The far-ranging, catholic tastes of Erland & the Carnival were evident on their self-titled debut, which galloped from near-madrigals to mind-bending psychedelic rockers. On their second album, Nightingale, which was released physically this week via Yep Roc and Full Time Hobby, the British band has managed to push the envelope even further.
The "supergroup" quintet of Erland Cooper, Simon Tong (The Verve, Blur, Gorillaz, The Good, The Bad & The Queen), David Nock (The Orb, The Cult, Paul McCartney), Andrew Bruce and Danny Wheeler delve ambitiously into the historic span of European music on Nightingale. Threads of pagan compositions, 60s rock, Britpop and even French chansons converge in tracks like "Map of an Englishman," "The Dream of the Rood" and "Emmeline."
Erland & the Carnival are in the midst of their UK and play Birmingham tonight, March 31, and they have lined up a European tour this April, along with a festivals this summer. They hope to return Stateside later this year.
The Alternate Side caught up with Erland & the Carnival's David Nock and Simon Tong over email shortly after SXSW and chatted about the new record which Tong cheekily describes as "a married couple going to marriage guidance, swearing and throwing saucepans at each other:"
TAS: How did you survive SXSW's no-sleep, too many gigs, excessive burritos and drunken-crowds-on-6th-Street grind? What were a couple of your more memorable experiences or gigs?
David Nock: We had a little pool at our motel on I45 which fared us very well in escaping the throngs of people and finding a moment to decompress. I quite enjoyed the family of drunk raccoons that were trapezeing above our heads at the Red Eye Fly gig.
Simon Tong: 6th street was a little too busy for a boy from the sparsely populated Orkney Islands, but we really enjoyed the more out-of-the-way shows. We played a few chilled out BBQs in people's backyards and the French Legation was wonderful oasis of calm in the surrounding madness.
TAS: What other bands or artists did you catch at SXSW that really impressed you - for better or worse?
David: We had very little time with our schedule to really get stuck into watching other bands but we were wandering around South Congress Street, picking through some unbelievable thrift stores. After having a bite to eat at the mezmerisingly wonderful South Congress Cafe, all our ears perked up and we found ourselves transfixed by The Black Angels' amazing, psychedelic show. After hearing a lot of fairly mediocre, similar sounding bands as you float round SXSW, these guys were offering something quite different and wonderful.
Simon: The Strokes were great as you would expect and Emmylou Harris' voice brought us practically to tears. Fellow countrymen Still Corners were wonderful too as were label mates White Denim.
TAS: Nightingale is out Stateside this week - what songs are most exciting to play in front of a live crowd and why? Which tracks off the new album have grown most vividly since recording the album?
David: We started our first show [at SXSW] with "So Tired In The Morning" which is a fantastic way to shake off the traveling stiffs and plug straight into the mainframe! I think tracks are always being refeined and tinkered with and will continue to evolve over time with repeated playing. There are always bits to tinker with, hone in and make better.
Simon: The opening track "So Tired In The Morning" is becoming a live favourite as is the title track "Nightingale." Also really enjoyed playing "Emmeline" as the intro - much like SXSW itself - has a Hitchcock connection!
TAS: As it's the band's sophomore album, have you begun to really understand your strengths? What do you think had been your weaknesses as a "younger" band and how did the recording of Nightingale helped you grow as musicians, collaborators and even friends? Did you feel more confident to take more risks?
David: I think the whole process has a lot to do with time frame. We recorded the first album in just a couple of weekends but we had much time on the production and development of tracks on Nightingale which allowed us to explore the deeper recesses and further flung corners of our collective brains.
Simon: One reviewer described our first album as sounding like a newly married couple enjoying their honeymoon with wild abandon. The second album is more like a married couple going to marriage guidance, swearing and throwing saucepans at each other.
TAS: There's a fierce reverence that you have for bands like the Byrds, Cream or even The Zombies and there's also a fascination with classic English (and world) poetry, literature, and even artists, like the somewhat controversial Grayson Perry. Do you all obsessively collect scraps and pieces of what you love and find ways of incorporating it into the songs?
David: We are all at it all of the time. The world is piled high with weird, unusual, fantastic, miscellaneous, reverential, underrated, never-before-heard-of sources of inspiration and we have a collective desire to unearth some hidden treasures and bring it back home to share with the rest of the band.
Simon: Everyone brings ideas to the table. We collect ideas from films, books, car boot sales (garage sales in US) and art. When we were recording the album in our boat studio on the river Thames we would visit the Tate Britain art gallery each morning for ideas. Artists like Mike Nelson, Susan Hiller and of course Grayson Perry were a great inspiration as well as the old masters!
TAS: Why was "The Dream of The Rood" something you very much wanted to record?
David: I thought it was such an obscure, ancient source to reference that it would be wicked to see how it would sit in a modern context.
Simon: It's the one of the oldest poems written in English and bridges the gap between old English paganism and the introduction of Christianity. Great imagery and feels very comtemporary somehow even though its 1500 years old.
TAS: You recorded the album on HMS President, an old WWII ship that's docked by Embankment on the Thames. How do you think that location shaped the mood of the album?
David: It was difficult not to be influenced by such an unusual environment. I think any space or location shapes your perception and buried deep in the hull of an early 20th century warship, in a small, dank, claustrophobic room below the waterline had profound effects on the record. Also the sense of tension release when you climb from beneath the waves to stand on the deck and realize you stood in the center of one of the most fantastic and buzzing cities on the planet and you can wander over to the Tate Modern or take a relaxing walk around tranquil gardens of Inner Temple.
TAS: You've got upcoming UK and European gigs coming up and you're touring with the wonderful Hannah Peel. What do you like about her music? You seem kindred spirits.
David: She has an absolutely beautiful voice which we all rather fell in love with when we did a Carnivalization (of version of a remix) of her track "Almond Tree." She also comes from Geoff Dolman's Static Caravan record label. He was one of the first to really understand our music and was instrumental in bringing about or first release and it felt right for us to get together for this tour.
Simon: Hannah is a wonderful artist and has an interesting vocal style as well as a diverse musicality. She uses ideas from books and old folk songs. She is also on the fant\astic.
TAS: Any plans on returning for a proper US tour? What are the festivals you're most looking forward to doing and why?
David: I think we'll try and return to the states this year but we have a fairly rigorous tour of the UK and Europe first off, straight after SXSW. We're looking forward to Hop Farm Festival this summer. It's going to be great fun to play on the same stage as Eagles, 10cc, Lou Reed, Morrissey, Iggy Pop and Patti Smith!
Simon: We are hoping to get back to the US in the summer sometime, either supporting or our own tour. Really looking forward to the Hop Farm Festival in the UK. Fabulous line up this year