INTERVIEW

The third coming of Gabriel Stebbing (as Night Works) might just be his greatest hour yet.

nightworks

It was in March 2012 that the video for ‘I Tried So Hard’ by Night Works first surfaced online – a soulful, melancholic, RnB-touched pop song that melded together a simplistic piano motif, a single vocal line and a reverberating snare that captured the midpoint between night and day. No one had any real idea who had made it, although this was no stunt to stir intrigue; it was instead a concentrated effort in trying to achieve the complete opposite.

“Well, it was a conscious decision,” says the man behind Night Works, Gabriel Stebbing, formerly of Your Twenties and – more notably still – Metronomy. “I really didn’t want to be a international man of mystery or something, but without sounding above my station or anything, if you’ve been in a couple of bands before then people, especially today with the Internet and the speed in which people move along at, if we kind of maybe didn’t prevent that straight away, people might have gone, ‘Oh Well, this is another Metronomy or Your Twenties side project’. It would have arrived with quite a bit of baggage, I guess. For that track, which is a nice way to introduce the music, I thought it would be a good way to slow down that kind of tidal wave of information and just let people judge it on its own merits. Within twenty four hours people had figured out it was Gabriel Stebbing, so it wasn’t as if we wanted to keep it a mystery, I just wanted people to judge it on its own terms.”

I ask Gabriel if Night Works is a new chapter in this musician’s life.

“It sort of is in a way. Perhaps for me, it is a little different to what I’ve done before. I suppose in Metronomy I was obviously playing Joe Mount’s music, but I was closely involved and got to play on some of the records and stuff. Your Twenties, was my first venture out of Metronomy and I was trying to write and capture the perfect three-minute pop song: that was what was most important to me, trying to capture a youthful evanescence – that was what the band Your Twenties was about. The Night Works thing is almost as if the writing is what led everything else. As I wrote more and more, I felt kind of more grown up in some ways.”

Gabriel leaving Metronomy came as no small surprise in April 2009. The underground success of concept album ‘Nights Out’ had the then trio on the cusp of far greater success, but bassist Gabriel was keen to work on his own material. There was no fight in electro pop’s most amicable parting of ways. Gabriel formed indie band Your Twenties and he and Joe Mount remained so close they would continue to collaborate on material for both Metronomy and Your Twenties, and go on to co-write ‘I’ for Nicola Roberts of Girls Aloud. Mount also helped his old friend get the ball rolling on Night Works.

“I started off making the Night Works album with Joe producing it,” Gabriel Explains. “What happened was that we had started making an album for Your Twenties and by that point he had produced a whole record, but the band had started sliding off into each of its own individual parts; James had Veronica Falls, Michael, my brother, had formed NCZA/Lines and Robin was in Male Bonding. So the band had disbanded, but the process of me and Joe recording the album went on and the songs started to get longer and slower. The first song that Joe and I recorded was ‘Long Forgotten Boy’ which is the most recent single, but by the time we had made that track it didn’t sound like Your Twenties anymore and it didn’t sound like it was overly influenced by Metronomy, even though Joe had produced it. It sounded like a new thing and then we went on and made ‘The Eveningtime’ and ‘I Tried So Hard’ together and between those three songs we hit upon a sound that felt really unique to us, so from that I was able to go ahead and produce the rest of the record myself. I guess, with the writing, I was trying to do something that felt a bit truer to myself.”

Gabriel says that binning his unreleased Your Twenties album took some getting over. Once he had moved on, it took a further year to write and record ‘Urban Heat Island’, Night Works’ debut album that largely veers from electro pop of the ambient and RnB varieties. It’s one easy listen, which, completed on 6 March 2012, will have been in the can for a full year by the time it’s released on Loose Lips next month. As Gabriel puts it, “It’s been a really long breakfast – an exercise in delayed gratification, I suppose.”

