State Broadcasters – A Different Past Interview

A Different Past but bright future

The 6Music Festival in Glasgow was a great weekend and it was something that brought a lot of joy and happiness to a lot of folk. At the last time of checking, many of the performances are still available on the iPlayer so if you get the chance, be sure to check something out if you haven’t yet done so. I loved Sleaford Mods, Ride, Honeyblood, Grandaddy and The Shins so feel free to watch them.

The festival wasn’t great for everyone though and there was something so typical about the fact that the festival was announced to clash with the launch of State Broadcasters third album, ‘A Different Past‘. Right at the very point when you want all eyes and ears dedicated to a new release, anyone with any love in their heart for Glasgow music was likely to be otherwise entertained.

This sort of situation wouldn’t be a surprise for anyone who has fallen in love with the music of the band…and even at the release point, you wondered if there was much point in shouting about their new record because the people you would usually hope to connect with wouldn’t have been listening.

So at Drone, we kept quiet and enjoyed the 6Music Festival alongside everyone else…but we didn’t forget. We’re delighted to say we’re going to have an Easter weekend bonanza focusing on the Broadies and up first is an interview we conducted with Pete Macdonald from the band. Hope you enjoy and hopefully it will give you a push towards buying the great new record.

New album is called ‘A Different Past’ – an apt title?

I think so.  It’s a common theme running through a lot of the songs – that our feelings about our pasts are often treacherous.  Nostalgia is such a strong pull for a lot of people, and we have this tendency to think of our youth or the past as some sort of idyllic sepia-tinged happy place: The music and culture was better, society was better and safer, etc.  We’re not very good at remembering the hard times, and it’s easy to look at the world and think everything’s collapsing around our ears.  Our unprecedented access to information definitely plays a part in that.  The reality is that things go in cycles: there’ll always be horrible stuff happening and there’ll always be wonderful stuff happening, and we’re just not very good at understanding or appreciating that until after the fact.  There have been compelling studies made about the fact that actually human society is kinder and less violent today.  That’s not to say that everything is rosy – that’s clearly not the case.  But, optimism has to be the way forward, and there are more reasons to be optimistic about the world than it sometimes feels.

I remember talking to Graeme (who wrote most of the lyrics) about this, and he said “I grew up in a small town in the Central Belt in the 80s.  It was really shit.  There was mass unemployment, people were more intolerant, the country was in a mess. It was a horrible time and place to be in”. Now we look back and think of the great pop music there was, and don’t focus so much on that other stuff.

There have been a lot of changes since the band’s last album; in the band, and in Scotland, the UK, Europe and the world. What shape are The State Broadcasters in right now?

On the whole, I think ‘optimistic’ is probably the word I’d use again. There was a while where it looked like this album wouldn’t see the light of day, with Graeme deciding to leave during the recording of it. But, we knew we had something really good and were far enough along in the recording process that we decided coming up with a plan for the future was worth a bash. And I think all of us (Graeme included) are really pleased with the way things have worked out from that point.  It has been wonderful playing gigs again too. Nerve-wracking, but wonderful.  It’s been good to be reminded that we’re really proud of the music we’ve made over 3 albums and that we really enjoy playing it for people, even if Graeme and Fergus (who were hugely responsible for a lot of this music) are no longer on stage with us.  It’s been great having David McGinty involved too.  He’s a pal anyway, and someone who has slotted into the band even comfortably than we could have hoped.

I suppose this album based around being hopeful about the world is kind of arriving at a time when it’s slightly swimming against the tide, in terms of public emotion and discourse.  It was written in 2015, so I wonder if it would’ve been so positive had it been written a year later. I’d like to think so though, because I think the point still stands, even if it might be a little harder to hold on to that positivity at times.

Was there any point in recording the new record that you felt it all clicked or came together?

I think when we started rehearsing the songs that had been written and demoed.  The writing process had been more collaborative than in previous albums, and so the songs felt a bit different. I think Graeme’s lyric writing is better than ever, and we had a clearer idea of how to arrange the songs too.  Most of what is on the album had already been developed prior to recording, whereas in the past it often happened the other way round.  It was the first time we’d developed the songs with a drummer as well, and that was quite exciting for us.  I think it made us feel more comfortable trying more upbeat, poppy songs.

Similar question, any point you felt it was falling apart or was presenting a serious road-block?

