Interview #7: The Scottish Enlightenment

Photo by Chris Pilkington.

David Moyes is frontman for the Scottish Enlightenment, a 4 piece from Dunfermline/Edinburgh.  I had been an admirer of the band from afar for sometime and had asked them to play Trampoline on several occasions.  For one reason or another we never managed to arrange anything.  That is until December last year when they popped across to play the first Trampoline all day event.  To say I was blown away by their performance would be an understatement.  Absolutely brilliant as I am sure anyone who witnessed it would testify.  They are without doubt one of my tips for 2010 and David has kindly taken time out from his busy parenting schedule to answer some questions in this the 7th interview for the Steinberg Principle. As a quick aside, my last question is not necessarily a dig at Dunfermline.  My mum is from there and I actually think it’s a pretty wee place, as David explains, but I like to wind my mum up so I thought I’d throw that question in at the end.  Sorry mum.  Anyways, enjoy.

TSP: How would you describe the music you make?

DM: Ecclesiastic Rock. For now.

TSP: St Thomas, the new album, is due out in the early part of the year.  What can people expect from this album?

DM: We wanted it to sound like it was recorded in a big church, and i think it does. We’ve all been listening to bands like Low and Sigur Ros a lot, so that slowcore thing is in there, but its not a slowcore album. Little Sleep, for example, is a rip off of a Death Cab for Cutie song that i heard a snippet of on the telly and copied. Its loud and fast. I think its a dramatic album. And its all about doubt. Writing a lot of songs about one thing is definitely part of what we are. Its just an exciting thing to do. And i like to listen to albums that are like that. E.g: I couldn’t care less about the Stereophonics, except when it comes to Word Gets Around, the first album – because its all about small town life I actually really like it. That’s how albums work for me.

TSP: Do you think it’s a change in direction for the band and if so, was this a natural progression as you matured or was there a concious decision to do something different?

DM: I think it was a natural progression but not really a change of direction. Cheesily enough, it was when my daughter was born, i realised some things, most importantly that I was now nothing like what people expected from someone in a band. That made me finally give up the attempt to sound like (what i imagined) other people wanted. So we started doing all these slow lovely songs that you cant dance to. My song writing became more honest i think – which actually meant more sentimental and more angry. So i suppose there was a lot of maturing behind it – the kind of enforced maturing that comes from coming home from a gig with your ears humming and finding your wife up with a screaming baby.

TSP: What is the writing process like within the band?  Is it a collaborative effort?

DM: It kind of is and kind of isn’t. I write the songs in their basic form, but the final thing is often quite different to how i imagine it sounding. There’s normally and idea to the overall sound – like it should sound like a giraffe running with a limp (as with the christmas song we’ve got lined up for next year) or that it should sound like thing sound as you’re falling asleep – these kind of ideas tend to guide the overall sound. But a lot of my favourite bits on the album are down to the other guys in the band. Like the bass line on Necromancer, which Angus just came up with at home after practice. I could never have thought of it. And Dave has a real understanding of how to find beautiful notes – i have total faith in that now. Mike is an semi-autistic maths savant, and he works his drum parts out on a calculator.

TSP: Vic Galloway just included you guys in his top 50 bands to keep an eye on in 2010.  How does that make you feel and are there any Scottish bands in particular that you yourself feel people should be watching out for in the year ahead.

DM: Did he? That’s a lot of bands to keep your eye on. I know he liked the songs we put up for free download. Glad he does, and it’s good to know it stuck in his head enough to make that list. As for Scottish Bands, there are a lot of bands i think are great, but its a different thing to use the term ‘ones to watch’ – like stocks or something. Mitchell Museum are great right now! People should have been watching out for them in 2009; same applies this year unless they start to get crap, which they wont im sure. Dan Lyth is a friend who mixed and mastered our album, and he’s done a session on Vics show and is doing a lot of gigs around the country – I think it’ll be a good year for him. I also really like Jesus H Foxx, so hopefully they’ll have a good year and release loads of stuff.

