Six years have passed between the release earlier this month of the self-deprecatingly titled 'Idiots' and The Electric Soft Parade’s last offering 'No Need to be Downhearted'. In that time, the loss of a very close family member and a general re-evaluation of their music has seen a return to a more melodic, less ambiguous collection of songs. Within 'Idiots' emotions are certainly laid bare, although in true ESP fashion, delivered generally in light, fragrant manner producing an outstanding album of contrast and diversity, one to fill the heart with sounds of Summer.
A trip North to play a live session for Marc Riley on 6 Music gave an opportunity to meet and discuss the new record with vocalist / guitarist Thomas White on a warm, yet slightly over cast evening at Media City in Salford.
ANDY: How you doing Tom, seems like you’re on a hectic schedule at the moment?
THOMAS: Yeah I’m good man, just got out of the van….. came up from London today, did an in-store yesterday.
ANDY: Have you just travelled up for the Marc Riley session?
THOMAS: Yeah, just came up for the session, which I believe is something like the 15th or 16th session we’ve done for him now….in various different bands - Brakes have done it a bunch, Restlesslist did it twice, I think I've done it three times solo...
ANDY: I think it’s fair to say 6 Music have been very supportive of The Electric Soft Parade?
THOMAS: They’ve been extremely supportive, especially with this record…..they just made it record of the day, yesterday or the day before…they’ve been all over it, they’ve been really good to us.
ANDY: And you must be pleased with the reviews, the ones I’ve seen have been really positive.
THOMAS: Yeah, it’s odd when you’re in a band 'cos you’re with it every step of the way, but I’ve read a few people saying how it feels like it’s come out of the blue - a lot of people didn’t know we were up to stuff, making a record…..I kinda like that, the fact it’s taken people by surprise.
ANDY: Well it has been six years since the last album, although you had an EP out a couple of years back.
THOMAS : That’s right. We did a 7” on a little French label - A Quick One Records.
ANDY: Do you make long term plans for recording or is it a case of you wake up one morning and think, I must give Alex a ring, it’s time to make a new ESP album?
THOMAS: (Laughing) I don’t know what the catalyst for this was, really…… I don’t write with anything particular in mind. I write almost constantly, and then things find their way to different projects……some things I won’t play to anyone (Laughing)….I had a period of writing that sounded like some of our earlier stuff and I just thought we should do a new ESP record - there’s a lot of people out there who’d love to hear another one. So I had this burst of writing in about 2010 -2011, and then it all just spiralled from there. We went on the Noel Gallagher tour and that generated a bit of interest, we did that little single, 'A Quick One,’ - the vinyl single - and then we started talking to the label we're on now - it’s the same guys who produced our first record……..I feel really bad stubbing a fag out here…..it’s spotless (laughing)…… I’ll keep that for later (more laughter)……so yes, it’s Chris Hughes and Mark Frith, who made the first record with us - they’re now running a label…….and in fact the guy who signed us to that first label back in the day - Tom Friend - he signed us again, he was working with them, so it’s all the same crew, just ten years on, which is a bit weird.
ANDY: Did the songs on 'Idiots' feel a bit like light coming out of the black? I know you had a very close personal loss a few years ago and your solo 'Yalla!' album seemed to reflect that situation. It was very introspective.
THOMAS: Yeah, true. It was very.....quiet.
ANDY: Although there’s a real mixture of moods on the new album, it’s much lighter than your earlier material, particularly musically.
THOMAS: Yeah, I think it is……in the nicest possible way I think we put a lot of thought into who likes the band, what they like about us and what our strengths are…….there was a lot of deconstructing what’s been successful about what we do in the past and why, and then applying all that to a new record……but I kinda say that in inverted commas, 'cos it’s not like we’re pandering to an audience or something, it doesn’t feel like that. We’ve been around for so long we can genuinely look back now and take stock of things, and reappraise why certain things worked and why others didn’t. I think our strengths are the vocals and the harmony and, like you say, that kinda lightness…….I think we’ve possibly buried that a bit in the past, undermined it with interesting production or whatever. For this record we definitely wanted to strip all that back and just make a light pop record, a very Summery record you know.
