Manchester band The Answering Machine ( Pat Fogarty, Ben Perry, Martin Colclough, and Gemma Evans) have been quietly going about their business for a few years now. After the critically acclaimed, but low key debut ‘Another City, Another Sorry’, they release their second album ‘Lifeline’ on the 21st February.
Flush the Fashion caught up with the Martin from the band to find out more…
What are you up to at the moment?
We’re actually putting the final pieces in place for the video to our next single ‘Lifeline’ as we speak. We’ve found some shabby old room that we’d like to film in, and are heading there with our friend and director Luke Bellis this week. There’s not really much of a treatment, which is kind of how we like to make music videos. We like to keep things fairly spontaneous and improvised.
Apart from this, we help out a lot with our label, Heist Or Hit Records, and we’re throwing together a few ideas for parties we can play at this year’s SXSW. We did it a few years back, and are more than aware that once you hit the festival and start on the free booze, all your planning goes out of the window anyway!
Are you happy with the way Lifeline has come out?
Yeah, we’re actually really happy with the new album. It was a hard record to make, not that we struggled with the actual writing process, but more that we had so much to fight against. There was lots of inspiration to help us write this, lots a huge changes in our personal lives, and we also wanted to reflect where we’re currently at in life, as we no longer feel that those songs on our debut album represent us.
Stylistically, the new album sounds exactly how we wanted it to, which is quite a hard thing for a band to find. There was a lot of freedom in the songwriting on this album. We purposely changed our style to an extent, so we had the liberty of going in any direction we saw fit.
We didn’t want to isolate ourselves, so there’s still that raw pop sound in there. But we went about constructing songs differently, and had more fun building and layering the record.
One thing I was really keen to do was to write chords and vocal melodies on nothing but an acoustic guitar, as I really wanted the melodies in this record to stand up against all the other instrumentation. As a result, we pieced other instruments around this, which kind of made the process easier for us.
Did you have a lot of songs ready before you went into the studio?
The final recordings that you hear don’t actually differ a great deal from the original demos.
And for this reason, we were often able to simply develop what we had in its raw form. In fact, the final version of the song ‘Rules’ on this new album is the demo that I made in my spare room at my house in Burnage!
It’s quite a scuzzy acoustic track, in the vein of The Shins, so it didn’t really need any polish or sheen added to it. This is a good example of how we went about the production on the rest of the record. If something wasn’t broke, then we wouldn’t fix it.
Because we produced the record in our rehearsal room and in our own time, we were able to continue developing some of the songs well into the final recording process. Indeed, most of the synths and keyboards on the album are last-minute and improvised.
Just like the way we go about the rest of our band, we keep things as spontaneous as we possibly can, to keep things exciting for us.
Did you use a producer this time?
I (Martin) actually produced this album. After using Dave Eringa (Manic Street Preachers, Idlewild) for ‘Another City, Another Sorry’, we initially thought that we needed to be searching for a similar ‘named’ producer to do this album justice. I had begun to learn some techniques of sound recording, and had produced all the band’s demos. This was more out of self-sufficiency really, as we didn’t have the opportunity to pick any producer we wanted.
We often found ourselves saying to any producer we did try out “can you make it sound like our demo, but slightly better recorded”. When it came to the crunch, I put myself forward and the rest of the band thought it was a great idea. In the end, we think these circumstances really helped us shape ‘Lifeline’, as I knew exactly how things should sound.
Also, because I was still in my infancy of music production, I found myself playing to my own limitations a lot, which gives the record a style all of it’s own. Something that we’ve always admired of Gordon Raphael, and those early Strokes recordings.
Do you feel your music has developed on the latest record from say ‘Oklahoma’?
Our music has definitely changed on this new record, but it still sits comfortably within the same genre. The tempo of the tracks has slowed slightly, to allow the melody to flow a little more.
We were so eager on ‘Another City, Another Sorry’. That was such a raw punk record at heart, where we coughed and spluttered our views as quick as we could. We now deliver things with a little more style and grace. We’ve also brought in a whole bunch of interesting sounds and instruments, which would have scared us on the first record.
We have pipe organs, kalimbas, melodica, synths, and farfisas all sharing musical space with our original setup of guitars and drums.
Best memory of last year?
We toured Europe for the 1st time in October 2010 with Tokyo Police Club. We’ve always wanted to tour across Europe, and it seems that Europe were waiting for us too! The crowd were really accommodating to us, and we had such a great time with TPC.
The best show was actually in Luxembourg, on the final night of the tour! The rider for that gig was beyond anything we’d had before. It was more like a 5-Star hotel, and our payment was a 30-minute set.
The cover of Lifeline is unusual and interesting, but also a bit disturbing, is there a concept behind it?
