fiel garvie interview
(22nd January 2001)

Few bands dare to have the courage of their contradictions. Fiel Garvie do. Adam Green, the band's guitar-toting Professor Griff, specialises in economical quotes and revels in the waves of misunderstanding that follow. Mind you, not all of the confusion is of the band's making.Everett True compared them to Tricky. It is tricky to pin Vuka Vuka, the debut album, down but beyond that, and the dark, distracted air that singer Anne Reekie wears like a shawl, it's hard to see quite what True was blathering about. (As ever.)

Fiel Garvie were created from the ashes of Adam and Anne's previous band, Passing Cloud. They've released a single a year for the last four years on their own Foundling label and are now about to see Vuka Vuka set free in the world by Noisebox. It's been a long time coming and you can hear it in the spare, wounded edge to songs like Hold On which tremors like Feargal Sharkey used to or the icy, plucked-string minimalism of early single, Glass-Faced Warrior. Fiel Garvie don't sound like Tricky, they sound like a skeletal PJ Harvey, edgy and not quite cogent, like a band who believe in the power of music but not in the violently skewed system that sees dullards like Embrace doling out meagre scraps of retread and getting handsomely paid.

Vuka Vuka's sleeve notes are peppered with slogans: "Go on, phone in sick," "It is not always what it seems, so use your imagination," "Don't buy stuff, do stuff" and the front cover is a bare-chested bloke lying along a chaise longue, sticking his tongue into a candle's flame. Even the name seems to provoke questions..

Adam: I can see "name" at the top of your list of questions.

Jim: Well, you've made a rod for your own back, haven't you?

A: What, because it's hard?

J: Because the first question is always going to be about the name. I read another interview where you gave three versions of where the name came from, is one of them the right one?

A: Yeah, which do you think it was?

J: I don't think it was the anagram (A Life Giver) 'cos that's too cheesy.. Is it the one about Anne's family name?

A: It is the name that gets given to all the boy children on her father's side of the family get given the middle name Garvie, so we thought we have that in their somewhere. Then we wondered how we could subvert the patronymic tradition, so we thought of Girls Garvie then we came up with Fille Garvie. That sounded all right but it looked really pretentious written down, so we just mis-spelt it.

J: It looks like a character out of Irish mythology.

A: Quite a lot of people have said that. When people see the LP, they can't tell what the band name is and what the title is. They don’t really know what genre it is. It could be anything; it could be world music, some people have said it looks Gothic..

J: That brings me neatly to the second question on my list: why is the chap on the album sleeve licking a candle?

A: [laughs] It was my idea. I suppose I've always liked figurative photographs and I've always been vaguely drawn to S&M-type things as works of art. There isn't a real reason why he's licking the candle but what you could read into it is that old moth around the flame metaphor. What it is you most want is the worst thing for you.

J: A slogan. There appears to be something behind everything you do. Or else you're very good at retrofitting reasons to your actions.

A: It normally does work that way around. Develop the art and work out the secondary text afterwards. If you talk to art students, quite often they'll do their art, which they'll like, then, in order to get established in the art world, they'll have to develop this extraordinarily pretentious secondary text to sit next to the art work in a gallery. I suppose it's a bit playful on our part, we like making up the faux-reasons, but really we just do the things because we do them.

J: I have quite a naïve appreciation of the visual arts. If I like something's form or colour or whatever then I'll like it, but the reasoning behind it often turns me off.

A: I agree.

J: But I wonder what the artist feels if I'm not appreciating their art in the way in which they meant it to be appreciated? The same applies to bands: what do you feel if someone comes to you and says "this is a nice tune" but ignores all the other, deeper, aspects of the band? Is that a problem for you?

A: No, it isn't at all. There's nothing about any of the people in the band that is in any way elitist. There's no way that we'd say "you can't like this." But at the same time, a lot of the things that we do are in some way a celebration of all the base things that go on within pop music. We do want to take the pop music form seriously. We do our stuff seriously and deliberately and we want what we do to have some sort of substance but we understand that there are all sorts of stimuli out there and not everyone has the same receptive apparatus to deal with it in the same way.

