In conversation with Post War Glamour Girls

Interviews 'no matter what you do, the environment around you is gonna affect the music'

Leeds based post-punk outfit Post War Glamour Girls released their third LP back in April and were in Cambridge the other day to promote it (review here). Our pal Ellie Clarke caught up with the band to discuss…

You’re from Leeds, which is a freaking awesome place for music. Your record label Hide and Seek are Leeds based, and you’ve stuck with them since the beginning. Do you feel that’s made it easy to be prolific?
Ben: Dan O’Dell who runs it is a good friend of ours, and bless him, he’s just the most trusting person. Which I think I would be if I were in his position!

James: I think, with the prolificy of what we’ve been doing, basically it started with the first album. We had that ready to go almost a year before it came out but we didn’t just sit on it, we went and wrote another one. And that happened again, so that’s why it’s been just one album after another after another. So yeah we’ve always had another album ready to go, and Dan has just backed us the whole way and been like ‘yeah, whatever you want to put out, let’s do it’. Totally no fuss.

Does Leeds seem like its own world?
James: It can be a bit of a bubble but I think you get that everywhere. Unless, to be honest, if you’re in Manchester, cos that’s where a lot of the radio stations are, so if a Manchester band comes through it’s almost immediately plugged. There’s nothing wrong with that, but yeah it can be a bit of a bubble. Sheffield’s a bit of a bubble, Leeds is a bit of a bubble..

Ben: Leeds gets overlooked massively. Considering it’s got the best venue in the country, which is the Brudenell. It’s just amazing. Not just for a gig venue it’s just an amazing place. Nath, who runs it, has great ethics. As a result he had Jeremy Corbyn there yesterday. And Metallica.

We’ve had Weirds and Bruising from Leeds recently. Can you recommend anyone else from the local scene?
Ben: Oh yeah – Thank, Chest Pains…

James: Thank just recorded yesterday actually. Rob works for the studio (Greenmount in Armley) who records all that stuff, so they get a lot of bands coming through. Thank are great. Chest pains as well which are Sam Airey’s band, (Sam’s also a solo musician, and co-runs the label Hide and Seek). There’s loads of bands going through though isn’t there. It’s hard to keep up, especially cos we’ve been there for like 7 years as a band now. You become almost detached from it and then when you get back you’re like ‘who are all these great bands?! Where have they been?!’

Ben: Rob’s here now. Rob, you’ll know some good Leeds bands…
Rob: Beige Palace, I love that band. Who have you already said, Thank? Chest Pains? Mixed the Thank record yesterday, I really love Thank.

Ben: And The Spills, Rob’s band. Oh and Mi Mye, who Rob is also in. The ‘leader’ of the band is Jamie Lockhart who also runs Greenmount studios. It was a solo project but now they’re a full band and they released one of the best albums of last year called ‘The Sympathy Sigh’, which is just incredible. That’s one of the Hide and Seek releases from last year. It’s incredible. Absolutely incredible album. Like, amazing. It really is.

Moving on to your new album, which you recorded in the North of Scotland, is it true you made some of it up as you went along?
James: Yeah, we went up with probably about 4 songs. We had an idea for most of them, but 4 songs we were already sort of playing live. But once we’d got in the swing of things, waking up at 8 o clock, plugging in, starting to play, we’d be left to our own devices and we’d just focus on one track a day. It worked out quite nicely because once we got in the mood it just sorta flowed. There wasn’t ever a day where we really struggled with a track. We’d take days off and went to the beach and stuff but there wasn’t ever a day where we felt ‘this isn’t working’. Which is unusual I think.

Ben: Also, travelling up to Skerray and stuff, was definitely a reaction to feeling strained from the second album, because the first album was recorded in Armley which is where Greenmount studios is based. That was an incredibly stressful time for everyone. Everyone was like going to work, coming back from work. It was super intense. People’s nerves frayed, I think everyone’s did. And so, Swan Song’s recording where we went up to the North of Scotland was quite an extreme reaction I suppose, but that was our kind of answer to that.

