NOT ONLY DO EX-CREATION RECORDS ALUMNI TERRY BICKERS (THE HOUSE OF LOVE) AND PETE FIJ (ADORABLE) PROCLAIM THAT “QUIET IS THE NEW LOUD”, BUT ALSO THAT “DOWN IS THE NEW UP”. THE DUO’S FIRST RELEASE – BETTY FORD (OUT NEXT WEEK) – SUGGESTS THEY MAY WELL BE RIGHT.
The wry self-awareness of the lyrics and downbeat backing contrive to be, somehow, rather uplifting. BETTY FORD plays like the vinegary night before the juice-fresh morning after of that other great post-indie detail of a moment on love’s curve, McAlmont & Butler’s YES. Fij and Bickers, both residents of Brighton, wade out to sea from the safety of the town’s shore in the single’s striking one-take video.
The duo have been working since 2009, and their debut album is set for this summer. Here, Fij speaks to The Mouth Magazine about the collaboration, and his time as frontman of Adorable.
YOU WERE FRONTMAN OF ADORABLE IN THE EARLY 1990s. YOU TALKED A BIT ABOUT THAT IN THE SLEEVENOTES FOR THE CHERRY RED RECORDS COMPILATION ISSUED A FEW YEARS AGO, BUT NOW THAT IT’S 20 YEARS PASSED SINCE THE DEBUT ALBUM, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WHAT YOU ACHIEVED?
It’s a mixed bag of emotions. I’m proud of some of the records we produced, although there will always be a tinge of sadness that we didn’t achieve everything we wanted to. I don’t really listen to my own music very much after I’ve made it, but I had a listen back to AGAINST PERFECTION on the 20th anniversary and I felt it had aged well.
SUNSHINE SMILE (watch) WAS ONE OF THE TRULY GREAT SINGLES OF EARLY 1990s INDIE… BUT HOW DID YOU GET ADORABLE TO THAT POINT?
We worked really hard in the two years leading up to getting signed to Creation, and had been down a lot of blind alleyways. In mid-1991 Rough Trade had heard SUNSHINE SMILE and offered to put it out which was a massive high for us as we were big fan of the label. But we wanted them to see us live and sign us up for an album deal, whereas they just loved the single and were prepared to sign us up and put out the single sight unseen and just take it from there. We pestered them to come and see us, and organised a special gig in Coventry supporting Slowdive, which went really badly. Geoff Travis came and decided he wasn’t into us, but very gallantly said he would keep his word and put the record out. I cried that night I got the phone call from my manager. We took a deep breath and turned him down as we didn’t want to be on a label who didn’t believe in us, even if it was Rough Trade. We knew it was a turning point and could go either way, but we believed in ourselves enough to turn down the offer, but it could have so easily gone the other way. I’m sure there are lots of great bands who we have never heard of who have made similar decisions, but it didn’t work out for them.
YOU WERE SIGNED TO CREATION RECORDS BY ALAN McGEE, AND SUNSHINE SMILE DID EVENTUALLY COME OUT – AND TO MUCH ACCLAIM. IT WAS THE NME’s SINGLE OF THE WEEK, TOPPED THE INDIE CHARTS…
It was a time of massive hope and excitement. To hear our record played on Radio One, see us get Single Of The Week in the NME, and being signed to the coolest label in the UK… It all gave us a massive sense of achievement. Alan McGee was full of energy and enthusiasm and – unlike other labels – really came over as a music fan. It was this quality as much as Creation’s impressive back catalogue that convinced us to sign. Our whole experience went pretty rapidly downhill. But that’s another story!
HOW DID IT END?
The final year was increasingly depressing. The realisation sank in that our label, the press & public were all losing interest in us. We knew we were on a slippery slope to the end of the quayside, and tensions within the band were at an unsustainable level. By the final European dates we’d made a decision to call it a day and, when we did, I felt a massive sense of relief that it was finally all over… which actually brought home the pressure I’d been under trying to hold everything together.
YOU THEN WENT ON TO FORM POLAK, A BAND WHICH RELEASED A COUPLE OF ALBUMS ON ONE LITTLE INDIAN. THAT SEEMS TO BE PART OF YOUR TRAJECTORY WHICH IS OFTEN OVERLOOKED…
I’m really proud of Polak, especially second album RUBBERNECKING (listen). It was frustrating to have put so much of our time and effort into something that I feel didn’t even get looked at. I wouldn’t have minded so much if it had picked up bad reviews, but it just didn’t get any reviews or exposure at all. Polak was a new way of working for me: far more harmonious, and also working songs out in the studio rather than in rehearsals, which had been Adorable’s methodology.
DO YOU FEEL ANY PARALLELS BETWEEN THE EARLY DAYS OF THOSE PROJECTS AND NOW, THE PERIOD LEADING IN TO YOUR FIRST RELEASES WITH TERRY BICKERS?