ANDY: I think that’s definitely the strength of it, the album is a great pop record, but if you go back to your debut ‘Holes in the Wall,” which I think it’s one of the great alternative pop records.
THOMAS: Is it? (Laughing)
ANDY: Yeah, I think so. You were recommended for a Mercury Prize, appeared on Top of the Pops etc. Did you feel at that time things were going to take off much more for the band - more than they actually did?
THOMAS: We got a lot of attention……and you only really get to properly assess what the hell’s just happened after the fact, you know? (Laughing) …Looking back it was absolutely crazy. Nowadays, if we do a week of really intense stuff, that feels like a lot, but back then it was pretty much three years solid touring, recording and promoting……we were pretty burned out by it……but it was a huge record in terms of the amount of records that get released even every week…..I think it was given a lot of attention and for a new band it did extremely well, and I think that kind of freaked us out a lot and took us years and years to get over. It defined the band for a long time and I think a lot of this record is realising that, as a band, we don’t need to shy away from what was appealing about us in the first place….and that’s something we have shied away from in the past. I think we're now in a place where we’re a bit more accepting of all of that, and just a little bit more at peace with what people like about us…..you get that with a lot of bands - they’re tarred with a particular brush. I don’t mean that in a negative way, they’re just labelled as something and they spend their entire careers trying to outrun those comparisons…….I think we’ve finally got to a place where we’ve just thought, fuck it, if people like us for that, we’ll be that pop group people want us to be, you know?
ANDY: There’s a couple of the tracks on the album which refer directly to the personal loss you experienced, are they difficult to write with the obvious emotion that surrounds them?
THOMAS: No, I don’t really have any trouble connecting with that……it’s fuckin' weird though man, losing someone…..and I just lost a friend the other day - he was an old friend, I’d known him for a number of years. He'd had a stroke and was weakened by that, but his death just came completely out of the blue. It’s just……..there’s no words to describe it, but then you do try and process it in some way……being brothers as well, it kind of……I don’t know. It’s very hard to de-construct, so I guess the songs are some way of me trying to make sense of it all…..they say grief takes, what, three years or something for you to really get through? Still, not a day goes by I don’t think about it……I think anyone who even attempts to write about that kind of stuff is still just trying to make sense of it for themselves. You never get to a point where you go, "right, death, I’ve nailed it (laughing) here’s the blue print for how to deal with it". The songs are just me beavering away through those emotions or whatever. You say the record’s a light record, but wouldn't it be a waste to process all that stuff and for the finished record to just come out sounding maudlin. It seemed right that if we were going to pay tribute to someone, or reflect on all that's happened, then we should do it in a positive way - make something out of it rather than just wallowing.
ANDY: You didn’t want to make a Leonard Cohen album basically? (Laughing)
THOMAS: No, but then…….we can’t slag him off because my Auntie will read this (laughing) …she’s a big fan and she's finally going to see him live in October……..I think it's how you choose to tackle it, and I thought for us……I feel like there’s very, very reflective moments on the record, very personal stuff. Yet as a picture, the whole record's quite light, it’s all very positive, despite the subject.
ANDY: Again, that’s one of the key factors - the melancholic feel comes across without going too dark.
THOMAS: We should trademark that, man! That’s our thing - upbeat, poppy music with this sucker punch of melancholia. I don’t know how else to describe it, but that’s basically every record we’ve ever made. (Laughing.)
ANDY: And what do you have coming up over the next few months, gig and festival wise.
THOMAS: We’ve just announced another one - we’re supporting The Levellers at their first Brighton show in fifteen years, this massive gig at The Dome, which is going to be great. We’re confirmed for that…..we’re doing Truck Fest……we’re doing a few other bits, but we’re very much focusing on radio, trying to get the songs out to as many people as possible. We’re also in the process of booking a tour in Autumn - I think we’re playing Sound Control?
