A D.I.Y release by Manchester based thePICTURESHOW became one of my favourite albums of last year, although a bleak, dark collection of electronica based songs, they skilfully maintain soulful elements, particularly through the vocals of Liam Pennington.
thePICTURESHOW prefer to maintain a low profile, declining photographs today for example, relying on video and visual images to be created in the listeners mind by the music. Research reveals a connection with Manchester indie band The Tides and intrigued to delve further into their psyche, Mudkiss met with Liam and Mark Boswell over a cup of morning coffee to discuss the change in direction and future goals.
ANDY: You describe yourselves as a recording project, is that distancing yourselves from a standard band concept?
LIAM: Yeah….well, because we come from a band and we weren’t sure where we were going to be honest…..we just thought we’ve got some good ideas and we wanted to try some new stuff out basically away from the generic band thing….it just ended up being a project because we’ve not played live……we’re not ruling it out, we might end up being a band at some point, but at the minute…
MARK: I think it was more to the fact that it was nice to know we didn’t have to gig…….cos we’ve done all that with the band for what, seven years?
LIAM: Longer than that…..ten years I think.
MARK: Yeah and we were just gigging week in week out…..I think we’d just had enough of that but we weren’t fed up with writing the songs, writing the music……we kinda got that added bonus of we can still write the songs without any pressure on us which is nice.
LIAM: We were doing the writing, recording, meetings, trying to make videos, putting the singles out and none stop gigs for eight to ten years…..cramming everything into a time period, we had deadlines to meet, this that and the other…..when the band finished as it did, we thought let’s just do the enjoyable part……..we loved the gigs, don’t get me wrong but just started…… let’s write more and not have a deadline, we used to write thinking.. right… let’s write a pop song, it’s got to be around three minutes…..so as you’ll know on the album songs go on for a lot longer…..one’s still playing now (Laughing)
MARK: It’s still going on in the studio, yeah (Also laughing)
LIAM: We just had no limits or restrictions, we just thought let’s see how it feels….. different direction really.
MARK: It was nice cos it was just me, Liam and Mike the producer, not to have the other band members there…..that sounds awful.
LIAM: No offence (Laughing)
MARK: No offence……. because in The Tides it took us a long time to write songs, whereas now it’s just me and Liam, so I come up with the tune and he just put’s lyrics down and there’s no other people coming in and saying it needs this, it needs that.
ANDY: So there’s less tinkering around now, you two can focus more on exactly what you want?
LIAM: Well that’s how it started originally for The Tides….. me and Mark set up The Tides up in 2002 I think….just acoustic guitar, started jamming, I came up with the lyrics and took it from there…..we wrote like about twenty, thirty songs in a few months…..when we formed the band we seemed to write about ten a year because you’ve got all different people chipping in and sometimes that worked brilliantly, sometimes it just went round and round and never finished a song……with thePICTURESHOW it’s just so much quicker…….I can tell Mark exactly what I want, he does the same and Mike’s very similar…it just works.
MARK: It’s like Mike’s the mad magician……we give him a nice piano ballad and he turns it into a Death Rave mix (Laughing) but me and him love it…..it’s like, thank God, something different, it’s great.
ANDY: I think that’s the key to the album, it is different and while you still have hints of the indie rock sound, which is more like The Tides, it does veer off into other directions with the electro beats. Where does the influence for that change come from?
LIAM: Well mainly, Mike’s input…..because he worked with The Tides, we recorded our last EP with Mike, he knew exactly what me and Mark could do, we did a couple of stripped down piano songs on certain things and when I phoned him and said we’d split up, he was like, “do you want to carry on, I can bring you in loops, drum loops, backwards effects,” this that and the other and straight away I thought yeah, definitely…..put it to Mark and he was well up for it….and like Mark said, we’ll put a straightforward piano ballad, I’ll do some singing on it, thinking it’s going to be a ballad…
MARK: That’s it, we never started it off intending it to sound anything like it does…….I was like….. what. (Laughing)
LIAM: No, we’d come back a week later and it’d have a trip hop beat (Also laughing)
MARK: It’s like, remember that deep, dark depressing piano ballad we did….well, it’s a dance tune now (Laughing)…….me and him could never come up with something like that, it’s Mike being the third member if you like.
