The swirling, psychedelic folk rock of Erland and the Carnival falls right in step with the spate of UK bands, from Mumford & Sons to The Coral, that have created a quirky, reverent, but original spin on the legacy of classic British and American bands like Fairport Convention, Captain Beefheart and The Zombies.
Led by Scottish singer and songwriter Erland Cooper, who mines everything from the verses of William Blake to the saturnine strains of the ancient ballad "Greensleeves," Erland and the Carnival is also a supergroup of sorts, with guitarist Simon Tong (Gorillaz, The Verve, Blur and The Good, The Bad & The Queen) and drummer David Nock (The Orb, David Gilmour and Paul McCartney's The Fireman) as full-time band members along with keyboardist Andy Bruce and bassist Danny Wheeler.
The band releases their sophomore effort Nightingale on March 29 on Full Time Hobby/Yep Roc (and March 7 in the UK). When they supported Paul Weller and Villagers in New York earlier this fall, the quintet dropped by The Alternate Side to chat about the making of their new album, recorded in the depths of a former battleship floating on the Thames, and they played several songs from their eponymous debut album and most recent EP, Trouble In Mind:
Alisa Ali: What is the song "Everything Came Too Easy" about?
David Nock: It’s based on a speech by Charles Van Doren, from the quiz show scandal. We loved it. It’s a really great speech. We’d seen it in the film and then researched it and it’s compelling. It goes for all of us, really. Anyone living in the Western world; we’ve got it pretty good. So take heed and listen.
Alisa: There’s a good game called "Catch Phrase." Do you bring that on the van with you?
David: No, we haven’t any toys in the van.
Alisa: Just guitars
David: And cameras. The camera has come out quite a bit.
Alisa: Any weird, compromising photos?
David: Always. What have I just admitted to?
Alisa: You’re all seasoned musicians?
Simon Tong: Seasoned?
David: Seasoned lightly.
Alisa: You’ve all been in other bands?
David: Um, yeah. Danny hasn’t. Danny, is this your first band?
Simon: He was in Ocean Boulevard!
Erland: Ocean Boulevard. That was a cracker (Danny laughs). This is the first band that I’ve been in. And Danny, aside from Ocean Boulevard, but we’ve covered that one.
Alisa: What bands have you been in? Background.
Simon: I’ve been in Showaddywaddy. And The Buggles.
Alisa: Oh Simon, come on. Don’t be ashamed.
David: Look up Simon online and that’s all that you need to know.
Alisa: Okay, well, Simon was in The Verve. And Blur. And The Good and The Bad & The Queen. But how did you guys meet and get together?
Erland: We met at a folk night in London. An eclectic night of folk musicians and we all got together after that to try at some material, demoed some songs and we decided then and there to make a record and tour with it.
Erland: Yes, that was Simon and David’s project with a guy called Youth [Martin Glover]. There’s some great artists on it. Have you heard the record?
Erland: It’s good.
Alisa: I’ve got to get my hands on it. Did you bring me a copy?
Erland: I didn’t, no.
Alisa: You’ve done a fair amount of research, haven’t you Erland?
Erland: I don’t know. That sounds like a cryptic question. Where are you going?
Alisa: Well, you studied Bert Jansch for a while. And Davy Graham.
Erland: I think most people who learn guitar tend to come across those artists and aspire to play like them.
Alisa: What about you, Simon?
Simon: Yeah, um. What?
Alisa: Were you a fan of Bert Jansch and did you aspire to play like him?
Simon: No. Not really. Not particularly him.
Alisa: Who then?
Simon: Well, no one really. I suppose I started learning folk style, as you first start learning guitar. Old blues and folk songs. I suppose that’s how I got into folk, by discovering folk music in general, I suppose.
Alisa: Can you tell me a little about “You Don’t Have To Be Lonely?”
David: It was kind of a whisky-fueled incarnation.
Simon: It really doesn’t have a story behind it.
Erland: It was a hedonistic affair.
David: Written under the influence. I don’t remember. I just made that up.
Alisa: How do you remember this stuff in the morning then?
David: Erland has the most amazing memory for melodies. He’ll go to the library and come home with a stack of melodies.
Erland: It’s actually the melody from “Greensleeves.” Kind of. Close to that.
Simon: Is it? (all laugh)
Erland: I might get sued for that.
Simon: I think the person’s dead who wrote “Greensleeves.”
Erland: Like for 500 years. That’s the oldest British song, isn’t it?
Alisa: Where did you guys record this EP?
David: We recorded this at Studio 13 [owned by Damon Albarn].
Simon: We do stuff at home as well. Everyone’s got their own little studio at home.
Erland: Sheds and attics.
Simon: We’ve been emailing stuff, correlating it at different points.
Alisa: Are you in agreement about most things?
David: If you really want something, you fight for it. And if you really don’t like something, you really make that so and then we work it out from there. Usually we do all agree and the lightbulb goes off, [and we say], “That’s the one that we want.”
Alisa: Is there anything on this record that one of you fought for and successfully convinced the others?
David: It’s really confusing because we’ve just made our second record and all my head is on the second record. I can’t even think of the first record. How did that happen? It’s been a really interesting process, the second one. Expectations from us and an audience and everything.
Simon: We did the second one on a ship. We got a studio on the bottom of a ship.
Erland: On the Thames. In London.
David: It was recorded underwater, pretty much.
Alisa: How did that affect you?
David: Cabin fever set in.
Erland: A little bit seasick for a while.
David: There are all of these strange sounds that you hear and don’t know whether they’re on the recording or not. So then we started sampling the sounds that we could hear and putting them on the record. It was an odd one.
Alisa: So was this session more interesting or fun than the first one?
David: The first one was really quick.
Simon: Two weekends in a studio.
David: Because you have the songs for awhile and you play and rehearse them, but with the second, the process was over a longer period.
Erland: But with the first we just did two weekends, a week mixing, and that was it.
David: It all clicked together. It was an easy process. On the new album [Nightingale] we’re setting ourselves up for much more of a challenge so it’s much more exploratory. The roots of the songs have been there for quite a while but finding the form for them, how to produce them, give them life. It’s gone thorough a few different guises. Some we love and some we hate. But we got something really special at the end of it.