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Field Music

England’s Field Music hail from Sunderland, and released their first album in August of 2005. Two additional albums later, and it seemed that the end was near for the indie band that was made up of brothers David and Peter Brewis and bandmate Andy Moore.

They’d told the BBC that they were going to break up after the promo duties for their 3rd album, Tones of Town, were over in 2007. That “breakup” wasn’t as dramatic as it sounded, however – they simply stepped away from their band duties for 3 years, and returned in 2010 with a brand new set of Field Music songs dubbed Field Music Measure, and an even newer album earlier this year that they dubbed Plumb.

David Brewis gives us the scoop on the process.

So what was the real impetus behind taking three years off from the band, and what did each of you do with your free time? 

I think we could see a strong possibility that if we’d just kept plugging away immediately after we’d finished Tones of Town, then we’d be in danger of conforming to some abstract definition of what Field Music is supposed to sound like, rather than following our noses and trying to make the music we’d be most interested in.

We’re not successful enough for there to be some huge financial imperative to repeat ourselves, like lots of bands, so anything which might hinder us in making the best music we can is definitely to be avoided! When we stopped touring for Field Music, I made a record under the name School of Language, which in turn meant that I got a chance to tour over here with some astounding musicians (Doug McCombs from Tortoise and Ryan Rapsys of Euphone). Peter, meanwhile, had started to piece together his album, The Week That Was, and we toured for that record too.

For all the talk of us needing an extended break from each other, we both played in each other’s bands, with Peter playing bass for School of Language and me playing drums for The Week That Was. Peter also finished his Master’s degree in composition at Newcastle University, and we’ve both done bits of work recording for other people at our studio in Sunderland. Andy Moore, who played piano in Field Music, started putting together a record too, but it fell by the wayside a little bit, in part because he was busy training as a chef. We haven’t exactly had our feet up.

How do you approach the process of recording – do you write the music first, or the lyrics – or was it more of a cohesive process? 

We record at our studio/practise room in Sunderland. I think both me and Peter tend to write music first, or at least, a musical idea tends to get the ball rolling even when we may use lyrics which were written previously. It can work in lots of different ways – a few snippets of music can go back years and years, but other bits aren’t finished until we are right at the end of recording.

Was (Measure)’s 20-track length a result of your having accumulated song ideas over the three years? 

No, not really. We’ve both been releasing records in the meantime so we haven’t had time to build up a stash. We actually decided we wanted to do a double-album very early on in the process, long before we’d written all of the songs. Luckily the pressure to make it a long album spurred us on – I’m not sure I’d want to risk that again though, as it sounds like a recipe for writer’s block.

Who produced that “return album,” and what were the best – and worst – things about the sessions?

We produced the album ourselves and, other than the strings, a cornet on one song and backing vocals on one song, we played the whole thing ourselves too. The best sessions are always ones where you get more done than you think you will – for instance, on one day, Peter brought in two songs which I hadn’t really heard before, and we just set up and sat down at the drums and piano and recorded the basic tracks;we got them done for both songs that morning. It feels like a very pure way to record!

The overall atmosphere for all of the sessions was of me and Peter trying to figure how best to help each other out; that might have been sitting at the back of the room not saying anything, or it might have been wrestling the guitar out of each other hands to show how its done, or even just going home early to give each other some space! The worst things were when neither of us could figure out how best to help out. Happily, that really didn’t happen very often. It’s been the most enjoyable recording experience I’ve ever had.