The Big Pink
Live @ O2 Academy Bristol
February 14, 2010
Interview & Photography: Steve Bateman

“For those who have yet to stumble across The Big Pink’s somewhat gargantuan blast, imagine The Teardrop Explodes being played by MBV whilst Suicide man the mixing desk; a concoction of sounds that manages to be both affecting and tooth-tremblingly huge at the same time.” CLASH

“A Brief History Of Love is a study in the enormity of sound doing just that, each reverbed kick drum, phasers-on-stun guitar and wastrel vocal, refuting the idea that you need to talk about the passion to express it.” PITCHFORK

“It’s this ability that makes The Big Pink so special, for beneath the dissonance, the artful posturing and the pop hooks is something far more enduring: these guys have got a soul and they’re not afraid to bare it.” NME

Valentine’s Day, is a day typically associated with the colour red, but this year, it was all about the colour pink for me – as in The Big Pink – who I was scheduled to interview in Bristol as part of the annual Shockwaves NME Awards Tour, which also features The Maccabees, Bombay Bicycle Club and The Drums.

As a duo, Robbie Furze (vocals / guitar) and Milo Cordell (programming / keyboards / synths / vocals), first met and “hit it off” at a party on the eve of the new Millennium, but pursuing their own musical ventures, meant that The Big Pink wouldn’t come into existence until mid-2007. Robbie explained to Webcuts Music: “In the beginning, we just wanted to be like a digital Velvet Underground. That was a loose basis for what we wanted to be. We’d been contemplating where our influences came from, but I think we’d pretty much taken every band that we’ve listened to growing-up and just put it all together. There’s Smashing Pumpkins, there’s Ministry, there’s The Stone Roses and more extreme stuff like Einstürzende Neubauten. I think we just threw it all together really, rather than making a conscious decision what to sound like.”

After hearing some of the pair’s early melancholic songs in 2008, including Too Young To Love and Velvet, the music press hyperventilated and soon started dishing out plaudits, with Robbie and Milo going on to win the Philip Hall Radar Award for ‘Best New Act’ at the Shockwaves NME Awards in February 2009. That same month, they also signed to the revered label 4AD (who hadn’t signed a British act in 10 years), issued a couple more singles in the form of Stop The World and Dominos, before their classically cool debut album, A Brief History Of Love (recorded at the Electric Lady Studios in New York with Rich Costey), was released on September 14, 2009. One writer proposed: “This London duo use gritty beats, droning guitars, abstract effects and dreamy vocals to create a soundscape that is arty yet tuneful.” While Milo told BBC6 Music: “The album encompasses every different aspect of love... The good, the bad, the boring, the exciting, the dreams, the nightmares, the whole thing.”

The Big Pink are also a very visually-aware group, with other plus points being, memorable promo videos and striking dreamlike imagery adorning each of their record sleeves, website and MySpace page. Which are yet more things to admire and inspire! Onstage, along with an ever-evolving line-up of touring musicians – most notably drummer Akiko Matsuura from the hardcore outfit Comanechi – they deliver an aggressive and earth-shattering live experience, that will plunge you into a mesmerising wonderland that’s impossible to forget! And with sneering, distorted, rabid and echo-laden fuzz-pop that will be left ringing in your ears for days on end, it’s perhaps no surprise to learn, that the sound engineer for Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR Tour, Evil Eddie, is the evil genius responsible for this high-voltage firestorm of EXTREMELY LOUD NOISE!

A review summarised: “There’s something ultimate about London’s The Big Pink. It’s as though they’ve compressed everything that’s great about post-war music into their sound. They’re as accessible as a pop group, with almost folkishly warm melodies, the spiritual quality of soul and gospel, the rhythmic propulsion of rave, the white noise of punk, the glitchy textures of electronica, and the heavy drones of your favourite New York rock bands past and present.” Music is indeed mystical stuff, something that The Big Pink are fully aware of. Just as the O2 Academy doors were opening at 7pm, I managed to secure 10 minutes with lead singer Robbie in The Big Pink’s dressing room, where with bonhomie in the air, we chatted about music, overcoming press hype, putting in the graft and the intense workload that comes with being in a band in demand…

Lucy: Your band have been quite quiet for the last few months. Are you looking forward to playing gigs again?
Katie Jane Garside: I think I give very obtuse ans

1.One of the first things that drew me to The Big Pink, was how melodic and dreamy your songs are, but from all of your favourite music, which melodies instantly spring to mind?
“Let me think of some of my favourite melodies… I love old soul melodies, like Otis Redding and Sam Cooke – Lost And Lookin’ – I like that melody. But then I like things like Mayonnaise by The Smashing Pumpkins – that melody is so cool! But yeah, you’re right, I love beautiful melodies and they’re very important to me (smiling)!”
*I ask Robbie as love is the central theme / lifeblood of The Big Pink’s songs, if he has any favourite love songs*
“I think again, I would say a lot of old soul music, definitely.”

