Originally published in the Nottingham Post.
Most mothers, when hearing their daughters performing live on national radio for the first time, must surely feel a certain surge of pride. But there can’t be many who would actually ring up the radio station, in the middle of the performance, to urge them to give up their day job. According to BBC 6Music presenter Marc Riley, who passed just such a message to Fists drummer Theresa Wrigley during his live interview with the band, it was an unusual occurrence.
“I don’t know if he was being sarcastic or not”, says Angi Fletcher, who sings and plays guitar with Fists. “I think it was a great surprise to us all that she rang in.”
“That was our first proper radio session” James Finlay explains. “It was an incredibly daunting experience. Because it was live, you would assume that the BBC would sit down and prep you about what you can and can’t say on the air. So they were incredibly trusting. You turn up, there’s a fridge full of Staropramen, and they just tell you to relax, and they’ll get you in a minute.”
Rather like the BBC’s breakfast television studio, the radio studio was visible to the public through a large pane of glass. “There was a man pressed up against the glass while we were singing, which was off-putting” says James. “You find your mind wandering – looking at the clouds and stuff, and forgetting about the reality of being live on air in front of a million people.”
A few days before the 6Music session, Fists headlined an all-day gig at the Boat Club, to mark the imminent launch of their debut album Phantasm. It was the band’s first gig in over a year, following an extended period of writing, rehearsing and recording the album.
The recording sessions took place in a floating studio inside a lightship, moored opposite London’s O2 Arena. They were produced by Rory Brattwell, who has previously worked with the likes of The Vaccines, Palma Violets and Veronica Falls. “His rates were incredibly cheap,” James admits, “but he’s got an incredibly large live room for London. He likes to work with independent bands that are a bit unusual. He could be charging a lot more money for his work now, but he did us a good deal.”
As regards the album’s title, Phantasm was already on the shortlist when James and Angi moved into their new house, only to find a copy of the soundtrack from the 1979 horror film of the same name sitting on their new mantelpiece. “To me, that says: well, we’ve got to call it Phantasm now” says James. “But there’s no meaning, necessarily. It’s just a sexy word.”
“I like the fact that it sounds like an amalgamation of the words phantom and orgasm”, says Angi.
The album’s eleven tracks run the full gamut of Fists’ influences, from skiffle and rockabilly through to punk rock and alt-rock, with a dash of country along the way. Thanks to a particularly fertile creative patch, Angi emerged as the record’s chief songwriter, although each track goes through several stages as band members pitch in with ideas.
Cinematic references abound. Straw Dog, the punkiest track on the album, brings Sam Peckinpah’s violent 1971 thriller to mind, while Wasted steals a line from the musical Bugsy Malone. Then there’s Gasp, which was inspired by Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary about the oldest cave paintings ever discovered. “The way that Herzog talks about being in this cave, you just become consumed by the romance of it” says Angi. “This caveman was drawing sabre toothed tigers and mammoths. They were just outside his door. I couldn’t get over that.”
When writing Flaneur, James looked to the street culture of 19th century Paris. Flaneurs “were people who would stand in the street and allow street society to wash over them, as a way of feeling the movement of the world. They would write poetry based on that experience. So they would basically live in the street, and not really do anything. They would just exist there, and allow the movement of society around them to influence the way they wrote.”
Perhaps there’s something of the flaneur ethos in the way that Fists operate as a band. Unfazed by their recent brush with the national airwaves, they prefer to regard their music making as a “lifestyle choice”, rather than a career path.
“It’s something that we’ll be hopefully doing for the rest of our lives” says James. “We’re quite ambitious, in the sense that we don’t want to be playing in a pub in Sherwood doing Kings Of Leon covers. We want to be writing stuff that reflects our lives, and where we’re at. The record is all over the shop in terms of styles, so we’re not trying to define an identity, although we probably do that anyway. We’re just listening to music, and trying to contribute to culture, and express ourselves, and make that part of our lives.”
Phantasm is released by Gringo Records and Hello Thor on Monday July 8th.