Given A Sporting Chance

After spending the past year establishing a reputation as one of the country’s most promising new acts, Athlete have embarked upon their first headline tour of these fair isles. With the release of ‘You got the style’, ‘Westside’ and ‘Beautiful’ as singles last year, they attracted favourable comments from Jo Whiley for one. The album ‘Vehicles and Animals’ is scheduled for release on 7th April. Atomic Duster caught up with them prior to a show at Leicester’s The Charlotte;

AD: How’s the tour going?

Carey: The tour so far is going well. It’s kind of surprising how many people have turned up each night. We’ve spent all our time underground writing songs and rehearsing so to get out and people actually come and watch us is nice.

AD: With the radio play for the singles have you noticed more familiarity with the songs?

Yeah definitely – especially with a song like ‘Beautiful’ that has been out it’s kind of surprising, people singing along. They respond to those songs in a way that shows they’re familiar with them.

Carey: ‘El Salvador’s starting to get that way. The last few gigs people have started picking up on the lyrics and singing along.

AD: It’s (the single ‘El Salvador’) getting a lot of airplay isn’t it?

Carey: It seems to be.

Steve: Cool.

AD: Turning to the album, it’s got a very natural feel to it. Were the songs structured beforehand or are they the result of someone contributing an idea and the rest of the band picking up on it and jamming along?

Carey: That’s kind of how we work anyway. All of us write together. It’s very equal in terms of what’s written. It’s never one person coming in with a finished songs. It’s always an evolution from starting idea to finished product. Mostly we record in our little studio in South East London. We mostly bang something down, take in out, jam it for a while, re-record bits and the song over time takes shape.

AD: Is that your own studio?

Steve: It’s a tiny little set up. It’s basically a small space and a computer with loads of little toys, loads of keyboards, gadgets.

AD: That brings me on to the keyboards. Some great noises come out and add identity to the songs. Tim joined the band after the rest of you didn’t he?

Steve: Tim was with us since we were kids, aged 16-17 but then went away to Uni. The remaining three of us did this little band, put a lot into it but then realised it wasn’t what we actually wanted to do. At the time we started to think of turning things around that’s when we started to think about having our own studio set up, which started with our own little digital 12 track. We started putting down lots of keyboards ourselves and got to the point where we asked Tim to help us out putting down some keyboards cos at that time he’d just come back from Uni and before long he was fully integrated into the band.

AD: It’s certainly a unique style. Did you choose it or has it evolved?

Carey: Bit of both really. It wasn’t the case that we close to use lots of keyboards – they’re probably just all of our favourite instrument. We spent a lot of time playing with little noises on them. Drum machines too. The programmed electronic side of what we do is probably my favourite. It keeps all the songs interesting.
We’re a live band as well. This is our roots. The two together hopefully make a good interesting sound.

AD: The choruses are strong too. Is that something you focus on?

Steve: Melody in the songs is probably the most important thing. If the melody is really strong then we feel that we can throw all the other bits – rhythm, keyboards, lyrics – into the pot. Melody is the most important criteria in the songs.

Quite often we write a chorus and two weeks later write another one and replace it. By recording and keeping all the bits we can even throw a chorus, verse or middle eight from a year ago in order to complete the song.

‘You got the style’ came about that way. We have had five different middle eight's for that. The final middle eight was in fact an outro from something we recorded over a year ago!

AD: The beauty about having your own studio I suppose...

Carey: Yeah definitely. You keep all the old parts, never chuck them away.

AD: The album came about that way then?

Steve: In a way yeah.

Carey: The album was a bit strange. Most bands write an album, get signed, record the album and put it out. We had 4 songs finished and a couple on the way when we got signed. Then all of a sudden we had to write a whole album.

When we signed to Parlophone we would write a couple of songs, go out on tour, come back, write another few songs and repeat the process till the album was done.
So the album has been written over the space of a year that way, mainly at two different points in the year. This gives it a flavour and adds to it.

AD: Like a diary?

Carey: Yeah definitely.

AD: The first two tracks on the album in particular.

Carey: Yeah. ‘El Salvador’ is about what’s happened to us since the band began to take off, whilst the next track (‘Westside’) is about what happened in our previous band.

AD: In ‘Westside’ it speaks of the ‘scene’ at the time. You appear to have your own ‘scene’ – away from trends. Like early Gomez and the Beta Band…

Steve: Yeah. We didn’t want to do anything other than our own thing. We’re happy to be compared alongside those bands.

AD: What about influences?

Carey: I supposes what inspired us to stop doing the old band and start up Athlete were bands like Grandaddy and Pavement. They showed that music can be much more interesting and cool than what we were doing.

Steve: Bands like the Beta Band and The Super Furries. Those kind of bands have a slightly more creative approach.

AD: You’ve had some interesting support slots. Have you picked up much from playing with the likes of Mansun, and The Polyphonic Spree?

Steve: I think it’s really true that the more you play the better you get. It’s been really good to get out and do lots of gigs and play with bands you really like. And to play to different bands’ crowds, who are really into music.

AD: The Polyphonic Spree must have been an experience...

Steve: Yeah – 35 people going on tour and living on two buses. They’re a little bit crazy – mad Texans – and they’re all really outgoing but I think that’s part of being in the band, part of being recruited.

Carey: They’re brilliant live and lovely people. We’ve kept in touch with some of them. It’s one of my favourite tours.

AD: One last question. Working with Vincent Van Vugt (PJ Harvey, Nick Cave) – what was that like?

Steve: He’s an amazing bloke. On a musical level he’s been perfect. He’s quite particular. So are we – quite particular about what we want to sound like. With having our own studio, we wanted someone to come in and make us sound even better. That’s exactly what he’s about.

AD: Did you choose him yourself?

Steve: He mixed our first EP and we found that from speaking to him when he was doing that we connected and he picked up on what we were looking for.

Because we worked with him over the course of a year rather than a couple of months we found our understanding and friendship grew. It wouldn’t have been so if it were done in a 6 week period.

AD: Thanks for your time – good luck tonight and with the album.

Carey: Thank you.

Steve: Nice one.

Athlete’s album ‘Vehicles and Animals’ has been preceded by the release of the single ‘El Salvador’ which is available now. They are presently touring the UK and a review of the night’s gig in Leicester is on-line in this issue.

Interview and transcript by Matty P



© Copyright 2000/7 Atomicduster - all rights reserved