While notably the work of a man once in Metronomy, ‘Urban Heat Island’ saw a change in Gabriel’s writing style, which led to the formation of several characters who pop up throughout the album and also in the videos that have already been released. “Songs previously had always been written from my point of view or describing something,” says Gabriel, “they’d be me or you songs basically. With Night Works, I started trying to imagine myself into other people’s heads or lives. I was thinking about the kind of people that I had met while out on the tours I did with Metronomy and the people we would meet in the night life situations. I was also thinking about the texture, well not texture but the feel of living in London. I moved here in 2006, when things started to get busy and I found it quite inspirational; the feeling of living in London at that time and particularly the financial crash, I found it quite a strange place, especially around East London where you are brushing up against pity. Like, you occasionally run across city-borns in a bar and you get the impression that you are rubbing up against quite a lot of money and wealth. Obviously knowing what had happened and how much had been gambled away, it got me thinking, not just about writing songs about love and relationships, but about types of characters that I wanted to get into the heads of. At the same time, everything on the album is very personal in a way. Long Forgotten Boy and Long Forgotten Girl, for instance, kind of appear in the video for ‘The Eveningtime’ and the ‘Long Forgotten Boy’ video is bits of me really; every one now seems like it’s a little bit of me.

“I’ve always admired songwriters like Ray Davies and Damon Albarn,” he says, “both used to write a lot of character songs. I used to love how they would write in a really observational way, but I guess the characters I was putting on my album are a little bit more personal; they’re facets of myself, I guess.”

For many, Night Works’ understated, louche grooved pop is more Hall & Oates than Brit Pop and its grandfather, but delve beneath the top layer of ‘Urban Heat Island’ and there is a wealth of other Eighties influences that have subconsciously seeped in. “It’s funny about the Hall & Oates thing,” Gabriel laughs. “When I was in Metronomy we would listen to Hall & Oates a lot. When we were on tour once in America, we ended up in an old bargain basement vinyl store and Oscar found every single Hall & Oates LP for a $1 each. It was almost part of the air that I was breathing while in Metronomy, so there is probably a Hall & Oates thing in the background, but I’m more directly influenced by English songwriters from a similar era, like Prefab Sprout and Scritti Politti. What I like about both those guys is that they are writing very intelligently, very thoughtfully and there is care about the craft and what they do, but they also wear it very lightly. There’s always a pop facet that you take at face value but if you spend a bit of time with it, there are all these layers that you can keep peeling away that keep rewarding you. That’s probably as much, if not more of an influence, and there’s bands like Steely Dan, bands that have kind of a rhythm, an old school RnB influence. That was really important and that was alongside other stuff like old French touch bands, Daft Punk and the space in Air records … there was tons of things that were flying around.”

‘Urban Heat Island’, then, is “the product of absorbing stuff, almost by osmosis”, and also a record conceived in complete isolation. It comes back to the same reason why Gabriel didn’t want a fanfare accompanying his return to releasing music – the one thing he wants to avoid more than anything else is becoming a buzz band.

“There’s so much of a turnover of music and new bands are continuously coming on to the scene and I didn’t want to get involved in that,” he says. “I knew the type of album that I wanted to make and I never wanted to get into the situation where I had anyone from a label hearing one or two tracks and then going, ‘Hey! We like the chorus of that one, so why don’t you write an album that sounds like that?’. I think most musicians feel the same way. It was a bit scary, taking on the production helm, and as previously said, Joe produced the first three tracks, but he then went off to promote the ‘English Riviera’ and Metronomy, so I was kind of left holding the baby, but in the best possible sense. I had to just realise the potential we had established and then just run with it.

“It’s funny because it kind of feels like I’ve done it backwards; the other bands that I’ve been in it’s always kind of been, ‘Okay, let’s jump into the Ford Transit and drive up to Carlisle and play’, build a fanbase and then make a record. This has been make the record first, so we’ve been doing it in reverse. Hopefully some people will want to come and see us.”

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