** I conducted this interview some time ago, for the scheduled debut edition of a Liverpool entertainment media outlet. That hasn’t materialised, but I feel this is a fascinating interview, and not one that should be left unread. I haven’t changed anything so please excuse the occasional parochialism.
OUTFIT ARE IMPOSSIBLE to pigeonhole, which is reason enough to like them. They’re not plinky-plonky electro, nor are they spacey-prog dub, and nor are they miserablist indie art rock students. To be honest, there’s an element in all the above in Outfit, but there’s far more to a band who first came to anyone’s OutfitOutfitnotice two years ago with the Two Islands 7” on Double Denim records. Their recently-released debut album Performance is a wondrous symphonic blend of dreamy pop, experimentation and traditionally-shaped songs. It was noted in the legendary trans-national blog Porky Prime Cuts as being marked by: “Plaintive vocals, haunting melodies, matter-of-fact lyrics and a reverential beauty.”
Much of their teenage years, says vocalist Andrew Hunt was spent wandering around the odd mixture of urban and pastoral areas. “I think having access to beautiful parks and hills when we were kids has fed into the dreamy sound of our music.”
The one who avoided this was drummer David Berger who is from Basel in Switzerland.
Hunt would frequent clubs in the city such as Useless and Valhalla soaking up the sounds and vibes of a variety of visiting acts.
Some of the band stayed for a while in a mansion called The Lodge, where toilets were cleaned infrequently, but it was a property that allowed them the space to work and play, to work on lineups and throw parties. “That spirit is still at the core of Outfit,” he says.
I caught up with Andrew to discuss his new Outfit.
YOU HAVE SAID Liverpool is pretty much Anytown, but Merseyside has such a rich musical tradition (Sonia, Atomic Kitten) it would be difficult to entirely distance yourself from such influences and expectations?
Hunt: Liverpool has had loads of great music come out of it, and it’s a scene that has been quite independent and bloody-minded at times, and I think we fall into that camp and are proud to have made a record here. If we’d have made the record in London it would sound different, for sure. We wouldn’t have had the space and time to focus on the craft of the record as much.
It was at the Lodge that your ears were filled with a variety of sounds. Which genres/ acts in particular were you taken by and how did this filter into the band as a unit and individually?
Hunt: I think we’d all been exposing ourselves to as much weird stuff as we could for years. I’d played in aPAtT for a few years and travelled round Europe and the UK playing shows in squats and various weird locations, as had Nick with Stig Noise.
When we were in the Lodge we called an end to a few projects we were doing and started to look towards doing something more emotionally resonant and ambitious. Tom, in particular, was listening to a lot of dance music and we were starting to think about incorporating that into a band context. We’ve always been big fans of all things new wave and progressive and I think that’s in our musical DNA whether we like it or not.
Song craft and the perfect pop song is something I’ve always been fascinated by and whilst living in the Lodge, Dave and I would work together on producing pop songs “for nothing in particular” just to try and hone in on what makes a song tick.
Portishead and 70s prog have been referenced but the Porky Prime Cuts blogsite suggests that the “spectre of ethereal-electro Norwegians Royksopp looms large.” Is any of that fair? Do you tire of references to particular acts (ie Talking Heads)?
Hunt: I knew and liked one Royksopp song when I was younger, it had a good keyboard sound. Electronica of that era had quite a proggy feel to it too, stuff like Plaid and Wagon Christ had these big extended chord progressions and ethereal sounds which was quite appealling. We’ve been compared to Hot Chip a lot, and whilst I think we’re a very different band to them, they are clearly interested in what makes different types of music work, and that’s something we’ve always been into. Most music we’ve all made has been compared to Talking Heads at one point and they were a huge early influence on us all, but nowadays I think we’ve passed that, to a place where we can really do what we want musically. There’s now something which is very “Outfit” about our music and that’s quite empowering.
You had an initial pool of songs for Performance, some of which made it onto the album, can you explain why some songs didn’t make it on, and why, and also were there any events following the writing of those tracks that made an impact on the recording sessions?
Hunt: It was just trying to get the songs to sit alongside each other well. We wanted the album to be varied but also to be coherent, we had some songs which had been written a year ago and some songs written last week, so we had to be good editors and not get too attached to ideas if they didn’t work for the album as a whole. A song like “Nothing Big” was a bit of a watershed moment where we realised what the sound and scope of the record could be like, and discovered new methods of production.
It does seem that the subject matter is highly personal and about the individual experience in a bizarre and somewhat crazy world.
Hunt: The songs are mostly about identity and where we all fit in the world. Learning to make decisions about what happens in your life and committing to things. A lot of Outfit songs lyrically come from a place maybe around 6am where you’re looking around at your friends and how your life is and having a bit of a moment, for better or for worse.
Given the world is in such chaos, with inequality rampant, and instability an inevitable part of our day to day existence, are you tempted to write about issues that concern you, and discuss such issues without fear of retribution and prejudice?
Hunt: I think there’s a danger of getting lost in subjects you “feel you ought to write about”. We write our lyrics after the music so there’s usually some kind of atmosphere which you’re trying to capture with words which fit the music, so there are some constraints to work with. I usually find the process of understanding what you’re writing about as you’re writing it, quite exciting and revealing. You write a bit, write some more, hit something that really works, go back and change the first bits, and so on and so on until you have a statement you’re happy with and can stand by. Having said that, “Thank God I Was Dreaming” is pretty much about the world being in chaos.
What inspired you to use such effects as footsteps in the snow, snooker balls, and skateboards?
Hunt: We wanted to avoid certain sounds which are ubiquitous in “band” music, particularly with the drums. We wanted them to sound different and one easy way to do that is to not use drums! So we’d combine bits of real drums with percussive samples of various things like you mentioned to make a more textured drum track. We referred to this throughout the recording process as “the crunch”. It was a way for us to give the album a sonic identity which was unique.
It’s an evocative name, but when I Googled it, I came up with various sites on women’s fashion. I assume that you would have considered that before deciding on the name.
Hunt: Tom came up with the name, it’s very stark and post-punk and I like that. Bands like Magazine, and Television had these iconic names which were arch but simple and it seemed like a name you could do what you want with, like The Band which is one of the greatest names ever.