2.Are you pleased that you’ve now managed to get through the initial blog / press hype intact, and that your music is being accepted on its own terms?
“Yeah, I know exactly what you mean and I’m really pleased that it’s like that now. It got really annoying, the fact that a lot of the interviews were just about us and some boring stories that the press had tried to make up about us, and they weren’t really concentrating on the music. They didn’t really have the album, or the album hadn’t really set in yet properly, so they would just want to talk about something completely ridiculous, like how much we party or this and that. They just made up boring stories you know, so it’s really nice now to actually be – because we are musicians – we’re not trying to be anything else. We are actually very boring really (laughing), we just play music!”

3.In many ways, Dominos has been a breakthrough single for The Big Pink, but was this the song that you thought would strike a chord with so many people?
“I guess we kind of knew that it was the song with the most single potential on the record. I mean it’s weird, because we didn’t really think about being involved in The Charts or releasing singles or anything like that, when we first started writing music together, it was always a bit weird that that happened anyway, that that song even came out. Velvet was more strange to me though, because that really came from nowhere and we didn’t think that would ever be played on the radio you know, so it was a very strange feeling.”

4.Of all your songs to date, which one has been your favourite to make from start to finish – and how do you eventually agree on the final sound of a track, if you’re both pulling in different directions?

“I think Velvet has been my favourite to make from start to finish – I love that song! In terms of us both pulling in different directions, we’re pretty good at not being very precious about our parts or our bits and what we do. So if he doesn’t like something that I like, then I just dump it! And if I don’t like something that Milo likes, then he dumps it! We’re very easy-going, it’s not really an issue.”

5.You took your name from The Band’s debut album, Music From Big Pink, but are there any other records that you just love the overall atmosphere / sound of?
“Um, I don’t know, let me think (long pause + thinking)… There are so many records that I love the overall atmosphere / sound of. I don’t know why I’m thinking about Filth Pig by Ministry, but I think that album overall, has this really sinister and dark (pausing), I think that was the end of them being a serious, serious band – that’s such a moody album, it’s really great! Actually, I need to listen to it again, I haven’t listened to it for a long time, but that record is really brilliant! Or maybe Dark Side Of The Spoon also – but those two records, because they’re sinister.”

6.Black Rebel Motorcycle Club once released a download-only collection of instrumental tracks – is this something that you would ever consider doing?

“Yeah, on the last US Tour, we were considering writing an EP, like drums, guitar and bass, with stripped-down vocals and no electronics, but we didn’t get round to it because it’s so tough writing on the road. But we were considering doing that, like a 1000 white labels and downloads – not even releasing it properly through the label or anything, that was the idea. Maybe in the future.”

7.How has the Shockwaves NME Awards Tour been going, and when performing, what type of experience do you hope that you give to your audience?
“It’s been going really well – we’ve had such a great time and the shows have been so brilliant! I think when we play, we just try to make it as exciting as we possibly can. But the thing about being in a band, is that it is quite repetitive. I mean you’re always kind of doing the same things – that’s one of the toughest things about being a musician, is the fact that it is so repetitive. So, I think we just try to have as much fun as we possibly can onstage and rock it as hard as we can, every night, even if you’re not totally feeling like getting onstage.”

8.When I first saw The Big Pink playing live, I was completely enraptured by your whole set, but who do you think are some of the great live bands in the history of popular music?

“Great live bands (thinking)… Beastie Boys are great live, Ministry are great, I think Metallica are incredible live, Guns N’ Roses are amazing, I never saw Nirvana… There are lots, but they’re some of mine.”

9.On a similar note, who for you are some of the great musical pioneers + what do you think has been the most influential musical movement?
“I’d say punk music was maybe the most influential to me, seeing that punk was in everything that I liked – every kind of music that I was into, had that element to it. So, I think punk has influenced every type of music that I’ve ever been into, whether it be hip-hop or metal (pausing), all of the bands that I’ve ever loved, their punk element is something that has been a consistency throughout them all, and I hope that that is in my music as well! I don’t know who the pioneer was in that – I wouldn’t say it was the Sex Pistols – I don’t know who it was, who the one sort of person was? But there are so many icons who have had that thing.”

