At the heart of Oxford’s buzzing creative scene, Trophy Wife are one the most exciting young bands in the UK.
James Yuill, Ewan Pearson, Plaid and Yannis Phillipakis (of friends and tour companions Foals) have been drafted in to make this their strongest effort to date. Bruxism is a dynamic and varied collection, offering more than the synth and electronic percussion-based numbers that we knew they could construct with consummate quality and ease.
A stand-out comes in the form of final track Wolf, a broody builder cloaked in darkness, unmasking the three-piece as an act not afraid to allow their sound room to breathe. Crack enjoyed more than a couple of pairs of pints on a healthy night out with Ben, Kit and Jody, and in the process discussed many topics, not least the way their hometown of Oxford has become a burgeoning hotbed for creativity.
Radiohead and Supergrass aside, the likes of Jonquil, Chad Valley and Fixers have formed a collection of likeminded musicians and artists called Blessing Force. Formed around mutual friendship and a common creative vision, also including current Crack feature artist Tinhead, Blessing Force might just represent the most dynamic creative collective in the UK.
Having done their time on the road with Foals, and in the process played some seriously sizeable venues, among those Brixton Academy (“no one can take that away from us,” Kit mentioned to us at Field Day), Trophy Wife have fully emerged from the shadow of their hugely celebrated peers, yielding an exceedingly distinctive and complex sound, as well as a visual and aesthetic identity which marks them out as truly unique.
Crack takes to the freezing smoking yard of The Star pub in Oxford for a chat on Trophy Wife’s home turf. Tinhead came along too.
You represent part of the musical arm of Blessing Force, where do you stand within that collective?
Ben (Keys/Samples): We’re only in it cause Tinhead’s in it.
Tinhead: (To Ben) Yeah, I told them earlier that I’m turning on the
Christmas lights in Oxford this year.
B: Really? Cause we got that e-mail too dude.
Kit (Drums): I think at the moment there are six or so bands or musicians involved in one way or another. At the beginning it was just an idea to play shows together. We supported Pet Moon and that built and grew in something else and got itself a name. The initial idea, I think, was a club night called Blessing Force, cause there’s really not a great a nightlife in Oxford. But for some reason people were too lazy to make that work out, yet all this other great stuff has materialised.
So who runs it, who is kind of the ‘head’ of Blessing Force?
K: Well officially there’s no head. Andrew Mears from Pet Moon has always been the most vocal member and puts the most effort into putting shows on. The record label is him and Al English, who played in Youth Movies. If I have a question to do with Blessing Force, I’ll e-mail Andrew. Maybe secretly he’d like to be the head (laughs), but publicly we don’t have one.
For your previous releases you were with Moshi Moshi, what happened there? It seemed like a pretty ideal band/label match.
Jody (Guitar/Vocals): It was never really any more than them putting out Microlight, our first single, and then we did another one which they put out too. We never signed to them or anything.
K: The really good thing about Moshi is that they’ll get in contact with bands early on and put records out quickly. They’ve got resources, they’ve got a great reputation, and they can just bang out a single really quickly, or in our case two singles. What’s also nice is that there are no real ties. They’re one of these labels that can do that; be involved with a band early on, but the ties don’t necessarily have to be long-term.
And I guess with Blessing Force you have complete control?
B: Yeah, plus you deal with someone who you’ve always dealt with on some level, and trust implicitly.
You mentioned Microlight. What caught a lot of people’s attention was how assured and distinctive a sound you achieved, it was hard to believe it was a first single. Were you conscious of not releasing anything until you had that strongly defined?
K: We’ve always had a strong idea of how we wanted the band to sound and the aesthetic side of things. It was important for us to have that fairly solid from the beginning, but it did also all come quite naturally. We hadn’t written many songs by the time Moshi decided to putMicrolight out. It’s good that people think our sound is distinctive because it means now we do have some kind of plan in place, we can implement it coming from naturally formed roots.
But that wasn’t your first release as individuals, you were previously members of Jonquil. You must look back at that with a great degree of pride? Lions, in particular, is a great record.
K: I listened back to Sunny Casinos a couple of weeks ago and some of it’s pretty shit (laughs). I listened in the car with Halford, our live member, and Lions was definitely a step up. I look favourably back on it.
J: That was a whole period that I don’t think we’ll ever forget. You had to adjust to playing as a new entity – have you always been a four-piece live?
K: Sort of, there was the three of us and a backing track (laughs).
