INTERVIEW

London duo Society met doing something else and bonded over ’60s cinematic soul and trip-hop

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Jamie Girdler has never done an interview before, so why is it that I’m feeling self-conscious? A walk across any working office that’s not your own will do that, even when you’re not heading towards a glass-walled meeting room. Safely across the room and inside what is basically Phillip Schofield’s Cube, Girdler says it before I can – “This is a bit disconcerting, isn’t it?” On the wall behind him are other success stories from his PR company’s past – big successes: Dizzee Rascal, Lana Del Ray, Scarlett Johansson, Adele, Beyoncé. On our way out we’ll both resist the urge to climb inside Björk’s bulbous, fiberglass costume as seen on the cover of her 2007 album, ‘Volta’; the one that looks like it came from a giant Kinder Egg. This is the world that Society has strolled into, and they’ve only got two songs.

Girdler isn’t the only member of the project, but rather the one that lost the coin toss when it came to deciding who was going to be the face of the band. He’s the La Roux, if you like, but he’s better than La Roux, because he’s funny, happy to talk and naturally charming. He’s also better looking than most of the people that I like to associate myself with.

The other member of Society is producer Brendan Lynch (a man previously in charge of recording Paul Weller, Primal Scream and The Rakes), and Girdler constantly makes sure he’s not forgotten in his absence. Lynch’s part, after all, is vital to the cinematic, future classic sound of Society, and Girdler, who sings in a sepia, ’60s Motown tone that suits neither his actual appearance nor even his gender, clearly holds him in high regard.

Lynch and Girdler met when Girdler got as close to experiencing his own success as is possible, without anything happening at all. Now 24, he’s a child of the Libertines generation, or the ‘New Rock Revolution’, as NME penned it, and a young man who grew up in Reading. “That was massive for me,” he says, “going to see Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Interpol and The Libertines at Reading Festival. I loved Rival Schools. Franz Ferdinand. I saw all of those bands in the Carling tent, which forced me into thinking I could be in a band.”

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With his brother Justin and two friends, Girdler formed Beggars – an indie beat band that resembled Derby-based nearly somethings Komakino, crossed with the Liverpool revival scene of 2002 – who went on to sign with Heavenly Records at the worst time imaginable. It wasn’t Heavenly that was the problem, but the label’s affiliation with EMI, which imploded in 2009 as it was sold to venture capitalist company Terra Firma. “We never released anything, because everyone just got sacked in the office,” says Girdler cheerily enough. “No one really knew what was going on and we’d just turn up at the offices and each time there’d be less people there. It was a bad time, but we were just kids so we didn’t really understand it.”

Although forever shelved, Beggars’ debut album was recorded, over ten weeks in a country house in Yorkshire (evidently, it was a different time back then, even in 2009), with Brendan Lynch in the roll of producer.
“[EMI] gave us our record back and then we were like, ‘well, we’ve kind of written another record anyway, and done loads of other stuff’, but it lead me to Bren, which was great, so then me and Bren started working together, my brother left the band and that’s when we started Society.

“Our goal was that we wanted to make a great, really mental classic album,” Girdler says. “That’s all we’ve been doing, and we don’t take it any more seriously than that.”

Girdler is quick to play down the ambitions of the project, perhaps due to its embryonic stage, later insisting, as we talk about how the duo would like to release their music, “We don’t really give a shit. We genuinely don’t give a shit. If people don’t like it, we don’t want to work with them.” He describes what he and Lynch get up to at Lynchmob, Lynch’s own studio to the stars, as, “dicking around together. I mean, that’s still all we do: we just dick around with sounds and stuff, and we ended up with this song, which was ‘All That We’ve Become’. We just had that and one other song – we really weren’t taking it seriously at all.”

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‘All That We’ve Become’ was released on a scarce, vinyl only run last year. Don’t feel bad for missing it, everyone did, and Society refused to court the light buzz it did create in order to make their “really mental classic album” rather than feed any mystique.

New single ‘14 Hours’ (out this month on Angular Recordings) is a progression of what has all of a sudden become Society’s sound – a mix of dusty sampled strings a la The Avalanches and J Dilla’s playful gospel soul beats over Girdler’s own genderless croon. There’s a lot of Scott Walker and Lee Hazelwood about it, in how the tracks are like self-contained feature films, and the favourable name-checks don’t end there. Since previewing online last month, ‘14 Hours’ has stirred up memories of Minnie Riperton’s eternally radical 1972 debut single ‘Les Fleurs’, Portishead, Richard Ashcroft and Marvin Gaye. Or, as The Guardian put it, “‘14 Hours’ is one answer to the question: what would have happened if the Beatles had made a record in 1967 for Motown?”

“It’s amazing!” says Girdler, who it seems could only be happier with the list if it included Leonard Cohen, with whom he has long been obsessed. “Every time I’ve seen anything written it’s a really amazing reference, and that’s really cool because it means people get it. Like, J Dilla compared to Richard Ashcroft, compared to Marvin Gaye is amazing, because that’s exactly the kind of music I listen to, mixed together, and it’s how we want the record to sound.”

There’s been some lies too, chief amongst them the report that Society tracks have appeared in two aeroplane Hollywood movies – 2009 bromantic comedy I Love You, Man and the following year’s Life As We Know It, or What Happens When Two Impossibly Beautiful Single Adults Are Thrown Together To Look After A Recently Orphaned Toddler?. Considering Society wrote their first song last year, the dates don’t quite stack up, never mind the fact that the given source of this information, Society’s website, doesn’t exist. Now, a couple of old Beggars tracks, yes, they do feature in I Love You Man and What Happens When Two Impossibly Beautiful Single Adults Are Thrown Together To Look After A Recently Orphaned Toddler?, although Girdler insists he has neither seen nor owns them for posterity.

Society’s cinematic references are a little more exaggerated than a man crush between Paul Rudd and Jason Segel (although I’ve actually seen I Love You, Man, and it is, at times, really rather touching). Along with Lee Hazelwood’s 1960s work with Nancy Sinatra, David Axelrod is a heavy influence, the late ’60s/early ’70s orchestrator of jazz and RnB scores that were made for making all visuals a thousand times more glamorous. Serge Gainsbourg, too.

“The cinematic thing is something that we set out to do,” say Girdler. “Because we’ve not been making a record for anyone, you get a bit lost and start imagining it on a film – you start to put an image to it, because there’s nothing tangible when you’re just dicking around with sounds.”

Girdler tells me that, never mind that Society don’t have a record deal yet, “The album was done ages ago, but we so want it to be the perfect sounding record that we still think we’re one or two tracks off.”

By just getting on with it they’ve given themselves complete, dicking about freedom, allowing them to live out their motto of “the madder the better”.

(“The more stuff on the track, the better,” says Girdler. “We want a big soundscape so every time you listen to it you hear something different.”). Whether they’ll find a label to release the thing is a matter for another day, although Dizzee Rascal, Lana Del Ray, Scarlett Johansson, Adele, Beyoncé and Björk’s Kinder surprise I’m sure will have something to say about that.

Before leaving The Cube for photos in London’s Piccadilly Circus, we speculate as to what’s going on with Jay Electronica’s endlessly delayed debut album, as Girdler mentioned that he is someone he’d like to collaborate with. “He has got it spot on,” he laughs, “because he knows that the best thing you can do is never put a record out because then you can’t get a bad review. We’re not trying to the do that – we’re trying to finish a record. But does it matter how long it takes? The bottom line is if the record is good. If it’s amazing it’ll be huge.”

I’m not sure we’re talking about Jay Electronica anymore.

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