We’re all well-versed in my ‘there are virtually NO good female bands at the moment' rant, so it comes as a pleasant and long-overdue surprise when I can hand on heart, say I am a proper fan of An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump. Huge fan. Bit of a stalker. Not only are they three talented and charismatic multi-instrumentalists making raw, bass-heavy dark rock, but they also happen to be lovely, interesting and intelligent ladies with something to say. Brilliant songwriting, brilliant live performances, brilliantly atmospheric, An Experiment are the kind of band you see/hear, and then can't get out of your head. I caught up with the girls to discuss EP launches, songwriting and London’s current musical landscape.
Your name references a painting by Joseph Wright of Derby: what's the story?
D-Bird: We were only meant to be a band for one night to play my Decasia Club and so we picked an outrageously long name which still had meaning and relevance in conveying we are into all mediums of art besides music. We had an overwhelming response at our first gig and decided to continue as a band and the long name stuck....
X-Bird: The painting really stood out for us. Personally for me what I find most intriguing about this painting is the human psychology behind it. In the painting spectators surround the air pump as the bird suffocates… I feel humans have a fascination with death as we constantly contend with our own personal conflict with mortality, nothing lasts forever and as depressing as this sounds, our own impending death whether it be tomorrow or in 40 years time highlights this.
C-Bird: The play on light and darkess which the painting conveys is extremely poetic. It mirrors all aspects of life. When you feel moments of darkness it can be sometimes hard to see the light. Life is a cycle and something we should move with. Living is all about change.
You've gotten some great press this year and have your EP launch in December: how has 2009 treated the birds?
D-Bird: It's been a bit of a strange year. We came into 2009 on the back of intense press coverage and the year continued with the same. It took us a few attempts to find the right producers for our music (in the end, we worked very well with both Tim Burgess and Steve Albini) and the delay in not releasing any material was quite frustrating so we fought this frustration by gigging very heavily. I'm excited about the release and very glad we managed to put the EP out this year.
X-Bird: 2009 has seen The Birds flying about here and there. We’ve been abroad quite a bit this year and it has been pretty exciting doing gigs all over Europe. It’s always good to step out of your comfort zone and play to completely new crowds and so far the reception we’ve got has been really good. We're playing Transmusical in France in December which I'm really looking forward to!
C-Bird: We have been playing abroad quite a lot and has been great to get out of the country and take our music to different audiences. So far the response has been positive.
What are your musical backgrounds? How did you get together?
D-Bird: I'm a trained drummer, guitarist and pianist and have had music lessons from the age of 11. I feel it is very important to understand music instrumentation and theory. Music is no different to English or Maths. The more you learn and the more you practice, the better you get. It is a very complicated discipline and that's what makes it so challenging. The more you put in, the more you get out.
X-Bird: C-Bird and I started out a couple of years ago when we were at art college, we bought a really crappy drum machine and a guitar with the money we saved up from our weekend jobs and just wanted to make music. At the time, I suppose we let our work at art college (we were both studying Video Art) slip as we completely immersed ourselves in it. I attempted to play the guitar, coming up with one string riffs and programmed the drum machine whilst C-Bird sang over the top. What came about were short part electro, part female angst songs about whatever we were busting our gut over at the time. Usually hangovers and current crushes… Nothing materialised over these songs… I suppose it was more of a personal test to see if we could do it even though a well known producer at the time expressed interest in recording us our heart wasn’t in it and we felt we needed to concentrate on finishing our degrees at Uni. We didn’t dust off the drum machine until 2 years later when we formed our electronic band Eve Black/Eve White, except this time I traded in my guitar for a synth. We met D-Bird through playing her club night Decasia and the rest as they say is history! I’m not really musically trained, for me it has always been about honing in ideas and finding creative ways of making them a reality. If I have a sound in mind I’ll try and work out how I can get that sound or tune on the bass, drums or vocals. Everything creative is a learning curve and I am constantly learning!
C-Bird: X-Bird and I are sisters and had already formed Eve Black/ Eve White. An experimental, electronic doo wop band. It was always about experimenting with what you've got. I taught myself to sing by listening to my favourite records. It all stems from confindence to believe in what you have already got. Everything is a learning process. I love to learn and explore. There are so many things I like to do. Nothing is impossible unless you give it a try.
