Monday, 1 March 2010

The Mules Interview

We talk art, flannelling and cheese strings with this exciting and educated outfit who are bringing their own brand of infertile noise to a town near you.

Outside being in the band you’ve all got pretty exciting jobs; Tim- you’re a trainee conductor?

Tim: Yeah I’m a trainee conductor

And Duncan, you run the label?

Duncan: No that’s Tim, Tim runs the label. Duncan doesn’t run any label (chuckle)

And you put Blake’s poetry to folk songs?

Ah yeah that’s true. Bit more of a hobby than a job though.

I can imagine so. It sounds like more of a pastime. Do you expect you’d be doing those things if you weren’t in the band?

D: No. I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing. I think doing it with the band only increases its worth, which is good. You’d be doing yours though Tim?

T: Yeah, I’d be doing mine left or right. I’m doing less of it at the moment though.

Would you still be interested in setting up a label if you didn’t have the band- it wouldn’t have quite the same purpose…

T: Yes and no, I think maybe I thought that I would be more interested in it a while ago. It’s a great way to lose a lot of money.

And a lot of effort.

T: Yeah it’s tricky. It’s tricky business! I didn’t have any expertise.

More practical?

T: Yeah. But I did learn a lot, and it helped us in that we had knowledge about business. But I’m glad to be doing music more than taking care of it.

Is it also you who has the phobia of putting fabric in your mouth?

T:(laughs) Have you been reading our old interviews? Basically, someone asked me about it in an interview, they asked us what all our phobias were…and now Jenny puts a scarf over my mouth at interviews and everyone laughs (looks thoroughly bored at the prospect). I just don’t like it. It started with towels…when I’m drying myself after I’ve had a bath or something…this is going back to being a kid…and there’s something about when you’re drying your face and your mouth’s open… and you’re drawing the towel across your cheek…erghhhh. I don’t know why I did that in the first place, but I obviously did it at some point at discovered that it was just horrible and I couldn’t abide it. Like when people wearing hoodies chew the ends…why? Why not your finger…anything that doesn’t have fabric. Just not fabric.

I’m guessing you never had a blanket as a kid?

T: I did! I love fabric, fabric is great…just don’t put it in your mouth…Fabric is not designed to be put in your mouth…It’s to keep you warm, not to eat.

What about any other orifices?

(in an ambiguous London accent) Shove it up your arse!
Fabric in your ears? Fabric in your nose?
T: That’s fine, that’s fine. It’s just teeth and nails. I suppose it’s those living/non living parts of you. I don’t know. Maybe it’s an ancestral memory of someone being wrapped in burial swathe.
Kind of Icelandic…
T: From my Icelandic roots. (haha’s all round)

Did you know that the Arctic Monkeys are the voice of Iceland?

Jenny: How is that so?
What, the shop?

Oh yeah, mothers.

Ask Kerry Katona! If you go round to the back of the shops are there just mothers, sitting in chairs?

If you played a festival…what would you do if the whole crowd came out chewing flannels?

T: If it got to the point where people would do that to piss me off, I’d be quite pleased.

So you wouldn’t leave the biggest gig of your career for the sake of flannelling?

Absolutely not. I’d find a way of visualising it differently. I’d probably visualise that they were eating something completely different…or I’d look over their heads…which is a good way of doing it. Look over the crowd’s heads at their hairline. It might be helpful. Might be the way forward.

I think that’s what you’re meant to do anyway? Focus on a small object at the back of the room.

Yeah at the fire exits…the little green man.

Or at the sound technicians.

That may cause confusion though. What’s he trying to tell me…is he coming on to me...?

Or if you had a nervous twitch and they kept thinking you wanted your amp turned up. I know several of you went to Oxford University…

Yep, the whole line-up of the band. But Jenny went to Cambridge. It’s a shame really.

J: It has caused rifts I guess. There’s a huge Oxford vs Cambridge tension going on here.

You’re not much of an achiever really…

Yeah we tell her that.
J: Yeah I guess it makes them not respect me that much. (laughs) That’s a joke by the way.
(nervous laughter all round)
We respect you for trying.
J: It really hasn’t made a difference.

Well that wasn’t the actual question…but nice to clear it up! It sounds like you might have had other plans…not to stereotype but that’s quite a high achieving pathway you chose…Did you have an ambition to end up in a band?

That was the only thing I wanted to do really. I did the degree because it was interesting.

What did you do?

