Broken Records. I first saw them at a Gentle Invasion show and to be perfectly honest was blown away. This was before the days of Trampoline and I was used to going to local shows and being massively underwhelmed by the bands I saw playing. Broken Records were unlike any unsigned artist I’d seen before. They sounded very professional, in a ramshackle way, and they combined big ballsy tunes with real raw emotion. It’s a something that I’ve always loved about their music and it was clear, even then, that they had unbelievable potential. The Kays were then lucky enough to do some shows with them and Shady Bard and since then I’ve watched their careers develop with real interest and a sense of pride that such a lovely bunch of guys from Edinburgh could make the strides that they have made in music. Sure, it’s been tough. I think it probably still is tough for them financially. However, signed to 4AD and with their second album due for release later this year, things are looking bright for the band. Frontman Jamie Sutherland, a thoroughly lovely man, kindly took the time to answer some questions I threw his way in this the 20th interview here on The Steinberg Principle. It’s been a while. I’ve been slacking. For which I apologise. Anyways, check out Broken Records here but first, enjoy.
TSP: Taking you back to the very beginning, how did Broken records come together? Was the vision always to form a band rather than just playing as a solo artist or was it something that just seemed to happen naturally?
JS: I dropped out of Uni at St Andrews, studying English and Philosophy, to play music, and gradually started doing the Edinburgh open mic scene, and from there kind of picked up a band. It was really organic, meeting mates of mates who could play instruments, and then they brought new folk into the fold. Edinburgh is a small city and it turned out we all should have met each other before anyway (Gill was at School with Ian, and I went to Uni with Dave and Andy, having all the same friends but never actually meeting!), it’s strange how these things work out! I’ve always liked the idea of being in a band…I like the weird gang mentality and family element of it.
TSP: Am I right in thinking that you quit University to follow your dream to become a successful musician?
JS: As above!
TSP: It seemed to me that you hadn’t done too many gigs before the name Broken Records started to be mentioned widely in Scottish music circles. Were you surprised with the speed with which you started to receive such attention?
JS: Definitely. I knew from our first practice together that we had something, as it just clicked from the first moment. It just sounded better than any band I had been in before. It took us a while to get musically tight, as we all had very little playing experience or stage craft, but we all knew we were onto something. Within six months folk were quitting professional jobs to dedicate more time to it, so it is just one of those things that came along at exactly the right time in everyone’s lives. From there we just worked and worked to get better, and this paid dividends in terms of being noticed.
TSP: Your live performances have always been something special. How much pleasure do you get from playing live? Has this buzz changed from when you started until now or do you still feel the same sense of excitement every time you get up on stage?
JS: I have always felt that this band has always been very much a live experience…possibly to our detriment sometimes. We all love the experience and excitement of it all, and this is the one thing that remains undiminished since entering the murky world of the music business. Personally we have always been about trying to make folk dance and cry in the same set…that kind of soul revue thing. I am a huge fan of Motown/Tamla, and I guess it kind of bleeds from the baptist church elements in that…The sheer joy of experience through music.
TSP: Given how well received your earlier EP was and the buzz that had been generated from this and your live performances, were you a little surprised by some of the reactions to Until The Earth Begins To Part? Did you think the press response was unfair, perhaps even over the top?
JS: I do think the press were a little harsh in places, but this is less to do with the quality of our work than the timing of when it came out. The product was much the same, however when the EP came out, big, bold rock music was in, and due to various record company wranglings and being let down by people, the record came out about six months later than it should, by which time people were listening to Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes… all sorts of nuanced, minimal, harmony stuff. Our album got reviewed through the lense of what was current, and it didn’t really belong in that kind of scene. I also thought folk had massively high expectations of the record, and it maybe wasn’t what they expected…I still love it, even though I can see some of it’s flaws.
TSP: Did the reaction make you even more determined now when it comes to the second album or do you feel its best to focus on making the album that you want to make and not what others want you to make?
JS: Of course you want to go out and prove everyone wrong, but it is important to listen sometimes. Not necessarily just to the critics, but to overall themes in what people are saying, as I feel it is the one bad review in a hundred good ones that actually means anything to you, no matter how much it hurts.
TSP: A few new tracks have been seeping through in recent live performances. Are there plans to start work in ernest on the second record yet or are you still focusing on pushing the debut and playing live?
JS: We will have the next record available sometime towards the end of the year hopefully. It’s recorded and ready to go, it just needs the right time to come out. It was all written in largely the most stressful six months of my life, outside of a couple of tracks, but we are all very proud of it. It hopefully shows off a different sid e to the band.
TSP: What are the plans for 2010?
JS: Hopefully bring out the record, and then tour it. We did SXSW in March which was amazing, and we have a few festivals lined up to keep us tiding over.
TSP: You have been fairly vocal in your support of local music but which bands from Edinburgh and wider Scotland are you most impressed by and why?
JS: I will always love the bands that I feel are my generation of bands in Edinburgh. Certainly in Edinburgh, the eagleowls, Meursaults, Withered Hands and Kay’s Lavelles, I will always have a soft spot and huge respect for, as friends as well as peers. Further afield, we toured with the Twilight Sad and have played with Frabbit and Jetpacks, all of whom are great bands and really nice people. A real favourite of mine are Sparrow and the Workshop, as we toured the album with them, really loved what they did as a band, but also because they became good friends. Just genuinely decent people.
TSP: You mentioned once that you think sometimes underground bands suffer from a lack of ambition. Can you share a little more of your thoughts on this?
JS: I don’t think it is ambition, I think it is just the willingness to gamble. We sometimes seem to get this backlash from folk who think we are in some big, monied rock band. We all quit our jobs, put our girlfriends/wives/lives on hold, and got into massive amounts of debt to do this (As of now, I have been in this band for three years and not made a penny). We have worked ourselves to the bone touring the country to small crowds, and it gets very frustrating when bands sit at home resting on their laurels. If you are genuinely good, get out and tour, tie your colours to the mast, and then you can find out how good you are. If you believe in what you do, go and do it, and really try your hardest, don’t just have your mates pat you on the back, because it doesn’t mean anything.
TSP: What’s on the stereo at the moment?
JS: For this record I have been listeing to a lot of early REM, Springsteen’s Nebraska and also Titus Andronicus’ two records, which I think are great. At this very moment it is Eagle Owl’s “Sleep the Winter” on the record player.
TSP: When you guys hit the road is there often a debate about what music should be on the bus stereo? What’s the tour bus music of choice normally?
JS: Normally it is the radio (a lot of the time Radio 2! Jeremy Vine and Pop Master quiz, ooohh!). The one constant is not letting Kas our sound engineer anywhere near it, as we’ll soon get some Frankie Goes to Hollywood or Boo Radley’s blasting in the back….
TSP: And when you get back from being away doing shows do you just want to disengage from music, or is that not possible?
JS: I tend not to be able to think or play music for at least a couple of days after coming home…I wish I could be that in love with music, but I find touring so draining and uninspiring (it’s very dull!), that it normally takes a couple of days to get back into loving it again.
TSP: Finally, is there 1 record in your collection that you could not live without?
JS: I often don’t give it as much time as I should these days, but I have so many memories tied up in the Red House Painters, “Ocean Beach”, that I would probabaly miss it more than any other music I own.