MODERN LIFE ISN’T RUBBISH. IT’S HOW CIVIL CIVIC SURVIVE.
A band born in Australia; a friendship strengthened and distilled by a mutual love and loathing, separated by mainland Europe but somehow driven by those few thousand miles, Civil Civic are a digitised still-frame of an unconventional dynamic prospering through modern means. If it’s not Aaron or Ben hurtling at a few thousand miles between their respective London and Barcelona bases, it’s their songs whizzing through air and fibre optics onto each other’s computer screens. In the same way we were infatuated by The Kill’s primal sexual tension and Trans-Atlantic phone calls, and Animal Collective’s ability to continue to wow from disparate corners of the globe, distance has become an increasingly common denominator. Once upon a time it was an obstacle. An inconvenience. A royal pain in the arse that meant if the drummer’s mum couldn’t give him a lift to rehearsal, you spent a wasted night kicking your heels. But with the right ethos, it’s capable of driving a process that’s just as dynamic, intense and painstaking than that of any highly-charged practice room.
“Because it’s been that way from the start,” Ben explains, “I suppose we’ve just accepted all the draw-backs as a natural feature of the band. On the positive side it’s stopped us from just pissing around in a local scene and doing things piecemeal. For me, the tour always starts with a stint on Aarons’ living-room floor in Dalston, so that feels like a compulsory stepping stone to actually performing. Even if we had a run of Spanish gigs lined up I’d probably have to fly to London first and kip on Aarons’ floor just to make sense of it.
“We have to organise a long, tight run of shows (or a big slab of studio time) for it to be worth the effort of even being in the same room so it provides focus. The other benefit is that our burning hatred of each-other only starts to really become a problem after a few weeks, and by then the tour is usually almost over.”
It’s an interesting snapshot into the duo’s dynamic. As driven as they are distracted by each other, in many respects, their relationship is part of the fuel that drives them beyond the transit, displacement and creative isolation. You’d anticipate that when they do get together to bang heads it’s done with all the verve and energy of their music, but here we get the contrast because behind the rambunctious personality there’s a serious sense of consideration and commitment.
“We probably should make some shit up about raising hell and getting arrested/beaten/fucked-by-models and what-have-you, but the truth is it’s all work work work here at CC HQ. Because we’re a geographically challenged outfit we only get to rehearse in a short window before touring, so it’s pretty hammer-and-tongs. Plus we’ve got the record coming out, which means a zillion small tasks relating to the release. It’s basically all work and no spazz.”
With such a demanding workload, the obvious suggestion would be for either Ben or Aaron to relocate to streamline their whole process, particularly with debut album ‘Rules’ in the pipeline. Paradoxically, though, the odd geography seems to be the one familiar factor that keeps the band on an even keel, and with Ben keen to impress that changing things now would go against the band’s initial mission statement, it’s clear that they don’t want a helping hand either.
“It’s a valid query,” says Ben, “but this act was the product of a pretty specific concept, and “duo” is one of the fundamentals of that concept although our drum machine, The Box, has gradually taken on its own persona and gets more fan mail than we do, so maybe we’re a trio now.
“Aaron tried to find someone London-based to play the other role, but the search drove him crazy and in the end he was forced to come crawling to me! It was destiny. I’ve thought about relocating to London, but if I think about it too hard I start sweating and shaking and my tummy hurts. And if Aaron moved to Barcelona people would ridicule his translucent skin and nerdy wardrobe. So for now we’ll just stick to what we know.
“Aaron is still very active as a producer/engineer/songwriter/smarty-pants independent of the band. He produced the last Snowman record and has recently been working with Conrad Standish from the Devastations among other savants and luminaries.
“For my part, I was a pretty productive musician/songwriter/producer/moron before Civil Civic started, but I’ve done precious little of my own shit in the last few years. That could change violently and without warning. I have killer bees in my bonnet.”
So for a band driven by impulse and intent on doing things via a literal scenic route, their self-enforced distance does have its benefits. Working independently and exchanging tracks via email, theoretically, it should give both Ben and Aaron the opportunity to apply a vigorous attention to detail and refine the way they operate. Away from the face-to-face exchange, there’s the chance to step back, deconstruct and evaluate.
