Talk about weird introductions to the U.S. Finishing up a whirlwind three-date mini-tour last fall at Philly’s Making Time party, British four-piece Late of Pier were forced to appease the city’s baseball fanatics by playing their set in its entirety with Game 3 of the World Series superimposed over them. (Alas, Soulwax, who played straight after them, suffered the same fate — those Phillies fans are hardcore.)
It was an unconventional turn of events for quite the unconventional band. Heady buzz about Late of the Pier has been building at breakneck speed over the last couple of years, culminating in the Astralwerks (U.S.) release of their Erol Alkan-produced epic debut, Fantasy Black Channel.
Over a pre-show all-American meal of burgers and fries at Philly’s Silk City Diner, Sam Potter (electronic wizardry) and Andrew Faley (bass) talked about eating pasta with Erol, their particular brand of “anti-pop pop,” porn-star doubles, the pressures of positive press, punching trees, and the peacekeeping sensibilities of nipple measuring/glittering. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Late of the Pier.
How did you guys first hook up with Erol?
Potter: He was just lingering around really. He was kind of perving on us from a dark room, kind of playing with his really big fingers thinking, “You know I could do something with these boys.”
Faley: And then he said, “Do you want to come back to my house?”
Potter: And so we did …
Faley: And he cooked us pasta, and it was really good pasta, so we said, “If your production’s anything like your pasta, we’re in business.”
Potter: It was really surreal, because to be honest, before we met Erol, he was a celebrity, you know what I mean? He was always a cool figure, and seeing him make pasta was the moment we realized he was human, I think.
Faley: He had two pots and was like mixing the pasta like he mixes records.
Potter: He kind of seduced us with his strange mind and enthusiasm for weird and wonderful things, really.
OK, but how did you actually meet Erol?
Faley: I kind of bombarded him with messages at one point on MySpace page, just being like, “Look, Erol, I know you’re gonna fucking love this,” and when he’d DJ I’d throw CDs to him.
Potter: Yeah, we met him fairly unremarkably really. We should probably lie about it so you get some kind of sense of magic.
Faley: Erol, before he got married and stuff, used to smoke quite a bit of pot — he used to smoke a lot of pot. He went through a phase where he kind of just smoked too much and got really paranoid and started freaking out. He thought people were going to jump through his windows and get him and stuff. I used to hand him CDs while he was DJ’ing, just kind of like reach up — “Oh, Erol, play my CD” — like every other kid does. I sent him a MySpace message and he really freaked out and thought I was like stalking him and stuff. Then a year later, one of his friends who worked for 679 [Recordings] brought him down to a gig, and he was just like, “Yeah, that was pretty cool,” even though we played a terrible gig. Then he was just like, “Yeah, do you want to come and have pasta?” so we went and had pasta. Then we started hanging out a lot more.
He’s very much like my older brother. He’s kind of like an uncle figure to the four of us. I think he kind of sees a lot of himself in us and we see a lot of ourselves in him, just because we share a lot of things in common. We just work really well and really hit it off. We never really planned on having a producer do anything — the original idea was Sam [Eastgate] was gonna do it all. We ended up doing “Bathroom Gurgle” with Erol, and the response was amazing, and because of where he is and who he is, the attention from that was great as well. At the time, it was very 50-50 — some people thought we were amazing, like one of the most exciting new bands of the year, and the other people you’d meet: “No, it’s completely awful; what the fuck’s everyone talking about?” I think he swayed a lot of people who took to thinking down about us: “Well, if Erol’s behind it and Erol produced it, maybe I’m missing something.”
Potter: I think a lot of people thought we was real flash in the pan before we met Erol. We tied up a lot of loose ends with a lot of our songs — a lot about who we were as well, in a way, ‘cause I think even after our debut album we’re still finding ourselves. We still feel fairly kind of new to it. We’ve been doing it for like three years, but we’re still kind of approaching it in the same way. We’re still trying different things and testing the water in a lot of different senses.
Faley: We don’t know who we are or what we want to be, and we’re kind of slowly growing that way, but all the press and industry kind of telling other people what we are and who we are and what we are going to be when we don’t even know ourselves is really confusing. It’s something that’s really difficult to get your head around and to keep your feet on the ground. Erol can’t tell us what we are, but at least he can inspire us and give us ideas [about] other people and the way to do things. He has kind of walked in a fountain of knowledge with everything to do with music. If we’re ever kind of unsure of anything or we’re starting to get swayed by other ideas, he always brings us back down.
Potter: I just had a really funny thought. If Erol read most of the things we say about him, he’d probably get really shy and probably never speak to us ever again.
