Interview: Tindersticks (Dave Boulter)
Originally published in LeftLion magazine.
One of their three founder members lives in Prague, another in Antwerp, another in France, and they collectively left town over twenty years ago. And yet to many, Tindersticks are still seen as a Nottingham band. Ahead of the release of their tenth studio album, Across Six Leap Years, keyboardist Dave Boulter talked to Mike Atkinson about the band’s Nottingham roots, and about their recent re-invigoration as a working unit.
Home towns have a habit of claiming kinship. But do we have any legitimate claim to seeing you as a Nottingham band, over twenty years after you left?
I suppose so, in some ways. The media still refer to us as a Nottingham band, and it’s kind of stuck. But by the time we became Tindersticks, we had left Nottingham anyway, so it’s not even as if the band originated from Nottingham, in that way. But everybody comes from somewhere, and I think Nottingham’s as good a place as any to come from.
When you were working here as Asphalt Ribbons in the late Eighties, how did you find Nottingham, in terms of what it had to offer musicians? Was it a stimulating and supportive creative environment?
I think it was the opposite in some ways. Nottingham just didn’t have the kind of infrastructure that places like Manchester and Liverpool had, and there wasn’t anyone to help you. You did a radio session for Radio Trent, and that was about as much help as you got. But in terms of artistic support, it was great. There were a lot of really interesting bands around, and a lot of really talented musicians. But I think everyone tended to get to a level where they filled a pub, and they did that three or four times, and then they just split up or moved on. So it could be frustrating. But at the same time, there was a lot of really great music being made in Nottingham, and it’s a shame that a lot of it never broke out and got anywhere else.
I’ve been told that the Nottingham music scene in the Nineties could be quite a bitchy and competitive place, and that there wasn’t an awful lot of kinship between musicians. What was it like in the late Eighties?
Probably very similar. Quite often, we’d play some venue, and most of the audience would be people from other bands. They would stand there with their arms folded, looking at you and not really wanting to be impressed, not wanting to clap. But it’s just what you expected. We didn’t really know anything else, and it didn’t bother us. We kind of hated Stuart’s band, The Desert Birds. [Stuart Staples, lead vocals] They were one of the better bands, but even though we liked the music, we would never let them know that. We always used to stand there, looking unimpressed.
You had Craig Chettle in your band for a while. He’s now a major player in our creative community, but what was he like as a guitarist?
As a musician in general, he was great. I suppose he was a bit of a legend. He started very young, and he was a great all-round musician. We did a lot of demos at his house; he had a little 4-track or 8-track recorder in his bedroom. So it’s interesting to see him develop into what he’s become. He became our sound engineer as well, so we’ve had lots of different involvements with Craig.
The opening track (Chocolate) on your last album, The Something Rain, is an extended monologue which you wrote and delivered, describing a Friday night out in town.
It was a night out in Nottingham. It’s 99% true, except for the punchline. It wasn’t a cross-dressing man in the end, but she could have been either way for a while.
There are three locations in the monologue. You start off in a bar with a pool table, then you go to a place which has something of a reputation as a gay pub, then you end up in a club which sells onion bhajis. Can these be specifically mapped to locations?
Yeah, the pub that we always used to go to was called Jaceys, so that’s where we started. Then to have a quieter drink on a Friday night, we’d go round the corner to the Lord Roberts. And then up to The Garage. On the top floor, they used to have a little food place, which basically only did two things: chips and onion bhajis. They had a weird system where you paid for your food and got a cloakroom ticket, and then they’d call out the number. I think a lot of people tried to rip them off, so it didn’t last that long.
Do you ever return to Nottingham?
I was born in St Ann’s and my family still live there, so I go back and see them probably four or five times a year, depending on what’s happening.
You’ve only played Nottingham twice as Tindersticks: at The Old Vic in 1993, and at the Albert Hall in 2003. You’ve been visiting us at ten year intervals, so I think we’re due another one.
I definitely always want to play there, but it’s all down to offers, and what you can actually do. We’d want it to be something special, so we don’t feel like just going to the Rescue Rooms, and I think we’re not quite big enough to do Rock City, although I’ve always wanted to play there. The Albert Hall felt like a perfect place for us to play, but it was quite difficult to arrange.
We recently did a film soundtrack tour in the UK, and we were hoping to play the Royal Concert Hall. It was the only chance we would get to play there, because it was a sponsored tour of lots of theatres like that. It’s somewhere that we’d definitely say yes to. And on the last tour, we were hoping to play at St Mary’s Church in the Lace Market, but it just couldn’t work logistically.
Let’s talk about your new album, Across Six Leap Years, which is a collection of re-recordings of previously released tracks. Is this in lieu of doing a Best Of, or a Greatest Hits?
I suppose so. We got to a point where we felt like we wanted to celebrate twenty years of Tindersticks, and it felt more exciting to re-record some of the songs that we either felt we were playing better, or that we wanted to reintroduce to people. It just felt like something nicer to do, to make it more special. It was also easier in terms of licensing, because we’ve had three different record labels over the years.
Was it a question of methodically sitting down and replaying your entire catalogue, or did songs just emerge?
A lot of it was songs that we’ve always felt attracted to, or that we’ve been playing recently on tour. You have to do the things which feel right for you, and I suppose that’s why we didn’t pick so many obvious songs. We tried to pick the songs that feel the best between the band as it is at the moment.
Did you consciously have to blot out your memory of how they were originally recorded, and re-imagine them from the ground up?
The process started from the songs that we were playing on tour, and they grew in a way of their own. With some songs, we had a feeling that we’d gone beyond the original recordings. We didn’t need to think about how they worked, because we knew we could play them better. With others, it was more about showing our personality as it is now, and forgetting about the way it was.
Dickon Hinchliffe used to handle your arrangements, but he’s no longer with you. How are they worked on nowadays?
We farm some out, and we also do a lot more of them ourselves. On the last album, we made a conscious effort to not have any real strings. When we began, Dickon was a violin player, and he added his own personality. I think one of the reasons that we split up with him was because we were getting a bit too heavy on the string arrangements, and they were swamping the music in some ways. It was very hard to find the original motivation and drive of the band, and I think it’s something that has come back – especially on the last album, which feels very similar to how we felt twenty years ago.
Your music is known for having a kind of lugubrious, melancholy quality, and it tends to be quite downtempo. Are you never tempted to rock out? Do you never bash through a Pixies song in rehearsals?
In our minds, half of our songs do sound like The Pixies! People generalise a lot, and I can understand that, but I think we’ve had our moments, especially recently. That’s another thing about the re-invigoration of the band. We have become something different. People who maybe discount us in that way are shocked when they come to see us live, with the way that we actually are these days. But I suppose it’s the music that has always motivated us. We grew up in the Seventies, and even with punk, the only fast punk band for us was probably The Damned. You grew up in a certain way, and the music naturally comes out in a certain way.