As one half of the songwriting team for The Backlash, my partner and I swing between blissful genius and alarming conflict: what is your songwriting process like?
D-Bird: I would say ours is the same...moments of pure creativity mixed with frustration. I think you need to have a bit of both to keep you writing and exploring.
X-Bird: The music that we have written together was formed through jam sessions. When we first started our aim was to pick up, play, go with the flow and let the creation happen. The reality is that with anything, you have to put in a lot of hard graft and completely exhaust every creative bone in your body to make a partnership like this work. It takes a lot of mental strength to keep going.
C-Bird: I tend to write my lyrics alone as they are from a personal level. Everything i write about has something to do with my past and present experiences. The music side of things normally consist of jamming sessions in rehearsal spaces.
Who would you consider your biggest musical influences?
D-Bird: Nirvana, Mazzy Star, Sonic Youth, The Carpenters, The Breeders, PJ Harvey and Hole. X-Bird: I’ve recently been listening to Mahalia Jackson. I will continually be inspired by a raw quality in vocals. With Mahalia Jackson each emotion is accentuated through how certain words are sung. It takes a rare talent to be able to get that kind of passion and emotion out of a song through vocals alone. Try and find Mahalia Jackson singing Motherless Child and Summertime on youtube…it nearly reduced me to tears!Although I love music my inspirations vary and are not exclusively musical. I love the films of Kenneth Anger, Maya Deren and Pipilotti Rist- they’re all video and film makers who have used sound in someway to express the symbolism in their visual work. Kenneth Anger for instance used 60’s girl group soundtracks in his film, Scorpio Rising, Maya Deren had a gut thumping sparse tribal soundtrack for Meshes Of the Afternoon and Pipilotti Rist twisted the lyric, ‘I’m not the girl who misses much’ from the John Lennon song ‘Happiness is a warm gun’ in one of her early videos. All used pop culture of the time to add an extra layer of symbolism in their work.
C-Bird: When i first listened to The Strokes it was like a lightning bolt to the brain. I hadn't heard anything quite like them before and there was this other world I hadn't even explored. They were the first band that opened a door to a range of other mystical and intriguing bands like the Velvet Underground. Nico's voice enchanted me. There was a real pain and meloncholy in her voice which is real and distinctive. I'm always in the search for something real. Its an obssesion of mine. Voices that truely inspire.
Which current bands do you rate?
D-Bird:The Raveonettes, Selfish Cunt, Battant, Veronica Falls, Male Bonding and Hatcham Social.
X-Bird: I’ve always been a fan of The Strokes and ‘Is This It’ would most definitely feature on my Desert Island Disks! Usually during times of crisis I delve through my record and cd collection for bands I got into a few years ago. Music in this sense really does have that therapeutic quality to it; I can listen to a song and transport myself to that particular happy moment in time. It’s like I’m time travelling. The Strokes especially that album in particular has that affect on me. The first Yeah Yeah Yeahs Bang EP has the same effect too- they remind me of sneaking out of the house to meet my friends in London and partying all night. They take me back to a time when being able to sneak a couple of beers into a club and partying till sunrise was the most important thing in the world. As much as I love hurtling towards the wrong side of 25, you realise in adulthood that some of the things you dreamt about when you were 17 are completely unrealistic. It’s a pretty hard knock for any daydreamer but everything in life is a learning curve and listening to these bands helps me ease into this realisation.
C-Bird: The bands that seem to have struck a chord in me are the ones that influenced me from the beginning like The Strokes, Yeah Yeahs Yeahs, PJ Harvey, Ike and Tina Turner. My taste is quite eclectic. They all move me in a certain way.
Do you feel women are under-represented in the music industry? How important, if at all, is gender to your music and identity as a band?
D-Bird: Particularly in 2009, there has been a massive surge in female solo artists on both sides of the Atlantic ranging from Lady Gaga to Little Boots. Personally, these acts mean nothing to me...I can't connect with their synthetic music and image. It makes me feel even more inadequate about myself. Growing up I connected with artists like PJ Harvey, Kim Deal and Hope Sandoval. If I hadn't heard the music of such expressionate female musicians then I think I would have been a deeply troubled person. It sounds cliched to say that music saves but believe me, it does. I had a very transient childhood in the sense that my family moved every 18 months and I ended up living all over the world. I went to 15 schools. The only constant I had in my life was playing instruments and listening to music. I will seek solace in music until I die.
