The Wind-Up Birds – Tense, Nervous, Headache?

I’ve always had a soft spot for Leeds. Used to admire their footballers back in the Bremner days, until I read David Peace’s The Damned United, obviously. No-one fucks with Brian Clough! I went to Futurama there once, too: Death Cult, Killing Joke, New Order. My oldest chum, Olly Little, also did time there at University. Then, much later, I was a fervent appreciator of the resurgence in real independent labels that burst out of Leeds during the trakMARX years. Very fond of The Lodger, !Forward Russia! (impossible to get the apostrophes the right way up!), labels like Dance To The Radio, Brew Records – standard bearers for the likes of Sturdy Records, of which, more below. That must be why I fell in love with The Wind-Up Birds: Northern heritage. Whatever the reason, of all the likely lads grubbing about in amongst the also-rans in UK pop culture circa 2011, the Wind-Up Birds are perched on the brink of greatness, standing on the shoulders of pirates. With their future classic 45, ‘Meet Me At The Depot’ (Sturdy Records), due for release any day now (any day now, I shall be released), I tracked The Wind-Up Birds singer, Kroyd, down to his rural retreat to quiz him about impending fame, cultural baggage and Christmas in rehab:

Firstly, welcome to the pages of EYEPLUG, how’s it hanging?


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We understand that the Wind-Up Birds emerged, phoenix like, from the ashes of the Conmen, sometime in the mid-noughties . . . talk us through that birthing experience from your perspective.

For me personally, it was weird. I had never been in a band, had no musical skills, and was extremely shy and unwilling to perform. So with the Conmen I was just a lyricist who tagged along to practices and things. It was exciting watching songs come together and I was thrilled to be close to actual musicians. It was also really just Ben’s old band with me and Mat tagged on. It was only really when we got Oli in on drums that it felt like our band and something new. Even then it took a long time for me to find what my place should actually be in this thing.

What was the initial inspiration behind the group’s formation?

Myself and Neil (Stafford – original TWUBs guitarist) where friends at school. We were both obsessed with music and always talked about being in bands. I never took it any further than talking but Neil became an amazing guitarist and songwriter. He got a band together with Ben and I was very jealous! I always liked writing and have always been obsessed with song lyrics. The one area of Neil’s band I thought could improve was the lyrics so I kind of started shoving sheets of paper at him. We ended up turning some into demos at his house. We wanted to be Morrissey and Marr, face to face on a sofa writing amazing songs. But even at that stage, singing wasn’t something I felt was in me. We got Ben interested in the demos and things moved on from there.

With a personnel demographic that incorporates varied representation from Leeds, Northampton, Blackpool and The Isle Of Man, do those geographical origins bring any specific flavours in terms of musical influences to the integral Wind-Up Birds sound?

It’s funny really, but because of my singing we are always tagged as a Yorkshire or Northern band and it’s not really the case. Obviously it’s a pretty blatant part of our sound and sometimes I regret that but we are where we are. I think the varied background and influences of the band are definitely integral. We are a democracy and everyone’s different inputs keep things boiling along nicely.

In terms of development, you would appear to have been growing up in public for some time now – are you working to an exponential master plan here, or just making it up as you go along?

No, we’ve never had any plans. We do things we enjoy and we are all pretty lazy. We get together once a week and try and remember what we played the previous week. When we are happy with a few songs we get them out. We play gigs whenever anyone lets us. Alongside that the band (mainly me, to be fair) have an insane obsession with not doing lame clichéd band things. I have a list of unrealistic rules in my head that I try and enforce on the others with varying degrees of success. I am bit of a control freak where the band is concerned and I hate anything about what we do (from posters, to sound checks, to this) to be ill considered or obvious. I have to let go sometimes but I don’t like it.

You cite a personnel change around the time of the recording of the ‘My Life Was Ruined by the Wind-up Birds’ EP as pivotal to the emergence of The Wind-Up Birds as we know and love them today – we’re intrigued by the concept of ‘bad ears’ . . . talk us through it, if you’d be so kind.

Neil leaving was a big change. The initial premise of the band was as a vehicle for the songs we had written together. When he left we were close to calling it a day. The encouragement of some special people and the friendship the four of us (Mat, Oli, Ben and I) had, was key. We initially just tried to get a new ‘Neil’ which proved to be a wrong move really. Things might have got there in the end but severe tinnitus struck and so we were back as a four-piece and we will never know.

The tinnitus thing was literally the day before we had booked a recording session. So we recorded some songs we had knocking round that weren’t connected to the new guitarist. We did a four track EP called The Wind-up Birds are Long Term Sick and we were really pleased with it. It gave us the confidence of being a four-piece with Mat as the sole guitarist and me, finally, becoming the front man. Once that was sorted everything clicked into place.

You eventually reached the ears of local entrepreneur and label boss, Mark Sturdy, who has been operating Sturdy Records in the grand tradition of labels like Dance To The Radio and Brew Records for a while now – how important to The Wind-Up Birds is Leeds’ recent musical heritage, and is Sturdy the kind of home you see yourselves occupying for the duration?

Sturdy recognised something in us early on and was the sole champion of the band for a long time. We played a few times with his band The Unexploded Shells (a great lost band) and got on. There seemed to be a mixture of admiration and frustration on his part that every step the band took was quickly followed by a bit of self-sabotage. For me, that’s all part of the romance of the band. For Sturdy it just meant people who might really like the band would never get the chance to hear us. It kind of made sense, I suppose. So, we took some advice about things and sometimes said we had taken the advice but then didn’t, and Sturdy slowly became a bit of a guiding hand for us. The position with Sturdy (the label) is that Sturdy (the man) tells us sensible things to do and tells us off when we don’t do them. As such it is the ideal home for the band.