Faley: We told everyone that he’s a child molester and that he had murderous eyes at one point, and we made him out to be a complete arsehole [laughs], just because he’s so far from it. We’ve got awful senses of humor and we’re sick, twisted bastards [laughs]. But he’s the sweetest guy, he’s a real English gentleman.
Potter: I think he’s a knob, and it really hurts when he hits me.
Faley: It does really hurt when he hits you. He’s got big fists. [laughs]
Potter: Erol’s got a porn-star double as well.
Faley: Yeah, which not many DJs have.
Potter: A porn star who looks exactly like him. I’ve seen that photo.
Faley: It’s pretty uncanny. He was like, “No, it’s not me,” and I was like, “Yeah it is.”
Potter: He must have thought, “I don’t ever remember sucking a cock.”
Faley: I think the only thing that kind of reassured him was that she had a tattoo that he doesn’t have. Apart from that, I think he’d be freaked out.
Potter: He loves it though. He shows everyone…
Faley: It’s his favorite possession. OK, should we move off of Erol? [laughs]
One last serious question about Erol: Do you think you’ll continue to work with him in the future?
Potter: Yeah, we just did some recordings. We went to London and did like a five-day long session.
Faley: We tried to do an EP. We thought, like, “Yeah, we’ve got these four ideas for songs, so we’ll make an EP.” We kind of didn’t finish three of the songs. One of them’s just this really strong, weird instrumental, really kind of psyched-out.
Potter: Sounds like a less-techy Four Tet. There’s some real noises in there, really kind of organic and rich. It’s not really a song, though — it’s more of a texture, really. I think we’ll put it on a B-side. That was the big thing about this EP we did: We had like four songs but they didn’t really — it would have been like the album, basically. We would have put them together and it would have sounded OK, but there wasn’t a string of something cohesive there, and I don’t think we’re really into doing that for our next record. We really want — not a theme, but something really that kind of makes it feel more like an album and not a best of the last four years.
Faley: None of them sound like really strong singles. [One] starts with The Snowman, goes into the Beatles, turns into Ultravox, and then goes into like Soulwax remixing Daft Punk at the end. Fucking weird song.
Potter: Really fucked up.
Faley: It is like entirely a pop song. We think it may be [out] January in the U.K. The album’s not even dropping until January [in the U.S.].
When did you actually make the record? It’s been out for awhile in the U.K., right?
Faley: We started on it in December , but I think the majority of It was done in January/February . March we toured, and then we kind of went back in. It took about eight weeks total. A lot of it was just kind of pieced together slowly and done in different studios all over the place — probably took like six months overall to put together, but I think that’s also why the album sounds so disjointed. It sounds more like a compilation of hits or like different bands to me — not one album with a consecutive theme or idea.
I was going to ask you if that was something you did consciously. Faley: It works. There are so many ideas on the album, it’s impossible to kind of tie it all together with one string. We did think of mixing all the songs together, especially [working] with Erol, and having like one 45-minute solid track, but in the end it just kind of felt right how it was. That’s the thing with doing the album. We did so many different things with it and [had] so many different ideas, in the end we just ended up saying yes when it felt right to everyone. Like, the four of us and Jimmy the engineer and Erol kind of all sat there, and if all six of us were just like, “That’s it,” then it stayed, even if like we had more ideas. If it hit that point, that’s where it stayed. And then when it came to actually tying the album together, I think the album fell into place itself, like the songs basically told us where they wanted to go on the album.
Potter: There’s nearly a narrative there. I think in the three years to build up to the album, we never actually thought of a track list, and we never really kind of considered the fact that it should sound like an album. I think we recorded all the songs and then they were there and it was like, “Oh, we have to kind of stitch this together and make it sound like one piece.”
Faley: Although the whole album isn’t cohesive in any way, I still do think it does the one thing that all albums in music — well, the best ones — do, and that is it kind of tells a story. It’s a journey. It has an opening, it has an ending and it has all the different kinds of emotions and experiences of a story in the middle.
Despite the fact that, as you said, maybe opinion used to be more mixed, anything I’ve read or heard about Late of the Pier has been unanimously positive. Is that a great thing, or does it end up making things a bit scary?
Faley: It’s just dangerous. I try to ignore it. I read bad reviews, because then that can give you an idea of what you can do to please the people that just can’t be pleased, and if you end up pleasing them…
Potter: I think ideally we’d be in a situation where before you buy an album you don’t hear anything about it whatsoever and kind of go into it blank and can form your own judgment. When lots of people are saying a lot of things about you, it’s kind of building a castle in their heads. If the music isn’t a castle and it’s merely like a mansion or something, it’s going to kind of take away from how good it actually is to you. When you read a review, it’s kind of preparing your ears for the first listen — there shouldn’t be that kind of stage there, it should be just like, Bam! Music in your face, no distractions.
