Rory Attwell is a very busy young man. He’s got at least three previous bands under his belt, including day glo punk outfit Test Icicles and darker, post-punkers KASMs, and in recent years he’s also become a much sought after DIY producer.
At the beginning of this year, he took his DIY ethos just about as far as it could go without building his own studio equipment (that is, we don’t think he did that, although we wouldn’t put it past him) and started a musical project called Warm Brians. For this, Attwell wrote the songs, sang them, played all the instruments, recorded all the parts, and put them all together. Even now, as we sit down to discuss exactly how many screws this guy’s got loose, he mentions that he’s spent the entire day working on the cover art and liner notes for the forthcoming Warm Brains LP, ‘Old Volcanoes’ – a record that takes on the warm grunge fuzz of Dinosaur Jnr., the complexities of Graham Coxon’s playing style and various alt. influences like Pavement and 60s psych. It’s a record underpinned with themes of heartbreak, and it’s virtually 100% Attwell.
Now, when we last checked in with Rory, he was doing the production thing full time and, while he confessed to frequently missing being on the other side of the soundboard – and even sneaking in the occasional backing vocal – he seemed slightly more stoked about recording other people’s music than he did about making his own.
Rory Attwell: “Did I really say that?”
Polly Rappaport: Something to that effect, yeah.
RA: “I think at the time I was still in KASMs. We were having a break at the time and I was quite happy to be working on other people’s music – not having the worries of being in a band, especially because things weren’t working out at the time. It was quite refreshing to not have to bother thinking about it – it was like an opt out clause from the stress of it all. And I was getting things done! Other people had already written the songs, and I was just producing them, and it felt really productive, really satisfying to be getting so much stuff done, whereas in my band at the time, we’d hit a bit of a rut.”
PR: But now you’re back making the music again. What happened?
RA: “I got bored of just producing – well, not bored, I still like doing it, but it’s quite hard recording other bands all the time, and you’re enjoying what they’re doing but you’re also thinking, I could be doing this as well, I’ve got all these ideas but I’m not doing them. So that kind of gave way to this, wanting to do my own thing.”
PR: So were you still writing, even when you were essentially just producing?
RA: “Sort of. I was kind of writing stuff even when I was in KASMs – things that were a bit different, that didn’t always translate that well into band practice. I was writing things that weren’t necessarily turning into songs when we were trying to play them, so I must have had about four or five songs that I’d roughly written, and when I left that band I thought I’d take those five songs, and I’d made six, seven more, and try to do something with them. I was quite happy with the way they were going, they were quite different from what we were doing anyway. And, yeah, I always tend to be fucking about with something, walking around with a Dictaphone, wandering down the street by myself, then something comes into my head and I start singing it into my phone, like some kind of weirdo, singing to myself – singing guitar parts into a phone. So normally I have a lot of crap that needs filtering down into songs.”
PR: And yet the record is all you – you’ve done everything on it yourself, bar a few female vocals. How does that work, and how did it happen?
RA: “I don’t really know what I was thinking when I first started doing it. The idea of playing everything – not as an ego thing, but as an experiment – I’d always wanted to try it, and then I’d make these demos, but then I’d get bored because it was quite a laborious thing to do all by yourself, so then I’d get some other people to play them and that would be that. This time I thought I’d really have a crack at it, and it’s quite hard to do everything yourself. When you’re in a band and you’re all there together writing stuff it’s really fast and it’s really easy because if there’s something slightly wrong someone can ask to change one bit or change the structure a little, but when you’re all by yourself, you can basically end up doing the whole thing and then think, ‘Shit, that’s not very good,’ and then you have to do the whole thing again so it’s quite hard work… But I quite enjoy it. Plus I’m not the best drummer or singer so it’s an interesting challenge.”
PR: What would you say is the hardest bit in the process for you?