B: Before we’d even played live people seemed to already be talking about us and knew the songs. We wanted to aim high for the live show and come up with something ambitious and a bit different.
K: I feel like we’ve always been pretty ambitious, and when it came to setting up the first live show that was definitely the case. But what we didn’t foresee was that the ambition would, after a few tours, give us some restrictions that we didn’t want; playing to a backing track, for example. So we quickly decided that we should get in a live member.
You spoke earlier about forming a distinctive aesthetic, and you’ve made really strong videos for every single, which achieves a huge amount of attention, and anticipation, for your releases.
K: From the moment we put the first few songs together and got to grips with the visual side of things I knew that I wanted us to be working with this guy called Joseph Keirs, a friend of mine from school who works in advertising. He thinks like no one else I’ve ever met and I’ve always wanted to work with him creatively. When we realised we needed to make a video, our first thought was of Joe. He came up with the concept for the first two videos and we had a guy direct them, and then the last video, Wolf, he directed as well.
Where you’re upside down! How did you get the hair right?
J: I sprayed an entire can of hairspray on my head. I think it’s safe to say that was the most unpleasant evening of our lives.
The less enjoyable it looks, the most transfixing it becomes.
B: The thing is, it was fun, even though it was really uncomfortable. We were delirious by the end of it. But we never anticipated the video being as professional and interesting as that. As soon as we turned up we thought ‘yes, this is going to be something pretty good.’
K: Normally when you’re damaging your health you don’t think it’s for a great artistic cause (laughs). But with that it really was. The longest I spent upside down was six minutes, and you pass out after ten supposedly.
Tinhead: What about astronauts? They’re upside down?
But there’s no gravity.
But in general, are you comfortable in front of the camera?
K: It’s always been a relaxed atmosphere. It goes back to working with the Blessing Force guys, you’re working with people who you trust and who share your ideas, and also with Joseph. We trust his creative vision totally. It’s not awkward, even though we’ve all got a little bit of camera shyness.
You commented on how professional everything felt for the wolf video, did that feel like you were stepping onto a film set?
B: By our standards, definitely. We’ve been used to having a guy following us around with a Handycam or something and the concept has always been the strongest part of it. Wolf was a brilliant moment where you realise what your friends are capable of.
K: The thing I was most pleased with wasn’t planned from the beginning, but they went out and found the exact colour pink to match the sleeve of Microlight, and then painted the whole set that colour.
An intriguing feature of the EP is the decision to work with a different producer on each track. What was the thinking there?
K: We’ve always liked the idea of working with other people, and have always acknowledged the importance of a producer working with a band. We weren’t ready to do an album, but wanted to embark on a slightly bigger project than another single. And so we saw this whole EP as a chance to experiment and stretch our sound out as much as possible. What better way to do that than to have a different producer on every song?
You worked with people like Yannis Phillipakis, Plaid and James Yuill. They are all such different artists, presumably they all brought something very different to the table?
K: For sure, and I think we all learnt a great deal from each one of them. The way we chose to do it was different from song to song. With Yannis it was three intense days in the studio, all day, and that was it. We didn’t have a track when we started, we had a finished one when we left.
J: Wolf was the only one where we went in without a song and built it over a few days. We’d never worked that way before. We didn’t use guitars.
So are you guys developing a keen interest in production yourselves? Would you think about getting into working with other artists in a production capacity?
B: I’ve been mixing things on shitty laptops for over a decade, but the process of making this EP is the first time that I’ve been exposed to proper production, which is a bit intimidating but also inspiring. Going back to this idea of working with different producers and them not really occupying the same space, it really helped to have people of different styles.
K: It’s definitely given us the confidence to take those techniques and styles and apply them in our own way.
I think a lot of people were hoping for an album.
B: Yeah, we’d been going about a week before people started saying that!
K: At the moment it seems you’ll hear about a band for the first time and an album will come out a month later. I don’t know how healthy that is.
Are you thinking in terms of an album now then?
J: Yes, that’s the next thing. We’re hiring a fisherman’s cottage.
B: We’re going properly Captain Beefheart on it.
Sleeping disorders, bruxism (teeth grinding in your sleep) being one example, are a running theme for the band.
K: Yes, I suffer from bruxism quite badly. It’s really common, and that’s kind of the point of making it a running theme: it’s such a universal thing, almost everyone suffers from it at some point in their lives, but at the same time it’s massively private, you experience it alone or perhaps share it with your one sleeping partner. It’s this weird relationship that nothing really compares to.
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