Faley: It’s a double-ended sword, any press is, but I’m sure it does more good than bad in the long run.
Initially it gets more attention onto what you’re doing.
Faley: Definitely. Especially in England, there’s far too much attention and press laid on bands far too soon. We’ve had it far too soon, but in the end, nine out of 10 of the interviews and things we do are generally because the people who asked to do it are excited, not something like NME or Rolling Stone where they do it because it’s their job and they’re going to make celebrities out of you to sell some issues.
I’ve heard lots of comparisons between you and Klaxons. Objectively speaking, I can see some similarities, too. Both of you seem to have a similar perspective, and also came racing out the gate pretty quickly.
Potter: They’re basically trying to make something really popular. There are a lot of people that come in from a different angle, and I think we’re doing it completely different ways. We come from completely different angles, but in that one respect we are kind of linked and are kind of similar in purpose, I guess.
Are you bothered by that comparison?
Faley: The only thing that would piss me off is when press would use the tag “new rave.” It’s kind of like, have you not worked out that it’s a complete joke and a piss take? It was all a joke to use the press, and now the press are kind of like trying to use that. We do get comparisons to Klaxons, and in a lot of ways, it’s great to be able to be related, because we do share a lot of ideas and things and are big fans of each other, but I don’t think we share any more in common with them than anyone you can think of.
How do you describe your sound?
Potter: If we could describe our sound, I don’t think we’d be who we are, basically.
Faley: It’s just the alternative to alternative …
Potter: It’s a ridiculously vague and broad term, but …
Faley: That’s why we like it.
So “not mainstream”?
Faley: But it very much is.
Potter: I think it’s really contrary music, to be honest.
Faley: It’s anti-pop pop.
Potter: Kind of anti-anti, zig-zagging, lots of things at the same time. The minute you think it’s one thing, it’s the exact opposite. It’s a nightmare for journalists, basically.
What are your main influences as a band? Are their artists you all share a love of?
Faley: There are a few we’ve all been influenced by. Not by their music or them personally, but just what they’ve done and how they’ve done it in their time and everything. Probably the Beatles, Daft Punk and Soulwax — all of three of them have just been solid. It’s all been done honestly for its own
reasons, it’s pushed ideas and boundaries, and it’s great pop music.
Whose career would you most like to emulate?
Faley: The brains of the Beatles with the hands of Daft Punk and the bodies of Soulwax, but with less stress!
Potter: I like stress! Stress is good. Stress keeps you awake, doesn’t it?
Have you been getting any advice from other bands?
Faley: Yeah, but we don’t listen to it. I think the only people we actually listen to are Erol and Soulwax, just because they’ve always done everything their own way. If we ever need anything or doubt things, I turn to Erol, just ‘cause he knows us and we know him inside out, but he’s also more experienced with everything than us.
You’re only doing a handful of dates in the U.S. this time. Will you be back for a proper tour soon?
Faley: March or April, I think. We’re doing Coachella.
And finally, what’s the most shocking thing about Late of the Pier?
Faley: We’ve all got fucking huge penises! [laughs]
I’ll make sure that one gets in there.
Potter: Say something real — that one’s really fake.
Faley: Speak for yourself!
Potter: I’ve got two …
Faley: Two massive penises! One on each arm!
That’s pretty shocking.
Potter: We once broke down and we all measured the size of our nipples, and we did it in the gayest way in the world — this is real — we rubbed glitter on our nipples and then pressed paper against it and made like a glittery nipple chart, and surprisingly enough we’ve all got pretty much the same size nipples. It’s what we do when we fight as well.
Faley: “I want to fucking knock you out! Right, get the glitter out! Let’s sort this out like men!”
Potter: “Let’s do this like men, let’s sort this out …” and we measure our nipples and everything’s alright…. Faley’s great-auntie was like the smallest lady in the world.
Faley: Yeah, I don’t know what relation she was. My grandma married like twice, and one of her kids with her first husband, I think, was the smallest lady in the world for quite a long time. But maybe it was one of their daughters. I have a photo of her with a really normal-sized guy. Crazy. Well before my time…. I punched a tree once.
Potter: I was gonna say a fucking story from that time as well.
Faley: Yeah, I punched a tree once. I was drunk and a bit lairy, and then we found this forest. It had had a really big forest fire, so it had all these giant charcoal trees, and I just punched through it — which is terrible, but it was really cool. And then we ran into a horse. And then we dressed up like the Grim Reaper with these massive capes and stood on the side of the road with our thumbs out, freaking out drivers at like four in the morning in the middle of absolutely nowhere. I hope we didn’t cause anyone to die. I really hope we didn’t.