Fiction discuss their part in re-educating indie music.


Indie isn’t what it was. Or maybe it is. In the beginning there was The Smiths and The Cure and R.E.M. and Talking Heads – bands that were as wilfully smart and proudly bookish as they were gifted in the art of the 3-minute pop song. By the mid ’90s, though, indie was feeling Supersonic and embracing the simpler things in life. To know guitar chords beyond G, A, Em and D was to be over qualified as Brit Pop’s punk appropriation of indie made it all the way to 10 Downing Street. Even politicians could get it. ‘Landfill’ seemed like a fitting prefix as children of Cool Britannia formed bands like The View, The Fratellis and The Pigeon Detectives ten years later.

A few years ago I hosted a show on a community radio station, taking along a few of my favourite records. “Oh how indie,” said the producer, and not in a good way. Indie, for all its brainy beginnings, had until very recently become the genre of the unimaginative.

“I think a lot changed when Foals came along and introduced concepts that were more associated with the classical world, like minimalism,” says James Howard, guitarist and occasional percussionist in London band Fiction. “Those things have kind of become the sticky ideas that people are interested in, and some people are doing that to greater affect than others. Bands like Dutch Uncles, it’s music that’s almost hard to get your head around, because there’s so much intelligence behind it, but it’s also music that makes you dance, and it’s kind of nice to dance to a pattern of music that you can’t quite translate.”

“I think people have always shown influences from more leftfield places, but maybe it’s more acceptable now, or more mainstream,” says singer/keyboardist Mike Barrett. “When The xx got their songs on Radio 1, that was quite a big turning point, because they’re songs with so much space and silence in them.”

Fiction – alongside Foals, The xx and other conscientious bands like Django Django, Everything Everything and Alt-J – are here to re school guitar pop. Their debut album, ‘The Big Other’, is core reading, and has a lot more in common with ‘Fear of Music’ than it does ‘Be Here Now’. It’s a record high on nostalgic rom-pop (previous claims that Fiction could single-handedly soundtrack all of the Brat Pack films are not without justification) and higher on social perception. By album track ‘Vertigo In Bed’ the band have become so slick in their sound that they resemble Sting (a compliment, believe it or not) as they note: “Sigmund Freud is unemployed / Just a naughty boy”. Previous single ‘Big Things’ is something like Talking Heads covering The Cure’s ‘Six Different Ways’ from memory. It also covertly documents a car crash, something that was seemingly missed by Ford when they licensed the song for a TV ad in 2011. After experimenting with syncopated industrial drums, ‘See Me Walk’ is a halfway point so smart it features guitars laced with just enough delay to cause them to harmonise not with each other but with themselves. ‘The Apple’ – no less ‘jaunty’ or high-end than anything else on such a shiny, hook-laden record – isn’t about Digsy or Mrs Robinson’s Quango but Alan Turing, the computer scientist of the early 1950s who committed suicide by eating an apple containing cyanide (reportedly giving birth to Apple’s logo in homage) as the British government forced him to take female hormones to ‘cure’ his homosexuality.

“It’s a constant cycle,” says James. “You had prog and you had punk. I mean, Oasis were a band that prided themselves on not knowing that much about music, and that definitely has its place, but the cycle goes on…”

“[Strum-along indie] was saturated, that’s the thing,” adds Nick Barrett, band guitarist and brother to Mike. “What’s happening now is the aftermath – post-indie. The people who are doing it now are really dedicated to it because they’re not making loads of money from it.”

Cash has shaped Fiction since they last appeared in Loud And Quiet, three years ago in February 2010, on the eve of releasing debut single ‘Curiosity’ (it’s not made the cut for ‘The Big Other’). Then, James, Mike and Nick were joined by bassist Daniel Djan; it was impossible to pick out a ship’s captain, as it is now, with Dave Miller on bass and Jacob Smedegaard on drums. Fiction remain an ensemble cast. Music years are a lot like dog years, though, and a lot has changed since 2010. The industry’s slope just got slipperier, labels tightened their purse strings and then padlocked them, and promising new acts that would have otherwise been clawed at five years earlier were suddenly a risk that few were willing to take. That, in part, is how Fiction explain what the hell has taken them so long – the band that in 2010 liked the idea of “making a really snappy first album”.

Mike says ‘The Big Other’ is a better album for the time spent on it, but less cohesive as a result. Truth is, he probably hears disjointed ideas and ugly cracks that you or I never will, like a painter who gets a shade of blue wrong and can never fully express how he saw it in his mind. To many, ‘The Big Other’ will appear too melodic to be questioned on any other level whatsoever, simply enjoyed as a collection of songs you can dance to while disregarding how insular the whole thing is. For others, there’s a world of social theories behind the title alone. “The best songs appeal to the heart and the head,” says Mike, “so hopefully we can appeal to some people who just want to hear a good song on the radio, and to people who want to really dig into an album and understand it as a concept.”

The Big Other is a concept of French philosopher Jacques Lecan, introduced to Fiction via writer Mark Fisher in his 2009 book Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?.

“The sentence in the book where we got the album title from is the big other is the collective fiction,” says James. “It obviously has nice implications because that’s our name and we are a collective, but in general what it implies is an imagined society where people play with their image and how they’re present themselves.”

“It’s a collective perception that doesn’t really exist because essentially everyone is an individual,” adds Mike. “So it’s about that tension between being an individual and being part of the masses. It’s a very personal thing because it only exists in your head – it’s your perception of how people perceive you.”

“Self-editing your Facebook profile is a symptom of people’s perception of The Big Other,” explains James. “Because we live in a very atomized culture, everyone tries to cultivate themselves as an individual in order to be unique in The Big Other but also be considered unique by The Big Other.

“A lot of the lyrical themes on the album are about this dialogue that’s taking place within one person. Most people’s conversations are with themselves, but one of the voices that you’re playing is The Big Other, so you have this almost Greek chorus of people who you’re in conversation with about the choices you make – which books you say you’ve read, which shoes you buy, what music you listen to.”

James points out that we’ve reached a point where we’re so concerned with what others think of us – and have become so savvy at understanding the zeitgeist – you could in fact tailor-make music for a particular radio station or audience and it can’t fail. “A scary thought,” he says. Calvin Harris’s latest album, I think.

“The way we talk about it, it makes it sound like the album is really political,” says Mike, “but when people listen to it, it’s really not overtly political.”

We continue to discuss The Big Other – how we can no longer live with out it, how all politicians know the War On Drugs has failed but The Big Other won’t allow them to admit – and Nick comes up with a lighter way of summing it up. “It’s like Peep Show,” he says, and suddenly I get it – Mark Corrigan internally wrestling with himself, to-and-fro between what he wants to say and what he should say.

“I think we’re at risk of sounding like our writing sessions are really boring and we’re theorising all the time,” says James, “but we’re not – it’s a very instinctive process.”

“Yes,” says Mike. “When we make music it’s a physical thing and it’s fun. We don’t sit around talking like this. If you listen to the album on a purely sonic level you can easily say it’s jaunty indie pop, but for us, what we’re interested in is the ideas and the concepts of the songs. We think a lot and a song is an idea as much as anything. A song like ‘Museum’, it sounds quite ’80s and people might say it’s a retro pop song, but actually the song is about retro-mania. It’s called ‘Museum’; it’s about the museumification of our culture. It’s a product of its generation. If it sounds ’80s, in a way it’s meant to, because it’s about the past.”

The Kooks had a song called ‘Jacky Big Tits’.

« Previous Interview
Next Interview »