RA: “It’s all kind of hard – It was hard recording the whole thing myself, but more because when you’re in a band you practice it loads, play it loads, play it live, then, when you come to record it, it’s basically a finished thing anyway, so there might be a few little changes you make when you’re recording, but generally you’ve got most things sorted out. Doing it yourself is like, say a band, a big band, has been on tour for three years then someone says, ‘Right, you’ve got to write your second album now,’ they go, ‘Oh shit’, and then they go into the studio and they just have to… do it. It’s kind of like that, really. So I was in there, and I had all these ideas, and I had to throw them together, and you can lose perspective a little bit doing this stuff, and at the same time, as I say I’m not the best drummer, so playing the drum parts I’ll be struggling a bit with the idea that I’ve got in my head and actually translating that onto the drums, and when I finally get it down, I’ll think, if I could have practiced that for, I dunno, three months, playing it live, it would have been a lot better. After playing these songs live a few times, I realise they sound a lot better than the recordings, but that’s just the nature of the beast at the moment.”
L&Q: How many live shows have you done so far?
RA: “Not many, but it’s getting better as we go along. I’ve got this bad habit of doing things too quickly. I think when we played our first couple of gigs they were a bit shit because… well, I finished the record, then I wanted to release it, and I was going to try to release early this year but there was obviously no time to do that, and I decided to start playing live straight away, so we had about three practices and it was like, ‘Right, let’s do it,’ so it was a little bit odd for the first few shows because it was all sort of thrown together. Like, I share my studio with Tom Vek, and he’s been playing really big gigs and practicing all the time – I keep seeing him practicing, like, three times a week for something like eight hours a day and I’m thinking, I have to play my first gig and we’ve got three practices that are about two and a half hours long each… Gotta change my quality control level.”
PR: Have you got a set band that you play with now?
RA: “Yeah, it’s changed around a little bit – we’ve got two different people playing the drums at the moment, but essentially it’s a three piece. Joe Ryan out of Fair Ohs is playing the drums and Lewis from Colours is playing some drums as well, and Anna’s playing bass… I might get in another guitarist – I’m trying to sort that out. I’ve asked a couple of people – you’d think it would be easy to get a guitarist because there’s loads of them, but for some reason it’s not that easy. I don’t know why, maybe I’m being fussy, but I just can’t find the right one. The couple of people I’ve asked, they might be busy with their other twelve bands – everyone around here is in about fifteen bands so I don’t really know who to ask, but we’ll get there eventually. It works as a three piece, just about.”
PR: Don’t you find yourself being a bit precious about the music, though? It’s essentially all your own work, after all.
RA: “I try not to be too much of a dick about it. I know what it’s like with some people who write all the stuff, playing with them it’s like a dictatorship where they have to tell everyone exactly what to do, so I try and leave it a little bit, unless something really bugs me. Most of the time I’m just happy for people to interpret what they’re hearing on the record, play it how they see it, and it’s nicer in a way, it’s more exciting for me – feels like I’m in a proper band.”
PR: So do you see this as being a long-term project? You do have a bit of a history when it comes to bands.
RA: “That was the whole point, really. The whole point of why I started doing it was because I always felt like I was in a band and then something would go wrong. We’d make one album and then, well, generally we’d be quite happy with what was going on the first record and then the shit would hit the fan and we wouldn’t have a chance to build on it. For me, a band’s first album might be quite good, but you can’t really get the measure of a band until they’ve made like four, five albums, then you can tell it’s a great band because they’ve managed to make a good record five times on the trot – varying levels of that anyway. I was getting quite frustrated of being in bands. Even if it seemed like it was going really well, it just all fell apart, and I couldn’t really deal with doing that again – I didn’t want to start another band just for it to end, seems like such a waste. So the whole point of this is that it’s just me, so there shouldn’t really be a problem. I want to try to make at least three records, ideally five albums, and then ask myself what I’m doing next rather than making one album then moving on to something else again. I’ve always liked bands that have been around a long time and have got something to show for themselves, so I’m trying to do things a bit more calmly this time and just try and make some good music. I’ve nearly finished the second one already – I just need to find the time to record it… I’m so busy!”
PR: You’re still doing lots of recording for other people, then?
RA: “Yeah, I’ve started to book time in for myself now. I always figure I’ll have a few days the next week to do something then I’ll get a call from someone who needs an album recorded in, like, two days, and I’ll think, yeah, I can squeeze that in, and then I think, shit, I’ve forgotten to do my own stuff. It’s a bit weird, getting out the diary and booking yourself into your own studio. Soon I’ll be talking to myself in the third person, having little producer/artist debates.”
PR: That could be interesting…
RA: “There’d be a lot of arguing. I don’t think I’d get on very well with myself to be honest – I’d probably get quite irritating.”