It’s a different dynamic just working with one person, so that part of the process has changed. After Polak I wanted to get away from working in a band. Much as I loved the guys in the band, it was hard just trying to get them all in the same place at the same time, and I got tired of organising everyone. As you get older people have more and more commitments outside of a band – family, jobs etc – and it becomes much harder to find time in your schedule than when you were, say, 21 and had a job that maybe wasn’t that important, no family and no mortgage. The difference in the lead up to the release is we are putting out this ourselves so everything has to be done predominantly by us. There’s no luxury of having a label to do everything for you. It feels like a more lonely existence, but that’s counteracted by the fact that these days via internet and social media you can have a closer relationship to fans. That’s a big boost.
THERE ARE ACTUALLY VARIOUS MUTUAL CONNECTIONS IN YOUR HISTORY – BEING SIGNED TO CREATION RECORDS, WORKING WITH PRODUCER PAT COLLIER – BUT HOW DID THE COLLABORATION WITH TERRY COME ABOUT?
I crossed paths with Terry when we both appeared on a new music panel judging bands’ demos, in Brighton. I bumped into him a couple of times in shops and chatted, but didn’t know him any more than to say hello. I had the opportunity to play a solo show in Brighton in a beautiful church, and decided to ask him if he would like to play on a few of the songs. It worked well, got a good reaction, and so we decided to expand the project.
KNOWING THAT THE HOUSE OF LOVE HAD GONE THROUGH INTER-PERSONAL DIFFICULTIES, DID YOU EXPECT TO FIND TERRY DIFFICULT TO WORK WITH?
DESTROY THE HEART is one of my favourite singles of all time, and I was a massive fan of The House Of Love. They were certainly a big influence on Adorable. I was aware of Terry’s reputation from the past – but I think it’s fair to say there are people who would have me down as someone not always easy to work with in the early 1990s, and I’ve changed massively since then… so I’m aware that reputations can sometimes be mis-represented. My experiences of working with Terry don’t have any comparisons to the stories. We’ve spent a few long European train journeys talking to each other about our past experiences, and I think we have an understanding of each other’s pasts…
YOU’VE BOTH BEEN FRONTMEN (TERRY IN LEVITATION) SO, CLEARLY, YOU BOTH HAVE “THINGS TO SAY”… HOW DOES THE PROCESS, THE WRITING, ACTUALLY WORK FOR YOU AND TERRY AS A DUO?
The majority of the songs we have on the new album were written prior to me joining forces with Terry. I’d already recorded an album which I never released, and when Terry joined we revisited those songs and went back from scratch, working on arrangements. Many stayed predominantly the same, but two or three had other parts chopped or added or moved around. In the original recordings, which were far sparser than our current sound, there was some electric guitar on the tracks, but Terry came and added his own stamp with new parts, atmospheres and layers. Newer songs? A couple have resulted out of jams; one from a chord structure that Terry had been knocking around for some years; a couple are songs that I have written that I’ve brought to the table. All the lyrics are written by me, though Terry chimes in if there’s a line that doesn’t quite work for him.
THE ALBUM IS DUE IN THE SUMMER… WHAT STAGE ARE YOU AT WITH IT?
Terry is ever the perfectionist and would love to go back and tinker with it, but the album – BROKEN HEART SURGERY – is all done and dusted…
WHAT MIGHT WE EXPECT TO HEAR ON IT, IN TERMS OF MOODS AND ATTITUDES?
It’s quite singular in it’s mood, as it’s a concept album of sorts. As suggested by the title it’s all about relationship breakup. For a depressing album, I hope that it has a variety of feels so that the songs don’t all sound the same. There’s one that is driven by a lo-fi drum machine/human beatbox, but the rest are without a rhythm section. Lyrically, initially it was a challenge not to be revisiting the same territory each time – but there is a variety of aspects explored. From the minutae of the sounds when a couple are in love, to the sounds when they are falling apart (SOUND OF LOVE), to the realisation that someone has left you, not just through their disappearance, but through the absence of their possessions in your flat (QUEEN OF STUFF), to the world of quantum physics, ‘what ifs’, and alternate realities (PARALLEL GIRL)… For our next batch of material I’d like to examine doing something more upbeat…
SINGLE BETTY FORD (IN YOUR WORDS “THE STORY OF A MAN BROUGHT DOWN BY HIS ADDICTION TO HEARTBREAK”) IS RELEASED NEXT MONDAY. I’VE BEEN STRUCK BY THE DRYNESS OF THE LYRICS – TERRY RECENTLY SUGGESTED TO ME THAT HE’S ACTUALLY A GREAT FAN OF WIT AND HUMOUR IN LYRICS, SO WORKING TOGETHER SEEMS AS IF IT’S A NATURAL FIT FOR YOU BOTH…
I’d like to think there’s a keen sense of dark humour running through everything. Terry also has a very good sense of irony and humour. It helps to keep our relationship healthy.
Pete Fij and Terry Bickers play The Albert, Trafalgar Street, in Brighton on Sunday 28th April at 8pm, tickets here.
Debut single BETTY FORD is available to purchase here.
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