J: Why do you ally yourself with pop music? For a long time I thought that everything I listened to was pop music and then I realised that it isn't and not because of the song structures or anything, but just because most people don't listen to it. It's not unlistenable, but even if it got played round the clock on Radio One, people wouldn't listen to it. Your album is exactly that too.

A: It's true. I know what you mean, but what I think.. my concept of pop music is this: that music which is created spontaneously by people without musical training, without any reference to the established institutions that train people to be popular musicians. It's the old definition of low art in the opposition with high art. Basically, we are in the arena of low art but we want to do something which is challenging and allows us to express ourselves. That's why I think it's pop music. Not because it has anything to do with Steps or Embrace or anything like that at all. There used to be quite a serious tradition of pop musicians innovating. If you think of the Beach Boys and Pet Sounds, for example. They came from a strict pop tradition but at some point thought "ah, this is wank.."

J: ..but pop music now isn't pop music then. The definition of pop music changes over time, I suppose. Steps is pop music, or Steps are pop music but it wasn't created spontaneously by three blokes in a garage, it was created with a great deal of calculation by Pete Waterman.

A: I know that, but if you wanted to you could sub-categorise all the aspects of pop music..

J: What I'm getting at is your conception of pop music is some "old" pop music rather than..

A: Quite possibly. Or you could look at it in another way, and this sounds so grand: one of the things we'd like to have a little tiny part in is reclaiming the notion of pop music for people who aren't idiots, basically.

J: [laughs] I didn't want to get into an argument about the semantics of pop music but it seemed strange to me that you'd use the term in reference to yourself.

A: But you define yourself in opposition to other things..

J: ..You said you weren't rock music..

A: Absolutely. I could tell you a million things that we want nothing to do with. One of them would be the commercial product that is Steps. At the same time there's lots of other things that we really don't think there is any value in and one of those is rock music. Here we go..

J: [laughs] Black Sabbath for example. They were revolutionary.

A: So? Just because it was revolutionary doesn't mean it was a good revolution. Everything about it aesthetically just turns me off. I'm just not interested. Culturally, stuff like Black Sabbath was a complete retrograde step. Y'know. Blokes in a band playing really loud, shagging lots of groupies. So fucking what? Same shit, different box.

J: They were, they thought, breaking new ground.

A: To talk about that in the context of art. You're talking about that as if it's art. I'm saying that it's just a bunch of hairy blokes from Birmingham getting pissed and making a loud noise. It's after the fact that people rationalise what they did. If you've ever been in a band, you'll know this: go to any rehearsal room and in nine out of ten there'll be people who basically express nothing though what they do. They're just sticking the various bits of songs together. It's like dance steps.. the singer's looking out the window and the drummer's off on some sort of ego trip. There's nothing to it. There's no substance. It's just by numbers. The music that moves me, I sense has some other motivation than being in a band. Black Sabbath, no matter what they did, whatever they achieved in terms of changing how rock music developed thereafter had no intention of doing it.

J: No, they were trying to get out of the factory. There's an inherent emotion in the first couple of Sabbath records, maybe just the rage, the frustration of being stuck in a factory job.

A: You could say the same thing about the Sex Pistols.

J: So would you put the Sex Pistols in the same bag: the bands you don't want to have anything to do with? I find this hard to grasp: to say something as simplistic as "rock music, I don't want anything to do with it" when, it would be possible to say, you're working in the idiom of rock music yourselves..

A: I just want to make it clear that, one, we are not rock music. You could probably concur with that.

J: In a broad sense, you are. In a narrow sense, you're not. That's the problem I have with those kind of statements.

