Two years ago No Ceremony/// were a band determined to go against our raging age of over-information. Content to create and give away tracks online but reluctant to accompany them with any PR fanfare, it wasn’t quite anonymity but it was certainly a guarded self-protection. On the strength of the weight and beauty of tracks like ‘Hurtlove’ and ‘Feelsolow’, though, the spotlight that’s shone so gratuitously on so many became a searchlight for No Ceremony///. It became a very modern Catch 22 where no information can be just as delicious as too much and it’s an irony that hasn’t been lost on James, Kelly and Victoria.
In 2011, they were firmly focused on just getting their music out into the world with as little fuss as possible, but now, with their self-titled debut album set for release this month, they finally feel like they have something to talk about.
Reef Younis: Was it frustrating that your decision to avoid doing the usual PR buzz became so much of a focus early on?
James: “It was but at that point we didn’t really do any interviews and just kept quiet to get on with the music. It was a hard one to judge but I remember we played a festival and were listed as ‘Anonymous’, which is an interesting genre to be part of.
“We didn’t do it as a way to generate interest, we did it because we just didn’t want to engage with writing press releases, doing interviews and photo shoots and stuff. We wanted to shape our sound, write, and spend our time and energy doing that. It takes a lot out of you and I guess when you do press releases you have to… not cheapen, but justify it, and I don’t think that’s healthy for a new band. You want to explore every avenue of your sound without worrying about the implications or how you’re going to justify it later.”
RY: You emerged with a few free singles a couple of years ago – that can be an eternity in terms of how quickly the landscape can shift. Was it a decision to wait and build up to this point?
J: “Yeah, we wanted to do a lot of touring because that’s been a big aim for us – to travel and take the music out live. We certainly didn’t want to rush ourselves because in the genesis of something, you don’t want to sell yourself short when you could be experimenting and doing something interesting. With production, you tend to get pushed into sounding a certain way, and we wanted to produce it ourselves, which was a big part of the reason in setting our own parameters, finding our sound, and just following the different threads to just see what we could do. We’ve been writing the whole time and it’s interesting it has been two years. We started touring about 6 months after we gave ‘Hurtlove’ away online and I think it’s been good for us as a band to take that time.”
RY: Listening to the album, there’s a lot of weight and melancholy to it as a whole. Was it the intention to make it sound so profound?
J: “I think the sort of music we all grew up with has that sort of melancholy in it, and that thread running through it. You can mix in quite hooky melodies with sad lyrics or a dejected mood and I think someone like Joy Division had that juxtaposition of heartbreaking lyrics with a catchy melody and it’s an interesting space to occupy.
“We were also listening to a lot of dance music from Germany at the time and we wanted to make a track that brought that influence in. I think it’s also kind of got that slightly industrial, slightly gloomy side to it.”
RY: It also feels like there’s a kind of dreamy element to it…
J: “We definitely wanted to capture a certain mood, something quite nocturnal. I don’t think it’s dreamy, but there’s definitely a shifting sense to it. We’re into stuff like Burial, Four Tet… and I really like the nocturnal, beautiful atmosphere that those records have. I like the slight vague unease, and threat. You get tracks like ‘Dog Shelter’, which is really hazy, dark music but it’s quite beautiful at the same time. To be honest, we didn’t really sit down and have an agenda; the mood from the album just came out of the songs themselves.”
RY: Some parts also feel like subtle nods towards the dance-floor too. Did you aim to give it that energy?
J: “Yeah, we wanted to do stuff that people could dance to that was quite considered and thoughtful but had a slight rave element to it. We didn’t want to go ’90s house or anything, just more in between the space of certain genres and not sitting in one particularly. We all kind of grew up listening to The Prodigy and it’s quite intense and challenging but there’s lots of interesting stuff like Pantha Du Prince, which is dance music but not quite. Sometimes it all just locks in on a track like ‘Black Noise’ where everything hits a groove three minutes in and you don’t really know where it began or where it ends. I think it’s a really interesting challenge listening to it. I think music like that is quite confrontational in a lot of respects and Flying Lotus does that really well: you’re not sure whether to just listen to it or dance to it.”