ANDY: But the songs never lose that melancholic side, one of the things I find with electro music in general is it can be quite soulless, but the songs on the album aren’t soulless, it’s still in there.
MARK: I think that’s because every song on that album was just a plain ballad or just a plain song until Mike got his hands on it….so all Mike’s done is just add the best bits basically, the actual soul of the song is still there.
LIAM: Plus I don’t think we can write anything else…..I think we can write so much variation in that style……but you know, sort of, let’s write a happy song….. it’s not in me to come out with something happy….even if it sounds happy, the lyrics will be deep or dark which I found with John Lennon and The Beatles…me Mum used to always say to me, “yeah John Lennon wrote happy songs,” but he never did, you listen to even his love songs and the lyrics are depressing or downbeat….. where people don’t realise that, McCartney did all the fun and the lovey stuff……but yeah, I’ve struggled to get anything happy and I have tried…… once or twice (Laughing)
ANDY: I was going to mention the lyrics as they are quite bleak and wondered if you were going through a particularly dark time of your life, but generally that’s just how you always write (Laughing)
LIAM: Well I get turned on when I listen to bleak music……I feel happy when I listen to The Cure or Joy Division, something dark…..I feel happy and you do as well don’t you with Radiohead.
MARK: Yeah, completely.
LIAM: Some people have to listen to happy music or dance music to get into the mood to go out, I’m the opposite.
MARK: Yeah, before we go on a night out we put on Joy Division (Laughing)
LIAM: It does my girlfriends head in (Also laughing)
MARK: I’ve had this conversation with loads of people about what they class as depressing music and I class all the pop shit that’s out now as depressing, that’s really depressing to me.
LIAM: It’s just soulless and lifeless.
MARK: It’s deemed as uplifting and it’s really not uplifting, it’s false.
LIAM: You do get the odd pop song…..I like a lot of pop music as well but it has to be well written and have something behind it.
ANDY: A good song, is a good song whatever the genre but it needs to have some substance in my opinion, not just a simple repetitive beat with a half decent vocal over the top.
LIAM: I think that’s where we lost our way a bit in The Tides …… we were determined to make it and were getting told off people, you need a single, you need this…… which is true….
MARK: What did they say…..we needed to follow the trend.
LIAM: Yeah, you’ve got jump on the band wagon kind of thing, which we struggled with.
MARK : We could never be like The Libertines or……we could never do that kind of music which was all the rage at the time.
LIAM: The time we should have really got our break was just as the Arctic Monkeys came out and they kind of shit on our parade really (Laughing) we were getting really popular at that time and then they came out and it was all that…… and it was like…… great……..hated em at the time, quite like em now.
MARK: Yeah, I like the new album actually, it’s quite rocky.
LIAM: I’m really fond of em now, but at the time…….
ANDY: Alex Turner is a great lyricist.
LIAM: He is a great lyricist there’s no doubt.
MARK: You’ve got to give him that.
ANDY: I did see The Tides once, down at The Hungry Pigeon festival in Manchester and it sounded great I must admit.
LIAM: Was that in the day time?
ANDY: No, I don’t think so, more the evening.
MARK: That was when they cut us short weren’t it.
LIAM: I thought that was in the day.
MARK: It was later on about five or six o’clock.
ANDY: Yeah, it probably was early evening, I do remember you having a bit of a rant Liam about the ticket prices to watch unsigned bands.
LIAM: Yeah, I was on one that day… ended quite bizarrely that night, I don’t know what were going on…….I remember having quite a few red bulls. (Laughing)
MARK: It were just another one of them gigs… turn up….. you don’t get a sound check, just go on even if you sound crap…. you’ve sold blah, blah so many tickets and then five minutes later they’re telling us to get off….. and it’s just like, you know we’ve made the effort to come down, at least let us play our set.
ANDY:It was pretty busy that night, there was a decent crowd watching.
LIAM: It weren’t bad, there were at least twenty plus people there to see us.
MARK: It’s always going to be busy when they put a hundred bands on in two hours….. like they do.
LIAM: When you know there’s certain people who’ve come out of their way to watch you….. and you only get an eighteen minute set…….