James: Yeah, just away from everything, relaxed, just purely focused, but it didn’t seem so focussed it was like you couldn’t escape it. We were in the middle of nowhere so if you wanted to get away you could just walk down to the beach or go to the hills.

Rob: Yeah, not that I’m trying to run away from work or anything, but trying to do that in Armley where the studio is, is really hard. It’s almost impossible isn’t it. Like where do you walk? You can walk to the sandwich shop and back… I’ve tried doing that before to like clear my head a bit but it’s really difficult! So that’s interesting you say that about Scotland. I thought it’d just be so intense because there’s nowhere to go when you’re just in the middle of nowhere. But yeah you could just like fuck off somewhere!

James: That’s the thing, it was nice that it was in the middle of nowhere. It’s unusual when you live in the city just to go ‘let’s just walk… that way’, for as long as it takes until you feel better and you can go record again.

There are some heavy themes on the album, eg. politics…
James: A wave of politics runs through the entire album, and it’s just a product of what we’re surrounded by constantly. You can bury your head in the sand but it’s still gonna somehow affect you and I think that definitely happened to us big style when we were there. When we were recording in Skerray the referendum result came through and obviously we didn’t have TV or the internet or anything so we were all being told over the phone…

Ben: It was very strange, it felt like a 28 days later apocalypse! That’s how it felt at the time. And we were on this really deserted, isolated bit of Scotland and it was just like, we don’t want to go back haha.

Did the fact that the referendum happened as you were recording help the creative process?
Ben: It happened towards the end. Although it was looming, I don’t think it really affected too much…

James: Well it did on Divine Decline, because that was the last. That’s the most explicitly political one, and I think that’s when it really boiled over. But Politics has been so up and down over the past 7 years anyway, that I think that’s really fed into it and that’s why it’s really focussed on this album with stuff like ‘Big Trip’, and ‘Pollyanna’, about mental health.

The one thing I would say though is, even though the album is thematic and political, in a really broad sense it’s actually quite personal. Lyrically it’s all very much written from James’ point of view, and we feed off that musically. So it’s not that we were looking at the bigger picture, it’s all the things and how they affect us. It’s not like we’re trying to make a statement or speaking for a generation or anything it’s was more James was just writing what’s on his mind about him personally.

Rob: It’s really difficult if you’re like ‘this is a political song’. You walk a tightrope with it really don’t you. If the lyrics are really literal with like, I dunno like, ‘Margaret Thatcher blah blah blah’ you might agree with it 100%, but like, is it a good song? Whereas I think when it’s that clever mix of the personal as well, it’s more implicit politically, it can be really effective. Whether that’s a conscious thing or not it’s just more interesting.

Did the location affect the recording?
Ben: I was reading David Byrne of The Talking Heads’ book called ‘How Music Works’, and there’s a whole chapter on it about environment. It’s like no matter what you do, the environment around you is gonna affect the music, so I firmly believe in that. Jamie of Greenmount studios, whose parents owned the house, his dad made a big window, like a whole panoramic view of the bay, you could almost see Iceland if you squint. It was incredible. I think it would overlook it to say that didn’t affect the music. I always think of that with ‘Big Trip’ – how it sprawls on and things like that. Yeah, it definitely affected it.

Conversely then, where would be the worst place to record?
Rob: You’d think maybe Armley haha but..

Ben: Well I mean, I’m sure if we’d taken off the time when were recording the second album it would have been different. We did the first album in Armley as well, and that was nowhere near as stressful so I think it was definitely the fact that we having to work as well. Work was definitely a big part of that. And I think again with feeling strained, you can hear the claustrophobia in that, I can at least, you can hear the tension. Definitely.

There’s no bad place you can record it’s just how much it will affect your music. Like if we did ‘Swan Songs’ in Armley it just wouldn’t sound the same way. It wouldn’t sound as free and relaxed and open as it does.