TSP: The Scottish Enlightenment is a fascinating name.  Being a total Scottish History nerd myself (shhh, don’t tell!) I was aware of the Enlightenment myself, but was the band name chosen simply because the name “sounded cool” or in fact because you wanted to be part of something bigger within Scottish music with the name reflecting what you hoped to achieve?

DM: I know all about the philosophy of the period through studying at Aberdeen Uni for 6 years and working for a Scottish philosophy history study centre up there. But i really just chose it cos i thought it sounded weird for a band. But I like to prance around gobbing off about it being a mix of the local and the universal, the corporeal and the conceptual, the blah and the blah. Its just because it sounded weird.

TSP: On that note, what are your feelings on the current state of the Scottish music scene?

DM: I dont know. I spend 99% of my time working and being a dad. There are bands i really like, and i think that the Edinburgh scene is feeling healthy. Maybe Edinburgh should be the barometer of the Scottish scene. Glasgow will always be lively. Its places like Dundee, Edinburgh and Aberdeen that come and go. I think Edinburgh is the most interesting place for music just now – partly because it isnt always.

TSP: What inspires the music?  Is there an element of your love of Scottih History (just assuming you love Scottish History here, just answer the first part if I’m wrong!) involved in the songs as well as the name or am I reading too much into this?!

DM: I think the music is inspired by music, if that doesn’t sound obtuse. The whole thing is just to make beautiful sounds. But the particular sounds we’re drawn to…I dont know why it is what it is. Maybe its the things we grew up around, or maybe its to do with the kind of people we think we are. Both of those are involved i think. But this is all convoluted conjecture. In terms of lyrics, fundamentally its a way of speaking about problems. And in the end, the music takes a lot of cues from those lyrical themes. So when i was thinking a lot about faith and doubt, religion and uncertainty, the music took on a kind of hymnal mood, and that became St Thomas. Thats why we consciously made it sound like it was recorded in a church – because the songs were dealing with issues related to my religious background. I think that symbiotic thing between lyrics and music is what makes songwriting such a great way of being creative.

TSP: So what are your hopes for the record and plans for the rest of 2010?

DM: For the record, we just hope that it gets heard by a lot of people who like it. That’s it really. All the agonising is done with. For the rest of the year we’re going to play gigs, and get as good at it as we can. Recording wise, i want to release an EP at halloween. I get the feeling we can make a good scary record, and so far 7 or 8 songs have been attaching themselves to the idea. Then there are a couple of christmas songs we didn’t get to do this year, so i think 2010 will be a seasonally apt year for us. I also have a long standing plan to start a choir. We’ve had one rehearsal so far, but there were only four of us. Its got a name though – The Common Sense School Choir. I hope that by easter, it will be a going concern.

TSP: Finally, Dunfermline.  Discuss. 

DM: Here, Dunfermline is actually a very beautiful old town in bits. It just has a real lack of confidence and identity. You know a town is a bit lost when the new Debenhams is the first thing people think of as a plus point. But if you bend all your walking routes towards the Glen (or Pittencrieff Park to outsiders), stop by Cafe Fresh whenever possible, and see some of the good stuff thats on at The Alhambra or the Carnegie Hall, its a pretty nice place to live. Me, i just get up at 6am on a monday, burrow underground for 5 days and then resurface at 8pm on Friday with a glass of wine, a film, and a pile of ironing waiting for the weekend. Oh, and my comprehensive collection of music DVDs. Dunfermline doesn’t get in the way.

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2 thoughts on “Interview #7: The Scottish Enlightenment

  1. My old band/other band played in Dundee with the Scottish Enlightenment a couple of years ago, thought they were great then so I’m looking forward to the album.

    We were meant to get them back up but it never happened for various reasons, so if anyone from the band is reading then sorry about that.

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