RY: You mentioned touring was a big focus for you early on: did it help give you an idea of how you wanted to make the album?
J: “Yeah, but it was pretty unorthodox. Some of it was mixed on headphones in the back of a van travelling between countries and some of it was done quite traditionally in the studio. There were definite blocks of time where we’d just cut off and work on specific tracks but it was quite a continuous process and I really enjoyed letting the tracks develop and breathe. Some of them we’d start and come back to later, some we’d produce really quickly and get them out because we always wanted to give away free tracks. I wouldn’t say there was a set way of how we put things together.”
RY: Some bands enjoy the prospect of blindly hurtling into a debut, where you were a bit more considered? Was there anything that challenged you more than you thought?
J: “I think working with [Pixies guitarist] Joey Santiago was really interesting because he definitely took the song in a very different direction to what we had, and we loved that. ‘Heartbreak’ was written as a fairly gentle song on piano and developed into this heavy, bass-driven dance track with awesome guitar sounds. Originally the chorus was a piano riff so it’s nice to be open to changing songs like that and not be too rigid.”
RY: You alluded to it earlier but it sounds like you have no problem getting tracks done and letting them go quickly…
J: “I think you need to learn to not squeeze the energy and life out of them. We work with a brutal ethos: if we don’t all agree, we don’t use it. It’s quite painstaking in some ways, but I think we’re quite harsh and unsentimental in terms of our own music. There were a couple of tracks we went back to several times, like ‘Away From Here’, which [Irish singer songwriter] James Vincent McMorrow contributed vocals to, and that went through various iterations. Other tracks like ‘Feel So Low’ came together in a matter of days.”
RY: Has that helped shape how you’ll approach things in future?
J: “I think at the moment we’re still focused on how we can take the current tracks into a live setting and how we can progress and improve those to make the best show possible. We’re always writing and we do a lot of remixes for other artists, and explore different techniques and production for putting tracks together, so we’re always playing with ideas. We haven’t started working on anything new specifically.”
RY: In terms of the live show, how do you see it working: is it a case of avoiding mirroring the album as much as possible?
J: “It’s a case of trying to make it more exciting, really. I think you have to be a little restrained with it, so you don’t lose the atmosphere and energy of the original track but we like experimenting to see what the song could be. I remember seeing Radiohead years ago and never realising the bass sounds and synth sounds, which were buried in the mix, come out live. It made it much more intense because essentially you’re engaging with an audience when you play live. On record, it’s a different relationship but I think it’s an interesting dynamic to play with.
“For ‘Feel So Low’, we’ve extended it, and made it quite guitar heavy at the end, which it isn’t on the album. We just don’t want it to be a case of playing the album as it is, because I think that’s a bit staid. I’m always a bit disappointed when bands play everything as is it – it just feels a bit flat.”
RY: Thinking back to the initial reluctance to do interviews etc. does it feel more natural now? Do you regret doing more?
J: “Ha! Well, we didn’t do many at the start for a lot of these reasons. We just wanted people to listen to the music and put whatever values on it they wanted. I think there’s a bit of a culture now where you’re expected to explain it or think about it in that way, and I think people feel the need to justify what they’ve done. In my opinion, a lot of things just happen instinctively.
“I read an interview with Jack Barnett from These New Puritans and he was labelled as being quite sullen and non-communicative in the interview because he wouldn’t give a coherent, logical thread of why they made the album the way they had. To me, his reaction made sense because he hadn’t been asking himself those questions and it’s interesting that the response from the journalist was that he was disengaged. Often you’re not justifying it to yourself, you just do it. I think in interviews there’s always the risk of over-explaining yourself because it’s quite an unnatural conversation, but there’s definitely a responsibility on both sides.”