Music Interview: Guillemots

Dave Newbury
By Dave Newbury Last edited 72 months ago
Music Interview: Guillemots

Since releasing their debut album Through the Windowpane in 2006 Guillemots have grown to be one the best respected folk rock bands in Britain. Renowned for playing typewriters, and filling the stage with antiques, their live shows have taken them to the world biggest stages while acquiring fans such as Paul McCartney and Michael Stipe along the way.

Any accusations of whimsy have rubbished by Brit Award and Mercury Prize nominations, and adopting an experimental approach to pop meant their recent third album Walk The River propelled the band into the realm of Pentangle’s psychedelic acoustica. Having arguably opened the door for the quirky pop of Mumford and Sons, they’ve developed into a mature, driving and phenomenal live band.

Rounding off a globetrotting year with a massive UK tour which includes a show at Camden’s Koko Guillemots are safely one of Britain’s best bands with songs like Trains To Brazil and Annie Lets Not Wait certifying them as official chart botherers. But it’s the simple things like good food, open space, more food, and a spot of X Factor that most appeal to frontman and adopted Londoner Fyfe Dangerfield as he speaks to Londonist about his favourite restaurants and writing theatre soundtracks.

How was the tour of South America?
It was great really incredible audiences there was real warmth from the people. We’d not been there before even though were connected with Brazil with our guitarist being from there. It was amazing and we just want to go back as soon as we can.

How come you hadn’t been there before?
I don’t know to be honest but we’d wanted to for a long time but for whatever reason it hadn’t happened.  We’ve gone out there now that’s the main thing

Is the preparation different for the current UK tour compared to South America?
Not really. Touring’s touring really. Obviously we’ve toured Britain before so it’s less of a surprise for us because we know what all the places are like. Touring’s always the same. There a lot of driving around and sitting around and trying to conserve energy for the hour or two you’re on stage.

Do you like it?
It’s lovely playing a gig, it’s wonderful when you go on stage and you have a great audience. I’m not a fan of the touring process and going away for weeks on end not really doing much. But the actual playing of gigs I love, it’s just the in-between bits. But I don’t think anyone really enjoys that it’s just part of the territory. I’d rather be doing that though then not being asked to do any gigs.

On this tour you’re playing Koko, one of London’s many legendary venues. What other legendary venues do you like and where would you play if you could play anywhere?
Somerset House for the Summer Series, was really lovely, that was one of our best gigs. We got to play the Astoria before it shut which was really nice. There are a lot of London venues but I can’t think of anywhere I’d like to play that we haven’t already. Perhaps Wembley. I’d quite like to play St Pauls Cathedral actually. If I can get in.

You’re not originally from London so what attracted you here?
Well they say the streets were paved with gold… I just wanted to move somewhere else. I’m originally from Birmingham in Worcestershire and I lived in Sheldon for a period instead of going to University while I was in a band, and got a job playing the piano. Then I moved back home for a bit, but I was 21 and living at home and I kept thinking I’ve got to get out of this.

While I was trying to figure out what to do, a friend of my brother who lived in London phoned up and said there was room going in his flat if I wanted it. I had been hoping to come to London anyway but had always been over awed. I was young and this was pre the internet being prevalent. Back then you just had to turn up and buy Loot and it was quite intimidating, so I was quite lucky that I got an inlet like that. London was the obvious choice really. I just wanted to go somewhere I didn’t know any one and would meet people to form a band with and play music, so you might as well go to the biggest city in the country.

Has London been as inspiration to your music?
I think you take all your experiences as inspiration. I’m sure it has, I haven’t consciously written any songs about living in London but you can’t help but be inspired.

In what area of London do you live in and what makes it special?
I’ve lived in Stoke Newington for about six years now. When I first came to London, before I was even living in that area, there was always a lot of stuff going on around there and in Dalston. Then around the time we got a deal I was looking for somewhere new to live and thought it seemed cool.  There’s a lot of great places to go, although I find yourself not going out very much when I’m back in London, I just relax. There are lots of really great places to eat and amazing open spaces nearby. But people who don’t really know it say, but how do you get anywhere? but it’s so easy to get around. It’s just because it’s not on the Tube, I hate the Tube anyway.

What are some of these favourite restaurants and open spaces?
I really love a place called Morito on Exmouth Market that I go to a lot. It’s part of Moro the restaurant next door, like a sister restaurant. Moro is pretty good put obviously it’s a bit posh, but Morito is just really good tapas. It’s tapas in the sense of small plates and sharing but it’s not your normal taps of patatas bravas and squid rings. It’s really delicious and they have an amazing range of about seven different Sherries. It’s really informal and buzzy, I love going there.

Near me there’s a seafood place in Stoke Newington called La Sera that I really like.  Also an indian restaurant called Rasa. The original one is in Stoke Newington and that’s amazing. There are so many good places. I love food basically; it’s one of my biggest things other than music. Corrigans in Mayfair is very good too.

The best roast in London in at a place called The Compass in Islington very near the Lexington. I’ve searched high and wide and that’s now my regular place for a roast on a Sunday. They do a good nut roast for veggies too.

Do you get chance to seek out and experience different food places while on tour?
Yeah I try to. I’m always the one trying to arrange meals. I remember once we had one gig in Scotland and we literally ran off stage to get into this Michelin starred restaurant called Abstract (actually named a rising star in the 2007 Michelin guide, but still pretty good- Ed)  that we’d been booked in to an had to be there for a certain time. We didn’t do an encore that night (laughs). Well these things become so important when you’re on tour. OK, it was probably a bit rude, but it was amazing.  I just remember the starter which was beetroot done about five different ways- you remember the little details. Taste is such an amazing sensation.

