Originally formed as a one-man multimedia project, The History Of Colour TV are fast developing into a serious rock band.
Having expanded into a three-piece, the Berlin-based outfit have honed their sound, stripping back some of their earlier layers of overdubs in favour of a raw, primal noise aesthetic.
The trio’s instrumental flourishes combine with highly literate, often surreal lyrics, which consistently challenge and ask questions of the listener.
Fiercely independent, they’re about to release a third full album, which was recorded in France with producer Peter Diemel, whose past credits include The Wedding Present, Shellac and Anna Calvi.
Founder and songwriter Jaike Stambach tells Matt Catchpole about the making of the album and why he’s not entirely comfortable with comparisons to some of the biggest bands in the business.
Reviewers are always keen to pigeonhole bands and you’ve been likened to artists like Radiohead, My Bloody Valentine and Sonic Youth. Do you find such comparisons helpful?
I think those bands are so famous that such comparisons only give new listeners very broad cues as to the sound of the band that’s being compared to them. Their output and influence is so varied.
Are you fans of those bands?
Sonic Youth most definitely. The other two as well, but in terms of being a fan as in being influenced and inspired to make music and to experiment, Sonic Youth were massive for me early on.
If you’re compared to an artist you don’t know are you tempted to check them out?
Most of the time people compare bands to acts that are pretty well known. I suppose we all do that to a degree, as we look to share points of reference. A review once compared us to Ladytron, so I had to go double-check. I just think there’s more constructive ways to talk about music.
Tell us about Something Like Eternity – any significance in the title?
It’s a line from one of the songs, Wait. Basically, it’s about that greyish zone in which it can be impossible to satisfactorily describe certain things, or emotions. Is there a way in which you can describe eternity that won’t make it sound trivial once expressed? “Something like eternity must feel like this.” It’s like “I’m using a word, the name of something I can’t accurately describe to convey an emotion I can’t really put in words.” So it becomes this trivial statement from whoever’s singing it. It’s almost like giving up on trying to be coherent. A lot of the songs on the album circle around similar themes – the trivial and daily. versus the immense and infinite. There are a lot of very simple descriptions of objects and places in the lyrics, which – because they are simple – can open up portals to some very deep emotional spaces. It’s similar to the way in which memories are often anchored around the simplest of things, so certain places and items take on a huge significance, even if in themselves they are relatively meaningless. But you can’t necessarily put those emotions into words. The album cover (see below) is the kind of the same concept. Infinity/eternity reflected on the surface of an inner, private, quotidian space.
Was it the classic ‘difficult third album’ or did things come together fairly smoothly?
It’s the same with any record. I don’t remember starting to write it as such… But at some point you have enough new songs to call an album. And I’m always amazed at how that happens, because when you reach that point, the thought of writing 10 or 15 or 20 more songs for another album seems like an impossible task.
The idea for the general direction of the lyrics had been developing for a while, but the music came together pretty fast. And then we played the songs on an off for about a year before recording the album.
How did you get on with Peter Deimel? What made you want to work with him?
We knew of Peter, and especially his studio, because various friends have recorded there over the years, as well as many other bands of course. It’s a pretty amazing facility, in a really sweet location. We were just there a week or so, but could have easily spent a month there making the record. Peter is a fantastic engineer, and he was in tune with the style of recording we wanted to make, that is to set up and record in a way that produces a fairly naturalistic representation of the band at that point in time. There wasn’t really time to over think anything. But we still spent some of it geeking out over the gear and machines and stories he has there. It was great.
What made you decide to base yourselves in Berlin?
The band was formed in Berlin after I moved here. It felt like a place where it would be possible to live in total isolation, maybe underground, and to make music alone and not meet anyone. But things turned out differently. Everyone in the band is solidly based here, and there’s no urge to imagine being based somewhere else. It’s a quite comfortable and sometimes comforting city to live in.
You originally started as a solo project – what difference has it made working as a full band?
I feel that over time the song writing has changed, but that’s also partly just a natural progression. That said, tones and textures can be starting points for songs, so writing with the different instruments in the band in mind, the way Markus’ (Mocydlarz) bass sounds, or the way Janek (Sprachta) drums for example, can sometimes influence the direction a song might take in its early stages.
Do you come to the band with fully crafted songs or do you jam it out in the studio?
Most of the time the songs are already written and I have rough demos. But they get stretched and worn-in throughout our rehearsals, and the final feel is often quite different from what was on the demo. With the new album we did a lot of rehearsing before recording, so the whole band really owned the songs by the time it came to committing them to tape.
Does it take some of the pressure off having other musicians to act as a sounding board?
It’s a good way of quickly seeing what works and what doesn’t, in terms of feel and atmosphere. Sometimes something is great in demo form, but doesn’t translate so well ‘live’ for a variety of reasons. It’s also a good incentive to try to write songs and music that will be interesting to play as a band. Maybe that’s more pressure, but it’s self-imposed and healthy.
Do you listen to other music to get you into the mood to write and record?
Not directly to get into the mood to write. Most of the music I listen to currently doesn’t bear much resemblance to the music we make with the band. I feel that reading, especially more experimental forms of fiction and poetry, and the images that emerge from that are a greater source of inspiration these days than music.
I read that you were shifting back towards analog recording rather than digital – is this still your preferred way of working and why?
I generally prefer doing as much in the analog realm as possible, because it’s more hands on, and more satisfying in a way as a result. And there are less options, which seem infinite in the digital arena. Recording to tape, for example, really forces you to be focused and in the moment when tracking. You can’t realistically do take after take forever, you really need to commit to your ideas and espouse any minor mistakes or imperfections that might be there when you’re done. Some of those turn out to be the coolest parts of records. Not that you need mistakes, but overall the energy of a performance is more important than the precision, and with digital it’s all too easy to edit out ‘mistakes’ and sometimes suck the life out of something in the process.
Social media has become hugely important to bands in terms of getting their music out there. Do you enjoy being online and having a conversation with fans?
We mostly try to post stuff that’s relevant, or important news, and that’s enjoyable. It’s always nice and surprising when people write thank you emails or just post enthusiastic comments. As an extension, it’s great that it’s become so much easier to sell music directly to fans. Packing your own records, adding personal notes, going to the post office. It just feels right.
I’m not so enamoured with other aspects of social media. It sometimes feels there’s a pressure to keep in touch for the sake of it, even if nothing much is happening with the band. As a fan, I’m not bothered if a band I like disappears from the radar for a few months. Everyone has other stuff to do. I’m just not good at content for the sake of content, although some people are and that’s fine.
As a fan of vinyl are you excited that it seems to be making a comeback?
For most people who are into punk, techno, or noise or who support underground labels and bands, vinyl never went away! What’s making a comeback is corporate labels’ interest in the format and the market it represents. And that has partly had a negative impact, for reasons that are well documented online. That said, it seems that in turn there are positive developments, new record plants opening, even new record pressing technology being researched and tested. That’s exciting.
Finally, your Facebook page says there are no History of Colour TV concerts planned. Are you planning to tour in support of the album?
I’m sure we will do some kind of release show. We will try to tour. It’s not so easy because in recent years we have operated mostly without management or agencies, which for an unknown band like us can be somewhat of an obstacle when it comes to setting up a tour. Of course, it’s traditionally an imperative – you release a record, and you tour it. But the world is so complex and distractive… It’s hard to keep your thoughts and efforts focused along standard lines of procedure.
- Something Like Eternity is due for release by Cranes Records on February 24
- For more on The History Of Colour TV visit their website