Tuesday, October 26, 2010

BROADCAST NEWS - An interview with James Cargill of BROADCAST

With a love of experimental electronic pop that can be described as both ardent and consistent, JAMES CARGILL of British group BROADCAST sets ANDY HAZEL straight on the difficulties of inhabiting so structured and well-realised a world.

From an English country town, down an appropriately crackly and delayed phone line, comes the Brummie brogue of James Cargill, a man once a fifth and now half of electro multimedia group Broadcast. Resolutely British middle class in his recurring mention of monetary thrift and expense, and constantly in love with the escapades offered by an obsession with West Coast 1960s electronic experimentalism, Cargill and bandmate Trish Keegan have spent the last 15 years building a name associated with a resolute aesthetic.

Unusually for such a successful band there is one sole album that inspired their formation; the 1967 self-titled album by Californian experimental band The United States of America. 15 years ago Keegan described it as ‘a bible’, some things don’t change. “Yeah, I’ve never felt like it’s an album I’ve outgrown,” says Cargill with enthusiasm. “What they were trying to achieve with that record is still what I’d like to achieve; a balance of experimental song structure and electronic textures. It’s a great model for a band.”

Pursuing an unobtainable goal such as this is certainly a model for longevity and it's a path that has taken its toll on the band when it comes to members. “It’s just been me and Trish for a few years now,” he explains slowly. “People have always come and gone, me and Trish have always held it together. When we lost Roj [Stevens, keyboards], it was a bit of a blow. When we started, it was me, Trish and Roj. You can make it work…you have to work when someone leaves. You have to have a new project and change the sound of things,” he says in a tone that suggests things didn’t end amicably. “I think we’ve moved on from the Tender Buttons album,” he continues airily, “which we made just the two of us. Making that record we thought we didn’t need a drummer anymore, and being without one is isn’t too hard you know. I really like the sound of working with a drummer but suddenly it became difficult to work with them, and expensive. I would like to work with a drummer again, as long as they don’t charge anything.”

Drums weren’t an issue on Broadcast’s most recent album, which they made with long-time friend, artist and founder of British experimental magicians The Focus Group, Julian House. “We said we’d always do something together,” says Cargill of their collaborative effort Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age album. “Julian’s first ever record sleeve was our first ever single, so we had that history, and we’re so good at working with him. That album took us one month to do, it was the quickest thing we’ve ever done; which was weird because we’re so used to spending years on things,” he says jovially. “We’ll do some of it live, we try and integrate it with the other stuff we’re doing, and it can be difficult when it’s just the two of us as we have to bear in mind we can’t achieve what’s on the record.”

Through a famously laissez faire arrangement with their label Warp Records, the band have the freedom to move at their own pace. Starting out amidst the full-force of Britpop and lingering polished grunge, Broadcast were a beam from a cleaner, colder time, partly retro, partly futuristic. “At that time when we started there was a big period of guitar music," says Cargill evenly. "It was a pretty flat landscape, though there was a burgeoning electronic thing that really appealed to me. Part of that, was a bit of a Moog thing going on, like Stereolab and Beck as well. In interviews, they were name-checking a lot of records I really liked. Me and Julian used to go to record fairs at the time and discovered records by Bruce Hark, Silver Apples, The United States of America, Neu and so on. They were real outsiders but they were still trying to make pop records with different effects and textures - not kitsch throwaway pop - it still had a solid part to it and I wanted to start a band which brought together these textures and sounds.”

The band’s gradual evolution and icebergmanesque disintegration is not born from a lack of inspiration or work ethic, as Cargill explains slowly, “writing and playing in a band...it can be a painful thing to do. It’s hard to labour over something for so long. It is difficult a lot of the time. The idea with any art is to do it quickly and move on. The idea we had when we started still feels valid to us, the integration of song, form, texture, and electronic sounds. I do hear music that I think is kind of detailed like ours now and then, and it is important to me to make a habit of listening to new stuff. Me and Julian talked about this recently when we were listening to Dolphins Into the Future and Ducktails and Ariel Pink, we were asking 'how would you make that music as British band'? It would probably end up sounding like Doctor Who; it’d be brilliant. We talked about forming a band like that but instead of doing it you end up drifting off. It’s difficult when you’ve been around a while," he says slightly despondently, "because you don’t want to lose the aesthetic of things." 
Long a part of the both their influences as well as their own style is the effect of visual art and projections and art work accompanying their live shows. “We do have projections, we do them ourselves,” Cargill adds. “We used to have a projectionist but it got too expensive.”

With songs already featuring in films such as Morvern Callar and 21, there is clearly a strong influence of cinema on the band’s music and in return, the projections do more than just hark back to West Coast psychedelia. Their suitability for visual accompaniment begs the question 'why the band doesn’t feature more frequently in film soundtracks?', which elicits Cargill's most enthusiastic response yet. “It’s funny you should mention soundtracks actually, because we’ve just been talking about working with the guy who directed the film Katalina Varga [Peter Strickland]. His new film is about an Italian film studio and a British guy who goes to work on a soundtrack. There are elements of an occult in the film, and it soon becomes a film-within-a-film scenario. We’ve been asked us to work on that film within the film, to bring some elements into that. I absolutely loved Katalina Varga, but this new one is quite different to that.” Sounds perfect.

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