International airports probably contribute more to boring, characterless, heterogeneous architecture than any other class of buildings. Except domestic airports. Intended only for the transient passage of humankind they need make no concessions to aesthetics, spurn comfort and beauty in favour of easy-to-clean and soul-destroying functionality and try to hide their bald mundanity behind the odd potted plant, strip of colourful carpet or mirrored column. None of which would be too bad if the airlines didn't make passengers turn up hours before a flight and then provide only expensive versions of high street stores masquerading as boutiques and cardboard recycling plants masquerading as restaurants for entertainment. When this is the primary impression, the brand image, of international airports why would anyone want to associate themselves with it? Why on earth would anyone call their band International Airport? Tom Crossley, a player in renowned Scottish underachievers The Pastels and Appendix Out and now the man behind International Airport, tells us below.
The debut album, Nothing We Can Control, is the antithesis of the clinical, emotionally-detached arrival and departure buildings and the muzak that is piped through them.It's a feast of low-key moments that somehow morph into up-beat moments, produced by Tortoise's John McEnture and characterised by the subdued ticking intro to De Menging Van Bruin En Groen that imbues the tune with a stark loneliness that is slowly eroded by simple piano and xylophone motifs and the occasional feminine giggle. Slowly more is added to the mix and, five minutes after it began, it ends almost cheerfully like the High Llamas.
Airports are so bland and devoid of character, why would you want to associate yourself with them?
Tom: I guess I don't see them as bland, I see them as more fascinating. A place from which you go somewhere else, a departure point. When I hear the name I think of going somewhere exotic, a gateway. I really like that record, Music For Airports, and that colours my interpretation of the whole airport thing.
I reckon more people have got my interpretation than yours!
T: Yeah, yeah! [laughs] I've just been on holiday and it was a complete nightmare.
Is Eno's Music For Airports something of an influence, then?
T: I don't actually know much of his stuff. There's Music For Airports and Music For Films, the mid-to-late 70s stuff. I don't particularly like the earlier records but there are some great tracks which definitely did contribute soundwise. Stuff off Taking Tiger Mountain. I'm not particularly into the Glam Rock thing.
People like Brian Eno and Steve Reich always seemed to have a theory behind the music. Music For Airports was a tape experiment, for example. Is there anything equivalent to that on the album?
T: The album kind of came together over a long period of time, it was recorded over a year, so the approach was changing all the time. I didn't have an idea that I wanted to realise. The people playing on it weren't the same people on every track, it wasn't a collective performance or anything, it was pieced together. I didn't have a plan for it. I like Music For Airports or Music For 18 Musicians.. we went to see a performance of some Steve Reich stuff and it was totally amazing. I'm interested in that sort of approach but I don't know whether I would ever adopt it.
I'm not into that Math Rock thing, but I think the combination of mathematics and music can produce some really beautiful results. Math Rock is awful, though, and has got nothing to do with it.
I'll come on to John McEntire in a minute..
T: [laughs] I don't think he does Math Rock!
It's a flexible term.. While we're still on the International theme, there's a line in Gold Strike: "although my heart's in Glasgow, my genes were made in California." Is that you?
T: I guess that's me. I just thought.. I just liked the line. It is me. I live in Glasgow, I'm married to someone in Glasgow but I've got a pair of Levis..
So it's "jeans", not "genes"?
T: Yeah, jeans.
I got the wrong idea, then. I was thinking international, but you don't sound very American..
T: I didn't see that at all. That's quite interesting.
Who else played on the album with you? I know a Stephen played, is that Stephen Pastel?
T: No, he co-wrote most of the tracks and hasn't really done anything before. He was in a band called Loose Mary who had a couple of singles. The people you might have heard of are Ali from Appendix Out, Annabel from the Pastels and then just a few of the people from Glasgow who don't really have that much else to do with music.
It's quite a different sound from Appendix Out and the Pastels. Is that because it's you rather than a band?
