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INTERVIEW: Liam Grindell from Affairs

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In a stellar collision of post-punk melancholy and scintillating synth-pop, Affairs offer a crisper, more introspective indie experience. Thoughtful, elaborate, but – make no mistake – resoundingly catchy. It’s a sound that ticks all the boxes. I spoke to the band’s guitarist Liam about constructing the sound of Affairs, their new EP, and the possibility of an album.

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How did Affairs all start?

Affairs all started back in Hull on the East Coast of England. I already met up with a guitarist (Dan) before everything really kicked off. At first it was just me and him trying to do something a bit new but in an indie style. We took quite a lot of inspiration from Foals at the time, we wanted to write something a bit jangly and intricate. People will never hear that music now though. That’s gone!

Then when we graduated, we took the decision of: “Right, this is what we’re focusing on. Everything is going into this band.”

But basically, Dan returned to Hull University where he was doing his studies and he’d already started putting together a band with our bassist Jack. I then returned to Hull and met up with those guys again. They had already started writing new material, so it just felt right to carry on doing what I was doing with Dan with the input of Jack. That left us at the point where we needed a drummer and a singer. Drumming wise, it all fell into place, we put out an advertisement and we found our drummer (Michael) – whose strange sense of humour fitted into ours. Our singer (James), we actually found at an open mic evening singing Daniel by Bat For Lashes. It seemed very fitting. So we tried him out. Then when we graduated, we took the decision of: “Right, this is what we’re focusing on. Everything is going into this band.”

You’ve compared your early sound to Foals, did it take a while to find yourselves as a band?

Where we were based in Hull, it has a thriving a music scene. But we saw this gap and we wanted to fill it with music that was a little bit different. Incorporating synths, incorporating all these different guitar styles rather than just hitting chords. We went down that route, sometimes we went a little bit too far. Things got a little bit too inaccessible at times. For us, we were just enjoying what we were doing and trying to write something fresh. We have grown up now. We’ve learned to be a lot less self-indulgent with what we put into tracks. Now we focus on what actually makes it a good track collectively. We used to put loads of unnecessary things in there which weren’t making the tracks any better. Our producer (Ed Buller) for the recent EP said to us: “You need to sift through a lot of stuff to get to the gold.” It’s sank in now, the key elements that are coming out first, they are the gold.

Was the sound you currently have a clear point where you wanted to go, or was it a slow process?

It was a different process. It wasn’t something we were used to. Our writing style now has very much come from being in the studio with Ed Buller. He made us sit down and look at our tracks in a lot more detail. At first we thought: “Is this still us?” But thinking about it, it made everything so much more accessible. Also, purely from a performance side of things.

Before we had to concentrate so much on the intricacies of everything, it took away from how much we could put into the energy of the show. Now it’s stripped back, things are clearer. Bigger. Now we can really focus on the performance. That’s really shone through since we’ve got into this new, developed writing style.

Lots of reviewers say you pay homage to the 80s, is that intentional?

I wouldn’t say it’s a sought out intention to do so. There was a track that we released a few years back called ‘Contact’ which was very 80s influenced. Mainly, it’s down to the fact that it’s the music we heard when we were growing up. We heard all this stuff from our parents. So, although we don’t think about it, it’s probably subconsciously going in and coming out the other end. Another thing is, especially with James, he does have a distinct vocal. When you listen to a lot of 80s music, it does have that darker, lower tone which was popular with a lot of singers. I can see why people bring it up, but it’s not something we’ve consciously done.

Quickly on the vocal, you can instantly pick up on it, how important is it within the music?

James is always a safe bet! When we’re writing, we’ll predominantly start with the instrumental. We try not to pigeonhole things. So say we’re writing a track, we try not to get too bogged down with the idea of: “Is this sounding like an Affairs track?” We’ve lost that worry because we know as soon as we put James’ voice on it, it instantly becomes an Affairs track. That’s one of the beautiful things about James’ voice to be honest. It’s recognisable. Obviously we write music to cater for what James is doing, but it’s never something we worry too much about.

On your debut EP ‘Stained Gold’ – how happy are the band with it?

Very happy. It’s currently premiered on Clash Magazine and it’s got some great feedback on there. On a production level and on a writing level, it’s a lot more polished. It sounds big. It sounds ballsy. Which are all things we’ve wanted from records in the past. It’s also a lot more accessible. I think you’re fighting a losing battle if you make it really difficult to grab onto, which is maybe what we did in the past. It’s a route we’ve never gone down. We always wanted to write something really, really different. We did that for quite a while, so we thought let’s try and write something a bit more accessible to people and to a wider audience. I think we’ve definitely achieved that.