A: OK, it's like this. The thing which has wound me up the most over the last few years has been the corporatisation of all forms of music. What you get offered to you from the mainstream as alternative music is basically rock music. What I'm saying is that this whole system, this whole way of doing things marginalises and buries other stuff which is much worthier. Including us. That's probably why I'm so hostile to it. I don't think that people are so stupid that if they were introduced to the music of Fiel Garvie that a lot of them wouldn't be moved. But it won't happen because of the system that I've just described. And, I don't like rock music. I think it's a cheap trick.

J: The terms "pop" and "rock" are loaded. To you, when you say them, they mean one thing but to the reader or the listener, it might mean something else altogether.

A: Yeah, perhaps I should take more responsibility for the meanings..

J: ..I'm not suggesting footnotes in your interviews or anything..

A: [laughs]

 

J: Anyway, I wanted to ask you why the other singles are on the album but Colour You isn't.

A: Well, when we came to record the LP we recorded loads of tracks but we wanted the album to feel like a coherent item. So we just permed the songs that we had recorded down to the song that are on the album.

J: It took a long time to make the album The first single was 1996. Why?

A: Money. We've gone through close to 100 songs in that time and at any point we could have recorded an album It was only when we managed to wangle some preposterous deal with a recording studio that we could afford to do it. No art there at all, I'm afraid. It shows that if you've struggled for so long to make the thing, it really was what you wanted to do, it wasn't just a lifestyle decision.

J: One of your quotes went something like "everything else has changed, but we haven’t." How do you think that being in a band has altered since you've been in bands?

A: I think despite the preponderance of new outlets the quality of people's access to new music has deteriorated. So, basically, music which deserves to be heard is ghettoised. I'm not offering you any stunning insights here but one of the things that has happened over the last ten or fifteen years is that old music is now pushed as much as new music. That's had a dreadful effect on bands. Labels realise that recycling their back catalogue is going to make them as much money as supporting a new artist through their career. Another thing which has happened is, I'm going to make a sweeping generalisation here, ten to fifteen years ago the culture of mainstream music production probably defined itself as left-field. Even if the people who were running it were complete wankers, the whole system is still full of the same wankers that it was then, at least the basic orientation was "we're here to make something original and good, good art music."

J: I was thinking more of your personal experiences.

A: Passing Cloud started in 1991. I've always been in bands that have had a reasonable degree of success in the music press. The first Passing Cloud single had a Single of the Week in Melody Maker. We did a gig in London and it was packed. The next single had a SotW in Melody Maker and NME; the next London gig was half full. The second single with Fiel Garvie had a SotW in Melody Maker. Do a gig in London and no-one turns up. We're in a situation where we know that our ways of getting through to our audience via a medium that we trust has diminished.

J: Do you think it's the medium that's the problem or that people aren't interested in the medium? I don’t think that people trust the medium any more. The NME isn’t trying to report what's good to listen to. It's agenda has shifted to ensuring that it stays in business and the way to do that is write up the bands on labels that advertise.

A: I think that people who are interested in challenging music will seek it out. It's like the Socialist Worker party. There will always be 4000 people in it. For some reason.

J: But those people don't read the NME any more.

A: No, I think there's been a much wider cultural change while I've been in bands. A lot of the people that I've been in bands with, if they were starting out now, wouldn't make challenging music in a rock band format. [laughs] Or a pop band format. They'd do it on their own in their bedrooms with technology. So there's been a cultural change amongst people who are interested in interesting music. There's also been a change in young people. You were a student long enough to realise that students today aren't what they were 15-20 years ago. They're blinkered, they've swallowed the whole system in one go. I think that reflects itself in the populist taste. To a certain extent, and I hate to say this, people have got the shit that they've deserved and unfortunately that has resulted in a lot of music being marginalised.

There's a problem with the internet as well. The culture there isn't a culture of content, it's a culture of repackaging. That' filtered its way through a lot of people who would otherwise be interested in producing something like a fanzine. Their idea now is that they don't have to write anything new, they can just "borrow" it. I think that's rubbish.

