Think of the rapidly gentrifying, increasingly leafy setting of Walthamstow in North-East London and only one band really springs to mind, E(ast)17. Yet the area is actually steeped in musical history, or at least musical trivia anyway: the front cover of Parklife by Blur was shot at the now defunct dog track, Wings mentioned it in their 1979 track Old Siam Sir, and in more recent years it’s become a slightly surprising setting for some of Grime’s finest records. None the less what we have to say now may shock you, Walthamstow is at the epicentre of the, admittedly largely ignored, drone-pop scene, courtesy of acts like The Leaf Library, The Great Electric and today’s focus, Firestations.
Now signed to the wonderful Lost Map Records, Firestations originally came to some acclaim courtesy of their 2014 debut album, Never Closer, which saw them tour as far and wide as Germany and Norway. Until earlier this year the band had been hunkered down preparing the follow-up, which was thankfully released back in April. That album, The Year Dot, was crafted over three years in their home studio in Walthamstow, the hiss of the nearby North Circular can even be heard in the mix, although you’d probably need to know what you were listening out for.
Although DIY in its creation, the band playing and producing the record entirely themselves, it forgoes the clichés of lo-fi bedroom recording. The Year Dot is a record of sonic adventure; deceptively simple pop-songs, painted with the veneer of pulsing drones, driving, unusual rhyhtms and some perfectly judged harmonies. Mike from the band perhaps sums the record up best when he describes it as, “a distillation of dreaming away the days on the outskirts, flickering between dead-end admin jobs, depression, writing lyrics on my phone, running through local woods, recording drums in industrial units, periods of hopelessness and moments of joy.”
A beautiful, honest album, it’s raw with the hopes and realities of modern-day London, of struggling to find your way, of seeing the shining lights of the capital and being gently pushed further and further from them. A record of hope and hopelessness, and the way they can exist simultaneously when you’re placed in a setting which showcases so much of both. Following the release, Martin from the band sat down to answer our questions taking in Lost Map, staying just sober enough to play live and why they’ll probably need to write a smash Christmas single to make a living out of music.
FTR: For those who don’t know who are Firestations?
A mildly dystopian DIY pop group with experimental and electronic leanings. We’re five honest hard working humans in a wobbly old world, as disorientated as everyone else (or possibly slightly more so).
FTR: You recently released your new album, The Year Dot, what can you tell us about recording the album?
Apart from drums, which were recorded in a couple of studios where loud noises were permitted (thanks Oscar Ball and Studio Klank), it was recorded mostly piecemeal in Mike’s ‘intimate’ home studio in Walthamstow over a frequently interrupted two-year period. Mike recorded everything and mixed it all too, he has to have absolute control over every aspect of the music, and his personal life. And all our personal lives as well.
FTR: It was your first new music in quite some time, without wishing to sound rude, what took you so long?
For the first record we had a good few songs written, this time Mike was doing most of the writing as we went along, and we had a change of drummers halfway through which delayed things somewhat. It was fun, but next time we’d prefer to do an intense studio recording with a producer. A really big name producer that will install us permanently in rock’s mighty firmament. I expect Pitbull or T-Pain will do a verse on the hit single.
FTR: The album came out on Lost Map, how did that come about?
We’ve met the lovely and amusing Johnny Lynch (aka. Pictish Trail) a few times tangentially over the years, but luckily he picked up on our criminally overlooked first album and saw us playing at the Lexington in London. Then we went to play in Edinburgh at the label’s invitation and we were delighted to discover they were interested in supporting our second record. We will love them forever times infinity.
FTR: You’ve spoken of this record as being, “a distillation of dreaming away the days”, does music give you a sense of escapism from, “real life”?
It is a big part of real life to me, aside from Firestations I work obsessively on my own electronic music (as Bit Cloudy), listen to records and go to shows with my wife, and make hundreds of playlists for the pub I manage. Music is a great way of coping with the negative stuff that comes from negotiating “real life”, and can turn the mundane into magical in pretty amazing ways.
FTR: What are your ambitions for this record? Is a career in music a possibility anymore?
We’d like to make more of Mike and Laura’s lovely harmony vocals and get electronically weirder whilst also being poppier and more immediate. We’ve been lucky enough to occasionally have a bit of publishing money every so often from library music for TV etc, but a five piece band is financially tough to run these days, especially given our huge appetites for Haribo and wine gums. London is extremely competitive and I’ve been surprised to hear that even seemingly very successful indie bands often need full-time day jobs to survive. We should be touring, but at our level it would be financially precarious/ruinous – we’ll need to write a massive hit Xmas song first.
FTR: Why do you make music?
It’s the only thing I love doing. Apart from cooking. And going to the pub. And watching telly. And restoring Edwardian doll houses.
FTR: What other musicians inspire your songwriting? What were you listening to when you wrote The Year Dot?
I was listening to a lot of Dutch Uncles, Sir Was, Wesley Gonzalez and Pusha T. We appreciate the heavy lyric and song writing chops of people like Bill Callahan, David Berman and Jason Molina.
FTR: What is your earliest musical memory?
My brother playing Joy Division, Sonic Youth, The Fall and experimental jazz records, and seeing things like Soft Cell and Kate Bush on TOTP. Dire Straits and Peter Gabriel in the family car. I was also obsessed with delta blues and early rock and roll from a very young age, and did a lot of d&b and techno raving.
FTR: What can people expect from the Firestations live show? Do you prefer playing live or working in the studio?
You can expect us to slightly misjudge the sobriety levels required to deliver a slick yet soulful set of dream pop bangers. We’re trying to balance the subtlety and precision we imagine the recordings to have with the spontaneous excitement of playing our music together in mid-level London indie venues with the fluctuating levels of sonic fidelity and crowd numbers that entails. I would say we enjoy recording and playing live equally, but for different reasons.
FTR: What’s next for Firestations?
A West end musical with sponsorship from Haribo. (Message to Haribo executives: please get in touch asap we have something VERY important to discuss).
We’ve just released the third single from the album, a track called Make Your Own Mind Up, accompanied by a pretty swish video from Emily Scaife (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aKb1wxqhxqw), and we’ve got a few gigs coming up:
Friday 20th July w/ Pictish Trail at Mono in Glasgow
Tuesday 11th September w/ Rev Magnetic at Paper Dress Vintage in Hackney, London
Thursday 4th October w/ Wasuremono at The Waiting Room, Stoke Newington, London
(Message to festival lords and indie kingpins: we are ready, willing and able to give live performances for small to medium amounts of cash and acclaim)
The Year Dot is out now via Lost Map. Click HERE for more information on Firestations.