T: Yeah, definitely. I haven't actually played on any Pastels records. I've done a couple of Appendix Out albums, but there I'm just bringing my ideas to someone else's song whereas this.. I get to tell people what to do. I found it very hard to do. I ended up doing a lot of the record on my own for various reasons. People moved away during the time the record was done and what originally started out as a collaboration between me and Stephen turned into my thing, and I did find it really hard to do it on my own. I was glad that other people helped me out. I didn't really tell them what to do, they just brought something else into it.
How much influence on the final sound did John McEntire have?
T: We took the tapes and he mixed it. He didn't really add anything. He was just adding filters and that. We didn't record any stuff with him.
Did he take anything out? One of the beauties of his music is the lack..
T: Yeah, he did. I know that Tortoise seem to record in a similar way to what we did. They don't seem to record live performances, they just build things up and see what comes out. John seemed to leave a lot of the stuff we'd recorded as it was and he just maybe changed the texture of some of the sounds, to make it a bit more open. Maybe he thought some of it was too crowded. I definitely think he did a good job, so he did have an influence on the sound of the record.
You're not too precious about your music, then?
T: Oh no. I wouldn't want to take it to someone else and say "you've got control over mixing" if I was going to keep stopping them every five minutes and tell them how to do it.
How did McEntire get involved?
T: The guy that's putting out the record in America is involved with Thrill Jockey so he had a connection with Tortoise and then John. Originally, John was going to do a couple of remixes but it turned out that the way we recorded it (onto hard disc), John was one of the few people that we knew that had the same set-up as us. I didn't want to mix it where I'd recorded it so it seemed like one of the most viable solutions if he was going to have something to do with the final thing. It came together really easily.
And which label is putting it out in the States?
T: Overcoat. They started off as a 7" label called All City and we did a single with them. They had to change their name cos of some legal thing so it's Overcoat that's doing the album. They're doing a Kingsbury Manx album licensed to City Slang in Europe, but they haven't done much stuff so far.
When you said it was hard to record the album on your own, why was that?
T: I don't know. I had a lot of stuff going on at the time I was doing it. I was in the final year at university and it was hard to fit time in to go to the studio but, apart from that, I do find other people's opinions helpful. I guess I don't feel that sure of my own input. More things seem to happen if I do stuff with other people.
It feels like a very honest record, it feels like you "mean it" and that's often difficult to get out.
T: Well, it was pretty direct. I know a lot of people don't agree with the idea of recording in layers. They say that if you want something to be honest it should be live down on to tape. I didn't really have the idea originally to put everything straight down. It might only have been one instrument to begin with and then built up.
It feels like a stripped-down to nothing country music record. You can almost imagine a house full of hicks somewhere quietly playing music like this..
T: Yeah. That was kind of the way it started originally. The people that played in the band when we played live weren't that proficient on their instruments. It was more the case that because they wanted to play they got an instrument and tried to make it work. I don't really know too much about country music but I've been listening to a lot of old American folk songs recently. It's like really basic instrumentation and really basic sentiment. I'm glad if it came across like that.
Is there a joke in A Vale of Twisted Sendal?
T: Yeah, I got confused when I heard the phrase. It actually is veil. I think it's from a Walter Scott novel. My wife was illustrating it for a magazine and she happened to say that phrase because it sounded weird and I thought it was vale as in valley.
Again on the linguistic side. You called the album Nothing We Can Control. Is that the way music come out, or the way people listen, or life or what?
T: I guess it's more to do with the music than life. It's to do with the way that music comes out of the people who make it. It's definitely more of a personal thing than other people's reactions to it. When I heard the Broadcast album title [The Music Made By People] it reminded me of the same thing. It's just a way of describing the music on the record.
Honesty again. Nothing We Can Control is more than just the music made by some people. It's a beautiful recording of glacial clarity and gentle movement but full of underplayed emotion. Contact Tom at firstname.lastname@example.org or look the band up on the web: www.internationalairport.co.uk
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