 

J: Let's talk about the music for a minute.

A: [laughs].

J: Everett True compared you to Tricky.

A: Yeah, hilarious isn't it?

J: Organ did as well. I don't know whether Sean was just picking up what's in your press but I found it very difficult to see the connection with Tricky. Maybe an air of paranoia at times..

A: It's a bit dark, a bit difficult for most people, a bit clanky.

J: But Tricky comes from a hip hop direction at everything he approaches.

A: Did you see the documentary about him a couple of years ago? He went back to his school and the bloke is completely off the wall. He had a keyboard in front of him and he was making this completely unlistenable noise and going "yeah, this is fucking brilliant" and these kids were looking at him. Here's this pop star and they couldn't believe the racket he was making. So there's a bit of that in us: we're going to make this noise and fuck you.

J: It's a lazy comparison to make, but PJ Harvey is almost the only reference point for a female-fronted band doing something interesting along your lines. Anne's not here to ask, but does that frustrate her?

A: Yeah, to a certain extent. I'm trying to think who she admires amongst women who make music. Bjork is the only one I can think of. The PJ Harvey [sniffs] comparison comes up often because of the seemingly scary nature of some of the lyrics and the vocals sound a bit tortured.

J: And serious too. You think that PJ Harvey means what she's saying and you feel the same about Fiel Garvie.

A: Yes.

J: If I was to push you, how would you describe the band?

A: Erm. It's..

J: It's hard?

A: Erm, your adjectives would be: melancholy, arty, pop music. I couldn't say "we sound like that," because we don't. If we have any aim it's that we invented a way of sounding like Fiel Garvie.

 

J: The album is called Vuka Vuka, which means "wake up". Is that "wake up people, we are your saviours" or "wake up people, clean out your ears"?

A: It's like "wake up and smell the coffee."

J: I wanted to ask you about the slogans, because I've got a problem with slogans. They're great because they attract attention, but by their nature they over-simply, they're trite and you have to compromise the message.

A: Yes.

J: So "Don't buy stuff, do stuff." Does that extend to not buying your record?

A: [laughs] I suppose so.

J: You'd rather someone started a band, spent 15 quid buying guitar strings or something?

A: There are degrees of this. I suppose that had we had the space to write it down, what we would have said was "If you're feeling a bit miserable with your life; you've got a dull job or you haven't got a job or whatever, don't try and cheer yourself up by going to fucking B&Q and buying yourself a new wall unit. Make something of your own." There's a little bit of Situationism in there, isn't there. Like "Go on, phone in sick."

J: But you can't go wrong with that one.

A: That was nicked from a phone box when I was a student in Bristol. Some anarchist had just put a sticker on the phone: "Go on, phone in sick."

J: I wanted to ask about the lyrics. Which is more important: to express something, or to get a message across? Or both?

A: I think, in the kind of band we are, you necessarily do use it as a medium of expression. It's then very tempting to go on to the next clause of the argument which is, well, it's a bonus if anyone else likes it.

J: I wasn't going to pursue you down that path.

A: Well, we do take responsibility for the meanings that we convey. So, I think Anne's choice of words will initially be motivated by trying to express herself but then she'll reign herself in to try and make it easier to understand. There is ambiguity in what she sings, but they're genuine ambiguities, not artful ones. I remember in the past we were thinking "wouldn't it be great to do a whole song where the lyrics were just the language from Clockwork Orange." But we junked it. What's the fucking point? We'd have just sounded like the Cocteau Twins. There is an element to what we do that does rely on people "getting it." Otherwise why bother? We'd just make tapes and play them to ourselves.

A sorry thought. Fiel Garvie are not pop music (trust me on this one) and they really do want you to buy their records. Don't believe their hype.

Vuka Vuka is released next month on Noisebox. You can buy it direct from the band at www.fielgarvie.co.uk


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