The obvious answer would be when Graeme decided to call it a day with the band.  He and I started State Broadcasters together back in 2004, and have played and written music together for such a long time that such a change could only ever be challenging.  It came as a bit of a surprise at the time, so it took a bit of reconfiguring and agonising over what to do before things got back on track.  Be we were convinced there was a really good album there, possibly our best one, and that trying to get it finished was entirely worthwhile.

I see you’ve been billed as a four-piece ahead of the album release shows – is this confirmed or will The State Broadcasters always be a welcome home for rolling members, waifs and strays?

I think we’ll always be slightly fluid in terms of lineup, with the core 4 members usually being in attendance. We’ve been playing with a couple of different drummers more recently, and a lot of the songs from the new album need drums to really work live.  Plus,  our cellist Suz will hopefully continue to drop in and out whenever she can.  We recently did a gig with just myself on piano, Cammy on double bass and Suz on cello, and it worked quite well. The nice thing is that there’s enough material over 3 albums to draw from that can be dictated by the lineup.  Everyone plays in other bands and has various other commitments, so it’s good to be flexible with the lineup and the setlist.

In 2017, what is inspiring the band?

The idea of getting out and playing gigs.  We’re going to be touring a bit more than we have done in the past, and are pretty excited about that.  And the Twin Peaks reboot.  We all expect to be inspired by that. 

You’re now on album three and as bizarre as it may sound, you’ll probably be classed as “veterans” of the scene – A) Did you think when the band started you would get to this point and B) any advice to new bands or advice you would have given to yourself in the early days?

I don’t think we had much of a plan at the start.  Very early on we had discussed having quite a fluid and numerous array of band members – we loved the way Lambchop work from album to album. So in that respect, I think we’ve done pretty well with that ambition.
I think we probably would’ve liked to have released more albums.  3 albums and an ep in 13 years isn’t a brilliant strike-rate.  But then again, I think we’re proud of pretty much all of our output so that’s a nice position to be in.  And to still be enjoying making music you like (and that a a few other people seem to like) with your friends 13 years after starting out feels like quite an achievement in hindsight.

I’m not entirely sure I’m in much of a position to offer advice to new bands, but I suppose being able to create, record and have control over your output is something I’d recommend to musicians.  You have a greater feeling of ownership to the music, and seeing something you’ve done all by yourself being out in the world and enjoyed by people is a lovely feeling.  Oh, and get to know Lloyd Meredith.  He has an uncanny knack of making musicians’ lives better.

So, A Different Past, but it seems as though the same old past has never been more popular with the trend for nostalgia, reunions, and get-together in music? What do you feel about this trend; (and in a follow-up question); are your personal feelings about music nostalgia different from how a modern day fan feels about it?

I think the nostalgia and reunion trends are absolutely fine, so long as you don’t expect it to be exactly as things used to be, when you and the musicians on the stage were younger.  Hearing songs you love played by artists you love is a glorious experience, and always will be, unless you approach it believing the music to exist in some sort of vacuum where everything sounds how it did on the record or on stage 30 years ago.  There seems to be a bit of snobbery around the idea of bands getting back together that isn’t necessarily there for artists who continue to chug away doing their own things for years.  There’s no right or wrong way to go about it, and I’d definitely prefer to see a reformed band have the time of their lives than one who stuck it out going through the motions.  The Neutral Milk Hotel gig at the Barras a few years back was a good example of a brilliant reunion:  The band were clearly having the time of their lives, and so were the audience (many of whom were toddlers when the last album came out). 

What does the rest of 2017 have in store for you…and what do you hope happens?

Hopefully more gigs than we’ve done in a while, we’ll be announcing a few dates in the South of England soon, and there’s plans afoot to do some more Scottish shows outside Edinburgh and Glasgow and in the North of England too.
It’d be lovely if this album found a wider audience than the previous ones, but everyone hopes that, don’t they?  Playing outside the British Isles would be brilliant. A Grammy. We’d take a Grammy.

Many years down the line, how do you want The State Broadcasters to be remembered?

Just being remembered would be an achievement!

What were your thoughts when the 6Music Festival line-up was announced for the weekend of your album launch?

I did a bit of swearing.  What are the chances of the biggest and best weekend lineup of music in Glasgow clashing with one of our only gigs in the last 3 years?! We’re just hoping people aren’t suffering from Live Music Fatigue by the Sunday night. 

We’d like to say a big thanks to Pete for sparing the time to chat with us and if you want to follow the band on Twitter, follow State Broadcasters here. We’ll have plenty more from and about the band over the rest of the weekend.

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