As a website we have a habit on focusing on brand new bands, exciting new noise makers just making their way in the world. Every now and then though, along comes a band who are a testament to the joys of taking your time. Leeds-based trio Bilge Pump formed back in 1996, some twenty-three years ago; for Neil, Emlyn and Joe, music isn’t a career, it’s much more important than that. A decade on from their last album, Bilge Pump recently returned with their third album, We Love You, as a band who’ve never really made any effort to fit in with the industry trends arguably in the unchartered musical territory of 2019, they come closer to fitting in than they ever have before.
We Love You, is in some ways a political record, not a tub-thumping call to arms, but a reflection on where we are in the world, and asking how did we get here? The Passion Of The Kid for example, sets a reflection on Brexit Britain, and how we got here, to a motorik-rhythm and a two-note bass-line. Throughout it is a record that reflects on how we can all feel stuck in a modern way of living, a world of day jobs, package holidays, deprivation and disenfranchisement. Musically, the band have suggested this record is as close as they’ve ever got to capturing their ferocious live show; a record of thrilling riffs, driving rhythms and droning noise. Here Bilge Pump’s music feels crisper, leaner, more focused than ever; musical outsiders creating energetic, honest moments of pure musical enjoyment. Bilge Pump have simply never sounded better or more creative.
With the band set to head out on their latest UK tour this week, we sat down with Joe from the band to discuss influences, the recording process and why being, “tone deaf”, doesn’t need to hold you back.
FTR: For those who don’t know already, who are Bilge Pump?
Emlyn Jones plays bass and sings, Neil Turpin plays drums and Joe O’Sullivan (me) plays guitar.
FTR: Your new album, We Love You, is the first one in a decade, with all due respect, what took you so long?
We don’t like to rush things, and we had other things going on. We wrote the songs and tried most of them out live over a period of time. We then did the recording in bits and pieces over about 5 years. I think if we would have rushed it, it wouldn’t have come out sounding as nice.
FTR: What did you different with We Love You compared to your previous releases?
Is was the first one we didn’t record mostly live, which is ironic as I think it the closest to capturing our live sound. Emlyn and Neil recorded most of the drums and bass together. I then decided to re-record all the guitar at home in my shed as I wanted the variety of subtly different sounds throughout the songs and I didn’t want to put anyone else through having to listen to me trying to achieve that. More time meant more freedom of experimentation. In some ways it’s more like our first ever recordings on four track where we did all sorts of random stuff as nobody was there to tell us it’s stupid. This record has the sound of my parent’s garage door closing, my cat, a dustbin full of glass and a lovely 130 year old pump organ I bought for £1. Having done all that once, the next record will be knocked out in about half an hour. Emlyn also recorded his vocals in the attic room of his house; I’m sure if you listen carefully you’ll be able to hear cars driving past.
FTR: Why do you make music? What inspires you?
Without sounding like a pretentious tosser, it’s something that has to be done. I’m not sure what it would be like if I couldn’t. The interesting thing is I have absolutely no musical ability; completely tone-deaf, can’t work anything out on the guitar. My only ability is being able to tell if something sounds good or not, and even then I have to rely on the other two.
FTR: How has the Leeds music scene changed? Do you still feel part of something?
The Leeds music scene appears to be very healthy at the moment with some really excellent younger bands around, there will be loads that I’m not even aware of as I’m an old and out of touch. We recently did a gig at The Brudenell and asked some of our favourite bands to play (Cowtown, Guttersnipe, Rattle, Beige Palace) it was bizarrely successful night, probably due to the fact that all the bands are totally varied but have the same basic aesthetic and outlook. In this way I think we definitely feel part of a particular music community in Leeds, one that doesn’t involve clambering to be part of the yearly industry thing that occurs every year in the city.
FTR: What’s your songwriting process? How much of your material is improvised?
Very much a mixture. A lot of songs are written by improvising for a while and if something good comes out, we’ll try and make it into a song. Some songs are written by individuals, brought to the rest of the band and then mucked about with until we all agree on something. We’re very democratic in that if two people agree then that’s what it is. It’s also quite weird trying to play guitar lines that Emlyn comes up with as he has such a different style to me, but that keeps things kind of different as well; there’s no rules to Bilge. As for live, all the songs have a structure, some have more room for improvisation than others. I’m lucky in that I can pretty much make new bits up all the time which keeps it fun; as long as I play in time it’s all fine.
FTR: Do you feel Bilge Pump’s music is more or less in step with musical trends than it used to be? Is this a good time for you to come back?
Good question. I have no idea. There does seem to be a healthy interest in different sounding stuff at the moment and people do seem to have very varied tastes. But who knows, I’m old.
FTR: What are your aspirations for this record? What would constitute success?
It’s nice that people seem to like it. So far nobody has said anything horrible about it. I think that’s a success.
FTR: You’re currently out on tour, what can people expect from the Bilge Pump live show?
A bunch of pillocks prattling about on stage. Very loudly. And with excellent time keeping.
What’s next for Bilge Pump?
We’ve got a load more gigs to do. At some point we will come together to start writing stuff for the next record. Hopefully we will be much quicker about it than the last one.
We Love You is out now via Gringo Records. Click HERE for more information on Bilge Pump.