On the eve of the release of your excellent – and I’m going to make a prediction here – break-through 45, ‘Meet Me At The Depot’ b/w ‘Popman’, you must have one of the biggest back catalogues known for a relatively new group – are you sure you have enough tunes left for the forthcoming LP you’re threatening us with before the year is out?

I’m really pleased with the way the album is shaping up. There was no real need to do an album but I think the music loving part of all four of us wanted to make that definitive debut album statement, although in reality with tracks we have already recorded and (mostly) put out, it would be a fourth or even fifth album. On a personal level a lot of the artists and bands I really love had a real work ethic and banged single after single after album out in quick succession. I don’t really buy the four year gap between albums that goes on now.

The b-side of said forthcoming 45, ‘Popman’, reminds us of a seminal Midlands’ punk band called the Shapes – have you ever heard any of their stuff (I was so convinced, I sent a copy of ‘Popman’ to my good chum, Seymour Bybuss, erstwhile singer of the Shapes)?

I know the Shapes but hadn’t heard much. Have just checked out some tunes and I can definitely see where you are coming from. I like the humour and the surreal edge. They are both things we like to play with in the band.

While we’re in this area, what eras of British popular song do you find appealing/inspiring?

If you asked each member of the band you’d get a very different answer but there is a definite overlap around the post-punk era. From a personal point of view I love that songs would chart that were interesting lyrically and musically experimental but also great pop songs. The range of freaks and misfits that could end up on Top of the Pops and have kids dancing and yet might also inspire someone to pick up on some of the references, maybe read some interesting literature or think about the world in a slightly different way, is still thrilling to me. Having said that, we hear and see new bands that give us that buzz all the time. The way music is consumed now is different though and that mainstream overlap just doesn’t happen.

Lyrically, there would appear to be a healthy sense of humor running through your music. Individually, and collectively, who/what makes you laugh on a regular basis?

Oli. Next question! I do like it personally when bands and art in general have a bit of humour in them. Most people deal with the worst kinds of news and setbacks, with a shrug and a bit of sarcasm. I find a lot of drama ignores this and it never strikes me as true. I find bands who take themselves very seriously kind of ridiculous and it can be enough to put me off a band.

I don’t like the humour in the songs to be cruel though and to belittle anyone. I see a lot of lyrics written from a kind of God-like perspective, looking down on how stupid people are and it makes me uncomfortable. (Sometimes, I can’t resist though!) I hate the modern Mock the Week, Top Gear etc, bullying comedy. It’s smug and unseemly (and not funny). I don’t think the rest of the band agree, but then they are all massive bullies.

Any other cultural signifiers, in terms of literature, poetry, cinema, etc?

Again, there is a real range of influences across the four of us and we bring a lot to each other in terms of things we find interesting. I think one of the problems with our digital culture is that you can very carefully filter your cultural inputs and essentially only ever hear and see things you know you will like. It’s often hard for people to feel surprised or unsettled by the art they consume and suddenly everything you devour has an aura of cosy nostalgia. Society has still got to adapt to the internet and it will be interesting to see what journey art takes throughout that evolution.

Any other combos treading the boards out there in punterland you feel anything approaching affinity with?

We respect anyone who goes out and play the music they love, it doesn’t matter the genre really. If people have that need to connect via music and it’s not just a short cut to a spot on a TV show then they deserve some of your time. I think people should take more chances with bands and music. Go out, take pot luck and see some live music. There is so much amazing stuff happening out there.

What represents success for The Wind-Up Birds?

An enduring friendship. A catalogue of songs we are proud of…and no compromises. I read a lot about bands and it is always how big they are going to get. Never how good they might get. It always seems a bizarre way to measure art’s success. But I have spoken to a lot of people in bands and that is the driver for many sadly. In some ways it comes down to being able to be a self-sustaining artist. What compromises do you have to make to do what you love full-time? We all work full-time and that means we can keep the band pure.

There’s a great saying that goes, ‘Make friends with your failures, they could be the best friends you ever had’ – are the Wind-Up Birds afraid of failure?

If failure formed a band it would sound like us. The only way we could fail as a band is if we sullied the name of the Wind-up Birds with needless compromises and nonsense. If that means that we never sell records or sell out venues then that is only right. Lots of bands end badly or childishly and I wouldn’t want that to happen to us. If people who like us can look back on us and know we were always honest with them then that will do.

Finally, where do we go from here? What does the rest of 2011 hold in store for the Wind-Up Birds?

We are definitely recording the album. We want to get some gigs further a field (if anyone will have us then please let us know). Apart from that just do what we do, it’s worked so far.

Simon Morgan

Punk rocker, folk strummer, baby social worker, and parent, Simon Morgan is a polymath. He has brought you many things in his time – as Jean Encoule he created the legendary trakMARX website, but has now stepped from behind his alter ego to reveal his true, vibrant colours. Despite having gone prematurely orange, he maintains a youthful open-mindedness, which he combines with his vast experience and ready wit. His debut solo album, Domestic Abuse is now available. “Spirit/Is Life/It flows through/The death of me/ Endlessly/Like a River/ Unafraid/Of Becoming/The sea.” (Gregory Corso)

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Originally posted 2011-06-15 18:59:06. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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