10.In January, The Royal Mail launched a set of ten 1st class stamps that celebrate classic British album covers. But what are some of the iconic British album covers that you would have chosen?
“I’m trying to think what I like that’s so good. I think Dark Side Of The Moon is pretty iconic (pausing), I’m just thinking about ones that really moved me when I was younger I guess. I know it’s American, so it couldn’t be used on a Royal Mail stamp, but I think Appetite For Destruction is pretty special. Yeah, I think I’ll go with those two.”

11.Continuing with this train of thought, both Beach House and Massive Attack, commissioned different directors to create videos based upon songs on their new long players. Would you ever like to try something like this?
“Yeah (excitedly), I would LOVE to do that! Like, I love when someone translates our music into visuals, it changes the song completely for me – it’s really amazing when someone does that, because you have a completely different idea of what you think the visual is to your songs. I think it does translate visually in your head when you’re writing it and when you’re performing it, so when someone then takes that and turns it into their visual, it does transform it, to a point where it kind of solidifies it in that kind of realm. Like Dominos is now very much the video for me in my head, and Velvet is very much that video in my head – everytime I play it, I see it (smiling)! So, I’d really be into commissioning different directors to create videos based upon our songs.”

12.You said that you see “The Big Pink as a gang and that life on the road is like a separate reality.” But since being signed, has the workload been what you were expecting or has it been more intense?
“FAR MORE INTENSE!!!!! It’s crazy, we don’t have anytime – ever, to do anything! It’s constant, like literally, we had 2-and-a-half-weeks over Christmas, but I haven’t had a day off (pausing), I mean even the days off, there’s always something to do. After we finish this, we go straight to rehearsals for the NME Awards, and then we go straight to Australia, then from there we fly to LA and start the whole US Tour!”

13.What have been some of the standout moments in your career so far?
“I think working with Alan Moulder was incredible. I think playing at The O2 with Muse was pretty incredible. I think selling out the Electric Ballroom was a pretty amazing feeling, that was probably our biggest show (pausing), in fact, we’re playing The Forum – I can’t wait for that! But the thing is, everything’s pretty special at the moment for us (smiling).”

14.Peter Hook has just opened ‘FAC251 - The Factory’ in Manchester, but if you could own a club anywhere in the world, where would it be and what would you call it?

“Oh, I don’t know (laughing). Probably somewhere around East London – me and Milo have been talking about opening a little bar at some point actually. I don’t know what we’d call it, Dukes maybe? We want a little dive bar (laughing), but it’s definitely something that we’re planning on doing.”

15.As you’re both also passionate about DJing, are there 2 tracks that you think would work well as a mash-up, e.g. Sugababes’ Freak Like Me vs. Are ‘Friends’ Electric?

“(laughing) Well, we both DJ, but I’m the one who goes out most of the time! Last night, Mary, Mary by Run DMC went really well with Gravel Pit by Wu Tang Clan, but they’re both hip-hop I guess. I don’t know, it would be nice to mash-up some of the old soul stuff maybe, with some hip-hop or something like that – some of the breakbeat stuff is sounding so old these days, that maybe it would fit in with some of the soul classics.”

16.Having lived with A Brief History Of Love for a while, are there any major changes that you would now make – musically or lyrically?

“It’s tough when committing to a record, because you always want to change stuff, like I could go back into A Brief History Of Love and redo the whole thing again, but I don’t think we could make it any better. I think we’d make it different, but whether that’s necessarily a good thing or a bad thing, who knows.”

17.Do you see your sound evolving in the future and when do you hope to release your follow-up LP?
“Well, we’re eager to get back into the studio and write more stuff. We wrote another song before we came out on tour, we had a couple of days in the studio, so we’re going to start playing that one out – we’re just itching to get back into the studio really, to get more new material. Evolving musically, it’s so hard to tell, because we definitely didn’t define the sound on our first album, so I don’t know really where we’re going to go with the next one – I couldn’t tell you. We love programming beats and we love melodies and we love walls of guitars and stuff, so, I couldn’t tell you (laughing)! But, we’re going to try and write as much as we can this year, and then try and get it out at the beginning of next year we’re thinking.”

18.Lastly, chips or cream buns?
“Chips, definitely (laughing)!”

A very special thanks to Robbie, to The Big Pink’s Tour Manager Dan, and to Annette @ 4AD, for all of their time and help.

“I’m not looking for love
But it’s hard to resist”

wers to questions...It's never about looking forward to it. Actually maybe I should change the
script, maybe we are looeir musicm the 3rd album?