“That’s a sharp observation,” says Ben. “If you work up material together in a rehearsal room or studio, ideas get thrown up quickly and shot down/changed just as quickly, which is a valid and healthy way to do business. But when you get an MP3 of an embryonic track in the mail, you still have immediate reactions, but you end up listening to it a bunch of times and formulating your response in a much more methodical and considered way. Ideas have a chance to grow on you.
“And how often we get together really depends on what’s going on. We try to organise ourselves around shows. For instance when I flew over for the mixing of the record we made that a prelude to our summer tour, and before that when we recorded and mixed the last single we made it coincide with some London gigs. We have to concentrate shit, because neither of us has the time or money to fly back and forth just to have a chat and a jam.”
It brings us neatly to the here and now with Civil Civic setting off for Europe. It marks a hectic few months in terms of touring and the impending album, and neither Ben nor Aaron are thinking about downtime. Interestingly, though, they are thinking about their next steps and the overall reaction to ‘Rules’ is set to play a big part.
“We’ve got some touring to do,” says Aaron, “so we can alert as many innocent people as possible to our existence and also our awesome, smelly album being released. After that we’re going to take a short break and see what sort of reaction the record generates. That’ll play a big part in dictating the next move. But there’s so much to do, even in so-called ‘down time’. We want to make a couple of good videos for tracks off the album and maybe do a bit of writing. That sort of stuff. All will become clear in time.”
Bearing musical similarities with the likes of Errors, Holy Fuck, Moderat, Fuck Buttons and those who attempt to create instrumental music that goes beyond merely complementing montages of beautiful panorama, Civil Civic are no passive soundtrack. Creating a complex package of math rock, post-punk and screeching white noise, at the heart of it all is a desire to be a party band, making them sound, at times, like Metronomy trying their hand at krautrock. Sure it can be loud, rhythmic and ultimately unhinged, but there’s also a resolute level of intelligence at work which is noticeably important to both Ben and Aaron.
“When I hear the words ‘instrumental post-punk’ I have real trouble not falling asleep, instantly,” says Ben. “To me those words say boring, noodley, self-absorbed, jammy, long-winded, quasi-emo horseshit. I have no perspective, but is that really what we are? Shit, part of our mission statement is to be a Good-Times act. A pool-party band! Neither of us are vegans. We didn’t study jazz improvisation at school. Damnit, we’re fun!
“We try and make sure that we are writing really songy songs, with tons of melody and good arrangements and all those vital ingredients, rather than just jamming out and looping it and masturbating over the top and expecting anyone in the world to give a shit. Perhaps that’s harsh. Jamming and looping and wanking are all great things in their own way, but we have rules about how to do business, and massaging our musical egos at the expense of the listener is most definitely against the rules.
“One of our most cherished goals is to produce tracks that will get played at pool parties and under-age booze orgies. We’re proud of the prog /nerd elements in our sound, and there’s no way in hell we want to be a dumb disposable outfit, but if we aren’t making fun jams then please tell us, because that would mean we’re fucking up.”
Fucking up is not something Civil Civic should worry about. The release of ‘Less Unless’ kick-started the typical blogosphere battle between speed and substance with the band forced to debate and deliberate it’s next steps. With Civil Civic still in its embryonic stages, the reaction took them by surprise, but armed with the insistent, triumphant ‘Run Overdrive’ and a growing reputation, Ben and Aaron shouldn’t have to worry about being pigeonholed as nerdy, noodling and self-absorbed. Civil Civic are pushing beyond that of shoegazing instrumentalists and their party is just getting started.
“When ‘Less Unless’ started getting blog-love, the band was only 6 months old and we hardly knew what we were going to do with it,” says Ben. We knew that track had something special about it, but fuck, I’ve been in bands that toiled for years and released loads of stuff and never generated a reaction like that. I’m a cranky old band whore who’d resigned himself to total failure and anonymity, so the internet reaction to those singles completely revolutionised my whole outlook on life. I don’t even cry in the shower any more.”
By Reef Younis
Originally published in issue 32 (vol 3) of Loud And Quiet. October 2011.