Is there a climate in the industry to be massively experimental?

In a way, yes. In a way, no. I’d hope there are still bands out there that are going for something different. Something that makes people step back and go: “What the hell was that?” If not, you end up with the same kind of stuff coming out all the time. You’d think people will eventually get bored of that. I’d like to think the stuff we’re bringing out – even though it’s a bit more accessible – still has its unique qualities to it. Whether that be with James. Whether that be with really pushing the synths.

I do really hope – for the entire music scene – that people are doing things differently.

Even though we’ve made our music more open to people. At the end of the day, we don’t want to be boring. We still put interesting elements into it that still make people think: “Yeah, I can sit down and listen to this.” That’s key really. So yes, I do really hope – for the entire music scene – that people are doing things differently. Eventually, it may creep across into the limelight and get more recognition.

When I listened to the EP, it was almost like a mini-album, did you want to make sure it was a consistent piece of work?

If we just jumbled a bunch of tracks to together, you may as well buy a single. We wanted it to be a thing you can sit down, listen to in full and everything plays off each other. For example, ‘Runaway’ and ‘Play’ are currently in the set together because they feel like they flow together. In our live sets, we’ll try and have a trough in the middle where it comes down a little bit. It gives people some breathing space and lets them wind down ready for a massive barrage at the end. We took the same approach with the EP. We have these bigger tracks towards the start and then the third track, ‘Out Of The Deep’, is more of a slow burner. We wanted to – I hate using this phrase – take people on a journey. We’re a big fan of trying to create an atmosphere. Create a feeling. Make someone feel a certain way.

 

In that, was there any main songwriting theme when you were making sure it all flowed?

No actually. Our songwriting – mainly from James and Jack – is mostly influenced by the world around us. So there was no fixed pattern of what we’re writing about. We’ve seen something that’s quite interesting and thought: “let’s take that and make it into a track.” So the themes of the tracks are very varied. For instance, Runaway is exploring youth, life without responsibilities and just living for that point in time. It’s masked in there somewhere. We try not to be too opaque when it comes to what we’re writing about. You’ve got Play, which is about a relationship that’s failing. Then you look at Brothers, which is based on a Tom Hardy film! That’s based on Warrior (2011). So we try and take influence from the world around us – books, films, anything really.

You’ve mentioned your producer Ed Buller (produced Suede, White Lies, Pulp), how influential was he in the production process?

When we actually started drilling at the tracks, we both had a slightly different view of where we should be going. But then again, this was the first time we’d been in that environment. Ed’s done this stuff before, this guy knows what he’s on about. It was a big learning curve for us. At times, disagreements occurred but it’s the creative field, it’s subjective. We always met in the middle, which resulted in the best of both worlds.

He wanted to steer us in the direction that he thinks makes better music, which I’d agree with. Straight from the off, he had ideas. He heard our demos for the tracks and was very keen start working on what we should change and what we should emphasise. In that sense, we were very open to his ideas because he seemed like he got it. At the end of the day, it’s made a really well produced record that we’re all really happy with. I can definitely hear his influence when I listen to the tracks. If I’m sat in a bar one day and White Lies comes on and I hear the snare drum I think: “Yeah. That’s Ed.” I’ve come to know his sound and his way of producing.

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What are the ambitions for Affairs, is there an album on the table?

We’re going back into the studio soon to track some new material we’ve done. Again, very much stronger tracks. We’re doing a tour towards the end of June, starting in the North of England and branching out after that. One of the things we really want to achieve at some point is to get into Europe. A lot of our friends that we’ve met in bands over the years have spoken so highly about it. The crowds are so responsive and appreciative out there, they seem to dig British indie bands for some reason. Then we want to hit up some bigger festivals, especially in Europe. We’re just steadily moving up at the moment.

Our outlook on it is, we don’t just want to put ten tracks together and go: “There’s your album.”

On an album, we are looking into doing that. We’re going back into the studio, not to do an album at this moment, but the material is there. Our outlook on it is, we don’t just want to put ten tracks together and go: “There’s your album.” The EP works well as a body of music, we want the album to be like that but on another level. We want the time to be right for it. It definitely feels like it’s on the horizon.

Listen to the full audio of the interview here: 

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Finnian Shardlow

Music Editor 2015-17

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