Ha, well strangely I had a huge obsession with mannequins for most of last year, and was convinced that the front cover of ‘Lifeline’ had to include an armless mannequin. I think the rest of the band thought it was my time to publicly breakdown! But it was on one of these searches for a photograph of a mannequin that Gemma discovered what is now our front cover. We instantly knew it had to visually represent the mood of this album.
There’s so much desperation and isolation in the lyrical content of this album; themes of being stranded at sea, clinging to the edge of a cliff face, and of course, the song ‘Lifeline’ itself. There’s helplessness in the imagery, but also a dependency, in that she hangs there waiting for her lifeline. It just seemed to fit perfectly.
There are some great photos on your blog, is there a keen photographer in the band?
Hats off to our bassist, Gemma! She bought herself a camera when we were in New York last year and has snapped our travels ever since. We love to keep a personal diary of where we’ve been and what we’ve got up to.
And sometimes a photo seems to capture that moment better than words. You can write a thousand words to say the same thing as one photo. We actually have some ideas of releasing them one day, to collate them in a photo album and sell them through our online shop. Keep your eyes peeled.
Do you get a chance to write on tour?
We don’t tend to write on tour. In fact, we spent our last headline UK tour watching the whole series of The Chuckle Brothers on DVD that we picked up from service stations. We generally like to relax into tour life, and enjoy drinking and meeting people.
When we do write it’s often quite an introverted period, where we’ll write a bunch of songs conceptually. And we like to be surrounded by all our instruments and record ideas as we write them. It’s just the way it’s always been in this band.
In saying this, there is one song on the new album called ‘Anything Anything’ that began life in a garden next to the River Thames, and got finished in the back of our tour van in Southampton. I think this was the only anomaly though. If you listen to the song now, you’d never assume it was written in those circumstances.
We did play one show at The Enterprise in Camden a couple of years ago. Halfway through the show, our drummer Ben’s stool fell off the back of the stage and he disappeared. Not quite spontaneous combustion, but we did lose our drummer for a good few minutes. Ironically, this was the same night that we met our record label, Heist Or Hit Records.
Needless to say, they are big Spinal Tap fans!
Lifeline is released on Fastcut Records in Japan. Are you a fan of some of their other bands?
We are all huge fans of their roster, namely The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and Wild Nothing. Mick at Heist Or Hit approached Fastcut on this basis and it turned out that they had been fans of ours since we played in Tokyo in December 2009.
In the end it was a no-brainer! It’s always been a dream to release our record in Japan, and to release on such an established Indie label means we’re pinching ourselves every morning!
What is your favourite song to play live at the moment?
It’s actually our new single ‘Lifeline’, which just seems to carry so much energy when we play it together. The verses are extremely sparse for us, and then the chorus bursts into a wall of sound. Our director friend Luke also plays keys and guitars for us on stage, so the dynamics really shift for this one. It’s also exciting because it’s still new to us. Ask us again in 2 years!
You have been together over 5 years, has it gone quick?
It’s gone extremely quickly! But then again, a lot of bands form and develop for many years before they reach any kind of exposure. We were thrown into it from our 2nd ever show. Not that we’re complaining, we’re extremely grateful of this.
But I think many critics are ready to write bands off once they’ve released their first album, but we still have so much to offer. It’s a shame, because on paper it looks like we’re an ‘old’ band. But I could list hundreds of bands that have been together longer than us, that are only now being pioneered as the ‘freshest new buzz band’. There’s too much immediacy in music, it’s all “one strike and you’re out”.
Who is on your stereo at the moment?
I just bought the latest record from Swedish band Mixtapes & Cellmates. They are an angular electronic band, who incorporate huge ‘wall of sound’ guitars. They’re actually one of my favourite contemporary bands, I could listen to them all day every day! I have also just bought the new album from El Guincho. That’s so unbelievably good! However, if I were to honestly answer “Who is on your stereo at the moment?”, I’m embarrassed to admit that it’s a ‘Teach Yourself German’ disc that I got for Christmas! Es tut mir leid!
Do you ever miss Mustafa Beat? (the bands original drummer)
That guy was precision, one of the greatest and tightest drummers of our generation! Haha. Well, actually, he appears a lot on the new album. We have a lot of programmed beats that we mix with real drums. In fact, he opens up the whole album with a drum solo! Some may even hail this as “The Return Of Mustafa Beat”! I can see the headlines already!
What have you got planned for the rest of the year?
We’ve just confirmed that we’ll be out at SXSW in Austin this March. We’re then doing a Manchester and London headline show in support of the new album, and appearing at Friends Of Mine Festival in May. We are hoping to get back out to Germany before summer, and if we can stretch ourselves this thin, we’d love to include a trip to Japan now that we have a release there. After that, we really want to start recording our third album by summer!
For latest news, info and tour dates visit the Answering Machine website.
The latest single ‘LIFELINE’ will be released digitally through Heist Or Hit Records on Monday 14th February.