You said open space is important to you too?
Yeah definitely. In Stoke Newington Clissold Park is great. There’s also Abney Park Cemetery which is fantastic. It’s like this overgrown woodland with Tawny Owls nesting in there. But if you go the other way toward Clapton there’s Springfield Park, which is a bit undiscovered really and it’s amazing. It looks over the Lee Valley with the river and canal boats. There’s this amazing pub on the river called the Anchor and Hope which is a sort of dilapidated and the opposite of a gastro pub. It’s just wonderful.

How do you relax, or is it all food and open spaces?
Generally to relax, if I’m being honest, I just slump on a sofa. My idea of relaxing isn’t normally going out. I love walking but I don’t think of that as relaxing. My take on it is lying down and staying in one place. So relaxing for me is usually staying in. Like a Sunday night doing the typical, watch X Factor, eat pizza watch a film. A bit of mindlessness, everybody needs mindlessness.

Is it important to have a differentiation between creativity and relaxing?
It’s quite hard to get the balance right for anyone who does what I do because it’s not as though you go to the office do your job then leave. Writing and being creative is such a strange and elusive thing and just by living you’re doing the job. It’s a really hard boundary to get right. I’ve often been in this blurry place where I’m sort of thinking I should be writing, so I do a bit and then get distracted, and I’ve got to the end of the day and I haven’t relaxed or worked. But I’m getting better now and I can say, right I’m going to work for eight hours where I’m going to try and make music, then after that I’m going to just listen to the radio or do whatever I want to do. If I carry on making music after that then it’s purely for pleasure.

I love making music but I thrive off being around other people, so when I’m by myself I find I really have to force myself to do something because all I want to do then is lie down. Basically, I’m very lethargic. But whenever I do make myself I always come up with something. It shows a bit of disciple goes a long way.

Do any other musicians inspire you to work and be creative?
I’ve found Animal Collective quite inspiring. I really like Wild Beasts and Janelle Monae. Fionn Regan's wonderful at doing acoustic music, I love his new record. There’s stuff to hear all the time. The main place I go to for music is listening to strange radio programmes like the Late Junction on Radio 3 which is just great. They play music from all around the world and It’s so nice to hear a programme that doesn't just play guitar bands or what is considered pop music. I love Jarvis Cocker’s Sunday Service show on 6 Music I make a point of catching up with that every single week. He always plays really good stuff and It’s always interesting. That’s my way of coming across most new music, rather than on-line. I don’t spend a lot of time surfing, I guess I’m quite traditional like that.  I do obviously watch things on-line but I find you never fully engage.

So is it important to have a more involved real life connection?
You have to make an effort when you’re an adult because things like music and artists are quiet sacred. I’m not anti-internet at all, I think it’s amazing. The danger is that it makes everything so accessible and things are just grouped together. You’ll be on Twitter and see that someone has put up a link to a video so you take a look while carrying on chatting and you’re just taking everything in without thinking.  I’ve found myself listening to an album I’ve bought while making dinner or sending e-mails so it’s important to try and make the time to lie on the sofa for two hours and just listen to music, turn the telephone off and know no one’s going to disturb me from this bubble. The brain needs time when it’s just being vacant and not being titillated, I think it’s important for your wellbeing.

How does that work on tour? Are you able to have your own space when you’re a band travelling together?
Well we’ve travelled lot now and we all know what it’s like. We value our space.  I think on this tour we’re doing now we’re having our own rooms every night for a change.

What are the pit falls of being an international touring popstar?
(laughs) I don’t really think of myself as a pop star.  Pitfalls? I don’t think there are any. There are things that come with the job that you don’t really like doing, but I’m lucky really. There are so many people who are incredibly talented but have to do other things for a living. One of the more negative things suppose is that you get involved in a strange sort of world, where a few months of your life have gone and all you’ve done is play shows for an hour and a half. I don’t think there are any pitfalls; you just need to be headstrong and not let other people opinions influence you too much.

What are the future plans?
I’m writing and doing the music soundtrack for a musical Howl's Moving Castle which is going to be a theatre show that uses a lot of images. The whole set is going to be projected.  That’s going to be running all over December in a theatre called the Vault, part of Southwark Playhouse under London Bridge.

How did you get involved in that?
The people who did our last video are directing it and it had a lot of projections in it and that’s their main thing. So I asked if someone was doing the music and they said they were just starting to look so I volunteered myself.

Is it similar to your Guillemots and solo material?
No. There are no vocals on it for a start, and it doesn’t sound like Guillemots at all. It’s just music really. I might put it out as a soundtrack album or I might use them on something else. I’ll definitely use some of the stuff I’ve done I really like it, but in what context yet I’m not sure.

Other than that, we’re just going to be sorting our lives out. We’ve just recorded some new stuff and were very excited about that. We’ll mainly have a period of transition I think. We’ve got a lot of ideas about what we want to do with the future so we just need to figure that out. We’re very excited.

Guillemots play Koko on November 17 doors 7pm tickets £17.50+bf though Music Glue and See Tickets.  Koko, 1A Camden High Street, London NW1 7JE. Walk The River is out now through Polydor.

Howl's Moving Castle opens at  Southwark Playhouse November 28, until December 7. Tickets £10 for previews, £14 conc, £16 full, ages 7 upwards.

Last Updated 10 November 2011