Broadcast: Ha Ha Sound, Warp Records - Interview with Trish Keenan and James Cargill


The Broadcast Crew; Trish Keenan, James Cargill, and Tim Felton

The English band Broadcast came out with a killer EP this spring. Their new album, "Ha Ha Sound" is due out this August. Don't be dissapointed if it doesn't deliver the laughs you may expect-this may be the most beautifully creepy album this side of "My Bloody Valentine," and the 80's.

Aaron Reed: You've really nailed down a signature sound for “Ha Ha Sound.” How has technology changed your music, as compared to your album “The Noise Made By People,” or your other EPs?

Trish Keenan: We used pretty much the same methods as last time, but I think our attitudes changed towards recording, and that's probably what caused the progression in sound.

AR: A very cool and unique thing about you is the drums and live percussion on your recordings. Do you foresee delving into electronic percussion in the future, or is that simply out of the question?

T: Nothing's out of the question! We've already used electronic percussion here and there...
James Cargill: But if you're talking about 909 kick drums all over the place, we're probably not ready for that yet. I still hear possibilities in a good old drum kit.

AR: You mention the strong influence of cinema on your work, is film-scoring something you'd ever do/be interested in?

T: We have a video shop close by that stocks loads of European films. We record a lot of the soundtracks to mini-disc, you know, soundtracks that never got released, and then edit them together with bits of dialogue and background sound. They always sound great, in fact I've even started recording soundtracks I already have in this way. It sounds better than the official releases, there's more atmosphere. I think cinema has become more and more important to us because we have access to so many great films. I remember when we rented “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.” That was incredible, and we didn't really know what to expect before we saw it.

J: No, we don't really have an ambition to score a film.

AR: There's a lot of post-production that goes into your recordings. How do you bring that sound on the road into a live setting?

J: I think we strip it down a bit, obviously we can't recreate the album on stage and probably wouldn't want to.

T: We sample some of the electronic sound and the guitar makes up some of it, Tim plays a lot of percussive sound on his guitar.

AR: What's a cool English slang word to use to describe you guys?

J: Proper Bo!

AR: Situationism plays a big part in Stereolab's creative process, and even though I can think of no real reason to compare them to you (ha!), is Situationism at all a part of your life/music/beliefs?
T&J: (No response)

AR: Your recordings seem like the result of painstaking hours of fine-tuning the perfect, pre-determined sound. But for real . . . you come across some of that stuff by accident right? Or I guess the real question is: How big a part does improvisation play in your songwriting/soundmaking?

J: I suppose we aim for a kind of structural precision in our arrangements but I wouldn't like to have an absolute idea of every sound and musical part before we've even started.

T: For us, as with most musicians, everything starts with a moment of inspired improvisation, and those moments come more frequently with practice. However, there has to be a shaping process, a period of carving out the possibilities of harmony and structure.

J: I think that over the years we've learned to balance the two and develop the confidence to let them work together.

AR: On your bio, you list influences such as The United States of America along with composers like Ennio Morricone. Who's making music today that's encouraging or inspiring you? (or, the simple version-who's in your CD player right now?)

T: Circle, “Prospekt”

AR: Who is Julian from Intro, and how does someone become the graphic artist for all of Broadcast's releases?

T: Julian House is a long time friend of the band, James met him at college in Wales. Julian did the first Broadcast release (“Accidentals” on Wurlitzer Jukebox Records '96). In fact, Julian did our first and only demo cover too, so we started out at exactly the same time. He has since then gone on to become a pretty successful sleeve artist. We have always considered Ju to be the invisible member of the band; he is also a great source of inspiration . . .

AR: I see that you are coming to Southpaw in Brooklyn in October. That's close to my house. Do you want to come over?

T: err . . . I'm not sure, we've heard some bad things!

AR: From your experience on tour, which crowds are cooler, American or European? (it's okay to say American . . .)

J: American crowds are very vocal, I like the way a person will just holler when he's just heard something he likes. Can't say I've ever heard a girl shout anything yet, but I'll keep my ears open.

AR: Has this interview changed you in any significant way?

T&J: Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO
I guess Ziwzih Ziwzih is really the only way to talk about this album. It begins with a voice: “I am grey, still on the page Oh color me in.” But the thing is, they don't. The whole album stays just about the same color. I'm not sure if it's really grey though, maybe more of a taupe or a maroon.
This record is good, and not only for fans of those two colors. Broadcast harnesses their sound, shakes it around, plays catch with it, and then reads it a bedtime story. The result is almost a sonic “blue period”-or better-an eerily comforting carousel ride through space: any sense of danger is reassured by the cheerful drunken carnival music, slinking in and out as it heedlessly spins on its uncharted course. The vocalist, Trish Keenan is the solitary, lamenting voice amidst the chaos. Perched atop the carousel, she reminds us why it's okay to miss our high school sweetheart, and not to lose hope, because Pop will someday save the world.

Album Cover

The sing-songy chanteuse is one of two anchors in the band who are keeping Broadcast's material in the realm of the “known”. The drums make up the other half. Even though Broadcast are knee deep in electronics-living, breathing rhythm remains a constant throughout; invoking a strange sort of noir-jazz-Krautrock.

Not unlike early Krautrock experiments, this leaves room for Tim Felton (guitar) and James Cargill (bass) to explore lesser-known sonic territory, not without the help of the rest of the group on a great many analog synths and modelers. The basic formula is not really new. Mixing Pop with Avant-Garde works better as an ironic cliché these days-and there is certainly plenty of irony layered into the record. Too many Pop experiments go sour when random sampling and electro-noodling occur. But “Ha Ha Sound” is not a slap-dash marriage of melodies and spastic Pro Tools effects. It's sheer mood-effectively deserting this innocent vocalist into the unknown: heavily diluted with space fuzz and chocolate milk. No one has ever been here before.

The highlight of the album, and also the title of their recent EP, is “Pendulum”. A relentless, tripped out beat that would have you singing about a white rabbit if it weren't getting all “Time of the Season” up in between the beats. It's the most amount of energy this group is about to expose in a single track, and it rocks. The music to follow is comparably subtle and understated. “Lunch Hour Pops” opens like a flowing, underwater music box. A mesmerizing harp surges along with the subdued, tribal rhythm. Noises become less and less muffled, drawing closer as the hook comes in, “Let the balloons go outside, let the balloons go outside.” The song has shifted from the submerged to the airborne without batting an eye. “Hawk” is the album's chilling outro-a shower in an analog wonderland, as electronics spew fuzz in agony, shorting out one by one. It's a hallow ending, and perfectly suited for an album like this. The carousel has stopped, it's time to step off and get back to the real world.

“Ha Ha Sound” is an intensely unique achievement any way you slice it. In a world of seemingly limitless manufactured sounds, it is refreshing to find a group so firmly established in their own hand-tailored sonic identity.

Aaron Reed Brooklyn

New York