MARK: And that’s one of my guitar solos….before Liam even comes in singing (Laughing.) That’s the new PICTURESHOW direction (More laughter)
LIAM: I’m dreading the second album (Even more laughter)
MARK: Music for porn it’s going to be called. (Laughing)
ANDY: On the first album, it does have that melancholic thread all the way through until the last track, which is much more visceral and angry, where did that one come from?
LIAM: Which was the first track we did quite ironically.
MARK: That was a riff that we had with The Tides.
LIAM: Shuusshh, you can’t say that (Laughing)
MARK: We actually played it once as an instrumental with The Tides before you walked on stage.
LIAM: It come from the bass line didn’t it?
MARK: Yeah, the bass line. yeah……and I liked it.
LIAM: Was that it….. we played at The Deaf Institute?
MARK: It was at The Deaf Institute and we played it before you came on stage….
LIAM: It was nothing like that though.
Mark: It didn’t sound anything like it no……..what it was with that song, the bass line always stayed the same and Mike came in with his trickery and did the rest.
LIAM: He did a lot of guitaring on it.
MARK: Yeah, there’s a lot of feedback on that and then Liam comes in with his like, distorted vocal kind of thing.
LIAM: Well…… Mark…he always says he wants this song to be called something, sometimes it’s ridiculous and sometimes they’re brilliant (Laughing) and he said he wanted it to be called “Dead Mans Shoes” which is my favourite film….I don’t know whether you’ve seen it.
ANDY: No I haven’t.
LIAM: You should watch that, it’s a brilliant Shane Meadows film…… English film, low budget and I actually love it……so I based my song lyrics on a scene from that film, which is……..I don’t want to say it in case you watch the film and it might spoil it.
MARK: Yeah, watch the film and it’ll explain a lot.
LIAM: There’s a certain scene near the end when you realise what’s happened to this lad and I was pretending I was in his head and what he was thinking…….so that’s why it’s a bit random.
MARK: It’s a bit like a bit of a nightmare gone wrong…..which is due to Mike as well cos he did the structure for it…….you were just singing over a jam for a couple of weeks weren’t you, and just like going, “there’s no structure to this it’s the same all the way through”……..yeah I know but it’s great. (Laughing)
LIAM: I couldn’t get it until you said this song should be called “Dead Man’s Shoes” and then I thought, yes……and he’s done that so many times, said it should be called this and then I’ve got something to hit…….it’s worked on a lot of songs that.
MARK: I should name every song (Laughing)
LIAM: And then he comes out with, this one should be called “The Crying Tree That Never Sleeps” and I’m like…….(Laughing)
MARK: Mark my words, that will be a song (Also laughing)
LIAM: He’s been trying to get it as a song for about ten years……It’s not happening, that can stay for your solo project(Laughing)
ANDY: Yeah, that can form part of the prog metal off shoot of thePICTURESHOW (Also laughing)
MARK: Yeah, definitely.
ANDY: So have you started work on the 2nd album yet?
LIAM: Well, we haven’t done anything this year as yet, due to me changing jobs and I’m getting married in May.
ANDY: Nice one, congratulations.
LIAM: Thanks……there’s so much to do, we’ve not really got into it yet but we did start last year….
MARK: We’ve got a couple of ideas.
LIAM: There’s four or five songs laid down as ideas with plenty more to come….the beauty of thePICTURESHOW now is we don’t have to work to a time limit…….we work in Mike’s studio so we don’t have to pay anything, he records it all…..we’ll probably start April / May or something….just see how it goes.
MARK: Hopefully we’ll have the second album out later this year probably…..I’d say by November or December.
LIAM: I don’t even know if we should do an album or an EP……….what would you say ?.......I mean people don’t seem to buy music anymore……. much.
ANDY: At Mudkiss we see a lot of EP’s / mini albums, five or six trackers and while it’s difficult to say the album is an outdated medium, kids in particular do tend to skip through to tracks they really like, not bother with the rest so it’s difficult to know what’s best. Perhaps it’s an age thing though and older music fans do want an album?
MARK: You still get the hard core don’t you.
LIAM: I think our audience has always been the older end, we’ve always got the more mature listener, people who are still into listening to albums and music as it should be.
MARK: I must admit though, I’m the same, I’ve changed……I can’t remember the last album I actually went out and bought.
