful not to overlook something of vital importance. So, while some of us did (completely accidentally, I might add) get smashed on homemade cider at certain points, and lots of (the now traditional) Cherry Bakewells were consumed, it was far more professional than we would like, out of simple necessity. We've all talked many times about how our favourite album to record was the first one – the lack of any expectation, plus the sheer love of what we were doing, with very little knowledge of how to do it (plus crates of port, porter, and Fortean Times) made for a unique, incredibly memorable set of circumstances. Something that we will never recapture, but then it would be stupid to try, would it not?
Kettleburner: The recording was a bit strange this time – we ended up moving between four different studios or recording spaces depending on the instruments we were recording and ended up re-recording the guitars twice! It seemed a bit stressful at the time, but looking back with my rose-tinted glasses perched firmly on my nose, it feels objectively much more like a comedy of errors (to be less opaque we were PLAGUED by mains hum and dying equipment during the guitar tracking). It was only stressful because we were holding ourselves up to higher standards in terms of both performances and fidelity. Quite rightly so as I think the end result justifies the means. There were some really enjoyable moments, when we got to decamp back to the Gentleman’s Club, things felt a lot more relaxed.
The first song which is revealed to the world, appears to be ‘Precipice Pirouette’ and well considered I think it has all elements of the AFOS sound with all its twists and turns and moods. But I would like to hear a few more thoughts about it of you, the creators...
Kettleburner: I am actually answering on behalf of William Wight-Barrow, who was the chief writer for that song. If you read this answer it is because the telegram didn’t make it to him in time, not that we are trying to collectively silence him (or is it the other way around?). I think that ‘Precipice Pirouette’ was a real statement on intent on his behalf. With this being the first album of ours he has contributed to (despite having been a Club Member for around four years or so), he was bursting with fresh ideas and enthusiasm when writing, which literally poured out of him into this song. My own role was simply working with him to develop the song into its final structure. It remains interesting how through line-up changes we have had quite a few different hands who have written our songs over time – we have taken the task of writing “A Forest of Stars” in our own ways but been influenced by each other album by album.
In the past you have released a couple of mind-blowing video clips. Are there plans for new creations, in other words: is The Projectionist working on something?
The Gentleman: Yes indeed. There's another animation coming, very soon (err, I hope). I don't want to say much more about it than that, but it is set in the same city environment as the cover and interior artwork that permeates the new album. But they're not exactly identical; deliberately so. It's another way to expand the mythos and tell more stories.
The artwork for this album got a special treatment, a work that took a long time. Well, I am eager to hear all details of the making of it, since this is stunning!
The Gentleman: I am unbelievably proud of the artwork and the extraordinary effort that went into achieving it; I'm even more delighted that the work is seemingly getting the full recognition it rightly deserves; that is heart-warming to say the least! It is an astonishing achievement and it completely shocked all of the band when we saw the final results – especially on my count. Being a huge fan of models and the making thereof (but cruelly lacking any discernible ability to execute said passion) I tentatively suggested we might create something based on the city the Club resides in, this bizarre alternative world we've built up in lyrics, liner notes, videos, interviews, website, etc, etc over the years. And to my surprise, the answer was yes, we can do that. I don't think anyone involved realised just how long it would take, and then, two years later (!), we have this jaw-dropping model. The photos of it are spectacular, but the actual model itself, when you're examining all the nooks and crannies of this huge thing and it's stood there, right in front of you – there's something very special about that.
In the meantime you have celebrated your tenth year existence. Can you tell us about the things you did to celebrate this?
The Gentleman: Yes! Ten years. Good grief. We didn't plan to go past one. It was only meant to be a fun, passionate thing we did for the love of it, to share with our friends. And look at it now. We commissioned a lovely t-shirt, detailing the Twa Corbies folk ballad, which we use to open nearly every show. We also thought about giving away a brand new song for free, to say thank you to everyone, but sadly, that didn't happen. But the song is still there, waiting in the wings, biding its time. Aside from that, we've been drunk continuously every day, keeping the party going for nearly nine months as a mark of respect. We haven't gone to sleep for nearly 250 days now, and the game of pin the tail on the donkey is getting rather competitive; three servants have died. Oops, I mean, gone missing. And the indoor plumbing will most certainly need replacing. Still – we simply *must* celebrate our tenth anniversary. And then – gods please, please, please – at some point, on January 2nd 1899, we can finally rest, knowing our duty is done. After that, we'll most likely pick ourselves up and get on with the usual business (opium, claret and séances).
What is the latest news about doing gigs or even an upcoming tour?
The Gentleman: We've things in the works, rest assured – either for later this year or sometime as soon as we can next year. Alas, real life gets in the way at the most awkward of times!
What are the plans for the near future?
The Gentleman: I think I've answered some of that in various questions above; but apart from those shenanigans, I think we'll be rehearsing, doing a few more gigs/festivals, etc, and just getting into writing the next album – we've already got some very interesting ideas taking shape and I don't think it will take long for them to codify. I have to say, I'm rather excited about it all, but then that's usually the case – always an eye on the next thing ahead and never indulging the current moment.
And to occlude: how would you compare ‘Grave Mounds And Grave Mistakes’ with the other albums you have created before (musically)?
The Gentleman: There was an idea that we conceived early on for this album, that we wanted it to be inspired by the first two albums. Not to rip off or try and emulate or recreate them, but to take the spirit of those albums and rekindle it somewhat. I really hope that was the case and that we succeeded, but it's not really for me to say! There's also this progression we have, that alternates between albums. I think it is entirely coincidental, and not at all deliberate, but the pattern is there (to my mind at least). In fact the rest of the band will probably disagree and think I'm bonkers, but that's so normal these days it makes no odds. Anyway, the point is, the very name “A Forest of Stars” conjures up the two bases – that of the earth, and that of the cosmos; I've said for years it feels like we have our feet rooted in the filthy ground, while our arms and minds are stretched out towards the macrocosm. And so, I really see it as that each album alternates between one or the other of those two states, to wit: TCOR, ASFY, GM&M – Ground, OTOS, BTSYCS – space. It's stupid, but I like the feel of it, so I don't care. And if we go by that, the next time it'll be a more “out there” album, in the depths of the universe. And if that isn't the most pretentious thing you've heard this year, I'd be quite surprised. Ten years in and I've finally disappeared up my own anus. That sad truth being, no one will be able to tell the difference...
If there is anything you’d like to add, please feel free to do it right here...
The Gentleman: Nothing other than to thank you for an interesting set of questions, and for being such a delightful host!
You’re welcome, you are an exceptional band!