We recently highlighted the upcoming deluxe archival reissue from The Boats. Copies have been selling fast with only eight now available (pre-order here). Brendan Moore recently caught up with Craig and Andrew to dig a little deeper into The Boats history…
Genre labels aren’t too easy to pin on your music – nor do they seem something you’re even interested in – but putting the music into the context of what was going on around the time of ‘Songs by the Sea’ in 2004, The Boats could have slotted into the IDM or folktronica genres. Were IDM or folktronica jumping off points for you guys at the time?
I don’t think genre is something we have ever discussed, or even have any interest in. We were fortunate that our first album came out against the established backdrop of the Remote Viewer and as such had access to an audience. However, I feel it was the people in the background that influenced what we were doing.
Genre is something I personally associate with popular culture where an established set of rules for entertainment is codified and copied until it runs out of appeal, to then be replaced by another set of conventions. We have never been interested working in this method towards mass appeal, always wanting to satisfy ourselves before anyone else. Not that we created these albums in total cultural isolation, there was of course influences on our work but never from one specific place or time.
For me genres are just there for music shops and magazines, a way of cataloguing things. I have no real interest in them at all and I find the whole sub-genre thing a little silly.
I think the basic ones cover it, you know, rock, pop, classical, jazz, electronica etc…
I feel comfortable sitting in electronica, regardless of the instruments used in it, it is more about the equipment used to record it and the editing of the music.
Looking back at these early recordings, was there an element of feeling each other out to find the common ground or did the music always feel fully realized to you guys?
The basic tracks for the first album were recorded live (which we would then work over or disregard) this gave the early sessions a real immediacy that was exciting. When going through the archive, it was astonishing the amount of material we recorded for ‘Songs By The Sea’ – about 50 tracks in all! So I suspect a lot of the ‘feeling out’ was done at that time. ‘We Made It For You’ was a totally different process as we worked separately.
We would pass the odd file over and make suggestions on each other’s material over lunch, but didn’t recorded together at all. This worked, as neither of us has ever been overly precious about our individual contribution to certain tracks, our concern has always been about the whole existing as something separate from ourselves. I think this is a reason we have been able to collaborate together for so long. From ‘Tomorrow Time’ onwards we have employed the middle ground to these two methods.
I think we all have a background to our sound, ideas on how we write, record and produce music, we have specific equipment we work with as well a musical history in our listening.
When you start with a new collaborator for the first time you are forced to be open to new things and re-evaluate your own processes to see what actually works and what doesn’t. In many ways, it helps you focus on how you work, how you judge things and this tends to lead to new sounds and ideas.
It is always an exciting time, I think what makes a good collaborator is that openness, someone who doesn’t just want to shunt two sounds together, but is will to forge a new way from both histories.
It always felt and still feels like this when we are working together, and I think this is what has helped our music shift over the years.
If you trace the various iterations/exploratory phases for the Boats there is something to be said for sectioning your career thus far by using labels as markers – Moteer, Our Small Ideas, Other Ideas – was there something to that as you started thinking about what to include here? Are the Moteer years a sort of chapter/phase for you guys?
The Moteer years are in some way the most pure in a gesamkunstwerk sense. We had total control over every aspect of the work without any compromise. When working with other labels certain aesthetic compromises had to be reached. The three albums do stand as an arc of work and a foundation that all our other permutations have been built upon.
We also receive more mail about reissuing these albums on vinyl than any other so they seem to have a special place in other people’s record collections too. It’s gratifying to know that our fans have had so much enjoyment from these albums for all this time.
Looking back, it does feels like we had different phases which fell in line with labels, but I think that the labels moved with broader trends on how music was released.
We were very lucky with moteer:: and the support given from Baked Goods/Boomkat, both financially and the freedom to do what we wanted artistically.
I think Our Small Ideas came at a time when this type of set up was falling apart, the whole cd/digi pack set up was being attacked by the mp3 download, so it seemed natural if you wanted to still release a physical item that it needed to be in lower numbers and more unique.
So the whole hand-made, self-release era came in.
It allowed people to take even more creative control of how the release would look. There was no plan, I think we just always want to be making music and releasing and when you have that you find a way.
The Boats has always been about deconstruction for me and it’s a theme that plays out in all your solo guises as well. Jumble from ‘We Made it for you’ is probably one of the most direct songs you’ve ever written and the rest of the album is sort of about taking beats and piano and intertwining to create rhythmic melodic concoctions. Was that an album for you where you felt like getting settled into what The Boats was going to be?
‘We Made It For You’ is I think our most popular album, maybe because of it’s sentimental title or because we seemed to catch the ‘year of the piano’ zeitgeist. I’m not sure it personally marked the point where I realized we were a band that was working towards a larger body of work. At the time we didn’t even think of it becoming our second album it was just an idea we were playing around with.
‘Tomorrow Time’ for me is when I think we were comfortable with the idea of being a band. Personally it is my favorite album from this period as it acted as a turning point for us, it consolidated a lot of ideas from the first two albums but sewed the seeds for our future work.
No, is the simple answer.
It is odd, the albums, looked at retrospectivity, appear that we switched sounds and styles each time, but really there is much more morphing of the sounds, there is always a lot of music taking place between the albums, either as the boats or solo projects.
So there are no harsh jumps.
I think shifts in sounds are more influenced by the music we would be listening to, the books we are reading and the films we are consuming.
I could not say there was a time when it felt settled, this idea of what the boats would be, I have always hoped the boats would not be one thing, but would always progress and shift. That is where the fun is.
There’s always been traces of your past in everything you do but The Boats is and always has been evolving, so what’s it like to actually go back and live with these songs again even just to put together a package like this? Do you still feel a connectedness between your current musical selves and the version of your musical selves that created songs?
I had not listened to these albums for years as most of my time is spent working on new material. It was when we received the new masters back that I went through them in sequence. There was enough distance from when we made these records that I could almost hear them fresh without any ownership.
It was strangely enjoyable albeit with a sense of relief that they haven’t aged that badly. I think the feeling of relief went for Craig too as when we met with Miles over coffee to approve the masters that was what we all agreed on, that they now have a strange sheen of ‘classic-ness’ that comes with the passing of time.
I too don’t really listen back to music once it is released. I think you become so involved when actually recording that you over-hear the music. It takes a long time to be able listen back objectively. The most interesting things to hear are the outtakes and lost bits that have been going towards compilations elements of the box.
These bits are truly forgotten and they bring back a lot of happy memories and some surprises, sometimes wondering why we disregarded one track over another.
I do feel a connectedness to all the music that has been made as the boats, as mentioned in the previous question, the shift from one lp to another, from one style to another is much more fluid for me, the lp’s are just bullet points in the that history, small snapshots of a bigger picture.