LIAM: You’ve bought a lot more than me. (Laughing)
MARK: But I mean coming from like five years back, I used to buy an album every other week and then listen to it all the way through…… but now, I don’t do it at all……maybe it’s just getting older I don’t know or is it just easier to go on YouTube and listen to it or get it for free on the internet.
ANDY: Personally, I prefer an album, a decent body of work to listen to, a single track for example just becomes lost in iTunes.
MARK: That was it, when I used to buy an album, I used to sit there, put it on and read the sleeve, you know, it was exciting….will there even be CD’s in ten years time?
ANDY: Perhaps that is an age thing though, I used to do the same, but do you have the time or the inclination to sit and read all the cover notes.
LIAM: I don’t think many bother anymore, and that’s what I’m thinking…..maybe we should go and do mini albums, probably keeps it fresher for us as well, the diversity of that can help our songs…… I think we’ve got five or six ballads we could do…….we could actually do a mini album of five or six ballads, we’ve got em all there and then we’ve got all our other stuff which is more edgy.
MARK: Well that’s it, like you say this is where we’ve got the freedom to do what we want…you just put it on that Bandcamp and that’s it basically…..it’s easily done.
LIAM: It’s as easy as that…….We’ve just had a song used by the way………well it’s going to be used on a zombie film with Edward Furlong who was John O’Connor in Terminator 2 and Corey Feldman who was in The Lost Boys and The Goonies…..eighties stars basically but we’ve got “The Sermon” on the making of that DVD…… that was a target, a few more of them would be nice.
ANDY: What’s your goal with thePICTURESHOW, you aren’t out there selflessly promoting yourselves and your Facebook is more personal than a band page, you aren’t trying to ram your music down people’s throats.
LIAM: No, cos we’ve done that in the past…….I can see it when other bands do it to me and I think, you told me that five minutes ago so why are you telling me again.
MARK: You can have a Facebook page for your band and you could have 20,000 friends and it means nothing does it…….click.
LIAM: I wouldn’t even be on Facebook to be honest if it weren’t purely for the music…..when we get a new release to get it out that way, people don’t know otherwise………Twitter’s probably better, but people are still picking up on that……it’s a lot easier to interact with the right people I think.
MARK: Back to the question, I think when we started we definitely had in mind to write songs or music for adverts, soundtracks, T.V programmes, video games…..you know you see it on the adverts advertising the next X-Box game and you’ve got like a nice piano going on in the background…..and it’s like, maybe if we could get paid for that it’d be nice……..and I think because we knew we were pretty good at it as well.
LIAM: Basically we wanted to make it so much as a band, all them years of hard work,….I mean we put a lot into it and we went at it pretty professionally……..I worked part time for five years, just to put all my energy into the band….I was doing all the interacting on the websites etc and I was managing for a bit as well, which is probably were we went wrong to be honest, but…..we put so much into it and I used to have bets with people I worked with saying, “look we’re going to make it, this time next year,” you know I did it so many times cos I had that much belief we were going to do it and it just didn’t happen…….when it came to the end it was like, where do you go, not getting any younger……basically I’ve put my girlfriend second best for the last eight years and she’s been patient and good about that, but I’ve got to start putting her first so I decided at that point the music can’t be my first priority but I still want to do it in whatever way we can. The gig scene takes so much out of you and it costs a lot of money as well, how much money must we have paid for transport etc, you never really earn anything.
ANDY: That’s the biggest problem these days with music, it’s so difficult to earn anything, people don’t want to pay you to come and play.
MARK: You’ve got to pay them sometimes.
LIAM: Yeah, we used to pay for it, give tickets away.
MARK: Why did we do that?
LIAM: Just to get more people there, get people interested.
MARK: Why didn’t we just quit……. Looking back now, weren’t we silly (Laughing)
LIAM: We worked hard and everything that we earned when we did have a big gig at say the Academy 3 or wherever and we had some big shows, made a bit of money with sales of CD’s or whatever and it went straight back onto the next recording every time, we never made a penny.
MARK: We did treat ourselves once didn’t we…….I think we had a tenner each and it was like Christmas Day, it was great……it was like, treat yourself…….I got a doner kebab with mine (Laughing.)
ANDY: It some ways, although you make music because it’s in you and you need to create, it must be demoralising to put in so much effort for little return.
MARK: I think it helped cos we were a bit younger at the time……I don’t know, we were just blinkered weren’t we…
LIAM: More focused.