E:I did philosophy, politics and economics, PPE. But yeah, I did it because I was interested in it.

I think that’s the best way to go about it.
You’ve described your sound as not easily sellable, and on your own label, Organ Grinder, is that just a label for you or could you see it opening up to other bands that are considered not that commercial?

Possibly, in the future. I mean at the moment I’m too busy doing this and my other band.

Fireworks Night?

Yeah. Plus I haven’t really heard of anyone who is looking for that. In the future it would be something, yeah. Obviously it’s a nice thing to do and say, but in reality I just don’t have the time at the moment.

Like we were saying, it’s an easy way to lose money.

Yes. And it’s sad, in a way. But I think we’re aiming to continue to exist… in some form. And from my experience, you can make a record, it is achievable- you don’t need to spend huge amounts of money.

You’re quite a self-sustained band; Ed- you and your sister do the artwork and the merch…you’ve got your own label, made your own video with a friend…

I think it’s worth doing things…we like to give ourselves control, good music should come from a strong place.

You’ve got to have someone who understands what you sound like…

Yeah! And in terms of the video, it’s just kind of fun to have people around you who you think are interesting when you’re starting out. There’s a good vibe to it, like we’re starting out, it’s nice to give someone some work as well.
There’s nothing that can be gained in doing things that way, but it just gives it a better quality than if it was done by someone who didn’t know the band…

More personal.

Ed: Yeah, I wouldn’t be happy with anyone else doing it for us. The artwork that comes out probably isn’t exactly what would be expected; someone could produce something to fit the music really quite easily, but it wouldn’t be the same.

Also, if you’ve got someone committed to it and they do it wrong…

Well I’ve always chosen the images, and my sister puts down the fonts and things…they’re strong images, and the songs are meant to be quite strong.
They reflect the lyrics of our music too.

Yeah, you have quite bold images, it’s not wishy washy.

The biggest cop out in album art work is the collage, or just massive photos. Like Exile On Main Street- it’s a great cover, but it’s a collage. It’s just a photograph of a wall, it’s not a constructed collage. I forget the name of the photographer, but basically it’s just a cop out. Like when people just get masses of images, it’s supposed to give the impression that you listen to lots of stuff, been to lots of places, or know lots of people- but it doesn’t actually say anything.

Ed: You need to give an impression of what you’re going to get. It might not be apparent what the connection is, initially; I think they have to be sophisticated.

Are there any other aspects of the band that you’d like to take on, like so far you do the artwork, label, etc - not something that’s necessarily done for you, but that you don’t currently do?

Ed: Well we’re licensed to a larger company now so we don’t do a lot of the boring things anymore- like distribution. I don’t think any of us particularly miss that! We’ve just used a producer for the first time, a chap called Anthony Whiting, and that was really successful, that was good. Before, we had a friend of ours who produced the records and he did a great job, but it’s now interesting to get to do it with someone new to the music, he’s also really imaginative. And Jenny only joined us recently, which was really important to have a fresh view on things- you get a bit stuck when you’re spending most of your time together, playing the same songs over and over and over. You can forget what’s good about it. So yeah, I think we’re doing as much as we want at the moment.
J: Not much else we could do!

I think you can rarely get anywhere good if you’re doing everything through other people. Like the gigs you organise- Pick Your Own- do you think that’s something that’s happening a lot more? There certainly seems to be a lot more independent, small festivals starting up. Do you think it’s important that bands are trying to find different ways to connect to their audiences?

Yes, if you’re doing something imaginative.

Mules are sterile. Do you think this reflects the band- that nothing can spawn from your influence?

(hearty guffaws) Yeah, totally.

Why did you pick the Mules, not the hinnies?

I don’t know what a hinnie is?

A hinnie is the opposite of a mule. Do you know why a mule is infertile? It’s got 63 chromosomes so they can’t divide. So maybe you should have 63 members…

(chortle) We’d have to live in an aircraft hangar.
63 chromosomes is an album title we probably should have used.

You could still have it as a B-Side. You all play quite a lot of instruments- what instruments would you really like to try and play?

I’ve got a trombone.
Yeah I’ve got a trombone and a clarinet…but I’m not very good at blowing instruments. The trombone was coming along alright, but I stopped.
I’d love to be able to play the piano properly. I regret not learning it.

