Finding Their Voice. An Interview with Tall Ships.

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Finding Their Voice
An Interview with Tall Ships

Ric Phethean stands before a capacity crowd at London’s ‘Old Blue Last’, his guitar hanging unceremoniously from his neck. He turns around and looks at the other people on stage. He catches the eye of Matt Parker, gripping his bass like a loaded gun, before breaking out in a shared grin. There’s a slight nod then Ric addresses the audience. “We haven’t released any music in two years, so thanks for still giving a shit.” Cheers. Promises of “new songs soon,” get the same reaction. In fact everything that Tall Ships, completed by Jamie Bush on drums and James Elliot Field on keys, do receives the same ecstatic reaction. Tattoos and walking down the aisle to their songs, Tall Ships are humble in their awareness. People care.

“When we started we were an instrumental band. Then we wrote one song with singing and people sang along. That felt good so we did more. We love having people coming to our shows and singing along so it’s impossible to make music that ignores that. Our fans definitely influence what we do,” says Matt. It’s a few hours earlier and he, along with Ric, are sat in the dressing room of ‘The Old Blue Last’. They’re both relaxed and in good spirits ahead of their first London show in over a year. A mood that’s been carried over from the writing of their ‘pretentiously titled’ new album, the follow up to 2012’s ‘Everything Touching’.

“We’re in a really good place at the moment,” explains Ric. “When we finished touring the last record, we were all fucked,”

“Emotionally, physically and financially drained,” continues Matt. “We were broken. We needed a break and it’s made this writing process much more pleasurable and productive,”

“When we recorded the first album we had nine songs. This time we’ve got nearly twenty tracks, loads of ideas and it’s sounding good. We’re excited,” Ric states before pausing. His eyes flicker to the right and a smirk dances across his face. “We’re really excited.”

That sense of excitement runs throughout the interview with both Matt and Ric swapping their laidback trademark for a sense of urgency with hurried sentences and revealing honesty. Through the self-deprecation and the laughter, there’s the overwhelming sense that Tall Ships are now comfortable with who they are.

“There’s a more solid sense of self and identity. Lyrically, the first record spoke about The Big Bang and things like that whereas this one seems to be quite focused on the physical. It’s about direct experience; there are lots of references to the body,” describes Ric “It’s taken a long time because I sing abut things that happen in my life and for a long time I didn’t have anything to sing about. We’ve written more choruses and verses and there’s more singing. There’s actually more songs,” he admits.

That confession is normally a white flag, a band surrendering their sound to the whims of a radio plugger. For Tall Ships though, it’s the next logical step in getting the most from their music and audience.

“We’ve really stressed over writing this new album,” continues Ric. “We were putting a lot of thought into how people would perceive the songs, so we wrote them in a certain way. We scrapped a lot of that though because it wasn’t really us. We wrote a couple of songs that sounded like Blink 182 and while we love Blink 182, we don’t want to sound like them. We were trying too hard and it didn’t feel right.”

After talk of Snoop Dog, mansions and number one albums, the conversation about the future continues. “I don’t think I can ever see this ending,” Ric daydreams. “We’d love to build a career out of this because it’s such a pleasurable thing to do. If you get to do anything that you love doing, especially creatively and make a living from it, you’ve won basically. I read this thing in David Byrne’s book ‘How Music Works’. He was talking about how one of the most important things in music is how it inspires people to go on and make their own. How important it is to have amateurs, to have people inspire people. It would be great if we could do that.”

While talking about inspiring others, the Kickstarter campaign, currently at £260,000, to get Foo Fighters to play Cornwall comes up. As a band from Falmouth in Cornwall, Tall Ships know better than most what this means.

“Foo Fighters are great,” starts Matt. “but if that money could go into the local scene, that would be awesome. It’s great that people are so passionate but the Foo Fighters have got so much fucking money. There are some good bands in Cornwall, there’s an amazing scene. There are a lot of passionate people who seem to be cut off the map a little bit. If I were the Foo Fighters, I’d take that money, play for free and give the money back to funding the young.”

“When we talk about where we come from, we say Brighton because that’s where we’ve been based professionally but we always say we started in Falmouth,” clarifies Ric.

“It’s weird, we’ve been in Brighton for five years but I wouldn’t say any of the music scene has ever really influenced us like having that bubble we had when we were in Cornwall has,” Matt concludes.

The hyper-personal subject matter that has always been at the heart of Tall Ships’ music gives the band their magnetic allure. With every evening a cathartic experience, Tall Ships know the power of a shared experience.

There’s some bands that make my life better. Biffy Clyro got me through my teenage years and then last year it was The National,” bounces Ric. “I’m obsessed with music and with bands that make me feel good, whatever shit I’m going through. The music that means the most to me just helps me out. There’s a lot of misery and I’m down quite a lot, apart from when we’re touring and it’s going well,”

“Well even then, it’s a still a daily struggle,” concedes Matt. “The shows are the best part of the day, it’s just the bits in between where you have to sit and have conversations in your head. I don’t think I’ve ever been inspired to write a song when I’m feeling good. It’s always when I’m in a pit of misery. We’re all pretty miserable and that’s why we write miserable post-rock songs.” The smile that flashes across their mouths and the beautiful hope that’s married to their music suggests a story half told.

You could dedicate an age of reasons detailing why and how Tall Ships garner the loyal, passionate support they do. Just like their music though, it’s Ric’s ability to summarise the infinite with heartfelt simplicity that stays with you.

“We want people to take whatever they need from our music. I just love to think that some of the stuff we do improves people’s lives a bit.”

You can find Tall Ships on Twitter and Facebook.

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~ by justdip on 20/10/2014.

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