X-Bird: I once said in another interview recently people tend to ask us either about our fringes or our gender. Fringes and vaginas, both completely based on the visual aspect of who we are. One is something we can control whereas the other is a biological aspect we have no control over. Our gender is completely biological and of no consequence to how we make music. Being a woman has no bearing on how I continue to live my life, creatively or in a personal sense. I am who I am because I want to be. I always wonder why people are so drawn to the fact that we’re women as it’s a question that is always raised. I think in this instance as it seems to be something people are drawn to, I don’t think women are under-represented in the industry because its questions like this that bring women in the industry out to the forefront purely as the gender is continually highlighted. If people kept the whole idea of gender quiet in the industry, it wouldn’t be an issue at all. What is important to me overall is that people do what they want to do without any social constraint, if you push yourself to the limits, gender, social class, NOTHING will stop you and will essentially be completely irrelevant.
C-Bird: Gender only becomes an issue if you let it become one. I never saw myself as a women who plays music. I'm simply a human being who happens to have an interest in all aspects of art and who now happens to be part of something exciting.
You've spoken out about the lack of community and spontaneity of musicians in London, and the wish to form a transient and fluid band. To what do you attribute the more secular and marginalised spirit (or lack thereof) in London town?
D-Bird: I put it down to one thing - namely nepotism. After being in this industry for 18 months, I have seen that unfortunately it is not talent that gets you anywhere, it is all down to who you know. It really troubles me to see this hence I often rant about it in blog posts. People are also deeply competitive - I don't understand how you can be competitive in this industry as no two bands sound the same...some may sound alike but every single band is totally different so why the need to be jealous?! I am in another band called Oral Oral with Princess Julia and Dee Fodor - we are a completely unrehearsed, improvised band and always invite someone to join us onstage - someone who we have never played with before so the fluid band has begun to roll!
X-Bird: I watched the Bill and Ted film the other day and the tag line for the film was ‘Be excellent to each other and party on dudes’. Unfortunately life will be a constant battle ground, even in the most idyllic of situations Darwin’s theory will come to bite you on your skinny jeaned arse. We need to take a leaf out of Bill and Ted’s ethos in life I think…I feel that it is always important to enjoy life but to not get consumed by the bullshit of ‘the scene’ whatever it is. Its important to continue to do what you want but ALWAYS on your own terms, don’t get swayed and OVERALL continue to, ‘be excellent to each other’.
C-Bird: The lack of community is only felt by those who feel left out. You need to get out there and start breathing in everything but not treat London like a village.
And finally, questions we ask everyone....
Describe your sound in 5 words...
D-Bird: 'I want love and codeine'
X-Bird: Raw, spontaneous, gut-wrenching, heart.
C-Bird: Change, power, battle, heartbreak, storm
What are your guilty musical pleasures?
D-Bird: All 80s pop - Erasure, Bronski Beat and Boytronic to name a few!
X-Bird: I’m really getting into X-Factor…
C-Bird: I can listen to the same song on repeat for weeks on end and forget about anything else.
What the world needs now is....
D-Bird: ORIGINAL, genuine music
X-Bird: Free travel! Why is train travel so expensive? And love, sweet, love.
D-Bird: SXSW and America next year....
X-Bird: It’s a Sunday so possibly a good book and bed. I'm currently reading about the supernatural behind Kenneth Anger films!
C-Bird: To be myself always.
You are headlining your dream, all-star tour: who would your tour mates be?
D-Bird: People we get on with - Lydia Lunch would be great and I think we'd get on very well with Sonic Youth. I'd love to get the secret of eternal youth from Kim and Thurston whilst watching them explode on stage every night.....
X-Bird: I think it would be cool to have a giant band of 100 randomly selected people on tour with us. During the tour we would all have to share a HUMGUNGOUS tour bus so it would be like big brother but with music. It will be a giant musical social experiment!
C-Bird: Anyone who knows how to hold their drink and have a good converstation. I would bring all my close friends and rock around the world.
An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump will be partying and launching their EP on Thurs December 10th 2009, at The Victoria, Mile End - Free Entry all Night.
Pre-order Buy A Life from Rough Trade here.
To read more interviews by Little Miss B, click below:Cold In Berlin