James: I think a good example of that is Wild Beasts’ ‘Smother’ which was written in the North and recorded in the North, and it’s got a really expansive sound. It’s really delicate but there’s more layers to it. And then they recorded ‘Present Tense’ smack bang in the middle of London and y’know that’s what ‘Palace’ is all about it’s the fact that it’s so claustrophobic because they didn’t have the luxury of big rooms to record in. It was just like ‘we have a box’, so it completely altered the sound. It’s so much more in your face and immediate. Obviously they probably thought about that, but it probably affected it a bit more than they realise. Like when you listen to it, y’know like A/B those albums, it’s pretty bizarre.

I’ve heard you made your TM cry…
The TM (overhearing): Oh yeah it did yeah, yeah.

Ben: That was so poignant though wasn’t it!

The TM: Yeah, it was a weird thing cos I’d worked with you for so long, like 6 years? And like, I dunno I was just really happy that you were doing that live album and it reminded me of you being in like a really small venue with nobody there, but there you were playing to all these people and they were really loving it. Just the experience of it, I was just like, I was happy but I couldn’t stop crying!

Ben: For me that summed up the whole experience of that night because we did the live album that evening, again with Greenmount who recorded it live. Packed up 12 hours later to go off to Scotland, and the first thing we heard when they set up the studio on the 1st day was the live album. So that was the first time we heard it back and yeah I remember you crying and then like that travel up and then hearing that the next day… You know when you just don’t feel quite awake and everything’s a bit twilight zoney? I dunno, it just kinda summed it up nicely.

You’ve got yourselves a loyal tour buddy, Rob Slater. How’s it having an extra member with you?
James: To be quite honest, without Rob doing this tour we’d be a bit screwed because there are so many things that we did on the album that just came off the cuff and we didn’t really then think about how we’re gonna go about playing that with gigs around the country. Especially with James wanting to refocus on performing vocals, that’s where Rob really comes in and covers a lot of the ground that James is now not doing. So it has been a real blessing and just nice to have someone else on tour just to bounce off because we’ve been doing this for a very long time. It’s not that it’s gone stale, it’s just nice to have a different dynamic in there.

Ben: Yeah we trust him, he’s a better musician than all of us!

What have you all been listening to on tour?
Ben: OH, we have the game. The game.

James: Do we tell people about the game? People might start doing the game…

Ben: Yeah let’s start a craze! So the game is that you have a phone with Spotify, and you pass the phone to each person (obviously not the person who’s driving, just to be clear the person driving is not on the phone!) So you add your choice to the queue, then clear your search and hand it to the next person, so no one knows what’s coming up.

James: It’s great because you’ve got a van of like 6 people and it only takes a couple of goes and you’ve pretty much got to your destination. What’s been on… erm, Karl Blau’s ‘Fallin’ Rain’…

Rob: Big Thief is my favourite at the moment

James: Chastity belt..

Rob: Yeah, I liked them. Never heard them, I liked them

James: Devendra Banhart…

Ben: James has the best choices!

James: What can I say? I’ve made some waves!

So people are taking the tour playlist game seriously? There’s no Rickrolling?
James: Well there are 3 members taking it seriously, but there are 2, Ben and Alice, who’ve taken the opportunity to play some right cack…

Ben: We like to troll everyone. I put on Vertigo by U2 three times in a row..

Rob: Not 3 times in a row like it was his go then it went round everyone else then it was his go again. Just 3 back to back.

Ben: Then we put on The Stone Roses ‘All For One’ or whatever their latest single is, twice, and people were fuming, they wanted to kick me out the van!

James: But when everyone got out the van, Gina G came on…

Ben: Generally, I just put on hip hop which doesn’t fit anything really. Everyone’s just like this is clearly Clyde’s choice, rolling the eyes y’know. But nah there’s a couple of hip hop heads in the van.

James: We meant to do it as a public playlist like daily, probably along with Slatedog’s tour diary but it hasn’t worked out. We wanted to do it for each city! We’ve got it ready but it’s not happened.

Ben: That’s kind of a good metaphor for the band… We’re ready but it hasn’t happened!

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