THEY DON’T MAKE IT EASY ON THEMSELVES
Brighton duo Peepholes are self-saboteurs. In a musical climate where the forecast is ‘you should be so lucky’, Katia Barrett and Nick Carlisle tussle not with the terminally ill music machine for pays and lays like the rest but with themselves. “Musician” has become a gruelling profession in an age of zero record sales and digital saturation, and Peepholes have always made it that little bit harder on themselves.
“Our band works around us,” explains Katia (or Kat). “We never got a third person, which would have been easier, we just kept trying to make things louder ourselves and different. We’re starting to finally sound like there’s more than two people in the band now.”
“Our setup is a drumkit and then one musical source, if you like, which is a keyboard that only plays one note at a time,” continues Nick “so there’s a hell of a lot of restriction, and that’s obviously a bit of a challenge. Even if you do have some musical idea that you want to express you probably won’t be able to on that setup anyway, so you have to work against your best wishes and see what comes out.”
Kat and Nick met in Brighton and have been playing as a pair for the last four years, although “it feels like we’ve only been getting going within the last year,” says Nick “not just in terms of the small bit of attention that we’re getting but in terms of our sound coming together.” Surprisingly, this is their first interview, conducted in a backroom of a north London pub.
“It’d be unfair to introduce someone to this,” smiles Kat, explaining why they didn’t simply get a third member to fill out Peepholes’ sound. “We’re like weird siblings who squabble a lot. It’d be horrible for someone else to have to pick a side.”
“No matter what we’ve sounded like in the past, we’ve always sounded like there isn’t really enough going on, and I like that,” says Nick. “That’s my main reason to be resistant to introducing someone else, because the moment it becomes the standard guitar, bass and drums, it becomes hard to sound new. Or new to me anyway.”
The self-sabotage is more a case of self-discipline, really; a necessity that’s finally lead the band to their current sound – a mixture of static-surfing analogue synth chords, self-taught, tom-heavy drums and caterwaul vocals, not unlike the sounds found on early Gentle Friendly EP’s, which perhaps points to why ‘Kingdom’, Peepholes’ new mini album, is being released on 12” by Upset The Rhythm.
“We actually started out as a very quiet band,” laughs Nick. “We had this Chinese violin. And the whole thing is, the space that you’re in dictates what kind of music you make, and we were in Kat’s bedsit, so we couldn’t keep people awake. It was once we started using rehearsal rooms that it changed and we turned it up.”
“I used to play drums on this Yamaha pad thing,” says Kat. “I’d never played drums before. I won it on Ebay and I’m sure there were two other people bidding on it. One of them was Mary something and I’m sure it was a mum buying it for her son, and I pinched it at the last second. I’m really proud of that buy.”
“The first year we were properly doing this it was guitar and drums,” continues Nick “and then the second year we went through effects pedals…”
“No, we went through the Casio thing…” says Kat.
Nick: “Oh yeah, so that was another year, and then probably 2009 we started using my old analogue synth and came across a chaos pad…”
Kat: “I think once we settled on instruments – because we’d swap around all the time – then it became what it is now.”
‘Kingdom’ is a record worth four years of experimentation. It sounds weird and otherworldly and rhythmic and playful. And – in its closing seven minutes and twenty-five seconds called ‘Carnivore’ – it sounds deafeningly destructive and more than a little insane. It does not sound like the conventional drums and guitar Peepholes we first heard a year or so ago. It does not sound conventional at all, which helps explain – along with the fact that Kat now lives in London – why Peepholes haven’t been shovelled in the current Brighton DIY scene.
“That’s more garagey,” says Kat “which has come back in a big way… They [chief promoters Sex Is Disgusting] are friends of ours but I dunno, reliving the garage thing…” Kat trails off. “I feel like we’re going against something a little bit, just at the moment.”
“This is a little bit boring,” announces Nick “but it is to do with our instrumentation. Even if we wanted to sound like those bands, and I’m sure we’re influenced by them in some way – I mean, I like a lot of them – we couldn’t possibly anyway, because we’ve got a synth.”
And there’s the fact that your songs don’t remotely follow a verse/chorus structure. That sets Peepholes apart, and plants a foot closer to dance music in many respects. And, in amongst all the clicking of drum sticks and wall of static, ‘Kingdom’ feels a bit emotional somehow. It’s just a little difficult to decide what emotions are in there.
“Oh it has its moments,” laughs Kat. “It has all of its moments.”
“It’s definitely not brooding,” rules Nick. “It’s not Joy Division… I think it’s emotionless.”
Kat: “Really!? ‘Carnivore’ is full of emotion.”
Nick: “Is it? I think it’s full of events.”
Kat: “Emotional events.”
Nick: “I don’t know if they’re events of the human heart. It’s architecture. It’s buildings falling over… ‘Sleep In the Shower’ is pretty happy. I would say it’s upbeat and destructive.”
As with any new band these days – lest we not forget the “age of zero record sales” – playing live is a big part of Peepholes life, and it’s something they’re getting more… err… ‘serious’ about.
“Nick’s moving a little more than he used to now,” says Kat.
“I was just so frightened before,” he nods “just of what Kat was going to do at any point in the set. What we do is – well, every fifth show we do – we finish a song an hour before and then play it out. What they don’t know tonight is what they can expect is that from the second song we’re probably going to fall apart.”
Ok, not ‘sabotage’ and not ‘serious’. Confident. Peepholes are getting more confident at playing live.
“It used to be a lot more slapstick,” notes Kat. “There’s more pouting, and I’m always wary of my ‘drum mouth’, which I think is like this…” Kat freezes in a drumming pose and sticks out her chin.
“It’s like you’re always about to say something but don’t,” says Nick.
“We used to wear masks sometimes,” says Kat “but every outfit we’d wear would be plagued with disaster.”
“We played this show dressed in these jellyfish costumes we’d made,” explains Nick. “Well, I say jellyfish, it wasn’t like they looked that much like jellyfish.”
Kat: “I spent ages on those, they DID look like jellyfish.”
Nick: “Well, I thought it looked like we were in strange domes, like abstract jellyfish. But the thing about this was that the tentacles would get wrapped up in our instruments. It’d pull your head all over the place and it became impossible to play… I think that was the start of my back problems.”
No. Self-saboteurs. Definitely.
By Stuart Stubbs
Originally published in issue 21 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. September 2010