You can still take it up? Piano’s a good instrument to learn…it’s not like with woodwind instruments you’ve got to get the technique and mouth position right. As long as you can work your fingers…

J: I’m just starting out, it’s horrible!
Ed: I have a harmonium, but it’s got a busted F#.

You should use it! Harmoniums are great.

Ed: Yeah they’re lovely. I’m trying to learn the accordion too.
But that’s completely unrelated to your talent- you are naturally good at rhythms.
You’re using a 19th century harmonium, which means your feet have to do something actually quite complicated. In order to get a smooth sound- you’ve got two pedals, and you’re pressing your right pedal and you’re pressing your left pedal, but if you hold the corner of the right pedal, and you start coming up at the same time as pushing the left pedal down, then you’ll have a moment when no air’s going through. And the end of the right pedal when you’re going towards the floor is not going to get into position, so you need to start pushing the left one down as the right one gets down, so they are going in the same direction. You don’t do it on any other organs, just the 19th Century ones- I was trying them the other day. (chuckles all round)

I think that needs a diagram.
You’ve used some strange noise making machines…we like those…what’s your favourite one?

Mogue. Probably. She’s everybody’s favourite noise making machine.
Yeah that’s true. It’s just the word…Mooooooooogue.

Mogues Molecular Beasts… (You, dear reader, will understand the reference here, so I won’t indulge in it further.) Have you ever tried a Theremin?

Yes, it’s very difficult to control.

Have you ever tried doing a prepared piano?

No, but my last piano was a bit like a prepared piano…(laughs)

On purpose?

No, well not intentionally. It just had a lot of strings that were out of tune, some strings that had come off their peg and were wrapped around another string.
It was also painted white and had a mirror on top of it.
I sold it for £215 more than I bought it for. I told the guy, ‘do you realise all the notes play the same pitch’ and he was like ‘Yeah. I like that’.

Maybe he just needed a mirror?

To go in his boudoir.

Did he have a boudoir?

I don’t know. He was called Ming. He was a nice man. Actually, the first piano we ever really used was a banged up old one in a practise room, and I’m sure I must have prepared that at some point.
You can prepare a guitar too, just put screws in the strings. It’s just about making an interesting sound.
I mean, I wouldn’t prepare my piano now as it can damage the strings, certainly if we went into a studio I’m not sure if we’d get away with it.

You’d have to have your own little one that you didn’t mind getting wrecked.

Well it’s definitely something we could explore.

You could do it once, record it and then use it as a mixer.

I don’t know, I’m more in favour of doing everything live. It’s also much quicker to just shove some bits in the strings rather than spending hours setting it all up the same each time.

You can just set it up once and take photos of it, so the next time round it’s really quick.

Are you going to charge us if we use that idea?

No. Haha.
You’ve said about your earlier recordings, that they sounded like a really angry salvation army band…would you ever join one?

Depends what they were angry about.

Would they have to be angry? I thought they had to be peaceful and giving?

I used to live right by the Salvation Army main hall, it’s got an imposing structure that doesn’t at all impart their benevolence. It gives the impression that you’re going to be militated against.

The only image of the Salvation Army I’ve got is Harold from Neighbours. But wasn’t there that bit in Neighbours where he murdered someone, or went mad?

He had a stroke?

Oh yeah…I knew it was something along those lines…
Is Polly O based on a real person?

It isn’t a real girl, no.

This is Polly O. And she does have a really pretty little sister.

It’s partly based on a folk song, ‘by the banks of a green river’. There’s one line taken from that, some of the others have bits of nursery rhymes. But no, I mean I’ve known various people called Polly…so it’s kind of an amalgamation. There was never really a target. Although it often gets misheard as ‘watching Hollyoaks’.

What about the cheese strings?


There’s an American product called Polly O, and it’s cheese strings. But it’s the Italian family name, Pollio. Almost like the French for chicken.
(Someone proceeds to sing Polly O in a terrible Italian accent.) ‘Down goes Pollio…’
Like a treat!

If you went with the Hollyoaks edge you could change it to a narrative about the different characters. You could probably get a really big sponsorship deal from them as well. Produce it really craply and then you’d just have loads of spare money.

Spare money? What is this spare money?

Just lying about…

(Meanwhile, Duncan has fashioned a flaming smurf out of a B and a G guitar string.)

You could sell that, get some spare money. Especially with the band name behind it.

Wrapping strings round into an abstract design?
There is money making crap out of wire.

Interview- Ali Hewson & Polly O'shea; Words- Ali Hewson

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