MARL: Yeah, focused, yeah …..I mean looking back now, like I just said weren’t we silly, I can see that now……..but you don’t see it at the time but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a good time…..I wouldn’t change a thing it were brilliant, some of the best nights out, really good, it was great…..what’s not what to like about it…..but….
LIAM : I’d tweak a few things……David Guest for one, I should have gone clubbing with him.
MARK: You should have gone out with him actually……….David Guest.
LIAM: We played The Hard Rock Cafe in the Printworks and David Guest walks in with some guy from Coronation Street, like a director or something…..and he watches us while he’s having his meal, watches our set and after every song he’s stood up clapping….he came straight over to us after the gig and he was saying he loved it, he really liked my voice, he liked the music, he said give me your phone number, got a CD…..made me give him my phone number and said I’m going to help you out…..the guy he was with said we’ll definitely help, love what you’re doing…… and then he said, come to Tiger Tiger with us, do a bit of karaoke and stuff…….and me thinking I’ve got work in the morning, I had about three quid in me pocket, said, yeah we might do, yeah…….didn’t, ended up, went back, took all the gear home…..
MARK: Your turn to take all the gear back anyway (Laughing)
LIAM: I know……but really thinking back now…… the band should have said, “right Liam, go out”….or someone should have come with me….karaoke…… get people taking pictures……get em to the press…. singer of The Tides doing karaoke with David Guest in the Printworks…… you know we could have got loads of publicity in Manchester….Manchester Evening News……quite big papers in that respect….and I look back and think we could have got videos on YouTube and that could up your profile so much and the next gig you might get ten, twenty people just off something silly…..but you just think, why didn’t I do that.
ANDY: Hindsight is a fantastic thing, the way you were actually thinking is probably more logical, I’ve got no money and I’ve got work in the morning. Perhaps, that’s how it works though, it’s the lucky break at times rather than how good you are.
LIAM: There were many moments like that to be honest…..people in the industry promising us the world and it never happened.
ANDY : And to be honest, there’s lots of bands signed record deals and still never released anything, it just gets lost in the system and that must be worse. I suppose at least with the D.I.Y route, you’re in control and can make sure your music is released.
LIAM: The only difference is you don’t get enough promotion and that’s the one thing we never had and what we could have done with really….I think if we’d got that, you never know, with the right…….my argument is when you hear a song on the radio for the first time, it’s very rarely you take to it, it takes two or three times before…. I really like the sound of this, and then look into it…..if you get forced to listen to it, you know if you either love it or you hate it.
MARK: If you’re listening to it four times a day………it’s true that.
LIAM : Where, If you’re getting the odd play on the radio once, you might get a few ears pricked up and nothing more……but if you get guaranteed play listed with your songs on Radio 1 or something, you’re guaranteed to pick up people if it’s good quality….you can’t buy stuff like that……bands that get it don’t always deserve it.
MARK: Radio 1….there’s some crap on that…….sorry, but there is.
LIAM : There is……bands when we were going, Twisted Wheel for example….. great lads you know, but they weren’t nothing special…….they just get on something and they got played on Radio 1, all these tours with Oasis….and you know you just think…..it’s a bit hard to take.
ANDY : I did quite like the debut Twisted Wheel album, but I used to listen to it thinking, that riff’s The Damned…..and oh, there’s an XTC drum intro and it was all a bit familiar, so as you say, nothing special but I suppose a bunch of seventeen year olds wouldn’t necessarily pick those references. But that’s what I like about your album, I don’t hear old references and I keep going back to it. I’m looking forward to the second one, just a case of getting it out to people.
LIAM: Cheers, every little helps……the beauty is there’s no time restriction on our music….hopefully it does still sound as fresh further down the line……you can’t say that about every type of music, it doesn’t always have that longevity does it.
ANDY: You’re right, you listen to Indie Rock or Indie Pop and there is a tendency to think, I’ve just heard all this before.
LIAM: Yeah…..trying to freshen things up….you’re never going to be truly original but try and have something in there that’s absolutely different……it’s more appealing to me to do stuff like that at the minute.
ThePICTURESHOW are unlikely to be prolific, we won’t see an EP or an album every six months, but based on the debut album, however long in-between, the next release will be well worth the wait.
Interview by Andy Barnes