ANDY: Yeah, I did see that Manchester date announced.
THOMAS: September some time.
ANDY: Now I know at the moment it’s all things Electric Soft Parade, but I have to just ask you, is there anything in the pipeline with Brakes?
THOMAS: There’s talk of stuff but I can’t really talk about it as I don’t know……Eamon our singer now lives out in New York, I haven’t spoken to him myself, but someone told me he’s now dealing in real estate.
ANDY: Really, That sounds totally bizarre... (Laughing)
THOMAS: But I heard that from someone else - he’s very rarely on e-mail……he’s got three kids, you know? He's married, three kids…….I think he’s one of those people that’ll come back to music at some point, but he’s done a lot of different things, he’s studied fashion, he was a journalist for a number of years before he was in Brakes or British Sea Power…..he’s a bit of a polymath. I think Brakes was him saying what he wanted to say to the world through music, which is a very powerful thing, but it’s almost like once he’d got all that off his chest, he started a family, and has now gone down a very different route……it’s not a closed book, but I certainly can’t see it happening in the near future.
ANDY: I’d love to hear a Brakes punk thrash about the selling of real estate, that would make a great song for the band. (Laughing)
THOMAS: Exactly! (Also laughing) …he’s gathering the tools for the fourth Brakes record as we speak……he was talking about…..what was the music he was getting into…….not Creole, it’s like a weird early 20th century obscure kind of folk…..is it Cajun?……I forget exactly, but he started going on about it the last time we toured - he’d get YouTube up with some bizarre 1930’s recording of a little brass band from New Orleans or something, so fuck knows? (More laughter)....
ANDY: I could imagine Brakes doing something like that, I mean musically you were all over the place with different styles.
THOMAS: Yeah, there was always a lot of nods to country and folk within all the harder stuff.
ANDY: And how about solo material?
THOMAS: I finished writing another record towards the end of last year, and at the moment I’m talking to the label about how we’re going to tackle that, you know…..and Alex has put together his own group which has really taken off now, this kind of rock band with horns - a Spiritualized-esque kind of thing called Interlocutor, which is great, very expressive and quite weird. He came out the back of a long period of writer's block and suddenly all these songs started appearing. It's amazing material, very personal. It's been coming together since around the beginning of the year, and is really taking shape now. We both want to do another ESP record pretty quick though, definitely within the next year or so, make that a more regular thing. We can’t wait six years - it's just not sustainable if you do it once every six years (Laughing.)
ANDY: That’s part of the problem with the music industry - these days it’s so easy for bands and artists to get music out there, if you aren’t around regularly it’s so easy to just fall by the wayside I guess?
THOMAS: No, you have to be prolific……the irony is we never stopped working, we were just doing different things. I think we both really want to focus on ESP, at least on another record in the near future… God knows. Beyond that, there’s no plan. I love the way Field Music keep on splitting up after each record. They seem to make a record, tour it, and then put out an announcement, “we’re not going to be Field Music for a while now". They’re so honest about it - I like that. I think the image of a band, the public image of a group can be sustained by PR or whatever else, but the reality is that bands don’t live in a house together and hang out 24/7, you know what I mean?
ANDY: Absolutely. You’re not The Monkees, are you?
THOMAS: I think people genuinely think bands hang out together all the time when they’re not playing. The reality is that most bands fuckin' hate each other (Laughing) but they’re kind of tied to each other……..I’m saying too much now (More laughter)
Before I could request Thomas to expand further on the general subject of inter band hatred, a member of the Marc Reilly production team appeared, beckoning him inside for yet another excellent session. With brother Alex, The Electric Soft Parade have produced an album worthy a position alongside 'Holes in the Wall' as their best material to date, the melding of emotions and melodies an experience of true musical joy, worthy of much attention reviewed on the site earlier this month.
Interview by Andy Barnes